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Mythbusters experiment goes awry, sends cannonball through two houses (cbslocal.com)
496 points by viggity on Dec 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 298 comments

Wow, watching that news clip reminds me about why I never watch the news. So much bias and unneeded anger. There's no explanation as to why the canon ball missed. There's also no mention of the fact that:

a) the had firing experts on hand b) the fire/police departments were notified ahead of time and probably had someone on site. They also probably had veto power and input on how it was staged.

(* I don't know this for a fact. I'm basing this on every other Mythbusters episode I've ever seen)

My favorite line: "his elderly mother thought the sky was falling." Makes her sound like a simple nutcase. The son then says, "Yeah, she thought it might be a tree falling on the house or a meteorite."

A few months ago my brother and some friends went on an epic multiday hike. The previous year, someone attempted it and was never seen again.

They were all experienced and were very prepared. In the end they found themselves in a situation where they had to have search and rescue pull them out -- going forward or back wasn't an option. They had a locator beacon (part of being prepared) and decided to pull it. The other option was to head back, miss their return date and have S&R come looking for them anyway.

The local news portrayed them as inexperienced idiots who were totally unprepared. They misinterpreted or manipulated quotes. They didn't actually understand anything -- just regurgitated facts with their uneducated and biased tones and extrapolations.

In conclusion, TV news should be ended in all forms. Reporters aren't experts in the subject matter they report. Even though they should be trained to know better, modern news programs make no effort to disguise their bias.

I am sure there was a fully trained crew on hand.

The riff on TV news though, that goes a bit over the top. I talked with the guy who ran the KRON news division way back when it was relevant (we were at a fundraiser and making small talk) and I commented on the challenge of making TV news accurate. His response was that the pressure to 'be first' put negative pressure on 'be accurate' and likened it to software bugs in video games as I had mentioned I was a programmer. His take was that the speed to getting the story out was primary, vetted only by confirmation by one reliable or some number of unreliable and unrelated sources, but accuracy developed over the life of the story. Each update was a bit more accurate than the previous one.

I suggested that seemed like it didn't serve the news consumer well, but he made the argument that they defined 'serving the consumer well' by measuring market share.

I came away as a much more critical viewer of news from that conversation.

That being said, Discovery is going to make bank when this episode is on TV. If I know how a lot of people are with respect to TV (and my experience is from being on Battlebots) then they send a film crew out to video the damage with a waiver that says "sign away any future claim against discovery and we'll pay to fix your house and PUT YOU ON TV!" and they will totally go for it. Maybe Jamie coming by and doing his "over the top amazed" kind of thing looking at the hole etc etc and talking with the 'regular' folks. It will be a highly rated show and draw lots of viewers. They will make some public service announcement about not trying this stuff in what is left of your home, and everyone will be happy. The folks with a hole in their house and car will have their 15 minutes of fame, the show will get a big ratings boost (look for the episode to air during sweeps week) and become another story for the mythbusters crew.

"didn't serve the news consumer well"

Certainly not for every type of story (where accuracy counts more, say medical information or a lost child) but for a story like this it's more like entertainment. I mean does it really matter other than being interesting that this even happened at all?

Side: Agree highly with your PR angle. And even if rights weren't signed away even a good litigator knows what they can or can't get in damages from a case like this. It's not an automatic win with high dollars. You need to prove damages. The physical damage is easily remedied. The psychological damage is hard to prove. And ultimately the lawyer would do better to take his 33% of a quick settlement than to drag this out.

Well, if the lawyer's paid hourly, they are better dragging it out. But as you say, there's just not that much damage.


I'm not sure if the same term is used in the U.S., but few British journalists have spoken out about what you've mentioned - the race to get the story out first without applying strict fact-checking standards, all happening in an industry where resources are being cut all over the place and making matters worse.

This is les about checking facts than it is blatently putting a news tone/spin on the story.

They are selling sensationalist fear. There is very very little "news" any longer - everything is an emotional product.

They understand psychology and believe that the only way to manipulate the viewerships response is through their emotions - which is far easier to do than through critical thought. They are a self-fulfilling prophecy on the stupidity of their viewership: market emotionalism and do a poor job on actual substance because the viewers only understand emotionalism and cannot critically think for themselves -- or IF they do critically think - then the resultant opinion will be different than the opnion we are trying to sell which is fear.

"but he made the argument that they defined 'serving the consumer well' by measuring market share."

It seems that if a section of the news media defines itself that way then they have defined themselves as just another consumer product.

That is not necessarily a bad thing per se. But it does seem to undercut arguments that the news media should be treated differently from others when it comes to questions like protecting sources, standards for slander/libel, public support, and access to information.

You're over-estimating Discovery. They could've done the same thing when an explosion with a low cloud cover caused a bunch of window damage to a nearby town and they didn't even mention it until a "behind the scenes" special a few years later.

I suspect though that an explosion blowing a few windows is lot less interesting than a cannonball bouncing through a house. I at least would be interested in seeing the damage a cannonball can cause.

An explosion happening at a bomb disposal site breaking a few windows was probably excused because these people chose to buy houses near a bomb disposal site. I'm sure when the city sold the land that the developers were fully informed and likely gave up much of the potential claims against the police department on the issue.

I know I've heard of cities doing similar when land is sold near quarries. For instance, I can call a noise complaint on my neighbor any time of the day for making too much noise, but I can't call a noise complaint on a quarry operating from 7am to 7pm.

> In conclusion, TV news should be ended in all forms.

Wow. I agree there's a lot of misinformation and poor reporting on TV news, but that's like saying the Internet should be ended because of the poor quality of slashdot comments.

I've personally been aware of the back story and facts behind maybe a dozen different US network news reports. In several cases I knew the people being interviewed.

Every single time, the news, as reported, contained glaring factual errors or lies by implication that were introduced to make more of a story. In many cases it wasn't an issue of a reporter misunderstanding the story, but rather an issue of "let's take these facts and meld them into a more compelling story."

That kind of blatant disregard for truth and pandering for ratings has no place on public airwaves.

I can confirm this. I was involved in an incident once. The TV news reporters all came out and covered it. That evening, I watched the reports on the same event from 3 channels. They all got the basic facts 100% wrong, and each channel had a different set of those wrong facts.

It wasn't even an issue of bias, or making the story more compelling. It was simply slap-dash, string any-old list of crap together, run it, and move on to the next item.

It was an eye-opening experience for me.

I'm thankful that the city I live in has no media coverage. We've had police standing off with a guy barricaded in his own home on our street and nothing even touches the news even though they shut off the area for 5 hours.

I have no clue why, I think it might be because you can find police dispatch feeds for every neighboring city except ours. That's the only thing I can think of as I live in a very affluent area and the most we've ever got was the local paper covering a drive by shooting (I live in Canada so it's virtually unheard of, especially in my area - first in 15 years or something)

A number of studies have consistently shown that TV news makes people dumber: more misinformed, more irrational, more confused, and less able to draw reasonable conclusions or make good decisions.

It seems I cannot reply to TeMPOraL, but here are some citations:

Iyengar, S. 1991. Is Anyone Responsible? How Television Frames Political Issues. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press.

Iyengar, S. et Kinder, D. R. 1987. News That Matters: Television and American Opinion. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press.

The New Videomalaise : Effects of Televised Incivility on Political Trust DC Mutz - American Political Science Review, 2005 - Cambridge Univ Press http://www.jstor.org/pss/30038915

My M.Sc. in PolSci was useful after all... A third of my master thesis is on that very subject, but it's in french...

Oh my god, the political coverage is the absolute worst. I am embarrassed by the system of politics the US has slipped into.

I had friends in high school who had post-middle-age parents who were absolutely insane politically. Magnets covering their fridge, signs in their yard, on their walls; their house was just full of propaganda. And they would sit there after school watching the fucking news and getting outraged every time they were supposed to. It's clockwork for these news channels.

You have described my parents. I can't stand to be in the same building with them when they talk about anything politics related.

It's really sad to see

For future reference if you want to reply to a comment with no reply option click the comment link and you can reply from there.

Please don't do this regularly, though. The reply option is missing on posts for a time to attempt to reduce bad behavior, and even though it's a bit leaky through the permalink page, using that a whole lot may prompt pg to close the leak. In general, I only use it when I will not be able to reply for hours if I wait 5-10 minutes (about to start a drive, or be in meetings, or whatever).

If you're not using it for mischief, I don't personally see the harm in it - the "missing" link is still fulfilling its purpose of discouraging "evil" impulses by making it just that little bit harder to carry them out.

Define "bad behavior".

People were arguing with each other and creating deeply nested comments, ignoring all other discussion. The delay exists to give them a chance to cool down and reconsider the wisdom of arguing.

The site will permit one to reply after a bit of time. If it is delaying you, it's probably best to use that time to improve your comment by citing sources or editing it to be clearer and more concise, rather than using the cheat to post straightaway.

Petty back-and-forths that don't add any value for everyone else.

> A number of studies have consistently shown that TV news makes people dumber

While I believe that and I like the conclusion, my inner rationalist screams:

[citation needed]


Fox News != all tv news. Reproduce that study using, say, BBC News or Al Jazeera English (or even better BBC news and Al Jazeera English) and we'll talk.

Not saying those channels are perfect, but not all TV is created equal.

It's true that there is quite a variety but I'd venture to guess that most US TV news clusters closer to Fox than it would to BBC/AJE.

I think only part of the problem with mainstream TV news is inherent in the medium. There's a lot of effort put into making it infotainment.

That particular type of TV news. Not all TV news.

The medium is not the same thing as the type of content.

> The medium is not the same thing as the type of content.

True, it's a generalization, but it's a useful generalization if majority of content specific to a given medium seems to have the same properties.

Agreed. Take http://www.democracynow.org/about for an example.

Citation(s) please, and does it apply to all countries' tv? I would like to believe that proper news don't yield more misinformed people. (How does this differ from reading a news article on internet?)

Please post a URL to any of these studies so I can send it to my Mom. I'm not joking.

Except that all local TV news coverage on the major networks is bad almost without exception and cable news has degraded into celebrity news, opinions from Facebook and Twitter and heavily biased, uninformed opinion segments. If you get your news from a television news show you are likely becoming less-informed and more prone to emotional response.

PBS is one of the few organization that still broadcasts real journalism in the US and it is under constant attack by brain-dead politicians, cable news blowhards and some portion of the population whose minds have been dulled by television news.

PBS may do ok on the coasts where they have offices, but they (and NPR) are pretty horrible with reporting in the plains states. Their story on Wiliston ND was so full of errors and stock footage[1] it was amazing. NPR blew the figures on the SD Child Welfare study. They have an agenda that gets them market share and control costs the same way every other ``News'' organization does.

[1] look reporters, ND does not have wandering buffalo herds everywhere, you can stop using the same stock footage anytime.

There's not really another good way to signify ND, though. It's very hard to set up an interesting photograph or stock footage scene in an area that is totally flat, with no natural or man-made landmarks. American Public Media, which makes a lot of NPR content, is based in St. Paul.

Western ND (where Williston ND is) is not "totally flat", it has the badlands. How about show that actual town when talking about it instead of stock buffalo footage? Its like every Native American story shows a Pow-Wow instead of the community the story took place in.

They could have done Lake Sakakawea but it's still hard to get an interesting scene there. Really dramatic badlands imagery would have to come from somewhere like Teddy Roosevelt national park, which is 2 hours away. Arguably, that sort of footage is just as cliche as bison. I think the bison are more representative of the state as a whole. (NDSU seems to agree with me)

The reason they didn't show the town is probably because it is totally ugly. Do you have a link to the episode online? I can't find it.

It was on a couple of months ago, and I cannot seem to find it online either - err. It was a housing piece (boom town / gold rush angle). So, the town is ugly, it is what the report was about. Spend every second giving me the feel of the place of the story and not one second on the irrelevant.

// as a UND graduate I find NDSU's choices to be poor :)

what the heck people, down vote trolls not people trying to make a point, even if you disagree with it. redouble isn't trolling.

> In conclusion, TV news should be ended in all forms.

Even though it sounds a bit broad, I'll second the idea behind it as I understand it.

> Wow. I agree there's a lot of misinformation and poor reporting on TV news, but that's like saying the Internet should be ended because of the poor quality of slashdot comments.

There's too many misinformation and poor reporting on TV and no way to distinguish truth from falsehood. You wouldn't trust a person who verifiably lied to you 70% of the time. That's why you don't trust YouTube comments. It's a waste of brain resources to even try.

The same thing happened with newspapers and major news station. Even most news from news sites that end up on HN get debunked in comments after few hours by people who actually know the domain.

I personally don't know who to believe now - everyone on "popular news" seems to try either to steal attention, or to advertise something. And the truth suffers.

I for one would be willing to pay a modest fee for news that was consistently accurate and relevant (ie, made sure to catch important developments that are typically ignored by other new sources). Any suggestions?

Pay for The Economist? From the articles I have the expertise to judge, they're occasionally insightful and always seem to have at least a tenuous grasp on issue at hand. Which is in sharp contrast to the reporting in other general news sources, which is often hilariously wrong. Only publishing once a week leave a lot more time for fact checking.

Private intelligence?[1] They tend to put a much larger emphasis on delivering good information over writing an engaging story. They do focus almost entirely on geopolitical news, though.

Stratfor and KGS both offer free access to a limited set of their analysis.[2,3]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_intelligence_agency [2] http://www.stratfor.com/ [3] http://www.kforcegov.com/Services/IS/NightWatch.aspx

For that analogy to be correct, shitty TV news stories would have to be a relatively small proportion of total TV news. That's not my experience.

Compromise: let's just end any subsidies, bandwidth licenses, etc. so we're at least not supporting it...

Ironically, it's a TV show we're talking about here.

I think you're confusing "bias" with "sensationalism." TV journalists (especially of the local variety) look to sensationalize every piece of news that they can. This is due to a whole host of factors--not the least being plummeting local news ratings.

But most importantly, I want to touch on the following point: "Reporters aren't experts in the subject matter they report." Of course they're not! Journalism itself is not something that everybody can do. The problem you're citing is not because journalists aren't experts in whatever they're reporting (which is a ludicrous notion--news spans so many different subject areas that it would be nigh impossible to house an expert reporter on every subject). The problem is driven by falling ratings and a need for more gripping and sensational stories. Years ago, Ellen DeGeneres even had the joke that she was eating dinner and the local news came on to say, "What you're eating right now can kill you. Film at eleven."

I was a local television reporter for a long time, before switching to the digital side of things.

You're totally correct with most of the above.

One of the crazy (and sometimes fun) parts of the job of being a local television reporter is trying to be an expert in something new every day.

Really what it comes down to is having to try to figure out how to distill down a huge amount of information into a one minute, thirty second chunk of video - when you do that, by nature, only the 'sensational' stuff makes the cut.

Then it gets cut again by someone who has no idea about any of the stuff you left out of the story when they write a promotion about it, which is how you end up with teases like "What you're eating right now can kill you".

> Journalism itself is not something that everybody can do.

I think the Internet has shown otherwise

I hope that was sarcasm. The Internet has shown that people don't have to work in a newsroom to be a journalist, but it's also highlighted the fact that being a journalist of any note or quality requires the same combination of skill and training and work of any profession. It's really really easy to suck at it, but it's an intangible enough thing that a lot of people don't realize a) that it's something you can suck at, b) that they might suck at it.

I think your argument misses the point. The main advantage of the internet is that the marginal cost of a better report(er) is essentially zero. The marginal cost of a TV second is huge. So detailed reporting material gets pushed out of the market for TV seconds by sensationalist crap.

On the internet, you have the chance to look for the better material. On TV, the circumstances behind the business model drive it to CNN headline news quality.

The parent post was about journalists, not about journalistic entities, unless I did miss something.

I think the Internet revealed that the common denominator is not where you work (a newsroom, your bedroom) but that you're good at your job. That's all.

The dwindling great news organizations are like a good university -- you have amazing resources at your disposal, you are surrounded by peers who hold you to a very high standard -- so by that measure traditional journalists lucky enough to work at a place which still provides that infrastructure have a leg up. Internet journalism at its best has proven that that what those institutions offer at their height are merely great tools to get the job done, but they don't at all define what the job is. The medium, and even the resources available, don't make a good journalist. They can help, sure, but what makes a good journalist is being a good journalist.

Its a lame and simple point to be making, but it was a direct reply to the parent post.


To really get dicey... The parent post argued that the Internet has shown that everybody can be a journalist. I really strongly disagree, but I guess that's because it boils down to an argument about "what is a journalist." If "journalism" to you is "telling someone what you saw," then yes we are all journalists, Tweeting about our sandwiches! Imparting information concisely to your audience, fact checking, treating the information you're handed not as the end of the job --as information to be straight-up regurgitated-- but instead as the beginning --facts to confirm, stories to investigate, quotes to react to-- is the stuff that matters to me when the word "journalist" is applied to someone. That is a real, complicated thing that few want to do, and even fewer are good at, let alone "everybody."

Anybody can copy and paste a press release, anybody can provide a tip on what's happening around them spatially, but not everybody can be bothered to follow it up and make sense of it. Journalism is taking a ton of information, coupling it with original research, and synthesizing it down to something people can understand. You don't need a newsroom for that, nor does being on the Internet magically make you better at it. That's all I'm saying!

Late coming back to the post but...

Think of it from the perspective of local news / journalism. Most local papers are going under and their competition is Patch (traditional journalist with a new medium) and their friends on Facebook / Twitter.

From this perspective, which is not a small segment of the world of journalism, yes anyone can be a journalist now.

Far be it from me to defend TV news - my print journalism professors used to love to point out now there's more info on the front page of a newspaper than in an hour of TV, and you can scan to the parts that interest you. TV news is 99% garbage in my view.

That said, the internet also has a high noise-to-signal ratio. Yes, searching helps, but there is a type of in-depth reporting that you simply can't do unless it's your full-time job and you're able to travel when necessary. That's the value that news organizations can provide.

A random blogger who happens to be talented and financially independent could do great reporting. One who only has a few hours a week and no budget to devote to the task is severely hindered.

> They were all experienced and were very prepared. In the end they found themselves in a situation where they had to have search and rescue pull them out -- going forward or back wasn't an option.

As a very experienced and avid hiker myself, I'm extremely curious about this. Can you provide more details? Did anyone that was on-site blog about it?

Injury is the only thing I can think of...


This coverage isn't quite as bad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj-CErr0VOY

TV news has more in common with entertainment than journalism.

You could probably get the same amount of content from reading news story summaries for 5 minutes as you get from an hour of local TV news.

And depending on where you got your summaries from, the accuracy would likely be much, much higher.

Yes, daily TV news is crap and it's awful that it influences so many people.

But take comfort in the fact that tomorrow, TV news will have new happenings to blabber about, and yesterday's crap will be forgotten. People who care will read the full story weeks later and get something resembling truth.

That's true, but the part of the reason that it's a big problem that various news sources are so slap dash is the way the human brain works. Once a person has read a news story, it's more difficult to displace those "facts". People generally believe the first story they read, even if they read a correction later. Even if you are aware of this type of cognitive bias it still occurs. Obviously it can be overcome but it's much better to try and get the most accurate version first.

When combined with other biases, this is why polls routinely show many people still believe some story that was reported even after it has been widely discredited.

That sounds like any contact I've had with TV news or newspapers from the inside. To be charitable, the way I'd put it is: they can only afford the time to write the story, but not enough time to really understand the story.

It's not the fault of TV news. Like so many other things, the blame goes all the way upstream to the anonymous mass of idiots that comprise humanity (for almost all values). TV news is meeting the demands made by its market, which doesn't absolve their responsibility for participating, but also doesn't really make it worth much to "end TV news in all forms". We have to teach the people how to do good and not evil. If any of you know how to do this, please get back to me.

I don't think you need to take it that far to say news should end. Personally if each person that was the subject of a news cast had the option to say whether it aired or not would be enough.

It sort is along the lines that if the person wasn't made available for comment then they'd have no story at all. That way the person gets to say whether the information provided is factual or bias or an alternative.

While your final sentiment is overly strong, there could be good TV news, and this particular bit didn't come out as overly critical or judgmental to me, phrases like "before spiraling back toward Dublin like a cruise missile" and "and bounced around like a pinball" don't help to convey the story accurately.

I stopped watching the news years ago. TV news channels have unfortunately become corrupted by the tight competition for viewership, and they are willing to do shameful, pathetic things to get a story that will help them get their ratings up. What they do isn't reporting anymore. It's entertaining.

At least in the U.S., TV news isn't intended to inform; it's intended to sell advertising, and juicier stories sell more advertising. Expecting news from TV "news" (at either the local or national level) is like expecting news from Dancing with the Stars.

Reminds me of the Human Giant TV News sketch... http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/8a81dd6b88/human-giant-mont...

Reminds me of the BBC's "How to make a news broadcast":


FWIW, I'm trying to fix this. Anyone else who's passionate about this, WebGL, Quartz Composer or other video graphics technology, get in touch with me.

You don't live in reality. Or at least your reality is not that of the average person.

Startup idea: web-based news TV channel with experts reporting on stuff (with votes).

TV news is no better and no worse than other forms of journalism.

That seems unlikely. Relative to print, production cost of video is high, airtime is limited, the audience is less sharp and more fickle, and producers are much more profit-focused. It'd be miraculous if TV news managed to overcome those handicaps and get up to the level of print journalism.

It only works if its an independently funded public service broadcaster like the BBC. Generally, the BBC news is widely accepted in the UK to have more accurate reporting than the press. Especially compared to tabloid newspaper stories, which most people realise that you need to take with a strong pinch of salt.

Ok, maybe I phrased that a little too strongly. How about this: you can't count on print journalism not to be shockingly inaccurate, same as TV journalism.

I'd say long-form investigative documentary essays and films that take months to years to produce are a significantly better form of journalism than TV news.

No, the longer the reporter has to make the story the better a job they'll do. So TV reporting, which is produced continuously, tends to be the works, followed by daily newspapers, followed by weekly magazines.

I disagree, the reporting is much more restricted and guided on TV what with all of the advertising partners and the push to be "family friendly."

Dude a cannonball was fired within clear sight of a residential neighborhood. Regardless of what you thought of the news reporting quality, it's pretty indefensible, negligent behavior.

No, it's a military firing range. actually went over the hills. looks like a pretty big open area.


From what I understand it hit a hill and bounced which is how it ended up trashing that area. While vary dangerous it was not traveling all that fast. Basically, an 80mph bullet is not that dangerous, but an 80 mph 100lb softball is.

It seems as if this happened at Camp Parks Military Firing Reservation, which they say is surrounded by foothills.

A general reply to everyone saying this was unacceptable or that insufficient precautions were taken:

This experiment was performed at a facility designed for such experiments under the supervision of people who are trained to handle such experiments.

The result, while upsetting, was a freak accident. It could not realistically have been predicted. It is not necessarily anyone's fault, even if human error played a role.

Life is risky.

Sometimes surgeons slip and kill patients. Sometimes food producers slip and ship contaminated products which kill people. Sometimes parents turn around for 1 second and their kids drown.

All of these are caused by human error, but there has to be a point where you can say that reasonable precaution was taken so no blame is warranted. Because the alternative, only doing things that are 100% certain to be safe, means never doing anything at all.

There is no way to guarantee 100% safety. The building you are sitting in has been checked for safety. But something could have been missed, leading it to spontaneously collapse.

And here is the most important point of this entire post:

This will be true regardless how thoroughly you check the building.

"The result, while upsetting, was a freak accident. It could not realistically have been predicted. It is not necessarily anyone's fault, even if human error played a role."

This statement is just as ignorant as any accusing MB of sloppiness. We know almost nothing right now. To say it a freak accident that couldn't have been predicted is premature.

There needs to be an investigation then a conclusion.

I will admit that my certainty in my conclusion was premature, but it's still my best theory. The mythbusters are professionals. The choice of location was supported by government designation. And the mythbusters were supervised in the experiment. Negligence is still possible, but I feel it's much less likely than a freak accident.

Either way, what I was really trying to address was the attitude in this post ( http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3324444 ), among others, that accidents like this should never happen. I was trying to say that not every accident is caused by negligence. Even if this one was, the main point stands.

I also realize that sounds like a cop out, which is not my intent. You are absolutely right. My conclusion is really just a theory right now, and I should have presented it as such.

I do agree with you that MB are usually very safe and careful and I suspect, like you, this was a freak accident.

Can you expand on what "facility designed for such experiments" means?

Is it licensed in a certain way, or are all firing ranges used by the military reasonable to use for cannons, or what?

If it's where they do most of their explosives testing, it's the county sheriff's bomb range.

You just explained why nobody should play with guns.

Human errors will proliferate until they run up against consequences. That is why there must always be consequences.

This is true to a degree, and I think few would argue against it. The question is, what is the right amount of consequences?

Should the party at fault have to pay exactly the damages actually caused to make those injured whole (in other words, actual damages?)

Should the party pay a portion of the damages caused so as to partially compensate others while not being ruinous to a party that behaved with reasonable, but insufficient, precautions (a large part of the justification for "proximate cause "is to achieve this, see for isntance "Wagon Mound (No. 1)" and "Wagon Mount (No. 2)", and contributory negligence also plays a similar role)?

Or should the party at fault pay far more than damage caused to discourage improper behaviour (in other words, punitive damages)?

These are decisions best made on a case by case basis, but the doctrines we lay out for deciding which case falls where affect how willing to take or not takes risks a society becomes. And most of the biggest advancements in human society came through enormous risk, so I for one think we should not encourage society to be too risk adverse.

Here, I think the grandparent post makes a good argument that there should be consequences, but they should be exactly actual damages and nothing more.

These are decisions best made on a case by case basis, but the doctrines we lay out for deciding which case falls where affect how willing to take or not takes risks a society becomes. And most of the biggest advancements in human society came through enormous risk, so I for one think we should not encourage society to be too risk adverse.

On a case by case basis, we invariably decide who to blame by determing who accepted responsibility, perhaps implicitly. We don't place blame on individuals for the betterment of society because we know intuitively that that is unfair. So, we may decide e.g. to make cannons illegal, but we wouldn't decide to make Bob's cannon illegal, and throw Bob in jail after the fact. Likewise, we wouldn't decide to let Bob off the hook for blowing holes in people's houses because we like cannons and want to see more of them around.

(And I'm aware that we routinely fail to adhere to this principle, no need for examples, but it is what we strive for).

It depends on what you mean by "We". If you mean the courts that develop the common law of torts, then no it isn't. I suppose it also depends on what you mean by accepted, but in torts who is responsible is very often a highly contentious topic at the very center of the case.

In torts, the courts generally try to ascertain fault and try to do justice. But that is a general principle that they will intentionally and consciously break away from when they think they are serving a higher purpose. They will absolve liability or limit liability to just certain victims through the doctrine of proximate cause. Part of the development of that doctrine was openly to protect businesses from unending liability (and particularly railroads) to make sure they stayed in business. On the flip side, we will apply strict liability for certain activities, even if the injured party was 100% the one at fault. This had numerous reasons, but one of them was to limit use of those activities.

And criminally, we won’t make Bob’s cannon illegal, but we will happily make it illegal for Bob to have a cannon while letting Sally have one. We don’t allow convicted felons to own guns for instance. And we don’t allow the blind to have a driver’s license.

But then there are consequences to the consequences. Surgeons will refuse to operate in marginal cases and people will die unnecessarily. Food will no longer be mass produced and people will go hungry. Parents will stop taking their kids outside to swim.

Shit happens. If you punish people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they'll never be in that place at all.

It's only the surgeon's fault if they don't deliver what they promise. If the patient is informed of the possible outcomes and their chances, then the patient is the one taking the risk. At least, that's how it should work.

If you sell food called "Peanut Butter OR Poison" then you can't be blamed if some people get sick, but if it's called "Peanut Butter" and it's something else, heads need to roll. If they didn't, then we would go hungry, or at least the smart people would.

As a cannon safety inspector, you are taking personal responsibility every time you tick "yes, this cannon is safe". If not enough people are willing to do that, others will assume part of the risk, for a price. And if nobody wants to do that, then nobody gets to play with cannons.

When a stray cannonball blows a hole in someone's house, somebody is going to suffer no matter what, and it shouldn't be the home owner.

Yes, risks are often worth taking. But we need to make sure that the person choosing to take the risk is the one who suffers the consequences. Then they can decide if it's worth it to them.

What I'm trying to say is that "peanut butter" on a label really means "peanut butter or poison". The only question is how many 9's we put on our certainty of it being peanut butter instead of poison. But it's never 100%.

Eventually, if peanut butter remains popular, someone will be killed by poisonous peanut butter. The argument I'm trying to make is that this doesn't necessary mean heads should roll when it happens. 99.99999999% certainty of poison-free peanut butter is good enough. And it remains good enough even when the 0.00000001% comes up and someone dies.

That doesn't make the death any less tragic. But it does mean the peanut butter producer isn't liable just because it happened.

"Heads roll" was an overly vindictive metaphor, because what actually happens is Skippy pays the poison victim some money, which rectifies the mistake, to some extent. So why would we ever spare them? By doing so, we're effectively shifting the burden to the victim. In delivering justice, consequences can't be eliminated, only redistributed.

And if the risk is really so small, then Skippy should have no problem assuming it. It's either them or little Timmy.

I don't believe it. If only there was a group of people that could test the plausibility of this story...

I can assert this comic has a very appropriate alt-text

"Instead the cannonball flew over the foothills surrounding Camp Parks Military Firing Reservation, before spiraling back toward Dublin like a cruise missile."

Wouldn't it be more like a ballistic missile?

Cruise missile sounds more sensational to the average Joe.

Now they could have said "like a nuclear warhead" or a "dirty bomb" to invoke that easily accessible pre-programmed fear of terrorism as well.

Also I think they should emphasize the word "blasted" more times. I feel 4 times wasn't enough. Maybe another 12 times would really demonstrate how dangerous science can be.

That's a really funny quote considering the iron cannonball is the size of a softball and a 17th century technology. It's a bit like saying "the horse sped by like an 18-wheeler".

That quote made it seem like the ball changed course. "Spiraling back toward Dublin". I'm not a cannonball expert, but wouldn't it just be "heading toward Dublin"? "Spiraling back" makes it sound like it turned around and went the other way.

projectiles in flight actually do some surprising things -curving or literally spiraling through the air are just some of them. I have no idea what this thing was doing, but at speed and with spin, weird things happen.

I could see it spiraling or even curving, but it still seems highly unlikely that it would turn around 180, pass by a point where it previously flew over, and cause that much damage after passing through a concrete wall. "back towards" implies just that.

Frisbees and boomerangs in flight can certainly turn around way more than 180°. Or with sufficient wind, any projectile can turn 180° and come back the way it came.

I'd doubt a spinning cannonball would actually manage that, but it probably only takes a curve of 90° or even just 45° for some sensationalist journalist to exaggerate that into "spiraling back".

There was a recent analysis of soccer shots that seem to curve quite considerably, and it was deduced that the soccer ball in flight would actually form a spiral on to a point. Only that the ball hit the net or the ground did it stop its spiral trajectory.

Perhaps "spiraling" in the sense of a football. If the cannon was rifled.

Cannon have been rifled since at least the time of the civil war, so that would make some sense.

No, like a cruise missile.

Fired out of a cannon.

At the risk of taking the bait, a cruise missile is powered through its entire flight to the target. A ballistic missile is powered only at the beginning of the flight, and then it arcs unpowered (ballistically) to its target.

A cannonball is not like a cruise missile.

Humor. Have you heard of it?

Has anybody noticed that mythubsters experiments seem to be getting more daring and un-necessarily dangerous? For me it started with the 'curving bullet' myth, that just didn't seem to have the necessary safety controls. Since then I've seen many myths that could have easily ended in disaster, had one simple thing gone wrong.

There's a lot to be said for teaching experimentation and the scientific method, but I'm worried they're teaching a whole generation of kids that science is inherently dangerous.

Actually, I think they've gone downhill, but not quite for this reason. I'd be quite happy to see them act daring. But it seems to me that at the same time they've done this, they've tried to keep the viewers out of trouble by refusing to disclose the details of the experiment. One example is when they were doing "exploding pants", they wouldn't reveal the proportions of the various chemicals that they used.

I understand why they do this. However, for a show whose theme is supposed to be discovering truth by questioning, this attitude of "we know best, and you can trust us to do it right" seems wrong. And for me, it spoils the whole show.

I think you can thanks America's post 9/11 paranoia for a TV show not being comfortable with (or perhaps legally allowed) telling people how to make explosives.

So, the myth is "not discussing explosives recipes on TV reduces bad uses of explosives". Debunking that one in a safe & legal manner would be some Mythbusters I'd enjoy watching more than "exploding pants".

I think it's gone downhill because of a declining pool of good myths left to test (how many are basically just "someone on out forums dared us to do this" with a thin veneer of "myth").

Yet they still haven't addressed cow tipping.

Probably so they don't end up encouraging people to test the theory themselves. Even talking about it would do that.

>"I'm worried they're teaching a whole generation of kids that science is inherently dangerous."

Hmm, I don't know about you, but I would like kids to practice 'dangerous science' and grow up to be scientists, rather than to grow up and enter the financial sector to play with billions of dollars that aren't theirs and end up crippling the economy for everyone else.

Having the mindset of 'minimizing harm to self and others' is mostly expected in dangerous science, but unfortunately it seems to be optional in the financial sector.

but I'm worried they're teaching a whole generation of kids that science is inherently dangerous.

I used to work at NASA on space shuttle launches. If I told you that some of the appeal did not come from the fact that one in 50 of those things was likely to go off like a firework, I'd be a liar.

> There's a lot to be said for teaching experimentation and the scientific method, but I'm worried they're teaching a whole generation of kids that science is inherently dangerous.

I guarantee any teenager with a legitimate interest in science would consider some amount of danger the most exciting part.

Inherently dangerous can be inherently awesome.

> There's a lot to be said for teaching experimentation and the scientific method, but I'm worried they're teaching a whole generation of kids that science is inherently dangerous.

I wouldn't even say 'dangerous', I would say 'real'. Exploding things are real. Making rocket fuel from sugar and fertilizer is real. Computing the angle of a falling ball is NOT real unless you happen to fire that ball from potato gun. Computing velocity of a block sliding from a wedge is not real, is terribly and utterly boring.

Our education suffers from total detachment from reality. Physics lessons are boring, and it's right that kids point it out.

Actually, the problem I had with that episode was that they were mythbusting Newton's first law of motion.

Meh, they've tested Newton's laws numerous times. If everybody knew them, both intellectually and in their bones, they wouldn't have the myths to test, but alas, I don't think you can claim with a straight face that we live in a society with universal knowledge and deep understanding of Newton's laws.

... and if you think you do, spend some time on the much-referenced "fan site".

And furthermore, there is nothing unscientific or wrong about testing our most well-tested theories. The entire point of science is that even then, the theories will still work, not that you should never test them again.

I'd also further observe that for all the drama happening here, those swinging gun sequences aren't that unsafe. It may look unsafe but the actual set of things that can plausibly go wrong was less than your intuition may be claiming. It's not like there was a way they were going to shoot themselves with a particularly higher probability than usual. (And remember that if you start constructing far-out implausible scenarios under which that might happen you must be willing to worry about equally improbably things all the time; one rapidly gets to the point where things like simply driving to work must be considered too unsafe to do if one starts spending too much improbability on the constructed scenario.)

I agree with everything you said, but I even think it's unfair to say they're "testing Newton's laws." Rather, I think they're often testing "is it feasible for us to reproduce the idealized circumstances from thought experiments." Case in point is firing an object in the opposite direction of a moving vehicle. I don't think any of them questioned the physics behind it, but it was really a question of if they could contrive the circumstances exactly so they observed the kind of result one would see without all of the nasty effects that reality imparts (like spin, air resistance, speed variance, etc.): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLuI118nhzc

The nice thing is that it is no problem to test Newton’s first law of motion again and again and again. If you do it right you will always get the same results.

That’s what Mythbusters is all about. It’s not about rigorous mathematical demonstrations of why something can or cannot be true, it’s about figuring stuff out in a way that actually makes it possible to see the result (and not necessarily as the result of a calculation).

That’s a less powerful and much more tedious approach than our usual methods of gaining knowledge but it is a lot more accessible and just good entertainment. Since Mythbusters is less about gaining knowledge and more about entertainment it’s also the appropriate approach for the show.

Frankly, I think that most of the time, their methods are plenty rigorous. The only difference between them and research engineering labs is that instead of writing a paper, they produce a television segment.

For some stuff, the "Can a snow plow driving down the road push enough air to flip a passing car over?" had so much wrong with it that I didn't finish the rest of the episodes on my tivo before I moved.

They tested on a dry, flat surface without any hint of ice or snow. As snow plows are not used in summer, this was a pretty bad error. A runway is flat, a road is not. I assume they were going for local location for cost and just wanted the big crash at the end as opposed to showing how dangerous a snow plow is. Coefficient of friction is an amazing thing.

Oh, their methods are quite good most of the time. The point is much rather that we know so much about how things move that if all you wanted to do, was find out whether it’s possible to bend bullets you likely wouldn’t do an experiment but break out the calculator. An experiment about this particular question can’t tell us anything new.

Yes, Mythbusters is unscientific...


Damn you, XKCD!

Sure, it was a pretty dumb myth that they were testing and it didn't make for a great episode, i just still can't believe they didn't end up shooting someone.

Don't forget too that Kari was pregnant. Calling those sequences poorly considered is an understatement.

Teaching kids that science is dangerous is perhaps one of the greatest contributions to society they could possibly have!

Kids love dangerous things. (Works best if you tell adults to back off and let them have fun)

They had a recent Locations clip-show which was surprisingly good and mentioned some more close calls. For instance, the one where they set off so much ANFO that it broke windows in the nearby town. Or where they set off a fuel-air bomb with coffee creamer that almost blew up the build team because they didn't treat it like a serious explosion with them in the bunker and such.

For a few years, the thing that bugged me the most about the show was the editing. It was being cut and presented like the target demo was a bunch of hyperactive 8 year olds who couldn't be trusted to remember what happened on screen 3 minutes ago. As an adult with an actual attention span it was extremely obnoxious, but I realize I'm probably not their target demo so whatevs.

Watching it on Netflix, I assumed it was because the show was tailored for long commercial breaks. "After blasting 2–5 minutes of nonstop hyperactive advertising, let's recap what we were doing a minute ago!'

The absolute worst is when before a commercial break they "tease" the result of the experiment, by showing the results!

I agree. This is the reason I no longer watch the show. It may be "longing for the old days", but I feel like the earlier seasons had a higher ratio of explanation to repeated viewing of explosions.

I love the show, but I felt very uneasy about the curving the bullet thing. I cringe every time they show those clips during the beginning montage. But other than that, nothing stood out to me.

Past observing tadpole behavior, science takes a strongly dangerous bent.

It is :-) at my first job we had a wave tank that was driven by a computer driven servo - it would be quite posible to write code to tell the servo to travel full distance in 0 time - which would have crated a wave so powerfull it wold have flooded our lab.

The physics at play here (at least as reported in the article) are hard to fathom.

It went through the front door, bounced around the home, UP to the second floor, THROUGH the back wall...

And enough energy still remained to send it across a road 50 yards, UP again to a roof, and finally smashing through a van window.

I wish they could have captured this with high-speed cameras from multiple angles, like they do with experiments that go as planned.

I'm guessing that the reporter completely made up the "bounced around" bit to make it sound more sensational. Seems more likely to have entered the front door at an upward angle, sailed through the house and out the back and across the street.

That makes sense. Still incredible that it had so much energy that it was still going after making it through a door and a wall.

It's also surprising that it could bounce so high (at least once) after hitting a floor.

That makes sense. Still incredible that it had so much energy that it was still going after making it through a door and a wall.

Keep in mind these are American houses, flimsy paper cardboard and this bits of wood things.

Their Americanness has little to do with their build quality. The climate in California likely does. Been to places in the USA where it actually gets cold? The houses are way more sturdy there because they need to be.

North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Montana and northern Minnesota are the coldest places in the continental US and the houses mostly tend to be cheap and flimsy. Houses in California seemed to be much more robust, actually. Build quality probably has a lot more to do with local building codes.

I think it depends more on the year the house was built. Newer houses seem to be built really cheaply, while ones from 50+ years ago here are fairly solid.

Proximity to a fault line is also a major factor (influencing local building codes, as well as common sense and economics).

Flimsy houses built 50+ years ago likely don't exist anymore.

My landlord will likely be fairly distressed with this news. ;)

I think it has to be more than 50 years old. More like 70. Most of the houses around here look like they were built in the 60s, 70s and 80s and are not great.

Here in UT they use a couple 1960s-era Howitzers for avalanche control in Little Cottonwood Canyon. They once loaded a shell with too much gunpowder and left a crater in someone's back yard 10-15 miles away.

Watch the video, it is surreal. Now the show is probably going to suck because their insurance won't let them do anything remotely interesting with explosives.

Maybe they'll have to actually focus on doing interesting things without explosives. My interest in Mythbusters faded as their excuses for blowing stuff up every week became increasingly absurd and pointless.

I agree. The earlier, lower-budget seasons of the show lead to some really clever solutions for testing things that would be unfeasible to try at full-scale. Now if they want to melt a semi truck with thermite they just buy one and do it. The target audience has really shifted.

My favorite part about the early mythbusters wasn't the science - it was the thrill of the build. To watch them having to build some weird thing, working through the possibilities, dealing with problems etc. Like the one where they tested if you could get electrocuted through an appliance in a lightning storm... they actually spent time troubleshooting the wiring in the house, and explained the problem. Now all you get is a 30 second montage before they start blowing crap up.

Absolutely! I hadn't heard it articulated as cleanly, but the "Thrill of the build" is exactly what attracted me to the show.

I enjoyed watching them try to come up with "How in the heck are we going to make this thing", along with calling car-lots, and the other stuff that they have the budget to avoid, or the producers do off-scene.

It reminded me a lot of Junkyard wars, when I first started watching it, but more authentic, since they weren't using a stocked field ;)

Stuck with Hackett still has a building things aesthetic, but it hasn't quite clicked with me.

Yeah, all those dumb people watching, am I right?

I’m not sure whether they really are blowing up more stuff? Maybe someone should check that myth?

There were some really awful myths this year (I hated the Green Hornet show and that other show where they promoted some other stupid show on the Discovery Channel, also the Obama episode) but recent episodes have been pretty good and my subjective impression is that they have done a lot of low key myths in a big way. Also, the myths that are actually about explosions have become more sophisticated.

I have observed this also. Right now I can predict that any episode will have two "myths" that are bound to be either about explosions, cars or alcohol, with the possibility of mixins.

The myths are gone, all that's left are busters, or rather blasters.

Next week they are going to test the myth that the show can't jump over an exploding shark.

> My interest in Mythbusters faded as their excuses for blowing stuff up every week became increasingly absurd and pointless.

And the Obama episode? Really, the best they could think of was Archimedes death ray because it wasnt "tested thoroughly enough"??? Come on......

I think Obama was looking for a way to cut the defense budget.

Cheese, frozen chicken, truck with window-blades, laptop battery and phonebook armor, mixing some MOO with MEOW, snow plow rocket sleds and the list goes on and on about things with at least potential military use - heck, even white mice in case Hannibal comes around again.

That death ray was less lethal and less effective (and less spectacular) than all of those. I just don't see it.

Well - the obvious solution is to just move the explosives testing to a more remote location.

I drove past the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center outside of 29 Palms a few months ago. You could shoot a cannon ball several miles in any direction out there without hitting anything of value.

The same is true for Fort Irwin just north of there, or the Naval Weapons Center China Lake just off the 395 on the way up to Mammoth. Of course, all those pale in comparison to the vast emptyness of the 1,300+ square mile Nevada Test Range. If it's good enough to test Nuclear armaments, it's probably good enough to handle the occasional wayward cannonball. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nevada_National_Security_Site

Sure, none of these are as convenient to Mythbuster's HQ - but I'm sure they can fit it in their travel budget - and if one of their experiments went wayward and actually killed someone, I'm sure it'd be the end of the show.

I'm looking forward to the Mythbusters episode where they bust/confirm the myth about a cannonball flying through two homes and a minivan.

Reminds me of the convertible car mishap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oy872Fb1ad8

Just yesterday Kari (one of the Mythbusters) posted pictures on twitter of her standing next to the cannon. They appear to have been removed now though.

This isn't the first time one of their tests has accidentally damaged property, there was an explosion a year ago in a lake bed that was stronger than expected that ended up blowing windows in a nearby town.

Hmm.. Would have liked to see more details about the accident itself. The cannonball was cast iron? Any estimation about speed and weight?

Actually the biggest surprise were the walls of the house shown (mostly the exterior wall): Is this a brick and mortar house/wall? Or is this wood/insulation mostly?

Edit: In fullscreen that looks to be a wall made of concrete, with a network of iron/steel to support it? Even if it's a ~thin~ wall by some standards, this is a lot stronger than I initially guessed.

The house has a stucco exterior. Rigid foam insulation clad with a metal mesh covered with a thin layer of what is basically concrete.

If it was a regulation-size softball made of average-density grey iron, I get 103.9 kg for the mass.

I get about 4 kg.

(It appears you may have used the 12 inch circumference from your softball regulations as the radius of the ball)

You might want to practice comparing results of calculations you make to what seems intuitively likely. I think you would find it's a very helpful in catching errors.

Just wood and insulation.

The video said the cannon ball was the size of a softball.

Supposedly they were "trying to figure out how fast a cannonball would travel". Presumably they knew the mass, density and shape... and the force of the explosives being used. Perhaps someone should tell them about physics, it would save some trouble.

With low explosives like those used in cannons figuring out the force can be pretty tricky. This isn't an adiabatic expansion, the force experienced on the ball will depend on how fast the ball is moving. The rate at which the explosive burns depends on the heat inside the chamber which depends on the pressure. The burn rate and rate at which the cannonball leaves, plus a modifier based on how much escapes through the ignition hole, governs the pressure. I really wouldn't trust any calculation of all of the above without experiment.

> Perhaps someone should tell them about physics

Are you referring to the hosts or the general public that the hosts enjoy educating?

I was referring to the hosts. I'm neither an explosives expert, nor a physicist, but it seems to me that there would be simpler ways of determining this. Of course, the purpose is vaguely informative entertainment, not scientific research.

One mishap in eight years* is a very good record, the Mythbusters put a LOT of time and energy into safety and it was clearly an accident, they obviously weren't being reckless.

I dont have any firm numbers but i'm pretty sure that more space debris and meteorites fall from space every year than mishaps from Mythbusters.

* I've no idea if there have been any more serious accidents, but this seems to have been the first since the news story didnt mention precedent.

"I don't have any firm numbers" followed by "I'm pretty sure". Sounds like the beginning of a myth.



A direct comparison may be misleading b/c since you could model meteorite impacts with a probability distribution over latitude/longitude, whereas Mythbusters presumably uses the same testing site(s). Also note that the Google answer's 3 cases of meteors causing injury or damaging property all lie in the US.

they've had mishaps, but none that seriously endangered general public quite like this one, afaik.

example: http://www.kcra.com/r/19016582/detail.html

Definitely more than one mishap. Many of their mishaps make it on to the show, even. This is possibly the most significant mishap, but not the first.

Shooting a high energy projectile into a residential area seems exactly reckless to me.

They do seem to take safety seriously, it is unfortunate that in this case that did not translate into choosing a more isolated location (which at least limits the consequences of a misfire to active participants).

1) they were on a military explosives test ground and firing range. implying that they were in someone's back yard is a bit disingenuous when i'm sure more dangerous things are regularly tested there.

2) i rather suspect that they were pointing it exactly where they were told to point it by the officials and experts, as has been the case with pretty much everything they do on that range.

it sucks that this happened, everyone's lucky that no one was hurt. but i largely suspect they weren't shooting from the hip about it. the firing range must've had officials to oversee it. their insurance company regularly oversees all stunts. and the crew of the show are straight up experienced professionals, regardless of how it comes off on tv.

>1) they were on a military explosives test ground and firing range. implying that they were in someone's back yard is a bit disingenuous

your point seems to be moot as this military explosives test ground and firing range happens to be located pretty much in the back yard of these homes.

>when i'm sure more dangerous things are regularly tested there.

either dumb luck or much better trained and/or smarter professionals doing the testing. (btw, i lived close to 2 military shooting ranges [ one for guns like AK-47 and another is the tank range ] and there is a world of difference between how military and civilians handle the weapons, i mean skill-wise, though even military do have mishaps )

Then why haven't the more dangerous things wrecked houses too?

I'm stunned at the level of apology going on here ("it sucks that this happened [...] but" -- seriously?). I like the show too, but people: they put a deadly projectile through someone's house. That's just not acceptable under any circumstances, no matter how many rules were followed nor precautions taken.

Someone screwed up badly here. That stunt should never have happened where it did. Does anyone seriously disagree?

"That stunt should never have happened where it did"

yep, they really should have picked a better location, like a military firing range ....

Argument by appeal to authority. If you can hit a residential neighborhood from the firing range, it's not safe. Or it's not being used safely. You seriously disagree?

Appealing to authorities is probably the best thing to do if you are playing with explosives. They did this, and it didn't quite pan out right. Shit happens.

"You seriously disagree?"

Yes, stop asking.

Sometimes, in the real world, shit happens.

Yes, a cannonball going through some houses should not happen. No, that does not automatically mean that somebody "screwed up badly".

The ballistics of a cannon are well understood. That makes the potential trajectories of the projectile quite predictable. Someone chose to try to manage the trajectory instead of finding a location where every trajectory would be safe for bystanders.

In the context of filming a television program, that seems like a big mistake.

If the operators of a military firing range got that wrong, then I find it hard to believe that anybody could have realistically been expected to get it right.

"Bystanders" is probably the wrong word. I meant people not participating in the filming.

The failure in the stunt was that the cannon fired at an unexpected angle and the ball did not embed in the berm as they expected. If they had chosen a location where a ball fired at maximum velocity and at the worst case angle could not hit a person, that failure would have any negative consequences. So (I think) it was reckless to try to manage the trajectories at a less safe location.

Someone made a judgement call that was wrong, about a potentially deadly experiment. That's a bad screw up.

Screwing up doesn't mean you did it on purpose, but that you failed in your responsibilities. Like here.

Things not turning out how you expected does not necessarily mean that you have failed in your responsibilities.

Shit happens, and real life has a metric shitton of fuzz factors. The idea that for every accident or mishap there must be somebody responsible is outdated and just plain wrong.

When something not turning out "as you expected" means that there is a high potential for death or injury to /an uninvolved party/, then absolutely you have failed in your responsibilities, especially when it is something that your planning or contingencies could and should have accounted for.

I guess, then, by your logic, if no-one was responsible, there will be no compensation, right? After all, not their fault that a cannonball just happened to rip through someone's house. What an outdated idea, indeed.

(Though of course, in reality, the production company / insurer will probably pay for all damage and some compensation while trying to make the homeowner sign a document stating that they accept no responsibility or liability and that it's a goodwill gesture).

> a high potential for death or injury to /an uninvolved party/,

The fact that an accident occurred is not sufficient evidence that there was a high probability of an accident occurring. I'd even go so far as to state that the Mythbusters' safety record over the history of their show, combined with the inherent danger of some of the experiments they've conducted, is sufficient evidence to say exactly the opposite.

On top of this, even given the incident with the cannonball, there was not a "high probability" of a person being hurt. The population density per cubic meter of your average suburb just isn't that high. You could likely fire a hundred cannonballs randomly into a suburb without injuring a single person.

They have. http://www.kcra.com/r/19016582/detail.html

As I mentioned in another post on this page, this isn't the first time that stuff happening on this range has had an effect on the town that surrounds it. This is just the first one to have potentially serious consequences [that has involved the Mythbusters].

"They crashed a plane into someone's house. They should never have been flying where they were."

Shit happens. Life is not safe. Get used to it.

That is stunningly terrible risk analysis; I really hope you don't work in IT anywhere near an operations role (or write software with anything but trivial failure costs). Society can weigh the value of air travel against the risk of an accident and make a decision that it's worthwhile. It has, and found it so. People don't simply throw airplanes into the sky and say "shit happens" when they crash.

This was a cannonball stunt. Surely that changes the calculus about "worthwhile" risk a little, no?

(And in any case, even looking objectively at the risk of mishaps of the few thousand Mythbusters vs. uncounted millions of airplane flights, I know which party I'd trust to do better risk analysis.)

Expecting everybody to match the risk/reward ratio of the aviation industry is absurd. There are few things that I am aware of that can do that.

On the contrary, I am an experienced systems operations engineer, and know only too well how badly excessive and/or misdirected risk mitigation costs companies.

I have never been accused of being too reckless, however. Developers I've worked with would be happy to relate what a pain in the ass I was about thorough testing and documentation of behavior and risks.

I don't know how to square those statements with reading about a cannonball going through someone's house for no better reason than making a mildly amusing TV show and telling the owners "shit happens".

I'm telling the owners no such thing. I'm telling you shit happens.

The owners will be compensated, and I'm sure there will be measures taken to avoid future incidents of this sort, but your blanket and aggressive condemnation of the actions of the crew are grossly out of touch with reality. Nothing short of absolute safety would satisfy you, and that is simply not possible in real life.

Wow, strawman much? My uneditted words are above, please read them again. I don't see anything "blanket" about saying someone (not "the crew") screwed up badly. Nor do I remember making demands about "absolute safety" beyond saying that the stunt shouldn't have happened where it did (something that even you don't seem to disagree with).

Honestly, you're the one with the half baked, off-the-cuff remark that needs defending. How do you square "shit happens" with "measure will be taken to avoid future incidents of this sort". The latter sounds a lot like you are backpedaling to me.

Your "unedited words": "That stunt should never have happened where it did."

It happened on a military firing range, in the presence of experts. Demanding more is requiring of them essentially perfect foresight. This is equivalent to requiring them to guarantee accidents are impossible.

I do disagree that it "should never have happened where it did", because I reject the notion that causality can be reversed like that. They performed the experiment in a reasonable location for what they knew at the time.

I don't think I implied they were in someone's backyard. It is self-explanatory that they were at least close enough to the houses to hit them with their cannon (even after a bounce off the ground). I don't think it is extreme to argue that is too close (especially for something like entertainment where it simply isn't necessary to expose other people to risk).

I do think the range screwed up the most, I'm sure they knew the maximum range of the cannon and took steps to limit the possible trajectories of the cannon. But when I say they were reckless, I'm looking at what actually happened, not at their intent.

Reckless is generally seen to be a description of actions, and not consequences.

I already said much the same in another reply to you, but they could have predicted the worst case trajectories of the cannon and chosen a location where that did not include houses. Not doing that was what I see as reckless.

I am taking exception to this line: "when I say they were reckless, I'm looking at what actually happened, not at their intent."

Right. To me it is self-evident that shooting a cannon and (unintentionally) hitting a house is a reckless action.

I said intent because noodle listed all the things they did do to be safe and ignored the part of my comment where I point out that they (apparently) did not choose a particularly isolated location (if the range is near where Google maps shows Camp Parks, it is a few thousand feet from neighborhoods).

Based on my research, the Bomb and Firing range was built in 1996. The homes in question were placed there in 2006. I wonder if you would consider it reckless to build a neighborhood next to a well-established bomb detonation site?

Where would you have suggested they fire the cannon, and why do you feel your choice is better than the choice of 3 layers of experts, especially considering this is about the 10th cannon-based episode they've done at this location?

Is someone at fault? Maybe. They likely won't use this range anymore. But its really hard to look at what they've done and say it was reckless when its what they've been doing for years with layers of experts greenlighting things every step of the way without any dangerous problems.

After the fact, everybody is an expert.

It is potentially foolish. Possibly quite foolish. But it's also at least possible that whoever built the houses talked to the sheriff first and believed that things would not be coming off the range with large amounts of momentum.

As far as the location, I don't think I have to think I am smarter than the experts in order to take the position that they shouldn't be hitting houses with cannonballs. It may not end up being a consensus in a world where people want to shoot cannons, but it is a defensible position.

When I consider that they have repeatedly shot the cannon at this location, I end up thinking that 1/10 is still a pretty high rate of hitting houses.

It is a high rate, but as of the 9th time they had a 100% cannon safety record. And as I said, I doubt they'll do it again in this location. Its definitely an unfortunate outcome.

I'm just pointing out that its easy to point fingers and say that something was stupid idea after the fact, even with all the experts in the world working on something. Before it went wrong, I'm sure they were certain they were being as safe as they could be.

I'm fairly sure they had a very good idea of the potential range of the cannon. I'm sure they were aware of the advantages of a larger facility. They chose to use a more convenient facility that they thought would be safe enough.

I guess we probably don't need to keep going back and forth on it though.

Nearly every firing range in the world is smaller than the range of the things they fire there. That is simply how they are designed.

Sure. That has little bearing on whether it was appropriate for a TV show to fire a cannon at this particular facility.

Building a house in the firing line of a military shooting range seems exactly reckless to me.

Oh come on.

I realise this is an unfortunate accident and people may ask hard or even unfair questions about how prepared the crew were, but blaming the people minding their own business in their home for "building a house in the firing line of a military shooting range" is just ridiculous.

not to mention i very much doubt the retailer informed them of these facts.

I could be wrong on this, but aren't a lot of houses in America made from softer material than stone bricks? Something like gyproc comes to mind.

I have to admit, the only reason I think this is because of seeing an episode of that awful house makeover show[1]. I believe the walls they used there were all wood/something similar.

1: Extreme makeover, house edition

Some home exteriors are made with brick or concrete blocks but a large number (I can't quote a percentage) of American homes are built entirely from lumber. Current construction usually involves sheathing the outside of the house with plywood sheets and covering the sheets with vinyl siding. Interior walls are generally covered in drywall (also called "sheetrock" or gypsum board)

Where are you from and what are homes built with there?

Most family homes I know in Germany are plastered brick houses†. Both exterior as well as interior walls are constructed using (different kinds of) bricks.

Wooden constructions are definitely very rare and more a fashion thing than anything else – definitely not a default choice.

† With those bricks: http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Lochziegel.j...

I'm from Belgium, I don't know any house that doesn't use bricks/cement/other form of stone material. Maybe sometimes something softer on interior walls, but even there it's mostly stone.

I assume we don't go for the easier-to-rebuild because we don't have any strong types of nature force affecting us. There's no earthquakes, tropical storms, tornados etc here. Our summers are "cool" (going over 30C is pretty rare), our winters are "warm" (5 cm snow already feels like a lot to me). In short, we have a pretty moderate climate.

Edit: Pretty much the same as ugh[1] said in the other comment.

1: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3324587

I've often wondered about the reasons for differences in home construction methods.

Do you have a lot of available forests? We have millions of acres of timber available and that makes framing houses with wood much cheaper. Especially when you consider how much airspace/insulation modern houses have.

In California, earthquakes are the issue. Brick buildings use to be common, but they don't hold up very well in earthquakes. I ma guessing the cost of supplies also play a role.

On the West Coast nearly all residential buildings have a wood frame with plywood on the outside and drywall (gypsum sandwiched between two layers of paper) on the inside.

The decorative/weatherproof finish outside of the plywood is increasingly made with concrete products, which can be made to look like stucco, brick, or even wooden planks or shingles.

The advantages of this sort of construction are that it's inexpensive (wood, after all, grows on trees, which we have plenty of around here), fast (particularly when using nail guns), and doesn't require a great deal of experience or training at the laborer level. It also has good seismic performance and is easy to remodel.

The downsides are that the structure is vulnerable to fire, water, insects, and stray cannonballs.

But in most cases the short lifespan is a good fit for the rapidly changing geography and demographics we have in North America.

Gpyroc is drywall, and that is used for interior walls, not exterior walls.

Most (non-mobile) homes in the US & Canada are either brick veneer over wooden frame, or double-brick construction where the bricks bear the structural weight to the foundation.

In Southern California, Stucco is a very common outer surface of a house. It's sort of a cement/plaster type material that yields a rough surface.

California is VERY earthquake prone. The state is a giant fault zone. Bricks and stones make bad building materials in that region because they fall on people and kill them in an earthquake.

I live in the Southeast US where earthquakes basically do not happen. Houses are often at least partially built with bricks here (especially older homes). My 80 year old home is built out of bricks on a dirt foundation with plaster on the interior walls.

Newer houses here are often built with pine frames, poured concrete basements and various types of siding (including brick).

Picture of stucco: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stucco_wall.jpg

Picture of typical California suburban home: http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-11376808/stock-photo-shot-of... (The stone is non-structural)

Picture of typical Southeastern US home (circa 1950): http://hwandn.com/respics/IMG_0713_1.jpg (Bricks are structural)

Picuture of 1930's Southeastern US home (not mine): http://www.redfin.com/homes-for-sale#!lat=33.78267975865834&... Brick, and not updated, brick is structural.

Yes, American houses are made of some kind of plywood (structural insulated panels according to Wikipedia).

They take it for granted, but for someone used to houses being built of bricks and mortar and concrete, it's odd.

I really don't know how they're called, but they're vastly different. Someone with at least passable knowledge of building can clarify :)

Typically the house is framed in wood. The outside is sheathed in plywood, insulation/wrap, and then siding. The inside is covered in sheetrock. There is generally fiberglass insulation inbetween. That makes each wall roughly 5-6" thick (15cm). Sometimes the outside of the house is lined with brick but that is mostly cosmetic.

Most homes are built on top of cinderblock basements, but some areas have a simple slab or a crawl space depending on ground water table height.

It has a lot of advantages over all brick construction. The spaces between the studs make running piping and electrical trivial. Sheetrock is easy to repair and install compared to plaster. The wooden frame is renewable.

A lot of commercial work is done in a similar fashion but with aluminum studs instead of wood, I think it is a fire safety thing.

I also believe wooden frame homes are safer in earthquakes, but truthfully the reason for their use is low cost.

> Most homes are built on top of cinderblock basements,

Block foundations have been replaced in new construction with poured concrete in general (in the midwest, at least). The solid walls are less prone to settling, cracking, and most importantly leaking.

> A lot of commercial work is done in a similar fashion but with aluminum studs instead of wood

Steel, actually. Fire safety is one aspect but it also saves weight and can be lower-cost.

I also believe wooden frame homes are safer in earthquakes, but truthfully the reason for their use is low cost.

If I recall correctly, they're much safer than unreinforced (no rebar) masonry but not as good as bricks with rebar.

Thanks for the clarification!.

I have no idea of building, but I can concur that running cabling and piping through our style of building is a lot more difficult (I've networked some rooms a few times).

I should look up the typical Uruguayan house building style, but I know it involves a lot of Portland cement (for mortar and pillars), bricks, rebars, and stuff. No plywood or plaster, usually. Internal walls are, as a result, A LOT more solid than the usual US walls, and I'd like one of those "home improvement" teams to try tackling a redesign of one of our houses !!!

No one got hurt, and I'm sure they were careful. It's something they are always very clear about on the show... but eh someone/people genuinely could have been killed... so not quite all precautions were taken.

Also how amazing is it that the canonball burst through a front door and then went UP the stairs and out the back through the wall on the second floor?! Seriously. I didn't know canon balls would bounce/ react in that way... Kinda reminds me why I love Mythbusters...

Those involved must've felt horrible when they realized that the projectile was going to miss the hillside and go into residential territory. So glad nobody got hurt.

I'm disappointed. Hyneman especially should have recognized the danger of combining energy levels like those with the elastic properties of a cast iron ball. If the firing range was within five miles of inhabited area, stone canonballs should be used. They've obeyed this rule in the past.

i hope that they don't get judged too harshly for this unfortunate incident. it is a nice and fun program to watch, and would be a real shame if it got canned...

It's just a TV show. They really could have killed people in their own home with this stunt. If they can't do it safely, it's not worth the entertainment value. (And I say that as a fan of the show.)

I hope they are judged harshly for this incident. If they are blasting cannon balls through peoples houses and cars they have no control of what they are doing. Sending balls of cast iron through habitated areas cannot be dismissed as an "unfortunate incident". In my country (Norway) you'd immediately get arrested and charged if you fired a live cannon outside a big millitary shooting range. I certainly hope that their celebrity status won't impede justice in this case.

In my country (Norway) you'd immediately get arrested and charged if you fired a live cannon outside a big millitary shooting range.

They did fire this in a "big military shooting range". The problem is that it didn't stay confined to the range.

Actually I'd say the range is at least partly responsible for this. They shouldn't have allowed a cannon to be fired that had the energy to go beyond the confines of the range.

They are at a firing range, it says right in the article "Camp Parks Military Firing Reservation". Apparently the cannonball hit one or two hills before entering the town. They weren't even firing in the direction of the town.

Apparently not big enough then. This was a lucky case. Wern't and apparently couldn't have undone any bodily harm that was caused.

If they indeed were several kilometers from anyone else, then they have miscalculated the ballistic trajectores so gravely that it's completely mindboggling to think of how these guys were allowed to play with explosives in the first place.

While I do like some of the MB Episodes, I'm not a fan of blowing up things with oversized explosions in general. Please note that explosives are dangerous. Leave it to professional use. Playing with fire will eventually get you burnt.

Accidents do happen, no one is infallible, but one should really go to the utmost of efforts when it comes to blowing stuff up or launching heavy projectiles into the air at great speed. At least if accidents happen because explosives were used for something useful, say, construction, then one could at least think that the damage or bodily harm was for a greater good, even though that is by all means a meagre comfort. However, when these sort of things happen for the entertainment (and the profits of the show, mind you!) of others, then something is really really wrong.

They weren't lucky, they were unlucky. This never happens. This is a military firing range. Do you know how many requirements had to be fulfilled for the range to be built? and the regulations they have to follow for safety? "miscalculated the ballistic trajectories" They didn't miscalculate, the cannonball struck the hill, as planned. They didn't plan for it to basically bounce off in a different direction. The trajectory is not the issue. "Leave it to professional use" They are professionals with many years of experience, and they were surrounded by more professionals. "go to the utmost of efforts" If building a firing range in the middle of the desert and firing toward a hill, away from the direction of any towns, isn't enough then what is?

The standard approach is to place the cannon such that no trajectory with the energy of the projectile can hit anything important. That's why huge ranges like the Canadian Forces Base Suffield exist [2,690 km2 (1,040 sq mi)]. The the only dangerous variable is the energy you put in, and not the direction you point the gun, unlucky bounces, etc.


They are obviously not professional enough. Either the MB team, or the range supervisors, or anyone else in that chain.

If your range is situated so close to populated areas that you can fire a projectile from a makeshift cannon out of the bounds of the range, then get a bigger range. Or a smaller gun. I have no idea how big their range is. However, it was apparently not big enough.

I don't know if the ball hit the hill or the sky or a bird on the way or anything else that might have happened. I weren't there. I also obviously understand that they didn't plan for the ball to go though those houses. However intentions does not change facts. Neither do regulations nor safety procedures, nor requirements.

If you cause an accident then you havent gone to the utmost of efforts in preventing it. The utmost of efforts might also include not doing it at all.

Nobody is professional enough to screw up 0% of the time. It is not possible to plan for everything, ever.

> The utmost of efforts might also include not doing it at all.

So, I should never drive again lest I have a car accident? I understand that you're saying that the reward for this is zero so they shouldn't take any risks at all. But you're extrapolating the risk from a sample size of one and exaggerating it.

I'm sure you wouldn't blame someone for driving to the movies, even if that caused a car accident. And one could just as easily said that they should've stayed home because the drive was unnecessary and cars are, in fact, dangerous.

>They weren't lucky, they were unlucky. exactly right ! these are too careful, and would normally have officials from local emergency services and experts in hand when they do this. they may be financially responsible for the damage, which might be adequately covered by their insurance, but hopefully no criminal charges...

What indicates the cannonball struck the hill at all?

The article only mentions it went 'over' the foothills. It presumably could have bounced off, but that doesn't seem to be corroborated.

At the end of the day, whatever precautions were in place were clearly not sufficient. You don't shoot cannonballs into residential neighborhoods and go "oops".

Hm, I see, I might have misread this one: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/12/06/tv-experiment-goes...

The correct link is http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/12/07/tv-experiment-goes...

They changed the date in the URL.

Not to be overlooked is that they were on a military shooting range.

They would have been at a bomb range .. and funny as it may seem, accidents do happen. Wait for the full report before slamming the book on them.

Exactly. I'm a little appalled at the rampant speculation, the apologetics in Mythbuster's favor, and the blind raging and blaming against them. We need to know the actual facts of what went wrong before we can make any determination of: a - who was at fault b - what actions are reasonable to ensure this never happens again c - what repercussions might be appropriate

For all any of you know, there was a bad mix of powder. Or a mislabeled measuring cup. Or a rusty screw that broke loose at the exact wrong moment and allowed an unexpected pivot in the cannon. Those are nonsense reasons of course - we simply don't know yet what actually went wrong at the firing range.

Re: the apologetics in Mythbuster's favor, keep in mind, these guys are pretty damned rigorous when it comes to safety. Fire and EMS on site, clearing their experiments with local authorities, etc. Having them take the piss with something of this magnitude seems highly unlikely.

It was a freaking accident, dude. Accidents happen. Nobody likes it, and nobody is making excuses for them. But sometimes you have to acknowledge that you can't control everything. From the sounds of things they took what should have been the necessary precautions, including doing the test at a military firing range.

I'm not saying they shouldn't be held accountable for the outcome of their actions or anything. Of course they should. And they should be expected to learn something from this incident that will prevent something like this from happening again. But there's absolutely no point in crucifying them over this.

_I certainly hope that their celebrity status won't impede justice in this case._

"Justice" in this case would be paying for the damage they caused. I'd be highly surprised if that doesn't happen. I mean, surely they have insurance to cover things like this???

They DID fire it in a big military shooting range.

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