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December 11, 2009 12:24 PM   Subscribe

What Was Popular Mechanics Thinking? from Woot.
posted by blue_beetle (63 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I enjoyed that and lol'd frequently, hard to do discreetly while trying to eat lunch at my desk at work. I would love as posters either WORLD'S MOST COSTLY BLUNDERS or IDEAS FOR MAKING MONEY
posted by amethysts at 12:34 PM on December 11, 2009


"Apparently in the future we're ruled by a race of giant four-year-olds." Love it.
posted by jbickers at 12:35 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well as far as the jetpack one goes, they were probably thinking of the Bell Rocket Belt which does not, in fact, burn the operator's legs off.

There are some pretty ridiculous designs, though.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:36 PM on December 11, 2009


Lot of ideas for Burning Man there...
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:44 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


They were thinking there's a reason it's not called "Accurate Futurists."
posted by shmegegge at 12:45 PM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Next time you see me, I will have built a hydrofoil boat in two weekends...for $116!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:46 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Washington Dulles Airport actually has a variation of these motorized docking lounges that look like this. The original design had them docking with the airplanes directly, but now they just shuttle passengers to the various terminals. So that is something that actually happened.
posted by deanc at 12:48 PM on December 11, 2009


Asking "What was Popular Mechanics Thinking?" when it put a helicopter dragging skiers on the cover is equivalent to saying, "What was Rolling Stone Thinking?" when it put Twilight heartthrob Taylor Lautner on the cover of its issue at the start of December (with accompanying tedious interview).

Yes, otherwise content-rich magazines put crappy subjects or celebs on the cover, to boost kiosk sales. Going on now, been going on for years.

I've recently thumbed through Popular Mechanics from the late 1940s. As in, the post-World War Two era. Along with the ads for leftover gas-mask bags in from the Army Surplus stores, there are gads of articles on interesting schwag. But it's not schwag you buy with a credit card, it's the stuff you actually have to get your hands dirty and fabricate on your own, from scratch.

One issue, from '47, includes detailed instructions on making a two-wheeled tractor/tiller out of used auto parts. A Model T engine is used for the powerplant, and parts from a Model A for the tranny and differential. The instructions assume you know about engines, transmissions, and have a lot of sharp welding skills under your belt. Very few magazine readers today could even get their heads around the instructions, much less attempt the project. But in '47, you had lots of GIs coming back to the farms from WWII, and they knew how to weld and cut steel. Even more, as rural farmers, they didn't have the bucks to purchase a tiller for themselves. Which is why Popular Mechanics tried to fill the gap.

Along with directions for the tractor/tiller, there're also instructions for building vacuum-tube-era electronic devices, such as crystal radio sets. And, if you're bored with those, reasonably high-level scientific articles on recent advances in jet-engine technology.

Serious readers of PM back in the day would take one look at the goofy cover and bizarro-world sci-fi articles, have a hearty laugh, and then peruse the mag for the more no-nonsense material. Only the kiosk or bookstore readers buying an issue before taking the commuter train were fooled. It's a common trick for selling magazines, and, given its longevity, it seems to work.
posted by Gordion Knott at 12:49 PM on December 11, 2009 [22 favorites]


deanc, the "like this" link is broke, looks like some addition text before the http.
posted by edgeways at 12:51 PM on December 11, 2009


I loved Popular Mechanics as a kid. It was really one of the the best things that came in the mail, no matter that the wonderful contraptions on the covers made little sense. They were nice drawings and they fired the imagination and made looking forward to the future and growing up a happy thing.
posted by Skygazer at 12:54 PM on December 11, 2009


Isn't the way forward through beautiful blunders? What I love is the spirit of wonder and discovery that is conveyed on the cover. It kind of encapsulates American optimism for me.
posted by helmutdog at 12:55 PM on December 11, 2009


Oh and what Gordion Knott said. The insides of the mag had real carpentry and mechanical projects, that were actually for real and taught you a lot..
posted by Skygazer at 12:56 PM on December 11, 2009


I really can't wrap my mind around the airplane with the giant ball in front.
posted by brundlefly at 12:56 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


deanc, the "like this" link is broke, looks like some addition text before the http.

Correction: like this.
posted by deanc at 12:57 PM on December 11, 2009


Maybe 20 years ago, when i was like nine (now I'm lose to 34 years of age!) I found all these Pop Mech mags in the attic and it wall awesome! Although, already then, I discovered that some of their ideas were pure crackpot. My fav one is where they suggested that the best way building ports in shallow waters was to set of giant hydrogen nukes. It's like BOOM! blow that shallowness away!
posted by uandt at 12:59 PM on December 11, 2009


Damn. I really, really wanted a jetpack. But I want to keep my legs.
posted by anniecat at 1:00 PM on December 11, 2009


They were probably thinking, "How do we grab people's attention?" All of those covers are very dramatic and well-composed, use a lot of red, and would have stood out from the rest of the newsstand offerings pretty well. You know that the cover artist probably thumbed through the latest batch of concept art from miscellaneous engineering schools, pulled out the one that looks like a gigantic beach ball pulling a tiny plane behind it, said "Boffo!", and ran off to his studio, stopping at the art supplies shop on the way for another gallon of red paint.

Besides, this is from Woot, speaking of cool-but-impractical stuff.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:02 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seek immediate medical attention if your eyes bug out for more than four hours.
posted by Tube at 1:08 PM on December 11, 2009


Interestingly enough, the row bike is a real thing. See this Rowbike, I think there are other similar models on the market too.
posted by fermezporte at 1:08 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks -- these made me laugh.
posted by mosk at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2009


Google scanned in all those old Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, if you are interested in reading more details.

Helicopter skiing
Aerial bus
Polo on boats
Ball airplane
Propeller skier
Propeller sleds
Propeller car
Airport bus
Silent lawnmower
Rooftop car

Incidentally, I had not realized that Popular Science ran 5 years straight of military-themed covers during WW2.
posted by smackfu at 1:16 PM on December 11, 2009 [18 favorites]


Washington Dulles Airport actually has a variation of these motorized docking lounges...

Yes, if anything the Popular Science vision is less ridiculous than the real ones, which have really stupid looking fin assemblies on top that aren't seen in your photo. I'm guessing they serve no purpose but to make the things visible to pilots over a row of baggage carriers or supply trucks, so they don't taxi into one of them. See here.
posted by Naberius at 1:18 PM on December 11, 2009


Thanks, smackfu. It turns out that "ball airplane" is not an airplane at all!
posted by brundlefly at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2009


I always thought a rowbike would be a lot of fun, and I'm saddened that they, much like jetpacks and android butlers, never gained traction.
posted by lekvar at 1:21 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was really great.
posted by OmieWise at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2009


I checked out one of the issues from smackfu's link. (The ball airplane one. I recommend it. There's all kinds of shit going on inside that big ball.)

In their defense, the article notes that these are "Freak Vehicles." In fact, it treats the whole thing with pretty much the same eye-rolling "our wacky ancestors" mockery we're now piling on them. (Psy-Net content from 2065: What did Metafilter think was so funny?)

Also, elsewhere in the same issue are instructions for how to make and use your own sextant, which is pretty damn awesome! And a screen projecting microscope!
posted by Naberius at 1:28 PM on December 11, 2009


Cool. Somewhat related, Douglas Self's (previously) Museum Of Retro Technology.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:29 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh man, the article associated with the rooftop car is way less exciting than that cover led me to believe. Safe driving techniques, really? I wanted some sort of time travel plot where the road became a rooftop, or something about accidentally dropping acid or eating the wrong brownie.... boo, popular mechanics, boo.

Also, aren't they phasing out the motorized lounges at Dulles? When I last went through over the summer it seemed they were finally constructing a tunnel system to get folks from terminal to terminal, can anyone confirm?
posted by jrb223 at 1:31 PM on December 11, 2009


My dad in Popular Science, April, 1990 (thanks, Google!).
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:32 PM on December 11, 2009


And the circle somehow completes itself. Through no fault of my own (really!), I keep getting new issues of Popular Mechanics. Until they started showing up at my office, I had no idea the magazine still existed.

The January 2010 issue just landed on my desk--with an article about...wait for it...SKIING in AVALANCHE COUNTRY!!!

Where's my helicopter?!?!?!?!
posted by beelzbubba at 1:32 PM on December 11, 2009


uandt - Nuclear excavation may be crackpot, but we actually tried it.
posted by djb at 1:33 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If YOU have a better way to ski UP a mountain, I would love to hear it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:34 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


jrb223 - The AeroTrain finally passed its tests and should open next month.
posted by djb at 1:35 PM on December 11, 2009


The patent on the ball boat / airplane.
posted by smackfu at 1:37 PM on December 11, 2009


These still beat Unpopular Science, which is way too into Lamarckism and eugenics for my tastes.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:40 PM on December 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


Yes, if anything the Popular Science vision is less ridiculous than the real ones, which have really stupid looking fin assemblies on top that aren't seen in your photo. I'm guessing they serve no purpose but to make the things visible to pilots over a row of baggage carriers or supply trucks, so they don't taxi into one of them.

It turns out they do have a purpose: Shafts!

They still are the ugliest people movers ever.
posted by autopilot at 1:41 PM on December 11, 2009


Also, aren't they phasing out the motorized lounges at Dulles?

Fucking hell they were still using them in November. I'd never seen them before and after two flights, the second of which lasted nine hours, being herded into another enclosed space was like a cruel, cruel joke.
posted by little e at 1:47 PM on December 11, 2009


The "ideas for making money" water bicycle seems to be pretty much real too.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:55 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


damn, djb, that's some scary Googlemap.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:55 PM on December 11, 2009


This month's cover painting is an illustrated statistic. Driving 30 miles an hour is as dangerous as driving on the roof of a high building! If you hit another car head on going that same "safe" speed, it would be like driving off a nine-story building.
Oh, right.


What? 0.o
posted by niles at 1:57 PM on December 11, 2009


uandt, djb - There is an excellent book about the proposed harbor near Cape Thompson called The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:01 PM on December 11, 2009


If I went down to a lake, and saw a bunch of guys about to mount a fleet of hobby horse motorboats to start a game of polo on the lake's surface, and one of them called out to me, "Hey, one of my guys called in sick, and we need a ninth player. Wanna join?", my response would be, "Fuck yes I would." Not a doubt in my mind.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2009 [17 favorites]


If I went down to a lake, and saw a bunch of guys about to mount a fleet of hobby horse motorboats to start a game of polo on the lake's surface, and one of them called out to me, "Hey, one of my guys called in sick, and we need a ninth player. Wanna join?", my response would be, "Fuck yes I would." Not a doubt in my mind.

And then I'd turn to you and say "Wait... did you say... something? This acid's really coming... on strong..." and we'd both continue to lay on the lakeside and stare at the sky.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:32 PM on December 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


> Oh, right.

The car had a steering wheel made of wood and steel, mounted on a noncollapsible steering shaft aimed at the driver's chest. Beyond that was an unpadded steel and wood dashboard and a windshield without safety glass. The firewall would not be strong enough to keep the engine out of the cabin. The driver did not have a seatbelt or airbags.

30 MPH accidents used to be a lot more fatal than they are these days.
posted by ardgedee at 3:24 PM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


All Popular Mechanics covers are online. Most of them are pretty ordinary.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:01 PM on December 11, 2009


Incidentally, I had not realized that Popular Science ran 5 years straight of military-themed covers during WW2.

If the Popular Science issues of the last decade are any indication, it doesn't seem like they ever really stopped.
posted by invitapriore at 4:05 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


What was Popular Mechanics thinking? Indeed!
posted by smoothvirus at 4:09 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Bus air tram thing is an illustration of an actual tram. A converted bus was used because it was cheap and the cables are stationary. The motor in the bus pulled on the cables to move it up the mountain. An amazing piece of engineering.

I've got a completish set of Popular Mechanics and Modern Mechanix from about 1935 into the 60s. We should be so lucky to have magazines of this calibre for the mechanically inclined enthusiast today. Plans to build practically any project you can imagine were featured in that time, it's really amazing.
posted by Mitheral at 4:39 PM on December 11, 2009


What was Popular Mechanics thinking? Indeed!

The TechCrunch article, and the saga behind it, absolutely blew my mind. This would be great FPP.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


What, not one link to Bruce McCall?

For shame, for shame
posted by IndigoJones at 6:06 PM on December 11, 2009


please ship me one of each of those... thanks...
posted by HuronBob at 6:43 PM on December 11, 2009


I tell you what, I wish I could start my lawnmower with a match-- I get damned tired of yanking on the %$#&@*cord. usually ending my struggle by calling out mournfully "Honey, can you come here and help me?" and trying to pretend that I don't mind being rescued when what I really want to do is kick the ever-loving shit out of that "e-z start" piece of crap.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:10 PM on December 11, 2009


What was popular mechanics thinking? That dogs are smarter than humans.
posted by koeselitz at 7:17 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


We ARE aware that the water bicycle DOES exist, right?

http://www.waterbicycle.com/

RIGHT?
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:23 PM on December 11, 2009


I love that rooftop driving cover! The situation is bleak. Fido has jumped ship and the woman beside him is freaking out, the front of the car is crumpled and all those loose bricks imply that they've smashed through a few load bearing walls to get to the roof, but the man's body language is all calm determination. He's absolutely convinced that they can make it to the roof of the slightly smaller building across the street.

"Shouldn't have dared me, Mavis!"
posted by Kevin Street at 10:32 PM on December 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


The TechCrunch article, and the saga behind it, absolutely blew my mind. This would be great FPP.

Especially since the old FusionGarage website now redirects to this.

That story is insane!
posted by jeanmari at 1:12 AM on December 12, 2009


Popular Mechanics = Make magazine of the 20th century.
posted by wuwei at 2:36 AM on December 12, 2009


I always thought a rowbike would be a lot of fun, and I'm saddened that they, much like jetpacks and android butlers, never gained traction.

These look pretty well engineered.
posted by flabdablet at 3:59 AM on December 12, 2009


Thanks, I've been feeling kind of low lately and this gave me a couple of much-needed laughs!
posted by crazy_yeti at 7:03 AM on December 12, 2009


Google scanned in all those old Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, if you are interested in reading more details.

Wow, take that Google haters. Fucking awesome!

And just to latch on to what Gordion Knott said earlier, I remember Popular Electronics used to use the same cover-bait technique with pictures of robots you too! could build for yourself in just 10 easy magazine installments. Of course with PM, you're left to your devices a lot more than with PE, which would often provide circuit boards or at least dealers where you could buy each and every part.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:24 AM on December 12, 2009


Yes, if anything the Popular Science vision is less ridiculous than the real ones, which have really stupid looking fin assemblies on top that aren't seen in your photo. I'm guessing they serve no purpose but to make the things visible to pilots over a row of baggage carriers or supply trucks, so they don't taxi into one of them.

Actually, each of those "fins" is a covering for a shaft that allows the vehicle to be raised up in order to dock directly with a plane. They're called Plane Mates.
posted by av123 at 10:41 AM on December 12, 2009


Bruce McCall gave a TED lecture. Nostalgia for a Future that Never Happened. With illustrations. I cannot urge it on you enough
posted by IndigoJones at 11:45 AM on December 12, 2009


It happened to me! I had a terrible nightmare this morning that I was chasing after my little dog who was chasing an orange tomcat that had been frightened by the undead zombie-master buried in my front yard, and on the ride home I go straight at an intersection through some invisible guardrail, and the next thing I know my bright red convertible is plummeting through a mile-high cityscape, breaking telephone wires and clotheslines on the way down and it turns into one of those interminable falling dreams where I'm sure it's real and the wind is whipping past my limbs and face and I'm going to SPLAT on the asphalt any second any second and I'm grasping at air oh god oh god... wait. Zombie-master? What the hell? And thanks blue_beetle and Popular Mechanics for that.
posted by steef at 7:06 AM on December 13, 2009


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