If it does exist, I imagine the school crest is something like duct tape, a paper clip and a mullet
December 22, 2009 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Is there a REAL MacGyver School in the world?

Is there the equivalent of a MacGyver School anywhere in the world? Say tomorrow I wanted to learn, for lack of a better term, “Improvisational Engineering”…where would I go? Is there a real class anywhere out there or a major or even a specific school that teaches these things? Even if it’s an informal collective of engineers that occasionally takes apprentices, that’s fine.
posted by rileyray3000 to Education (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
There's engineering, machining, industrial design, mechanics, sculpture and conceptual art...all of which have schools, classes or training programs. Hackers' collectives have sprung up in a lot of places. Do you have any non-fictional examples of what you're looking for?
posted by hydrophonic at 8:17 AM on December 22, 2009

I doubt it. Just about everything he does is fictional. Sometimes the principle is correct but the implementation is ridiculous.

If you're really interested in this stuff, I recommend reading Hackaday and Make Blog everyday and doing the projects they link to. Eventually you'll have a better understanding of how things, especially embedded systems, work.

I think I should also recommend There, I fixed it, but that site is a good example of what not to do. I guess, in a pinch, you dont have much choice.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:42 AM on December 22, 2009

There have been several different social groups that have independently labeled me "MacGyver". Looking back, I'd say that there were three things that enabled that.
  1. In 4th grade (age 9/10), we had a short unit about what it meant to be a Renaissance Man. I thought that was the coolest thing ever and took it to heart.
  2. I loved making and building things
  3. I still don't fully understand the meaning of the words "DO NOT OPEN. NO USER SERVICEABLE PARTS INSIDE."
As an adult, I think one key is to ask "why?" and "how?" until someone pushes you away, handing you a screwdriver.
posted by plinth at 8:45 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a explosives camp for teens run by the Missouri S&T Explosives Engineering Program.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:48 AM on December 22, 2009

Almost forgot: The tech section at Instructables.com.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:49 AM on December 22, 2009

Many years ago a friend of mine went back to school to study a form of engineering whose name I cannot recall--adaptive engineering, maybe? The purpose of it, and her job afterward, was to design and build specific adaptive devices for disabled people for specific needs, if there was no off-the-counter solution. I remember her making a floppy-disk inserter thing for a friend with cerebral palsy, for instance. That seemed very pleasingly creative and MacGuyver-ish.

She was in Ann Arbor, so probably in a program at Univ of Michigan or Eastern Michigan U.
posted by not that girl at 8:57 AM on December 22, 2009

There are a couple of books on this subject.

Mostly though you should start reading books about building things from scratch, and then go and build things from scratch. You might check out Lindsay's Technical Books. Especially these.
posted by gregr at 9:02 AM on December 22, 2009

Desperation + tools = crazy awesome solutions.

Any manufacturing startup will be like living on a MacGyver set. Same goes for stagecraft, LeMons racers, all sorts of artists who work with mechanical or digital gear, etc. People get very creative when they need to do something fast, cheap and temporary.

Definitely check out the Make blog and give yourself some projects. Buy cheap electronics at secondhand stores and tear them apart. Go to a Maker Faire. Volunteer to help with theater tech stuff wherever you can.
posted by paanta at 10:07 AM on December 22, 2009

For me, it was working in remote locations on standalone weather stations. All you had was what you could carry in - no roads, no phones. Patch wire, electrical tape, zip ties, a multimeter, screwdrivers, spanners, some resistors, and yes, even gum had their uses.
posted by scruss at 11:40 AM on December 22, 2009

Make magazine has a bunch offshoot groups. Existing ones are listed on this page, but if there is not one where you live I imagine it would be well received if you started one.
posted by 8dot3 at 11:53 AM on December 22, 2009

The guys I know with the best physical hacking skills all grew up on farms. They had time, space, and the need to extend the life of devices that were expensive or hard to get repaired. Not sure if that helps you though.
posted by chairface at 12:42 PM on December 22, 2009

i went to nyu's interactive telecommunications program for my master's—it's at the tisch school of the arts and is something like a cross between an engineering school for artists and art school for engineers. itp's a great place to pick up all kinds of weird technical skills and make all kinds of practical and impractical things.
posted by lia at 1:23 PM on December 22, 2009

You know that line - "I'm making this up as I go along"? That, right there is the problem with trying to go to school for this sort of thing. There isn't any official equipment - you have to make it up as you go along.

Knowing how things work is good. You're less likely to make a broken X not broken if you don't know what's wrong. And you're unlikely to fake X from whole cloth when you don't really understand it.

Do you know what makes a car go? Do you know what components under your hood need to be there all the time and which ones you could forego for a day? Or maybe just for five miles? That might be important if the end of that five mile run is a nuclear reactor that you are going to keep from exploding with a ball point pen.

Could you make a radio out of a razor blade so you could hear the weatehr report about the incomming hurricane that pretty much insures that the boat won't be back to the island in three days to pick you up?

How many knots can you tie? Could you lash to logs together and make a Spanish windlass and drag a 2000 lb rock to where it will trap the bad guys in their bunker until the authorities arrive?

Read odd technical stuff. Take old broken things apart and try to figure out how they work and why they don't any more. Make things.

NOTE: The microwave and television contain big damn capicitors that may hold more than enough charge to cheerfully kill you several days after they've been unplugged. So start by reading up on capacitor discharging.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:24 PM on December 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

A wilderness survival course/book might be useful. A lot of that stuff is about ways to make do in dangerous situations with limited resources at hand.

But other than that, the best school is your own life. MacGyver's education is extremely broad (because it was really a team of experts working things out over time behind the scenes). He knows more than just engineering, some of the ideas require a fairly advanced and esoteric grasp of chemistry, or physics, or biology, or cooking, or materials, or survival/military stuff, or all sorts of specialized fields. The school approach you're thinking of can't go into anywhere near enough depth into all these fields, without being 10+ years.

But your life has the hours to go into this level of detail, because you're enrolled in it all day, every day.

Just start breaking your routine, so you end up doing things a little differently every day. If you've never fixed/repaired, say, your shoes, try fixing them next time instead of throwing them away. Notice how your fix fails. Think of a better way. Try different materials.
If you do already fix your shoes (or whatever), and you have it down to a routine, instead try using different materials.

Everything is about enlarging your repertoire -
- Your repertoire of materials (how they can be worked, how they can be misused, when/how they break down, where they can be obtained, how they can be repaired, what they can substitute for, what can be substituted for them, etc etc)
- Your repertoire of tools (how they can be used, how they can be abused, when/how they break down, where they can be obtained, how they can be repaired, what they can substitute for, what can be substituted for them, etc etc)

All the while increasing your understanding of systems (starting with common mechanisms and working towards complex systems that are normally considered beyond repair) and principles (physics, chemisty, metallurgy etc)

Stop buying shit, start repairing or outright making shit.

You can also push yourself, eg, stop using the best tool for the job (when you can afford to screw up), and instead of moving a project to your workspace for repair with the appropriate tools, do it on the spot with whatever is in reach. (This also means you get to use your pocket tool for something other than cleaning your fingernails :)

Basically, live it. Become the real deal by being the real deal (over time).
posted by -harlequin- at 3:40 PM on December 22, 2009

I would bet a lot of stuff could be gleaned by attending the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) School but admission isn't cheap.
posted by mmascolino at 6:42 PM on December 22, 2009

« Older New economy, new investors, old scam. Help!   |   Please tell me what to read! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.