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Monday, October 26, 2009

If it sounds too good to be true...

I read somewhere that powerful magnets, like the rare earth ones found in computer hard drives, could "trip" the induction loops that sense the presence of cars for traffic signals. Getting such an effect from a small magnet sounded far fetched to me, but hope springs eternal, as does my supply of old hard drives. Getting the magnets called for some destruction, and who doesn't like breaking stuff? I got down to work right on the coffee table. Our betta fish Dill (who lives in a pickle jar) looked on while I unscrewed, bent, smashed and pulled at the hard drives.





The magnets are attached to a metal plate, and are quite small and thin:


These magnets are incredibly strong for their size. In the first picture, that was about as close as I could get them to each other without them slamming together. If you let two of them get stuck together, they were super hard to pull apart. Also if you are handling two of them, watch your fingers, because they are strong enough to give you a nasty pinch trying to get together. They were so strong for their size that I was beginning to hope that these little suckers would really work. I eagerly took them to work the next day for testing.

My workplace has a shop area that includes a kind of "zip door" much like a garage door, except really fast. It can be activated by a small induction loop in the concrete floor. This loop is small and sensitive enough that the steel in safety shoes can set it off. I figured it would be an ideal first test for my magnets. They didn't work, at all. I was disappointed, but not surprised. At least I hadn't spent any time on a hack for my bike or, as some have done, shoes.

When I got home I did a little more research, and several articles I read debunked the magnet myth. There are companies that sell such things for motorcycles, but there is no proof that they work. Some people swear that they do, but the brainier looking articles I read said no. I did learn, however, that positioning your bike over the cuts for an induction loop increases your chances that it will detect your wheels. I've been doing that and I think it has been working at least some of the time.

Long story short, I got to break some tech stuff and am now the proud owner of 4 very powerful fridge magnets. They work beautifully.

Everyone plays the sucker now and then. I think.



R A N T W I C K

14 comments:

Steve A said...

Of course had you read
http://dfwptp.blogspot.com/2009/06/commuting-and-traffic-lights.html

You wouldn't have those refrigerator magnets! The motorcyclists at work are jealous because I can trigger the exit gate at work and none of them know how.

Big Oak said...

I've heard that if you sling 4 semi-truck tire rims over the back of your bike that would work.

Keri said...

Orlando cyclists have Mighk to thank for bicycle stencils painted on the "sweet spots."

Otherwise, the center cut usually works best. I rarely encounter one that doesn't change for me (but on the bigger roads, there's almost always other traffic).

In my experience, the Orlando DOT has been prompt in responding to complaints about loop detectors failing to detect bicycles.

Rantwick said...

Steve - I read that post, but my failing memory didn't keep it all. Plus, it was an invitation to wreck stuff.

Big Oak - I'll try that next!

Keri - Yeah, sweet spot markings would be nice. We have very few of the figure eight loops that include a centre cut here in london, so I'm usually positioned on one side or the the other.

Bike Lemming said...

Interesting experiment, I like breaking stuff too...

Ben said...

Do you have bike dots there?

cafiend said...

You weren't a sucker, because you tested the myth in a very un-suckerlike fashion.

I have had mixed success at my one and only red light. I ride back and forth over it in a tight pattern that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. The sweet spot, if any, never seems to be in exactly the same place. I will run the red if the intersection is clear, or wait for a "red light buddy" to come up and join me with more metal under their command.

Rantwick said...

Ben - nope.

Cafiend - OK, half a sucker, or semi-rube, if you will.

Steve A said...

Eerie. I went back to double check the "Snopes" reference to the magnets - and it was GONE. As if some powerful rare earth magnet had erased it all. Checking again tonight, it's back.

Rantwick, are you auditioning to be a host of "Mythbusters," specializing in bicycle myths?

Rantwick said...

Steve - I tried that link earlier today too with on luck... I wanted to add it as a PS. Now I'll go check it out, thanks!

Steve A said...

Rantwick inspired me to do a post I've been thinking about for a while.

Perhaps if he throws those magnets at the cameras, the traffic lights will change?

Marrock said...

Sorry to hear the experiment was a bust.

By the way, find something thin and you can just pop those magnets right off those plates, makes them easier to work with.

When the robots rise in revolt I plan on using the magnets on them to make them all sing folk songs.

Rantwick said...

Marrock - hey, thanks for visiting, and for the great tip. I quite dig your blog.

Steve A said...

Tonight's post challenges Rantwick to ramp it up a notch!

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