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Why put magnetic paint on ants?

It seems like a weird past-time, magnetizing ants, but it has some practical purposes. At his blog, media engineer Andrew Quitmeyer explains how he mixed magnetic powder into insect-safe enamel paint, and what he was able to do with it.

The big benefit to something like this is that it could allow scientists to easily alter the populations of social insect groups. Each colony of ants functions, in many ways, like a single organism. So what happens to that hive mind if you remove all the ants doing one particular type of task? Instead of painstakingly picking out each worker with a pair of tweezers every time you want to try this, you could create a colony in which all the workers have had magnetic paint daubed onto their abdomens. Then, you could quickly and easily collect some of them, or all of them, using a magnet. Hunting ants with a tweezer once > hunting ants with a tweezer over and over and over.

Another, possibly less legitimate, use of the paint is demonstrated by Quitmeyer in this video. (Quitmeyer, for the record, is not a social insects researcher.) Using single painted ants in a population of unpainted ants, he plays around with the way colonies remove unhealthy members of their own community. When a magnetized ant starts flopping around erratically in response to a nearby magnet, nearby ants quickly react.

As Quitmeyer says in the video, this demonstration quickly passes from science into mad science (or, at least, YouTube science).

Thanks to Leah Shaffer!

Push button, receive pancake

Because the human brain is easily impressed with gadgetry, I give you an automatic pancake-making machine—as photographed by my friend Shav, who received his breakfast from it this morning.

A similar system showed up on Engadget back in 2009. That model cost $3500 and could produce pancakes, bag-of-batter to golden deliciousness, at a rate of 200 per hour.

Thanks to Keith for finding the Engadget link!

Behind the scenes of making silly musical thank you notes

I'm in New York this week and today I dropped in on Boing Boing pal and co-curator of Boing Boing's Virgin America in-flight channel Joe Sabia. Joe's in the middle of directing a series of short musical thank you note videos for people who request them online as a promotional campaign for AT&T's Facebook fan page. They're short and sweet, but I was surprised by how much there is going on behind the scenes here.

These guys are making about 30 videos an hour, it's a pretty impressive production line. Netziens request a song through a form on AT&T's Facebook page, then the staff here reads through them all and writes them on whiteboards for the band to perform in the sound booth. The music is prepared in advance with a few different variations, and the lyrics are all ad libbed by UCB comedians. Immediately afterwards, the videos are edited together and uploaded to YouTube. There are about forty people in the whole production line. Yesterday they made about two hundred videos, and today they'll probably make three hundred more. Silly songs are serious business!

They'll be making videos for a few more hours, so send one in if you want them to make one for you. Thanks Joe!