The hyperloop idea that Elon Musk announced to the public is making some baby steps towards becoming a reality. Okay, so no one is talking about how any kind of new train system still needs to get land use rights and political approval, but the technology is inching its way towards becoming more than just an idea on paper.
A few years ago, ferrofluid became a brief online sensation when a video of Sachiko Kodama's synchronized sculptures went viral. It was one of those "I could stare at this for hours" moments, with the shapes and movements of the ferrofluid in a shifting magnetic field proving utterly beautiful and captivating. Magnetism is unique as a feature of the physical world that we encounter daily in plenty of mundane situations and yet which still produces effects that are un-intuitive to our brains on a basic level — and the seemingly-unnatural shapes that ferrofluid takes bring that fact to the forefront.
In short: ferrofluid is cool, and the Ferroflow brings it to your house or office in all its glory. The device produces its own ever-shifting magnetic field to keep the fluid in constant, lava-lamp-like motion, and also lets you take control via a single adjustment knob. Beyond that, it's nothing fancy, because it doesn't need to be: good desk toys, from the iconic Newton's Cradle to the various once-popular displays of oil and water, are less about elaborate mechanisms and more about teasing out curious and entertaining aspects of nature in the simplest way possible.
Okay, so this isn't going to change the world — in fact, it's quite the indulgence, given the cost of the unit: $240 at full price, with just a handful of slightly discounted early-bird deals still available. If you (quite sensibly) think that's far too much to spend on a toy like this, there is an alternative: the Mini Ferroflow, that strips the concept down to even barer bones. There's no automatic mode and no control knob: it's just a sealed vial of ferrofluid and a couple of loose magnets to manipulate it with. The resulting shapes and splashes are no less fascinating, though, and $35 is a far less balk-worthy price.
The Safe, Presumably
This is a bit of an aside, but if we're talking about magnetic toys, let's take a moment to remember the death of Buckyballs. For the unfamiliar, these were a super-popular toy consisting of nothing but a bunch of powerful spherical magnets and all the amazing shapes they could form. They were fun and satisfying to manipulate. They also, unfortunately, led to a lot of genuine horror stories about internal injuries caused to children who swallowed them, which set off an ongoing dispute between the manufacturer and the government. It got pretty ugly, and though it seems like Buckyballs should still be available for older kids and adults, they aren't — the toy was recalled and removed from the market last year. The Ferroflow probably won't be lining the shelves of toy stores and thus is unlikely to face any similar conflict — but I bring it up because the whole saga is an interesting study in safety regulation, personal responsibility, and choosing how to react when your toy starts injuring children.
The "magic" of magnets have been observed for quite some time, but it's not actually an easily explained phenomenon that magnets can repel and attract in various configurations. Still, we can take advantage of this property of magnets, and create some amazing tricks of levitation that seemingly defy gravity. We could have a commercial hoverboard for kids to play with (as an actual toy) pretty soon, and we could potentially have some other even cooler devices based on "hover" technology. If only we could get a Mr. Fusion device together....
For a while now, people have been submitting versions of this video made by a guy from Zen Magnets, in which he both reveals a voicemail he received from Jake Bronstein, the owner of competing firm Buckyballs, and then proceeds to compare the two products. Apparently, it all started when Zen Magnets decided to sell a package of both its own magnets and Buckyballs' competing product, in order to let people compare directly. Bronstein didn't like the public claims that Zen Magnets were better, so he left an angry ranting voicemail, demanding they show official testing results by the end of the day or he would get an "army of lawyers" after Zen Magnets:
Zen Magnet's response is cute, if at times juvenile. Beyond playing the message, they then compared the two sets of magnets on screen, highlighting various tests which they claim show that Zen Magnets' offering is of higher quality. Where the story then got weird, is that the Zen Magnets' video disappeared -- the result of a DMCA takedown.
Now, Bronstein appears to be admitting that he sent the takedown notice, because the video includes a few photos of him (ever so briefly). That seems like a pretty clear abuse of the DMCA takedown process, as it would be difficult to argue that the use of those photos was not fair use. Of course, at the same time, Bronstein also admits that his voicemail "was off the Douche-o-meter" and sent Gizmodo a photo of him holding a trophy for the "Douchiest Voicemail of the Year."
Of course, I'd argue that the bogus DMCA takedown was even worse than the voicemail, but none of this fight does Buckyballs any favors whatsoever. In their anger at being compared to Zen Magnets, the company has come off as petty, vindictive, willing to make questionable use of the law to silence criticism... and, at the same time, called a lot more attention to all of that. Perhaps if they'd just let the original eBay sales go through without comment, things wouldn't be so bad. And, after all, if they really believe that their own magnets are better than Zen Magnets', then, um, wouldn't they be happy that Zen Magnets was out selling their products for them?