The Supermag 244 kit comes with 72 long magnets and 108 short magnets. In total, that's about 11 feet of magnets.

Magnets are interesting to play with. I can take a S==N and a N==S magnet and move them together and they'll repel. If I put a metal sphere in between, they'll still repel until they both touch the sphere, and then they'll attract. Why is that? I don't quite understand it yet. The polarity of the magnets matters when building certain structures. S==N (*) N==S and S==N (*) S==N look and feel the same but when you're attaching more magnets to them, they'll behave differently. This page gives some tips on how to build with geomag/supermags. Unfortunately I haven't found any other web sites with magnet building tips. I did find an explanation of magnetic fields that was useful to remind me of magnetic and electric fields, and an entire site about magnets.

Something that I want to explore is combining Lego and Supermag. The spheres are larger than a Lego "dot" and the rods are narrower than a dot. Thus, you can hang the supermags off of a lego structure by creating a 1x1 hole in a structure, putting a supermag rod inside, and then putting a sphere on top to hold it there. Another way to use them is sideways―the length of a half-size supermag rod is about the same as the length of a 2-dot brick. One of these two orientations should be usable to build a maglev train. With 108 short rods, I can either build a monorail (3 dots wide) maglev that's 2x108 = 216 dots long (that's about 6 feet) or a dual-rail (5 dots wide) maglev that's 108 dots long.

The only thing I need now is magnetic viewing film.

I opened up my Supermags on Christmas day. First thought: Yay! The box is unusual in that you have to tear it (it seems) to open it, unlike my Lego sets, which come in boxes you can close again. Inside the box is cheap styrofoam with six compartments, four for the spheres (16 in each compartment), one for the 108 short rods (2 layers, each with 6 rows, each with 9 rods), and one for the 72 long rods (2 layers, each with 6 rows, each with 6 rods). It would've been nice to have a manual with some building suggestions and technical specs. Instead, it's a tiny pamphlet with one suggestion on what to build, a marketing paragraph, and a list of their other Supermag products. Ick.

Something that's really neat about playing with magnets is that they are easy to clean up. You just sweep a magnet along the floor and it picks up all the other magnets and spheres. They even line themselves up to some extent.

One of the dangers of playing with magnets is that they can wipe your credit cards, library cards, hard disks, etc.

Each of the rods is hexagonal, has "Plastwood" (the manufacturer's name) written on one side, and "supermag" written on the opposite side. On the side with "supermag", there is a letter and a number. I start reading them from the short rods ... P8 R3 O1 P4 Q8 Q1 P2 Q3 Q1 Q6 O5 P8 O8 R6 P4 Q4 O1 P7 O4 R5 O7 Q7 R5 O8 Q8 R3 P7. I thought at first that each rod in the set might have a different letter/number pair, maybe corresponding to how they were laid out in the box. However, there are no 9's, and there are 9 short rods in each row. There are 6 rows in each layer but there are only 4 letters (O P Q R). Investigating more, I decided to pull out all the 8's. There are 3 O8s, 4 P8s, 5 Q8s, and 1 R8. No obvious pattern here. Do the letters and numbers correspond to polarity? No, there's no obvious connection. So I'm really not sure what the letters and numbers mean. The long rods have letters S T U V and the numbers go up to only 4.

Labels:

I've never been a fan of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It always felt to me like someone decided something was likely to happen, therefore it must always happen. Sort of like Murphy's Law. Finally, someone has found evidence against the Second Law.

Wednesday night I got the flu. Ugh. While in bed, I had a laptop, so while I wasn't sleeping (which was most of the time), I was either watching TV or surfing the web. I also got caught up on a lot of my work email. Here's a sample of places I visited:

As you can see, I'm pretty strange when I'm sick. I also tried to upgrade my home system from RedHat 9 to Fedora Core 1. The installer failed miserably and I spent a few hours repairing my system. Stupid Linux. And I tried to buy myself a Christmas gift (see next blog entry).

This Christmas I decided to buy myself a gift. After looking for computer games, I decided that none of the games I found (Railroad Tycoon 3, SimCity 4, Age of Mythology:Titans were my top choices) were something I wanted. Perhaps I'll look harder after Christmas. Instead of buying a computer game, I decided to buy a Geomag set. The Geomags are high-quality magnetic building toys that come with metal spheres and 1-inch magnetic rods. You can build all sorts of cool things with them. (There are also some other brands that are cheaper and easier to find but have weaker magnets, but I wanted the strongest magnets I could find.) A friend of mine has several sets and I've found that I spend time in his office playing with them.

I started my search on Google. After poking around, I got the impression that Geomags are being phased out, and Supermags are the replacement. I haven't yet found any good information about the strength of Geomag vs. Supermag, but as they come from the same company, I assume they're similar in strength. The main differences are:

  1. Geomag comes with spheres and 1-inch rods. Supermag comes with spheres, 1/2-inch rods, and 1-inch rods. This allows them to give you the same amount of material with a higher count on the box. The set I was interested in, the Geomag 184, comes with 64 spheres and 120 long rods. The similarly priced Supermag 244 comes with 64 spheres, 108 short rods, and 72 long rods. If you consider each short rod as 1/2 of a long rod, then that's 108/2 + 72 = 54 + 72 = 126 long rods' worth. So it's the same amount but the box says "244" instead of "184", which probably helps them sell more. In practice, it seems that having the short rods won't hurt―you can build more interesting shapes with them, and you can just hook up two of them to form a long rod if you need to.
  2. Geomag's rods are flat-ended, whereas Supermag's rods are tapered. They claim you can attach more Supermags to a sphere this way (24 per sphere). ToyMagnets has a picture showing lots of rods attached to a sphere. Ben's Spot has an even better picture. I guess tapered ends sound good, but I wonder if it affects the magnet's strength.

Once I decided to buy these, I wanted to do some research. Google's ads gave me a list of stores that had the Supermags available. The ads were:

  • hi-dow.com had a 10% off coupon for Magnastix. Not what I wanted (they don't offer Supermag, but a competing brand). But I think it's a good idea for companies to offer coupons in their ads, just as they do in newspapers and mailers.
  • svgames.com took me to a page listing their Geomag and Supermag products. Good. They have a $7 off coupon. Also good. They have a gallery showing off various things you can build. Excellent! Their price was $110 for the Supermag 244 set. You can select your color with a drop-down box.
  • toyscamp.com took me to a page showing their very limited selection of Geomag/Supermag products. They have free shipping (yay), but they're out of stock. They do not however carry the Supermag 244. (Interestingly, when I Google search for supermag 244, their ad doesn't show up, but when I search for supermag, their ad does show up. This is good.)
  • walmart.com carries the product but it's out of stock. And it's $120.
  • officeplayground.com takes me to a page about desk toys. They don't carry Geomag or Supermag! Like hi-dow.com, they are selling competing products.
  • An Amazon.com affiliate has an ad that takes me to the home page of Amazon.com. This is useless!! Why should this affiliate get a cut of the sale when they won't even point the ad at the right page!? I hit the back button right away.
  • toysrus.com has an ad that takes me to toysrus.com's search results for what I had searched for on Google. That's a little annoying. The page however showed me that not only do they not carry the Supermag 244, they're out of stock of all the Supermag sets they do carry.
  • geomags.net takes me to a page listing their Geomag and Supermag sets. They have a good selection, including the product I want. The page is really bright and ugly, with plenty of animation. Ick. But they do seem to have a good knowledge of the products, and they include a picture gallery. Plus, they have a $5 off coupon, and until recently they offered free shipping. The price is $90 - $5 = $85.

Next I looked at Google's "shopping" results that are shown a the top of the search results page.

  • Amazon.com has the Supermag 244 for $100. However, they're out of stock.
  • The Exploratorium store lists the Supermag 244 for $125. I didn't bother going to their site, since I had seen Ben's Spot for $85.

I also looked on EBay and found several that were going for $70 + $12 shipping = $82. However they didn't seem to offer a choice of colors, and I definitely wanted red.

In Google's regular search results I found ToyMagnets.com. The search results took me to the right page―not the page listing all the sets, but the page with the specific set I wanted. I then explored more of their site and found that they had a nice picture gallery (no thumbnails though). They also showed their inventory for each set and each color. I could see that they're nearly out of blue but they have plenty of red. (This is a really cool feature!) ToyMagnets.com is a nice looking site, has a good description of the products, and (as you can guess from the name) specializes in magnets. They offer the red Supermag 244 for $95, free shipping. Interestingly, they offer the yellow and white sets for $85 (because they have more yellow and white in stock, so they probably want to steer people who don't really care about color to buy those).

I also took a look at Froogle, but didn't really find that much that was useful given the information I had already found. Epinions and Bizrate were useless for such a specialized product.

Something I'd like to see from all the stores is an easy way to find out shipping costs. I shouldn't have to put in my name and address and phone number to get shipping costs. Zip/postal code and country should be enough.

I ended up buying from ToyMagnets.com. I could have gotten it cheaper at Ben's Spot, but I would have had to wait until after Christmas to get free shipping. Also, the real-time inventory on ToyMagnets.com impressed me. Plus, after spending some time exploring ToyMagnets.com, I was impressed with their expertise and professional look.

I also visited Plastwood.com, home of the makers of Geomag and Supermag. Unfortunately their site is totally useless. It starts out with a flash "intro" movie that can't be skipped and has no useful information. The site lists their products but doesn't tell you anything about them! I was hoping to get a comparison between Geomag and Supermag, the strength of the magnets, etc., but the site is useless. I don't even know why they bothered putting it up.

My order's estimated arrival date is December 23. Whee!