A picture of a magnet from the BunKaryudo Humor Blog.

Trying to Hang On

The white plastic disk is much the same size and shape as a piece from an Othello board game, and is easily the most useless thing in there. Even as I type, I can see it out the corner of my eye, tucked between the stapler and the scissors, trying desperately not to be noticed. I’m not sure how the magnet-less fridge magnet ended up in my drawer. At some point, it presumably became detached from its magnetized base and tumbled from the fridge. It must have been quite a fall to take it around four corners and through a couple of doors into my desk.

 

I pick it up between my thumb and forefinger and examine it carefully. I’m not surprised it’s been hiding. There’s not much call for a fridge magnet that has to be superglued to a fridge. What on earth can be done with such a thing? Too small for a doorstop, too light for a paperweight and too simple for Fourier-transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer—the truth is, all that remains of the fridge magnet is a worthless, plasticky lump that’s not much good for anything.

 

I try not to think about my job.

 

No, I have to remain firm and focused. It may seem harsh, but given my extensive paperclip and rubber band collections—not to mention my fine selection of colored pencils—space in the drawer is tight, and so I simply cannot allow any freeloading. Every item in there has to contribute if it’s to justify its keep.

 

Still, it can’t have been easy for the poor thing: its entire purpose for existence ripped away from it like that. In the end, I decide the best I can do is try to use the magnet-less magnet as the inspiration for a short essay. If I succeed, the plastic disk will be able to hold its non-existent head up high and live among its fellow drawer-dwellers without shame. And if I fail? The wastebasket looks up evilly and grins.

 

So, magnets…

 

Like many people, I found them fascinating as a child. I remember, for example, a lesson in elementary school in which the teacher pushed a bar magnet slowly toward little round magnets scattered here and there on a table top. Each of the round magnets in turn moved slowly backward at the bar magnet’s approach, something I found it highly amusing at the time. Looking back on it from this vantage point, I find it stirs uncomfortable memories of my university days and the success my geeky friends and I enjoyed as we attempted to meet women during student parties.

 

I suspect this image may surprise some people since the more natural association of magnets with romance is of opposites attracting. In fact, this also happened at the student parties—individuals being drawn irresistibly together from opposite ends of the room until with a final snap, they locked firmly at the mouth—it just didn’t happen to me.

 

So let’s jump again, this time to a happier memory from when I was about ten or twelve. I remember being in a variety store and passing a display of cheap compasses, really little more than toys. Having just enough money, I decided to buy one. As I looked carefully at the various needles and their orientations, I realized I had an excellent selection of norths to choose from and I wondered which to go for. I really had no idea. In the end, I shrugged my shoulders and selected the one pointing in the most interesting-looking direction. This was admittedly a slightly unexpected episode since compass needles are supposed to be permanent magnets, but I guess sometimes, permanence isn’t eternal.

 

Of course, some magnets are in a sense not actually magnets at all, but are instead temporary electromagnets created through the use of electric currents. This is the technology I get to see close up whenever I go through the metal detector in an airport. And then get to see close up again 3 seconds later. And then again. And again. My hand luggage gets off no more lightly, since it’s being blasted with X-rays at the same time. And even after all that, I am very often asked to open my suitcases for inspection when I arrive at my destination. Some readers may make the very reasonable suggestion that security staff might simply never before have seen someone passing through an airport with a bag on his head, but in fact, I generally remove my bag when I travel by airplane to ensure my appearance matches that shown in my passport photograph.

 

Despite these past run-ins with magnets, however, I find that on balance, I’m glad magnetism exists. After all, if the phenomenon in all its forms were to disappear tomorrow, we would immediately run into very great difficulties. First and most obviously, the notes on our refrigerators would fall instantly to the floor. A related issue, and one almost as catastrophic, is that refrigerator doors would no longer stay closed. They would therefore have to be tied shut with, say, a firehose or a bedsheet wound up to form a rope. The devastating problems this would cause when trying to get milk for our cornflakes in the morning are almost too terrifying to contemplate. As well as this catalog of horrific aftereffects, it may also be worth mentioning in passing that the entire universe would—according to the science website I checked two minutes ago—completely disintegrate. Needless to say, this would also be something of an inconvenience.

 

So despite the problems I have with it at airports, I think I may decide to keep magnetism after all. This bighearted decision on my part will not only allow the universe to continue existing, but also help organisms as diverse as sea turtles, pigeons and monarch butterflies avoid getting lost as they go about their lives. This is because these creatures—and many others—are thought to use our Earth’s magnetic field to help them find whatever destinations they seek.

 

The most interesting example of all is probably that of the European robin, a smaller and cuter fellow than its North American namesake. Research suggests this remarkable bird may literally be able to see magnetic fields as variations of shade superimposed on its normal view of the world. Even more remarkably, it seems the ability depends only on the bird’s right eye, which has to see sharp and well-defined images for this magnetic sense to work properly. The scientists know all this because special goggles were created to allow changes to be made in how clearly the birds could see out of each eye. “European robin goggle maker”—now there’s an occupation to put in your passport.

 

I can’t help feeling a little envious of the robin. Hoped for successes, dreamed of achievements—I have cherished destinations I’d like to navigate to in my life too. Sadly, I have little idea how to reach most of them. How much easier it would be to have the equivalent of arrows superimposed on my world to point me in the right direction. As a bonus, when it came to social interactions, perhaps fate could add helpful annotations.

 

  • “Speak now.”

 

  • “Smile here.”

 

  • “Pause and look thoughtful.”

 

 

But navigation through life for we mere humans is a far less easy thing, for fate has decided not to provide us with any such helpful hints. Whether the choice before us is trifling or massively consequential, often there is nothing for it but to shrug our shoulders and choose whatever lies in the most interesting-looking direction.

 

 

 

© Bun Karyudo and the BunKaryudo Blog (2017)

(All Rights Reserved)

129 replies
  1. Minuscule Moments
    Minuscule Moments says:

    Time and time again I turn up at your page and am thoroughly amused and entertained by your clever wordsmithing (not sure if thats a word). I need one of those magnets to point me in the right direction too. I feel all these successful people purchase them on a black market somewhere. Whilst I try so hard to make a go of things.

    You have a wonderful gift to entertain. Humour is the key and not many people can do it, you can write about anything and make it work. I hope you are writing a book. I would read your restaurant reviews, travel tales, novel, anything. Keep writing you made a very ordinary day into one that started with a chuckle thank you.
    Kath.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Thank you very much, Kath. What a wonderful comment! Seriously! I’m never entirely certain how people will react to anything I write, so it’s always tremendously reassuring when someone is so positive and generous in their feedback.

      As for writing a book, I’d love someday to collect together, tidy up and if necessary rewrite some of the better of my previous essays and publish the result, but whether anything could ever come of this idea or whether it’s simply an unattainable pipe dream, who knows?

      Reply
      • felicityglogan
        felicityglogan says:

        You say “Who knows?” You can find out! Try a POD publisher such as http://www.lulu.com and all you need is time to follow the steps, and a few dollars for one copy, and you can have the Collected Thoughts of a Bagman in your hot-little-hand (sorry, sweaty fist or maully paws or whatever applies). I have done this a number of times, and survived and learned, and maybe all the copies purchased through enhanced ego might be able some day to decorate my casket and be given away free to attendees who I’d have wished had celebrated my life while it was still ongoing.
        P.S. Through want of an ‘s’ your universe will continue to exit… and you’ll not be around to worry.
        P.P.S. I’m so sorry for that plastic disc, who with a transplant of another magnet via human intervention could speedily resume its purpose and display your latest dentist appointment card where it can haunt you daily.

        Reply
        • BunKaryudo
          BunKaryudo says:

          I think in my case it would be clammy mitts, Felicity. I’ll check out the Lulu site. I like the sound of something that can be done in easy steps since I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to all things technical. (It’s a wonder of the universe that I remember how to post an essay each week.) This is also the reason, incidentally, why the poor magnet-less magnet still languishes in my drawer. I’m certain the complexities of magnet transplant surgery lie well beyond my capacity.

          Reply
  2. tric
    tric says:

    Only today I was discussing with friends how each of us met our partners. It was then that they all agreed that my partner and myself were a different match. When we met I was rather wild and he was so calm, (not quiet, just calm) not exactly opposites but close. Thankfully over the years the magnet has lost none of it’s magic…to date anyway!
    I’ve given up looking for the correct north, I just go day by day, hour by hour, one step at a time and enjoy the trip.
    Another great read Bun.

    Reply
  3. John W. Howell
    John W. Howell says:

    The reward of wandering in the most interesting direction has been lost on modern man. We are forced to go in a productive direction, either to somewhere or from somewhere. There is no meandering in life anymore. If there is no destination there is no trip. Thanks for the memory of an earlier time.

    Reply
  4. James
    James says:

    I recently saw a robin that had navigated it’s way to a motorway service station and seemed to be surviving on the remains of discarded junk food. It was quite fat for a robin and didn’t look like it would be navigating anywhere else anytime soon. If there’s no room in your drawer for a magnetless magnet, then what, really, is the point of anything anymore?

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      I’m sorry to hear about that poor robin, James. It’d be a long walk back home for him, and from at a UK motorway service station, I think he’d have a hard time finding a taxi.

      Reply
  5. joliesattic
    joliesattic says:

    At the risk of offending the many magnet lovers, You do your most entertaining work when you write about the inconsequential. However, I believe you overlooked one form of magnetism, that of the gravitational pull one has for another. True love. Why else do we do it? Great post!

    Reply
  6. Steph McCoy
    Steph McCoy says:

    Bun, this has got to be one the most educational posts I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. From the Fourier-transform… thingy to the minor inconvenience of the world disintegrating is right on point.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      It certainly covered a lot of ground in a short time. I achieved this by creating a magnetic field and then gliding frictionlessly across it on another magnet. (Yay, my first ever maglev train joke!)

      Reply
  7. Sharon Bonin-Pratt
    Sharon Bonin-Pratt says:

    I always wanted to open a restaurant and call it: Someplace Else. That way when your partner, date, friend, spouse decries you always going out to eat at the same place, you can suggest, “Let’s go ……” And you will both know where that is.
    Another very fun read from you, Bun. I never have regrets about opening to your blog.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      “Someplace Else” sounds like a great name for a restaurant. Another fine one would be “The Dog House.” I think it’d be particularly suitable for unaccompanied diners.

      Reply
  8. YellowCable
    YellowCable says:

    After reading this, I do also recall that I loved playing with magnets when I was young as well. You have raised a great point if we all of sudden lose all magnetic field every where. We would be in a total dark age. All electric company will not be able to deliver any electric power to us as the generator will fail to produce any current. We will be very doom 🙁

    Reply
  9. Ann Coleman
    Ann Coleman says:

    It would be wonderful to have a compass that pointed our way through life, wouldn’t it? I feel flashes of it every now and then, but not nearly often enough, and never permanently.
    And the next time I see someone wearing a paper bag over their head in the airport, I’ll come over and introduce myself. Thanks for another great blog, and for finding a use for the magnet-less refrigerator magnet. That sort of inspires me!

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Thanks, Ann. Please do come up and introduce yourself if you ever see me in an airport. I’m the one with the smiley-faced paper bag, not the crying-faced or the angry-faced ones. Those are my children.

      Reply
  10. Robert Parker Teel
    Robert Parker Teel says:

    Pretty sure I understood the scientific part of this – – if we attach refrigerator magnets to one-eyed robins, they’re be able to keep bob bob bobbin’ along?
    We all loved magnets when we were kids – – the very best ones, cylindrical and powerful, could sometimes be obtained from kids growing up on dairy farms, and they were called “cow magnets”. I never knew why they were called that, but now that I looked it up, their appeal is somewhat lessened. You definitely want to know where a cow magnet has been before falling into your hands.
    Love this post. I think your internal humor guidance system is working great, but not sure it functions on magnetism, perhaps an extraterrestrial implant of some sort would explain a few things.

    Reply
  11. patriciaruthsusan
    patriciaruthsusan says:

    Masterful use of personification, Bun. I was actually feeling sorry for the poor little half magnet. Magnet makers long ago became aware of the lure of magnets for children. When young I had two magnets. One was topped with a black scottie and one with a white scottie. I was fascinated. 😀 — Suzanne

    Reply
  12. dave ply
    dave ply says:

    I understand the earth’s magnetic poles reverse periodically – every few hundred thousand years. I wonder what will happen the next time? Will birds fly North in winter? Will refrigerator doors fly open, preceded only by magnets attached to them?

    BTW, we’re overdue for a flip…

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Funnily enough, Robert (from a couple of comments above) and I discussed that very issue on a comment thread on his Waterloo Seneca site. The main danger I could come up with was that NATO would have to be renamed SATO. Thinking about it again, I guess governments around the world would have to spend billions employing people to score through all the Ns at the top of maps and write in S instead.

      Reply
  13. Binky
    Binky says:

    The invisible forces of magnetism are an amazing thing to experience as a youth. Without magnetism we would have no electric motors or generators, and indeed, like you suggested, perhaps no world at all. I think we should have a special Magnet Day holiday to honour their significant contributions to our world.

    Reply
  14. sportsattitudes
    sportsattitudes says:

    In word association the first two things that came to mind when magnets became today’s attraction were Electric Football and MRI’s. Even after all these years there are still Electric Football games being produced and magnets are a big part of their success story. As are MRI’s. We have an MRI center opening around here every couple weeks. As more people live longer more magnets are needed to help bombard us all with the radiation necessary to tell us what is wrong with us. Wait. What about the radiation? I think if more people played Electric Football instead of getting MRI’s it would be a healthier world indeed.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Seems like there should be a way to combine the two into interactive electric football MRI. Gasp as you rearrange internal organs into an offensive formations. Thrill as you spot a gaping hole in the defensive line down by the kidneys. Fun for all the family. Requires two AA batteries. (Not supplied.)

      Reply
      • sportsattitudes
        sportsattitudes says:

        This could be the next big thing in medicine after they run out of conditions to create and medications to medicate. Bring on the imaging…and make it a sport at that. A TV contract will be needed to make this take off. Clearly the intent should be to have a 24/7 MRI channel where you get to see random MRI’s from people all over the nation. The ultimate “insider” reality show. (The football angle will be nicely covered with all the brain MRI’s)

        Reply
  15. Jason
    Jason says:

    I suspect that at a certain point there will be enough discarded fridge magnets in the big landfill sites to throw migrating birds off course. Hell we could end up pulling satellites out of orbit.

    A sad and lonely fridge magnet that has lost its magnetism and found it’s way into the drawer of a harassed office worker / family man is surely the next big hit Disney animated feature. I think you should consider taking a screenwriting course, pronto.

    As for the Robin’s amazing ‘heads up display’, they’ve been developing and testing augmented reality tech for quite some time. Some type of consumer version of Iron Man’s ‘Jarvis’ will be surely be commonplace quite soon, built into glasses or contact lenses. Future generations will wonder how on earth we managed without it, and laugh at our crude (and dead) civilisation from their various colonies on Mars and beyond.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Augmented reality sounds interesting. I’d still want it to display detailed instructions about what to say and how to react in all social situations in order to ensure my fame, fortune and possibly high political office.

      Reply
  16. Gabe Burkhardt
    Gabe Burkhardt says:

    Hey you cheated! I was for sure this was going to be a funny read. The you up and sneak in all that sciencey stuff. Now I’m gonna have to watch 2 extra episodes of family Guy to undo all the damage u did to my previously perfectly ordered brain.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Oops! Sorry about that! Looking on the bright side, though, I have no qualifications or expertise in any of the subjects I discussed, so most of the information is probably wrong anyway.

      Reply
  17. Grace's Weekly Art Insights
    Grace's Weekly Art Insights says:

    I am literally overwhelmed by your latest entry…aghast at the U.S. Passport Agency for asking you to remove your paper bag – and now seeking employment as a European Robin goggle maker…..as always, thank you for your unique insights.

    Reply
  18. Sue Slaght
    Sue Slaght says:

    Oh and the evil villain of the plot is the stainless steel refrigerator that refuse to hold a single magnet! For years we had a whopping pile of them at the back of the kitchen drawer after the new purchase of the shiny fridge. then we moved and in packing…gulp…they made their way to the second hand shop. We ll it was better than the garbage bin. I suspect they are sharing stories of being freed from the black drawer where the potato masher looked at them with an evil glint on an hourly basis.

    Reply
  19. Ellie P.
    Ellie P. says:

    Too funny!!! I can always count on you for generating belly laughs – or at the very least, smirks. Now speaking of magnets, that makes me think of the MRI I have to have every second year – due to my annoying little neurological thing I have. Never mind. If you don’t already know, and if you feel like it, you might want to have an inkling as to what having an MRI is actually like. I wrote a blog post about it here: https://crossedeyesanddottedtees.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/whats-wrong-with-me-episode-two-mris-dont-tell-lies/ . Enjoy! 🙂

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Smirks, giggles, and belly laughs all count! (Two smirks are worth one giggle and three giggles make a belly laugh, but I lose points for groans and forehead slaps.)

      Thanks for the link. I’ll have a read with a nice cappuccino. 🙂

      Reply
  20. Peter Klopp
    Peter Klopp says:

    Even though we two seem to be alike in so many ways, I felt strongly attracted to your latest post on magnetism. This even more so, since I taught the very same lesson you described and embellished the experiment by making the magnetic field visible with use of iron filings on a piece of paper. But when I read about the magnetic vision of the European robin, I truly believed that you were pulling my leg. How ashamed I am that I doubted your knowledge of each and every thing to be found in the universe. My apologies to you that I adhere to the dictum: dubito,ergo sum.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      I remember my teacher doing the very experiment you’re describing, Peter! It was wonderful to be able to see the magnetic field looping around from one end of a bar magnet to the other.

      I didn’t mention it in my essay, but I also read about a fascinating new generation of magnets produced by a company called Polymagnet. The north and south poles can be “printed” in intricate patterns on the same side of a magnet allowing for all sorts of weird tricks, like magnets that seem capable of instantly changing their polarity so they repel and then suddenly attract each other. Of course, like a lot of things that seem to be magical, once it’s explained, it’s all rather simple and elegant.

      When I checked their website, they had a Youtube video (aimed at children, possibly?) that explained the whole process very clearly. I’m not on the Polymagnet payroll and get no commission from them, but just in case you’re interested, here is their homepage.
      .

      Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Ah, the ones that flip round to face each other when you bring them near? Like many people, I often wonder why the two heads attracted rather than the head of one and the backside of another since this would be behaviorally far more accurate.

      Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      I did think about that, but since I don’t have any spare magnets, I’d have to remove one from the back of something else. It’d be like robbing Peter to pay Paul (if Peter and Paul were both magnets).

      Reply
  21. Susan Scott
    Susan Scott says:

    It may have something to do with living in the southern hemisphere, but like the robin with it’s acute right eyed sense, I too have such a thing – I think it’s my left eye, in conjunction with the pineal gland. In the paragraph 7th from the bottom, I think you meant existing, not exiting? I zoned and zoomed in just like a magnet, twiggled my medulla oblongata and it was clear – it happens, such errors, which brings us to pose the interesting questions – which direction to go? Thanks Bun, great post .. the non-magnetic magnet had it’s use after all ..

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Oops! You’re right! Exiting is what we would all be doing if magnetism didn’t exist. I can only think I didn’t notice the mistake (despite proofreading approximately 5 million times) because a strong magnetic field at that point on the page kept obscuring my vision. 🙂

      Reply
  22. yvettecarol
    yvettecarol says:

    I’m glad you’ve got peace in your life now, Bun. It’s a rather important thing, these days. Personally, I’m fine with magnetism. Believe me, no one has a fridge more covered in magnets than we do! 🙂

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      I can believe it! I’ll bet with two young fellows running around, you’re going to need a lot of space to display pictures and photographs, leave memos and the like. 🙂

      Reply
  23. Hariod Brawn
    Hariod Brawn says:

    Yes Bun, I’d read about the Robin’s remarkable ability to navigate using visual clues of magnetic fields, and also quantum entanglement. Here’s a short video that touches on it for any of your readers who may be interested. From Jim Al-Khalili, the source of my initial awareness of this extraordinary fact. And here’s a lengthier article on the same, also by Jim.

    Reply
  24. Bespoke Traveler
    Bespoke Traveler says:

    “choose whatever lies in the most interesting-looking direction.” Indeed. I suppose there would be no excitement in a life with clearly laid out signage….so we will continue to stumble about and convince ourselves we’re enjoying the experience.

    Reply
  25. Skipah
    Skipah says:

    The selection of north compasses cracked me up. If your little worn out fridge magnet didn’t find inspiration in this I’m sure a young fridge magnet trapped under a soul crushing fridge did!

    Reply
  26. Kim Gorman
    Kim Gorman says:

    Only you could write a hilarious post all about a useless magnet. I loved it. I laughed out loud at the parts about you and your friends at the university parties, wearing (or not wearing) a bag on your head at the airport, and the scientific fact you had Googled two minutes ago. I love how you weave these hilarious sentences into your story, Bun.

    Reply
  27. mydangblog
    mydangblog says:

    Your writing never ceases to make me smile, and sometimes shake my head in awe. I have a compass that I bought years ago at an auction. I take it with me wherever I live, and it sits on the shelf next to me right now, helping me understand what direction I need to take.

    Reply
    • BunKaryudo
      BunKaryudo says:

      Thank you very much! I’m blushing. A couple of years ago on a whim, I did buy a proper compass rather than the semi-toy I mentioned in my article. For a couple of days, I would say things to my wife like, “Hey, the bus stop lies south by southeast!” She never seemed particularly impressed, though, so I stopped.

      Reply
  28. dgkaye
    dgkaye says:

    Once again your create a story from a simple magnetless magnet Bun. You have such a gift for writing. Bag on head or not, you should seriously consider putting together a published collection of your interesting observations! 🙂

    Reply
  29. Poet Rummager
    Poet Rummager says:

    This would explain why a robin smacked into our kitchen window, which is situated in front of our magnet laden fridge. It was a smaller robin, so I think it must have come from Europe! 🙂

    Reply
  30. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    Well written. I say the magnet-less fridge magnet can stay in your drawer for a while longer 🙂

    Also, thank you for not making the universe go all evil on us for having you remove magnetism.

    Reply
  31. inesephoto
    inesephoto says:

    That’s a whole dissertation right here! Overcome with academic spirit I went to check on my robin photographs, and bingo – in most of them the robins look at me with their right eye. Is it a coincidence?

    Reply

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  1. […] The white plastic disk is much the same size and shape as a piece from an Othello board game, and is easily the most useless thing in there. Even as I type, I can see it out the corner of my eye, tucked between the stapler and the scissors, trying desperately not to be… (Continued) […]

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