Magnetic Finger: A Sixth Sense

Magnetic Sensor Digit

Ben, Adam and I were having a random chat today and, somehow, the conversation turned to magnets. Maybe it was because I got called a complete idiot by the clue impaired.

Anyway, a bit of free associating later and I mentioned that some folks had embedded magnets under their skin to add a “sixth sense” (link heads off to a wired article).

Sounds neat. The ability to quite literally feel magnetic fields? …. to find out how “live” a circuit really is just by running a finger over insulated wires? … to be able to navigate the magnetic field lines present around motors and permanent magnets by waggling a finger in the air?

Sign us up! But, then again, slicing open a frozen finger to insert a potentially toxic magnet under the skin sounds just a wee bit uncomfortable.

So, could a half baked magnetic sixth sense be achieved without the use of a scalpel?

The answer is an unequivocal yes and proved also to be a great excuse to erase some more hard drives. Read on for simple instructions on how you can quite literally feel magnetic and strong electrical fields….

Hidden Screws on a Hard Drive

First, grab yourself a hard drive, preferably dead. You will need to dissect said hard drive to remove the itty bitty magnets used to park the heads. The smaller the hard drive, the better. The newer, the better, as newer drives seem to use magnetic head parking mechanisms more commonly than the older ones.

You will need to rip apart said drive. This will typically require a philips head screwdriver and a couple of smaller Torx drivers.

As seen in the picture, there will likely be a screw or three hidden underneath rather dire warning labels.

Hard Drive Head Assembly

Once the cover is off, you should be able to find some really tiny cubic or rectangular magnets in the head actuator mechanism. These are used to park the drive heads by effectively making them stick at the extreme position.

Some drives will have one magnet, some will have two. Unfortunately, some drives — typically older models — will not use such tiny magnets, opting for a mechanical toggle mechanism to lock the heads.

Anyway, find said ultra tiny magnet and rip it out.

Itty Bitty Magnet

The magnets that you are looking for really are quite small. That particular magnet is stuck to the end of a T-8 torx driver!

From what we can tell, the smaller the magnet, the better.

Magnetic Sensor Digit

Grab a bit of tape and tape the magnet to your finger.

As for type of tape, the more flexible the better. You want the magnet to be held tightly against your skin, but you also want it to be free to move and wiggle.

You will also want to place the magnet on sensitive areas of your skin.

The magnet’s orientation matters, too. Try holding the magnet up against another magnet until you find the direction where the two repel the most. Tape the part that repels such that it is facing out or directly in to your skin — this will be a pole.

Once taped to you, try waving your finger over one of the larger permanent magnets found within the hard drive. Both Ben and I could quite literally feel the magnetic field lines.

Then, try bringing your finger close to a live electrical cord. Florescent lamp ballasts are particularly interesting. You should be able to feel a distinct sort of buzzy sensation coming from the magnet. Speaker wires are fun; you can feel the beat of whatever music is playing.

Beyond just feeling the presence / absence of electrical signals, you can definitely feel the “shape” of the field, including areas that are “leakier” than others or, for more stable magnetic fields, the shape of the field and how it interacts with whatever metal pieces are around it.

Very cool and one hell of a lot less intrusive than cutting open a finger. After doing this, it is abundantly clear that magnet-under-the-skin must be quite intense!

I suspect that wearing the magnet for a while would make your body grow more sensitive to the sensations produced as you become more comfortable with how it is attached. Similar to how the sensation is refined as your body heals around the magnet for the embedded scenario.

Try adding magnets to multiple finger tips. This adds a new level of sensation in that you can feel magnetic fields across multiple digits and, thus, an increased bandwidth.

All in all, a fun and easy experiment that illuminates the depth and versatility of the sensory subsystems.

Gonna have to play with this some more…



10 Responses to “Magnetic Finger: A Sixth Sense”

  1. Ben Holt says:

    The whole thing started when I sent you a link to super-magnet wedding rings

    The best combination I’ve found so far is a thin strip cut from the side of a fabric band-aid and the parking magnet from a laptop drive on the side of the pad of my ring finger. It really is amazing to go a whole day with it there, there are a lot of surprising and remarkable fields out there…

  2. a glob of nerdishness » Finger Upgrade says:

    […] miss bbum’s Magnetic Finger: A Sixth Sense. He describes how to make yourself sensitive to electromagnetic radiation using nothing but an old […]

  3. n[ate]vw says:

    Thanks for passing along the inspiration…I only have a couple of old drives, and I haven’t given any a chance to revive themselves, but the lowest capacity one might just go straight from “flaky” to fingertip!

  4. n[ate]vw says:

    Whoops, I thought I’d turned off trackbacks….but if I’m going to make it a triple post anyway: Out of curiosity, is there a particular reason your timestamps are in Central time?

  5. bbum says:

    There server is in central time? I don’t know — I never really looked into it. There is prolly some wordpress thing to tweak, but time is just so ephemeral anyway. 🙂

    It is a neat little hack. Don’t expect anything miraculous. The smaller the magnet the better and, if you leave it on all day, you’ll get more attuned to the sensation over time.

  6. Dad says:

    sounds like fun. i was gonna try it but then i remembered that i have my magnetic implant already.. my de-fib/pacemaker.
    that would have been interesting

  7. Dave Goldstein says:

    very cool. I have taken hundreds of old hard drives apart for the magnets. The best are old scsi full height drives, the magnets from those are monsters. It takes 2 people to peel off of things. I still have a bunch of them too.

    I haven’t seen any small magnets from the heads but I will look. thanks

  8. Lidia- fashion games says:

    Holy batman! I’ve a hard drive lying around and that sounds like fun!

  9. Magnet Schmuck says:

    this is so cool! and I would also prefer to dissect a hard drive than slice my finger. I actually have a dead hard drive here, which my son now considers as a toy. I would have to borrow it from him for a while. I guess he wouldn’t mind having the magnet taken out.

  10. The Extension of Man – Hacking the Body | ThingTank Lab says:

    […] In conclusion returning to Marshall McLuhan’s Extension of Man, a contemporary case in point might be Jerry Jalava’s prosthetic finger (23). McLuhan had a life-long fascination with electro magnetism; he postulated that electronic media i.e. electromagnetic forces conjure pre-modern or magical perceptions, stretching the boundaries of the self. This notion might be exemplified in the “bbum’s weblog-o-mat”: Magnetic Finger: A sixth sense (24). […]

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