Ant Pheromone Trails….

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it fascinating to sit and watch ants (especially when I was younger and I had more time).  I always wondered where it was they were trying to go, and how did they know where to go?

The physicist Richard Feynman had also observed ants, and he talks about them in his book “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman!”  After conducting a few experiments, he concluded that the ants were following some sort of invisible trail, and that “when an ant has found some food, he leaves a much stronger trail than when he’s just wandering around.”  He also observed that the trail to the food becomes straighter as more ants follow it, and that it gradually “improves” over time.

The invisible trail is a pheromone trail:

Ants communicate using pheromones that they lay down as trails, so that other ants can follow the trails to food sources.  The trail pheromone evaporates quickly so that when the food supply runs out, the ants know not to follow that trail anymore.

This article:

states that ants exhibit a form of “positive feedback.”  Given the choice between two trails to a food source, over time the ants will prefer to follow the shorter one.  This is probably because ants on the shorter trail make more trips, and therefore lay down more pheromone so the pheromone on the shorter trail becomes stronger.

For more information on this topic, download this PDF entitled “Outsmarted by Ants” by Francis Ratnieks.

Fun with Google Insights!

I enjoy statistics, and so I thought I would try putting some search terms into Google Insights to see if any interesting trends popped up.  Keep in mind that Google Insights only has data from 2004 onwards.

You can check out Google Insights here:

Dancing with the Stars:

I thought shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance would increase interest in dancing in general.  But maybe that’s not the case?

swing dancing – loss of interest since 2004

salsa dancing – also a general fall in this search term


swine flu – went from nothing to a staggering jump in March 2009, with media frenzy starting around August 2009.  The region with the most interest appears to be the UK, while the region with the least interest is Canada?  Come on Canada, get with it!


chocolate – of course, our good friend chocolate gives a nice steady state graph since 2004.


technical writing – Uh oh!  An absolute plummet in technical writing interest since 2004.  What about eLearning Developer, is that doing better?  Oh, I’m saved!  A staggering jump in April 2005, and interest appears to have stayed steady since.

video editing – with the invention of easy editing tools like Camtasia Studio and Adobe Captivate, has interest risen?  This one is hard to gauge, but with Uganada leading the regional interest.


recycling – was there a surge in interest since the 2006 Al Gore Movie – An Inconvenient Truth?  There does appear to be a mild increase in interest since 2006, with the UK leading the pack for regional interest.  At least Canada isn’t last this time!

electric cars – and what about electric cars?  I see a spike in interest in February 2008, does anyone out there know why that is?  Interesting, since the movie Who Killed the Electric Car came out in 2006.


lottery – has the 2008 / 2009 recession caused an increase in the national lottery?  Let’s find out!  Nope, interest in this term appears to have stayed at a steady state.


Britpop – and what about my favourite genre of music?  A bit of a decline actually, with Chile and Indonesia leading the regional interest list.

alternative piano – and what about the genre of music that I can actually play?  It appears to be at a steady state with only the UK and the US showing any real interest.

Which cities are the friendliest?

I recently conducted a poll on my Facebook to ask people which cities they think are the friendliest.  These are the names that came up:  Cuenca, Ecuador; Toronto; Vancouver, BC; Chicago; Manchester, England; and Texas.  Of course Texas is a state and not a city, but I have heard that on a whole the people are very friendly from there.  I decided to create a list of factors that I feel a city should rate high on in order to be considered friendly.  Let me know what you think!

  1. How members most in need are treated (i.e. poor, sick, elderly, disabled, homeless etc.)
  2. How well strangers treat each other
  3. The number of community programs and groups (i.e. Meetup groups, local bands, not-for-profit groups)
  4. How well new-comers to the city are treated
  5. The number of open spaces, including parks and bike paths
  6. Accessibility to the downtown core, including parking rates
  7. Efficiency and ease of the public transportation system
  8. The number and size of festivals
  9. Is the city family friendly?
  10. Affordability of housing

Please add to the list if you can think of anymore points, and let me know which cities you think are the friendliest.