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The Drunk Ant Algorithm

December 9th, 2023 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, how did my bread crumbs lead to lava lamps and scented candles?

If you spend much time online, you will know that you leave virtual bread crumbs wherever you go. Algorithms built into websites feed on these bread crumbs and kick back suggestions for what you might want to buy. It is quite annoying, but a fact of life.

The Microsoft Edge home page offers me suggestions “Inspired by Your Shopping Interests”. I normally pay no attention to these suggestions. But recently I skimmed them to see how well tuned the algorithms are. The answer: not so much. A few examples of what was pitched to me.

“I’m Not Old, I’m Classic” Tumbler: Okay, this is on target as I am retired. But I already have a I’m 65, Leave Me the Hell Alone coffee mug and a I’m in No Hurry, I’m Retired water bottle. So I am well covered on that front, thank you very much.

Snow Tires: I checked into new snow tires for my car a couple of months back. Now every time I go online I am inundated with snow tire offers. I only have one car! I am covered for the next five years at least. How do I tell that to the algorithms so they take tires out of the equation?

FIXD Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner for Car: I do not even know what this device does. But I know I do not want one. If the algorithms were really effective, they would know that I am technology averse. Stop offering me things that I would take a hammer to if I stumbled upon them!

Gifts for 5 to 11 Year Old Teenage Girls: What the hell?! I can safely assert that I have never searched online for anything that would relate to 5 to 11 year old girls. (By the way, when did 5 to 11 become teenage years?) Same applies for the Ravensclaw Crest and Temodu Kids Camera. The algorithms must have hiccupped or become corrupted in these instances!

Lavewaves Motion Lava Lamp: I did not even know that Lava Lamps still exist. Wasn’t that a ‘60s thing? I suspect it was my Amazon Gifts for Christmas search that triggered this offer. Rest assured that, if you are on my Christmas gift list, you will not be getting a Lava Lamp!

Professor Puzzle Indoor Boredom Box: This kit contains games and puzzles. I am puzzled as to why it is being offered to me. I do not like puzzles. I am rarely bored and if I was it would not be a board game I would seek out. Professor Puzzle will have to look elsewhere for buyers.

I know nothing about the technology behind algorithms. But I understand that one of the early ones was called the Ant Colony Optimization Algorithm. This algorithm “aimed to search for an optimal path in a graph based on the behaviour of ants seeking a path between their colony and a source of food”. Huh? You lost me at “optimal path”.

Maybe this early algorithm is still in use. If so, the ants it is modeled on must have gotten into some alcohol and were scurrying around drunk as a skunk. How else would they have predicted that I would be interested in the You’re the best thing I’ve ever found on the Internet Scented Candle?

 ~ Now Available Online from Amazon, Chapters Indigo or Barnes & Noble: Hunting Muskie, Rites of Passage – Stories by Michael Robert Dyet

~ Michael Robert Dyet is also the author of Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel (now out of print) which was a double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at

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