The Saga of the Mark III Ants

June 30, 2003

Ant Farm Runtime Error - Would you like to Debug?

No, I did NOT intend to de-bug my ant farm. Really. But friends, that is exactly what I have done. What a bitter crop I have reaped from that farm.

For the sad news is: my Mark III ants, less than two weeks after their introduction to the habitat, have fallen. Each of them. TO THE ANT, THE MARK III ANTS ARE DEAD. The last observed activity within was the last remaining ant, digging himself a grave. I'm not kidding.

Look upon the dry and empty husk of my ant farm, future farmers, and know: apparently a starter tunnel and some wet sand is REALLY IMPORTANT.

I'm sending my order off for the Mark IV ants today.

By the way...

I haven't forgotten / gotten bored of Movable Type, I just got busy. More on it later.

I forgot to mention that I went sailing last week. To forget to mention something so out of the ordinary is weird, specifically in the context of this site, which exists solely so that I can mention things, but there it is.

Some friends of my wife were kind enough to invite me out - SIGHT UNSEEN - to their boat for the Wednesday race around the building way out in the lake that apparently purifies our water here in Chicago. It's called the "beer regatta," (the race, not the building) and yes I had some beer. Mostly I just got in the way, but I DID get to pull some ropes (called "lanyards" in one context, "sheets" in another)

Nothing like it! After a day of dealing with the totally arbitrary world of Active Directories, Domains, and backup server remote agents that do not work, it is VERY stimulating to suddenly be dealing with ropes, wind and pulleys. I was very anxious about it - not because I know very little about boats - but because I am always, ALWAYS loathe to come into a situation with total strangers where no one knows me and I don't know what I'm doing and it has the potential to be intense. This is why I've never done very well in professional film settings. I don't like having to go through someone's personal idea of a Hazing Initiation just because I'm trying something new.

There was none of that. I was totally amazed when these folks were totally open and happy to have me and ready to answer questions. It WAS an intense activity, but I felt prepared and adequate to the task, and they were great.

I was invited back this Wednesday too, and I think Wife Ami gets to join!

Posted by Chris on 06/30/03

June 25, 2003

The Mark III Ants are DOOMED

I have grave news: it seems that more than half of the ants have fallen. I have been following the food and water schedule TO THE LETTER. I won't be blamed for this.

But I think I have made a mistake in preparing their home. I remember now that when first adding the sand to the ant farm, I had to pour in some water so that the sand would have a little weight to it, and it could be easily dug and shaped by them. My idea this time was that they could just come on in and live in the existing tunnels, and expand as they desired.

I see now that my Legacy Tunnel plan was wrong-headed and stupid. I believe the sand had dried out to the point that it was unsafe for digging. I never added any extra water (besides their drinking drops! And those were added ON SCHEDULE.) and I also... ahem... never created a "starter" tunnel for them.

So they've just been grading and re-grading the surface for two weeks. They could never seem to get the landscaping the way they wanted. They made a hill over on the left side, then moved it to the right. But never any tunnels.

I realized this the other day so I made a belated "starter tunnel" in the center by shoving the stick down in the center. They immediately investigated. I could see that it would still be difficult digging, because one almost died in a tunnel collapse right then. And the next day, they had totally filled this new tunnel, and created a little slope along the left! Still no tunnels! As soon as they all gather on one side, away from harm's way, I'll wet down the sand good and well on the other side to make it suitable for starter tunnel and digging. This is for the six ants remaining.

Posted by Chris on 06/25/03

June 19, 2003

Thursday's Ant Farm Has Learned to Tie Its Bootlace

Not really. They're still smoothing out - grading? - the Lower Level. Unhappy with the slant of things, and the way there was no easy access from Farm Level to Lower Level, they've made themselves one long access ramp.

Posted by Chris on 06/19/03

June 18, 2003

Ant Farm Update

Not only did I collapse all existing ant tunnels in my vigorous tapping of the Mark III ants' container into the farm, but I also failed to give them a "starter tunnel." So basically they've been working on landscaping the lower level - just smoothing it out, and it looks like they're surveying where to start the first Big Dig.

One looks to be dead already - buried up to his neck. Perhaps he suggested to the others that they cooperate with their new Lord and Master rather than trying to escape every time the eye dropper came down with water. The community made their opinion known.

One thing with ant farms is you have to wonder if they're maybe doing all the good digging on the other side of the farm, the one away from your view. But you want to minimize any handling of the farm.

Posted by Chris on 06/18/03

June 17, 2003

Ant Farm Mark III

It's here. Or rather, the latest shipment of ants is here.

A little background: One of the props I needed for my recent movie was an empty ant farm. That is to say, I needed an ant farm that had all the tunnels that ants would make, but SANS ANTS. Yes, I could have just made some tunnels myself with a pencil somehow, but since I had time, I ordered the ant farm and ants. My plan was to move them in, they build a bunch of tunnels, get the place into ant-shape, and then I let them go. I'm happy, they're happy. They get their freedom, plus an acknowledgment in the credits, I get my prop.

So much for the plan.

Because unfortunately, TO AN ANT, they all died before I could release them into the wild of Chicago's neighborhoods.

I did my best with them to keep them alive. But before you go tarring me with the wide brush of ANT KILLER, know that Uncle Milton, that bastard, for legal reasons, does not ship the ants with a queen. That means they only have so long to live anyway. Also, although the instructions warn REPEATEDLY AND IN BOLD TYPE about the dangers of overfeeding, they do not specirfy explicitly how much to feed them. "Just a pinch" they say. Right.

So it's possible that the first wave of ants died of overfeasting.

Wave II of the ants was barely a wave at all. I decided to go it on my own, with regional ants. Meaning, I would capture some ants outside, stun them for the appropriate time to make them pliable for the introduction into their new home, then let them clean up the ant farm. Step 1: I lured a big pile of ants into a small tupperware container with a sugary, irresistable gummi lifesaver. My God, that thing looked good in there. I almost got into the tuperware myself.

Gummi Lifesaver! Gummi Lifesaver! So soft, so sweet! Give me! Give me! Mine! MINE! MINE!

OK, sorry. I'm back. The ants were not quick enough to take the bait, so I scraped I'd say about thirty into the plastic box. Now, step 2: the stunning.

When Uncle Milton sends you ants, they are the nice big kind. No small ants, these: you could identify their phylum from across the room. They come in a small translucent tube. You can look in the tube and see these guys crawling around in there all of each other, about thirty of them. You can tell they're not happy to be there. They want out. And they're going to attack AND EAT the hand that releases them. Therefore, you are meant to put the tube in your freezer for five minutes, which will "stun" them, and make them sluggish enough that you can gently tap them out of the tube into your farm, where they will wake up minutes later and get to a-farmin'.

The problem with the Mark II ants was that they were much smaller than Uncle Milton ants. They were barely specks. Five minutes in the freezer... was too much. They expired. So sorry. My mistake.

So, I sent away for ANOTHER batch, and MANY weeks later, good Lord, if I'd been some child this would have been an eternity, they arrived. I gave them ONE MINUTE in the freezer, afraid to overcome them with a sudden frosty winter. As it turned out, that wasn't enough - they immediately put an escape plan into effect when I opened the stopper in the tube. After some trouble (including dropping the lid of the farm into the farm itself - EEEK!) they all got in there.

Look for updates in this space.

Posted by Chris on 06/17/03