September 28th, 2004

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Ant Farm

I once moderated a "science forum" in the California Forum at Compuserve. One month I decided to have "Ant Month". My theory was that if one promoted a discussion topic on a bulletin board, people would get motivated to post to that board. My theory proved flawed.

I used the opportunity to engage in ant-farm-promotional activities. I entered into a lengthy e-mail correspondence with a representative of Uncle Milton's Ant Farms. I like Uncle Milton's Ant Farms, because they epitomize for me that "can do" wonder of 1960s toys. They represent the best of "with a little plastic, three wires and good instructions, you can do anything" type of toy thinking. I worry a lot these days that a nuclear device will be used by terrorists. But my worries are tempered by gratitude that Heathkit never released a "build your own neutron device" plastic toy.

I am an ant buff, insofar as I have a good few of the general overview texts and like to read about ants a fair bit. I like the idea that they are individually quite clueless but in large groups have almost a clue.

When I kept an ant farm, I was struck by the way that they designated one "house" as a farming chamber, and another "house" as a burial chamber. When I corresponded with the Uncle Milton folks, I was struck by how "mom and pop" their operation remained, after all these years. They still went out t to the Antelope Valley to a "secret location" (i.e., they went virtually anyplace in the Antelope Valley, which is full of ants) and harvested harvester ants. Harvester ants are big enough that they can't slip through the air holes in an ant farm, and they love to harvest grass seeds.

For my Compuserve "Ant Month", I located a Texas A & M entomologist who did an on-line ant talk for us.
I believe his primary topic was the boll weevil, but he proved entire ant-able. I like bug scientists, because I think they get to do great work.

I'd like to have an ant farm again, someday, but I'd want one with a queen. Locally, that means I'd need a fire ant farm, but I would have to figure out a way for the fire ants not to escape. In the Spring here, dozens of fire ant queens will appear on a given June day,entirely ant-farm-eligible.

Yet that project must stand in a long line behind other projects I've put aside. I can look in my closet right now and see the "Videoscope Lab", a microscope with a TV-screen type projector, that I purchased at Good Will for five dollars a while back. How can I think about ants, when I have yet to do my Dino De Laurentiis production of paramecium?

Sometimes I have fantasies of founding a fire ant museum.
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"There's such a beautiful mess up in my room. My thoughts are tangled in the legs of chairs. I'd like to think that it's my token of genius--but then again, perhaps I just don't care"--old Be Bop Deluxe song

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