31 December 2010

The Ant Farm

I nearly forgot to mention the ant farm I received when I was eleven or twelve. I mailed in the certificate for my ants, and when they arrived in the mail my dad and I got ready to place them in their new home. We followed the printed instructions, putting the ants in the fridge for a while to calm them down before transferring them from the vial to their new home. After we took them out of the fridge we moved downstairs to my room for the rest of the procedure. I'm a little fuzzy on this part of the story, but I think we had to finish assembling the ant farm itself and by the time I started pouring them into the farm they had warmed up sufficiently to crawl up the outside of the tube and onto my fingers. The ants that are shipped out for ant farms are called Harvester ants, and they have stingers. I got stung and bitten, most painfully was a stinger lodged underneath the fingernail on my index finger. I recall that it was quite painful. My dad told me to man up and we finished dumping the ants into the habitat, although in the process he also received some bites and stings from the ants. Now the reality of it all set in and he spent much of the evening on the couch upstairs proclaiming how much it hurt and soliciting my mother for the healing power of ice cream in a bowl. I don't remember if I got any ice cream, but my finger was numb for a day or so, and the ant farm was pretty neat to watch once the ant were locked in and got to work building their tunnels.

For those who don't make it down into the comments, here is my dad's take on the event:
They bit us on the end of our index finger. It was excruciating pain for hours. I had been bit by ants before and it wasn't a big deal, which is why I told you to man up. We had a good laugh about how I got my come-uppance - after the pain wore off.

30 December 2010


I have always been a bit of a nerd about animals, with a certain affinity for insects and arachnids. One of my favorite books as a kid was the one pictured to the left. There were other books in the series, I believe, but the one I remember is the one about insects. Most memorable for me are the cartoons in which a little kid asks questions, usually in response to something unfortunate like a mosquito bite or bee sting, which are answered in the body of the text.

I also recall going to the COSI science museum in Ohio with my dad, where we took a short workshop and received cocoons to take home from which butterflies eventually emerged. COSI was like a Disneyland park for a nerdy kid. Also in Ohio I recall being bitten by a Stag beetle in our garden, which my dad had to pry off of my finger. In spite of that experience, I always enjoyed the portion of my book that covered Stag Beetles. They are like little tanks.

In Alaska we spent many days at a couple of ponds trying to catch small frogs and other creatures. At one point I spent a fair amount of time cultivating pond water so I could look at the aquatic creatures under a microscope. At the big pond (as opposed to the small pond) we once caught a rather large creature that we couldn't identify at the time. When I reached into the jar it bit the heck out of my finger with some rather large mandibles, prompting me to extract them from my flesh, throw the monster on the ground, and crush it. The image of the beast stuck in my mind and I later identified it as the larva of the Great Diving Beetle, which is known to be a rather aggressive carnivore.

Poisonous spiders make me a bit nervous, but fascinate me greatly. I kept a Black Widow in a jar for a few weeks in fourth grade, which spent some time on my teacher's desk and met an untimely end on the bottom of my mother's shoe when it escaped and ran across the kitchen counter. When I worked for a dairy farmer milking cows for a few months in high school I had another memorable encounter with the species. I saw one of the cows jump away and bellow as she ran through the doorway, and after the cows had passed through I saw a large spider hanging in the doorway. Upon further inspection I found that it was a Black Widow, the largest I've ever seen. I captured it in my water bottle for my family to marvel at when I got home. The next day the bellowing cow laid down and died, so I can only surmise that the spider bit it on the eye, lip or some other vulnerable area as it ran through the door.

At the University of Idaho I took an Entomology class that was incredible fun, even though it was in the morning and I sometimes didn't make it to class. The folks who taught it were your stereotypical science professors, full of nerdy bug puns, unkempt white hair, v-neck sweaters, and an intense love for all things with segmented exoskeletons. I kind of wish Boise State offered an Entomology degree, as that would make for an interesting career path.

I regret that I never made it into the Beekeeping course offered during the Spring semesters at U of I, as it always conflicted with my National Guard drill weekends. All hope is not lost, though, as I have been in contact with the Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club of Idaho, who assure me that their members can teach me the ropes of beekeeping when I return home. In the meantime I am educating myself as much as I can on the life cycle of bees and the tools needed to care for them and extract honey for personal use. In middle school and high school I worked moving sprinklers for our neighbor, a farmer. On many mornings the guy across the street would come out in his veil and suit to check the hives. Being a bit backwards conversationally and averse to social interaction, I never asked him about his operation, but I often wondered what beeherding was all about. Soon I hope to find out.

28 December 2010

Christmas Book

My parents gave me a gift card for Christmas, which I converted into Kevin Dallimore's Painting and Modelling Guide: Master Class from Foundry. I haven't had a chance to read it in entirety yet. I just flipped through it for a little while and looked at the pretty pictures. Some of the sections I recognized parts of from his website tutorials, but there seems to be enough pictures and explanations to justify the cost. The painting style is somewhat controversial because of the sharp edges between colors, leading some people to say it looks like a meat chart with all the flesh tones sectioned off. I like the look, and I think all of the contrast really helps the figures stand out on the table. I'm looking forward to having a more extended look through the book, especially the suggestions for Old West characters.

I also ordered a bottle of ink and a piston converter for my fountain pen, as the pre-made cartridges only come in a few colors and are more expensive in the long run than filling your own pen. I tried it with some water and the converter seems to work pretty well. I'll have to use my current cartridge up so I can see how the converter works inside the pen. It's basically a syringe with a twist mechanism that moves the piston up and down.

Although they are far out of playoff contention, it was nice to see the Denver Broncos actually win a game this week. That Tim Tebow feller is a pretty exciting player, I suppose. I picked him up in both of my Fantasy Football leagues for the final week of the season, and he helped me win both of my games. It's the last week of the Fantasy season. Both of my teams snuck into the playoffs with the eighth and final seed. One team lost the first two games and fell into the 7th-place game for this week, which I won and gained a spot in the standings through the playoffs. The other team won a game, then lost and fell into the 3rd-place game, which  I should win for a little virtual bronze trophy. That's not as neat as getting all the way to the Gold from 8th, but it's a pretty good run considering my usual luck at postseason Fantasy Football.

It has been fun to watch so many football and basketball games on the Armed Forces Network here. My schedule lines up pretty well with the games, so I get to see most of the big matchups on a big screen. Sometimes it's hard to work in a support role, especially when I have to navigate all of the paperwork and figure out where to go when I need something. My combat arms background didn't prepare me very well to be an office jockey. But the sports on TV is nice and I may be able to get some more college out of the way, so it's not all bad.

27 December 2010

In Which I Experience Fine German Engineering (No, Dad, Not That)

While sitting in Germany waiting for my plane to Iraq, I ordered a fountain pen online, the Lamy Safari Charcoal with a Medium nib. I have a couple of vintage pens, a Parker 51 and a little Esterbrook of some kind, but I didn't want to subject them to the abuse and possible loss that is part of the mobile military lifestyle. So I ordered the Lamy. I actually tried to get one in Mississippi, but the one pen shop I found in the phone book had recently shut down, leaving me to find it on the internet.

I've been using it for a month or so now, mostly for letter writing. It doesn't agree very much with the paper in my journal, which is lightly ridged and tends to snag the pen. But for letter writing it is pretty nice. It is nice and thick, which for me is good because holding on to smaller pens makes my hands cramp up. It puts down a decent line with the standard Lamy ink cartridges, although the ink seems a bit watery and light and the line tends to become drier as I write. I would be interested to see how it does with some different inks with more pigment to them. Overall I am pretty happy with the pen. It serves it's purpose, and for a chunky plastic low-end model it looks pretty good, fits well in the hand, and writes fairly well. I haven't had any issues with leaks or anything although I think the leaky fountain pen is more myth than reality, especially when it comes to modern models.

22 December 2010

Posting by Coercion

My wife asked me on the phone the other day why I haven't posted on my blog recently. I don't really have a reason aside from not feeling like I have much to talk about. It is rainy season here in Iraq, so every couple of days there is a downpour and some fairly spectacular thunderstorms. I have one of those every day kind of jobs, so I work, eat, read books, go to the gym, and sleep, with a little time on the side for playing video games and calling home. It pays the bills, but being the introvert that I am, the constant presence of other people in my personal bubble is a bit taxing. And that's all I'm going to say about that. There is a guy on post who plays bagpipes, so when I walk from my room to my job I often can hear them playing in the distance. I think the bagpipes sound much better when played in the distance.

I read Battle Cry of Freedom over the last couple of weeks. It was a pretty good time-filler and gave me a pretty good general understanding of the events surrounding the American Civil War. My ability to retain information is not that great, but I think I captured a lot of it. I'm not sure what to read next on the subject of the war, though. I'll have to do some research. I've read a couple of other books (Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman) as well as copies of White Dwarf my wife purchases and sends to me.

It's quite a task for her to go and get the magazine, as being pregnant with twins she doesn't get around so well, and my 2-year old is obsessed with several of the objects in Hobbytown (just like his dad) and wants to run around and play. They have a table with a wooden train track and some kid-sized shopping carts that he likes to push around the store. The kid is crazy about anything he can push around, like carts and strollers. When we went to the zoo in Mississippi he didn't care about the animals at all. He just wanted to get out and push the stroller. We had to bribe him with a ride on the zoo train just to get him to look at the animals and stay in the stroller. He loves wheels, which is fine until you're trying to get him to leave Hobbytown and he is trying to load up the little shopping cart with toys so he can push it around. Believe me, a toddler can scatter toys much faster than two adults can put them away. One of us usually has to drag him screaming and kicking from the store while the other cleans up and purchases the items. My wife handles it by going and buying my magazine while he's at the sitter's house. But either way I appreciate the effort on her part to make sure I have the things I want while I'm here.

She also has mailed my box of paints and Dwarves to me, so when that arrives I will try to incorporate some painting into my schedule. It will depend largely on whether or not I get into some university courses, as those will take up most of my time. Right now it's not looking like I will get in, so I may wind up painting a pile of Dwarves while I'm here. I'm not sure how I will get them home safely once painted, but I will worry about that later. Other than that I haven't done much hobby-related aside from the usual planning and window shopping. I obtained a bunch of Foundry figures for Old West gaming as well as a couple handfuls of Foundry Pirates from an eBay auction one of the posters on The Miniatures Page was running. I've been trying to determine a starting point for my 6mm ACW project, but haven't got any further than I was a year or more ago.

There are some new Skaven models on the way for Warhammer Fantasy that look interesting, although they won't liely fit in with my current army. I consider the Skaven to be in three distinct sculpting styles which I refer to as early, middle, and new. Most of my collection are from the middle style, with a few of the early sculpts for things that never got produced in the middle style. I have some unbuilt stuff in all three styles, but the whole thing is a logistical mess. As any good wargames project should be, I suppose.

I've also been thinking a lot about the Lord of the Rings, especially with some new elite figures out for the Moria Goblins faction. I've got a fair number of Goblins already, some of them are even painted. I also have some Easterlings painted and a pile of them in reserve. I also have a fair number of Dwarves, and I'd like to build up an army of Gondor as natural enemies to the Easterlings. But again that's all in the future. All I know for sure is that for me the Lord of the Rings figures have been some of the most enjoyable figures to put paint on. They seem to be made to take paint well, even in the hands of someone like me. The poses are a little repetitive sometimes, but using a few different hair or trim colors can even that out somewhat.

I guess that's about it for today. I will probably continue to post with some irregularity, but that will vary according to my mood and my access to a computer with an internet connection. Things are going fairly well and I am looking forward to coming home on leave in a couple of months and hopefully meeting our two new babies, assuming they cooperate.