July 2020 Archives

It's been an interesting week or two around Casa Fire Ant, as we've had the opportunity to observe some rather unique natural phenomena without getting very far from home. Or, without even getting out of the house.

Let's start with that last thing, how about? I was sitting in the office working on some complex differential equations watching cat videos when Debbie called to me from the living room in a rather excited voice...you need to come see this! "This" turned out to be this:

Photo - Western ribbonsnake on our living room floor
Hard to know who was more surprised, the snake or us

Well. We've had numerous uninvited guests in our house since we moved here three years ago, including a Texas spiny lizard (guest bathroom), a green tree frog (2nd master bathroom), a six-inch-long centipede (kitchen), and numerous geckos and scorpions (pretty much everywhere). We're accustomed to inspecting our floors every morning when we first get out of bed, a natural function of living on a creek in a wooded area. But this raised the intrusive varmint factor to a new level; the first time (that we know of) that a serpent has entered our happy home.

It's a western ribbonsnake (Thamnophis proximus), a nonvenomous species of garter snake. It's hard to get a sense of scale from the photo but it was about fifteen inches long. We think it might have come inside to escape the horrible heat of the day, but the joke was on him as our a/c was out at the time. (Compared to having no a/c in July in Texas, a snake in the house is almost a pleasant diversion. Almost.)

I kept an eye on the intruder while Debbie found a small box. She wielded a broom and coaxed the snake into the box, which sounds easier than it was, as it had its own ideas about where it wanted to go. But we eventually captured it and I took it into the vacant lot next door for release with a stern warning not to return.

Photo - Western ribbon snake on the ground
That white dot on the head is the distinguishing mark for this species.

Neither of us could identify the snake so Debbie posted the top photo to the Central Texas Snake ID group on Facebook, which is an absolutely invaluable resource for anyone wondering about what kind of snake is on their dining room floor (or anywhere else). It's a moderated group run by a collection of snake experts who not only identify snakes but also educate us about their habits.

That resource came in handy again just a few days later when Debbie once again sighted a snake...but this time it was properly wandering in our back yard and not inside our house. It was a quick little fellow, but I was quicker. He was an absolute beast but I managed to wrestle him into submission:

Photo - DeKay's brown snake
Yes, I'm absolutely fearless in the presence of a four inch long baby snake.

This pretty little guy is a juvenile DeKay's brown snake (Storer decay), another harmless species. They primarily eat slugs, snails, and earthworms. Again, we had to turn to the aforementioned Facebook group for an identification (and, incidentally, the photo elicited a number of "oooh, how cute!" comments from the many female snake lovers in the group). And, as before, I simply released it back into the grass after the photo session. We're more than happy for it to eat all the snails and slugs it can find.

Our third encounter with nature didn't involve snakes, but skunks rank right up there in a list of Things You Don't Want To Spend Much Time With. 

We have a lot of skunks in and around our neighborhood. Often, when we head out for a run around sunrise, we have to alter our pace or route to avoid a skunk (or two...or three) staggering back home after a night of wild partying. But it was an evening encounter that continues to fascinate and puzzle us.

We were driving back into the neighborhood around dusk when we spotted movement a few yards out in the vacant lot just inside the gate. We immediately pegged it as a skunk, but as we drew closer alongside of the subject, our conversation went something like this:

Animation of a group of four skunks moving together
A big chunk of spunky skunks
Oh, it's TWO skunks...

No, wait...there's THREE of them...

Uh, there's another one!

Are you kidding me?! FIVE skunks?!

What we were witnessing was something I can only describe as a tightly knit swirling group of skunks, two adults and three young ones. One of the adults eventually broke away from the group and headed into the pasture while the remaining group of four stayed packed together and followed its lead.

We assume that we were seeing a defensive maneuver designed to protect the youngsters, in reaction to the presence of our vehicle. I haven't been able to confirm this despite my extensive efforts at research, i.e. a couple of google searches, but I'm going with that explanation until someone tells me differently.

The light was fading fast and our iPhone cameras are notoriously inept in low light, but in spite of the poor quality, the above gif might give you a idea of what was going on. Trust me, there are four skunks in that group.

So, pretty exciting, huh? Our motto around here has now become, "what now?" 

Uh, I better go...I think I hear a howl coming from the hall closet...
I celebrated a monumental event last week. It wasn't my wedding anniversary, nor my wife's birthday, although those things did take place...but they do pretty much every year. No, this was something that happens only very rarely: I paid off my iPhone.

I had been anticipating this blessed occurrence for a few months, but that anticipation didn't lessen the sheer joy of opening the monthly emailed bill from AT&T and seeing a significant reduction vs. the previous 24 months. I basked in the glow of that reduced payment for almost a full day...and then the phone broke.

My face, cancelled
I've been canceled by my own phone.
To be more specific, Face ID on my iPhone X stopped working, meaning that I have to enter a code EVERY. STINKIN'. TIME. I want to use the phone for anything other than a camera or the world's most expensive weak flashlight. 

If you have an iPhone without Face ID, you can't possibly relate to the amount of angst and anger this situation engenders. For one thing, unless you have a phone older than seven years, you have fingerprint recognition, aka Touch ID. But when the geniuses at Apple decided to implement Face ID, they deleted the Touch ID capability, so one has Jetson technology while Face ID works, and Flintstones tech when it no longer does.

And it's not just phone access either; many apps allow the use of Face ID to bypass passwords, thereby allowing easier use of strong passwords. That's really cool, until you have to type a 20-character password to open an app instead of just staring at it. (Yes, I do use a password manager -- I'm not an animal -- but guess how you get into the password manager in order to copy the password in order to use the app...ad nauseum.)

The loss of Face ID on an iPhone is sufficiently common that there are websites that help you diagnose which of the three parts that make up the capability may have malfunctioned and rendered it inoperable. I particularly liked this one, because I was able to replicate the three required tests and diagnose the issue. The website even provides the solution, and I quote: "...the problem cannot be fixed." Those may be the five saddest words in the English language, although "the margarita machine is broken" runs a close second.

It turns out that -- according to the website -- my phone's dot projector filed for unemployment and then quickly qualified for disability. What's a dot projector? you may ask. Heck if I know, but these guys do. According to them, and I have no reason to doubt their expertise, the dot projector does just what the name says: using high-intensity LED lights, it projects 29,929 dots onto your face, thereby giving the tiny nerd wizards that live inside your phone the data needed to build a mathematical model of your lovely visage. (It's worth noting an unsubstantiated rumor has it that Apple first tried using lasers but quickly gave up the idea when they realized that face-melting wasn't just an adjective applied to heavy metal music.)

The use of lights is a brilliant approach (see what I did there?) because it lets the phone recognize you in the dark. Also, since math is hard, nobody else can solve your individual equation which is the main reason a photo of Brad Pitt would never successfully unlock my phone...not that I ever tried. As far as you know.

Anyway, the whole shebang is pretty cool, as long as it works. But I apparently bought the special Blade Runner Replicant edition of iPhone with the automatic Face ID countdown timer designed to coincide with the final payment on the phone.

Now, all of us who are on Facebook and/or Twitter know that there really aren't any problems that can't be fixed other than stupid. For example, I could just jack up this phone and run a new one under it. Voila! Fixed! And, frankly, this is a semi-possibly-potentially attractive option. However, it is rumored that the next generation of Replicants iPhones will feature both Face AND Touch ID and while having both features will no doubt inexplicably introduce exponentially more things that can go wrong, surely I can be patient long enough to give them a try. I'd really like to savor a few more months of lower phone bills.

I do take a small measure of consolation from the fact that nowadays, wearing a mask defeats Face ID anyway. But with my luck, the pandemic will end next week and I'll be the only one who has to type in unlock codes and passwords. Bummer.
I received a lot of responses -- primarily via Facebook -- to yesterday's post about the Fire Ant Gazette-themed mask. And while I was gratified that so many were interested, I was a bit taken aback at the apparent perception by some that I was actively seeking help in promoting the Gazette.

Mockup of a Fire Ant truck nameplate
Don't tell anyone I did this.
I'll admit that I like the idea of this blog's logo appearing in every corner of the universe. I believe the world would be a better place if, for example, Ford made a Fire Ant Gazette edition of an F-150 pickup (the King Ranch is sooo 19th century).

However, I'll readily admit that I'm too lazy to do anything to make that happen...and you should be, too. I have no ambition for the Gazette other than for it to be an outlet for the sad efforts that pass for creativity, and for handy armadillo trapping tips.

In the almost eighteen years it's been going, I've never attempted to monetize the blog. I don't take ads; I don't accept third party posts (that's right; I have no one to blame but myself); I've never contemplated setting up a "tip jar." Even the items for sale on my CafePress store -- which I hadn't visited myself in five years until the mask thing came up -- are priced at cost. If anything, this site costs me money as the hosting and domain name registration fees are a hundred and some odd dollars each year.

No, this is not about the money or -- believe it or not -- amassing hordes of readers. Every time I write and post something here, I have one or two specific people in mind as the target audience (this one's for y'all, Joaquin and Penelope*), and if I hit the mark with them, I've succeeded. Global fame is just icing on the cake.

So...um, I've forgotten where I was headed with this. Oh, wait...yeah, so...if you want to do something wild and crazy like tell innocent unsuspecting folks about the blog, feel free to knock yourself out (or let them do it after they fall for it and actually come here and read some of my stuff and never forgive you). I do appreciate the thought, but it's really not necessary. I'll always be here for Joaquin and Penelope**.

*Not their real names. HIPPA, you know.

**OK, these are their real names, just not the other ones.
As you can see below, in an obvious act of shameless self-promotion, I have commissioned a limited edition run of Fire Ant Gazette masks guaranteed* to absolutely prevent the transmission of COVID-19 cooties.

Actual human modeling actual Fire Ant Gazette mask
I'm told that the more of my face that's covered, the better
for everyone. COVID or no.

OK, so when I say limited edition, I really mean I could only afford two of them, one for me and one for my wife who wasn't given the opportunity to say no. However, you too can have your own personalized mask via the good folks over at CafePress. It doesn't have to be the awesome Fire Ant logo, either (maybe I'm not so shameless after all). Just jump over to this page, upload your graphic (JPG format recommended), pay your money ($18.87 per mask at the time of publication), and wait with unpersonalized-mask breath for a couple of weeks.

The masks are good quality, double-layered, and will accommodate carbon filters, two of which are included.

If for some ill-advised reason you absolutely have to have a Fire Ant mask, let me know and I'll recommend a good therapist provide you with a freshly minted graphic, piping hot off the Mac and ready for upload. I'm sad to have to report that I get absolutely nothing from any such purchase, although the upside is that I won't get thrown into a higher tax bracket.

*Not guaranteed. At all. This is the last time we let the interns in our marketing department loose without supervision.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2020 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2020 is the previous archive.

August 2020 is the next archive.

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