For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Some time ago, we got a couple of apple snails for our aquarium.  I thought they were hemaphrodites, like other snails, but it turns out we've got a breeding pair.

And breed they do!  Or at least get a lot of practise at it.  Then they ... er... she... lays eggs.  Lots of them.  In clusters.  Large clusters.

As of this writing, we'd found ourselves with 6 clusters of eggs.  They're laid outside the water, and three of them were laid on the underside of the lid, right under where the light sits, though one of them ended up falling off.  The light isn't directly on the lid.  It used to be until I noticed that any algae build up under it burned, making it rather hard to clean off, so I've got it propped up by a couple of tilted wooden chopsticks, keeping the bulb slightly more than an inch off the glass.

I read that the eggs can take 2-4 weeks to hatch, but there was no sign of any babies.  The oldest of the clusters looks the same now as it has since we discovered it, except that there's algae growing on it now.

That all changed recently.

I think what made the difference is that I moved where the light was resting on the chopsticks, which brought it slightly closer to the glass then it was before.  The egg cluster positioned closest under it, which would could only be seen clearly where it was stuck to the glass, appeared to dry out.  I figured it got baked.  As far as we knew, all but the two most recent clusters of eggs were dead, and this was either the 3rd or 4th cluster laid (I can't remember whether it or the one that fell off was older).

I happened to glance through the side of the tank above the water line the other night and that cluster looked rather strange.  Twisting and turning around to get a better look, I realized that I was looking at empty egg cases.  So I immediately started searching the tank.

Sure enough, I found a single baby snail crawling along in the gravel.  It was a fair bit larger than the eggs, so it might have been a day or two old.  I figure, after dropping from the egg cases, any surviving snails kept hidden in the gravel until they were larger.  I was eventually able to spot the shell of another one later on, but that was it.

The rest of the family were already in bed, so I didn't tell the girls about it until this morning.  When we took a look again, we found 5 tiny little snails crawling around.  They seem to like the fake skull we've got in the tank. ;-)  Eventually, we found a couple more.

I went to remove the dried up egg cluster from the underside of the lid, only to have it fall onto the water, where the bits and pieces are still floating.  I think that, in the process, I freed up more babies!  Whether they're alive or not, I can't tell.  They're so tiny, they're being tossed around by the bubbles from the air stone, sometimes getting hung up in the bubbles on the surface. As for the others, we haven't seen all seven for a while.  I imagine the survival rate is pretty low, and for all I know, the pleco or the danios will eat them.  They're small enough to get sucked into the filter, too.

Curious, I rearranged the light on the lid so that it was positioned more directly over the other cluster of eggs on the underside of the lid.  Some time later, looking through the side of the tank above the water line again, I could see two snails hatching!  Well, perhaps "see" is a bit generous.  I'm not about to tip the lid up enough to look closely, but I could see two snails moving around.  They're not there anymore, so I assume they've dropped into the water.  I wonder if the warmth of the light will encourage any more hatchlings?

Throughout the day, we've been going back to the tank, looking for the babies.  They're so tiny, they're mostly transparent.  Of the ones that are slightly larger, you can see their tentacles, looking like fine threads, and the tiny black dots of their eyes.

Should any survive and grow larger, I already have someone who'd like a couple for their own tank.  After this, though, if there are any more egg clusters laid, I think we'll be removing them and flushing them.  Our tank is already maxed out, and wouldn't be able to support more than two adult snails.


we have itty, bitty snail babies!  They are so cool!


I will do science to it!

A few days ago, Eldest needed a ride to our local film festival showing.  Not planning to see the movie myself, but not wanting to go home, then back again to pick her up, I decided to spend the time waiting with a bit of wandering at a somewhat nearby Michaels.  Not that I had a budget to spend while there, but I sometimes get some good ideas just from looking around.

At one point, I walked past a display of decorative glass bowls, pictures and vases.  One of them had what I thought to be round, glass beads, of the type they sell in little mesh bags in different colours.  While looking at them, I stuck my finger in to kinda swish them around.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Well, imagine my surprise when, instead of hard glass, I found squishy, cold wetness!  I looked around and saw something similar in another container, but these were randomly shaped pieces.  I knew what those were - the sort of water absorbing crystals that can be used as a hydroponic growth medium.  I'd only ever seen them as random shapes, never as marble-like spheres.

I knew I had to get some!

After some dedicated searching, I found the randomly shaped type.  The crystals were rather larger and came in a bag that cost just under $10.  Then I saw, tucked away on a hook just under the top shelf, these tiny little packages.  Inside were these itty-bitty spheres.  I was quite surprised, as the hydrated ones I'd seen on display were every bit as large as the crystal versions, but the dessicated crystals really weren't much smaller than the hydrated ones, while the spheres were smaller than the glass balls at the ends of my quilting pins.

They were also less than $2 apiece.

I resisted the urge to buy all four that were left on display and only bought two.  One little .56 oz (16g) package is enough to absorb a full gallon of water!

By the time we got home, Dh and Youngest were already in bed, so I resisted the urge to put some in water right away.  The next day, while I took Youngest to her voice lesson, Eldest got out a rose bowl I have and added about a teaspon of the dessicated spheres to 2 cups of water.  That turned out to be too much water, so I later added another 1/4 to 1/2 tsp to absorb the excess.  Then we added a couple of drops of green food coloring.

We keep sticking our fingers into the bowl and touching them.  They feel so neat!

Here's an image of a fully hydrated sphere next to some that are almost straight from the package.  In trying to get a good shot, they were already absorbing moisture from the one large sphere.

The cat hair I missed while we took the photos gives a bit of perspective as to the size. LOL

You can't tell in the photo, but the large one does have a green tint to it.  By themselves, it's hard to see, but it's quite visible in a bowl full of them.

Of course, we were curious as to what was in these.  Eldest had already given in to temptation and squished one.  After taking this photo and adding the little ones to the bowl, I let Youngest use an Xacto knife to cut open the hydrated one.  It was rather hard to cut into, because it was so squishy and slippery, but she managed. ;-)

You can clearly see the denser outer shell in this photo.

The spheres are 100% sodium polyacrylate, are non-toxic, and where marketed as "water jewels."  They can be allowed to dry for re-use.  While we've got them in a bowl as decoration right now, they can also be used for holding flowers, growing houseplants (I assume they'd need a nutrient fluid, rather than just water) or as candle holders.

After we cleaned up the cut pieces, we put a few more dry spheres into the tiny bowl I was using in this photo with just a few drops of water to watch them change.  We let those sit overnight, then added a bit more water.  Eventually, some red food colouring was added, along with enough water for them to fully hydrate.  The few red ones have been added to the bowl of green ones.  We were curious to see if the red food coloring would mix with the green from the others.  So far, they seem to be keeping their colours to themselves.

Sometimes, it's the little things that are the most fun.  :-)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Movie night with Lon Chaney

(edited with corrections)
Tonight the girls and I watched a 1929 restored remake of the 1925/26 silent movie, The Phantom of the Opera.  On the cover, it lists "Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Mary Philbind and 5000 others."  I suppose that would be the mob at the end.  There sure were a lot of torch wielding people right about then! *L*

I last saw this movie so long ago, I barely remember it, so this was like seeing it for the first time.  I know it's considered an iconic version, but I didn't really know how GOOD it is!  Granted, by today's standards, it's really quite cheesy.  That would be true of pretty much all silent movies, since without sound, the actors had to physically overact their parts to convey their message.  The exaggerated facial expressions and motions are so different from movies with sound.

In this version, The Phantom really is an evil dude.  In fact, his evilness is blamed for his deformity - dramatically created by the amazing Lon Chaney with the use of "chemicals to dilate his pupils, cotton and celluloid discs to heighten his cheekbones, fanged teeth to create a horrific grin and wires to pull his nose upwards."  It must have been incredibly uncomfortable!*  This phantom was a musician and artist who dabbled in the "dark arts," and was institutionalized on Devil's Island, though at some point, he was apparently tortured in the chambers below the opera house.  He'd escaped from his prison and hid in these same chambers.  There is no lonely, tormented saving grace for this dude.  He's an insane bad guy, plain and simple.  A rather trusting bad guy, though, since he keeps accepting Christine's promises - even after she promptly broke the last one.
* After reading this, Eldest informed me that yes, it was very uncomfortable.  In fact, they stopped filming several times because Chaney started bleeding, and it was visible to the cameras.  Actors really suffered for their art back then!

I have found, however, that it's no longer possible for me to just watch a movie without going off into weird tangents, along with the rest of the family. They have corrupted me, I tell you!

Here's a typical example.  The Phantom (who's name is Erik, by the way) has lured away Christine, who's in a sort of half-swoon for the past while.  She seemed to be expecting this mysterious, angelic voice she's been hearing to belong to some fairytale prince or something.  Seeing a masked face threw her for a loop.  The Phantom has brought her to his lair, 5 cellars below the opera house.  He is admitting his love to her (and telling her his name in the process).  Unfortunately, on seeing that his name was Erik, all I could think of was Monty Python.  I see Erik, and I start singing "the-half-a-bee!"

Being a silent movie, as he's speaking, he's clutching dramatically at his chest at heart level.

Eldest: clutches dramatically at her chest
Youngest: clutches dramatically at her chest
Me: clutches dramatically at my chest.

The Phantom, Erik (the-half-a-bee!) stretches out his clutched hand into the air, fingers still clutching at emptiness.

Eldest: stretches out her hand, clutching emptiness
Youngest: stretches out her hand, clutching emptiness
Me: stretches out my arm, clutching emptiness, then start flexing my fingers, rhythmically (thumpthump... thumpthump... thumpthump)

The girls disintegrate into laughter.

If you know the song, The Masochism Tango, you might get the reference.  If not, there's a line that goes...

Before you here, I stand
My heart is in my hand... ecch!!

It's become a running joke in our household.  Outstretched hand equals hand clutching a still-beating heart.

Later on in the movie, during the masquerade ball, Christine (who has promised not to see Raoul, if The Phantom, Erik (the-half-a-bee!)  would let her go back to perform one more time, telling him "free me.. and I'll be your slave!"  Huh?  Wha??) has dragged Raoul off to the rooftop so that they can speak without anyone hearing them.  Of course, neither of them look up to see what's causing that strange flapping noise in the wind, thereby not seeing the Phantom in his bright red clothes with a bright red cape flapping in the wind.  Dramatically.  Here - and again later in the movie, she begs Raoul to save her from The Phantom, Erik (the-half-a-bee!).  She looks up into Raoul's eyes, but somehow never looks up quite far enough to see the guy in bright red clothes, and the big red cape flapping in the wind.  Seriously, she'd have been looking straight up his nostrils if she'd just looked up a bit higher.  Not that that would have been difficult to do, what with those wires Chaney was wearing.

Scene: Christine and Raoul are together, clutching at each other, gazing into each other's eyes, leaning romantically cheek to cheek...

Me: "Isn't it great to watch a movie where no one's sucking face?"
Youngest: "Or playing tonsil hockey."

Christine is begging Raoul, "save me!"

Me: "Save me!  Or I'll have to take this baseball bat and save myself!
Elddest: "rutabega, rutabega, rutabega"
Me: "Oh, wait!  I'll just use this banana, instead."  (another running joke, from the Scary Movie franchise)

Youngest: "Or this machete!"
Eldest: "rutabega, rutabega, rutabega"

Me: "Or this fig!"
Youngest: loses it completely
Eldest: "how would she use a fig?"
Me: mimes splatting a fig into an imaginary face

Youngest, poor thing, couldn't talk for a while, she was laughing so hard.  Actually, by this time, I was laughing out of control, too.  We had to pause the movie until we recovered.

The rutabega thing is from being told that, while filming crowd shots where background voices are needed, apparently the extras say "rutabega" repeatedly, rather than making up conversation that might distract from the scene.  I have no idea if it's true, but we find it funny, so we throw it out every now and then.

At the start of the movie, I'd been working on some crochet - one of those simple, mindless projects that doesn't need a lot of attention to be worked on.  It wasn't long before I put it aside, because I didn't want to divide my attention by even that small amount. I was really enjoying this movie!

There were a number of things that had us asking questions.  Why, for example, was the bed he put Christine into a boat?  I mean, it was a bed, with a headboard and everything, but it was also a boat.

Why did The Phantom (Erik-the-half-a-bee!) have a pair of breathing tubes mounted on the wall beside an entrance?  I can picture having one of these primitive snorkels off on a shelf somewhere, but two of them?  Mounted on a special holder on the wall?

Why did he have a room of mirrors that could become so hot, it would quickly kill Raoul and the secret police dude (with the funky hat) - and why was this room that could be heated so much, so quickly, located above the room he stored his kegs of gunpowder?  Not directly above, however.  The room The Phantom (Erik-the-half-a-bee!) and Christine were in was directly above the kegs of gunpowder.

Why was he storing kegs of gunpowder?

And what was with the scorpion and the grasshopper?  He threatens to kill Raoul if she doesn't agree to stay with him.  He opens a chest (which is somehow lit up from inside) to reveal these big metal creatures.  If her answer is yes, she's to turn the scorpion.  If her answer is no, she's to turn the grasshopper, and the entire opera house will be destroyed - I assume by exploding those kegs of gunpowder that was under them, but she didn't know that.  She also didn't know that, by turning the scorpion, she was drowning Raoul and the secret police dude, who had escaped the mirrored hot room by finding a trap door in the floor that led to the room with kegs of gunpowder, which was now filling with water because she'd just opened the drain to the underground lake in the cellars.  The Phantom, (Erik-the-half-a-bee!) accepts Christine's promise to do anything if he'll save Raoul, opens up the trap door they'd been standing on, and there's Raoul! Along with the secret police dude.

Meanwhile, Simon Buquet's brother, having found Simon's dead body earlier, has somehow discovered the way into The Phantom's lair.  He gathers together a mob and they all stream through the tunnels and wade through the now mostly drained lake (somehow not spotting the body of Raoul's brother, already dispatched by a breathing tube using Phantom, or the capsized boat he'd been in).  The Phantom (Erik-the-half-a-bee!) hears the mob coming, grabs Christine, drags her out to the surface and runs off with the horse and buggy Raoul had waiting to rescue Christine with.  Christine had apparently swooned when she was thrown into the buggy and wakes up as they are galloping away.  I am immediately impressed by the fact that she opened the door and jumped out of the moving carriage.  None of this "save me, Raoul!" stuff this time around!  Mind you, she's promptly knocked unconscious when she hits the ground, but her action causes The Phantom (Erik-the-half-a-bee!) to crash the carriage, and off he runs on foot.  The mob follows and eventually catches up to him and...

... beats him to death.  They actually have him get beaten to death by a mob!  I just wasn't expecting that.  No ambiguous endings here!  The mob then tosses the body into the river. 

The End.

That's it.  A splash in the water, the bubbles disappear, the water stills, and it ends.  Just like that.

Apparently, in the 1925 original version, there's a short scene of Christine and Raoul on their honeymoon, but it's not in the 1929 version.

All in all, this is just such a great movie!  The restored version has some colorization done to it.* The masquerade ball is colorized, the the scenes of Raoul and Christine on the rooftop has The Phantom in his Red Death costume colorized, to excellent effect.  I'm glad they didn't colorize the entire scene, just him.  While it doesn't have the horror effect it would have had when it was originally released, what with how much movies have changed over the years, but it certainly earned its reputation as the greatest horror movie ever made.

*Eldest has informed me that the colorization is not part of the modern restoration, but the 1929 remake.