Micro Ants and Hotel Hobbies

Life “on the road” can be tedious. There’s a whole lot of “things you must do” that are of little interest. Things like laundry, figuring out what restaurants are lousy, figuring out how to make a lunch without a kitchen, buying gas without any idea what stations are decent, flipping channels on “basic cable” and pondering a better class of hotel ;-)

The experienced Road Warrior “finds ways” to be self entertaining.

I’ve already done one posting on “Hotel Camping” and one of the bits of “kit” that worked well. This posting will have a picture of another one (the “Billy and a Burner”) along with an example of an ‘ersatz hobby’. Things you start to do partly just out of boredom and opportunity…

First off, the “Billy and a Burner”. In my road kit is a single electric burner that cost me something like $10 or so at a local grocery store. It works remarkably well for “hotel camping” with the only real “issue” being that the use of very small pans, like camping cups and such, can be a bit unstable on the burner as there are fairly wide openings between the loops of the coils. It is a common “issue” with all kinds of stoves and burners; having a pot support suited to the size pot you wish to use.

Too small a pot support and large frying pans are unstable as they are only supported in a small part of their diameter. Too large a pot support with too large a gap between elements and very small camp pots will ‘fall in’ (sometimes only on one edge, causing the pot to tip over and spill). It’s important to match the size of the pot to the particular burner. The electric one is fine for more or less ‘normal’ sized kitchen ware; but not for the very small micro sized cookware used for ultralight camping. Scale Matters. (We will see a different matter of scale below about ants…)

In this case, I’m using a “Coleman” brand stainless steel camping pot set of medium size. This is the ‘billy’ from it. The bail locks in place in the upright position (a nice feature to help prevent spilling, but steam can make it hot if lifted into position a bit too early.) Here’s a picture of that single burner with the billy pot in place. Note that the cored is a bit short, so it had to be wedged into a narrow triangle of counter between the sink and the wall.

Billy Pot and Single Electric Burner

Billy Pot and Single Electric Burner

So, partly out of necessity and partly out of a genuine interest in cooking; one of my “Hotel Hobbies” is trying different combinations of cookware and stoves / burners to see what works well, and what is not so good. What equipment ought to be added. In this case, a short ( 5 foot or 2 meter) power cord extension would have been handy, though I did OK without it.

My small sized pots ( about 10 cm in diameter) are too tippy on this burner, and on the Trangia alcohol stove; but work fine on the ceramic cooktop in my present Studio and on a Sterno Stove (fold up type). This Coleman medium sized cook set works fine on all of them (though as plain thin stainless steel, they are a bit more prone to food sticking). I made one of my favorite simple dishes in this example. One can of oysters, about a tbs of butter, some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, add one can of milk. Turn the heat down and let things come up to just under a simmer again. Serve with crackers. Yum!

Micro Ants

One of the things I do “on the road” is watch the local flora and fauna. For example: I think that just outside my room is kudzu. At some later time I’m going to check it against an identity key and then try cooking up a ‘mess o greens’…

One of the more odd bits of fauna in Florida are these “micro ants”. About the size of a bit of ground pepper, or a coffee grain that spilled. Sometimes you can only tell them from the dust bits due to them moving sometimes.

I’ve seen them in several hotels and homes here.

The thing is, they are just so damn polite. Makes ’em cute.

Being so small, they seem to be very fearful of just about everything. That means that a light tap on the counter and many of them run for cover. A few drops of water, they head for cover. (Not surprising, since I saw one get trapped inside a very small dinky drop of water that got splashed out of the sink. When surface tension is your enemy, learning to run from raindrops is a good idea!) A side effect of this is that they are rarely seen, and even then run for cover if disturbed.

So I saw a couple hanging out around the sink (in two different hotels). I decided to see if I could figure out what they like.

Ants generally are “sugar ants” or “grease ants”. So I put out a bit of sugar and a bit of fat / meat and waited. In the end, they mostly liked the sugary foods. But even then had a peculiar tendency to be ‘finicky’. Larger ‘drops’ of jelly or fruit juice seemed to scare them with the risk that surface tension or similar micro scale forces would trap and kill them. They liked a very thin film the best.

Yet they also showed some interest in Jerky. But that jerky had a semi-sweet finish, so it might still have been sugar. Oddly, mixing a bit of the oil and juice from an empty tuna can in with some jelly seemed to get them especially interested. Eventually, I left an ’empty’ plastic tub from some fruit laying on the side so that only a thin film of sugary stuff remained. This gave a nice surface to attempt some pictures. After leaving it out over night, enough of the shy little guys stayed in place when I turned the lights on so that I could get a decent picture.

I have no idea where they ants are from, or what their native habitat might be. I’ve only ever seen them in homes and hotels, typically on top of the counter in the kitchen, and only in very small numbers near very small food sources. Not swarms in the garbage can (even when it was all of 2 feet away under the counter – go figure… then again, having 1/2 your hive carted off when the trash is changed would strongly select against a lot of them going into a trash can… that, at their scale, is bigger than the Grand Canyon.)

So, with that, here’s a picture from further way showing the scale. The ants are the tiny little black dots on the plastic tub behind the pen.

Micro Ants on a fruit cup and a pen for scale

Micro Ants on a fruit cup and a pen for scale

I don’t mind the little guys at all, really. They are polite and get out of the way, only cleaning up the smallest of bits. They also let me know I’m not staying in a room soaked in toxic sprays. Something I’d be much more bothered by.

Here’s a close up. As good as I could get hand held with the Fuji Finepix.

Micro Ants close up

Micro Ants close up

It isn’t possible to see them this clearly with the naked eye.

I find it amazing that something so small is fully functional. They are on a scale where things like surface tension and van der Waals forces determine what happens. Where a very small bit of dew can be a death trap and where a salt grain sized bit of sugar is a meal for days. Yet on one occasion I made a smear of jelly and some added ‘tuna juice’ and left it for 2 days. They eventually ‘licked it clean’. What for me was about a 1/2 split pea sized bit of nothing, smeared flat so as not to be intimidating, was for them the feast of a lifetime. Taking days to clean it all up and pack it home.

So for a little while I had a “pet ant colony” to study and play with. In this case, the hotel was a Travelodge. ( I was going to ‘not tell’ so my little friends would not be at risk, but the pen shows their logo enough to recognize it…) The other hotel was a Motel 6. (I was not going to mention them by name either, but since I’ve named one I figure I ought to name the other.) I’m pretty sure that most folks would not even notice these guys, as they look like bits of dust until watched closely. Even then, they run for cover at the first vibrations of the counter or drops of “rain” / mist.

It is another whole thing to think about; to ponder what it says about Road Warriors, that watching ants in the room is sometimes the best entertainment around ;-) Yes, I’m in an entertainment mecca. But after a day at work, you don’t always want to be out in the hustle and bump. Looking for something a bit more introspective. Then noticing that “the dust moved”… then thinking “they are smaller than gnats” and “what could they be?”.

Who’ll Steam The Rain?

Finally, apropos the last posting about the nature of our water driven world and climate, and reflecting back on the even earlier posting about the sign of water vapor feedback being negative, not a positive feedback at all:

Today, about noon, I was working on the car. It was “beastly hot” in the sun. Just a couple of hours later, it clouded over and rained. This is the typical tropical pattern. Sunny and clear, evaporating water, that rises to make clouds and returns as rain. An enthalpy and vapor density driven heat pipe using steam to cool the planet. So while watching the rain start, I noticed strong steam coming off the parking lot and parked cars. I’ve done my best to capture it in these pictures (though I’ve down-rezzed them a bit for the posting). The steam looks like faint grey areas, sort of a milky haze in some places not in the others.

Here the steam is rapidly and obviously making a dramatic reduction in the pavement temperature and the temperature of the hot metal of the cars. The air temperature also cooled dramatically from the noon heat. Simple and obvious to anyone who wants to step outside in the afternoon rain. Water is the working fluid that cools our planet.

Steam in the parking lot after the start of afternoon rain

Steam in the parking lot after the start of afternoon rain

I don’t know how easy it will be to see, but here there is a puff of steam from the pavement that is rising behind and above the car. That’s a lot of latent heat in that steam cloud that is taller than me.

Steam cloud rising over cars

Steam cloud rising over cars

Hopefully you can see something in the pictures that looks like more than just a smudge ;-)

It is much more dramatic in “real life”. Obvious and clear. Water cools the planet. Added ‘radiative forcing’ just drives the water cycle faster, and that water cools the surface. Noon sun drives temperatures up to the point where water vapor and humidity rise, form clouds, and the rain falls cooling things by many whole degrees. Forget 1/10 C and 1/100 C is just insane. There’s a 10s of degrees process happening here, and it is cooling.

While I think the whole AGW “meme” is just “crazy talk” (since they have so many different bits of physics ‘exactly wrong’), IFF we ASSUME that there is more “radiative forcing” (a non-physical thing not found in my physics text book nor is there a metric unit of “forcing”… and calling it W/m^2 just dodges that THAT is a made up “force” based on assumptions) but if we ASSUME that it is real, all it will do is drive more water faster around the cycle. More of the world would become like the places folks love to vacation, and fewer would be cold miserable places or dry stinking deserts.

IMHO, even that won’t happen, as the reality is that the cycles are driven by changes of natural origin, changes of sea tides and ocean water distribution driven by the lunar cycles, and changes of UV vs IR levels (and where that energy goes in the water column) based on solar changes. In reality, we will see changes in the water cycle, but driven by purely natural processes.

Rather like watching tropical rains cool a solar heated parking lot once enough water is in the sky.

Such are the things that one can find to entertain themselves when in a hotel room. Without enough time or ambition to go out, but with not much more than Basic Cable as a “stay in” option. Things that make the mind wander…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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22 Responses to Micro Ants and Hotel Hobbies

  1. Chiefio,
    I don’t see those tiny ants as “cute”. They are darned persistent.

    The big Florida ant pest arrived here ~20 years ago from south America. I refer to “Fire Ants”. Although there are native fire ants all the way to North Carolina the newcomers are more prolific. In North Carolina I got half a dozen stings in 17 years. Here in Florida I got 70 stings in two minutes by failing to notice that I was standing on a fire ant mound while waiting for my turn to play a golf shot. There is a local rule on my golf course permitting “Free Drops” one club length from fire ant nests.

    The stings are less painful than those of yellow jackets in the short term but more annoying in the long term. Fire ant stings can take up to 8 weeks to heal.

    If that was not enough we now have “Crazy Ants” from south America. The good news is that they don’t sting or bite but they can cause problems with electronics. I have not come across any yet but here is a post from someone who has seen them in Brevard county where I live:

    No doubt these invasions of ant species will be blamed on CO2 emissions caused by burning fossil fuels. I am still hoping that we are burning enough fossil fuels to stave off the recent cold winters in Florida so I won’t have to move further south.

  2. Ralph B says:

    We call them ghost ants, and they don’t taste bad. A few years ago I was up early to travel and didn’t want to disturb anyone so I didn’t turn on any lights. Went to get some cereal and only one available was one of those sugary kids (Fruity Pebbles I recall). So I poured a bowl and ate it then went to the sink to rinse and noticed lots of black dots in the bowl. The cereal was just full of ants. I tossed the box as I din’t want to hear the stories of terror and went on my merry way. No detrimental effects that I have noticed.

  3. J Martin says:

    Perhaps the induction hob with it’s flat glass surface would come into it’s own in a hotel camping road warrior situation. About 30 quid in the UK, so I guess that’s about $45 on your side of the pond. Though of course a purely aluminium pan will no longer work.

  4. J Martin says:

    I was going to add that another advantage about using an induction hob is that you don’t have to worry about setting off the hotel smoke alarms. Though with my culinary skills I would still no doubt manage to set off the smoke alarms.

    Perhaps also some of the more recent advances in non stick cookware surfaces can help.

    The first 30 seconds intro is OTT as is the commentary. But I was impressed by the fried egg demonstration just dropped into the completely empty and dry pan, yet it didn’t stick.

    Other manufacturers are producing updated non stick pans that use updated harder variants of PTFE that offer similar improvements.

    From reading reviews It does seem that there are some other ‘me too’ manufacturers out there who’s products don’t deliver, or do at first but quickly become less effective.

    I am planning on getting one of the better ones to take camping with me in the summer as I remember that washing the dishes and especially the pans after what passes for cooking when I cook, was sometimes a real chore. Some non stick plates and cutlery would be good.

  5. J Martin says:

    Not sure that link worked. Do a search for ceracraft jml on youtube.

  6. Ian W says:

    I live in hotels possibly half the year. One thing that is always useful is a switched multiple outlet extension power cord. There are never enough electrical outlets for charging all the electronics and running laptops/tablets etc. Get one with an illuminated switch so you can tell that the outlet is live and the socket is actually providing power (hotel power sockets appear to get a lot of wear). Although hotels have almost all moved over to WiFi many of them still have the old hard wired ethernet often in unlikely places so I take a long Ethernet cable so I can direct connect if available as the connection to the Internet is usually better. I have a VGA extension cable and HDMI cable so I can use the flat screen TVs as a second display rather than squint at the small laptop display.
    Most hotels seem to have small microwave ovens, so I also carry a microwave egg poacher, some microwave cookware, and a set of cutlery.
    Finally, I have found that if you are repeatedly in the same area, and you have found a reasonable hotel, it benefits you to be a regular customer there. You get given better rooms and better service once the staff all know you.

  7. u.k.(us) says:

    “Well? Say something! ”
    Not so sure about that “idle hands” thing :)
    ( nice couple of fun posts, thanks).

    Anyway, I have the firm opinion that some politicians… (wanted to work in a “on the head of a pin” but the words fail me).


    It was linked from:

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    The “crazy ant” at 1/8 inch, per your link, is way huge compared to whatever these guys are. I think these are something else all together. I’d put them at about 1/32 of an inch… or maybe less… How big is the period from a fine point pen?…

    @Ralph B:

    Ghost Ants, eh? Fits… Yeah, I “ate a few” on the jerky before I noticed. Not too bad… Didn’t notice any change of flavor, really. (I’d expect some more acid / vinegar flavor from the formic acid in most ants, but didn’t notice a thing unil I dumped the bag of jerky into a bowl…)

    As one of my sisters fed me “chocolate covered ants” at about 5 years old, I’ve been “ok with eating ants” for a long time ;-)

    @J. Martin:

    The induction hobs here are still selling at a premium. Generally, I’ve not been fond of the flat ceramic surfaces. As pans heat and expand, the bottom often does not stay perfectly flat, and the pan distorts a bit. That, then, starts a feedback loop where the hottest most “bulged” spot is in contact with the heat and gets hotter while the rest is lifted from the surface and does not get as hot.

    Induction type elements fix that a little bit by induction heating the non-contact areas, but you still have the issue that pans are not perfectly flat on the bottom during heating (for many kinds of common pots and pans).

    In general, I’ve been quite happy with the regular electric element. Just need to have the right sized pans for it is all. (The “center hole” where there isn’t any element is modestly large…)

    But whenever the other kinds get cheap enough to be an impulse buy to try it out, I will ;-)

    FWIW, ceramic cooking has been around for ages. I remember when teflon first came out and folks in my home town were nattering about ceramic bean pots and enamel cookware working about as well. Eventually the enamel gets rough / worn and has issues, but in my experience, teflon wears out much much faster… I’m still using some enamel pots we got for wedding gifts a few decades back. Been through 3 or 5? sets of teflon in the same time… Overall, I’m settling on stainless steel with a bit of oil as my “method of choice” for most things and cast iron for everything it can do well. Teflon reserved for “cheap pans I don’t care about”…

    IF the ceramic stuff ever gets cheap enough, and is durable in the decade range, I’ll be all for it. Then again, after a decade of field validation, I may not be still cooking so someone else may have to buy and use the pots ;-)


    As Paula Dean has been vilified in the press, I finally acted on my prior intent to buy a set of her cookware. I got the Stainless Steel premium set. I’ve also picked up a collection of the teflon coated pots and pans. Target was remaindering / closing out her stuff, so it was for sale very cheap.

    I’d intended to make a distinct posting out of this story, but didn’t get around to it, so I’ll put it here:

    I was in line to buy 2 P.D. pots for about 2/3 of normal price at target. I’d not bought the full set as I was looking for stainless. Ahead of me in line was a 40 something Black Woman with her family. Momentarily I wondered what would happen when I laid 2 P.D. pans on the checkout counter… then noticed the clerk was ringing up her first item: A Paula Dean 15 piece deluxe set of cookware… Don’t know if it was the discount from about $120 to about $80, or just that she knew P.D. was not racist (as she has done a lot for and with black folks over the years). Was she making a statement about the stupidity of vilification of Paula Dean for what was common speech 60 years ago? Or just interested in a set of darned good cookware for cheap? No way to know… But at least one black family was not buying the Race Card Crap and knew a good deal on good cookware when they saw it.

    FWIW, were I ever asked to testify to the question of “Have you ever used the word ‘Nigger’?” I’d be faced with the same “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question that faced Paula Dean. I, too, grew up in a racist place. As a child, the common nursery rhyme was “Eeny meeny miny mo, catch a nigger by the toe” only changed to “tiger by the toe” long after I was out of high school. While I’ve never used the term to denigrate anyone, nor as an insult; the simple fact is that at about 4 years old I chanted it any time we were choosing who went first in a game. Had no idea what any of the words meant. So what do you do? Flat out lie and say “No, I’ve never used it.”? Or tell the truth “Yes, I’ve used it.” and be prevented from pointing out “but not in any way intended to hurt anyone”.

    This is made all the more stupid by folks not realizing the root of the word is just the common latin based languages / Spanish words root for “black”. It was largely just badly pronounced old Creole for “black guy”. So they get all upset for being called “black” in one language, but the approved alternative is to be called black in another language. Go figure… (Yes, I know that the emotional loading is from the AssHoles who used it as an insult and choose to be hurtful with it. Doesn’t change the fact that it is by accepting that definition that the hurtful ability is preserved. It is by laughing at the assholes and pointing out they are being stupid in calling a black guy black in a language they don’t understand, by refusing to accept the term AS an insult, that they can disarm the asshole of their emotional weapon….)

    But people are, by and large, driven by uncontrolled emotional baggage and not by logic or reason. So Paula Dean gets crucified for being honest about the past of 50 to 60 years ago so that the Looney Side Of Left can continue to use racial division as a weapon of FUD to keep folks divided and in the emotional plantation. Oh Well.

    BTW, just for the record, the last time I used the term “nigger”, was when out for drinks about 15 years back with my motorcycle riding buddy. Two black guys in brown leather jackets walk into the bar. I asked him if they ought to be invited over to join us, as he had straightened up and was looking at them intently (so I thought maybe he knew them?). His answer: “Them, niggers? No Way.” To which I said: “You called them niggers. Why?”… and he proceeded to ‘splain to me that they were ‘players’ and he was ‘alerting’ on them in a not so good way. We talked a bit about what he saw that I didn’t. My Motorcycle Buddy gave me his Kilimanjaro motor cycle suit when he went back to Korea with his Korean wife. I sill have it and cherish it (and the times we went out partying together). He was about as black as they come. Also a damn fine Microsoft support guy. We ran a shop together for a couple of years and had a great time. I miss him…

    The point of that story? That the vilification of any white person who has ever used the word “nigger” forgets (or deliberately ignores?) that blacks use it all the time, and that there are perfectly innocent uses such as a white guy asking a black buddy why he just used it. Or a 4 year old kid chanting a rhyme 1/2 century+ ago…

    If ever asked by a prosecutor “Have you ever used the ‘n-word’?”; I will first say “What word is that?” and refuse to confirm or deny until THEY have stated it. Then say “Oh, you mean like you just did? Yes, I’ve used it in questioning and explaining.”…

    At any rate, that’s my Rant on the N-Word. Near as I can tell, the Loony Side Of Left deliberately works to keep racism (or at least ‘racial guilt’) alive as a strategy to divide people for easier manipulation. I’ll have none of that. Basically, I’m “over it”. The only way we get to a world that is accepting of everyone is by choosing not to be overly sensitive to difference or to past history. To get past it, and just say “He’s my buddy and we’re going out for a beer.” And do exactly that. To enjoy our differences and accept our common history and then move on.

    And, at the end of the day, for a few minutes in line at Target, this old Honky White Guy and a middle aged black woman were both doing just that. Buying some good cookware on sale, political bull shit be damned and social manipulators be stuffed. We both, in our own way, were thumbing our noses at the folks who wanted us angry at each other over manufactured resentment. I wish there had been some socially acceptable way to have invited her to spend a while talking over lunch… but me being married and her being with her (teen age) kids would have made starting that conversation very much “awkward”…

    So don’t be surprised if in some future postings on “Hotel Camping” you see some Paula Dean cookware in use. Somehow I’ve managed to fit the individual bits into the car… (though the whole set of stainless is not with me on the road…) It’s a might tight now, but still workable ;-)

  9. LG says:

    @ E.M.
    There are 5084 words in the English language beginning with the letter “N,n”. :D
    (according to Wolframalpha)

  10. H.R. says:

    Micro ants and Hobbies, eh? If you can train them to get together and bring you a paper from the lobby, I’d say you were on to something ;o)

    (Long time no write; been stopping by to read time to time, though. Last time I commented I think you were pondering that Paula Dean set.)

  11. Larry Geiger says:

    In central Florida, probably not Kudzu. Muscadine Grape or possibly what is commonly call Potato Vine. There are several fast growing vines in Florida, but I’ve never seen Kudzu this far south.

  12. PhilJourdan says:

    The steam is common in this area for summer showers. You do not even notice it except when someone brings it up.

  13. tckev says:

    Your ants appear to be Little Black Ant (Monomorium minimum) – yer, boring name. (BTW the ghost ants are usually lighter color – gray/tan/pale red)
    And this link is to id them before chemical bomb them to oblivion. http://www.fmcprosolutions.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=dsESXNRwKA0%3d&tabid=1232&mid=2082

    Of course if you really wanted to get rid of ants use the ‘old’ none toxic chemicals of Borax in sugar syrup http://www.food.com/recipe/homemade-ant-killer-299504
    BTW you can also make Borax toffee for ants than like fat/sugar mix better.

  14. Jason Calley says:

    @ Larry Geiger “In central Florida, probably not Kudzu. Muscadine Grape or possibly what is commonly call Potato Vine. ”

    Very good point about the potato vine. We have it up in north-east Florida as well — and is it darned invasive! Sadly, my research into it indicates that while there are, in fact, edible varieties of the potato vine, the common type in Florida is NOT the type you can eat. Darned shame about that…The books I have read tell me that the tuber it produces, and which looks like a regular sort of potato, really IS a tuber, even though they just grow among the leaves and hang from the vines all over. My wife and I have a couple of acres of them. Sure would make harvesting potatoes easier. Just pick ’em like apples. Don’t even get your hands dirty.

  15. Larry Geiger says:

    Don’t know much about “Potato Vine” but I know it can take over an area. Seems to be pretty selective where it grows. More so than Kudzu or Brazilian Pepper. It’s bad where it does grow but hasn’t taken over large areas (like Kudzu) yet. Did not know some are edible.

  16. Ralph B says:

    Arrived in Fort Myers last night after a layover in Newark. Temp in Newark 101…Ft Myers 72. I thought the pilot had miss read the temperature but nope…beautiful simply wonderful here

  17. omanuel says:

    We miss you, E.M. Smith. Hope all is well.

  18. marchesarosa says:

    This unusual hiatus in postings from a prolific poster is worrying. Hope the Chiefo is OK.

  19. Steve C says:

    I, too, hope all goes well with our host. Most likely it’s mainly pressure of work (not to mention finding a decent place to sleep which may / may not have a usable net connection). Or, as Ogden Nash more elegantly put it:
    I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance,
    Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.”

  20. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Chiefio: How are you?!!

  21. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M.:……….Hey!, perhaps he is programming a Quantum computing system!

  22. omanuel says:

    E.M., please let us know you are okay.

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