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You say amoebae and I say amoebas

I’ve written about my microscopy habit before (actually, go read that post instead — it’s got lots of cool links and stuff), but I was going through some old photos and disk and found this montage of amoebas and it brought a tear to my eye.

It took me twenty years to get an amoeba, no lie. And I wanted one so badly.

See, my mother used to talk about her professor in nursing school who had a hay infusion that was decades old. One drop from that was so full of critters, she said, it was more protozoa stew than pond dip.

So I was, like, “right. Got that. The secret is old.” And I made aquariums full of stinky, crusty, nasty hay and bean infusions and nursed them along for months at a time.

These things went through a predictable cycle, even if I fed them fresh ingredients. At the start, I’d get all sorts of interesting, active, sparky protozoa. Then it would degrade to bacteria and boring wormy things. Then it would die and smell like it.

Sooo eventually I rigged up a jar on a string, went out to a local pond and did a proper pond dip. And got an amoeba, first try! I was so excited!

But the next day I was supposed to fly home and visit the folks for two weeks. Arrgh! I did the best I could to preserve it; I put the sample in a bowl in the basement (cool and damp), covered it and hoped for the best.

When I got back, first slide…dozens and dozens of amoebas. Bloody things had been dividing and subdividing for a fortnight. It was one of the happiest days of my life.


Oh, god.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:00 pm

Optics are magic. Whether it’s microscopes or telescopes, binoculars, magnifying glasses, reducing glasses (did you know there was such a thing?), polaroid sunglasses, loupes, 3D glasses…anything that alters vision is just cool as hell.

Comment from Uncle Monkey
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:18 pm

Beer Goggles?

Comment from ryukyu
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:24 pm

“Beer Goggles?”

Those are witchcraft. Completely different.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:31 pm

I was terribly near-sighted for years as a child, and nobody picked up on it. Not even me. I even worked out a whole theory of painting based on things being really fuzzy (I thought the masters were bullshitters, because everything was in focus).

Got glasses for the first time at 16 and just walked around looking at stuff for weeks.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:32 pm

Nice amoebas. What are their names? And, well–add mirrors to the list?

I remember a high school friend doing a presentation in Speech class on what it was like to get glasses for the first time at age 10: “Houses had doors! And windows!” But isn’t there a theory floating around somewhere that in fact Expressionism had its genesis in someone’s poor eyesight?

And, um, this blog is so educational–I had to go look up “beer goggles.” Reminds me of an old Mickey Gilley song…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:50 pm

Mirrors! Of course! Particularly convex ones. I think it was Monet whose eyesight drove his painting.

Aw, Can’t Hark had to look up beer goggles. That’s kind of sweet, in a totally sheltered way. Happy birthday!

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 18, 2011, 12:10 am

Harumph! Thank you for the birthday wishes. . . and thbpt! At least I knew the Mickey Gilley song.

I have read, but have never tested the information, that a spherical mirror presents to the eye images of everything surrounding it simultaneously, except that what is behind it is upside down. I can’t say that my source is reliable–but I love the idea, so I’ve never wanted to prove it wrong.

And, yes, Monet would sure qualify!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 18, 2011, 12:42 am

It is one of the great regrets of my life that I do not know how to spell a Bronx cheer. AKA raspberry.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 18, 2011, 12:44 am

Well, you can’t really spell the essentially unspellable. Why I have officially adopted my personal version (see above). Do I gather I just got a backatya?

Comment from harrison
Time: May 18, 2011, 1:11 am

That’s a beautiful story, Weasel.

Comment from Armybrat
Time: May 18, 2011, 1:43 am

Got my first pair of glasses at 18 months. Blind as a bat! Loved microscope work because it put me on even par. Up the power and I could see all as well as anybody!

Comment from Mrs. Hill
Time: May 18, 2011, 1:58 am

I only had to squint my way through the first couple of grades. Still remember walking out of the optician’s, though, and seeing individual blades of grass and leaves on trees – Superrealism!

The Monet comments reminded me of something one of my profs said about Degas losing his sight, so of course I had to google (Sorry – raised by librarians):

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: May 18, 2011, 2:14 am

PPPPPPPPPPPPBT, is how it’s spelled, in the Extremely Unabridged Oxford Dictionary of the American Language.

Comment from Deborah
Time: May 18, 2011, 3:10 am

Ack! Berkeley Breathed spelled it phbbt! when spit out by Bill the Cat. πŸ™‚

Comment from Oceania
Time: May 18, 2011, 3:22 am

They are the only culture that she has … πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: May 18, 2011, 3:22 am

Bill had an accent.

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: May 18, 2011, 3:37 am

Educational, this blog. Yessirree.


Not the last unvoiced lingualabial trill on the subject, I’m sure, despite the remarkably cultured nature of the proprietress. There are unplumbed depths to this subject. . .and I feel sure the loyal minions will plumb them, as necessary.

Comment from Scott Jacobs
Time: May 18, 2011, 5:02 am

Oh, god.

Those moments where you look back on your life and have a major epiphany really hit you like a ton of bricks, don’t they? πŸ™‚

Reminds me of an old Mickey Gilley song…

I can’t tell… Should I be proud or ashamed that I knew not only exactly who that is, but also what song you meant?

Comment from Carl
Time: May 18, 2011, 7:54 am

It’s amazing what etymological gems this blog leads you to discover.

I’ve lived all these years not knowing that ‘raspberry’ in the Bronx Cheer sense is Cockney rhyming slang. Raspberry Tart = Fart

Comment from Carl
Time: May 18, 2011, 8:06 am

I read somewhere that if you wear special glasses which produce an inverted image then (if you wear them all the time) after about 3 weeks the brain adjusts and everything appears the right way up.

Comment from EastAsia
Time: May 18, 2011, 1:42 pm

Are weasels like amoebas? Cause this morning I visited your website (like I always do) and when I went back to my homepage, the little stoatie icon was there instead of the “Boeing” symbol. Weasels multiply!!

Comment from Poindexter
Time: May 18, 2011, 5:57 pm

“I was terribly near-sighted for years as a child…”

So was my former wife, Marla. Her mom took her for an eye exam and to order glasses when she was about 8 or so. After her glasses came in, and they picked them up, they walked outside and Marla asked, “What are all those things on top of all the buildings?” It took a few moments for her mom to realize that Marla was asking about TV antennas, which she had never been able to see before. Her mom started crying….

Comment from David Gillies
Time: May 18, 2011, 6:04 pm

We had a stereoscope at school with some aerial photos. Amazing how compelling the illusion is. And of course my mother had one of those View-Master things with the cardboard disks of stereo pairs. She had a ton of the disks from places like Lake Lucerne and Amalfi. I would look at them for hours.

Has anyone got one of those microscopes that plug in your USB port? Worth getting?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 18, 2011, 6:19 pm

Funny you should ask, David — we were just talking about that. I got a USB scope for Christmas and it really is very good, but I haven’t gotten around to setting it up properly. I don’t have a very good workspace set up for myself in here.

It isn’t a toy.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: May 18, 2011, 7:50 pm

Do you have a make and model recommendation?

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: May 18, 2011, 8:31 pm

I feel your pain, Stoaty…we have several scummy aquaria in our downstairs prep room that we use for our biology students’ microsafari. Sometimes we get lucky, sometimes we don’t. And they make it look so easy in the books.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: May 18, 2011, 9:21 pm

I lied a bit, David. It is a toy, but it’s not as much of a one as I expected. I mean, it’s plastic and video…it’s never going to measure up to high-end optics, is it?

I’ll post about it. It’ll give me something to post tonight.

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