Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tank Updates: Pining Mongkut Edition

Oooh!
I've been in fish-mode for about 36 hours now, between setting up a new little tank and doing my maintenance  chemistry, and tinkering with the pair of them.

A few days ago, though, I noticed something that made me very happy in Mongkut's tank. That little mound right there, in that photo, is a bubble nest. Male bettas (and Gouramis, for that matter) construct such a thing when they're looking for a mate, which they only do when they're in a relatively good mood, and they know that their habitat is ideal for breeding. In a way, it's his little thank-you note for taking care of him, and I'm pleased to see it constructed so well given that the tank is somewhat overfiltered.

I was less pleased to see that my Hygrophila has died back completely - adding the water after the water change this morning actually tore the rotting plant to bits. I'm glad to have it out of there, but I'm less glad to not have a hygro, as I need more of it now and nobody in town has it.

One more small matter...
Grrr. Such is life and death in the fish business. Better dead plants than dead fish I suppose.

There's also the small matter of a new tank that I've acquired through wit, guile, cunning, manipulative bartering, and shameless reliance on corporate discounts. This tank here is 55 US Gallons. It weighs as much as three men (somewhat less than my refrigerator, when filled) and I could likely lie on my side inside it with my knees tucked up by my chest... but probably not. The whole tank, with its stand and everything else I needed, cost me, taxes in, only ten dollars more than a regular person would have paid for just the tank, lid, and lights itself. For now, the tank's just settling - I took a good long time filling it to assure myself it's secure and leak proof, and now I want the filter to get good and grungy on liquid ammonia. I've added tropical extracts and plant-gro in preparation for planting the tank, which should come later next week. Some careful testing and monitoring, and I think I'll have a cycled tank, ready to stock, before february.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Rest, and Due Diligence

There's a halfway decent chance
this Alexandrine will
outlive you.
It's the day before Christmas, and I'm up at half past six getting ready to go to work.

Partly due to the fact that I'm pretty much inoculated against it these days, I'm used to having to work on and around Christmas Day, and I don't really have a problem with it. Whether I'm selling or cooking, this is simply the best time of year to ply my trades, and it would be silly to rail against that.

I am, however, growing tired, and I think all of us are. I know many people out there are thinking of getting pets for people for Christmas, and I wish you all would stop and think about the situation a little more clearly.

A pet is a serious responsibility. You're adopting a life, often a longer-lived one than you think, and giving it to someone else to care for. I don't really have a problem with pets as a family gift so long as the giver is willing to assume responsibility in the event the recipient cannot or will not. There's nothing wrong with a whole family adopting something like an Alexandrine, a Lorikeet, or a dog.

Where I get temperamental is when people give pets as gifts to, say, small children, and expect the children to take perfect care of them. They won't. They might try, sure, and an unusually responsible 12 year old might even do the research on how to care for a pet. But on average, I just can't trust any of your children to do that when you yourselves won't.

There are plenty of pets that this is especially pronounced for: every breed/strain of goldfish I know of exceeds six inches (often dramatically) in length and has a lifespan potentially measured in decades rather than single years - that's right, even those two-and-three-dollar feeder goldfish you've never seen live longer than six months. Goldfish need exorbitant care. If you are looking for a simple fish needing a minimum of care, look no further than a betta, but still expect to do frequent water changes - a well-cared-for betta can live for years.

Ditto for rodents. Hamsters are about the worst pet you can give a child and quickly go feral if not regularly handled - a task difficult at the outset as they start feral to begin with and have to be hand-tamed. A rat would be better, but expect it to live for a couple of years.

There's no pet I can think of (except perhaps a Mantis) who should not be expected to live at least three years, and most pets I can think of (and have kept) have had lifespans potentially reaching ten years or more. Birds and reptiles are among the clearest examples of this.

These turtles are called red-eared sliders. They're a common enough species in the pet trade that I've never actually seen another kind of pet turtle. They're cute and tiny now, but Red Eared Sliders live for thirty years or more and have an adult size approaching on a foot. Turtles, particularly aquatic ones, are some of the most care-intensive pets I can think of, and require that care, unfalteringly, for the better part of the rest of the recipient's life. If you give this to your child, they can reasonably expect to be caring for it while they're studying for the bar exam, or even, potentially, administering it.

"Affordable Dental"
Parrots are worse. The Alexandrine, above, has a lifespan exceeding 70 years, when properly cared for, and is about 18-20 months old. They're good little birds, and easy to maintain, but he's a lifelong companion for most who could afford him, and one you will in all likelihood be bestowing upon your friends or family when you pass on. That's a pretty big responsibility - many humans don't live as long as Alex will.

Conures, like this sun conure helping Mandy fix her loose crown (no, not really), have an average lifespan of 25 years. At their price, I doubt anyone would give them as an impulse gift, but it's still helpful to know what you're getting into.

As a family matter, pets are actually fantastic gifts. But the giver must always be willing to ensure that pet's standard of care, just as the adopter of a child must be willing to care for that child. That's why we try not to say you have "bought" this or that animal. You're adopting them. It's a life, and once you've let it out of the box it came in, you can't put it back in.

Friday, December 21, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday: Sugar High Edition


--- 1 ---
I don't actually remember taking my pills last night, so this could very well be "7 Quick Takes: Zac's Off His Meds Edition" as well. It occurs to me I haven't done one of these in a while, and I aslo haven't talked much about the Simple Living Challenge lately. As it happens, I'm at a lull in my success with the challenge (there's a shock!), since I've simply been too busy to do the sort of housework that the challenge requires. Last night I basically went to bed as soon as having eaten, and today I really only had a couple of hours, most of which were actually spent soaking in the bathtub and trying to work out which pants I intend to wear to work today, because my usual black corduroys are all written off. Ho hum. Low energy levels seem to be recovering today, so I should be back on track, particularly with a whole weekend to get there.

--- 2 ---
As it turns out, my new Paracheirodons are doing very well with the Betta - there's been no settling-shock this far, everyone's eating happily today, and nobody seems to be attacking each other. I can't wait until they settle down enough that they can interact (more or less) with each other, because right now the tetras pretty much hide in the bottom clearing of the tank, and Mongkut stays hidden up in the Hygrophilla.

The fish tank actually seems to be doing very well for itself lately. That blue box you see down in the bottom left of the image is a Hagen Master Test Kit - a comprehensive set of reagents for evaluating the chemical properties of the water, many of which you only need to know if there's a problem of some sort. I thought it would be helpful to establish a baseline, so I've gone ahead and run all of the tests on the water in the tank right now, and everything seems to be pretty much ideal for these species and those plants.

Having said that, I still have two major concerns - the temperature is anywhere from 8-10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than I should like, and I'm concerned the plants may not be getting enough CO2. I suspect the extra fish will help in the latter case, but for the former, there's really nothing else for it but to get a new heater, which is just as well. I don't think the heater that's in there now has ever worked properly to begin with.

I'm also contemplating growing brine shrimp for live food. I have a spare 5 gallon tank in storage that I could rig up to breed the shrimp in. The eggs can be quite the expense, however, which makes me very reluctant.

--- 3 ---
Lately, I've had to cram on my knowledge of rodents and birds. There's a few good reasons to do that, not the least of which is that I want to be able to sound at least half-way knowledgeable when I'm talking about them with the people who actually work in that department, and with my friends and family who own them. Naturally, rabbits sounded like a good place to start.

It's also becoming crucial, because more and more often I find myself working as a generalist at work rather than being confined to the Fish and Reptile department. Between covering shifts and the way our staffing works, I usually find myself covering the Small Animals department at least two-fifths of the time. It was very helpful that our Small Animals Manager made a list of care sheets for the animals we have in stock and left them mounted in our hospital room.

A hospital room that is growing increasingly busy. With winter approaching, it's becoming clear to me that the way we as an industry ship our animals to individual pet stores could stand to see some improvement. I've got a hospital room that can support about six sick animals at once with about ten in it, right now... lots of whom got here that way. Without a staff vet, there's very little any of us can do for any but the most basic of ailments, but that's not going to stop us from doing it... which is the other reason I've had to bone up on my small animals knowledge.

Being my own veterinarian is nothing new to me as a Fish-keeper  but there's a huge difference between treating ich and anchor worm, and treating abscesses, breaks, and wet tail.

--- 4 ---
In tea news, I can safely say I'm independent on the matter, now that I no longer work for any major tea retailer. I actually find that more enjoyable, because I no longer feel pangs of guilt about trying the odd tea from other retailers, or even about long stretches of not having tea at all.

Having said that, I have been drinking a lot of Teavana's White Ayurvidic Chai with Samurai Chai Mate lately... and when I'm not drinking that in the mornings, I usually have Maharaja Chai Oolong with Cocoa Caramel Sea-Salt at night, which tastes an awful lot like a wintery coffee-cake.

My best purchase while I was working there was actually a Zojirushi 4 Litre water-heater. It's sort of like having a commercial tap-kettle on my kitchen counter, but it uses less power. I use mine for all sorts of things, up to and including making instant soups for lunch or making the occasional cup of hot chocolate.

Why, I've even been known to use them to get water up to boiling for my potatoes or pasta, rather than taking cold tap water and getting it up to a boil on the stove. If it's already sitting there hot, why waste more power heating something up with a less efficient element?

--- 5 ---
Well, I suppose it can't really be avoided any longer - Christmas is quite literally just around the corner. Working in retail, it's hard to remember sometimes - there's no real signs of the impending holiday where I work, apart from the slowly-rising crescendo of business that's been building since early December, and the christmas music we were lucky enough to only just start hearing in the past week. In point of fact, we were specifically asked not to decorate the store for Christmas, something I wholeheartedly approved of - I tend to think that phones, subscriptions, and pets are just about tied for "worst Christmas present". Here, have a bunch of extra responsibilities and expenses! Merry Christmas!

On a more jovial note, I actually get pretty stoked about Christmas, and I still, like a child, have a hard time sleeping on the 24th most years, though I have a feeling that'll be a little different this year. This year happens to be my biggest Christmas ever in terms of my own personal gift-giving, which I'm pretty happy about, to be fair.

After last year, it will be kind of nice to have done something relatively potent for Christmas.
--- 6 ---

As it turns out, I actually hate baby turtles. See, the thing is, I think they're adorable - and so does everyone else. I can't think of a species of turtle, though, that doesn't get at least two feet in diameter. In that respect, they're a lot like fresh-water rays - very attractive pets that should be easier to keep than they actually are.

Building a proper turtle tank isn't easy. A lot of turtle keepers don't realize how much work they are to take care of, to keep properly clean, or just how long they live (and how big they get), and wind up abandoning their pets. Thing is, around here, Red Eared Sliders (the most common pet turtles) are actually an invasive species that can cause genuine ecological damage just by their presence. I'm starting to understand the broad-sweeping bans on turtles as pets which are cropping up around the country.

And I think it's a shame, because just like a lot of other pet animals, there's absolutely no good reason not to keep them, if you're doing it properly. Rather than certifying people, though, it's easier, and cheaper, just to ban them, so here's another little slice of the wild most people younger than me will barely remember when we're in our sixties.
--- 7 ---
I would hate for people to assume that fishkeeping is my only hobby these days, because it really isn't. I'm still fairly active in forum roleplaying, which I've enjoyed ever since I was a preteen, really, as a fun way to escape reality without actually having to be good at anything or take any brain-damaging drugs.

More and more though, I've been getting away from that, in large part due to the fact that I now have a computer powerful enough to play games. As a matter of fact, it's so powerful that I can play even modern games like skyrim and record the results. It follows, therefore, that I started doing (infrequent) Let's Play videos of various games and uploading them to youtube, under the channel Communeguy.

As my skills improve with my video editing software, I've branched out into doing other videos, like tank logs and the suchlike. They're not really ready yet, but look to those in the new year, when I have more time to do things besides work and housework.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Advent, Scrupulosity, Time, and Zen

The way that can be shown is not the true way.
I'm actually slightly surprised, given that I rarely acquire new readers and that my blog has faith right in the title, that nobody's said anything about my complete lack of mention of Christmas coming up soon. I'm finally here to talk about Christmas, and a host of other things. Also known as another manic post - the kind I, frankly, like, but also the kind that tend to get me in trouble one way or another.

Yes, it's advent, and Advent/Christmas might be the holiest time of the year after Lent/Easter, depending on your theology and your personal views. As it happens, the reason I haven't said much about it is the same reason I haven't said much about US gun control laws... frankly, I haven't thought much about either.

The thing is, I work retail. Before that, I worked as a cook. December is often the busiest time of the year for me - I've always either had exams, Christmas parties, or Christmas shoppers to attend to. December is easily my busiest month and has long been one of my least favourite - second only to February - for that reason.

Even the winter mire conspires, and as the days grow colder and the snow finally starts to accumulate, work eats up even more of my time as transportation becomes a necessity rather than a luxury, which tends to make matters worse in this regard. Every day, when I ride the bus down the hill and toward my job, the bus goes right past the parish where a little over a year ago, I was baptised and confirmed as a Catholic.

I won't say I regret that, because honestly I don't, but I can't help from feeling it was a futile, or at least ill-thought-out, gesture. Something I don't think is a great admission to make in public, but needed to be said none the lest. The sad thing is, I can actually count on one hand how many masses I have been to this year, where the summer before I had attended mass (forgive the pun!) religiously.

I went once to Nanny's funeral mass, once to an easter mass (and, as I recall it, a baptist easter church service), and I may have gone once in the summer, though I don't really remember.

My parents - agnostic if any label at all truly applies - often joke that I'm all the more authentic as a Catholic for only going sometimes, and my brother enjoys heckling me with the odd youtube clip of Peter Griffin's step-father giving him grief over being a lapsed catholic. All in all I actually have good fun with such joking.

There's a few reasons for this, not the least of which is the sheer distance of the parish from the house, which in weather like that which is common in New Brunswick in winter is simply untraversable (the sidewalks aren't plowed either). A man of greater faith than mine would probably shrug that off and go anyway, but I have other, actual qualms.

God knows I'm busy, and he knows why. He helped create the situation in which I find myself, a situation I'm thankful for, frankly, as nothing matures your choices about money faster than not having enough of it for an extended period of time. Sunday is one of the few shifts I can count on, and while it doesn't interfere with Mass, it certainly interferes with my desire to commit - the sudden appearance of mass on the schedule means that instead of leaving at eleven and being home at six, I'm leaving the house at nine and being home at six... a much longer day without much else to show for it. I hate to admit it, but I'm tired almost all of the time now, and on some level, I know that's just an excuse.

Another problem of mine is that it's hard to internalize the rules of Catholic Christianity. It just is, and excuse me for saying so. I have the bible, and I have a copy of the catechism. There's still lots of rules in the catechism I feel were made almost arbitrarily - the citations they give for biblical support make my head hurt. Now, don't get me wrong... I'm not a sola scriptura kind of a guy. But if abortion, birth control, and eating meat on Friday were all grave matter, you'd think there would be some mention of each in the bible. As much as I hate to admit it, Catholic sexual morality is a big holdback, for me. I was just raised with a different sense of that particular issue, I suppose.

Not that it matters. One could follow all the laws of God and men to the letter and still not be a good person, be happy, or even, for that matter, not be entirely innocent. As I see it, the great lesson of Christ was not to memorize great codes of laws but to internalize them. To make the godly desire a part of your day-to-day life, and to be good, rather than to act good. In that respect, I suppose I krib a little from the eastern religions. Perhaps a better title for me would be a transcendental catholic, or a transcendental Christian. Those who have been around for a while know that I've never put much faith in schismatics - the time for dividing ourselves upon the lines of which long-dead preacher we most agree with is long past. Well, I don't believe that such divisions have validity.

The way to God does not always pass through church doors, I find. I learn more about being good and following God out in the world than I do in any homily, no matter how well delivered. I've never had to turn away my over-generous helping of anger in a pew. I've never felt the need to split my lunch in a pew. I've never had to contemplate whether it was better to let an animal live or to put it out of its misery in a pew. I think you can be a faithful Catholic, a faithful Christian, and not quite fit in the mould.

My two cents, duly deposited. Bear in mind that unlike Thomist, I'm not a theologian.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Pet Paracheirodons

Mongkut hides, top right, while my new shoal of Paracheirodon Axelrodi (Cardinal Tetra) learn the ropes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tank Update: Mongkut's Palace

Click for Bigness!
After tinkering with a few favours, swapping out broken parts with working parts from machines with other broken parts, and spending a very small amount, I've finally managed to put a canopy on Mongkut's tank.

For the first time, I have a proper appreciation for just how quiet a HOB filter can be, since, with the cover secure, I can actually have the water level up high enough that the filter runs silent.

The new hood allows me to use a dedicated light for the tank, so I've added a 14W Life-Glo 2 bulb (surprise, a hagen product) which has the right colour temperature and power levels for live plants. From left to right, the plants are something labelled as "L. Major" that I can't quite identify, the Amazon Sword, and Hygrophilia Polysperma. This combination of plants, I am hoping, will suit mongkut nicely. All are relatively tall plants that will fill out and give him lots of hiding room.

I haven't really considered dosing ferts as I am hoping that Mongkut's been in the tank long enough that the plants are fairly well-based, but I do have a bottle of Nutrafin Plant Gro floating around if it starts to look necessary. I've also been giving him tropical extracts. I think they're bringing out his colour.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Ennui as 27 reportedly killed at Conn. Elementary

A spuriously-identified gunman opened fire on the campus of a Newtown, Conn. elementary school today, killing 27 and wounding three others in what is being described as the second most deadly school shooting in the US after the Virginia Tech massacre. It's too early to say anything truly poignant - to offer blame or propose new ideas. It's hard enough to conceive of the event in anything other than abstract terms.
Somone today was hurt badly enough that they felt it was necessary to murder their brother, drive to the next town over, and kill their own mother in front of her elementary class. Someone today was hurt badly enough that children - the last taboo of the west, became valid targets. I can understand these things happening in a high school, or a university, but not in an elementary school.
There is too much violence in our culture, too much grudgery in our culture, and I can understand that. There isn't enough, not nearly enough, forgiveness in our culture, and we can do something about that. I don't yet know why this man did this, but I do know he wasn't born wanting to do this.
We all need to sit, I think, and speak.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Doomsday, Math, and Panic

Clean up, Jesus is Coming!
A week from Friday, I'm going to take whatever is left of my paycheque and buy myself a bucket of popcorn and a good thermos for hot tea so that I can sit at a busy thoroughfare and entertain myself with watching people hustle around like frightened roaches, trying to find the nearest cover while the sky is proverbially falling on them again.

Then, while they all complain the next morning about the world not really coming to an end, I'm going to wake up in the smug self-satisfaction of knowing I may well be the only of my friends who is not hung-over.

If you've been living under a rock for the last half-decade or so, there's been rumours abounding about the auspicious date of 21 December, 2012, due to some anthropologist or another back-calculating the Mayan calendar and figuring out that the long-count calendar's enormous span ended its cycle on that date. Since then I've had to put up with stories of all levels of ridiculous events to expect on that day (in fact, the only event I haven't heard associated with it yet is the Second Coming).

If the world was ending,
would I really be wasting time
so far away?
Now, the Long Count Calendar is a mathematically beautiful thing, and walking it forward through our own several calendar systems used since then is an impressive achievement, not so much for its complexity, but for the discipline it would take to sit there and perform the necessary calculations. But, there's something really important to know about calendars... they are all cyclic.

Now, I know, neither the Julian Calendar nor the earlier Gregorian have start or end points... they don't them. There's no eras to count (except the before/after date of the year Zero), of course, but the dates cycle quite predictably over a number of interesting patterns. If you know these patterns, it's even possible to work out what date the fourth Tuesday in April of 2063 will be - the twenty-fourth, if you're curious - but the fact remains that they are there.

They have been there in any successful calendar for measuring a period of time longer than a human life span... and when you get to the end of the calendar, you start over again at the beginning.

There's no astronomically significant events looming on the horizon, no significant signs of a climatological crisis, and, barring utterly unpredictable events like Global Nuclear War caused by someone sneezing too loudly in a control room somewhere in China, no reason to assume the world is ending.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Week In - Feeling Adult

My living room/studio after a good clean,
but before organizing.
So, it's one week in to the living simply challenge I started... about 2% of the way. The house looks better than it did, I feel better than I did, and because I'm shuffling priorities off of leisure, I'm actually getting things done.

One major step forward was actually getting the house and the finances under control. Once I set a limit that my to-do list had to be cleared on Wednesday before I did anything digital, I actually got quite a bit done to set my life back in order.

Now, of course, the computer is back to being one of the first things done in my house. Breakfast looks like a folger's commercial, except that before I pour the hot water into my tea kettle, I slap the power button on the desktop. I handle silence poorly when I'm half asleep, and throwing up a random youtube video can set the whole tone for the day. But it was good that one day, and, to be fair, I'm actually staying on top of my housework.

Now, because my physical space is organized, I feel a little more organized mentally, too. The challenge started the week after I worked my first set of full-time hours in quite a while, and I wanted to find a way to feel as productive as I did that week while I languished in part-time limbo. Having things where I want them and where I can see them makes them easier to use. Important things like my day-spectrum bulb (useful in the winter) and my pills, but also fun things like my 3DS, a few favourite novels, and the fish tank. To be honest, while I use watching movies on my computer as an excuse to have moved the couch, I actually did it to both make room for a table I keep meaning to pick up (put that on the list, if it still exists) and to give me a spot and watch my betta, as we young men say, "herp the derps".

The First Meal - Ultrasimplistic
Eating better is always a bonus. With a singular exception today (when I was caught unprepared), I've been eating home-cooked meals for a week, and more of them. Having enough food in my body's probably a big part of the reason I'm feeling productive and having it be more than oil bound with starches and sugars is certainly helping my mood and my energy level. I shouldn't brag, but I'm also managing to do it with what I consider to be the absolute minimum a kitchen can be stocked and still call it healthy. Two months of bungled spending and high expenses do not a happy fridge make.

Making meals simply was something I always had a hard time doing - after I learned to cook, I wanted to wrap as many tricks as possible into each dish, which usually turned around to bite me in the end. This last week saw my cooking take a return to the basics. Though it probably looks complex, this photo of my supper mise en place is easily as simple as I can make something that isn't a soup or a stew.


Of course, what I've always really liked about simple is that it can still be made... nicely, I guess is the word. While it's certainly no Sakai-Plate, this isn't exactly cafeteria food. Simple is elegant, and we are often richer for the result.

In fact, I've been so inspired by the return to basics in my cooking, and in my life, that I'm seriously considering cooking for a living again. It's a casual search more than an urgent job hunt... but I think wandering back in the general direction of my hopes and dreams is a good step to take.

Thank God for Small Favours

Today, I'm especially thankful that my initial interest in law and policy did not flourish to the point where I immediately pursued a career in either field. The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments today in a case involving a man named Hassan Rasouli, an Irainian-Canadian who had an operation for a brain tumour. As a result of the surgery, he suffered an infection that caused catastrophic damage to his brain tissue - enough to render him in a vegetative state. After long months, he has recovered to the point of minimal consciousness.

The case considers the sticky issue of who makes the ultimate decision in removing life support for those in clinical brain-death: the doctors or the family. The case has remarkable complexity, such that I can only barely wrap my head around the questions being asked by it, let alone hope to answer them in a manner consistent with the law of the land and the obligations of the state.

For the one thing, there's the obvious question about whether or not it is ever right to withdraw life-support unless a person specifically requests it - in fact, I know a few people who would say that even requests by the patient for the removal of life support should be ignored. I find that those people in particular have a bad understanding of how life support works. To go further,is this even the right "test case" for the issue itself? Where Mr. Rasouli is experiencing slow improvement in his condition, many vegetative patients do not. What about them? Suppose it is mandated that the will of the family substitutes for the will of the patient in these cases - who will pay costs associated with long-term life support?

The issue for me, I think, is wrapped up in something more fundamental than ethics, what constitutes brain death, or whether the withdrawal of care should be left to family or the professionals. It's a question, really, with how we define death.

Now, there are a number of really easy ways to decide someone is dead. If their heart is no longer beating and they are not drawing a breath, they're dead. Fortunately, many people who are "dead" in this way can be recovered, often with brain damage associated with hypoxia (the loss of oxygen flow to the sensitive tissues of the human brain), but sometimes without, even hours afterword (this is particularly true in cases where death could be most closely linked to hypothermia - almost as if the tissues are preserved by the lower temperature). Obviously then, having your heart stop beating is not a good metric for death.

Now, from what we know of the human condition through rational observation and testing, the brain is the seat of the human consciousness. We can argue till the cows come home about how that works (personally, I believe that a soul is responsible for personality and decisions - the part of us that passes on - which interacts with the more mechanical brain), but the fact of the matter remains that without the brain in proper working order, the mind simply doesn't work properly. For this reason, most clinicians now use the idea of brain death - an absence of electrical activity in the brain - to define final death. While we can restart the heart.... we can't usually restart a brain once it's actually come to a stop.

But this is too simplistic. Even in a vegetative state where no response to any stimulus comes from the patient, often there is brain activity remaining. This person is dead to the world - nearly literally - yet clinically "alive".

I hope to God I'd never have to make this particular decision for anyone. I certainly hope I'd never find myself in Mr. Rasouli's position. This sort of thing I have actual nightmares about. Loss of proper brain function terrifies me on a level that almost nothing else can compare to.

I almost never do this, but please pray for the family in this case, for the patient, for the doctors, and for the Justices who must now decide it. May they all find peace in this decision, and may the decision reflect what is best for the world.

You couldn't pay me enough money to be the one to decide it... or even to be one of the nine who do.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Living Simply - A Challenge

This here might look like a dog's breakfast, but to be honest, in terms of flavor  it's one of the more satisfying foods I've eaten all week. It's a hash of sweet potatoes, ground beef, and onion on pasta. There was some chili paste and some basil in there too, which really helped.

Back on Wednesday, I promised everyone something on leading a simple lifestyle. I came up with this complicated, 18-point plan to describe what I mean. Obviously, that wasn't really living all that simply, then, if it has so many extra rules.

Since then, I decided it would be helpful to live the way I was thinking of for a few days, and now that I have, I think the experiment's working out for the better. Some things I was originally going to do I've left by the wayside, and others I never even thought to include came to the forefront.

Up until recently, I'd had two jobs and a weekly pay-cheque because of it. Because of that, I was used to being rather cavalier with money (and not always within my means). There was always a little more just around the corner, and skipping the odd Wednesday or Thursday supper wasn't all that big a deal, because every Friday would be the next. Skipping out on the groceries also didn't seem like that big of a deal, particularly if the quick fix and cheap high of takeout was on order.

Now, I am pretty proud of myself in that my drug these past few months has been food. My other tastes, such as books and drink, have gone more-or-less to the curb. I've been a good boy. Now that I don't have the extra pittance coming my way, though, there's a little less wiggle in the budget. I have to really behave. Since this is the time of year for self-improvement, I've decided to make a few changes.

I'm creating for myself a Simple Living Challenge.

The rules are appropriately simple - go a year of reducing debt and no delivery. I'm not saying I'll never eat out or swearing off of fast food. I just want to be able to go about my life in a more manageable way.

Interestingly, the way that rule is stated ties in with a number of my goals. I wanted to live a greener life, too. The way I see it, my power bill should be about what it was before when I was splitting it with my brother - granted I still have all the appliances to run, but he had quite a bit of gaming loot. Bringing down the power bill helps me to pay out other things, like my credit card and my accruing back-paid gym membership dues.

I think the interesting part of the challenge will be coming up for strategies to do it. Nobody's noticed this before, but my back-engineering model for generating a grocery list actually causes inefficiencies that damage my ability to make a true savings. From now on, I'm going to approach my fridge like a black-box exam: stock it with the basics, and make whatever the hell I feel from the contents.

Having said that, I now have a strategy of staples-and-options worked out... which I think can feed me for $80 a fortnight. Hard to do with food prices rising... but it's winter, and my good luck with the weather won't hold through February, when I'm going to need some serious-grade bus fare to get work done.

I'm off to go do my math and make my forms. I'll keep you guys posted on how all this works out.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm too lazy to write... have some photos!

I promised an article on simple living. That will be coming tomorrow. Instead, have a blast-fax of photos!

 This little guy was a relatively new arrival and very, very friendly.
 RED CRABS! In all seriousness, these little guys are fun little pets. Maybe not suitable to a community, but an all-inverts tank would be nice.
 This attention-hungry Ranchu goldfish has no dorsal fin, like all members of his breed. He seems somehow pensive and questioning.
 Compressiceps Cichlids from Lake Malawi, known as Malawi Eye-Biters. Vicious creatures. The more colourful of the fish is the dominant male in the tank.
 This ornery little fella is a crayfish - a freshwater lobster, which seems fascinating and exotic to people around here, but I'm told these are actually fairly common in other areas, especially in the US South.
 This is Dante. Dante's a friend of mine from work. He's an agile little guy, and always seems to find a way to get himself into trouble when he's out, so he and I are getting pretty close with all the rescuing we're doing. I'd call him about half grown right now (maybe 3'8"), so he's got a way to go yet. I know Hog Island Boas are supposed to be largely blind, but he seems to be able to recognize his reflection/image in my phone. Whenever I'm using it as a camera, he tries to get at it.
 These guys here are Heckli cichlids - reasonably timid little critters, who can handle somewhat-communal living arrangements and are absolutely gorgeous adults.
 A Fahaka puffer like this is a gorgeous pet, as long as you don't mind only having the one fish in a rather large tank. She's pretty spunky and personable - takes crickets right out of my hand.
 Everyone loves the molly tank because they're all so responsive to the sights of people coming and going, and the gestures you make toward them. Here they are, mugging for the camera.
Recently, someone dropped off a second Alexandrine parrot for us. She's a little more cultured than our speaking Alexandrine, and it turns out she understands the "climb up" command, and doesn't mind going for walks too badly. I snapped this photo while she was riding my shoulder one morning, waiting for our small animals expert to come back from the bathroom. For some reason, she didn't want the parrot in there with her.

It's fun to be a babysitter sometimes.









Crammed in on the left, there, I have supper: a chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and a loaf of home-made (somewhat flat) bread.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wait... My country did what?

Recently, the United Nations held a vote on whether or not to recognize statehood for the Palestinian Authority. The motion passed by an overwhelming margin, making Palestine the newest state recognized by the UN and a non-member observer state to the same body. Only nine nations voted against the motion (though many others abstained completely): Canada, Israel, the US, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, and the Czech Republic. Canada has also recalled our various delegations to Palestine, Israel, and the UN in the wake of the vote.

I've been of a majority opinion for a while now in thinking that palestine should be a state. After all, it was, right up until the West came along and pushed them aside in order to have a place to send all of the Jews. The move to re-create Israel always seemed to me like it was racially motivated on the part of the goyim (that'd be me).

I get the arguments that Palestine is bad because Hamas, but let's step back for a moment and assume that your own lands were occupied. I don't particularly care how the animosity started, or who was responsible, however. I'm more interested in a resolution. Recognizing Palestine as a state lends credence to that goal.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pre-Tea Pontification: Foreign Trade

So, while I'm sitting at my desk waiting for my Earl Grey White to steep, I've been reading stories through the CBC, La Monde, and BBC websites detailing a deadly fire in Bangladesh that killed 112 workers over the weekend - believe it or not, this is the first mention of it on the CBC since the weekend. The coverage, by and large, is more concerned with the protests surrounding the deaths than the deaths themselves - probably because 112 faceless Southeast-Asian workers don't pull much weight in a predominantly white readership.

Still, the protests highlight important points - Bangladesh clothing factories such as the one that burned down have claimed 300 lives this year, largely due to poor safety regulation, and, in this one particular case, managerial snafus. The Bangladeshi clothing industry is second only to that of China, with major retailers like Disney, Sears, and WalMart sourcing from this one particular factory. La Monde reports that these workers are paid between 40 and 80 euros a month, which is my take home pay in a week at minimum wage, and they work far longer hours than I do.

Sears and Disney did not comment, but Wal-Mart claims that the factory was subcontracted by a supplier (which they refuse to name) which no longer does business with the company. The BBC has also reported that three middle-management officials from the factory have been arrested in relation to the fire.

The western economy has become dependent on South-East Asian manufacturing - at this point, nobody can dispute that. Even products designed in Canada are manufactured in China and by and large we don't pay nearly enough to the people who make them. Because we can all live comfortably on the minimum wage (or so they would like us to believe), people like me have the time to passively consider the issue and pontificate on it without due thought for the consequence.

The problem, as I see it, is not the salaries of the workers per-se - we do not live in a post-scarcity society and until we did I think that the pay rate a person can eke out for themselves will have to suffice - but the safety standards we are willing to effectively underwrite by purchasing products produced in these factories.

Having said that, there is one important consideration to make. If someone such as myself purchased clothing exclusively from western manufacturing, or even locally, I'd own perhaps two of each article of clothing, or need to be making a lot more money than I am now. The fact of the matter remains that the reason there are so many middle-class families in the west is that we exported our lower-class to the nations that make the things we luxuriate in.

It's time to bust out your keyboards and printers and send a letter to the retailers you frequent, protesting use  of manufacturers located in countries without adequate safety standards for their products. I know I for one have even less motivation to go back to Sears or Walmart in the near future. In fact, let's throw down a blanket boycott of all department stores and support local business at the same time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fish Profile: Synsipilum Cichlids

Iranian Specimen of Vieja Synsipilum. UWOP.
Synsipilum Cichlids are a perfect case for two things: why cichlids are a niche pet, and why I hate common names. This species has about fifty to sixty trade names - locally they are sold as Tie-Dye Cichlids - which makes doing one's research, as one should before adopting any pet, rather difficult.

As you can see, they're very colorful fish. The specimen to the left is 10", though these fish can be expected to grow to about 17". The are relatively peaceful, but show considerable aggression with each other - it is best to keep them in a sexed pair or singularly.  The best way to include these fish in a tank is in a South American Cichlid community tank, provided with ample territorial spaces - caves, bogwood, and plantations. Even in such a space, success is not assured and you must take care to ensure your fish are not fighting amongst each other.

You're looking at about 55 Gallons for a single adult fish, and as South American fish, you are best off in the range of 6.8-7.8 pH with neutral hardness and a temperature of 79 Fahrenheit. They're from slow-moving sections of the Rio Usumacinta and appreciate a relatively low floor.

A good diet for these fish include cichlid pellets and algae wafers, augmented with prawn or mussel meat in adults and live blood worms or brine shrim as juveniles.
Tie-Dye Cichlid Juviniles. A&G Photo.

Breeding is said to be relatively easy, when a compatible pair are found. The parents do not turn against the fry until they are ready for a second spawn, and the fry feed easily on brine shrimp and common fry staple.

Regarding my point about the niche pets, these fish are a wonderful example of what I hate about cichlids. The picture to the right is far closer to what you see in the pet store.

Fish Profile: Red Bellied Piranha

Red-Belly Piranha Juvenile. Auditor and a Gentleman Photo.
Among the many fish species that never fails to get an excited response from child and adult alike are the Red-Bellied Piranha. They seem to be a staple of fish shops in the area, but they are poorly understood at bed. Pygocentrus nattereri have some special care requirements that are belied by their apparent simplicity at the store.

In spite of the small size at which they are purchased (usually on the order of about three inches), these fish can reach 13 inches in length with a weight of about 8 pounds. Close relatives of tetras, they do best in groups - a group of 4-5 can be kept comfortably through adulthood in a 70 gallon tank, though this tank would likely have to be a species tank, as these fish are carnivorous.

The terrible reputation of the red-bellied piranha for violence is overstated - even large ones are more likely to swim away from a human intruding on the tank than to attack them. Having said that, it is preferred to feed them live food wherever possible. I feed an alternating pattern of live insects and frozen blood worm, though it is possible to keep them plenty healthy on a diet of predator sticks. Resist the urge to feed such as mice or larger fish as neither, kept as pets, are nutritionally balanced for these animals.

Adult of the same species. Wikipedia Commons.
These tropical fish prefer waters of 78-79 degrees Fahrenheit, with a pH between 6 and 7, and moderately soft. They are, after all, amazonian fish.

These fish have a terrible reputation that is largely unearned. Though oft-feared, they are just as docile a pet as any snake, reptile, or rodent I've ever handled, and more docile than quite a few of the latter - hamsters spring to mind.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Selected Meal: Country Style Roasted Chicken

So, I know I promised articles on the full menu, but the thing is, the menu itself got abandoned pretty quickly. Instead, I'm just going to post some of those recipes I think everyone should have a rough idea.

I have been perfecting a roasted chicken. Roasting poultry is one of those things that every chef "knows" how to do, but not every chef (or even every cook, for that matter) feels they can do well, or make exciting. In terms of chicken itself, there are a few techniques that really help the bird do what it needs to do. Here's my recipe for a "country style" chicken that draws upon some of my favourite flavour combinations to produce a moist, robust bird as suited to a Sunday dinner as to sandwiches.

Country Roasted Chicken with Pan Gravy

Ingredients

  • 1 Whole Chicken
  • 1/2 cup cultured butter (salted)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic paste or minced garlic
  • 1 Whole Lemon
  • Herbs de Provence
  • Lemon Pepper (alternately, lemon juice and crushed black pepper)
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Sticks of Carrot and Celery (see below)
  • 1/8 c of Flour, approximately.

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and remove middle rack.
  2. If the chicken includes giblets and the neck, remove both. Retain for later use.
  3. Make an incision along the breastbone.
  4. Combine butter and garlic paste until well mixed and carefully stuff between the skin and flesh of the breasts. This will help to keep the bird moist and avoids the need for basting or barding the bird. Using compound butters in this way is the preferred method of roasting a chicken in a commercial setting.
  5. Season exterior of bird with Herbs de Provence, Lemon Pepper, and Cayenne.
  6. Line a deep pan with the carrots and celery, to elevate the chicken from the bottom of the pan, along with the neck and giblets.
  7. Roast until thoroughly cooked - use a calibrated thermometer to get the accurate temperature, which should be 165F. This should take about 45 minutes.
  8. Set the bird on a board to rest while you prepare the gravy. Discard the carrots and celery (or retain for other recipes). The neck and giblets are also to be discarded.
  9. Deglaze the pan with (in order of preference) white wine, chicken stock, or water.
  10. Sift in flour and whisk, as needed, until the gravy is the desired thickness.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pauper Kings: A Gentleman's Menu for the Fortnight of Nov. 16

As has become my practice over the years, I'm making a menu for the next two weeks, to get my groceries pinned down. I thought I'd share it here, and maybe we'll do some food posts again for a while. Don't worry: I have two more fish profiles planned as well!


The Pauper Kings

Dinners:
  • Friday - Mussels with Garlic Drawn Butter and Fresh Bread - Just what it says on the tin - fresh Atlantic Canadian mussels pan-steamed in a wine-stock sauce and eaten with herb-cultured butter and bread.
  • Saturday - Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Sauce - Salisbury Steak with a home-made mushroom espagnole and served with sweet potato dollar fries, green beans, and beats. Nothing at all like a Swanson TV dinner.
  • Sunday - Country Chicken - A favourite returns - lightly-dredged chicken leg is pan-fried to perfection and served with sweet potato dollar fries and fall vegetables.
  • Monday - Pork Tenderloin Chops with Mushroom - A home-brew variant on a childhood favourite - moist, tender pork is enveloped in a home made mushroom-cream pan sauce and served along side mashed sweet potato, green beans, and beats for a hearty fall meal.
  • Tuesday - Penne Bolognese - Whole-wheat penne rigate in a bolognese sauce of my own perfecting - a smattering of shaved cheddar cheese makes a mockery of all it means to be trained in Italian cuisine.
  • Wednesday - Revived Mother-and-Daughter Ramen - Ramen noodles in home-made chicken stock with fried egg for a topper. Eating noodles doesn't mean eating poorly.
  • Thursday - Pork Schnitzel with Fries and Fall Vegetables - Pork Tenderloin trimmed and beaten, breaded with seasoned crumb, pan-fried. Served with crinkle cut fries, green beans, and beets. Mayonaise for fries, and a squeeze of lemon per the direction of acclaimed Master Chef Markus Ritter of Europa.
  • Friday - Stuffed Haddock Fillet with Fall Vegetables - A MacEwen Family favourite, and rapidly becoming mine as well. Haddock fillet is stuffed with seasoned crackers and baked en papillot with the vegetables to be eaten alongside and lemon. No starches are necessary or welcome - you'll want a whole fish to yourself.
  • Saturday - Taco Night - What's there to tell? Softshell tortilla "tacos" with a well-spiced beef stuffing, home-made salsa, and all the fixings. What could be more appropriate than summer food in november?
  • Sunday - Pork Fried Rice - Fried Rice is a favourite of mine, a quick-and-clean ritual that requires exacting control of temperature, seasoning, and elements in order to achieve perfect flavour. I have tried for years to perfect a fried rice, and this is the closest things come without a wok.
  • Monday - Chicken Fettucini Gratinate alla Novembre - A variation on an acclaimed dish used in the Italian Night event at the Lady Dunn Diningroom that I cheffed. Chicken leg meat with green beans in a citrus-augmented alfredo sauce, with fresh whole-wheat fettucini pasta, parmesean, and broiled to a molten perfection.
  • Tuesday - Winter Vegetable Ragout on Toast Points - Taking my cues from Chef Markus Ritter, a selection of some of the remaining green beans and beets are to be sauteed with just a little bacon and reduced in a thick creamy sauce, then used as a delicious additive to points of toasted, home-made bread.
  • Wednesday - Minestrone - Which I will hopefully remember not to thicken this time - a fantastic, tomato-flavoured vegetable soup as hearty as any cream. 
  • Thursday - Pizza - I prepare a pizza of my own devising and bake it at home on a crisp, thin crust. Would that I had a wood fire upon which to, well, fire it!
Lunches: Low-Budget Ramen Noodles with Veggies.
Breakfast: All-Home Trucker's Breakfast - Two eggs with bacon, mushrooms, and onion on home-made buns cooked fresh each morning.
Snacks: A small selection of chips and crackers
Beverages: Egg nog, soda, and a wide selection of teas both hot and iced.

I also had an interesting idea regarding an online business... more on that later, however.

Monday, November 12, 2012

And We're The Ones Who Did It

I've been having an awful lot of fun lately, absorbing the aftermath of the American presidential and house elections. I find it pretty telling of the level of understanding Americans have in their own political system that everyone is ruing what will happen now that Democrats control the White House for four more years, conveniently ignoring that the House of Representatives is quite firmly in republican hands. Ignoring for the moment that people can vote their conscience rather than the party line (which is statistically unlikely) and that at least a significant number of Americans were foolish enough to vote for a democratic president and a republican congress (never understood that move), it's pretty much unlikely Obama can get anything done before I turn 25, and even less likely after that, because it'll be an election year and nobody wants to light powder-kegs then.

Now, whenever someone's favorite horse loses an election, you always hear at least a few of them threatening to leave. I myself famously threatened to a few of my friends that I would leave for France at once if the conservatives won a majority of seats in Parliament a few years back. They did, I didn't, and the NDP have the official opposition for the first time since, well, confederation. What you're always surprised to hear is people saying they'll succeed from the union. For one thing, sepratism is only a common idea in Quebec around here.

The US has a deeper history of that sort of thing, of course, and one of the bloodiest civil wars in history followed the last honest attempt to split the union. Now we've got petitioners in 15 states - all red states - trying to gain support for popular movements to break up the union.

We'll ignore for the moment how 25,000 signatures, being the magic number for Presidential consideration, won't be enough to split the union, if any of these petitioners even get that far, and skip right on in to why that is a bad idea.

It's a little bit different in the US, mind you, but in a multi-tiered system of government, the federal, state/provincial, and municipal governments all handle different tasks. Now, Colorado (one of the states in question) might have a decent national guard, but a fully-operating military it ain't. Should the Coloradans contract with the Americans for access to NORAD and air defense? Can they afford to continue to beef up their military to the sorts of (frankly, excessive) force that the US enjoys? How about prisons? Food production and manufacturing? Colorado is landlocked - should they build a major international airport to ship in all of their Chinese goods at increased costs, or do you suppose they can import the imports from America, at what I imagine would be considerable tariffs? How do you suppose the Americans will feel about losing their largest source of uranium? Separatism worked so well last time. Let's ignore also the Department of the Treasury. As an internet entrepreneur  I already deal largely with four currencies. Am I really going to have to accept Colarado Dollars as well?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Introducing Quite Simply Designs

I'd like to take a moment to feature another artist - where I work with words and foods, she works with pixels and cloth. I'm very pleased to announce that Kat MacEwen is finally making her public debut with the launch of Quite Simply Designs. Working in graphics and surface design, Kat's work is the product of brilliant inspiration and extensive, hard-earned education in the arts.

I strongly urge everyone to go ahead and check out her website, and I'm willing to bet we might find some artwork for sale in the near future. There's even more artwork on display at Meekability, her deviantart profile.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four More Years

Of Stagnation, Whining, and the Status Quo, that is.

Most of you already know I'm not american, so please don't interpret this sudden attention to the recent Presidential Election as being about personal preferences over, say, reasoned thought. I tried very hard to avoid any mention of the American elections in the months leading up to them simply because I thought it would be untoward to engage in electioneering from another country altogether.

Having said that, I have the unfortunate luck in having a Prime Minister and Capbinet that would very literally jump off of bridges if the President of the United States so ordered, regardless of who that president seems to be, which means that there is a very real extent to which we actually do feel the impact of those elections.

In that respect I can call this election a disappointment - not because I didn't want Obama to win (I don't really have a horse in that race, apart from thinking Romney an idiot), but because the American public managed to split tickets, again.

Now don't get me wrong, I split tickets myself when I vote around here. I want the right person with the right ideas for the job regardless of party, or else I'd porbably just vote straight Green and waste my ballot. The problem I have is that, while that approach works in a multi-party system, the US two-party system doesn't allow it. You end up with a White House of one party and a House of Representatives of the other party, and absolutely bugger-all gets done in the next four years.

Now, the democrats did take back the senate.. with the tiniest majority I have ever seen, mind you... which I suppose is something. Still, it's not going to help much for anything besides confirming political apointees... which is something I never thought should be decided on party lines to begin with. It's all a little frustrating, and would make a good season eight of The West Wing. Fun fact, though: I wouldn't have voted for Matt Santos, dem or not. Vinnick was the clear better choice, no matter how much I liked the other guys.

For those of you who are treating this as the end of democracy in your country, quoting Trump or Alexis de Toqueville or Jefferson, bear in mind that the left did the same thing when you gave them four more years of bush. In the last several decades, the election has largely been a formality. I can think of only a few presidents in my partents' lifetimes that only served 4 years instead of eight.

People actually like the status quo, regardless of how dire it seems, it seems.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fun with Exorbitantly Large Numbers

I came up with a concept in the shower this morning called the Turing Constant, which I defined as the number of "operations" done by a system in a single step. In a four core computer, this would be four. I chose to represent the Turing Constant with the Greek letter Xi, which is surprisingly hard to type, so I won't.

Then, I had an idea. From a purely mathematical perspective, it's possible to calculate the Turing Constant of any system - like the universe. I went a head and made a few assumptions: I assumed the mass of the universe to be constant to within a reasonable degree, thinking that the matter-energy conversion produces a net change of zero. Mass and energy are equivalent in physics, so this is not a huge problem. Once you know the mass of the universe, all you need to know is how many moles of stuff are in the universe.

That's right, moles. One mole is 6.02x1026 of a thing. It's equivalent to the mean molecular weight of an object. Using fancy (and fuzzy) maths involving the expanse of the known universe, its suspected density, and the mean molecular weight of the universe's five most common elements, I came up with a very large number.

1.77 × 1081

As it happens, this represents more or less the number of atoms in the universe. It is a very, very large number, but certainly not the largest number ever derived. It's not even the largest number I know. It is, however, very, very big. It's 177 million, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion atoms. It's so large that it's enough to construct, well, a universe.

And that's how many permutations happen within the universe in a single step. But what do I mean by a step? Well, that's fairly elementary. A "step" in the universe should be the smallest meaningful period of time. An instant.

We have such a time. See, the universe has a finite resolution in terms of distance - the Planck Length. The time it takes a photon to traverse one Planck Length is the Planck Time, which is the smallest meaningful unit of time.


It's about 5.4 x 10-44 seconds.

As it happens, the age of the universe is known! That means, we can figure out how many steps it's taken to get to the precise time: 7.90x1060 steps.

How many individual things have happened in that time?

1.40 × 10142

This is an incredibly large number. 

A Strange Dream

Often, my dreams go unremembered pretty much as soon as I wake up. I've always chalked this up to having a fairly mundane life - I get lost in the grind these days, and don't have much time even for writing. What little writing I do so closely resembles a reality that dreams about it probably wouldn't stick much longer than any of the other dreams I have.

Last night, though, I had an unusual dream, in that it was both memorable and mundane. I spent the full length of the dream insisting that I needed to make my way to New York City, knowing full well that I couldn't afford it. This is unusual for me, in that, when I daydream about travel, I rarely think of American cities - America is far too much Canada Senior for me to care overmuch about whether or not I see every major city. Also, when I insist on going somewhere in a dream, it's either somewhere far more removed, or somewhere I've already been.

I've never been to New York City. I've been within sighting distance, certainly. There just isn't anything for me there, apart from a few restaurants I have a passing interest in visiting. I've never been a metropolis kind of a guy and the famously abrasive personality of the average New Yorker seems to me to be like taking a tiger and throwing it to the lions.

As the dream evolved, it became less about the fact I was going to New York and more about the fact I was going to meet all sorts of interesting people when I got there. A lot of those people exist only in my mind and the mind of one or two other people. Then, in trickled the real people. My little rodent brain somehow decided I was important enough that people who lived nowhere nearby would drop everything and come to New York for no reason other than to have a conversation, and before long an inverse convention of a sort was planned, where I suddenly had for myself an audience with all the people I've loved to watch, listen to, or read, regardless of how logical that was, relevant the things I have to say are to their experience, or even, in three cases, whether they were alive or dead.

Delusions of grandure are nothing new to me - I've almost always been the centre of any universe I walk in to - but the idea of the famous, or even the internet-famous, knowing who I am is baffling. I'm a nobody, in terms of audience, and I take a certain amount of pride in that. I don't have to pander, and I don't have to sugar-coat things. I'm not in it for the money. I consider myself lucky as compared to a number of the people I dreamt about meeting because my livelihood does not yet hinge on my being entertaining.

Among the attendees of the conference was a large contingent of YouTube personalities, followed by a small smattering from Film and Television. These last were not invited so much as they spontaneously appeared and I think that made the little reverse-convention that much more exciting. It also created an unusual situation where people who would never, should never have gotten along wound up rubbing elbows for a few hours while my tiny mammal brain cooked up ideas for conversations. What did I have to say to TheTruePooka, and how was it different from what I had to say to AaronRa or Thunderf00t, all of whom speak on the same topics and all of whom I feel quite differently about? What was to stop me from using the ten minutes I get to speak with John Spencer to do nothing but ask him for advice on how to behave like one of his more famous roles, and how was that different from the conversation I intended to have with Richard Schiff? When OgreVI showed up, there was nothing to say. The gentleman provided the wine and I provided a smoke and we talked about crayfish etouffe and why I'd never been to New Orleans, or thought of going.

I'm not creole, not by a long shot, but with as much French blood as I have you'd think I'd at least want to look.

Cam and Paul showed up and there was nothing much to talk about. After a few minutes it became apparent I have no brain for Theology and no interest in football so we wound up talking about Freezer Cooking. I think I might have accidentally given away the secret of my scrambled eggs... or was it the secret of my creamy tomato soup. You know, a good soup like that, all you need is a little extra roux and you have a sauce instead.

Thinking about all that got me thinking about the time I went to Atlantic City for a baking convention, which got me thinking about how cool it would be to drag the old class together again. We had some fun times, especially when we were away, and what was more there were some surprising minds mixed among the riff-raff.

Thinking about that, of course, got me to thinking about why I picked New York in the first place, and then the reality collapsed back down, and I woke up.

An unusual dream, by my standards.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fish Profile: Plecostomus

Common Plecostomus, Lynn Smith Photo
Plecostomus might not be as abused as B. Splendens, but they're easily as misunderstood. There's actually quite a few genus in the grouping and even more species - all simply called "plecos" at your local fish shop. The photograph to the right here is of what's known as a "common pleco" - any of about a dozen species in two genus that happens to look just-so.  There's also a variety of other fish in the group, each looking more exotic than the last.

Plecos are an unusual fish - fans of plecos are few and far between, and yet they are ubiquitous in both the industry and the hobby. They are renowned for the habit of juveniles of the species to be voracious consumers of awfuchs - the algae that cakes onto items in the tank. They are usually kept for just that purpose, with their owners having no idea how large they get as adults (we're talking a foot or more), or that their eating off of the glass diminishes with age. A few keepers keep them because of what they are - big, placid armoured catfish.

I'll be the first to admit that's actually pretty cool, but I'm learning I have a soft-spot for large catfish.

At any rate, it's difficult to talk about the ideal conditions to raise plecos, because there are, as I mentioned, quite a few species that are all slightly-different. There are, however, a few general rules. The depth and volume of the tank is not nearly so important as the length, and the longer the better - an adult should be in a tank no shorter than 4 feet and should have about 50 gallons of "breathing space". The adults eat wood, rather than algae, of which mopani is preferred - real drift-wood should be present in their tanks at all time as both a digestive aid and a decoration. They prefer dim lights with places to hide. Aquatic plants will usually get eaten, but consider surface-plants. They prefer quite a bit of flow and high oxygenation - if I was doing a dedicated river-fish tank, I would consider a bubbler and use a power-head for flow.

These fish are amazonian. They prefer corresponding temperatures (in my experience, they are quite happy at around the 79 degrees F mark, though I've heard anywhere from 70 to 80, water that's relatively soft (5-25dH), and a pH in the neighbourhood of 7.2, though they tolerate everything from 6.5 to 8.0.

I've had some success feeding larger plecos blanched zucchini in addition to their regular diet, but this breaks them pretty quickly of their cleaning habits.

There are, of course, more interestingly-coloured and exotic species of pleco, that carry more cost and correspondingly more or less difficulty in handling.

But wait, you say: My pleco is doing just fine in a (10, 20, 30, etc) gallon tank. Okay. I'll believe it. When you're considering replacements, however (he'll either stunt or get to big, trust me), consider Ancistrus spp., or Bristlenose Plecos. They're smaller, and never lose the algae-habit. Plus, their little bristles make them look cthuvian, and that's always a plus.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Seven Quick Takes: Spit-Take Edition

--- 1 ---
As it turns out, Mongkut is a bit of a mug. I was nervous of him a bit at first, because he was exhibiting a tendency to flare at the walls of his ten-gallon tank, and was reluctant to eat the food I was intent to feed him. Now he eats voraciously and is rather placid. I'm considering getting him some other tankmates once I solve a few small financial problems. 
In other fishy news, I'm pleased to announce that the test program has been a success, and that it seems highly likely I'll continue doing fish profiles on a semi-regular basis, with research time and writing time permitting. I have a small laundry-list of fish that I want to get through, all of which are common in the hobby but seem to be commonly misunderstood as well. Fish are alive too, and for some reason nobody is upset when a fish only lives "a year or two" as opposed to when a dog dies as a puppy. It's one of those things I've had a hard time understanding ever since I started to take the hobby seriously. I wonder if I can parlay my knowledge on the subject into a way to pay the rent?

--- 2 ---
Speaking of rent, a few of you have noticed the low post-count around here - for that, I obstinately apologize. I'm actually incredibly busy, between nearly full-time hours at one job, flagging hours at a second job, and trying to find a room-mate. By day's end, whether I get home early or not, I simply have no energy left to write with and very little left to say.

--- 3 ---
Yesterday (or maybe it was the day before, now. It's a blurr.), a man killed himself on a well-traveled overpass here in town. He jumped over the side-rail in an attempt to hang himself with some kind of a wire. It caused a five-car pile-up on a major thoroughfare and quite a bit of a stir, as you can imagine. Whenever I hear of news like this, I wonder what can be so serious as to push a person to suicide, and then I remember that it doesn't have to be serious. Brain chemistry just works like that, which makes these cases all the sadder. Nothing left to do but pray for the victims.

Please familiarize yourself with the suicide hotline for your area and be prepared to help your friends and family if they start showing signs of suicidal thought or behavior. Our lives are not remotely so dire that suicide is ever the only, or even the right, way out.

--- 4 ---
The F-35 fighter jet has been a matter of considerable consternation lately: whether or not DND followed proper procedure when deciding to purchase the jet has been a major thorn in the side for the ruling Conservative Party and is landing Defense Minister Peter McKay in quite a bit of trouble. It's actually rather amusing to watch. The latest development: Public Works is auctioning out a contract for a company to investigate whether or not there was wrongdoing.

Uh, guys? That's what we pay you to do. What's it say for Canada when I'm pretty certain Canadians are going to trust the company doing the investigation to do a better job than the people we actually pay to do the investigating would have?

Arctic Soveirgnty is a pretty big deal. We need those jets, or else the Americans (God alone knows why) and the Russians are going to carve up all points north of Alert for themselves. Not that I'm an expansionary thinker by any stretch, but there's expanding going on in my neighborhood and, well, Her Majesty deserves a slice.

--- 5 ---
A US study says that organic food does surprisingly little to help kids... perhaps that is because USDA organic, as a certification, only requires the absence of four chemicals. The EU certification requires (as I recall it) some 214 checks... I wonder if there's better results in Europe.

--- 6 ---
A few federal departments are hunting around for a place to store spent nuclear fuel. Being a bit of a nuke enthusiast given my fascination with physics and chemistry, I'm given to wonder... why not replace our old, messy coal plants with a few new Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors? The darned things run on waste, and I am almost sure a proper nuke engineer could make them just as safe as the current generation of CANDU reactors.

In the absence of widespread wind and tidal power generation in the Great White North, I will gladly take an increase of nuclear power and decrease of fossil-fuel fired power plants over the opposite. Nuclear power is safe so long as we are willing to spend on it properly. Chernobyl was poorly designed by the Soviets and Fukishima was inexplicably placed on the coastline in a country with frequent tsunamis.

--- 7 ---
On top of everything else that's going on, I'm going to have to replace my bathroom ceiling. That should make finding a room-mate super duper easy, nicht war?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!