Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fishkeeper 101: Introduction to Freshwater Chemistry

Anyone who's ever tried to keep fish more than idly has become aware that there's a number of chemical concerns when it comes to maintaining your fish in a healthy state. In general, the chemistry of fish tanks can best be explained in terms of two fields: additives and tankwater conditions.

Tankwater Conditions

Testing of tankwater conditions is best conducted with liquid drop test kits, such as those produced by Hagen under their Nutrafin line. I myself use the Nutrafin Master Test Kit.


Chlorine is not a chemical you can, or even should, test for. If you're on municipal water which contains chlorine, it can be removed after several days of sitting in an open vessel other than the fish tank, or, ideally, with the use of a dechlorinating tapwater conditioner (discussed below).

Chlorine is extremely harmful to fish - as a free iron, it burns gill tissue in the same way that chlorine gas burns lung tissue in humans. These burns are untreatable, never heal (only scarring), and are typically fatal.

Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide

Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide are the respiratory gasses used and given off by fish, respectively, and both are present in the water in solution. Neither can be readily tested for, but if your fish are showing a gasping or gulping behaviour, you should immediately add an air pump with bubbler to increase the oxygen content.

Oxygen is introduced to the aquarium through surface movement - a sufficient amount of movement from a Hang On Back filter can suffice for many tanks. Oxygen is also introduced by live plants, who convert carbon dioxide to oxygen when sufficiently stimulated. I'll talk more about carbon dioxide, live plants, and lighting in a future instalment of Fishkeeper 101.

pH, the Power of Hydrogen

The pH test is the most often administered test in both professional and amateur fishkeeping - it is the first most variable water chemistry condition after the ammonia level. pH testing methods vary depending on the test in question and you should always follow the supplied direction.

pH boundaries are determined by your fish stock, but as a general rule, a stable pH is always preferable to a dynamic one - you want your pH to change less than 0.2 per day, and 0.2 per day is a large change. pH can be adjusted in a variety of ways - my personal favourite method of lowering pH is to filter over (pure) peat moss), whereas I usually raise it using a commercial conditioner for that purpose. Vinegar and Baking Soda can be used in a pinch, but such changes are highly variable and not preferred.

Ammonia, Nitrites, and Nitrates

Ammonia is another major fish killer - I've explained before how the nitrogen cycle works. You should test your ammonia and nitrate levels weekly on the day before your scheduled water change - an elevated level of Ammonia (basically, anything higher than zero) indicates either that something has happened with your cycle  or that your current biological filtration is insufficient for your fish load - add some zeolite to your filter media or consider upgrading to a larger filtration unit or even to canister filtration. A high nitrate level (over 20 mg/L) is considered dangerous - your water change should be heavier. If you consistently get high nitrate levels on test day, add more live plants to your tank. Nitrate is a nutrient used by live plants to manage their growth. Nitrites really only need to be tested during cycle monitoring.

Keeping nitrate levels under control with live plants also helps keep awfuchs growth to within acceptable levels.


Salinity is rarely tested - testing it requires a hydrometer and presupposes that you likely added salt to your tank. For most freshwater fish, zero salinity is perfectly tolerable. Some fishkeeper, including myself, include a small amount of aquarium salt in even freshwater setups to maintain electrolytic balance. Everything I've seen on the practice has been apocryphal but I've seen some very promising results.


There are actually two types of water hardness that are relevant to fishkeeping - general hardness, and carbonate hardness. Generally speaking, a majority of fish prefer their water as soft as possible, but always research the needs of your potential pets before purchase. Like pH, hardness can be adjusted - peat filtration lowers Carbonate Hardness, and general hardness with it.

In tanks with relatively high pHs, such as African Cichlids or Livebearer tanks, and even in Goldfish tanks, an elevated Carbonate Hardness can help "buffer" the pH from dropping over time. The two are separate tests.


The calcium test is closely related to the Hardness tests - with both measures, you can obtain the ratio of magnesiun to calcium, which is useful for keeping marine fish. However, some freshwater fish need a certain amount of calcium in the water for healthy growth and development - especially invertebrates  Tanks with large-growing fish or invertebrates should have their calcium monitored and kept above 5 mg/L.

With the hagen calcium test kit, this testing accuracy can be achieved by testing on four times the amount of water called for, and dividing the results obtained by 4. Having said that, this test is really only necessary in Saltwater except as a cursory inspection every few months or so.


Phosphate testing is important in freshwater terms as allowing a vector of control over algae growth - in general, you want to have less than 1 mg/L to avoid algae getting too strong a foothold. This can be monitored with a simple test and growth in water phosphate levels is usually minimal if you feed low-phosphorous staple diets and keep up with your water changes. No data suggests a link between Phosphates and toxicity in fish.

In extreme cases, phosphate remover packets can be added to standard hang-on-back filters as additional media and used for up to two months.


There are actually two forms of iron you want to keep an eye on in your aquarium - free iron, also known as unchelated iron, which is toxic at levels above 0.3 mg/L. It's best controlled with water changes. Hagen's water conditioner, Aqua Plus, can be used in a triple-dose after the water change to chelate the remaining iron.

Chelated Iron, however, is more of a balancing act. If you have live plants, it should generally be present between 0.25 and 0.5 mg/L as an essential nutrient for plant health. The precise amount varies depending on plants, and I'll explain that in a future Fishkeeper 101 post.

Water Additives

Water Conditioner

Nobody should ever be without a good tapwater conditioner such as Aqua Plus. You'll use it to great extent if you're doing your water changes regularly, and if you're like me, you'll also likely apply it every time you acclimate fish. I use so much of it that I almost always go for the largest available bottle as value for money. A proper tapwater conditioner removes chlorine and chloramines, neutralizes heavy metals such as iron and lead, and, ideally, has a distressing agent that stimulates slime coat production in fish.

Cyclic Boosters

These products, like prime and cycle, often seem like a good idea. They're essentially bottled nitrifying bacteria. In my experience, their use does nothing to augment the speeding of your cycle - if they came with your tank kit, feel free to use it, but don't buy it if you don't have to.

Fish Waste Liquifiers

Some people use these (hagen makes one called Waste Control) to break up larger amounts of solid waste - such as produced by plecos or grown goldfish - which is then subject to uptake by the filter. I prefer to do a good strong gravel vacuuming.

Water Clarifiers

These products come in a variety of forms, and are too broad to discuss in full here. Some are toxic and need to be dosed carefully - what's more, there's no water clarity problem that can't be managed with polywool in the filter and phosphate/nitrate balance management. I classify these products as "quick fixes". They aren't inherently bad, and I'll use them for tanks I'm caring for for other people, but for my own tanks, I'm patient enough to do things the long, cheap way.


These products also come in a wide variety. A staple fertalizer, like Nutrafin Plant Gro, is actually very useful to have around as it's one of few good ways to bolster the chelated iron level without raising the free iron level. Heavily planted tanks need these, and most other planted tanks could still stand to see them.

Again, I'll go into further depth with these on a future post.

pH Adjusters and Buffers

These are quite common, very useful tools for those who want to maintain species that they aren't ideal for. For example, in my present situation, I would need to use pH adjusters to keep African Cichlids or Livebearers happy.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Transgender Identity

Warning: This post deals matter-of-factly with matters regarding sex, sexual intercourse, and human anatomy. If you are immature with regards to these matters, consult your parents before continuing.

On Wednesday, a private member's bill had its third reading in the House of Commons and passed the house with an 12-vote margin - and the votes of 18 Conservatives including four cabinet ministers. The prime minister, quite naturally, opposed it, along with most the rest of his party. The bill, C-279, is An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, with regard to the issue of Gender Identity. The full text is available through the link.

Christian, Buddhist, or somewhere in between, I think we can all agree that the greatest part about living in Canada is that our nation has a constitution that defends the right to free expression of religion. That means, among other things, that there's no real reason to go into any sort of religious dialogue when discussing human rights. The right to religion is already protected and nothing the government does can change your religious identity. For that reason, I'm going to avoid wading hip-deep into the theological implications of transgender politics and stick to the political side of things.

The English-Speaking world has conflated Sex and Gender for hundreds and hundreds of years. I happen to know that my employers don't distinguish between the difference and get very annoyed when you do. This is something that's so easy to understand, all you need is a concept of the mind and the body being separate - you need to have been alive for about a year, in other words.

Sex, strictly speaking, refers to the biological male-or-female-ness of an organism - the possession of the appropriate genetalia to perform the functions of the sexual act as is proper for that gender. In mammalian animal species, such as Humans, Cisgendered males have penises which are used to inject semen into the vagina, cisgendered females have vaginas with which to collect semen and wombs with which to bring forth offspring.

Gender is more psychological, and sociological studies suggest it's not the intuitive binary male-or-female we have come to expect. In an overwhelming majority of cases, those with male sexual organs exhibit gender identity closer to the masculine end of the spectrum and those with female sexual identity tend toward the feminine end of the spectrum. This is why the two terms are conflated, and it's also why we have terms like "butch", "sissy", "fruity", and so forth to describe individuals who stray too close to the middle, or opposite end, of the spectrum. It's also why terms like that are derogatory - humanity's social structure has, for hundreds of thousands of years, essentially reinforced the idea that homogeneity is good. Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum, if you think of your gender as being your sex, you're "cisgendered" and properly-aligned, and feel no need to change anything.

The root of the issue involved in trans identity comes in this way - some men and women tend so far toward the opposite ends of the gender spectrum that they identify as being a part of that end, regardless of their sexual identity. This is known as being Transgendered, and this is why some medical instutions began to develop increasingly sophisticated sex change operations - though undergoing such surgery is not always desired and, indeed, not a pre-requisite for being transgender. If you're curious as to the actual mechanics of being transgendered, ask a transgendered person you know, or use The Google.

In practice, this bill changes very little. Printed out in full and in both languages it is six pages long, with quite a bit of that being wasted white paper. All it does is establish legal definitions of the problem of gender identity, and establish both cisgendered and transgendered individuals as protected classes against discrimination and hate crimes.

It doesn't make it easier or harder to chemically or surgically transition from one sex to the next;
It doesn't spontaneously allow alterations to even civil marriage codes;
It doesn't infringe upon your right to religious freedom, regardless of how you feel your religion has informed your opinions on transgender identity.

The bill is up for its second reading before the Senate today. This would be a good time to establish a connection of some sort with your Senator and ask them to support Bill C-279.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Partnership with Sl33k Studios

I am very happy to announce that I reached a deal this morning with Sl33k Studios to begin releasing Let's Play with Communeguy videos, video reviews, and the odd written article on their website. Look for my weekly 20-minute Let's Play features starting sometime next week - I'll be rebooting my failed Three-Game-Run of the Deus Ex trilogy by Eidos (and later, Square-Enix) with better sound and video editing, and hopefully, better narration. In the near future, I'll also be beginning a Retro Let's Play series, probably with the classic PlayStation One title Front Mission 3.

If you've never heard of Sl33k, you should check them out. They're burgeoning, younger material, but the potential is there to become a new hub for the gaming community.

More Pets!

I mentioned, several weeks previously, to several co-workers that I thought turtles were abyssmal pets - fussy to care for, tedious, and expensive. The smallest species of turtle I'm aware of grows nearly two feet in diameter and needs a tank of several hundred litres with additional special requirements to be properly kept.

I did, however, mention a fondness for tortoises (I was thinking European Box Tortoises), and low and behold, someone has come up with a pair of C. carbonaria Red Legged Tortoises for the store to carry and maintain for a while.

Tortoises are free-roaming pets indoors, so long as they have sufficiently warm areas to bask. They're "land turtles", in essence. And the price we have for them is fantastically inexpensive.

A few articles ago, I posted a picture of a school of baby Pink Tailed Chalceus. We've since acquired an adult, nearly two feet long, who went in with the Monster Tank where he could live and be relatively happy with a Green Terror, a trio of spotted Clarius catfish, and a Red Tail catfish. This might be the single biggest species of caracin I've ever seen.

Bunnies are in, just in time for Easter  but I caution all of you not to buy pets as holiday presents unless the recipient has expressed an interest in having one.

For the record, "Mommy/daddy, I want a-" is not sufficient interest to merit attention. Pets, even rabbits, require sufficient research before and during care that their care is equivalent, more or less, to a moderately calm child. It is a daily, ongoing chore that you are adding to someone's schedule and you should be prepared to step in and take over if its standards of care turn out to be substandard.

A number of baby Savannah Monitors have been delivered to us. These fearsome lizards reach over three feet in length, have a viscousness about them, and act like perfectly adorable little puppes if appropriately hand-tamed and acclimated to human handling.

As a result, "play with the Savannah Monitors" actually appears on my nightly list of work-related tasks. Go figure.

 I finally have my own photo of Thai Glass Catfish to use on the previous Fish Profile article, so expect to see that updated presently.

For the record, I've heard some complaints that "they belong in schools of six or more" is a good way to bolster sales. While this happens to be true, it's not why I (or my coworkers) say it. It's because they belong in schools of six or more, and isolate individuals often refuse to eat and die a month or two later of otherwise perfectly preventable starvation.

This little guy (click to enlarge) is special. He's a PacMan Frog - a blue one. The blue colour strain was not isolated until relatively late in the 90s in captive breeding programs and, until now, has really only been seen in Asia, particularly in Japan, where these frogs are highly popular pets.

We have the first pair in New Brunswick. Period.

Prejudging, Judging, and Divine Directives

Earl Grey White Tea
As I sat alone this morning in the basement of my boss's house, drinking what's probably the last of the Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong, I came to the sudden, sharp realization of a few things all at once.

Firstly, that earthenware retains flavours, and all my teas are now likely to taste salty for several days after having only just once made OXO-brand fake chicken stock in it to serve as a between-meals savoury-thing to keep my tongue happy.

Secondly, and no more relevantly, that I should stop thinking of a 10:30 wakeup as being lazy when it gets me up four hours before I have to leave for work.

Thirdly, and more to the point, that we, as a society, judge personal worth based on some properly stupid metrics.

We've all had that friend, I think, with the heavy eyelids and the full-arm tattoos that gets most passers-by assuming he's a drug user without having ever met or interacted with them. Once that assumption is made, even subconsciously, other traits begin to get applied: shiftless, under-achieving, possibly unemployed, probably unemployable, and so forth.

As an experiment, an aquaintance of mine from high-school who actually does fit that description shaved his head to eliminate the somewhat skinhead-esque haircut he'd had, bought himself a nice Denver Heyes dress shirt thick enough to hide the tattoos, had me update his resume for him, and tried to get back into the workforce. What people saw instead was someone industrious, a go-getter who was a great catch in a labour market currently swollen with terrible applicants for even the most menial positions. He was offered all three jobs he was interviewed for. God willing, he might even live up to these expectations.

Now, take it from me - I'm the straightest-edged guy you'd think you ever saw, and I've got as many twists and turns in me as any other piece of poor white trash you happen to come across, in spite of being neither. Physical appearance is nigh-onto-worthless in evaluating a person's job performance.

Let's consider the example of another friend I have. He has a single tattoo on his forearm - an ambigram of his sign in the western zodiac with his birth date beneath it. This guy is one of the harder-working, more level-headed and agreeable people I know, and anyone who actually takes the time to interview him comes to pretty much the same conclusion.

When his recent employers learned of the tattoo, they altered the uniform for him, and him alone, to hide it. I suppose that's better than firing him - I've heard of people fired for such things - but at the same time, in the role he performs in the industry in which he's working, a forearm tattoo is about as off-putting and relevant as green eyes.

On the tattoo thing, we're a society that's pretty much embraced the technology and its application for a good two, maybe even three, generations now, but we're pretty much pandering to those above us.

Moving on to the broader topic at hand (I, being uninked, couldn't possibly care less about Tattoos) we really do judge personal worth on pretty stupid metrics. More importantly, it's pretty surprising we bother to judge personal worth at all.

This is how a boring person looks
Now, as it happens, I don't like reaching for the bible to support my arguments if I'm not expressly discussing theology - I find even morality can usually be arrived at directly without divine intervention thanks to having been raised in a society that values, by and large, the Golden Rule.

There is however, Matthew 7:1-6:

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24 
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
6 ¶ Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

To me, a strict interpretation of this passage seems to indicate we have no business judging people at all, and my secular values agree with me. The only relevant judgments are judgement on the matter at hand. Tattoos at a job interview are not relevant, even in the service industry, unless they are somehow indemnifying on their own merit (racist, ideological, and so forth). They are no more material to the dispensation of your duties than the colour of your hair or eyes. The real metric of relevance is past and present job performance, personal charisma in the interview process, and, frankly, demonstrable creative energy and drive. Anyone who can spin the Hilton into work afterward the way I did probably deserves the job they got - a shame that job fell through.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tank Updates!

Dang you, sunlight!

55 Gallon Tall

So, the fifty five has been looking a little empty lately, now that the final Acaricthys Heckelli specimen has died. I'm still not sure what caused the problem as all tests come back nominal - the only thing I can think is that the oxygen content of the water is somehow too low... so we've had a plant renaissance, as I cannot stand bubblers in the least.

At present, the tank is sitting at a rather cool 24 celsius, pH 6.6, which is ideally suited for the tank's current occupants - four Sewellia lineolata Tiger Hillstream Loaches and a ~20 cm P. gibbiceps Leopard Pleco that's going to be leaving soon - tonight, in all probability.

I'm not really sure what I want to put in there now, except to say that it has to be compatible with the loaches and should be free-swimming. As usual, my thoughts go toward Anabantoids, though sometimes I ponder cichlids and knife-fish.

Also, the planting is relatively heavy which is why I'm working on better light systems for the tank and possibly carbon dioxide injection, with current species being E. amazonicus, A grammineus, M. sellowiniana, some sort of Micranthemum (which I hope to train as a carpet), and what was identified as Limnophila spp. but resembles no Limnophila I can find.

The care and feeding of this tank is pretty simple - weekly ~5 gallon water changes treated with AquaPlus and Nutrafin Plant-Gro, with once-daily feedings of four Wardly algae disks and a Nutrafin Pleco Log.

Messy on the inside.

Mongkut's Palace

10 Gallons Freshwater

Not terribly much to report. Everything's doing well now that I've switched to silk plants.

Twice daily, I distract the betta with a pair of Nutrafin Max Betta Pellets and feed Nutrafin Max Colour Flake (a high-protein staple flake) to the tetras with a feeder ring. The apple snail gets to scavenge whatever he can from the glass.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Two Favourite Phrases

Graphic interpretation of the test that resulted in the first
Higgs Boson detection at CERN LHC.

"I hate being right."

A day or two ago, CERN announced that further tests and analysis confirmed that their observation of a Higgs Boson several months previously was, in fact, the Higgs Boson, behaving in the way it was supposed to.

Secretly, scientists are always a little disappointed to be right - it's exciting enough to know that Higgs Bosons actually exist, since the math doesn't work without them existing, but it would have been much more exciting if it did something wierd in the process.

"Wierd" is one of the best possible reactions your brain can have to an observation, because it means that pursuing it will almost always mean learning something new about the world in which you live - knowledge being its own reward, of course.

Core structure of Penicillin

"Because I can."

The X-Ray was pretty good; so was penicillin. Neither were discovered with a practical objective in mind.

Science is a machine for discovery. There is rarely a practical reason, in this day and age, to ask "why". Some of our most important discoveries, from the tectonic to the prosaic, came by accident.

Penicillin is a favourite of mine - in spite of wide-spread allergies to the damn stuff, and the (predictably!) rising resistance of biotics to traditional antibiotics, Penicillin pretty much curbed the spread of a number of common diseases at the time. But it wasn't the only one. Radar technicians came up with the idea for the microwave oven - ivory soap was a result of over-mixing, post-its were a failed attempt at adhesive design by 3M. X-Rays, in particular, were recovered completely accidentally but are now one of the most commonly-used diagnostic tools in medicine. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Americanization of Canadian Politics II: Our Increasingly Violent Culture

I have been said to personify one of these from time
to time.
If people knew me by my frustrations alone, they'd probably think of me as a violent person. A teenage decade of losing pretty much every physical fight I've been in, however, has taught me that psychological warfare has much more of a place than any sort of physical conflict.

When it comes to political issues that surround violence, I'm hopelessly liberal - in favour of restricting civilian access to firearms, broadly in favour of legalizing even some of the harder drugs I would personally never touch, anti-death...

Frankly, I never really thought I was sitting all that far outside the margin until I read this thread on the NationStates Forum. While I wasn't surprised by some of the comments considering the vast majority of the players on this site are American, I became surprised pretty quickly once certain players I know to be Canadian got involved.

With "debate" (or what passes for it on the internet) raging on the issue of abolishing the death penalty, a surprising number of otherwise very representative Canadians came out in favour of keeping the practice (or, I suppose, in our case, bringing it back - we abolished it in 1976 and the last executions were actually in 1962), often rather vocally.

What was telling, however, was that these particular Canadians kept citing various prison statistics - from the United States - and calling it "our broken prisons".

Either five or six of the people I know on the internet to be Canadian all spontaneously moved to the States, or, once again, a lack of competitive flare on the part of Canadian broadcasters means we're getting drowned out in favour of CNN and FOX. For the record, and as an aside, on four occasions of the last fifty that I've gone to a restaurant that happened to have a tv tuned to a news channel - commonly McDonalds - it's been tuned to CNN. D'oh.

This is actually one of many things I'm always surprised to hear people get up in arms. I honest to god had one older woman (who frankly should have known better!) complaining about the recent abolition of the penny and invoke President Obama in the proceedings, who is not my president and had nothing to do with setting fiscal or monetary policy in Canada. No discussion of the traditional hot-button issues from America is complete without at least one person in the group somehow invoking the American state of affairs, with such hits as:

Yeah, but when the Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade they pretty much made it impossible to get an abortion in this country.
(Honestly, I can't even begin to tell you what's wrong with that sentence.)

We're all supposed to have health insurance through provincial medicare - why is this clown making us buy health insurance?
That's the other guys!
There's no need to ban guns - just made safety training comprehensive and compulsory and restrict the more ridiculous weapons.
Get this: We already do. Civilians can pretty much only own long arms (and certain, very restricted classes of handgun), and only after earning certification in firearms safety through accredited, government-run instructors.
I can't believe (such and such a state) legalized (pot or gay marriage, player's choice) - What are they doing to this country?
This is another one of those statements I hear way to often. First of all, if it happened in another state, it didn't happen in Canada (I'll teach you the meaning of the word state in countries other than America presently), and what's more, neither of those things is bad. Say what you want about the morality of the issue, but neither Catholic Doctrine nor a strict solo-scriptura reading of the bible makes the use of recreational drugs a sin per-se. Abuse is Gluttony, sure, and I'm pretty sure I saw a passage that makes violating "just laws" (of course, the definition of "just" is open to fairly wide interpretation, because this is the kind of thing where you'd want as much ambiguity as possible) a sin, but in areas where it's legal to smoke and you keep your smoking within the "healthy" limits of most people's drinking and tobacco habits, it's pretty much fair game from a moral standpoint. I'm pretty sure I've said before that you can't really justify a prohibition on Marijuana and the creation of a criminal class if you're going to let people drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. Say what you want about the morality of Gay Marriage - a properly secular government cannot legislate morality, and Gay Marriage is not a public safety issue.

Disapproving Pink-Tailed Chalceus, anyone?
The underlying problem with all this, particularly changing attitudes with younger Canadians toward executions and guns, stems, I believe, from an influx of American media. While I've never been on the ball with the whole "videogames/movies/music cause violence" argument, I certainly get how people make the connection, and I can certainly see such things predisposing a frustrated culture toward the acts often depicted. After all, even non-gamers usually play way more Call of Duty (at least, the recent ones) than is probably necessary or completely healthy. This is coming from a guy who plays some pretty violent games himself, from time to time, though for the most part, lately, killing blocky zombies in Minecraft is about as violent as it gets for me.

If we idolize vengence, of course we come to want the death penalty. We need to learn the distinction between Justice and Vengeance (as a species, on the whole).

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fish Profile: Thai Glass Catfish

Say hello to Kryptopterus minor, the "Thai Glass Catfish", whose natural range includes Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, so "Southeast Asian" Glass Catfish might have been a better name. As the name suggests, these apparently-transparent fish are Siluridae... proper catfish.

For once, common names get it right in two ways - firstly, K. minor is actually transparent. This is not an illusory property of iridescence, but an actual question of their nature - the bits of them that can be seen are their proper internal organs and bones. This transparency has most to do with the small size of their body, their lack of pigmentation, and, being Siluridae, their lack of scales - when they die, the processes involved in decomposition very quickly turn them a milky white.

This scaleless property makes them somewhat sensitive - accordingly, it's very important to maintain proper water quality. While this is not difficult, their quirks, this included, serve to place them squarely in my "not for beginners category". They prefer cooler water by tropical standards - between 21 and 26 degrees Celsius (most fish would prefer several degrees warmer than that), which should be as soft as is possible, and within a relatively narrow range of pH 5.5-6.5. Soft, acidic water is acceptable for those building community tanks, and this species has no real problem with that, though there are some considerations which I will detail in a moment.

In addition to being rather chemically sensitive, this Siluriform has some interesting behaviour traits. For one thing, and in my view, somewhat unusually for their group of fish, these are absolutely schooling fish - groups of six or more are necessary, otherwise the fish get locked into what I can only describe as "pining mode" and will lose all appetite even to the point of starving to death. Even if they are eating, elevated stress hormone levels made them even more sensitive to contracting illnesses. Plan accordingly - if a glass catfish isn't going to be the feature of your tank, make the feature fish something passive that will leave room enough for your 6+ school of glass cats.

Having said that, most recommendations for tank mates are smaller animals - rasboras, peaceful tetras, the smaller anabantoidei (such as Dwarf Gouramis), and chemically suitable dwarf cichlids - care will have to be taken in the latter case when it comes to finding overlapping pH bands that are suitable.

They appreciate a high flow rate (which, if done properly, would only improve filtration and water quality), with floating foliage to keep the light diffuse and dim (as is preferred by them). Breeding is almost unknown in aquaria, but know to be seasonal - best guesses on triggering breeding behaviour involve lowering the tank temperature and heavy daily water changes. Accordingly, most specimens are wild-caught.

They're somewhat picky eaters - small, protein-rich flake is often accepted (such as Nutrafin Max Staple Diet), though they frequently accept live and frozen versions of brine shrimp, blood worm, and daphnia.\

All told, they're a nice fish when you can find them. We have them presently (as of the time of writing) at my store for $15.78 retail, with all sorts of fun specials and quantity discounts... but I've been working there for six months and this is the first time I've seen them.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Thoughts on the Holy Father

So, last night, well ahead of my anticipated date for such an election (I was gambling on late tomorrow afternoon), the Cardinal electors settled on one of their own an elected Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Ares, who took the name Francis (the first pope to ever name himself after my favourite saint, Saint Francis of Assisi). He is also, as I understand it, the first Jesuit priest to ever be named pope.

While that's sinking in, you'll understand we don't have a lot to go on on how a Jesuit or a devotee of Saint Francis behaves when they have the papacy. It's been less than 24 hours since he was named, and now we have some pondering to do.

So far, everything about this man screams humility, except, perhaps, for the brocaded sash and french cuffs that he wears. When coming forward for the usual welcomings and so-forth, he decided to forgo the bright crimson and gold of some of the other papal garments. He opted against the usual papal motorcade and went personally to the hotel he had been staying at previously to collect his bags, also shunning the same special sedan to travel on a bus with the cardinals and refusing a raised dias from which to address them.

In short, less than a day in, so far this pope is everything I could hope for a pope to be.

What's more, if he keeps it up, we could see real change in the way the papacy operates - Pope Francis, as Cardinal, had a notedly simple lifestyle even for local cardinals. If he continued that trend into the Papacy, it would be difficult for his successor to bring back all the usual luxuries of the papacy.

In short, if he pursued his simplicity doggedly, he could fix literally everything the public sees wrong with the Church... at least, everything that's not a matter of Doctrine. I don't foresee women as priests, a change in sexual morality, or the sudden suspension of the seal of the confessional in molestation cases on the horizon.

Have I talked about that before? I might have. I honestly can't remember.

At any rate, he could fix everything I see as being actually wrong with the church to which I am, I suppose, still a member, if not a lapsed one. I have doctrinal concerns - so does everyone my age, I think - but what would do me most good to see would be someone bringing a little Franciscan humility to the papacy, and maybe taking the gilded edge off just a tad.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More Charitable Thoughts on Feminism

This is what a feminist looks like;
smart, snappy, and damn fun at dinner.
Auditor's Note: Off-Colour Language Below

I recently wrote an post entitled Of Guys Named Seth, in which I went on a good, long rant about men using feminist statements and pseudofeminist attitudes in order to have sex. As a result, the whole post was tinged with a genuinely anti-feminist tone that I can only imagine was off-putting to what I imagine is a mostly-female audience (a suitable prediction given that most of my views come from nations in which statistically have more women than men).

In truth, I'm not anti-feminist. I'm not a feminist either - when someone asks how I feel about feminism in general I say I'm in favour of equal rights for everyone, thereby immediately cutting the legs out from under misanthropists-in-feminist-clothing from the women who typically ask that question, and cutting the legs out from under the misogynists-in-male-rights-activism-clothing from the men who typically ask the question.

However, some poeple don't consider that good enough. We've been raised, less in this country than in the one to the south (who, thanks to the internet, I spend just as much time hanging out with as Canadians), on a steady diet of false dichotomies. If you are not pro-Young Earth Creationism you must be an athiest. If you are not pro-Life you must be Pro-Unlimited-Abortion. If you are not a Feminist, you must be a wife-abusing, date-raping, generally terrible person.

It's worse, I'm told, for women who are not feminists.

Now, back in my early days on youtube, my internet adolescence, if you'll allow, I was big into atheism. I subscribed to lots of channels on the subjects of science and philosophy whose main purpose was tearing down misinformation - usually with a basis in religion - big names like Thunderf00t, Potholer54, AronRa and so forth. But, just like how my interests devolved away from pure sciences, got tangled up in philosophy, and now have me over here in a blog that was started as a conversion diary and now lives as something other, so to did their channels.

Recently, the athiest community has been embroiled in a strange Feminism/Antifeminism False Dichotomy predicated on the idea that either flirting should be banned at Feminist rallies or women who don't want to be "fair game" shouldn't attend public events. I'm simplifying here, and in doing so painting both sides as stupid, but when you're inundated with it day after day, both sides start looking, well, pretty stupid.

Ever since I learned about the word "maybe" I've pretty much hated dichotomies - the only true dichotomy that exists in the physical world is whether a given bit is an on-bit or an off-bit, it often seems. Things are never truly in black and white, and issues, least of all.

This is what a guy who hates
labels looks like.
I identify with genuinely feminist causes - I even support them. Equal access to opportunities, equal protections under the law, equal pay for equal work, and so on. This nation is founded on ideals of equality (or at least, our legal system is), and so I am egalitarian.

What I am not is a self-hating man. What was that line I like from Django Unchained? "A black slaver is lower than the head house-nigger, and buddy that's pretty fucking low?" I don't believe in false equivalency. "You askew my mirror, I askew yours" generates little more "balance" than "an eye for an eye" ever did. After all, when Christ commanded us to do unto others, he wasn't talking about rending them limb from limb.

I am anti-Affermative Action-type programs. I'm Anti-Preferential Treatment in general. A rape charge levelled against a man is still as damning as an actual conviction (look at how everyone feels about India at the moment), and a rape charge levelled against a woman is laughed at. I already know damn well I'm on my own if I'm ever raped because nobody would ever believe me.

I also know I'm digressing just a little.

Equality means equality. It's time we stopped thinking of equality in terms of "treat women like men", "treat blacks/asians/hispanics/native americans/etc like whites", and "treat gays like straights".

Let's work on "treat people like people".

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Fascinating State of the Minimum Wage

A Full Military Funeral, with Honours
At 26 hours weekly, I am tied with one other employee for the most-often-present non-supervisory employee at my job. I work hard in those 26 hours to try and find a 27th or a 28th.

Last year, between two similar jobs and a capital gain I made about $25,000, which is actually quite a bit more than what is considered to be impoverished  However, the circumstances of that capital gain won't repeat themselves and next year, with all other things being current and no provincial increase in the minimum wage, I can reasonably expect to make, give or take, $11,000, which is all of about 500 dollars above the line at which the federal government can tax my income.

Either way, the government /does/ tax your income whether you receive a return at the end of the year or not, so I operate under the assumption I am taxed. In practice, that pulls in at around 18% of the paycheque off the top, leaving me with 82% of what I earned to work with. If it's easier to wrap your head around, I get .82 on the dollar for all living expenses.

However, with very small exceptions, pretty much everything that I buy is taxed at 13%, partly provincially and partly federally. That means I functionally get .71 on the dollar. If I make $11,000 this current year, as I can reasonably expect to do working a single job, I actually only have just a little under $8,000 to work with.

In practice, this number is actually even lower, because the income tax deduction is not the only deduction taken off the paycheque. We also pay into two federal programs - the Canada Pension Plan, and Employment Insurance. The former I don't have much of an opinion on, but the latter...
$1500 of interconnected spare parts

Well, that's a digression and I'll have to get into at a later time, but we'll suffice it to say that it's easier to make a home owner's insurance claim in which the police say you robbed your own house than it is to make an EI claim.

At any rate, taking those two programs out turns my annual net to something closer to $7300 dollars.

I don't have many responsibilities. I have rent, some groceries, and my phone. My rent includes internet service and power, the other groceries, and water. My pets, such as they are, represent very little expense to me now that I have the equipment. So far this year, not including the equipment itself, I've spent about $40 and, barring a crisis, I can reasonably expect not to spend any more.

My rent is $500 a month paid bi-weekly to make the money-management easier - taken out over the course of a year that's $6000, and about what I was paying for rent and utilities last year. My phone's another $75/month so we can call that $900. I have some small credit card debt that if I could magically clear overnight would cost me, say $800, but with the compounding interest, that's going to look more like $900.

Woops, now we're over budget at $7800 and I haven't even fed myself yet...

Now, bare in mind that I get away with such nonsense because I live extraordinarily cheaply. I don't have car payments and pay perhaps less than $40 a month in transportation fees, when I pay them at all - in the summer I can travel pretty much anywhere I need to except in special circumstances without paying a cent. I don't have a child. I barely drink, barely smoke, and my annual expenses on both accounts are probably a couple hundred dollars. I eat out when I can but I don't when I can't. I give good gifts when I can recall an occasion (or rather, that's a habit I'm trying to form).
I can build a hearty lunch for $1.80.

My expenses are minimal. And I cannot live on a minimum-wage job.

Granted, I could, if such a thing as a full-time, minimum wage job existed. But Canada's quiet recession is shrinking working hours since wages can't be shrunk. Employees are expensive, let me tell you, and the response of businesses with shrinking margins are to minimize costs - in practice, the only expenses you ever really control are your labour costs, and so..

26 hours is actually quite a long work week for someone on the minimum wage around here.

I can get a second job, but they don't exist either - not the kind needed. I need either something that will let me only work on the two days a week I have off, or work daytime hours doing just about anything else. Having my old teavana job back would actuall be ideal if I thought that company had a future in the local market, but it'sjust a little two Hollywood for our Santa Monica tastes.

Day jobs, full time or not, usually go to favoured, older workers who have been with the company for a good long time.

What's more, there is a plentiful supply of above-minimum-wage full time jobs that, while tolerable, are much less fun than what I'm doing now, and don't pay enough extra to make it worth my while. Part time, maybe, but that job doesn't exist.

Of course, raising the minimum wage would just shrink hours again. What we need is some sort of comprehensive, right-to-work sort of a thing. I don't know what that looks like yet, but I'm working on it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

I love it when a plan comes together!

He's-a cookin' something up!
Cue A-Team soundtrack. Just do it. It'll be fun.

This is chiefly a photospam post, in which I'm going to talk a bit about pets, a bit about strategy, and just a little tiny bit about being a bother.

Also, I'm contemplating a haircut. Anyone thing that the longish top, buzzed sides, a la 1940s europe might be due to make a comeback? I've always enjoyed it but sometimes I can't decide if I look stupid or not.

Then again, most of the time, I can't decide if I look stupid or not anyway - thus my previous hallowe'en costume.

Ohm mani padme hum.

The veiled-tailed chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) are back! Personally, I love the little guys - they typically seem like little zen masters reincarnated into lizard bodies. Every motion is precise and deliberate, and their impressive (though often overstated) colour-shifting abilities are usually worth a few minutes of quiet admiration.

They're more delicate than the more common pet lizards - your bearded dragons and leopard geckos and so forth, but just like any pet, a few hours of research and carefully following the recommendations you come up with are more than sufficient to take care of them for their entire natural lives.

I don't let my boss stock things that can't be kept alive and healthy. It's just not done.

They've got humps so I know they're
 We've brought in a few P. scalare Angelfish at a much larger size than we normally get them in - something approximating the reports of adult size I've heard, though it seems to me that there's still room for them to get bigger yet, if adequately kept.

They're a wonderful fish, P. Saclare. and ones I should probably do a fish profile on soon. (By the way, did you know that my article on Synisphilium Cichlids is my most viewed article of all time? It even beat out the post on the current state of the Canadian slave trade!) Relatively hearty in the right size of tank, they're typical of South American Cichlids, to which they are related. Very docile for a cichlid, they should still mostly be kept with other large fish as they are known to get nippy.

They're also among the easier cichlid-class species to sex, with the males developing a hump on the "forehead" once they hit a certain size. Breeding is reasonably simple to accomplish with appropriate precautions taken.

Very, very nice fish. I've been thinking of taking on a couple.

A Ghost, or Fun with Photography

Did you know we've been playing host to a television star for the last few months? True story. We brought on a Giant Day Gecko (Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis) - the very same species than inspired the appearance of the famous (and unusually wet-looking) Geiko gecko!

He's a smash hit, being one of the glass-climbers, and so elegant looking. I really hope we can get him to a good home soon, however, because he's taking up some truly premium real-estate, which is where I really want to put one of our other new aquisitions, a Mexican Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigrita) which I, negligently, have yet to photograph.

He seems to eat well as well, taking a diet of dusted (usually gutloaded) crickets, lettuce, bok choy, crested gecko diet, and the occasional silkworm. Having said all that, he's beginning to look a tad chubby to me, so it might be best to cut back on the worms.

Very elegant little pet that someone should come see me about.

Pet me damn you!
 In a photograph that sadly looked a lot better last night you can see one of my favourite snakes that we carry - after the Hog Island Boas and the Hypo Brooks Kingsnake, this Sunset Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus guttatus) is easily one of the best looking, most-affectionate serpent we carry. I don't fall in love with animals easily but I do have a fondness for him - he eats frozen without complaint, enjoys Riding Time (wherein he becomes a fashionable neck-tie for a few minutes), is never shy, and rarely complains much at all about the nature of his life.

By which I mean never, of course.

Corn snakes are great snakes for beginners - they pretty much all accept frozen, are docile, and what's more top out at three or four feet - about this guy's size. You'll never need to feed it anything heart-rending - some of the snakes I like (and carry) would eventually take a rabbit or G.P. - and you'll never have to clean his cage more than once a week.

Feed weekly, clean weekly, and love daily. Pretty much an ideal pet for anyone, and docile enough that a reasonably-calm child could handle it, with adult supervision of course.

This particular pink-tailed characin is hard to identify and even harder to find information on. They're eating tropical flake at the moment and positively thriving at a 6.8 pH and 79F, so we must be doing something halfway decent.

A staid little fish, they have that somehow-attractive plainness about them, with black outlines around their scales. As a relative of the tetras and raspboras I imagine they would be a schooling fish - their behaviour suggests it, so I recommend them in groups as accent fish.

Mutant Bastard!
This is a fresh-water Parrot Fish - no relation at all to the actual parrotfishes of the Scaridae family (thoroguhly marine), indeed, no resemblance. They came about as the mule-like hybrid of two other species, and therefore have no scientific name. There is a proper parrot cichlid, Hoplarchus psitticus, but that's an entirely different animal altogether. Though a fertile hybrid, they are believed to have been obtained by breeding sevrums and red devils together.

There are but two natural colours of these fishes - the golden beast you see to your left, and albino white. In addition, a number of artificially produced Parrot Fishes exist in all colours of the rainbow, and we will never stock them. If we ever did stock them, I would never sell one to you. The process of artificially colouring fish happens in one of two ways - tattooing or acid-bleaching. Either method is traumatic and abusive. This is the same reason we never carry any "painted" glass fish. The naturals are fantastic, relatively placid S.A. cichlids that I am more than happy to find good homes for.
Epic dragon? Epic Lighting!

Bearded Dragons (Pogona, and in this case, P. vitticeps) are always popular, as I said before, and we happen to have quite a few. In particular are our cute little baby dragons, only a few months old at most, that really do need a caring home as pairs or singles, rather than the community tank in which they are currently living.

Having them in smaller numbers makes feeding them easier, and they will live longer, healthier lives for it.

While we're sold out of our very helpful bearded dragon kits, I'm inclined to let you know that our snake starter kit, with a couple of additional items, is actually perfect for the little guys starting out. I strongly encourage anyone with a fear of reptiles to come through and get to know our beardies better - they'll set your mind at ease right sharpish, and, if you're anything like me, you'll find their snobbish antics about as amusing as possible.
 This last tale isn't of pets - it's not even work related, but I've come up with a new breakfast food. Prepare a largish batch (I used sixteen eggs) of your favourite scrambled egg blend, pour into oiled muffin tins, top each with a teaspoon of salsa, bake for 12-15 minutes, let cool, and then freeze.

They freeze very well, and reheat readily in a toaster oven, making them perfect for my current living arrangement and habits, where I prefer to exert as little energy as possible the very first thing in the morning. One of these with a nice biscuit, some cream cheese, jam, and a piece of fruit, and you're good to go. Since the ones I made are fairly spicy I like a strong tea to go with them - my Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Helmet Fire: Tragic Tale of a List Addict

I have new glasses now. Just sayin'.
I mentioned a few posts ago that I was unfit for service as a military pilot because of my eyesight, but that's not the only reason. Frankly, I should never be allowed to fly anything, because I am addicted to lists.

I work best with a checklist to go off of, particularly if it is somehow prioritized, not that the order of the priorities actually matters.

At the moment, that addiction is rearing its ugly head because I still don't have a list for unpacking from the move. Part of that is having yet to come up with a true plan of attack for doing it - a checklist, as it were.

Another part is equal parts laziness and exhaustion. Today's my first day off of work in what feels like a very long time, after long day after long day, and frankly, I'm content to stay in this bed for the rest of the day rather than get up to do anything.

Having said that, except for one small piece of property damage that none-the-less is making ham salad out of all my recreational activities, I'm doing just fine.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thoughts on The Run

Hey there everyone, me here with a quick A&G update. Finally have all of my things moved to the new place thanks to the help of a few of my more helpful friends. Its going to be spending the night unpacking and organizing after work that really takes it out of me.

More relevantly, Gliesse was damaged, which means no more video uploads of any kind, either on Locke LeCruset channel where I keep the fish material, or on Communeguy where we do our gaming. As soon as I figure out whats wrong with her and how much that will cost to fix I can say when I can start posting fun stuff again.

In the meantime, I'll do some channel organization work from the laptop and resume the blog redesign.

As far as the move itself I am taking the oportunity to break out of a few ruts qnd really move my life a little further forward.