Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Shown: Nitrogen Compounds
Whether you're an organic chemist trying very hard not to get blown up or a aquarist, you're going to learn to hate nitrogen with all the vitriol normally associated with the US Post. Nitrogen compounds are famously volotile, and for the aquarist, they're famously toxic.

We aquarists spend a great deal of time trying to deal with this by abusing a form of Cycle - the Nitrogen Cycle. We draft vast armies of several molar units of mass into our filters in hopes that we might turn Ammonia ions into Nitrates... which we still have to remove, because they're not non-toxic... just less toxic. Go figure.

In nature, this is a proper cycle. We can almost mimic it in vitro, by adding tonnes of fresh-water plants. The plants absorb the nitrates and use them either to power their own chemistry, or release free, non-toxic nitrogen gas. There are some anaerobic bacteria that do similar things: such as the pseudomonads. Thing is, all these processes are either too slow to be properly useful, or occur in the absence of oxygen.

Could a tank with no need for water changes, only top ups, be possible? Maybe. Imagine a sump within the stand of the aquarium, with an extremely large surface area. Water is continuously removed from the master tank and pumped into the sump, which is designed in such a way as to minimize surface exchange and allow an anerobic environment for the relevant pseudomonad bacteria. Water is then pumped from the sump to the tank proper. Somewhere in the loop, a proper, aerobic canister filter is functioning to produce the nitrates as described above.

That's fun, but that's also relying on biology, and anyone who knows anything about science knows that biology is way, way slower than chemistry, which happens at roughly the speed of physics.

Can we chemically remove nitrates? Sure. All sorts of compounds absorb them - Zeolite, for example, is a mineral that's used rather exensively. Instead of a massive bacterial colony in the sump, we could bubble in Nitrogen Dioxide, producing nitrogen gas and water. This, of course, is an engineering nightmare. We'd need an overflow to deal with the water created, and a very powerful HVAC system on the sump to draw off the nitrogen gas, not to mention any excess nitrogen dioxide, which of course is highly toxic and stinks to high heaven. NO2 isn't expensive as reactants go, but it isn't cheap, and would need to be replaced.
Shown: Aimin' to misbehave.

Yeah, biologically seems like the way to go. Remember, my water changes take me about an hour to do - longer if I'm testing - and I do them once a week. I could spend up to ten full days working on creating this sump system for my master tank, which would save me pretty much the full time, since the betta tanks don't actually need their water changes as often as I give them. As long as I kept all the tanks running for five years, I come out ahead or break even on the investment of time creating the system.

Conventional wisdom says you can't eliminate water changes, but I never liked being conventional. See figure two.

Fun with Chemistry, or: Why Zac Is Not Allowed to Order Reagents At Work

I recently rescaped the 55, by the way. Goodbye Pleco!
All through school, I wanted to be a chemist. When all the other boys wanted to be astronauts just to go to space, I wanted to be one to study crystal formation in null-G (which I later learned is just microgravity, but I'll save the orbital mechanics lecture for another time). When everyone paid attention in bio, I slacked off to study enzymes and proteins. When everyone paid attention in physics...

Well, I'm sorry, I'm in an intellectually polyamorous relationship with Chemistry AND Physics, but by now, I'm sure you all get the gist of what I was trying to say. Recently, I've been reading Dr. Derek Lowe's excellent chemistry/pharmacology blog on Corante, which I recommend to everyone who, like me, did enough chem in school to have wanted to do it professionally, but never took the chance to actually do so. Reading the blog reminded me that once upon a time, I used to blog about science too... until I started blogging mostly about Aquaria and amateur aquaculture.

Whether your interests lie properly within biology, or you're an armchair chemist, aquariums can be like a playground. While I would never advocate experimentation on live fish, lots of indirect experimentation happens with the water chemistry, and of course, water can always be removed from the tank to work on. Aquarium water is far from pure, containing all sorts of fun ionic compounds. One day, I might desalinate some, and I'm willing to bet I'd wind up with a whole lot more than sodium chloride staining the vessel I use to do it.

The drop tests used for most parameter detection are properly titration experments. If you took Chem 121 (or whatever high-level-but-grade-12-appropriate Chemistry would have been called in your area), you remember titration as a horrendously complicated little process used to derive dubiously useful information about the solutions.

Aquarium tests, however, are quite simple. So's titration, as long as you're good with your apparatus and know what the hell you're supposed to be doing. Which ones are titration? Hardness and calcium.

All the others are technically titration as well, but are open-ended because they contain (or create) an indicator in solution that reacts more or less strongly depending of the concentration of the ions you're interested in. That's why the iron test won't detect chelated iron without the second reagent - the second reagent frees the iron ions into solution to be exposed by the reagent.

Why can't I order the reagents at work? If I had my way, my aggressive testing and monitoring routine would apply to all the tanks in the store. As it is, I already want to do full work-ups on a few of the trouble spots... something I'll probably do tonight. The other reason, of course, is that I know which reagents are which and would probably feel no shame at all in routinely experimenting with them in inadvisable ways.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Heterodox Aquarist's Toolkit - First Edition

Graduated Pumps

There's some true advantages to having this crude little devices - often found on commercial-size, or bulk-purchase containers of a limited number of aquarist's chemicals. They typically measure a specified amount - the ones I use produce 5 mL, or one teaspoon, per full stroke. In particular, I use these for two chemicals: Aqua Plus, which I go through rather aggressively, and Plant Gro, which, unfortunately, is not available with a pump of its own. I buy four of the largest bottles and empty them into a well-cleaned (NO SOAP) aqua plus bottle as a way to keep a handle on it.

Having a precise volume per stroke is very useful for these two chemicals in particular, where a certain amount, often quite a bit, is needed at once. Instead of goofing around with multiple measuring cups and spoons, you simply calculate the required dose, divide that into the number of necessary pumps, and inject directly into the incoming water in the water change or straight into the tank.


Lots of plants don't like to be planted - Java Fern, to name the most common - and many others don't necessarily need to be. Getting these to grow on rocks or bogwood can be rewarding visually, and the easiest way to secure them until they have rooted is often to take a bit of uncoated thread (I prefer black) and affix it. A few weeks later, when the roots develop, the thread can be removed.

CO2 Injection Rig

Your average tank, even a planted tank, doesn't need CO2. Even heavily planted tanks often don't need it if fish are involved as well, since fish respire CO2 constantly, and under photosynthetic conditions, plants convert CO2 to O2 - at night, this cycle inverts.

I'm actually still getting used to the use of Carbon Dioxide injection. I've been playing with a little system for producing it, but in any of my tanks at the moment, it's more an extravagance than anything. A full post might be considered in the near future.

Electrical Tape

Electrical tape is a fantastically sticky, strong tape, with the advantage of being two things - jet black, and nigh-indestructible. I use it to hang printed backgrounds - a sold tape run down either edge, carefully, looks a professional seam and holds quite well, augmented with water to help secure the masking nicely. Since I don't have a guillotine cutter, it's far easier than trying to get nice cut edges on my backgrounds.

E-Tape is also useful in other ways - tacking a bit of line or hose, for example - so long as it's used externally. Adhesives are a bad thing inside the tank itself.

Tongue Depressors

Straight, smooth edges are useful in a variety of ways, as are small, rounded corners. Smearing and smoothing aquarium sealant, smoothing out paper backgrounds, or invisibly propping up objects are all useful uses of tongue depressors and popsicle sticks.

In my history, they're also surprisingly useful as a lever, to either extract a part of something or open seals. This functionality became obsolete when I acquired a pair of stainless-steel tongs.

Cheesecloth, Panty Hose, and other Fabrics

My first use of fabrics in aquaria was as background material for a tank of an unorthodox side - a black piece of cotton affixed with background glue (something I no longer use) and edged with electrical tape did the job well enough, one supposes. I've also used it as skirting for stands without doors of their own, and once, briefly, as a screen to prevent fish from jumping.

More common uses now, are for more porous, or sheer fabrics. In my experience, panty hose material makes up the very best lining for a number of things, such as filter intakes in tanks planted with sand, or as an improvised filter media bag. The nylon is pretty much invincible.

I've also been known to filter new water through cheese-cloth as a sort of a net, especially when I'm working with sanded tanks, as a way to recover the sand from going into the bucket and being discarded with the rest of the water.

Friday, April 26, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Hextake Edition

I feel like this guy.
--- 1 ---
I am tired. I woke up half an hour ago and I am tired. I slept for the better part of seven hours, and I am tired. I have been eating well, and I am tired.

I am tired. And I think it's chemical.

--- 2 ---
I've been having myself a little fortnight of the stews. One of my Christmas presents was a slow cooker (some regions: crock pot) that was big enough that I can make two servings (good, gut-busting servings) of a stew in it at once, and it's been getting some serious mileage. Stews are probably the easiest thing a person can make with the widest number of ingredients (and the greatest range of feast or famine), so it was a good way to stretch a pay-cheque that was a little light thanks to the continuing-to-persist malaise taking a weekend off... in my head.

I'd have to say it's suiting me well. As long as you keep the vegetables suitably varied and have a good way to get dairy, even a person with my relatively high caloric requirements can live comfortably off a solid stew twice a day and an ample supply of fresh-made bread.

I don't think I've ever gone on a proper bread-rant here, but I'm a real gluten addict and a firm believer in the powers of bread as a calorie source. Since I walk the better part of 6 km per day, not counting the actual walking and heavy lifting I do at work, raw calories actually do have a place in my diet. If you didn't own a car, they'd probably play a role in yours too.

I'm thinking of doing a food series on breads, actually.

--- 3 ---
There's a lot of xenophobia and generic rage flying around my blogroll lately. The world is consumed in the Hindsight is 20/20 virus, wondering why this pair of men, or this other pair of men, were allowed into the country at all, or why the Boston Bombers were allowed to draw on welfare.

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that I think Welfare, on both sides of our border, needs a massive overhaul, and deal with the issue of the Boston Bombers first. Firstly, until the bombers placed and detonated their explosives, they had yet to commit a crime. They still haven't actually been convicted, though I suppose that's a foregone conclusion at this point, so one of them is technically innocent and dead with a cop's bullet or three somewhere in his body. Even if they were on a watch list, that's not an indication of guilt. Innocent people wind up on no-fly lists all the time. Are we going to arbitrarily refuse welfare to people who are brown enough or radical enough that their ideas are unpopular, before those ideas cause problems?

Furthermore, what in the Inferno was the FBI and DHS doing investigating a terror attack on the Canadian side of the border? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they caught the guy, but instead of engaging my citizenry in their police actions and then just letting the RCMP grab them to make it look nice and legal, FBI and DHS should be limited strictly to training the RCMP and CSIS to do their own jobs. That's what I pay the RCMP and CSIS for.

--- 4 ---
This photo is overused.
Work is going exceedingly well... sort of. See, I pull down as many hours as there are to pull down, and I'm very, very good at it. I've got something of a record for excellence. For every night I can't finish something, there's three that I can get something extra done. As a result, I get bounced around a lot. I've been trained for every position I can reasonably obtain without the entirety of local management being axed, and I work them all on a more or less regular basis.

It's not enough. I guess that's proof positive that the economy is still on a downturn. Canada started ours late, and we're not recovering yet, our Conservative Majority government notwithstanding. My boss would love to give me more hours. Why wouldn't he? As it stands, I bow and scrape on the minimum wage, getting more done in a day than I was when I was being paid 10, 20% more than I am now, and I need to do more.

I'm tired. At 28 hours a week, I can squeak by with my life. As long as I never get sick, spend no money on hobbies, and never have to travel. I could work more, sure, but I'd need a second job, and this time of year, nobody's looking for employees with strings attached. They're looking for students, who don't know their rights, don't know their business, and hell, don't need the work.

I never thought I'd be this guy, but the last person who needs to work over the summer is some punk in high school who's getting room and board from Mommy and Daddy for free, when those of us with real bills, real rent, and real lives need to put food on the table and faith in the bank.

Instead of welfare, you should be able to apply for wage augmentation.

--- 5 ---
I think spending my time on NationStates, surrounded by liberals in the evening and conservatives in the morning, is making me further social-left, and further economic-right. It's entirely possible, all things considered. The ideas we are exposed to have a large impact on the ideas we hold dear, whether we're doing it consciously or not.

--- 6 ---
This take intentionally left blank. :)

--- 7 ---
Well, kids, in all fairness, I'm off to work. But first, someone's got to make the bread and start the stew, because, unmarried and living essentially alone, I ain't got nobody to do that for me. (Or, alternately, don't have anybody to do that for.)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Daily Readings: Life after Death Edition

Before I arrived: A sea of chaos. Now? Organized Chaos
I always liked the motto of the Benedictine monks and nuns the world over. Ora et Labora: work and prayer. As a general rule, as lazy as I can sometimes be, I pride myself on getting my work completed to within a shade of an acceptable degree of appropriately. As it happens, today I was having a rough, dark day, and so I threw myself into work as a way to get away from the general-purpose blandness that happened. When I got home, the very last thing on my mind was doing my readings. In point of fact, this will probably go up as a day late, though you have my assurances that it's still thursday as far as my internal clock is concerned, and it was legally Thursday as well when I began.

Today's readings started off with some encouraging detail - far more interesting than yesterday's readings from Acts, with a reading from the First Epistle of Peter, 5:5-14. It begins with an admonition to younger people (that'd be me - and, statistically, probably you) to be subject to our elders. I've always been uncomfortable with this advice. It's certainly true that most people older than other people have more experience than the people they are older than. It's not always true that said advise translates into proper wisdom. I agree that it is important to be polite to our elders, and to take what they say in stride and under advisement, but it should be taken with a grain of salt, otherwise any of a number of things that are Not At All Okay would certainly be Okay, because old people have told me so. It also admonishes us to be humble, which I do agree with, within reasons. We should be proud-but-thankful. Unrestrained humility is why many people younger than myself have a hard time meeting new people or finding work, in spite of any divine intervention in the matter.

The overall message of the passage is that, if you trust God, everything will ultimately turn out alright. I always considered that somewhat "come-what-may" attitude to be defeatist in nature. I think of divine intervention in the same way I think of luck. Luck, as Timothy Zhan once wrote, is little more than the ability to spot opportunity, and the improvisational nature to take advantage of it. Divine intervention, to my way of thinking, is the providing of that opportunity. It's the surprise free lunch, the opening door of a vacant job, the good fortune to be born in a country where, Thank God, I don't have to worry about affording my medication, without which I would not properly function. So I trust God, sure, but I have to keep my own eyes open for the moment to strike, as it were.

I see your corn snake, and raise
you my hog island boa.
The gospel reading was from Mark 16:15-20, and were five verses I have had a problem with since pretty much forever. The passage gives a list of miracles associated with belief, each as bizarre and improbable than the last. The first is the idea that snakes could be safely handled. This is hardly miraculous. Corn snakes pose about as much threat to humans as house cats - an infant could handle them safely. Any snake can be handled easily through naturalistic means, and the ability to safely handle a snake has more to do with a person's confidence in their own safety than confidence that God will protect them.

The remaining miracles are genuinely miraculous. Exorcisms and the gift of tongues are generally a good sign that something supernatural is going on, if it's the genuine gift of tongues (the silver-tongued kind), rather than the ability to speak coherent gibberish while the language centres of your brain misfire in a pseudo-epileptic fit. Drinking poison and emerging unscathed is likewise miraculous, though this might explain this disproportionate amount of people who drink tap water unfiltered and emerge relatively hearty and free of toxicity problems. And of course, the laying on of hands would be a miracle I would think the world could use a lot more of.

But what do I know? I'm a cynic, who has a hard time in believing in miracles that can actually be tested, but can somehow believe in the Transubstantiation.

Are you reading your bible every day? If you are, leave a comment below, and I will add Daily Reading post links to the relevant day's posting.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Daily Biblical Digest: Taking Life by the Horns Edition

In an effort to come to a better understanding of where I fall as far as faith and morality goes, I'm rereading the Bible, this time in smaller chunks and with a greater eye to analysis of the text. I'm using the catholic liturgical calendar as my guide, as well as the system of reading distribution found in works such as the Liturgy of the Hours: A generic reading, then a psalm, then a gospel reading. You can follow along with the readings of the day at catholic.org, though really, the precise order in which these are read is not nearly as important as reading the whole thing.

The first reading today was Acts 12:24-13:5, which deal with the apostles Barnabas and Saul, who are on their way to Cyprus to preach the truth of god in the Synagogues. This is a curious act. I find no message in it, except perhaps to suggest that it is important to preach truth even where it is unpopular. I wonder, though, how far that missive extends. Surely, but the standards of our time, and certainly the standards of the Apostles' time, this would have been a massive social faux-pas. We have a word for people who preach at inopportune times - Westboro. Still, they became saints, and I'm stuck here going "Well, that was rude." I really am bad at this.

Searching for hope, I turn to the next reading, which is a section of Psalm 67, removed from context. It's general-purpose praise of God, which is oddly uplifting to say out-loud, but otherwise gives no real momentum to me. I've learned nothing from that particular experience except to say that my untrained attempts at Gregorian intonation are foolish and shouldn't be repeated.

At last we come to the Gospel reading. I'm excited. This is the meat and potatoes of the faith - to me, to be Christian is to follow Christ specifically rather than the God of Abraham in general.

From the first two lines, I'm immediately corrected, and that's a little creepy. Christ goes ahead and points out that anyone who believes in him believes not in him, but in the one who sent him. The rest of course is the usual, somewhat-preachy, somewhat-familial way he always has of pointing out that there's no road to heaven apart from him, but he's not condemning anyone, and he's not making any judgements.

It's odd, isn't it, that the day I pick up my bible to actually give a proper look at it, that this is the reading. This sort of thing right here, that makes Christ seem wise to a hopeless little leftist like me. "I have come not to judge the world, but to save the world", says the Lord. I think Christians, in general, should be more like that.

It just seems odd, the timing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sola Ora and the Fallacy of Faith

I prayed so hard I got a headache, and now
I need two aspirin.
I recently read a story about a couple who are on probation, after their child died in 2009. The child was sick with bacterial pneumonia, and they relied solely on their faith to heal him. As one might predict by the fact they're on probation, their unfortunate son passed away. The reason this is news four years later is that they have had another son, and he too, has died - again after they ignored medicine in general, and tried to pray away what I understand was a reasonably aggressive case of diarrhea. You can read the original story here.

I'm going to preface this by saying that faith obviously has a role to play in medicine. For one thing, in absence of any evidence it's actually effective, I unerringly take white tea for my frequent headaches, and almost unerringly, the tea actually helps. What's more, I've seen a study or two that supports the idea that remote prayer provides positive results even in double-blind situations, where neither the doctors, the people praying, nor the people being prayed for are entirely sure which patients are being prayed for specifically. So there's that.

Having said that, I've not read a single case of a prayer dismissing cancer. Or diarrhea, or pneumonia, for that matter, that wasn't spurious at best. Excepting the acts of healing in the bible, I suppose, but take from that what you will. When the white tea doesn't work, I reach for ibuprofen. When I have an aggressive persistent chest cough for two months that comes and goes, I ignore it - until I take a coughing fit so grand I feel the need to see a doctor.

And that's sort of the thing of it. It wasn't that the couple couldn't get to a doctor (well, this was the US, so now that I think about that, it might actually be true) - it was that they refused to get to a doctor. Believe it or not, that was actually a violation of the terms of their probation.

It reminds me of a story I heard once. The town was flooding, and a radio message told Joe to get out of dodge. Joe prayed for his safety, ate a meal, and settled down to enjoy the relative quiet of an extra day off. Joe wakes up waist-deap in water and he steps to the veranda and sees a friend going by on a rowboat. "Hey Joe, come on, let's get out of here." "I prayed and God told me that I would be fine," so off Joe's friend goes. But the water is rising, and Joe's on the roof of his house. "Hey you," the helicopter operator cries. "Climb in the basket and let's get the hell out of here." "I am a man of faith, and I prayed, and God would never forsake me."

Joe died. But he was a man of faith, so he's standing before the throne of Judgement, and God says to Joe "What are you doing here? I sent you a weatherman, your friend, and a rescue worker!"

The long and short of it is that God's miracles are often, in WOD terms, coincidental magic. It's more likely that I will manage to find just enough in my pantry to make stew than I will be provided with a random free meal.

Perhaps my faith is limited in that regard, but I see no reason why God would help people in such a flashy manner, when history suggests his style is far more subtle.

Christianity, Communism, and Fools

Shown: Opiate of Masses,
and a Rosary
"Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached in the place of these, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat." -Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

I should make it perfectly clear, at this stage, that I have never read The Communist Manifesto. It's not because I'm opposed to the idea, or because of any real hatred for Marx himself - it's because it doesn't capture my attention enough to get me past the Hipster Appearance Ick Factor. Mainstream mind I might not be, but I work hard to get lunked in with the mainstream of the counter-culture, if you can even call the current incarnation of the Hipsters that.

The reason I bring up this quote is that it was recently thrown at me by a firebrand of old-guard, Marxist communism - a well-known reactionary in NationStates General whom most people are too wise, too tired, or too haughty to engage with. Being a maniac, well rested, and abased, I felt it fit to address his broader point.

"All Abrahamics want is to blow s*** up."

Ignoring the root fact that I can't see the Pope calling for a crusade any time soon, and the Rabbinical Council seems silent on every issue of every kind, in fact, ignoring any broad-brush argument outright, I asked why he had such a hatred for religion in general and Abrahamic religions specifically, when Christianity, arguably the largest of the three main Abrahamic groups, is at minimum socialist in concept. His reply was to say nothing on his own, and simply give the above-laying quote.

I find fault with that, but since that's not really the issue, I'd rather find fault with Marx. He's right that "nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge". I do it all the time - in fact, the socialism of Christ is probably the only redeeming factor of the faith in a modern, secular world, so the best argument to anyone for Christian Morality is that it's inherently socialist in nature.

It's the end of the idea I find fault with, the idea that Christian Socialism is inherently hypocritical. First, let me start with the obvious - as applied at the time that Marx was alive, it basically was. Then, let me invalidate my entire point with a no-true-scotsman.

The reason Christian Socialism has never been seen to work is because it has never been properly implemented  We tithe, sure, because we feel we must. But a portion of that covers the costs of operating the parish, another sizable portion covers the cost of the diocese, and, presumably, another part of the portion covers the cost of the vatican at large. In protestant denominations, replace parish with church and diocese with the relevant governing body/professional association.

Very little of the funding makes a wraparound into actual charity. It's been my problem with the Vatican since the beginning, since way before I considered myself a Christian, indeed before I ever considered the possibility. It's a problem that I see hope in correcting with the arrival of our new and humble Pope Francis. To my view, the Franciscans always had the right idea when it came to the proper understanding of the phrase "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter Heaven".

At its root, Christianity was socialist. The idea that we should withdraw from the idea of owning anything, that we should be willing to sell the clothes off our back in order to buy food for the poor, that's about as Socialist as you can get.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hi, I'm Zachary Adam, and I'm an idiot. AMA.

I am throwing up this open thread for the next several days to answer reader questions and give opinions on pretty much any subject given. I can't see myself being inundated with questions so I imagine I will answer every single one.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Digesting the Boston Marathon

So, as you might expect, where I've spent  the better part of the afternoon tuned into WHDH Boston (local channel 7, general purpose NBC affiliate), I've spent the afternoon, the evening, and now an hour or two of the night thinking about, hearing about, reading about, and generally trying to cope with the idea that sporting events are fair game now. I still haven't cut that umbilical, and I probably won't until I collapse into sleep the way I usually do.

In that time, we've gone from eight bombs to three, twenty victims to a hundred, and I've heard every conspiracy from false-flag attacks (which someone asked the relevant governor about directly) to foreign participation.

As a correction, the bomb at the JFK Library turned out to be a completely unrelated mechanical fire.

What I can say, is that I am proud of humanity at this moment in time. I was proud to see absolutely everyone on screen at the time of the blast stop, turn, and run into the smoke to immediately help however I can. I've heard reports from on-the-scene journalists of encountering bloody people with a focused look, asking them if they needed help, and that person simply saying "I'm a doctor" as they carry on their way.

At this moment, when we know nothing, when we have nothing specific to fear, rather than fearing everything... I choose to have faith.

Live-ish Blog: Boston Marathon Explosions

Two explosions, with multiple (as many as 4) other explosive devices found.

If you live in Mass. State, go give blood, Right Now.

If you are trying to get in touch with family, text or tweet as voice lines are thoroughly locked up.

There was also an explosion in the new wing of the JFK Library that is believed to be related, but did not have any associated casualties. At this point the Governor and the Police Commissioner are urging everyone to remain home and return to their hotels, with flights from Logan Airport being grounded for the time being. The incident is ongoing.

Let's all hope and pray to whomever we choose that as many people as possible are going to come through this as healthy and happily as possible.

There is a number for finding people: 617-635-4500.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fishy Frown for Kermit Gosnell

Fahaka Puffer will KEEL you.
... And the CBC, CTV, MSNBC, and probably a few other news publishing and distribution services.

I had to find out about this by the proxy of Cam Wollner, and even then, it was an oblique reference that I only clicked because I have a "let's see what (insert political designation here) is mad about this week" reflex that moves faster than my brain does.

By the way, if you haven't checked out Cam's blog, you really should.

What am I mad about? I'll tell you what I'm mad about. I'm mad about abortion, and not your typical kind - The Atlantic has the details. Details which, by the way, are graphic, so if you're squeamish  a minor, or otherwise incapable of processing inputs other than sunshine and rainbows, don't click through the link.

Now, if anyone's seen me writing about anything, you usually see me hedging my bets on abortion - I can argue one side of the argument from morality, and the other side of the argument from legality, and in the middle I usually pull a truly fantastic stunt invoking the "spirit of centrism" while beating back demands to take a side with screams of "False Dichotomy, False Dichotomy!", all while standing atop my computing chair and beating back the angry mob on the other side of the screen using my tetsubo tea-pot.

I don't have a stance on abortion, beyond saying I am not nearly qualified or well-educated enough to make any sort of call on the matter. I have personal ethics regarding the practice, but like all personal ethical decisions, I have no real need to share them, nor indeed, any real authority to lobby for their application by everyone. Anyone who's known me in real life knows I'm about as far from a moral authority as you can get without simultaneously working in the porn industry and the drug trade all at once.

What I do have, however, is a stance on medical practice. It shouldn't really surprise you - American media has done everything they can to make it the "issue of our time" through its coverage, again and again, of the watered-down, half-baked excuse for a medical system the USA has and the changes that were made to it since my leaving high school.

I do, however, believe fairly strongly in the idea that doctors should have ethics. I believe those ethics should include a general purpose right to life and an obligation to take the best course of action for the safety and security of their patients. In that regard I suppose I support bans on late term abortion, where and when "late term" is listed as whatever time after which the fetus is actually viable as a separate entity from the mother - the figure I usually hear is 48 weeks. Ultimately, that whole argument hinges on the concept of person-hood, and being a person who considers his fish people, but some of his co-workers automatons at best and animals at worst, I'm definitely not the person you want deciding who gets to be people.

But now we're digressing.

So, Doctor Kermit Gosnell and the rest of his staff at his clinic in Pennsylvania gets a big, evil fishy frown for completely disregarding all those medical ethics like patient safety, not being racist, and generally just being good, decent folk who are trying to help people to help them, instead of getting more tinder for the fire  American Money to line their pockets.

Why am I yelling at all of my favourite news outlets? I already told you - I had to learn of this through Cam. I won't recount the full details of the story - The Atlantic deserves every hit possible just for being the first to break it - but suffice it to say, if it were my world?

Bad Bombin' for Doctor Gosnell.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Theory Thursdays: Managing Plants in the Freshwater Tank

Two weeks ago today, I put up a post about chemistry tests for fish tanks, and I kept mentioning various compounds as being useful for aquarium plants, and then habitually refused to say more about it, citing that I would explain plant chemistry in a bit more detail later.

Well, here I am! And I'm ready to talk about it all.

First of all, it's important to note that plants are like fish - there's no such thing as the "right water conditions" for plants in general - different plants like different water conditions. The best way to figure out what you need for your plants is to look them up in a database like that hosted at http://plantedtank.net. The easiest way to do that, of course, is to take the species name and look it up directly - if I'm doing my job properly I can usually get that done for you on your slip so that you can look them up when you get home.

For an example, let's consider a common plant, Amazon Sword, which you can see plenty of in the above photo. The species name is Echinodorus amazonicus, and when we look it up we find it is native to Brazil. We also find some very useful information, like the water temperature it likes, the speed at which it grows (and, therefore, the demand it places on your fertilization setup) the pH needed, the lighting, and so forth.

Well, what does all this mean? For starters, you're going to want to stick to plants that like the same pH and temperature range as each other and any fish you might happen to have in your tank (at the moment, I have some plants all by their lonesome in a little 5 gallon).

You'll also want to do a mixture of fast and slow-growing plants. Slow-growing plants provide cover and visual appeal, where fast-growing plants, usually grasses of some sort, are mostly useful as a form of nitrogen sink - they consume nitrates. The more fast-growing plants you have at your disposal, the better you can do in terms of controlling nitrates. This will never eliminate the need for frequent partial water changes, but the reduced "ambient" Nitrate levels will also help curtail algae growth.

In general, the best way to maintain a healthy chemistry level is to use a product like Nutrafin Plant Gro as directed - in heavily-planted setups, it may be necessary to deviate. You also don't need CO2 injection, no matter what anyone tells you, unless you either have a really low bioload or you are aggressively growing plants under very high lighting conditions - see the Dutch Tank concept.

As for lighting, the easiest way to determine how much you have is to divide the wattage of the bulb you are using by the number of gallons in the tank. My 55 gallon tank has 108 W of light over it, for about 2 L per gallon, which is medium illumination. At this light level, I can reasonably expect plant die-back in medium and low light plants to halt. Colour temperature and bandwidth are also important - ask at your local pet store for the right kind of bulb or seek out Hagen Life Glo, Power Glo, or Plant Glo elsewhere.

Of course, these rules almost all vary plant-for-plant, but if you read up on the individual plant species, you'll have far better luck for plant care than any rule of thumb I could give you would.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Halfway-in Thoughts on the Vegan Week Challenge.

So, we're roughly half-way into the Vegan Week Challenge, which I actually started on Saturday rather than Sunday, having gotten all excited for it.

So far, I haven't actually cooked much at home - scheduling conflicts made it impossible to hit a grocery store and restock until yesterday, but now that I have the groceries I need, I've already screwed up the challenge.

I did not pay sufficient attention while I was buying groceries, and the veggie burgers I bought (Yves') contain both milk and egg ingredients. I find myself oddly puzzled by that, and at the same time, perfectly understanding of why that happened at all - difficult to hold together any sort of patty without egg protein.

It was tasty, and even though I'm disqualified, I'm going to keep going with the challenge. I already bought the food and the patties will keep - there's more than enough of the rest of my food to finish out the rest of the week, eating vegan.

I don't feel any healthier than I did before, in spite of spending quite a bit of time crunching numbers and working out exactly what it was my body needed if I was going to stop eating meat, but it's also only been a few days.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

It's (almost!) Vegan Week Here at A&G

My carnivorous ethic has always been predicated on two things:
  • If the prime cuts are fair game, everything else has to be too;
  • If killing is fair game, you should be willing to do it yourself.
Recent events have shown me that I'm not so huge on my end of the bargain with the second one, and in honour of being called on it, I'm going to be vegan for a week. Sort of.

The rules:
  • Processed snack foods are fine as long as they are not overtly vegan-unfriendly (I'm looking at you, anything with gelatin!). In other words, during the trail week at least, I'm not going to be anal-retentive about finding the foods I can't eat, and focus on the more positive idea of the foods I can.
  • At least one meal per day must be fully vegan and home-made, to be shown on the blog.
  • I am not allowed to wuss out and start drinking the protein shake powder I've been lugging from apartment to apartment because it "doesn't taste like it has meat products".
  • At the end of one week, if I don't suffer any huge problems, I may revert to my carnivorous ways, but only for foods I have demonstrated a lack of remorse for - seafood.
  • If, at any point hereafter, people take me to Montanas, Churchill Street, or The Keg, all bets are off, and, finally-
  • If, at any point hereafter, I am given the opportunity to kill a cow, chicken, lamb, or so on, and I do so, I am absolved and may go back to being the happy little carnivore I am.
Because ethics shouldn't come with flexible joints, yo.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reflection on the Role of the Homemaker

My great-grandfather, whom I can expect to resemble.
Back in my day...

Wait a moment, I'm too young to go on this rant.

Once upon a time, mom stayed at home. That was the way it was - someone stayed home and it was mom. Mom ruled the roost, too - Lord help anyone who placed her household asunder. Washing, cooking, cleaning, and of course, child care, that was mom.

Now, that's Mr. and Mrs. Teacher and the housekeepers, baby sitters, day-cares, and after-school programs. Parental influence is minimized.

Now, see, both my parents worked. I'm not necessarily advocating that, but I want to make it clear that I don't have a problem with both parents working, so long as one parent is always home when the children are (at least until they're suitably responsible!). I didn't spend a lot of time with babysitters or carers. I did spend some time in after-school programs like the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, but that was because I wanted to, not because I had to, either because my parents decreed it, or didn't have a choice.

In families that can afford it, there's actually a certain amount of merit to one parent (whichever) to remain at home. It allows a greater standard of upkeep for the home and a greater standard of care for the children. Isn't that worth something?