Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adventures in Fish Keeping, Part Two

My last post was massive and I still have a lot more to say, so I decided to break this off into a different post.  I'm going to talk about plants and equipment probably this time.

Originally I had some plastic plants, which is fine and honestly (dear god) much much easier.  They were what I had inherited from Boyfriend's old supplies.  Then I went to petco (not the one that has sold me excellent fish but the one that sold me a half dead goldfish) and bought some plants.  I ended up buying two that weren't actually aquatic plants (bamboo and arrowroot), one ludwiga (aquatic primrose), and one piece of driftwood.  The bamboo is living very happily in a cup and the arrowroot is in the tank still but I'm keeping a very close eye on it for rot.  The driftwood is dead and thus was fine to begin with (I got a nice curved piece and dug out the gravel from under it and the corys love it).  The ludwiga has grown about 5" total I think since when I bought it over a month ago.

I've enjoyed having the plants, but I did more research and ended up getting an amazon sword (a giant one, easily 14" tall) so that the gourami (who like floating plants which I don't want to deal with) would have something to shade them from the light.  Shortly after I got the amazon sword I got two banana plants which are shorter, so I would have something to put in the front of the tank.  They are growing well and actually starting to put up lily pads.  I'm trying to decide if I want to prune them so they'll stay short or just allow them to grow up.

Eventually I would like to get a carpet/ground cover plant because the substrate (gravel) I inherited from Boyfriend was blue.  I could have switched it out at one point, but when I was buying more substrate for my new tank I was at the point where I need every bit of ammonia eating bacteria I could get, so I didn't want to get rid of the old gravel.  Thus I have a mixture of blue gravel and blue sand, which looks horribly unnatural compared to the rest of my tank, but it gives it character (or something)?

Many sites recommend a finer substrate than gravel for corys, because their barbels (feelers) are delicate, but I haven't had trouble with gravel actually.  Also, sand tends to get sucked up by a gravel siphon/vaccum and that's pretty much the last thing I want.

So, as far as equipment goes for a tank here's the list of what I have, what it does, and why I have it.

  • 20 Gallon High Aqueon Tank- This is obvious as to what it is and why I have it.  I honestly suggest starting with a 20 gallon tank minimum because then you can actually stock a reasonable amount of fish without over crowding.  The generally rule is the every inch of fish needs about a gallon of water.  That is a huge rule of thumb and people will debate you up and down forever about it.  The more fish you have, the more you're going to have to change you're water.  When change you're water, don't scoop out the fish, dump out all the water and then fill it back up.  That will ruin all of your careful cycling and stress the fish out.  Instead siphon out or scoop out 20-30% (50% at the most generally) of the water weekly or every other week.  Also scrub down your glass.  I really wish I had a 30 gallon tank for this group of fish now, but 20 works.
  • Aqueon Versa Glass Top- Many people recommend keeping a lid on a fish tank to keep fish from jumping out.  I don't actually know how common that is, but I have it just in case.  I actually also have a hood (which is not glass, just black plastic and probably the most common top that people would think of) but it let less light in, so I haven't been using it.
  • Aqueon Stock 24" Strip Light- Okay, this is my biggest deficiency.  When growing plants you really should have double the watts per gallon.  There are low light plants, but I don't actually have any.  I only have 17w watts total, so less than even 1w/g.  My plants are doing surprisingly well and I have been adding fertilizer and CO2 (topics for another day) which I believe is helping (or so it appears) rather than harming, which it is possible for it to do.  However, lights have been the most expensive part actually for me so far and that's just for the shitty one I have.  You see, it's not just a matter of replacing the light bulb I have.  I have the highest wattage bulb that they make in the style that my strip light accepts.  In order to get more wattage I would need to actually go out and buy a new strip light and most of the ones that I've looked at that would give me what I need require open top aquariums, which I'm not sure I'm comfortable with.
  • Aqua Clear 20 Filter- I originally had a 30 gallon Aqueon filter but it created way too strong a current, so I swapped it out for this.  I've been thrilled with it.  Filters have three different "media" mechanical, chemical, and biological.  Each takes care of a different part of the water parameters and each is important.  This one's nice because it has three very distinct, easy to see parts.  It is a Hang-on-back style filter (a favorite of freshwater fish keepers) and I love it.  Very quiet.
  • Tetra Whisper 20i- This is an in-tank filter meaning that the majority of it is contained inside the tank.    It takes up a lot of room, but it's quiet and creates very little current (which the gourami appreciate and the danio don't so the danio spend a lot of time in the stream of the aqua clear filter).  I ultimately am using it because I needed more filtration since I am slightly overstocked and when I bought my 40 and 55 gallon tanks it came with them, so why the hell not use it?
  • ViaAqua Heater- When I was keeping goldfish I didn't need a heater because they are coldwater fish.  Then I started keeping tropical fish and I got a set thermostat (non-adjustable) Aqueon one, which heated just fine but didn't keep the water temperature very consistent.  I actually just switched to this one yesterday. So far it tends to be keeping the water quite warm 80 degrees (I'm shooting for 74), so I've been gradually turning it down.
  • Rocket-fin Analog Thermometer- Basically you shove the fins into the substrate and they keep it from turning.  It's fairly nice, if I do get a reef tank, I'll get a digital thermometer.
As far as things outside the tank go I have:
  • API Master Test- An essential water testing kit that lets you know your water parameters.
  • Oxygen Test Kit- Not essential, but for awhile I was having trouble with the amount of oxygen in my water.
  • API Quick Start- Many people scoff, but I highly recommend it if you want to speed up a cycle.  I talk about it in my last post.
  • Seachem's Prime-  This is a water conditioner plus some.  It removes chlorine and chloramine from tap water.  It also detoxifies ammonia and binds nitrites, which means that even if you have a spike in ammonia or nitrites, it won't necessarily kill you fish.  Invest in this, it is well worth your time of any single item I have.
  • Tropical Fish Flakes- Mmm, yummy.
  • Freeze-Dried Bloodworms- To supplement the flakes, really not necessary.
  • Sinking Algae Rounds- I got these for the corys to make sure they were eating.
  • Gravel Siphon- I got this to clean the gravel, but it also works wonderfully to drain old water out of the tank.  Many people say you can go without and you can, but they're so convenient.
So the number on thing I learned about equipment is spend the extra money to get something you really want, because eventually you're going to upgrade and that's going to be expensive.  I don't mean go out and buy a 100 gallon tank, but don't buy the cheapest heater you can find necessarily unless it is well reviewed somewhere.  Spending the extra money upfront will save in the long run.

My male dwarf gourami, the camera doesn't do him justice really, nor does my lighting.

The golden long-finned danio, they are so quick they're hard to get a picture of, this is the best I could manage.  He's in front of one of my banana plants.  A much, much better picture. 

My female gourami.  She's actually almost as big as my male (who is big for a male), so she's huge.

My julii corydoras love the log and don't particularly like when people are right by the glass, so they're hiding.  Have a better picture.

My fish tank as a whole.  I'm rather pleased with the overall look of it actually.

This is one of my normal zebra danio.  As I've said, they're so fast.  A better internet picture.

Adventures in Fish Keeping, Part One

When I moved into our new apartment I had to leave my cat behind because Lana's allergies.  I missed her and Boyfriend had a spare, small aquarium, so I got some goldfish.   I figured, I had them as a kid, should be easy enough.  And boy was I wrong.

Initially I had two goldfish in what I thought was a 10 gallon tank.  It turns out I have no sense of volume when it comes to containers, because it was a three gallon tank, so ultimately for about a week I ended up keeping three goldfish in a three gallon tank, which is actually bordering on inhumane.  I went and got a 20 gallon tank and filled it up (including the old tank water), acclimated the fish, and put them in.  Within three days all three goldfish had died.  Within a week more the single goldfish I had gotten as a replacement had also died (although this time I am convinced it was of a disease he got from the pet store he came from).

So...I stopped and actually thought about what I was doing and did a lot of research.  It turns out fish keeping is hard.  A damn bit harder than keeping a dog or a cat I'd argue (and I've done both).  With dogs, cats, ferrets, rats, guinea pigs, you name it, you aren't creating the environment.  You aren't creating the correct air mixture that they need to breath.  With fish, that's exactly what you're doing.

It turns out, when you start a new tank, you need to give it time for it to go through the nitrogen cycle.  What that means is that you start with ammonia and slowly (1-3 weeks slowly) ammonia eating bacteria begins to form and it turns the ammonia into nitrite.  Well, nitrite is even more deadly to the fish than ammonia is, so you need to wait another 2-4 weeks for the nitrite eating bacteria to form, so it can break down the nitrite down into less harmful nitrate.  At that point you do a water change and your water parameters (as I learned they're called) are finally safe for fish.

Now, how do you get ammonia?  There are two ways.  The first way is you go out and buy a bunch of cheap fish, ones you don't care about at all, and then you let them produce waste (ammonia).  I inadvertently did this when I bought the goldfish.  What happened is in the three gallon tank I actually went through almost a full cycle (though I still had high ammonia because the tank was so small), but then I started a much much bigger tank and then the fish had to live through cycling the tank all over again and they just couldn't do it.  Cycling tanks with fish in them is much less common these days and it's not particularly humane.

Now, the second way to cycle a tank is buy ammonia from the hardware store, introduce about 4ppms worth and wait till the bacteria develop.  This is what I did after all my goldfish died.  It took about 4 weeks to finish it's cycle (remember I was already part way started) and eventually I did get impatient and bought a product called Quick Start.  What it did was essentially introduce ammonia eating bacteria immediately and surprisingly that actually finished cycling my tank within a day, I was really surprised.

So I introduced one dwarf gourami and two julii corydoras (catfish essentially).  I had done a lot of research at that point and loved the look of the gourami.  The person at my local petco suggested I get a small school of corydoras, so I started with them.  I bought two more corydoras from my local fish store (LFS), bringing my total up to four, almost immediately, because the petco I had bought the first one from had only had two total.  My ammonia spiked, but went down a few days later.

Now, only male dwarf gourami are normally sold in pet stores (including LSFs).  The reason for this is that the males are the ones with the flashy, gorgeous colors.  If you get a true dwarf gourami (Colisa lalia, not a honey gourami, etc which is slightly different) then the females are white (if you happen to get a pretty one) or a grey/silver color.  However, when I went to get my male gourami I was extremely surprised that a petco (not exactly known for being the best place to buy fish) had two female dwarf gourami in with the male.  I almost bought a female gourami at that point, but I wanted to let my water settle.  After about five days I decided that I had to get a female, because they are so rarely sold.

When I bought her, I was initially worried because the male bullied her, which I've read is common, so you frequently buy two females for each male.  I'll admit I was a bit surprised because my male gourami had been very social (even schooling to some extent) with my corys. I considered going back for the second female, but waited a day and suddenly the two fish were best of friends.

I waited another week and my water finally settled down completely.  I had done a lot of research and whenever I passed near a pet store (and with four jobs in four different cities this was quite often) I would stop in and look at the fish.  I decided that I wanted zebra danios.  They weren't the prettiest fish ever or the most exotic but they are active, playful, hardy fish which was pretty much what I was looking for.  Unfortunately they aren't known well for being paired with gourami, because they are particularly energetic and gourami are slower moving fish.  But I got a fairly lively, sociable pair, so I hoped for the best.

I went to the petco I bought the gourami from and picked up five zebra danio.  I originally had intended to get four regular zebra danio, but they had only had five and I felt really bad about leaving a single, very heavily school dependent fish alone at the store.  I then went to another petco I had visited earlier in the week, which had a very pretty color variant on the zebra danios: the golden long finned variant.  I got three initially (bringing my total to the eight that I had intended), but again there was a single lone danio left in the tank, so I bought the last one of the goldens and one more normal zebra, to bring my total to an even ten (I felt so strange having nine).

Then I introduced all ten to my tank at once, which I knew I shouldn't have done.  Generally you want to add 5-6 fish at most to a tank at a time so that the spike of ammonia won't be horrible.  But I had been impulsive, so I added the fish, treated the water both with Quick Start and with Prime (which detoxifies ammonia into ammonium) and hoped for the best.

That was two weeks ago and I haven't lost a fish yet (I actually got 10 danios ultimately expecting to lose one or two, because that is quite common, even when you do everything right).  Initially I saw a huge spike in ammonia and I was changing my water every day, but it mellowed out for a week.  The last two days I've actually had an obscene ammonia spike and an algae outbreak, and I'm not sure why, so I did a 50% water change, cleaned the tank very thoroughly, and introduced another filter (rated for 20 gallons (Tetra 20i in-tank filter)) in addition to my Aqua Clear 20.  The water looks great now actually and the fish are much livelier, so it seems to have helped.

Probably I will end up talking about fish keeping a bit more, so hopefully it's not that boring for you.  I've actually learned a ton and it's very rewarding as a hobby.  I would love to start a forty or fifty-five gallon reef tank and have both the aforementioned tanks, but I'm saving up to buy supplies, plus an apartment only has so much space.  This time I'm doing a ton of research before I just throw fish in, because a reef tank is very, very different then a freshwater tank, not to mention more expensive in general.

Friday, October 26, 2012


I have been working at Starbucks for barely more than a month now.  It's hard work but I really enjoy it.  Certainly it keeps my mind busy and working all the time.

It's a really interesting environment, particularly since I'm working in the Seattle area, where Starbucks first got it's start.  What I didn't realize about Starbucks is how full and part time work goes.  If you are barista you are working what most jobs would call part time hours (generally somewhere from 20-30 hours a week).  However, you do get benefits and basically you are considered full time.  A part time employee would basically be someone who worked under 20 hours a week.  This is literally true, but it seems in practice that's how it works out.  Then above the barista there are shift supervisors, assistant store managers, and store managers.

The really fun thing is that even the store manager will work the floor with you when it's busy.  There are three "positions" on the floor: bar, ringing (cash register), and floating.  On bar you make the drinks, simple enough in theory.  In my opinion it takes the longest to learn because you are creating an entirely new skill set at first.  You need how to steam milk, pull shots, pump syrups, the correct order for all of the above, you do teas, ice drinks, frappucinos, and (the worst) smoothies.  On top of all that you need to know all the drink recipes (including strange exceptions), the order that you make a drink in, you have to juggle preparing two drinks at once, and you need to hand out those drinks to the customers and always have a smile on your face.  It's our policy that if we get a drink wrong then we will remake it, immediately.  It's nice because you can always say: How many pumps of syrup go in this strange specialty drink and you'll get an answer and a smile from the other partners (which is what they have us call our coworkers).

Ringing in my opinion is the easiest by far.  Once you learn the menus then you can fly through them.  The only difficulty is writing both the cup and putting it into the system, but as long as you can recall what you just wrote then you're fine.  I'm particularly good at ringing, so I end up on register a lot, which is fine, I don't mind.  The longest thing it took me to learn there was all the abbreviations for drinks, because there are many many many.

Floating is where they started me and I understand why.  It seemed remarkably simple to me at first, but there is a nuance to it that is why most shift supervisors float, versus ringing or bar.  When you're floating you are putting food in the oven, pouring drip coffees, restocking, helping prepare the bar person's milks (if they're swamped), and double ringing.  There's a lot to do and prioritizing is key, but unlike on bar, there is no exactly set order that you're supposed to prioritize, which is where it gets tricky.

I love my partners on the job, because they are exactly that.  You know that if you leave a mess from food items when you're floating then the next person who is floating is going to have to clean it up, and that's not fair to them.  We switch positions on the floor constantly.  I have been on register for four hours straight, but I have also floated for half an hour, been on bar for a fifteen minutes, and then on register for fifteen minutes. Where your shift supervisor assigns you all depends on what type of crowd there is.  And since you could be going to any position at any time it really pays to keep a clean work area.  I was about to leave today and had been working bar so when my replacement showed up I knew she needed four gallons of milk to stock her fridge, so I still offered to do that for her before I left.

I am having a lot of fun, but all of the hard work has made me seriously look at the distribution of wealth in America.  I'm not saying doctors and engineers and etc shouldn't make a lot of money because of their skillset.  However, I know how hard I work and I know how much I make and the difference seems hugely unfair.  I suddenly understand what it means to be working class.  It means you work your ass off and you still won't have very much money in the end.  It makes me understand why some people want to climb corporate ladders to have money.  I don't think I could ever bring myself to do that though.  Where I am means I get to see people's days just get that little much better and it makes me happier.  Yes, it's only coffee, but these days there's almost no such thing as only coffee.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Updatey Thing

Okay, I've been meaning to write this post forever, but considering I'm falling asleep as I write it, that sorta just proves how busy I've been.

After my summer show I took three weeks off and it was glorious and I moved into a new apartment which is still fantastic even two months in.  What happened shortly after my last post was that I started three new jobs.  I  was already officiating high school volleyball, so for two weeks I was working four different jobs.

I am now working at Starbucks as a barista, which is really fun actually.  I'll have to write a post of it at another point when I'm not about to pass out.  It's a ton of work, in general I'm learning how much work the average person (retail, customer service, etc) has to do just to barely make a living.  It's incredibly unfair, but that's for another post.

I also am working a show in Seattle (until February uggh) at the moment.  It's probably my least favorite job I've done so far in the professional theatre world.  The kids are just about the cutest thing ever, particularly our solitary five year old (the age range is technically 5-11, but most of the kids are eight or nine).  I love them, but the main office is horribly, horribly disorganized.  The number of miscommunications is fairly astonishing.  However, the most frustrating part is the parents, who I am required to treat as if the shit rainbows and burp sunshine, even though they are abrasive and sometimes even hostile.  Again, this is certainly another post in the making, but that's what's going on in the meantime.

The third job requires yet another post to completely elaborate on my discoveries about theatre from that post.  It was back at the theatre I worked at most of last year.  It's my favorite theatre to work with so far.  That show was just two weeks long, it was a fundraiser cabaret show and I got to work with a bunch of kids I love.

So yeah, I was working about 80 hours a week for those two weeks and it has left me horribly tired.  I feel like I'm still trying to catch up on sleep and be less exhausted.  The worst part is that I'm still not making that much money despite all of my hard work.  Oh well.

Oh, also my stomach has been acting up.  I've been pretty much chronically nauseous, and it doesn't seem to activate with either gluten or lactose, so I think I need to go to the doctor for that.