Cap'n John's Blog

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More fish, a bigger tank, a brighter future

Long-time readers will know that I have a fish tank, and that I take the ownership of pets seriously, including fish. That said, according to "expert" fish enthusiasts, I still sometimes do things the wrong way.

This past weekend my daughter and I went to the pet store to get some more cat food, fish food, and aquarium filters. We came home with all of these, some plants, and half a dozen White Clouds.

Last time I attempted to add White Clouds to my tank was early last year, when we still had the last two Black Neons. I also added three Black Kuhli Loaches, and while two of the Loaches survived (the third died after hanging out on the water heater, burning himself, then succumbing to his wounds), not one of the White Clouds made it. One by one, over the following week they all went belly up. I blamed the Black Tetras for picking on them (I'd seen them harassing the Clouds) so I decided I wouldn't add any more fish until the Black Tetras were gone.

Just so you know, I didn't have two Tetras living on their own. Okay, I did, but they were the last survivors of a larger school, so when they finally went to that big fish tank in the sky I added another Kuhli Loach and a dozen Neon Tetras. All bar two of the Neons made it, but as I expected to lose a couple of them that was an acceptable loss. It helps that PetSmart offers a 14-day money back guarantee. Yes, even on dead fish.

So I had 10 Neons and 3 Kuhli Loaches living in a 10-gallon tank, and I was adding 6 White Clouds. To paraphrase Amity Island's Chief Brody, I was going to need a bigger tank.

At 24" wide, I knew my coffee table/aquarium stand was large enough (just) and sturdy enough to hold a 20-gallon tank, and searching PetSmart's website showed me they had two 20-gallon tanks on sale. One was on-sale at $50 but was just the tank with a hood & fluorescent light. The other was $80 more but was a "starter kit", so it came with a hood with LED lights (Ooh!), a filter, a heater, a net, a strip thermometer, etc.

Now I needed a new, larger filter as my current one is only rated for a 10-gallon tank, and it's so old that Poseidon only knows how it's still running, but the rest of the stuff I'd get in the "starter kit"? I have a net, and a strip thermometers costs about $2, and the larger the tank the more stable the temperature, so a new heater may not be necessary, but a hood with LED lights? Ooh! New tech! Shiny!

Because I take pet ownership reasonably seriously I researched LED lights for aquariums, and discovered that unless you really, really, really know what you're doing, the fish enthusiast community does not recommend LED lights with a planted tank, and I have plants in my tank. In fact I'd just added more plants to my already planted tank. Don't get me wrong, you can have LED lights with a planted tank, you just need to make sure they're outputting light in the correct PAR wavelength, or something. And cheap LED lights, the type you get in cheap "starter kits", apparently they don't output the right PAR wavelengths. But I know fluorescent lights work for planted tanks, so the cheaper tank seemed the way to go. I'd still have to buy a larger filter, but I was saving $30 vs the "starter kit", and $20-$30 is about what a 20-gallon filter would cost me, so it's not like I was spending more to get less. (Okay, I would be getting less, but I'd be spending less, and the stuff I wouldn't get for spending more I didn't really need anyway.)

Then I lucked out. While at PetSmart I discovered they had a sale where if you bought a tank & hood combo (which I was doing), you save 50% off a filter, so I was able to pick up a filter rated for a 30-gallon tank for $13, so I spent $20 less than the "starter kit" and not only got better equipment but it was better suited for my particular tank. Bargain! But it's a 30-gallon filter, right? Why didn't I get a 20-gallon filter? Because experience and research has shown me that a filter's rating cannot be trusted, and you're better off getting more filter than you think you need.

In my excitement at finally upgrading to a 20-gallon tank (this wasn't really on a whim; it's something I've wanted to do for a long time), it wasn't until I got home that I fully comprehended just what lay ahead of me. I needed to move 19 fish from one tank to another. And the tanks needed to switch places so I needed to drain the first tank before I could physically pick it up. And I needed to move the substrate from the first tank to the second and that couldn't really be done with the fish in either tank, so the fish needed to be transferred to a holding container, and they needed to spend as little time in there as possible because I needed to minimize the impact of the move on them, and that meant keeping their water change to a minimum so I couldn't just dump the water from the 10-gallon tank but even if I managed to retain all 10-gallons the fish would still be undergoing a 50% water change, and...transferring fish from one tank to another is not necessarily an easy thing to do.

It's not just moving the fish. I didn't want to start them off in a brand new ecosystem. I needed to keep the same filters and gravel/substrate, and as much of their old water as possible, in order to replicate as much as possible the living conditions of their old tank, but with the new plants and new filter there was still a chance the new tank would cycle and go through an ammonia spike then a nitrite spike, either of which can be deadly to fish.

The optimal way to move fish from one tank to another is to set up the second tank and have it running for a month or so to make sure it's cycled properly, then net the fish, bag them, acclimate them to the water in the new tank, and then finally set them free in their new home. I could't do that because the new tank had to take the place of the old tank.

I started by siphoning off 2 gallons of water into my first bucket, pulled the plants (and marvelled at just how long their root system had become; these were obviously not the plants I just bought but were established, older plants), dropped them in the bucket, then hooked my 10-gallon filter over the edge of that bucket, essentially creating a 2-gallon aquarium with conditions almost identical to the 10-gallon tank.

I scooped out the White Clouds and dumped them in the bucket, along with all bar the three swiftest, most agile Neons. After unsuccessfully chasing them around the tank then noticing how fast their gills were opening & closing, and realizing I was not minimizing their stress levels as intended, I left them alone until I'd siphoned off all bar an inch or so of water. Trapped in a small pool, surrounded by substrate, the little buggers were much easier to catch. At this stage the Loaches were easier to net too, although with their eel-like bodies they didn't remain trapped in one area like the Neons but were able to writhe their way around the almost-empty tank.

Using a new (clean) plastic Solo cup I scooped most of the substrate into another bucket then switched the two tanks over. Some of the nasty, brown water tagged along with the substrate, so in retrospect I should have used my hands. Although the substrate looked nasty, because I wanted to replicate the living conditions as much as possible between the two tanks I couldn't rinse off the substrate or the chlorine in the tap water would kill off the beneficial bacteria that live in the substrate, but I could certainly pour off that nasty, dirty water. I'd managed to save 9 gallons of mostly clean water, so I didn't need to keep the filthy stuff from the bottom of the tank.

With the substrate now mostly water free I added it back to the tank, poured in 2 gallons of the old water, replanted the plants, added the remaining water (except for the bucket with the fish in it), 2 gallons of conditioned tap water (carefully measured to ensure it was the same temperature as the tank water), then hooked up both the 10 and the 30-gallon filters. Remember what I said earlier? More filtration is not necessarily a bad thing. Finally I carefully lowered the bucket containing the fish into the now almost full aquarium and tipped it sideways, then tipped it a little more, and a little more, until it was almost completely upended and the fish had swum out into their new home, then I topped off the tank.

Although just a few inches larger (in each dimension), the 20-gallon tank is (obviously) twice as large as the 10-gallon. Almost immediately the schooling pattern of the Neons became apparent, and just like that I realized that as happy as I was with my new 20-gallon tank...I wanted to go bigger. Alas (or perhaps fortunately) there is literally not enough room for a larger tank.

If I were just starting out, knowing what I do now, I'd have started with a 20-gallon. It doesn't require any more maintenance than a 10-gallon tank, it looks a lot more impressive, and it provides a larger living space for your fish. "But Cap'n!" you say, "don't the pet stores keep Betta fish in tiny cups? How is a small tank cruel?"

To that I say, if you want to keep a pet, any pet, do your homework. Research the pet first so you know what kind of home it needs, and how to look after it. For fish, learn what it means to cycle a tank. Read up on ammonia and nitrate spikes. And if you have your eye on a particular species of fish, such as Bettas (aka Siamese fighting fish) learn as much as you can about them first, what's their native habitat like, etc., before you buy them.

This is not an expert's guide to owning fish because I'm not an expert. This entry is proof positive of that. If you want your own fish tank, or any pet for that matter, do your research.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Life ain't half bad

Aussies are kind of funny.

"How's it going, mate?"

"Yeah...not bad. Not too bad."

By which you really mean, things could be better, but they could be worse, too. So yeah, I'm alright.

Life ain't half bad. It sounds negative. It sounds nonsensical. But to an Aussie (and maybe the English), it means, Life is alright.

I never really wrote for you. It was always for me. My dad died. I wrote. I put my feelings down. There were a lot of posts that never got published, but that's because they weren't written for you, they were written for me. Writing was cathartic. I haven't been writing lately, because I haven't needed to, because my life isn't half bad.

I'm doing alright.

I've accepted that I am where I am, and things aren't going to change. We're not moving back to Australia. That was just a pipe dream. The wishful thinking of a boy who missed his home, who hadn't accepted that things change, that life goes on.

Going back home a few times helped. Seeing just how much things had changed since I'd been gone. It helped to see that. To make me fully accept just how much time has passed. Time I spent regretting coming here. Wishing I could go back.

But things change. Places change. People change. I changed, and my hometown changed.

Home wasn't home anymore.

That's because this is my home, here, where MY family is. Not the family that raised me, but the family that I'm raising.

I like my job now. For the first time in many, many years I'm enjoying what I'm doing. My supervisor is probably the toughest boss in my office, but I like her, and I like what I'm doing. I haven't taken anywhere near the sick days that I used to take, and it's not just because I've got a tough boss. I just don't wake up Mondays, or every other day for that matter, thinking, "Fuck. Gotta go to work. Fuck."

I will admit there are a few days where I'll think, "Man, I'd really rather stay home today." But where I would have called in sick, now I kick myself out of bed and force myself to get ready and go to work. I actually had Sick Hours left over last year. Most of what they gave me, in fact. That's a good thing.

I like my job. I like my life. I like where I'm at. And I've embraced my AZNness. Admittedly I'm only half-Asian (on my wife's side ;) but due to a combination of the way I was raised and my own personality and traits, I'm really only white on the outside. I'm not 100% Australian any more, and I'm not 100% American, either. If anything, I'm actually more Asian in a lot of what I do.

And thanks to the Fung Brothers, I've embraced my Asian-ness, which for someone living in the SGV is a pretty important step to being happy with your lot in life. This is my life, and I'm happy with it. I don't need to write anymore, because I'm happy with where I'm at, and where my life is going. I'm not living the Bobalife ;) but I am happy. Wherever you're at, I hope you're happy, too.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Sharing a laugh over a prank

Watching Punk'd and other "pranking" TV shows I wondered how we went from Candid Camera to Bam Margera and Punk'd. How did pranking evolve from fooling people to hurting people? Yes, sometimes Candid Camera made people think they'd messed up and gave them a scare, but it's far short from the lengths Punk'd goes to, where the objective seems to be to terrify the victim, reduce them to tears, or royally piss them off.

There are countless pranking channels on Youtube. Some are funny, while others are little more than the players hurting each other. And I'll admit, I laugh at both, because there is something funny (to me) about watching a guy run into a room, skid across the waxed linoleum floor, and run face first into a wall of plastic wrap. I'm sure if I were the guy lying flat on my back with a knot rising up on the back of my head where it bounced off the floor I'd not be quite so amused, but being the viewer, we're removed from the pain. Nut shots, however, are far too real. I'll laugh my arse off at Jackass, but when the guys take the inevitable nut shot it always makes me wince.

What happened to pranking where nobody got hurt, and folks could laugh it off?

It was my senior year at High School and I was in the Senior's Common Room getting ready for Math class. My friend Tim took his Math book out of his locker, sat it on the table behind him, then started chatting to another classmate. I walked past Tim, picked up his Math book, and walked to the other side of the Common Room. When Tim finished his conversation he locked his locker, turned around to get his Math book...and found an empty table. He knew he'd just taken his Math book out, and yet it wasn't there. Doubt set in. As he turned back around to unlock his locker I stepped up, set his Math book back down on the table, then moved away. Tim opened his locker and peered in; no Math book. He turned around, puzzled, and there it was, on the table behind him, right where he'd left it. Knowing he was being pranked he looked around and found the culprit with a stupid grin on his face. "I knew I'd taken it out!" he said, laughing.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

When you least expect it

It doesn't come from the drug dealers. You're minding your business; they're minding theirs. It's all good.

It's not the crazy guy talking to himself, or yelling and throwing punches at thin air. He's minding his own business, too. He's just a little loud, that's all.

It's not even the quiet ones who look the other way as they pass by. You think it might be them, but it never is.

It's when you least expect it.

It's the guy on the BMX bike who cuts off two cars as he veers across three lanes of traffic to make a beeline for your corner, where you stand waiting for the light to change.

It seems like he plans to ride up onto the sidewalk. What does he want to do? Does he want to go in front of you? Or behind you? You don't know and can't tell. If you move, it's a 50-50 chance you'll move into his path, so you stand your ground and let him make the decision.

It's not until he's riding up onto the sidewalk and is just a few feet away that you realize he's riding straight at you. You make a split-second decision and take a quick step back. He swerves but not away from you; he swerves toward you and almost hits you.

Was he playing "Chicken" and you both tried to dodge the same way?

Did he think you would jump out of the way a lot sooner than what you did?

Or was he deliberately trying to run into you? As he rode past he did lean toward you, as if he was trying to shoulder block you.

But he didn't hit you and you need to get to work so you don't give it any more thought. But as you start to cross the road, out of the corner of your eye you see him skidding his bike to a stop. Still, you don't think anything about it. Not consciously at least.

But just as the sound of beating wings behind your head many years ago caused you to drop to your knees and avoid the pecking beak of the swooping magpie, the sound of rapid footsteps alerts you so when you're hit from behind your body is somehow ready.

It's a hard hit - your back is still a little sore, even now - so you have to take a couple of quick steps forward to catch yourself, but you don't trip or stumble.

Fight, flight, or freeze? It's not a conscious decision.

Fight. You spin to face your attacker and of course it's the angry BMX rider. You take a step forward, your hands move up and your feet slide into position. It's been twenty years since you studied karate but the basics are still embedded deep within your muscle memory. You slide into kokutsu dachi (back stance) as easy as you slide into bed at night.

Flight. Not expecting this reaction, this response, BMX guy turns and runs towards the bike he dropped in the middle of the crosswalk.

Big dog chases little dog. Again, not a conscious decision. You run after BMX guy and as he stoops to grab his bike you act without thinking (again) and return his shove. He trips over his bike. He gets back to his feet and turns to glare at you. You slide back into kokutsu dachi. Feet apart, body balanced, hands up, relaxed, ready...waiting.

Freeze. He stops.

You're both about the same age. You've got a couple of inches on him while he outweighs you but not by much. It would probably be a fair fight if he wasn't carrying a weapon. Is he?

His hands go to his pockets.

You tell yourself that if he had a weapon he wouldn't have just hit you in the back. And if he does have a weapon, at this distance your best course of action right now is still Fight!

You slide forward a step, maintaining kokutsu dachi, and his hands come out, empty.

Flight. He takes a step back. He's intimidated. He doesn't want to fight you now. He's pissed off that you beat him at whatever game he was trying to play, but he doesn't want to fight you. You're not the victim he was expecting. You weren't supposed to react like this.

His hands return to his pockets. Does he have a weapon? Or does he want you to think he has one.

He attacked you from behind but he didn't knock you down. Then you stood up to him, and when he ran, you knocked him down. You humiliated him. So now he wants you to think he has a weapon. He wants to scare you to restore his ego.

You think all this without really thinking it, and so you also still think your best course of action right now is Fight!

Again you slide forward, and again his hands come out, still empty. No weapon, just like you thought. Like you hoped.

And then he makes a gun with his left hand. Like a kid on the playground. And he points his 'finger gun' at you, cocks his thumb, then 'shoots' you. When a little kid does this, it's funny. From this man, in this situation, it's a chilling sight. He wants to scare you. He wants to make you think he has a gun. But if he did he would have pulled it by now. He would have used it. He hasn't, so he doesn't have a gun. Does he?

Fight. You slide forward one more step.

Flight. He bends, grabs his bike, jumps on and takes off.
You were right. He didn't have a gun.

But...what if he did?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Snow play with the bunny

This weekend I took my daughter snowboarding at Mountain High Ski Resort with a few families from my son's Boy Scout Troop. I enrolled the bunny in an all-day beginner's snowboarding class (heh heh. Now she's a snow bunny ;) while I signed up for two beginners' skiing classes, one in the morning, and one in the early afternoon.

At the morning class the head instructor asked us if we'd been skiing before; the two young ladies standing next to me both said no, I said yes. So the ladies went with one instructor while I went with another. My "group" lesson was almost a private lesson until a teenager turned up late, and when he said he had skiing experience he was assigned to my "group". So there were two of us plus Alex the instructor, which is almost the same as a private lesson. By the end of that morning's lesson Alex had us working on hockey stops and parallel turns, which are basically hockey stops but where you don't actually stop, so not really "beginner stuff" any more.

The bunny's class included lunch so I didn't see her during the middle of the day. I had a break between the morning and afternoon's class, so I scarfed my lunch down then got a quick run where I worked on my hockey stops and parallel turns. I finished my run at the class meeting spot where the students and instructors had already gathered and yes, I pulled up with a hockey stop. When the instructor looked up at me, before he could even ask I announced, "Not my first time." As if my "showboat entrance" hadn't announced that already ;)

Once again I got bumped up to the "advanced beginners" class and when I saw Alex standing with the other instructors I waited for her to look our way, then waved and called out to her. She came over and we chatted briefly and I asked if she was going to be our instructor her again. She said she was working on it, and I think it helped that her Dad was one of the head instructors because she did get assigned to my group again. For me, that was good because she was able to continue my instructions from where we'd left off before lunch.

By now I was getting pretty cocky and my over-confidence resulted in a couple of spills. Although all four of us in the afternoon class would take a tumble, I was the first one of us to go down when my snow plow didn't plow enough snow and I wasn't able to stop in time. Fortunately the others managed to sidestep and leave me a gap to wipe out into and I literally fell down at their feet.

Alex laughed and made a comment about this being the true test of a skier's athleticism. I got one ski under me, stabbed my poles into the snow and heaved myself up. Alex laughed again and said that I'd defied the laws of physics by getting back up the "wrong way" while somehow making it look easy.

"You did say it was a test of my athleticism," I replied. "I had to rise to the challenge."

Near the bottom of the mountain we stopped next to where I knew the snow bunny's class was being held and...there was her red and black jacket! "There she is!" I exclaimed eagerly, like a proud father, "there's my daughter."

I watched as she took a turn on her snowboard. One of the intructors held her hand, holding her in place, then when it was her turn he gave her a gentle shove to get her going and...she was snowboarding!!! My snow bunny was riding her board! Just like a real snowboarder. She rode it down, down, down, all the way to the bottom of the children's run before running out of slope, stopping, then sitting down as casual as anything. Was I a proud Papa? You bet your arse I was! :D

When I finally finished my class I made my over to where I'd seen her earlier and there she was with her Instructor. When she comes back next time, he told me, she can go to Level 3.

From novice to Level 3 in one day. Definitely a proud Papa moment.

I asked her if she was done, or if she wanted to keep going.

"Keep going!" she exclaimed. I took her across to the chairlift which took us up to the easiest of the runs, and as we waited in line I instructed her on how to get on without falling over. And then up the mountain we rode, daddy and daughter, on the ski lift. It's a good thing Mama wasn't there to see us because there were no safety rails on this ski lift.

She avoided getting cleaned up by the chair when we got off, but she did take a spill down the exit ramp. But after strapping her rear boot back in (SOP for boarders is to unbuckle your rear boot while riding the chair lifts) we were off, down the mountain; the bunny in the front, me following keeping an eye on her. When she started to go too fast she bailed and sat down, and she did that a few times. I'd pull up next to her and wait as she stood back up, got her balance...and back down the mountain we went.

And then she didn't sit down as she built up a little too much speed, and she didn't fall over either. I watched incredulously as she spun her board 90-degrees, dumped some speed, then continued to spin the board, essentially doing a 180 with a brief pause in the middle, and when she was done she continued riding. As if it was nothing. As if she hadn't just learned to ride a snowboard that very day.

Proud Papa? Absolutely! That's my snow bunny!

Unfortunately I'm not sure how often we can get up to the snow. She obviously had fun, and she picked up snowboarding fast. So it would be something the two of us could have fun doing together. At least until she surpasses her old man and starts boarding down double black diamonds as if they're a walk in the park. Which would probably be on her third or fourth lesson ;)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Coffee politics

I'm not in charge of the Office Coffee Club any more, and haven't been for a couple of years. We don't have the K-cup machine any more now, either, we just have a drip pot.  If you're a frequent coffee drinker you can pay $10 per month and drink all the coffee you want. If you're an infrequent drinker you can pay $1 per cup. Either way it's a good deal.

Instead of joing the Office Coffee Club, the ladies in the next aisle over started their own coffee club. They brought in a drip pot of their own and set it up in an empty cubicle, and they all chip in and buy their own supplies.

And this morning they ran out of coffee. They're pretty fastidious about making their coffee (as any serious coffee drinker should be; can't fault them there) and they apparently needed one more scoop of ground coffee so the coffee-to-water ratio was correct. But they had no more coffee.

So they came to me - well, one of them did - to ask me if she could take a scoop of coffee from the Coffee Club's supplies.

The Coffee Club's supplies are not at my desk, they're in the breakroom. She could have just gone in there and taken a scoop, and at 6:30am nobody would have been the wiser. But no, she wanted someone to tell her it was okay to take a scoop. And because I'm in early, and because I'm probably forever going to be known as "the coffee guy", she came to me.

I don't manage the coffee club anymore, I told her, I'm just a member.

We just want one scoop, she repeated, showing me the scoop again.

I'm just a member, I repeated right back at her, I can't tell you it's okay. You'll need to ask Mandy; she manages the coffee club now.

In hindsight, I should have said, 'sure, just leave a dollar in the cup.' knowing she didn't want to pay; she wanted to take a scoop and if someone caught her she wanted to be able to say, "John said it was okay..."

Except I wouldn't tell her it was okay.

I'll ask someone else, she said, walking off.

Mandy will be in soon, I called after her. You should ask Mandy.

I'll ask someone else, she muttered.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Giving thanks

This Sunday at Church the Minister talked about not dwelling on the past; to give thanks for what we have received, but to live our lives in the present and look forward to the future.

Coincidentally - or not - my Mum was sitting beside me for the third Sunday in a row, and she was scheduled to fly back home that very evening.

There are days where the Minister seems to have written his sermon just for me and this was one of those days.

I took comfort from his words, and instead of being sad that Mum was leaving I gave thanks for the weeks that we'd had together.

Instead of dwelling on the past, on the years gone by and the thousands of miles that separate us, I look forward to when Mum will visit again.

I have been very bitter for many, many years over what I have wrongly thought of as my wife forcing me to leave my birth family and move here to the States. Wrongly, because it was my decision to leave. I could have stayed and let her go and never seen her again, instead I chose to leave my family so I could be with her. Foolishly, believing that we'd move back to Australia some day. Naively, not comprehending how difficult that choice would be to live with. But it was my choice. I made it, and I've lived with it.

But until now I've always lived in the past, dwelling on what may have been, instead of what is.

Life has been hard, there have been tears over the years.

But there has been joy, too.

It's time for me to stop living in the past,
to give thanks for the gifts I have received,
and look forward to the future and the gifts yet to come.

Today is a great day because it's one more day I get to spend with my wife, my children, my family.

Tomorrow will be even better.