Archive for the 'aquarium' Category

On camping, and the removal of filth from an aquarium.

February 25, 2008

A landmark weekend at the Maison du Hobnottle: we’ve begun acquiring our camping stuff. Annual bonuses finally landed at work, and gearing up for family camping trips has been near the top of the to-do list for a little while now. So far we’ve acquired two (2) 6-8 man tents, dual-fuel stove and lantern, sleeping bags for those who didn’t already have them, a small folding table for the stove and a few other odds and ends. The next phase will be cooking supplies and tools (hatchet, shovel, etc). There’s a Cub-and-family camping weekend in April at the local scouting reservation, and we aim to be there with bells on. Directly after that in May, we’re going to do a family trip to one of the local parks because my parents want to set up in the adjoining site, pop open beer and watch the proceedings.

We went camping frequently when I was a kid, and I can still remember trips to Yellowstone NP, Devil’s Tower, the Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula and all the trips into north Georgia (Cooper’s Creek chief among them, and only because we got rained out there twice). They were all Extremely Good Times. It’s been entirely too long.

I was sort of wishy-washy on making trips while the least of the Hobnottle children are still so small, but others in our little homeschooling circle are doing it, so what the hell. After the initial investment in gear, you’re pretty much set for long weekend trips whenever the weather permits for the cost of fresh food and the usage fees. It’s a bargain however you look at it, and our area has no shortage of state and national parks within a half-day’s drive. Throw in the built-in flexibility of homeschooling (which will let us get a good spot on Wednesday nights, before all the weekend suckers start rolling in), and it’s win for everyone involved.

Furthermore, having the stuff means that the fetching Mrs. Hobnottle and I can hit the road, drop off the kids with Gramma and head for the hills. That’s a blog for another time, probably after Buttercup is weaned and/or going through the night without a feeding.

For the record, we bought all of it at the local Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World-A-Rama. We looked at prices online, and even without shipping, their prices were lower. Plus I didn’t want to have to futz around with shipping back a busted stove or something. The local Dick’s has a pretty limited selection of gear, and the closest REI is in Atlanta.There’s a Coleman factory outlet store in Commerce, Georgia as well. Maybe next time we’re visiting, we can hit a few places. I have to return to ATL on business sometime in the next few weeks, so the planets might be aligning nicely. We also happen to be low on Two Buck Chuck. Isn’t it nice when things work out?

Otherwise, this weekend has only had two other items of note. First, we’ve suddenly become tragically addicted to Firefly, just having finished the first few episodes on DVD.  If you’re familiar with the show and its fate, you’ll understand why I qualified it so. We eagerly await the rest of the shows and the additional movie. Yes, I realize I’m a little behind on this. We’re only just now getting around to Battlestar Galactica, too. This is what happens when you ditch cable.

Second, I hacked up a quick gravel vacuum for some impromptu aquarium maintenance and figured I’d share it.

Take one plastic water bottle, drink the water, then cut a hole in the cap just large enough to snugly fit a length of 3/8″ ID plastic tubing. Cut out the bottom of the bottle, and presto, you have an el cheapo tool for sucking huge clouds of fish poop from out of your gravel substrate. I had the tubing laying around already – I use it to siphon out the tank when I’m doing water changes. I wasn’t about to go buy a dedicated vacuum, so I took the Dremel to the bottle cap and was happily cleaning things out just a short time later. Enjoy!

Picture by UpNorth Memories.


And then there was one.

February 11, 2008


The water heater started leaking over the weekend. Thankfully, it’s in the garage so all we’ve got is a trickling little stream that leads to the outside. I’d been eyeballing it for some time as the next likely failure, so at least I have the satisfaction of having been correct. Huzzah for me. It hasn’t bottomed out or anything (yet), so we still have hot water. The plumber will be out tomorrow with a replacement.

We seem to be in an interesting statistical cluster of failures. Two weeks ago, the dishwasher croaked. That particular repair ended up ruining a large section of the kitchen floor, thanks to a leak that went undetected for several days. The installer will be taking care of that, though.

All eyes are on the furnace/AC unit now. Unlike our last house, the HVAC units are combined into one giant moose of a machine that sits outside the house…brooding, and biding its time. We had a scare last summer when the AC crapped out. It was easily repaired, but I had them quote a replacement system, which they were all too happy to do. Yikes. We’ll should probably go ahead and start saving for it now.

On the lighter side, our flu victims seem to be coming out of the worst of it. I’m back to 100%; E and most of the kids seem to be doing better. Finished up Pillars of the Earth, and loved it. My father is working through the sequel, and I imagine I’ll be able to snake it away from him once he’s finished. As for our movies: The Simpsons got a resounding “meh” from the both of us. We’re also in agreement that Order of the Phoenix was pretty well done, but probably confusing if you hadn’t read the book(s).

Lastly, our tank has grown by a pair of Otocinclus cats, who I hope will make short work of our algae. They’re curious little guys, and spend most of their time stuck to something. Then they wake up and spaz out on whatever is nearby. Then, catatonic again. Such is life.

Out of the cave

January 28, 2008

The caving trip was a lot of fun, though I picked up quite a few things that should serve us well next year, namely: bring an air mattress or two. The new foam pads were OK, but not great. I shudder to think of how bad it could have been without them. We camped out on the cave floor, along one side of a long gallery. Noise, comfort and lightwise, it was comparable to sleeping in a parking garage. We did two tours – a walking tour which is offered to everyone who shows up during their normal operating hours, and a second spelunking-type tour that had the adults squeezing through some very narrow passages on our stomachs. The kids, of course, zipped right through. The dads (and a few moms)…not so much. It was slow going in some parts, and especially insane when the line got backed up exactly as I got into some weird position for negotiating a tight turn. But it was a lot of fun, and everyone had a great time. I took some pictures, and really, really promise to post them soon. I get lazy about pictures because we use Picasa to manage them locally, but host them on Flickr. As Picasa and Flickr are locked in mortal combat, there isn’t an easy way to upload pictures. There is a nifty plugin, but it’s not working for the most recent version of Picasa. Yet. Or maybe I’ll just move them all to a Google web album instead. Meh.

Anyway, it got me (temporarily) interested in caving. The bits about packing out waste (all waste) turned me off a little. Garbage is one thing. Schlepping around a freezer bag full of, uh, poop is something else entirely. Maybe some other time. Next stop: the pinewood derby.

Our tank has finished cycling, with both nitrite and ammonia levels at 0. Huzzah! I’ll probably start adding back fish to replace the ones we lost during the process, and the plants are already needing to be pruned down a little.

Tulip had a nice little party the other night, with cupcakes, ice cream and some new books to read. Everyone else (including your scribe) is battling some annoying little chest-tickling cough. The weather has warmed up here for a little while, giving us all a brief taste of spring. As I wrote the other day, it really can’t come fast enough for us.


January 25, 2008

…will continue to be light.

I’m taking off early today to accompany our oldest son and the rest of his cub scout pack on an overnight cave trip, which should be a whole lotta fun. I’m not exactly relishing the idea of sleeping on the cave floor, but it’s only for one night, and we’ve got some new foam pads. We’ll rejoin the rest of the family to celebrate Tulip’s birthday on Saturday, so there’s plenty going on.

We lost two more neons and the nitrite levels were still really, really high. I did a 25% water change and as of last night, the level seem to be dropping. The ammonia has disappeared, so I’m expecting the nitrite to follow up here shortly. Our other little pets (technically, a happy little colony of yest) seem to be doing pretty well – the airlock is bubbling every 8-10 seconds or so right now.

Why mead? I’m not really sure why, except that I’ve bought it a few times and liked it well enough, and you can’t deny the whole Beowulf vibe. Next stop, the mere.

That about sums it up. The friends we hosted last weekend passed through again last night before starting their return trip home today, so we had another table (their 6 + our 6)  full of kids at dinner. A good time was had by all, if the noise was any indication.

Now if only it would start warming up a little. I’m ready for the ground to thaw out a little, and we have all of our plant and seed catalogs at the ready. They’re stacked up, dog-eared and circled, just waiting.

Homebrewing, fossils and whatnot.

January 22, 2008

Last night I started a batch of mead. I didn’t take pictures because, frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot to see. One pot of steaming honey/water mixture (the must), a few odds and ends disinfecting in the sink and, finally, a sealed bucket with a little water airlock thingie on top. Now we wait. The recipe I’m following says to allow up to two weeks for the first fermentation stage, then the mead is siphoned off to a secondary vessel for about a month of aging/settling. After that, it’s bottled and let to sit for upwards of a year. My plan is to have this stuff ready, more or less, for this coming winter. Here’s hoping I haven’t created 5 gallons of honey-flavored vinegar. Once I’ve moved the stuff to the secondary (which is glass), I’ll take a picture. We’ll actually be able to see the stuff then. I was originally intending to try beer next, but the local homebrew shop has some nifty wine kits that look pretty idiot proof. Further reports as events warrant.

Tank is doing well…we think. The nitrites are still high, but the ammonia seems to have come down so I think we’re nearly done with the cycle. We’re down to one lone surviving glass shrimp, but the wood shrimp seems to be pretty happy. Fish are perky; plants are green.

Our guests have come and gone and I feel pretty safe in saying that a good time was had by all. They have six children as well, so for a glorious 48 hours or so there were twelve kids running around and 4 adults doing their best to stay out of the way. I took some of the older ones fossil hunting on Sunday afternoon, and we had a pretty good time pawing through piles of rock looking for crinoids and brachiopods.

The tiramisu was stellar, by the way. Easily surpassing anything we’ve had in a restaurant. The November issue of Cook’s Illustrated has it, but registration is required to see it at their website.

Otherwise things are going well. This will be a curtailed week on both ends, thanks to MLK on Monday and the cave trip this Friday.

The Dawning of the Age of Aquarium

January 18, 2008

Warning: aquarium nerdspeak ahead. 

I happen to glance to the right and notice that today’s saint is St. Ammonius. How apropos.

It’s been probably 20 years or more since I regularly kept an aquarium, and while I thought it would just all come back to me, I seem to have forgotten that it can take weeks rather than days to properly cycle a tank. Luckily, I discovered this through research rather than the discovery of dead fish. We sort of jumped the gun on fish load, and I ended up using Bio-Spira to get things established quickly. I put it in last night, so I’d expect to see our ammonia and nitrite levels drop in the next day or so.


Anyway, this stuff is a little on the pricey side ($12 for a 1 oz. package which will treat a 30 gallon tank), but weighed against the cost of the fish and/or the 4-6 weeks you need to wait  before fully loading a tank, it’s not so bad. Look for it in the refrigerated section of your local fish store. Along with the Bio-Spira, I threw in a half-dozen ghost shrimp. As of this morning, they seemed to be right at home, though I can only account for four of them at the moment. None of our fish are large enough to have eaten them, so they’re either hiding in the thickly planted area or our shrimps is dead and gone.

So, once things get established and you’re in maintenance mode, then what? Why, you begin planning the next tank! (note to E: I kid! I kid!) . One thing we may try a little later this summer is a simple brine shrimp hatchery, just for grins. And, well, for the live food too. I still haven’t completely let go of a freshwater sump, either. In any case, spring will be here and my attentions will be directed to the yard again, so I need to get my indoor ya-yas out while I can.

nerdspeak complete.

We have some guests staying with us over the weekend – some friends from Atlanta are passing through the area and will hole up with us for a couple of days. It ought to be great fun, and everyone is quite excited. Everything else is going well: we’re healthy, the roof’s not leaking and the bills are paid.

Bluebell is looking forward to having company and spent a few evenings learning to crochet. She wants mommy to knit her many things, but mommy has projects stacked up for awhile and Bluebell was getting impatient. Crochet materials came with a crafter’s kit that she received for Christmas.

Pancho is getting ready for an overnight caving trip with the cub scouts. We’ll be taking off next weekend for this. I don’t know how much of Journey to the Center of the Earth he remembers – we’ll have to see.

Daisy is doing very well with some things that she’s been working on. Friends and family will know what we’re talking about.

Tulip is having a birthday part of sorts next weekend after we get back from the cave.

Lefty is making great progress with words, and Buttercup is thinking about crawling. Which is a shame, since that will mean the end of the Golden Period – the time that you can plop an infant down on a blanket and she will stay there.

Foodie plans for the weekend: E. is making tiramisu as a belated birthday cake for yours truly. I think we’re using the recipe from a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and will report back afterwards.

Many have entered The Tank…

January 15, 2008

…and most have lived.

We lost one neon (within hours of introduction) and flushed a danio last night. Everyone else looks hale and colorful. Neons are wee, highly-strung little fish so I wasn’t too surprised to see one go fins-up. The danio had been a bit of an outcast for awhile. Anyway, enough about that. Our pH, nitrite and ammonia levels are still well below nasty. A few dwarf corys and we’ll be done with the fish population. We added a pair of dwarf flame gouramis who spend most of their time hanging around, trying to decided who is The Big Fish.

We’ve got our eyes on some ghost shrimp, and one local store has a bamboo shrimp that I just think is as cool as can be. Even though they don’t add much to the bioload, I want the tank to mature a bit longer before we add them. The ghosties need some detritus in the gravel to eat, and the bamboo shrimp will be filtering tasty treats directly from the water via some nifty fans on its front legs. The plants are all looking pretty good, too – new growth on the ludwigia and anubia, so the light levels are probably just right.

This past weekend, I also paid a visit to the local homebrew shop and came away with a basic kit for wine: two fermentation vessels (one of which is a glass carboy), some scrubbing brushes, racking cane, air lock, tubing and a hygrometer hydrometer. If I add a second carboy, I could make beer, but all in good time. All I need for mead is water, honey and time.

Tank. The Love of the Word. Lewis’ OHEL. Montaigne on Custom.

January 10, 2008

The first residents of our new tank have moved in: five zebra danios which will kick off the first round of tank cycling. On deck: a small shoal of neon tetras, a pair each of dwarf flame gouramis and dwarf coryadoras. Once the tank matures a little, we’ll add a handful of ghost shrimp. We affixed a piece of black posterboard behind the tank to serve as a backdrop and hide the wires and tubes. It finished things off quite nicely (in the picture above, the lights in the room are off to cut down on reflections).

On an unrelated note, here’s a short post (with some open-ended questions) by Prof. Anthony Esolen, a teacher at Providence College and frequent contributor to Touchstone. I can’t recommend his translation of Dante highly enough, and his two other works, translations of Lucretius and Tasso, have perennial spots on my Amazon wish list. As for his questions, I confess I am no closer to answers than he is, though I suspect that the first step is to kill off the television at home, buy a ton of (good) books and set an example by actually starting to read them.

We have a TV, but it’s upstairs in a guest room and used exclusively for movies. It’s not connected to a cable or satellite box. The aquarium is in the logical location for a TV in our living room. It’s bow-front design actually recalls a TV screen, and at least one of the children has already pointed it out. I’ll take the fish any day.

Familywise, everyone seems to have gotten over their respective holiday colds and stubborn coughs, so we’re in the clear. Or at least for now. We should probably post one of those workplace injury signs in the kitchen. 10 Sneeze/Hack-Free Days, or somesuch.

I’m still working through Lewis’ OHEL, and finding some parts of it pretty easy and others somewhat difficult. In particular, his references to the works under discussion – many of them are unfamiliar to me, and I suspect that only a very well-stocked library would afford the opportunities to find them. Still, it’s a joy to read and I’ll probably come back to it frequently if continue to loiter in the 16th century. His discussion of (St.) Thomas More was particularly interesting – I’ve only just read Utopia recently, and it’s probably just as well that this was the only book of his to make the list from which I’m working. Apparently the rest of his stuff is…well, not so good. Or worse, almost great but not quite as compared to, say, Montaigne.

He seems to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of custom, who first invented the story of a countrywoman who, having accustomed herself to play with and carry, a young calf in her arms, and daily continuing to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that, when grown to be a great ox, she was still able to bear it. For, in truth, custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by little and little, slily and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes.

– Montaigne, Essay 1, Of Custom, and that we should not easily change a law received

But really, who wants to go toe-to-toe with Montaigne?