Lost in the details? Or obsessed with the mission?


I think I might be like a lot of fish geeks…I tend to dwell on really obscure minutiae. In fact, I'm kind of certain about that, based on my obsessive love for rather unusual aquatic environmental niches. I'm not sure what it is about some of these habitats that I find so compelling. Perhaps it's because no one really made the effort to do much with them, and many hobbyists were actually a bit frightened by them. In the case of blackwater, it was like, "Yeah, throw some leaves in there, the water turns brown and dirty-looking. Maybe the pH drops. It's full of unknowns and the potential for disaster..."

It was love at first sight. Sign me up! I knew that just because "everyone" said it was a bit "challenging" or "full of unknowns", that there might be a lot more to it. I mean, why were some of the most fish-rich habitats on earth comprised of blackwater? Why was everyone convinced that blackwater aquariums were a recipe for disaster? I had to play with this for myself; to research it, to act on it. Hell, I decided to build a company based on this! It was different. It was unpopular. It was unfamiliar. Perfect! It might be part of my "makeup" as a fish geek- not really sure. Maybe it's a common thing with fish geeks?

On the other hand, it's not part of my overall personality...I don't think.

I recall back in college, I was fortunate enough to land an internship in one of the hottest advertising agencies in Los Angeles- or the world, for that matter, at the time. It was so cool! As an intern, I spent time in a few different departments, even though I was “hired” for my alleged copywriting skills.

One of the departments I was relegated to was called the “Traffic” department (yeah, even the name sounded boring..), where all of the media buying, scheduling of work, and seemingly mundane (to a wannabe young copywriter, anyways) and intricately-detailed stuff was done. Translation- “boring” stuff. I remember “serving my time" in that department (yeah, that’s what my fellow interns and I called it) under a pretty crochety old advertising exec, who sort of loved and hated me at once. She’d dispense the occasional nugget of "ad-biz wisdom", followed by a verbal “bitch slap” for failing to follow her byzantine record-keeping system. Once of the best pieces of advice she ever gave me was, “Don’t ever work in this department..you tend to get lost in the details…"

I never forgot that, BTW. And it was a true summation of me as an aquarist, too! Now, "lost in the detials" can be a good and a bad thing. I think in her assessment, this was NOT a good thing! However, when you're a fish geek, operating in the obscure niches of the aquarium world, getting lost in the minutae- even obsessed with it- is really important! And perhaps beneficial, even! Who would have known? Although at the heart of it all, I'm a very simple guy who abhors needlessly complicated stuff...

Yet, I tend to fall into that wonderful hobby tradition of not only obsessing about obscure and mostly arcane stuff, I tend to take the easy stuff and make it more complicated sometimes. And I think this is a pretty common thing among fish geeks, really. It's like this "mission" that I challenge myself to take on and complete. My hobby history is filled with examples of this. The most recent was the 50-gallon aquarium set up in my office.  For a lot of reasons, I opted for the relative simplicity of an "all-in-one" system for this tank, something in the past I simply abhorred ('cause real aquarists hate stuff being done FOR them, right? Yeah.). Yet, this aquarium is a great, open-top “AIO” system. Simple. Beautiful. Easy. 

Of course, literally right out of the box, my strange compulsion with second-guessing the designers and looking for incremental improvements kicked in! Not wanting to keep it totally “stock”, and possessing the ridiculous reefer “pedigree” that I do, I decided to change out the (shitty) stock main system pump on this all-in-one tank for a sexy, high-tech DC pump..Yeah, when you have insane "DIY-expert" reefer friends in your “inner circle” prodding you, you’re simply enabled to tweak stuff…It's like, expected.

And naturally, the connections on the tank return were completely different than those on the outlet to this pump, and I don’t want to start drilling out bulkheads and such, so I needed to get some more plumbing parts to adapt this "square peg into a round hole…" So a mere $40.00 later, there we were- a monument to aquarium absurdity! And of course..after all of that maneuvering, it wasn’t a "perfect" fit, and I noticed that the pump didn't fit well into the rear compartment, and the little rubber feet on the DC pump transmitted a little noise, so I had to line the bottom of the “sump” with some mousepad material…Another step in the process. Another layer of complication brought about by...the desire to "improve" stuff...

And the damn thing still made too much noise. The pump kicked ass, but gave me a headache in the process with that constant "hum" that every hobbyist knows is the sign of an ill-fitting pump...Something else had to give.

The best part? I ended up ultimately ditching the “sexy” pump for a tried and true Ehiem hobby pump, which is whisper quiet, as reliable as an old dog, and just- well- perfect for the application!

Simple solution. Arrived at in the most convoluted (and really f - - -ing expensive) way.

That's how serious fish geeks do it, right? We tend not to accept the solution that's been laid out in front of us. We have to modify, alter, and otherwise change stuff to meet some obscure "requirements" we have floating around in our heads. No matter what detour it might take us on.

I suppose that, for some aquarists, it’s a big part of what they love in the hobby: Setting up aquarium automation, designing and building complex auto top-off systems, wavemakers, etc. Yeah, a lot of people just love that stuff…And part of me totally gets that. I mean, yeah, I’m a lot more interested in watching my fishes and seeing them thrive and grow than I am in setting up 43 different lighting settings from my iPhone, but I really can’t fault those who do. And I respect it. I mean, where would we be in the hobby without these bold experimental types? Someone has to be the pioneer and taste the wild berries. Hopefully, they're not poisonous, right?

Me, I’m almost operating at capacity when just setting up my lighting (don’t even get me started- that’s a whole different topic for another day..).

Regardless of my challenges, I’ll occasionally come up with an idea just absurd enough to be considered rather intelligent (notice I didn’t use the word “brilliant” in any way, shape, or form..?). Some solution to a "problem" that might not be a "problem"- except maybe to ME.

You know how it goes.

I just find that, as fish geeks, we tend to get really into intricate detail on like…well, EVERYTHING!

Like, we can’t just feed our fishes…We have to utilize automatic feeding and dosing systems. We can’t just put a siphon hose in the tank like our grandparents did..Nope- we need to develop an "automated water changing system", which makes an easy task more complicated by adding  the risk of technical failure (you think that spilling a little water on your feet with a siphon hose sucks, imagine draining your whole tank..into your garage or basement…I know at least two people who managed to accomplish this with their fancy systems…Amazing insurance claims!).

On the other hand, I get a great joy out of my “old school” water change technique…something about a bucket and hose that keeps me in touch with my aquarium “roots.” Despite the temptations of technology, there are some things to me that are just sacred!

Like the "get-your-hands-wet" water change ritual. It never gets old. Even when I spill on the hardwood floor. Which, by the way, is pretty much every time.

And, as for the need to "modify" and "tweak" and make simple stuff complex than perhaps it needs to be?

It’s an affliction, maybe? Or the repressed need to gain control over our uncertain world. Maybe we just can't relax, knowing that we could "do better?" Or perhaps- it’s just part of the game, and we cannot control ourselves?

Regardless, I love every bit of it. And I know that you do, too.

And love is the basis for this whole thing. 

Spread the love. Share the ideas.

Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay innovative. Stay complicated...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment