The hobby really needs an "owner's manual" for some stuff, doesn't it?

In my 4 plus decades of keeping tropical fish, I've come to the realization that I'm...well, "semi-competent", from a "Do It Yourself" perspective.

I absolutely love Joey Mullen ("The King of DIY") because, through his awesome YouTube videos, I can at least vicariously feel like I've done some of the cool stuff he can. Skilled guys like him make it look so effortless...And make you feel like YOU can actually do it. His infectious child-like enthusiasm makes me least for a few minutes, that I've GOT skills! I dutifully watch his videos, awe at the skills...and then I get scared.

"Yeah, you can do this stuff...!"

Well, maybe YOU can, but not me...

Yup. Reality.

Look, I am one of those aquarists that has the "Quasi-DIY Gene", and I know it. I can scheme out and plumb my reef aquarium, set up a canister filter, coordinate a flow pattern with off-the-shelf electronic pumps, dial in a CO2 regulator, etc. I can almost program a controller without throwing it at the wall, so I suppose that's "progress." In the serious aquarium hobby, this is considered fairly "basic" stuff. However, when it comes to the hardcore stuff, like building a reliable and safe auto top off system, contracting a custom stand, or assembling my own LED lighting array, that's where I beg off and seek the guidance of fellow fish geeks, like my friend Dave, who loves that kind of stuff.


Like most of you, I've acquired a fairly extensive set of rather obscure skills, like understanding the nuances of ball valves, the value of waterproofing an aquarium stand interior, and adjusting an electronic heater controller. These are skills you sort of accumulate by either observing other fish geeks, or just by jumping in and doing. Occasionally you'll figure out how to get something like a calcium reactor or doser going on the first try, be it through luck or just having the skills required. However, if you're like most fish geeks, more often than not, you'll get it about 80% right the first try.  When I co-owned a large coral propagation facility, this sort of "luck" served me 80% of the time...

Not bad, right?

And here's the thing:

Have you ever noticed that there is really no "instruction manual" for aquarium projects, or even for many of the pieces of equipment that we use? I mean, books will talk in sweeping generalities about the need for a multistage canister filter in an Mbuna tank, or a kalk stirrer or reactor for a reef, and maybe even have a computer-generated diagram showing where it is located in the setup scheme. However, you never see things like, "In order to make the reactor work, you'll need a ______ pump, two feet of 1/2" vinyl tubing, two ball valves, and enough room in your equipment area to accomodate a 4" x 20" reactor body. The assembled unit should be placed approximately 4 inches to the side of the sump, with enough clearance to____________."

Ok, you get my drift. 

Many aquarium products do come with a diagram, maybe some basic introductory stuff about why it's good to have the piece of equipment (C'mon, you KNOW that already, or you wouldn't have purchased it, right? You STILL need to be sold on why a GFO reactor is a good thing for your reef aquarium after you bought it?), and if you’'re lucky, at least a couple of assembly "pointers." Really rudimentary stuff. Not helpful for some of us who are not masters of the obvious!  I'd go so far to say that when the "instructions" with the piece of equipment consist of a diagram and "pointers", I'm scared shitless...! The manufacturers would be far better off providing detailed assembly and placement information for the purchaser, IMHO. Oh, sure, there are some manufacturers who do this, but they appear to be few and far in between. It's almost like it's expected that, as a fish geek, you have this "hidden knowledge database" programmed in your head to figure out how to assemble everything. 

However, what you don't have "programmed", you can always find by tapping into "The Matrix" (sorry, had to borrow the term) of hobby knowledge that is "out there." Have you noticed that? It's like you must acquire the arcane knowledge that you need by internet search, haunting the LFS, or hanging with your fish-keeping buddies and visiting their setups, right? Fun, yes, but often frustrating. There is really no formal "aquarium construction guide" out there. None. Yes, lots of books talk about the theoretical and broad implementation of this gadget or another, but no one has really written a treatise with turnkey information about how to construct a properly equipped "high tech planted" or reef aquarium system. 

Weird, huh?

 So, if you have the DIY thing in your game, and you can write a bit, there's your calling- write a book on how to equip a modern aquarium system, with detailed diagrams and step-by-step instructions on how to assemble it. Woah! That would upset the entire balance of the universe, because suddenly, hobbyists would have a legitimate resource to turn to for reference on how to do_______! You'd no longer have to go though painful trial and error while building what you feel is a properly-equipped aquarium! Oh sure, there are some of you who would scoff at the idea, saying that the painful accumulation of this knowledge and the skills to pull off these projects SHOULD be gained through blood, sweat, and tears- you've gotta pay your "dues" by searching for obscure information and failing a few times on the way.

Okay, wierdos, how would you feel the next time you fly from say, L.A. to New York, if the two guys up front were "paying their dues" during YOUR flight? You know, kind of figuring it out as they go? Or, if the guy in the surgical scrubs patting your arm as you fall asleep on the operating table is "perfecting your procedure" as he goes? Yeah, not so good, huh?


So my request is that SOMEONE, somewhere in this big aquarium-keeping hobby world, creates a book or series of articles on exactly how to incorporate some of the "fundemental" hardware into our systems. Not only would it be good for the hobby, it would be awesome for the animals we keep, and manufacturers of aquarium equipment would realize the value, too- and possibly increase sales, because hobbyists would actually have a good guide as to how to incorporate said piece of equipment into their systems.

Win-win, right?


Ok, enough of this nonsense for now. I'm off to figure out how to incorporate a carbon reactor into a nano system I'm working on...sigh.

So, I say to you: Search for knowledge. Share said acquired knowledge. Complain more.

Stay educated. Stay fascinated. Stay un-confused!

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


July 15, 2017

You forgot that Joey has a DIY book.

Leave a comment