After a lifetime in the aquarium hobby, I think I've reached a conclusion:
As fish geeks, we go to great lengths to make stuff more complex, more comprehensive- more difficult than it has to be.
I think I might be like a lot of aquarists…I tend to dwell on really obscure minutiae. I mean, stuff that really, in the grand scheme of things, may not be that important.
And I make simple stuff really complicated.
Although my lack of ability (or desire) to do really detailed work has always been a sort of "problem" for me in some parts of my life, in the aquarium world, for some reason details are like, really important to me!
What a strange contrast with my working life!
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. 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 during my internship was called the “Traffic” department (yeah, even the name sounded challenging), where all of the media buying, scheduling, and seemingly mundane (to a wannabe young copywriter, anyways) and intricately detailed work was done.
Translation- boring shit. 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. Loved my New Wave styling, but thought I was a bit "out there" in the idea department...She’d dispense the occasional nugget of old-school ad-biz wisdom, followed by a verbal “bitch slap” for failing to follow her byzantine manual record-keeping system.
Yet, one of the best pieces of advice I'd ever received in the industry was from her: “Don’t ever work in this department..you tend to get lost in the details…It's not you.”
I never forgot that, BTW. I never do ridiculously detailed work...at least not well. And it was a true summation of me as an aquatic hobbyist, too! Who would have known?
Fast forward some decades...
A couple of years back, I was working on what was probably the simplest reef tank I’ve ever worked on, my Innovative Marine “Fusion Lagoon 50”- an "all-in-one" tank- my “Everyman’s Reef Tank…”
It's turnkey. Off the shelf. All in one. Simple. Unbox it. Fill it up. Plug it in. Easy.
I love this tank.
Yet, I am a reefer at heart. And reefers love to fuck with stuff. Just because. We can't leave "good enough" alone. We have to modify.
Not wanting to keep it totally “stock”, and being the ridiculous aquarium dork that I am, I decided to change out the more-than-capable, yet generic main system pump on this all-in-one tank for a sexy, high-end DC pump..Yeah, when you have friends like I do challenging you daily- you’re simply enabled to tweak stuff…These guys, like most aquarists, myself included- operate on two basic premises:
1) Why keep it stock when you can modify the shit out of something "just because?"
2) You should be able to put something together and get it working without referring to the instructions.
So, carrying on the time honored aquarium-keeping tradition of making the simple ridiculous, and being susceptible to manipulation by my reef-keeping buddies- I plotted and schemed...
I remember thinking to myself, "This should be easy..."
That was the first sign of trouble, familiar though it was.
And of course, the connections on the return were totally different than those on the outlet to the 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", as they say.
Some $40.00 in fittings, and two weeks later (because I had to order obscure parts from multiple places- a couple of times- to find the right ones), there we were- an overbuilt, needlessly complicated, decidedly ridiculous monument to fish geek absurdity!
The simple, off-the-shelf-solution. Easy. It works for 99% of consumers just fine.
The fish geek's "solution." Absurd. Complicated...Gnarly!!
And of course, I was just getting started with that stuff! After the modification, it turned out that the rubber feet on the DC pump transmitted a little noise, so I devised a way to line the bottom of the filter compartment with some kind of mousepad material…
One "simple" solution led to another "simple" problem...it went on and on.
Okay, you get it. And I haven’t even talked to you about my dilemma with selecting a dosing system…
A dosing system? Me? Scott-fucking-Fellman? Mr. "Just-feed-your-corals-with-a syring-and-do-regular-water-exchanges-to-impart-trace-elements..." Why?
It’s the fish geek's curse.
You're in this game long enough, you just want to do everything some other way, right? Possibly, even the “hard way”, right? And again, I think it’s a product of our “culture” in the hobby.
I mean, I didn't just start an aquarium supply company...no, I had to start a company that literally sells "twigs and nuts" for the expressed purpose of turning your tank water brown and manipulating the environment...And I had to create a whole "ecosystem" of technique, best practices, instructions, and infrastructure around it...I mean, couldn't I have just sold activated carbon, filter pads, and fish food and called it a day?
Another phenomenon which occurs a lot in our wold- and I swear every time I start a project that "this won't/can't happen to me this time"- but it does. (And I know literally a half dozen aquarists who did this): You start working on a cool system, accumulating gear, parts, and big ideas...Suddenly, three months into the project, you completely abandon it for a scaled-up, three-times-as-complicated, twice as expensive mega tank.
Sound familiar? Done this before? If not, you at least know a fish geek who has. Guaranteed.
The so-called "Aquarist's Curse", indeed.
Yet, the reality is that for some hobbyists, it’s a big part of what they love: Setting up aquarium automation, designing and building complex auto top-off systems, wavemakers, plant food dosers, 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 fish, plants, and coral and seeing them thrive and grow than I am at setting up 43 different lighting settings from my iPhone, but I really can’t really fault those who do.
I mean, where would we be in the hobby without these bold experimental types? Besides, I love trying to adapt 6 plumbing parts to do the work of 2.
Although I know my limits...I think.
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 hair-brained enough to be considered rather "intelligent" (notice I didn’t use “brilliant” in any way, shape, or form..?).
Of course, these "ideas" generally involve the unintended expenditure of large quantities of money and time.
(The best-laid aquatic plans...require $$$.)
I just find that, as hobbyists, we tend to get really into intricate detail on like…well, EVERYTHING! Like, we can’t just feed our fishes and manually fertilize our plants? 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 in 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)!
You can almost hear the reptile guys taunting us: "How many fish geeks does it take to change a light bulb?"
None, you heathens- we use fully controllable LED's! Gety our asses out of the Dark Ages!
Yeah, we make stuff complicated.
Why use flex tubing, man? Pipe is so much sexier and more permanent."
It's definitely the "Aquarist's Curse."
We make stuff complicated- perhaps way more than it ever needed to be.
I've got it.
You've got it.
And, quite frankly, if you say you don't, you're lying. Because you own an aquarium, not a goldfish bowl. Yeah, by virtue of the fact that you own an aquarium, you've you've submitted yourself to this absurd condition.
So, I guess it's not really that bad.
In fact, it's actually kind of cool. It's what makes this hobby so damn fun.
I'm looking forward to sharing the many absurdities of what should be a really simple, scaled-up version of my Mangrove tank build this fall.
Well, toss that thought out the window. I have to figure out how I'm gonna hang my lighting system now...
Time for a confession...tell me you're cursed...admit it. Embrace it.
Share your stories.
Laugh at yourself. Love yourself, your community, and what you do.
You're cursed, yeah. But you're not alone. You're an aquarist.
We make stuff complicated.
Stay focused. Stay challenged. Stay complicated...
And Stay Wet.