Ever think about how the hobby has changed, yet how we still hang on to some old stuff?
Yeah, there are a bunch of low-tech wonders from the past that have transformed our hobby, while transcending time and defying more modern technology. Clever, crafty, defiant, and yet, useful things that are the literal “tools of the trade.” A chef has his knives, a carpenter his tools…We have these beauties. Here's my tribute to the simple, elegant stuff. Where would the modern hobby be without:
The nylon fish net- I mean, there was a time, many years ago, when all you could get were cotton fish nets. With rusted-out metal handles. Nasty, icky musty fish nets were somewhat common.Yes, the nylon fish net predates most of us, but it’s just one of those things we take for granted as having always been around. Ironically, the wooden-framed ones are considered better quality than the twisted, coated wire ones. Low tech rules! The newer ones that supposedly “blend in the water” so that fish don’t see them seem like a good idea to me…But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a time when a fish “didn’t see” the net as it’s coming after them, nylon, plastic, or otherwise. Well, thank goodness for quality fish nets, regardless.
Plastic airline tubing- This stuff is the duct tape of aquarium keeping- I mean, yeah, lots of hobbyists use it for pumping air into aquariums, but its so much more versatile. We use it for things like creating drip acclimation lines (hardcore users start a little siphon and then i.e. a knot with it to start a slow drip). I’ve seen it used for tying stuff together, making extensions on plastic syringes to act as an ITFD (“improvised target feeding device”), and many other uses. A serious invention that’s stood the test of time!
The airstone- Wooden, ceramic, or plastic, this invention dates back to the 1940’s-50’s and has been a fixture in the aquarium hobby to this day. This humble pice of technology, simple though it may be, is a cornerstone of modern aquaristic practice. An easy, elegant way to deliver aeration to an aquarium, it’s been used for decades with reliable efficiency. Sure, some of the plastic and wooden airstones are prone to clogging from time to time, but the ceramic ones, which have changed very little in like half a century, are pretty darned reliable. Weather you’re using them to aerate a tank, hatch brine shrimp, power a protein skimmer, or provide aeration in a temporary holding container, the airstone is without peer in the world of aquarium supplies.
The plastic specimen container- Omigod, this is like the standard-issue piece of fish equipment. It’s transcended everything from Goldfish keeping to reef keeping. You’ll find specimen containers being used at every level. I’ve used them to acclimate corals, treat sick fishes, hold baby guppies, hatch brine shrimp, mix salt- I mean, there’s hardly a fish room task that the decidedly low tech specimen container is not up for. It’s totally future proof, too, right? How does a box to hold water go out of style? I don’t think the design has changed in like 50years. I vaguely recall an experiment where I directed water flow into one from my reef tank, grew Caulerpa inside, along with some sand and (I don’t recall why) snails-and let the water flow back into my reef. This was like 1987, and it was my crude attempt at an “algae scrubber”, or perhaps I invented the modern refugium..Yeah, that’s it! If Al Gore invented the internet, I invited the ‘fuge! OK, in my head, anyways…(the modern refugium concept predated my crude idea by years…but a guy can dream, right?). And of course, it’s the ultimate kill fry rearing tank, too!
The algae scraper- Woah…Freshwater, saltwater, brackish- whatever. Hobbyists of every age, experience, and generation have come to hate algae on the sides of our aquariums. It’s a nemesis like no other, defiling our tanks, frustrating us, and causing hobby havoc. I know people that left the fish hobby because of film algae. It’s hated stuff in our world. A constant battle we must fight. Along came the algae scraper..and the battle was joined. Originally, just a piece of sponge on a stick, the algae scraper has evolved from humble stone axe to high-tech, synthetic wonder. You have plastic scraping blades, razors, dense matrix synthetic plastics, and other types of scrapers of varying composition and effectiveness. We have ergonomic plastic handles, replaceable scraping surfaces…We even have the ultimate evolution- to the algae cleaning magnet, equipped with replaceable, high tech synthetic pads to both polish your outside surfaces while attacking this dreaded pestilence- all while keeping your hand dry. The stick may be gone, but the goal is the same: Cleaning viewing areas without getting our hands wet.
So there you have just a few of the most humble, yet useful tools of all time. Sure, we have electronic controllers, LED’s, high-tech pumps, dowers, and other gadgets, many of which I couldn’t even figure out how to use (like electronic leveling devices…scary). However, these simple throwbacks, derived from need and function, comprise part of the legacy of our hobby’s “greatest generation”- that time when if you needed something, you’d cobble it together, because there was no online vendors or Google, or even Twitter (oh, had to get my dig in.)…Can you imagine, having to DIY stuff? Oh war, we still do DIY…Thank goodness THAT hasn’t changed! Only difference is that these things end up in our Facebook news feed (“Look, I repurposed my toothbrush into a protein skimmer changer!” Like. Whatever.)
I submit to you that few aquarium writers of my generation have written columns on specimen containers and the joys of plastic airline tubing,- and none threw together a piece on said subjects at 4:30 AM PDT), so I open myself up to the scrutiny of my peers for my choices, and challenge you to add to my humble tribute list.
What humble, generation-spanning aquarium inventions do you find indispensable, and still relevant? Don’t be shy- it’s the chance to wax poetic about the relics from a gentler, kinder time, when frozen food still got freezer burn, and there was only one choice for water testing (a pool pH test kit)…We owe it to these devices to pay tribute. Heck, we owe it to our children, to pass this tribal knowledge on, so that future generations of hobbyists can appreciate the efforts of the nameless hobbyists who helped build our culture.
Ok, that was really prosaic. Just share what gadgets from the past you still use. Simple. Extra points for pics of old, repurposed gear, too.
As always, look back with pride, look forward with hope, and look at the present on your iPad.
To paraphrase a question posed by one of my friends, "Scott, your company is going to offer more than just twigs and nuts, huh?"
To which I answered, "Of course!" (He asked this as I was feeding my Tetra tank)...Which made me reflect:
One of the cool product lines we offer at Tannin is Paradigm Fish foods. I've been incredibly impressed by them- not just for their unique form factor (a "crumble")- but for how eagerly accepted they are by my fish...And they're fun to use...You can take out your daily frustrations on the food (really, it's great fun!) when you crush it up!
One of my favorite in the Paradigm line is "Grow", which is designed for the unique energy needs of young fish...And, it has the added "bonus" of being readily accepted by small adult fishes, too!
As an unabashed Tetra fan, I've been thrilled with the results I'm getting from this food. Colors, growth, and general vitality are fantastic! The only bummer is that because it has the perfect particle size already, I don't get the thrill of crumbling it like I do from the other Paradigm foods! Oh well..
Of course, my little pals tear into Grow like I do into a bowl of cereal! (I'm into bran flakes and stuff like that , if you must know...). If I were a fish, I'd be chowing on these foods, because they're just like something I'd eat myself! Seriously! They're all-natural, with no fillers. Fish derive more nutrition out of a given quantity- that means no waste! If ever there were a candidate fish food to be found at Whole Foods, this would be it!
How does a simple answer to a question turn into a product review? The mind boggles...
I was talking to a non-aquarium person the other day, and, after hearing about my business ventures and hobby endeavors, she asked what it really meant to be a serious aquarist, and what makes us any different from all of the people who just have a nice community tank in their house and that’s the extent of it.
I thought that maybe we are all the same- fish people...Well, we are, to some extent...but we are a bit different. So I drove off with the nagging question of "What makes you guys so different?" in my head. I had this bunch of thoughts as to how I'd describe myself...and it made me think about just what makes a serious hobbyist different than people who just happen to own an aquarium.
It served no purpose other than to help me define myself a bit, but it was interesting to look at in the context of the company we’re about to launch.
I'm a serious aquarist.
I don't dabble in aquariums. I'm obsessed with them.
I know that keeping aquatic life alive requires understanding, skill, patience, and good habits.
I know that a successful aquarium requires me to take certain steps that many other fish people aren't willing to do.
I regard my aquariums as microcosms of nature; learning tools, an experience..Their main function is not to provide a piece of decor in my home.
I have procedures for every scenario, every problem playing out in the back of my head. I have other obsessed hobbyists to share these thoughts with. We are a community.
I obsessively maintain my aquarium based on husbandry methods that work for me; skills learned and honed from years of practice, towering successes, and humbling failures. I listen to other hobbyists, then do whatever I darned well please, if I feel my way is better...And then I try theirs, when my ideas fail! I'm stubborn..and proud.
I don't chase down every hot trend, obsess over every new gadget. I try things that work for my animals. I geek out over obscure stuff, however.
I'm not afraid to try new stuff, but I always consider the impact of any new practice, procedure, or piece of gear.
I support those who are propagating fishes and plants, because I understand that the world's aquatic resources need our help. As a hobbyist, I know that the future of the hobby- the future of the world's aquatic animal population- is in part dependent upon how successful I am at keeping my animals healthy, and sharing my stories with others.
I screw stuff up all the time. And when I do, I share my errors with other hobbyists, get up again, over an over, and try to learn from them.
I am eager to hear about what my fellow hobbyists are doing, because that seemingly crazy idea might be the basis for massive success.
I realize that learning is a lifelong process in the hobby. I want to be doing this for the rest of my life.
I know that aquarium keeping is not just a hobby...it's a lifestyle.
I am part of a tribe; a community, which grows and nurtures and shares ideas, concepts, experiences, and animals.
I am a part of a larger whole, which is much greater than the sum of it's parts.
I am a serious aquarist. And so are you.
And I'm pretty darned proud of that.
Why are you proud to be a serious aquarist ? What do you feel makes us different than the rest of the people who simply “dabble” out there?
Let's hear it!
You know that we LOVE aquarium clubs almost as much as we love the hobby itself...The people, the fish, the camaraderie!
So, when one of the nation's most prestigious clubs approached us to donate some items for their annual Summer Picnic raffle, there was no hesitation! And, when you're a new company like Tannin, trying to get your name out there, it makes sense to support the people who you hope will be supporting you! We sent a few packs of Aquatic Botanicals to the BCAS, and apparently, they tuned out to be quite popular!
Our stuff had some illustrious company- many top vendors and manufacturers donated to this nice event:
Not bad for a company that few people may have heard of, that was still a good 3 plus weeks away from launching at the time of the event!
Thanks to everyone at the BCAS for thinking of Tannin. See you next year!
P.S.- If your club would like to have a few Tannin items at its next event, just shoot us an email and we'll hook you up with "The Tint!"
When we first conceived Tannin Aquatics, the idea was to offer fellow hobbyists all of the cool stuff that we love so much- Leaves, wood, and other “aquatic botanicals”, which add a unique, natural look and vibe to almost any aquarium. Our aesthetic leans towards the earthy, organic, and natural.
When it came time to find a way to package our products that conveyed this feeling, it was only obvious that we needed something earthy and natural-looking. After much research and brainstorming, we came up with the idea of a cool, reusable jute bag. We had to try out a lot of versions before we finally found what we are looking for.
We’d like to think that the result was one of the coolest packages in the aquatics industry, which provides form, function, and an unwavering sense of aesthetic! Yeah, we knew we were on to something when people started asking for the bags as soon as we featured them on Facebook and Twitter- before we even had a functioning web site!
Many of our aquatic botanicals will come with this cool, reusable bag, which will no doubt find a myriad of uses around the fish room and beyond.
It might be just a bag to some, but to us, it’s the tangible embodiment of our core values, mission, and aesthetics…Leaves, wood, water…life- and the ability to embrace all. We look forward to offering you materials that help you express yourself in the aquatic world. And it all starts with the bag!
What does it take to sink a "Savu Pod?"
Honestly, this is the kind of arcane stuff we ponder around here at Tannin.
You'll need to prep this "aquatic botanical" prior to use. The "Savu Pod" is surprisingly buoyant (well, WE were surprised, anyways), and we perfected the art of "sinking" 'em! Fortunately, it's really easy..
Just give them a light rinse, place them in an inert pot of water (make sure that your significant other understands what's about to go down), and bring them to a boil. Leave them at a steady boil for about 10 minutes, and allow them to cool. Rinse. Voila! They sink faster than Etsy's share price post-IPO! (Okay, that was just mean...)
Now, your shrimp, Corys and little Apistos have another cool hiding place, and your tank has another aesthetic touch.
Easy. Cool. Natural.
They'll continue to leach some tannins into your tank over time, which gives the water the "tint" we covet so much around here! You can either put them right in your tank, or continue to soak them in a container of water to leach out more tannin before use.
Like so many cool things, Savu Pods require just an extra bit of attention before you unleash their beauty on your aquarium.
And we think it's kind of worth it.
Aquarium hobbyists, like everyone else in life, tend to follow certain behaviors, fall into certain stereotypes, and like certain things. To an outsider, it’s very tempting to heap us into that broad category of “fish geek”, and I suppose, to some extent, that’s a fair, although rather broad, classification. Unlike the classic “fish geek”, I’d hazard a guess that we’re not just obsessed with the animals themselves. Nope, we are into an amazing amount of other. somehow related stuff, right?
In my mind, there are hobbyists..then there are hardcore hobbyists. They are easy to pick out from the basic “fish geek”, IMHO:
There are the classic fish geeks, that just love looking at pretty fishes and plants interact in their tank. If you’re one of those people, chances are you have this insanely aquascaped tank, with some beautiful specimen plants, crazy driftwood, and a collection of very nice fishes. Most likely, you purchase your fishes from a variety of sources, making sure that each specimen fits into the theme as part of a greater “whole”. Your tank is a nice part of your home, but not the focal point by any means. This is the most likely group to employ an aquarium maintenance service to keep their tank pristine,
Then you get the more extreme hobbyists, a distinct variation of the classic fish geek, who’s tank is a bit more prominent in the household. These people are often the owners of larger aquariums, and they like to shop at the local fish store, or may even have a favorite online livestock vendor or two that they work with. They will not miss a sale if there is a chance to add to their collection, probably did a lot of the work on their tank build themselves, and are likely to have an electronic controller helping out with their system.
Next comes the “hardcore hobbyist”, the classification many of us fall into. Here is the basis for today’s discussion.
Not only is the “Hardcore” dedicated to his/her hobby on a serious level- he or she has made aquariums the number one obsession/hobby. Enter the custom made tanks, valves for almost everything, and freezers and refrigerators full of frozen foods and live cultures. These people have extreme brand loyalty to foods, lighting manufacturers, and even activated carbon brands.
“Hardcores” are all about the system, the animals, and the lifestyle that goes with it. They have morning rituals, evening tasks, and “aquarium weekends”, where the goal this week is to “re-route my Co2 system to a reactor” or some other equally arcane thing. They are frequent shoppers at Home Depot, and know their way around the plumbing department. This group is very likely to choose sides in the ADA-versus-ADG rivalry. Auctions, conferences, and fish club meetings are just part of the lifestyle for these folks. They’ve been the recipient of multiple BAP recognitions, and have probably bred and reared dozens of varieties of fishes.
They frequent multiple forums, are known by their “usernames” in the aquarium keeping community, check Aquatic Plant Central or Cichlids.com daily for the latest information, are extremely brand-loyal to one or more livestock vendor, yet are always looking for the edge to acquire that dream fish or plant. These are the best people to trade with, as they seem to have accumulated just about everything during their hobby “career”, and are more than happy to reach into their tank at a moment’s notice to snap you off a segment of that rare Sword you said you liked. Generous often to a fault!
Hardcore hobbyists know and interact with the “celebrity” reef crowd with a remarkable ease. They love dropping names: “I asked George (Farmer) about that ‘scape he did last week at the AGA Convention” or “Well, Heiko (Bleher) said that this cichlid was collected from deep water off of the Rio Lago Batata…” They will often cite writings almost from memory, like a scholar recites Shakespeare, “And Fellman said that your tank sucks if….” A hardcore will often use their favorite celebrity to back up their position in a disagreement: “Well, Oliver (Lucanus) states clearly that the L46 is way hardier than the L52 Pleco.”
“Hardcores” have an extensive aquarist vocabulary, and use terms like “morphology”, “allelopathy”, and “infusoria” with complete ease. Things like “Potassium”, “ Ferts” and “Grindal Worm Culture” are simply part of the territory. Using a CO2 system and pH probe (properly calibrated, of course) is a given. and a controller is pretty much like having a Home Theater or Satellite TV for these people (“So, what’s the big deal? Doesn’t everyone have that stuff?). Automatic topoff systems, fancy lighting arrays, and complex electrical panels are just part of the game for these types.
Many have “fish rooms” built along with their system, and the basement or garage in their home is dominated by makeup water tanks, food culture stations, or even more tanks. Fish food buckets, old equipment, and parts are never thrown away. Rather, they are treasured, organized (well, sometimes!), loosely classified, and made available to other hardcore hobbyists who are in a pinch (You need an impeller from a 2004 Eheim pump? Which pump do you have- a 1206 or a modded 1224?”, or “I have a spare suction cup for an ADA Pollen Glass you can use…”). This crowd knows the merits of CO2 Proof tubing, Starphire glass, and lots of electrical outlets near their tank
Hardcores will take into account their need for storage, electrical modifications, and reinforced floors to support their tank when looking for a new place to live. (Imagine a hardcore aquarist on a show like “House Hunters”: I can see it now: “The first place had a really nice walk-out basement, but not enough room for my Discus breeding system. The other place was close to three great fish stores…The third place has a fantastic walk-in closet behind the family room where I can locate the inline heater…”) As a hardcore aquarium hobbyist, it’s a given that many real estate considerations are based on having room for present-and future- dream systems.
Even important life decisions are based around the reef lifestyle: “If we get pregnant this month, I’ll be coming to term right around AKA Convention…no way!” or “We can’t take vacation that week, I’ll have three batches of Corys that will be weaning off live baby brine” or “Let’s postpone the root canal until after the tank is delivered…” Yeah- much of your life revolves around the aquarium game. Scary to an outsider- par for the course for us.
Hardcore aquarium hobbyists speak a different language, with terms like “Pleco”, “Cory”, “Subwassertang”, “Amazonia”, and “Wabi Kusa” bandied about. And we know and use all of the crazy pedigree names without reflection, “That’s definitely an Fp. bivitattum RPC 234”, or “ Dude, that L86 Pleco is away nicer than your Farowella…” You get the idea, right? Go to a fish auction and it will very much remind you of the famous “cantina scene” from “Star Wars”, with tons of different dialogues going on in seemingly an alien language. It’s all greek to the hardcore aquarium hobbyist, though!
Have you noticed that many hardcore hobbyists are also “techies” to some extent? Not only can they fix up a mean home theater system, but they are really into equally tech-heavy hobbies like photography, SCUBA diving, custom A/V systems, and whole-house automation. All are loved, but not revered like aquarium keeping. And you’ll find little signs of the influence of the lifestyle all over the house. Look into their kitchen cabinets and you’re likely to see ACA shot glasses, “crazy bettas dot com” bottle openers, and stuff like that. A good chunk of a hardcore’s casual wardrobe is tee shirts acquired at vendor booths at conferences and auctions. Note to my fellow vendors: As vendors, we have an obligation to provide shirts to hardcore hobbyists at conferences…how else would they be able to dress themselves? Please factor shirts into your promo budget this year…
Look, I love just about anyone that’s into the hobby. However, you hardcore aquarists- and you know who you are- hold a very special place in my heart. You get it. You understand what it’s like to wake up at 2:30 in the morning for a glass of water, walk by your tank, and see that a piece of driftwood is askew. So you’ll casually start adjusting it- and still be into the now major remodeling project at 7 AM when the rest of the household is just waking up- and you’ll no doubt be working on it throughout the day.
That’s part of being hardcore.
I’ve thrown out just a few examples here…No doubt you have dozens more based on your own experiences, or experiences with other hardcore aquarists…Let’s hear ‘em! Get them out in the open, so that we can accumulate the definitive reference on hardcore aquarium hobbyists. This will help those who wish to live with us, exist with us, or even join us in our geeky obsession!
“You know you’re hardcore aquarist when___________” is just scratching the surface!
As always, thanks for stopping by, sharing, and interacting!
Until next time,