Spaceship Earth and other wonders

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If I had my life to do over, I think I might want to be an astronaut. Check out this incredible video of time lapse photography from the space station. Stunning, images of Earth and of the stars, the Milky Way. It’s heart stopping.

Makes me want to be thoughtful about my choices, be in sync with these incredible natural processes.

Not that I have a clue what that means. Just that I want to be part of it all.

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Buyer be-freakin’-ware

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I don’t know how I missed this advice: that the filter for a planted tank should turn over the water volume in the tank  10 times per hour. Are you freaking kidding me? I thought I was spending a decent chunk of change buying the Eheim Classsic 2213 filter which promised about 120 gph. But for my 40 gallon aquarium, that’s more like a total tank turnover rate of a paltry 3 times per hour. This whole planted tank gig is making me crazy. I try to do my homework, but I miss these key details. Then I get hugely frustrated. Honestly. Doesn’t anybody out there have some kind of simple flow chart or decision tree to help us newbies figure this stuff out? I’d have blown the bucks on a bigger filter if I’d known. I’ve been dabbling around with this hobby for well over a year, and I’m pretty frustrated to discover I’m still on a major learning curve. Couldn’t the fish store folks be a little more helpful when they see me coming? I own the mistake but, dudes, when I ask you if the filter will work on my 40-gallon tank, you could ask me a couple questions back.

Prefrontal cortex, I need you

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An intriguing piece in the April Scientific American describes how even mild stress can inhibit conscious self-control. (Find a summary here; to read the entire article requires a subscription.)

According to Yale professors Amy Arnsten, Caryolyn Mazure and Rajita Sinha, stress does more to us than trigger hormones that drive the fight or flight response. It also messes with our higher order brain center, the prefrontal cortex. That’s the part of the brain that keeps us from eating that extra cookie, reminds us that it’s time to exercise, helps us bite our tongue so that we don’t yell at the boss.

Stress apparently bumps high level control from the prefrontal cortex to the hypothalamus and other earlier evolved parts of the brain, Arnsten, Mazure and Sinha say. So those higher-order decision-making functions drop into the part of the brain where binging seems like a good idea.

My job as a reporter has plenty of stress, some of it mild, some of it more intense. Of course, it’s not as stressful as many other jobs — police work, firefighting, soldiering, those are serious blink-and-you-or-others-could-die stressful. But journalism stress is nothing to be sneezed at. It’s pretty relentless, and sometimes the stakes are high.

Given that, my current weaknesses —  the overeating, the excess drinking, the lost weekends as a couch potato — all start making some kinds of sense.

It also helps me understand why sometimes when I’m covering a night meeting — where a school board is making a decision at 8 p.m., and I have to write a cogent story about it by a 10 p.m. deadline — I sometimes just freeze up for several minutes, my brain a blank, and its difficult to even get the first sentence down on the screen.

The authors refer to this weakened state of the prefrontal cortex under stress as a “devastating handicap in circumstances where we need to engage in complex decision-making.”

I wonder if knowing this will help me be more resilient, and I wonder if there is a cumulative effect where years in this stressful biz make it harder to keep my PC engaged and doing its higher-order thing.

Help me!

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You know how it is. You need some advice right now for your planted aquarium. And it’s midnight or Sunday morning and your local store isn’t open, so you Google your question and then get lost in the endless chatter of the various aquarium forums online, which often turns out to be (no offense) uninformed people advising other uninformed people. Or, conversely, really well-informed people belittling the newbies.

Here’s where I’ve found helpful information:

Rex’s Planted Tank Guide: Something seems to have happened to Rex, who hasn’t posted anything on his site in over a year, at least as far as I can tell.  But he has easy to understand information and a blunt style of communicating that I really like. For my first two small planted aquariums, his site was my go-to place and he kept me from making a lot of dumb mistakes. Plus he lives in Portland, Oregon, just up the highway from me.

The Barr Report: Good information in those forums, although it helps if you know a little something about planted aquariums before you venture in. If you don’t, definitely start on their “new to aquatic plants” forum. It’s weird how I always feel both inspired and yet kinda stupid after my visits there.

The Green Machine: The website for a planted aquarium store in Wales. I’m so crazy about this web site, I actually want to visit Wales just so I can check out the bricks and mortar store. I learned about them after stumbling on this great how-to video which was helpful to me and they’ve got a tips section that I’ve used. The advice for how to spruce up my aquarium was great. Only one caveat: a lot of the advice centers around the products they sell (buy this! it will help you!), but they are merchants, after all.

Of course the danger in checking out these Web sites is that there are glorious pictures and pretty soon you will find yourself wanting to aquascape yet another tank and all your money will be in glassware, filters, flora and fauna and your friends will be talking about you behind your back. Still, small price to pay…

The livestock

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Clown loaches and yoyo loaches in my 40 gallon ADA rimless aquarium (a few cardinal tetra in the background). The yoyo loach that had been near death is on the right, recovered now and happily rooting through the glossostigma and Hemianthus callitrichoides for bits of food. So here’s what I have learned since setting up this tank in early February.

If you want a pristine “lawn” of low-growing plants, like the most excellent HC, do not under any circumstances have loaches in your tank. They dig in it, sending up small clouds of sand or dirt or whatever the planting medium is. They uproot HC whose roots are quite delicate. If you are fantasizing about one day having a perfect Takashi Amano style tank like this, you will be unfulfilled.

On the other hand, if you are not a perfectionist and you enjoy the livestock as much as you do the plants, go for it. The more robust glossostigma can stand the abuse and appears to be thriving despite the fish. Because I overplanted the HC, it hasn’t completely disappeared, although I do fear for it longterm.

I have enjoyed this well-lighted tank, a sunny summer landscape during the last couple of rainy chilly weeks.

Waiting is also an action

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I don’t know what to do. One of the yoyo loaches (Botia almorhae) in my fish tank is ailing, its body kind of pocked looking and thin. Doesn’t resemble any of the images of sick fish I’ve seen online. Ten days ago I thought this fish was close to death. It was languishing on a rock, panting, hanging kind of sideways. I thought I’d remove him from the tank so as not to infect the other fish with whatever he had, and quarantine him in another small tank. But catching him proved difficult in my heavily planted aquarium and I figured I was just burning what little energy the poor fish had in avoiding capture. So I stopped. The fish hasn’t died yet. Is looking marginally better. None of the other fish in the tank appear to be ailing.

I’m reminded once again that when I don’t know what to do, it’s OK to wait. When I don’t know what exactly it is that I don’t know, doing nothing is better than doing something that will complicate the issue and might be worse. But it isn’t easy, doing nothing. In our hurry-up culture we don’t really go for patience.

Giant sucking sound? Algae eating fish

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The albino plecostomus, would probably have serious disadvantages in the wild. Pale fish against a dark river bottom likely would get snapped up right away. But those of us with aquariums, man, we love this algae eating critter. Easy to see. Feeds itself on tank algae. Kinda funny lookin’. with a big old sucker mouth that attaches to plants or tank glass or rocks. Like ’em. Probably going to name them.

Moon and stars for the moment

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Post-work Friday, me ‘n’ Andrew tired and cranky and trying to get out the door for a two-hour drive to meet friends at a cabin on Odell Lake. We halfway don’t even want to go because we are so tired and so cranky. But we committed and by 7:30 p.m.,. we’re on the road. By 8:30, we’re less cranky.  By 9:30 we’re slip-sliding in the snow and then walking into the cabin where our friends have a fire going in the wood stove, the wine open and a board game underway. After getting settled we walk out to the meadow where a brilliant almost full moon and several bright planets are shining down on us.

All tired crankiness forgotten. All petty hurts from the week gone. Healed.

Disintermediate this!

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Here‘s a succinct little essay on electronic publishing from the Atlantic, (thank you Alan Jacobs) that I love not only for its respect for the value of copy editors, but also because it introduced me to this great quote from Colorado College librarian Steve Lawson: “Publishers are scared that the Internet is going to disintermediate their asses into the dustbin of history, and the best response that many of them have come up with is to express their fear through hatred.”

Don’t know about that, but I do know that I will now be spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find a way to use “disintermediate their asses” in a conversation.