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Archive for February, 2011

Rock and a hard place

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s a horribly weak link between the topic and the intent of this blog post – discussing the calcium and alkilinity levels in my aquarium. Shamefully weak, I know. Let’s move past that and into the subject.

My mushrooms (aka disc anemones) are not doing as good as I’d hoped. I’ve only had them a weak, but even so I’d hoped for more. Fearful of stress of pending death, I dropped another $60 on chemicals and test kits (most of it was the test kits). Admittedly, I should have had this stuff on hand initially if I planned on bringing corals into the mix.

So, upon testing the calcium levels in my aquarium they showed up at 400. I forget the units (shame one me). 400 – 500 is a good range to aim for, if coral growth is planned. So I’m good, but at the bottom of the range. I boosted it a little with a calcium supplement (made for aquariums, I didn’t just toss a couple of Tums into the tank). Hoping to gradually boost it up to around 450, and it’ll require frequent monitoring to replace it when the corals use it up.

Next up was the general hardness of the water. I hit again near the bottom of the acceptable range. So a similar treatment is ensuing to try and bring it up to a nice optimal middle range. I also picked up some Iodide. It’s allegedly good for corals and, I think, invertibrates (snails and such). The last Turbo snails I picked up seem to be having a hard time adjusting, so I’m hoping this might help them.

Other modifications included some minor rock rearrangement and moving a powerhead that was pushing some water over my mushrooms. ‘Shrooms prefer a low flow / current, so I’m doing everything I can to make that happen. My nitrates aren’t high, but they’re higher than I want them to be. Ammonia, Phosphates, and nitrates are great so it’s just a matter of finishing up the cycle and getting some good micro-algae (or is it macro, whatever) on my live rock. Things that take time and nothing else can really make that happen. Besides, that’s part of the fun of the hobby, working through it one step at a time.

Next week I’m planning on picking up four T5 high output lights, two normal and two actinic. With that lighting and the water changes I’ve been working on I can have virtually any coral I want. Exciting stuff around the corner.

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Book Sale

February 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Trying something new to drum up some increased interest. For the month of March…and I guess what remains of February, all my stuff at Smashwords will be 50% off if you use one of appropriate coupon codes below.

Voidhawk: QA36F
Voidhawk – The Elder Race: DV88L
Wanted: ZG78E
Dark Earth: YC82D
Human Nature: SS39K

And for anyone interested in doing an unbiased review (good, bad, or otherwise) please let me know. I’ll be happy to hook you up with a free copy (jason@booksbyjason.com).

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A different type of review

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

I wrote this up this morning for a product I am a firm believer in. No, no kickbacks coming my way. It’s just something that plainly illustrates not only some common sense principles that we often look over, but also helps people new to the exercise and dieting lifestyle to cut through the hype and the crap. Sure it costs some money to buy it, but it’s also saved me ten times as much in helping me avoid buying worthless crap that doesn’t work. The success stories (mine and others) can be found here.

Will Brink’s Body Building Revealed are targeted at the more mainstream Body Building community. The concepts covered within are not complex nor advanced – they can be of benefit to anyone from a beginner to someone who has been lifting for years. I bought Body Building Revealed back when it was still called Muscle Building Nutrition, and have been a member of the forum and community for many years now. It helped me cut through the crap found online in so many places and saved me countless dollars in useless supplements and guides.

My story deviates from the typical one. I used the concepts found in Will’s books put muscle and strength on. I had already managed to lose over sixty pounds using exercise and diet control (concepts I found that Will had covered in the book, making me wish I had bought it nine months sooner). Over the course of a few years I built myself up both physically and educationally through the interaction on the Body Building Revealed forums and the key books themselves. I peaked at 230 pounds in 2009, where I competed in some powerlifting competitions in the state of Michigan and set records in the bench pressing and deadlifting competitions in the Son Light Power federation. At the end of 2009, while pushing myself too hard and too fast to be ready for another powerlifting meet early the next year, I suffered a severe injury – I separated my left pectoral from my humerus.

Between surgery and forced downtime, it was four months before I could visit a gym again. My doctor had insisted I not consider bench pressing again for at least another three months, and even then to never push for maximal effort lifting again. By this time I had come to identify and associate myself with being a powerlifter – to be told I could no longer do so was a major blow, yet I knew I had no one to blame except myself.

I turned back to the Body Building Revealed community, sharing my story and progress with them along the way. They were friends as much as people who shared a hobby. I put together my own personal therapy program using my own experience and the knowledge of the members and moderators, some of whom work in physical therapy or are practicing doctors. I did abide by the desire to not do any flat bench pressing until the seven months from my injury had passed, but I worked myself up slowly and carefully to try and recover as much as I could. In the process I had lost over fifteen pounds of muscle.

I’m two months into 2011 now, sixteen months after my injury. Following principles explained in Body Building Revealed I’ve built myself back up to 239 pounds. While my abs are not cut I can see the shadows of them without the aid of trick photography and photo editing so often found in before and after pictures posted on the Web. I just deadlifted 545 pounds earlier this week, getting back to within five pounds of my best competition lift, and likewise I have bench pressed 335 pounds. I still have a long ways to go to get my bench back – if ever, but I’m making progress and I feel confident that even if I don’t get there, Body Building Revealed has helped to give me the tools needed to guide my motivation in the right direction.

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Casualties of War

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

It was more a battle than a war really. The mighty pretty flame angel I introduced to my tank last week had some disagreements with the aquarium’s reigning champion – the powder blue tang (which my daughter has named, ‘Cinderella’). Things were more or less fine all week until this morning I get a call at work informing me that the flame angel’s corpse is being nibbled on.

So there goes another $60. Having a reef tank is not a cheap hobby. It’s enjoyable, but it does have its setbacks. If only somebody would make a computer game like this – Sim Reef or something – then I could save myself a lot of money!

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Underwater Adventures

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

More money spent on the aquarium today (around $120 I think, taking me up to a little over $1000). My water levels are great and the fish are doing good, so we figured why not? Added a flame angel, five more blue legged hermit crabs, two more Mexican turbo snails, and a rock loaded with green / brown mushrooms (aka disc anemonies).

I need better lighting and that is the next step. I’d hoped to find some today but the place I went didn’t have anything that would fit my tank. Looking at some dual T5 lighting setups. Another $160 into it, but it includes proper bulbs (normal and actinic) for fish and coral. Then we can look into some more corals – we’re interested in some toadstool leathers to start with, who knows what else. No more fish though (might need a few more invertebrates though, my clean up crew is sufficient for now).

I also rigged up the powerheads to provide an alternating water flow with some cheap timers. So far so good, plus it provides a decent change up to the flow. The tank looks good, I’m enjoying it even if it is slowly bleeding me dry. Can’t wait to get a bigger tank in a few years – say a 125 or larger gallon one!

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The Art of Apocalypse

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I know, the movie came out years ago now, but I finally got around to watching 2012. I’ve always meant to, but the stars and planets and whatnot never aligned. At least not until 2011. Bad inside joke – if you’ve seen the movie you might get it but even then I wager it’s not very funny. Well, I’m amused, but I’ve hit my head on a lot of things in my life.

So anyhow, why blog about a movie that came out years ago? Because I genuinely liked it. It’s not just John Cusack, who I really enjoy as an actor, or the rest of the cast (Woody Harrelson does yet another stand up job as a crazy guy). It’s not the far-fetched concept of the world being wiped out, which is a bet of a stretch even by sci-fi writer standards. It’s not the mostly well put together special effects. It turns out that I enjoyed it because I really liked the characters and how they interacted with each other. It was also the many poignant parts during the film where disaster was streaking and it reached out to touch me.

Now the only problem I’ve got is that I feel inspired by it. It’s given me half baked ideas of things I want to try and write about. The last time this happened it was Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith back in the early 90’s. I turned that into a book that was published last December (Human Nature (don’t mind the rather ghastly looking girl on the cover, the model must have done her own make up or something). Here’s to hoping whatever I decide to do with this gem doesn’t take me ten plus years to put out!

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Book Review: Sylvianna by Keryl Raist

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

I write books, I lift weights and train others to do the same, I am working on my MBA, I’m getting back into keeping saltwater fish, and I like to spend as much time as I can with my wife and children as possible. Speaking of which, here’s a happy Valentine’s Day call out to my wife – love you honey! In spite of all of that and on top of a 50 hour a week day job I’m also more than willing to do what I can to offer up a helpful review or critique to fellow budding authors. This particular one is Keryl Raist. The book is called Sylvianna.

Sylvianna is Keryl Raist’s first book. As such, it is filled with problems found in many virgin offerings. If there is a backstory to the publishing process Keryl went through I do not think it involved a content editor.

By and large Sylvianna is grammatically beyond reproach. The book read smoothly and the characters were rich and filled with deep backgrounds. Each character also became more developed and interesting as the story progressed, mixing humor with joy, sorrow, and the rest of the range of human experience.

The main character is a strong female type that, while decidedly strong and able to take care of herself, remains a healthy touch of feminism and vulnerability. In short, she’s hard to resist. Her male counterparts, on the other hand, seem largely cut from the same cloth yet with differences both subtle and distinct. My only complaint about the majority of the men in the book are that they are disturbingly metro-sexual. That’s a pure personal preference based out of being old fashioned I suspect. Given the nature of the male lead I likewise found the sex scenes (which became excessive in my opinion) to border on the uncomfortable. The only male character I found largely appealing, the male lead’s brother, was seldom the center of attention.

I’d be remiss if I did not also mention the deep dive into a lot of religious and spiritual matters. I found it interesting at first, though my interest in the topic waned. This is no fault of the books nor of Keryl’s, it is my own lack of interest in the topic.

Sylvianna is nothing if not a well rounded book. On top of colorful characters and a rich background that is slowly unveiled throughout the course of the novel it also hit the other end of the range for this reviewer. The prologue was confusing and begs a separate story in and of itself to flesh it out. Indeed, explanation for it does not come for perhaps a hundred pages or more into the story itself, and even then it gets little more than a passing reference.

Speaking of several hundred pages, the book dragged on. It is unfair to offer a full review of it, and anybody reading this would do well to take that into consideration. The length caused me to lose interest repeatedly, and after several such attempts to take it up anew I decided I owed Keryl a review in a timely manner more than I owed it to myself to satisfy my waning interest in seeing how it actually ended.

With all that said I strongly believe that any future books written by Keryl Raist will be worth pursuing. I would not recommend this one to a friend or colleague, but I would recommend people keep an eye out for future work from her in the hopes that she overcomes the mistakes in this first one.

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On the Rocks

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

And now, only moments later, part two of the ongoing reef tank set up. A 37 gallon tank is not a large aquarium, either for freshwater or saltwater. Sure, in fish stores you see tons of fish swimming around in 20 gallon tanks but those are overpopulated and typically very stressful environments for the fish. To insure happy fish that live a long life you need adequate room and hiding places for them, as well as proper food and water quality. Saltwater fish, in particular, can get pretty darn big and have large space requirements. Thus the 37 is a small aquarium, at least in my opinion.

So why go with something small? Multiple reasons. The space we decided to put the aquarium would not support a larger fish tank. It fits almost perfectly in a corner, whereas something longer and larger would not have physically fit. Reason number two is that I wanted to go small to keep it more easily manageable – maintenance on a saltwater tank can be time consuming. The third and final reason to keep it small is cost. Marine tank setups are expensive, but I’ll be getting to that shortly.

So the tank, stand, and a single light / hood came at a package deal from Pet Supplies Plus. I don’t remember the cost, but it was up there. By the time I threw in the necessary add-ons (salt, sand, filter, powerheads, heater, thermostat, and water testing kit, another hood with a 50/50 actinic light in it) I think the cost was getting close to $500. No protein skimmer or sump tank because, frankly, I don’t have room for it. Pity, since those can really round out a saltwater tank and improve the water and tank experience.

So I put it all together, mixed the salt and water and started up the tank. Then I let it run, hoping the live sand (sand harvested from the ocean or a marine set up elsewhere) would help start the cycling process. A week and a half later, with my ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels in great places I picked up 30 pounds of live rock (90% of it fully cured, 10% partially cured) and a dragon goby (bottom dwelling scavenger style fish). They acclimated well to the tank. Live rock, for those not in the know, is nothing more than rock harvested from the ocean or elsewhere that is full of holes and beneficial (hopefully) bacteria. This bacteria serves as a filter that helps remove and process harmful chemicals and waste from the water. Not to mention it provides landscaping and hiding places for fish.

One week later, with my chemical levels still looking great, I went back and picked up three ocellaris clownfish, a magnificent anemone, and three emerald crabs. The clownfish are the Nemos everyone knows so well. The kids love ’em and they are a lot of fun to watch, especially with an anemone. The emerald crabs are part of a cuc, or clean up crew. They exist to scavenge up uneaten food, eat algae, and keep the tank natural and in good shape. The magnificent anemone was not something I’d intended to purchase. As such I had done no research on it and wasn’t sure what I was getting into. We saw it at the fish store and thought it was pretty cool. It was about 6 – 8 inches across.

The anemone and clowns did great together at first. By the end of the first week things had changed. The anemone had moved from the bottom up to the top of the tank, then started back down towards the bottom. It was looking rougher as time went by, then finally just yesterday I noticed two of the clowns had abandoned it and the third was still hanging around, but it was nipping and tearing at the flesh of its ‘foot’. If I had to make a guess I reckon it was a few hours away from being dead, if not closer.

Words of wisdom to any beginning marine aquarist – stay away from anemones at first. They are cool and very tempting, but until your tank is fully cycled and has been running great for a while (read: months), they can be very complicated to keep. They have high lighting requirements and need very pristine water. I had good water flow, but as time went by my chemical levels started to rise. The anemone wasn’t meant to be, or at least not for a while.

My rising chemical levels are far from critical to most things, but the anemones are sensitive. I’m sure they are climbing because of the anemone. One that size puts out waste equivalent to 3 – 5 fish, or so I’ve read. What’s worse is that it was sick and dying and putting out even more bad stuff into the water. Anemone is now gone and the clowns are doing fine without it.

I also noticed some algae coming in. Some on the glass, but mostly on the sand and rocks. Algae’s not bad, it’s a natural food source and helps with filtration. It can also be unsightly and can take over the tank, which is bad. So on the same day the anemone went buh-byes we scoped out a new fish store just west of Cleveland. Very nice place with some great livestock and tons of rocks and coral. Couple of cool display tanks too, as well as a few massive fish available for sale. Massive as in you could go deep sea fishing for a couple of those guys!

Anyhow, I came back how with three good sized Tonga snails which are doing a great job of burrowing into my sand and stirring it up, 3 Mexican turbo snails (for cleaning up the rocks and the glass), and 5 hermit crabs. Oh, and my wife has been taken with the though of getting a powder blue tang so we got one of those too. One day later the tank is doing great. The cuc is making it look clean and pretty and all the fish seem to be establishing themselves nicely. The only additional fish I plan to get is a flame angel, and preferably one that has some experience in a tank with corals and does not nip at them. Aside from the fish I want a few corals as well, although the exact kind and type remains to be determined (leathers, mushrooms, brains, colts…I’m just not sure).

So, between the $500ish in the tank, the $200 in rocks and such, and then another $200 in fish and invertebrates (and a dead anemone), I’m closing in on the $1000 mark for a little 37 gallon aquarium. I need some better lighting still too. In a few years when we move from renting to owning we’re talking about a much larger saltwater tank – 125 gallon or bigger. That’s going to get pricey!

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Reefer Madness

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment

This post has nothing to do with marijuana, sorry to disappoint. Instead it’s me beginning to chronicle a revisit to an old hobby: that of being an aquarist. WTF is an aquarist? It means I’ve got an aquarium with fish and stuff in it. Pretty deep, eh?

In the past I’ve had lots of aquariums, sometimes more than one at a time. 20 gallon, 39 gallon, 55 gallon, 80 gallon (acrylic bowfront – let me strongly suggest never purchasing an aquarium like this), and 90 gallon. I’ve had freshwater community tanks (random tropical fish designed to get along well together), freshwater cichlid tanks (cichlids are brighter and generally larger fish that come from South America, Africa, or even Texas. They tend to be a little more fiesty too, but they’re fun freshwater fish.

I’ve also had a saltwater tank in the past. It was in my 80 gallon aquarium and it was fun, but it just got too costly to maintain when I had a $40 fish that kept jumping out and dying. Well, there are other costs associated that make it expensive too, but more on that later. Anyhow, I sold my fish and live rocks back, then traded in the tank and stand for a bigger tank and stand (90 gallons) that became my largest cichlid tank. A few moves later and I got rid of all my aquariums (moving 2 hours with a 90 gallon aquarium is one thing, moving 1500 miles is another!). Now I’ve moved back to a civilized part of the world and I’m getting back into the hobby.

In fact, my intent was to start up an aquarium to add color and interactivity to the house and because my daughter really liked the last community tank I had (29 gallon). We went to a pet store to check things out and ended up walking out with a rabbit instead. Yeah, I’m still not sure how that worked. Later that week after thorough discussions with my wife we decided to go ahead with the aquarium anyhow. Or perhaps more appropriately she insisted I quit whining about how much it would cost and just go and get it so I’d stop whining about it. Yeah, she’s my personal enabler.

After searching high and low, both locally and not-so-locally, I ended up finding the aquarium I wanted practically next door. It’s a 37 gallon cube tank that I decided to set up as a saltwater tank. More to follow…

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Mind control

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

A powerful and terrifying concept, mind control. Like usual, I don’t intend this post to have anything to do with reading other people’s thoughts or controlling their minds. That’s the stuff of teenage fantasy most of the time.

Instead I’m referring to the ability to control our own minds. The human mind is an amazing device. We’re able to do incredible things with it, sometimes even coming up with true works of originality. Other times we take an existing idea and put a spin on it to add our own flair. Such is the work of most movies, books, and other creative pieces. Call it artistic license.

But as powerful as the human mind is, it’s also a terrifying thing. Not for our ability to envision and develop weapons of incredible destruction, but rather our ability – no, our need – to rationalize. I believe I’ve posted about the human mind being a rational thing rather than a logical thing. We rationalize our decisions based on the information at hand and how we can make that information fit the way we want things to go. Generally, it’s not such a terrible thing.

But in some cases it doesn’t turn out so well. Some times it can work out so it takes a while and the rationalization builds and builds, feeding on itself and twisting things around. It’s a trick to make ones self believe a lie. It’s one way to beat a lie detector test. It’s another way to work successfully undercover, either as a cop or as a double agent.

It can also be used catastrophically to trick yourself into believing horrible things that cause you to do things a “normal” person would never do. The question of sanity may not be applicable – the thinking process is sound, it’s a matter of having a baseline built up of flawed perceptions. The power of what the human mind can do is awesome and terrifying – far more dangerous than any narcotic or firearm.

I posted a few months ago about a friend of mine who seems to have gone bat-shit crazy and killed his girlfriend and later himself. It’s an example of how powerful the human mind is. To my way of thinking it’s pure insanity. Was it the same for him, or was it a case of built up rationalizations that only chummed the waters and made it harder and harder for him to see the things that everybody else saw?

Reality is a matter of perspective.

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