May 2007


Settling in: My fish have had their tank light on today, and I’ve also given them something to eat – they ate a couple of bits of flake each and that was it, not sure if this is “normal”. Perhaps they will get more of an appetite as they settle down more. They also have a habit (at least one of them does, not sure which one yet) of lying on the gravel playing dead which is a bit alarming but I think it’s just an I-can’t-be-bothered-to-swim-right-now thing. They do seem fairly happy and settled, although still a bit skittish when a Big Person looms up by the tank, unsurprisingly!

Here is some FishTV for you:

[Um. Not sure if this is working. I will check tomorrow and if not I will update then.]

As you may notice if you can watch the video (or scroll down for stills), you can see the fish much more clearly when they are in the light, and they are playing about loads more than yesterday.

I wax lyrical about my fish:

They are amazingly beautiful. They have tiny, feathery fins and tails and beautiful silvery bodies. They have little cherry lips in a little fishy pout. They swim fast, slow, they hover, they change direction in less than the blink of an eye. Their colours seem to change too, depending on the light perhaps. It’s remarkable how certain lighting brings out their colours as if their sole purpose was gorgeousness – whereas while in the dark or in bright light the colours recede through copper to amber to bland, apart from that striking band of markings from nose to tail.

Here are some pictures to show you what I mean about the colours:

Cherry barbs 1
Cherry barbs 2
Cherry barbs 3

Sugar and Spice?

I’ve also now worked out some differences between them to help me tell them apart. This means I can name them! Provisionally i.e. unless I can think of a better idea before it’s too late, they are Sugar and Spice.

The differences: ahem: Sugar has a less definite zig-zag pattern to her side markings than Spice, whose markings are a little clearer. Sugar’s lower line of markings is fainter and her upper line is less joined-up-looking, with a wider gap between them. – So you’ve still got to look closely!

(I am still unsure of sexes – I am treating them both as female at present, although I full accept that one of them might have to “transition” at a later stage.)

Funny how in all these pictures Sugar seems to be following Spice around! I hadn’t noticed that earlier. I will have to watch them for a while and see if this is a patten or only a coincidence…

I just LOVE watching them, they are totally fascinating. Yay, fish!

How exciting is this? I’m totally a video-making and You Tube newbie, but I think this will work. It’s supercool! You get to see a few stills and some action shots as my cherry barbs start to explore their new home:

Sensible blogging is totally on hiatus here, since I am currently fish-obsessed.

And meanwhile, this (via IBTP) is something to be going on with. As someone who has recently been searching, unsuccessfully, for female woman-centred patriarchy-free(-ish) art, this video is spot on. It is exactly what we are up against:

We have got two cherry barbs. Here they are, floating in their bag and getting used to their new surroundings and water temperature:

Cherry barbs, arriving

And here they are settling in – they are hanging out in the weeds mostly, although they have come out a couple of times to do a bit of exploring – they always swim back to the weeds when you get too close though, so we’re leaving them in peace for now:

Cherry barbs, settling in

They don’t have names yet – we are letting them settle in and get to know us before we get too excited about stuff like that.

So I’m choosing my fish. I’m aiming to have a small community of perhaps two different types of fish that like to hang out in groups, and maybe one or two loners for variety. My fish must be fairly peaceful and compatible so that they will get along without eating each other or stressing one another out. They must be small, because I don’t have a very big tank. My first fish must be hardy and in an ideal world one that doesn’t need too many friends: you can only introduce fish *very* slowly to a new tank – unless you want them to die of ammonia poisoning, which I don’t. It would be nice if they were pretty, but that isn’t the main thing.

You wouldn’t think this was hard, would you?

The trouble is, every time I settle upon a fish, I find something out about it that doesn’t fit. For example, I fall in love with the reclusive Kuhli loach, only to find that they are not much cop as starter fish and that they like something nice to burrow in – assuredly not big lumps of gravel. Bum.

Kuhli Loach

Now that I’m starting to look for a hardy fish that will suit my tank, the choices suddenly narrow enormously… I settle on silver tip tetras, assured that they are happy in groups as small as four, that they are small, very hardy and dead easy for the other fish to get along with – an ideal starter fish, perfect for beginners, an amazing little community citizen.

Silver Tip Tetra

Only then the conflicting information starts to come in. Some say their silver tips bullied the ickle fish, and certain dealers recommend that you only mix silver tips with larger tetra species because they frighten the small ones. Sometimes, apparently, they even turn on one another. Others recommend that you never have a group of less than six, or they get sad and grumpy. Buggrit.

What about a nice cherry barb? These are not shoaling fish, and don’t get lonely, although they will often play happily with other fish. They are far more peaceful than most barbs, especially that nippy little tiger barb – hardy, great for beginners, eat anything, they even breed, if you can stop them from eating the littl’uns. Great!

Cherry Barb

But yet again, with the conflicting information. Some say they are aggressive, that they are fin-nippers, that they are more needy, that they don’t mix well with certain other fish, that they aren’t great for beginners. Even such simple things as what kind of water or what temperature they like varies according to where you look!

It’s infuriating!

But tomorrow is F-day, and we’re getting fish, come what may. It looks as though we’ll just have to pick a fish that at least some people say might be suitable, and hope for the best. Oh dear.

It was only by sheer effort of will that I managed to stop myself from getting fish today. Patience, patience. We are nearly there though*, and Ariel demanded that we go to the fish shop regardless, so we have got just about all the stuff we need now.

(* Magickitty’s fantastic suggestion of fishless cycling has come too late to save the poor critters that will come under my amateurish care from new tank syndrome. I haven’t actually bought them yet, but have promised Ariel I will which is almost as good.)

The tank decor has been just about completed with a couple of indeterminate but “authentic” fake plants and a little cave thing – even the bogwood has stopped floating, although only because it is wedged down too tight. The air bubbles are dissipating too, and I’ve managed to clean off the sticky remains of the old thermometer. See:

Tank almost ready for fish

We are going to go and pick out our first fish on Wednesday. Hooray! (ish)

Venezueland woman protestsThe latest developments in Venezuela raise some questions about freedom of speech.

In December, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that he would not be renewing RCTV’s broadcasting licence. RCTV is a privately-owned television station (the only one with national reach in Venezuela) that has consistently been hostile to Chavez and was involved in supporting an attempted coup in 2002. It has consistently opposed his government and his politics and has broadcast anti-Chavez, pro-capitalist messages for a long time. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is owned and run by those who oppose Chavez’ socialist aims (and, no doubt, his famous hosility for the United States) and would rather see a capitalist society in Venezuela. Now, the current licence is on the brink of expiry and has not been renewed. This means that RCTV will no longer have national reach, although its owners can continue to broadcast by cable and still control other media such as local newspapers. The RCTV channel will now host yet another government-run station.

Is this:
A. A terrible blow for free speech in Venezuela, silencing a lone opposition voice?
B. A perfectly reasonable response to control the unbalanced venom of these ruthlessly anti-government pro-capitalists?

Mr Chavez argues the latter. Free speech activists and journalists everywhere argue the former. My view is that it is neither or, rather, it is both or, rather, it depends…

Until now, there have been two voices: Mr Chavez, and RCTV.

RCTV may be bad, but without it, there is only Mr Chavez – and his case is not helped by the fact that at least one government station already broadcasts wall-to-wall sycophancy (although it is worth noting that other state-funded stations in Venezuela are not under the presidential thumb and do important, good quality work). Can we rely on him not to get carried away with this unopposed propaganda machine?

Personally, I am in favour of all television being under neutrality obligations similar to those that operate in the UK, where it is not permissible to editorialise TV news to reflect the political beliefs and aims of the station or its owners. Television is such a powerful media channel – practically everyone watches it practically every day – that in my view it is dangerous to allow television news or other programmes to become partisan.

In this case I would condemn Mr Chavez, not for shutting down RCTV but for failing to universalise his expressed preference for non-partisan TV. If he shuts down openly partisan channels like RCTV (and I have no problem with that in principle, frankly) then he must also prevent his own channels from being openly partisan. He should enact and implement a television broadcasting code that stops ANYONE from broadcasting the news in a biased or partisan fashion. He should do this in the service of balance, honesty, integrity and truth.

Wouldn’t this cut away at freedom of speech?

Hell, no. It would cut down the freedom of a small number of rich TV-station-owning men to broadcast their self-serving politics into the hearts and minds of an entire nation. It doesn’t stop them saying what they want to say – it only obliges them to use other channels for their propaganda, for the better protection of balance, honesty, integrity and truth.

Cutting away at the massive media power of this handful of rich TV-station-owning men in my view has the capacity to advance freedom of speech, a capacity much greater than the more obvious danger of undermining it.

Stopping some people from speaking in certain media channels does look dangerously like censorship. But by curtailing the dominance of one big idea, by allowing other ideas time and space for expression and circulation and discussion, we would give everyone better access to a better range of perspectives. By curtailing the freedom of a handful of rich TV-station-owning men to present a single, filtered version of reality, we would give everybody better access to unfiltered reality, to facts and information, and to differing views honestly presented.

What’s not to like?

Sources:
Assorted BBC news stories (e.g. here and here, as well as various radio reports from today)
General background info on RCTV via Answers.com

The tank successfully completed the leak test, and I’ve now set it up on its new championship stand, complete with heaters, filter, light, gravel, fake background and bogwood:

Aquarium set up

Don’t it look grand? Here is a close-up:

Set up - closer

The observant among you will notice five intrusions onto the perfection of this moment.

One. The bogwood is currently being weighed down by a large rock. This is because it has not (yet) soaked in water for long enough to stay at the bottom of its own accord. With a bit of luck, the rock will soon become unnecessary.

Two. The gravel is sort of not very even. I could pretend that this was deliberate, designed to create interest for bottom-dwelling fish or something. The truth is that it just kind of ended up that way after I tipped in numerous of gallons of water. This whole “pour it into a bowl placed on the gravel, so that it spills over the sides and fills the tank without disturbing the gravel” malarkey is a bit of a sop, methinks. Either that, or you are supposed to pour it a bit more gently than I can personally manage with a heffalumping great bucket load weighing me down. Ho hum.

Three. Everything is covered in little bubbles. I am assured that this is perfectly normal and only temporary. I hope that that isn’t a sop, too.

Four. I still haven’t managed to get the sticky bits off the front where the old thermometer was stuck on (measuring in Farenheit, in this day and age). I will tackle that later on, now that Ariel has got to bed and I can use chemicals in peace.

Five. I just can’t make the filter stay vertical, it keeps drifting slightly clockwise. I think this may be because the water outlet is pointed to one side and pushes it off straight a bit. As I think I may already have said – ho-hum.

Shopping for the aquarium, part 2 – we have now got some gravel, some chemical doofers (some to find out what’s wrong with your water, and some to fix it, so that your fish will not die), and this:

Soaking the bogwood

This mighty bogwood specimen, weighing in at a wopping 0.52kg, was labelled “Ro. Moorwurzel” for extra mystique – disappointingly, this intriguing name is just the German for bogwood, as far as I can make out. Literally, it translates as something like Red (“Ro.” being short for “Rote”) Bogroot. For what that’s worth. Anyway, the point is, if you soak it then it will eventually, or so I’m told, stop floating and start sinking. My fish will like it.

However, that may be, you can certainly get some interesting effects by playing around with the reflections and refractions and things – ghostly alien anyone?

Creepy bogwood picture

And then there is Major Shopping Item number #726 – taking just an hour and a half of bloody-cursing and why-won’t-this-sodding-screw-fit-this-rotten-bloody-hole-ing to assemble, I give you, the Juwel Rekord 80/96 SB, in Beech effect:

The stand! - in the space

Snail

Also important to a proper appreciation of this is the soundtrack, which unfortunately I failed to record, of Ariel telling the snail off for climbing all over her car: “Snail! That’s my car, snail, don’t go on my car, snail, it’s my car! My car! Mummy, snail on my car, mummy, snaaaaiillllll!!!”

(I tried to take a stop-motion series of pictures of this snail creeping up the tyre and onto the car, but this is the only picture that came out well enough to bother with.)

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