Sunday, August 30, 2009

And the Aquarist Returns, Too

Two Christmases ago Karen got me a 55-gallon fish tank.  This was the Christmas before we adopted Zoe.  I’m sure what she had in mind was fulfilling my need for a pet.  She was aware that I had kept fish for most of my life but hadn’t in a couple of years.

When I was really into it my favorite fish to keep were sailfin mollies.  The males all have these long, tall dorsal fins that kind of look like sails.  They come in gold, green, silver, and black strains, and I kept them all.  They are Mexican in sailfin molly   In the wild they are found in limestone caves where the ocean meets the rivers.  As such their ideal environment is slightly warmer than most tropical fish, hard, alkaline water that’s slightly salty.  I catered to their needs.  I added extra sea salt to their tank, kept the temperature up, and even threw in bags of crushed coral to maintain the alkalinity.  Thankfully, most tap water here in the Bay Area is hard and alkaline anyway.

But this time around I just couldn’t get into it.  Got myself a few guppies and platies.  I didn’t pay any attention to them and naturally they died.  I just didn’t care.  I don’t know why.  I just wasn’t into them.

The tank sat idle for months.  I didn’t want to put that much work into fish keeping anymore.  Then it hit me.  Goldfish!  I’ll just throw a few goldfish in there.  No special requirements.  No salt.  Not even a heater is needed.  They’re cold water fish. I refilled the tank.  Let it cycle for weeks.  Finally I went down to my local Petco and bought 4 fancy goldfish.  Fantails to be exact.  Two died within days.

Fantail Goldfish

A few days ago I went to PetSmart to pick up a few more.  I didn’t want to put too many in.  One rule I intended to follow about goldfish is not to keep too many together.  They’re messy and produce too much ammonia.  Also, colder water holds less oxygen.  I also wanted to keep the tank fantails only.  As you can see they’re not streamlined at all.  The shape of their bodies and fins prevent them from being fast swimmers.  Keeping a faster swimming fish with them would mean losing out on food.

I was helped by a very knowledgeable person named Tina.  She told me a few things I was completely unaware of.  As mid-water eaters it’s very important that they be fed that way.  Eating flakes from the surface of the water is a particular danger for them.  If they end up gulping any air it could lead to air bubbles in their swim bladders which is almost always fatal.  If you look at their mouths you’ll see that it’s not upturned like a guppy or downturned like a catfish.  Guppies mouths are made for eating from the surface of the water while a catfish’s mouth is made for bottom feeding.  No, all goldfishes have mouths that are straight forward.  Tina recommended soaking the flakes before introducing them to the fish.

Tina also stressed the importance of having animal and vegetable supplements.  She recommended giving them peas once a week with the skin removed.  Maybe a little sliver of cooked zucchini.  She also recommended brine shrimp be rotated into their diet occasionally.

They must also not be overcrowded.  As a rule of them they should be given about 10 gallons EACH.  Therefore, I will not be adding any more to the five I now have.  I might add a snail or two to consume the uneaten food on the floor of the tank.

If kept happy and healthy all goldfish can be very long lived.  Fantails can live 15-20 years under the right conditions.  There’s no way they’ll ever replace the love and affection my dogs give me, but there’s no denying the peace, calm, and serenity they bring just watching them swim happily in their decorated tank.

A Note on the Passing of Ted Kennedy

Senator Edward M. “Teddy” Kennedy died last week.  For me, it was a sad occasion.  Although many will choose to remember him for the Chappaquiddick incident I have chosen to remember the man for all the good work he has done in his service to this country as a US senator.  He chose to represent the underrepresented.  Over his career ted kennedyhe had help to pass legislation that raised minimum wages, protected the rights of the mentally ill and the handicapped, migrant laborers and union labor, civil rights, was a key figure in ending the war in Northern Ireland,  the list goes on.

He was the patriarch of the Kennedy clan and had that responsibility thrust upon him at the tender age of 36 when his brother Bobby was assassinated.  I imagine that if a heaven exists and that his brothers Jack and Bobby are there they must have been very pleased with how he carried forth the Kennedy legacy.

Amongst his most famous quotes was, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”  Powerful words, indeed, but my favorite was the final lines of the eulogy he gave at his brother Bobby’s funeral, “Some men see things as they are and say why.  I dream of things that never were and say why not.”

Farewell, Senator Kennedy.  The world will miss you, America will miss you, and I will miss you.

Maria Shriver and Governor Schwarzenegger

This has been a particularly difficult time for California’s First Lady, Maria Shriver.  Just two weeks prior to losing her Uncle Teddy her mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver died.  My thoughts and sympathies go out to her, Governor Schwarzenegger, and their family.

And by the way, I must mention despite being a “lame duck” governor Governor Schwarzenegger hasn’t stopped trying to do the right thing for the state.  Last week The Governator ordered state surpluses be sold off at auction.  He had the foresight to autograph a few items.  I have no doubt that those items were worth a great deal more.  The auction raised more than a million dollars that will benefit state coffers.arnoldand_maria

On general principle I shouldn’t like Arnold because he’s a Republican, but I do.  For the most part he has avoided partisan politics.  He has put his film career aside, no small sacrifice.  And he has always tried to do right by California.  He may be “just an in-law” and he belongs to the wrong political party but his sacrifice and sense of duty to public service has made him a worthy member of the Kennedy legacy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Return of the Sports Geek

Anyone who’s known me for a while know that I have been a sports geek since I was a little kid, long, long before anyone had ever coined that term.  When I first discovered baseball stats and understood what they were I was completely fascinated with those numbers.

Then my cousin Gary introduced me to the next element on the road to sports geekdomhood, sports gaming.  This was ages before EA Sports, video games, or personal computers.  No, these were board games.  Basketball, baseball, football, golf, Gary had them all.  And these weren’t the kind of games that had flippers, spinners, or balls that tested your reflexes.  These were simulations that had player cards with dice, action cards, and result charts.  These were the kind of games that were intended for people who took their sports gaming seriously.

My mom got me started with a few titles of my own.  The first was Avalon Hill’s Statis-Pro Basketball.  The game included player cards for every player of all 26 teams (yes, there were only 26 teams in the NBA at the time).  I was in heaven.  I played game after game.  I wore those cards down to paper rags.  Part of playing the game properly was having to record each players stats.  You had to keep track to reasonably emulate each players’ playing time.  A light went on.  Stats!  I had stats of my own now!

Of course, I couldn’t just throw my stat sheets in the trash.  I had to keep them and tabulate them and record them.  Ultimately, this is why I believe I’m good in math.  I kept and calculated those numbers by hand.  Before too long I could tell you things like 2/7=.286 off the top of my head without even thinking about it.  It was tedious and time consuming but it was a labor of love, and boy, did I love it.

It turns out I wasn’t alone in my love of sports gaming.  Avalon Hill (sadly, no longer in existence) had their own quarterly magazine devoted to their own line of sports games.  I read an article written by someone who was reporting on his results from a league he had put together using one of their baseball titles.  His league had six teams, all fictional, playing a 50 game season.  The teams consisted of players he had drafted from a pool of all major leaguers.  They were all-star teams playing against each other in an all-star league.  I HAD to do something like this myself!  And an obsession was born.

My own efforts included my NAFL football league, NABL baseball league, and the NABA, my basketball league.  The “NA” always stood for “North American”.  For some reason my leagues always have to include at least one Canadian team.  However, as a young and foolish teenager I couldn’t fathom the work involved in keeping all those stats.  I never completed any one season.  All of my leagues ended up being abandoned no more than halfway completed.

At 19 I decided to give an all-star basketball league another try.  The NABA consisted of exactly six teams playing a 30 game schedule playing each game on my old, tattered Statis-Pro Basketball board game, keeping all stats by hand.  It was a lot of work and although it took over a year to finish, I actually completed my entire season, playoffs, finals, and all.

I was proud of my work but felt it would be more meaningful if I could establish continuity.  I was able to complete a second season under the same parameters.  I was satisfied with myself but was questioning the value of doing so much work.

By then I had my first IBM PC clone and discovered APBA computer basketball.  The program was also a simulation, not an arcade game.  I could still run my all-star league and best of all it kept stats.  No more pencils with worn erasers for me.  No more hours being bent over my coffee table with score sheets and cheap calculators.  Running my league was now a breeze.

The NABA enjoyed a six-season run that ended about 15 years ago when I eventually grew bored and lost interest.  In those six season the league enjoyed regular rookie drafts and expanded three times, eventually ending with 12 teams, double the number of its humble start.

I haven’t mentioned hockey yet.  Yes, there was an NAHL, but about a third of the way through my inaugural season I came to the conclusion that the program I was using just wasn’t producing satisfactory results and called it to a halt.

Since then I haven’t bothered much with games like this but they’ve always held a special place in my heart.  They’re a dying breed, too.  With EA Sports offering video games with photorealistic graphics people just aren’t interested in text-based sports gaming any more.  Games like the ones I enjoyed so much are few and far between.

Fortunately, there are a few old-school, hardcore lovers of text-based sports games like me out there.  This one in particular has inspired me to revive my efforts and carry on once more.

Quest Hockey Simulation is the singular effort of Mr. Joe Gucciardo of Howard Beach, NY.  As a rooter of underdogs I had to give this one-man endeavor a try.  I downloaded the demo and found it very impressive.  I’ve discovered that the program isn’t set up to do draft leagues but can be done with a little work.

What the hell?  Why not give it a go?  Joe’s only charging $17 for the full version of the game.  Why not show an independent programmer and fellow sports geek a little support?

Preparations are now being made for the NAHL’s revival.  This will be an eight team league with two four-team divisions playing a 40-game season.  I’ll be creating a website where I’ll be posting the results of my nerdy efforts.