11 November, 2020

How I created a Jarrarium

Following on from my recent adventure of setting up an aquarium, I decided that one wasn't enough. I can't believe it, I'm already addicted to this hobby. I might as well say goodbye to my savings now, because this aquarium addiction isn't cheap. Tanks, substrates, test kits, heaters, pumps, lighting, and all that stuff can carry a hefty price when it's all added up. It's an expensive hobby. But the good news is, that it doesn't have to be. As long as you're willing to compromise, and scale back on your dreams of having a vast aquascape with lots of large fish, then there are much cheaper alternatives that will still net you a small aquatic wonderland. One such alternative is the jarrarium.

A jarrarium is quite simply an aquarium in a jar. A small, convenient and affordable way of taking part in a segment of this hobby. Now, I know what you're thinking, "What on earth can you keep in a jar?" Well, admittedly, it ain't much. Even if you use a fairly large jar, you'll still be hard pressed to find many species that will happily live in a jar. But remember, we're talking about compromises here. Better something than nothing. So here's how I created mine.

Equipment
  • Jar with a lid (bigger the better)
  • Potting mix (no water crystals or extra stuff)
  • Aquarium gravel (leftover from making the last aquarium)
  • Tap water
  • Water conditioner (Seachem Prime)
  • Suitable plants (Java Moss, Duckweed)
  • Decorations (rocks, wood, and a shell)
  • Tools (jug, old colander)

Method
  1. Clean the jar and lid, and rinse thoroughly.
  2. Using an old colander, sieve the potting mix. This is to remove the coarse bark and woodchip material, leaving the finer particles of potting mix for use in the jarrarium. If the coarse stuff is left in, it will often float to the surface and cause a mess.
  3. Put the fine potting mix into the jar, creating a layer about 2.5 cm thick.
  4. Treat some tap water to make it suitable for aquarium use. The main aim of using the water conditioner is to neutralise any chlorine in the water. Too much chlorine can be bad for both the plants and any animals that might later go in the jarrarium.
  5. Pour some of the treated water into the jar. Just enough to reach the top of the soil. It helps if you can break the fall of the water when pouring it in, to avoid displacing the substrate. I poured it over my other hand which was in the jar. Then poke the wet soil to ensure that there are no bubbles trapped underneath.
  6. Add a layer of aquarium gravel, about 2.5 cm - 3 cm thick. Try to avoid mixing it with the underlying soil as much as possible. The aim is to have a gravel cap over the soil, not one big mixed up mess.
  7. If needed, add a little more of the treated water, to raise the water level to just above the gravel. Then give the gravel a gentle poke, to release any trapped air.
  8. Add the decorations. Keep it simple in such a small container. Don't put too much in there.
  9. Gently fill the jar with treated water.
  10. Let it settle for a few hours.
  11. If the water looks like a murky soup, then remove most of the water, while leaving your soil and gravel intact. Then gently fill the jar with more treated water, and again, allow it to settle for a while.
  12. Add the plants. Choose ones that suit the size of the jar. I used Java Moss for the carpet, and something that looks like Duckweed for a floating surface layer. But feel free to explore other options.
  13. Put the lid on.

And there you have it. All set up and ready to go. Now it's up to you if you want to look after it or neglect it. Maybe it will become a self sustaining ecosphere. Then again, maybe it won't. I have been tending to mine so far. I keep it near a window, so it gets indirect natural light during the day. I sometimes use artificial lighting. Also, I have started a cycling process, by adding a small amount of fish food to the water to kickstart the nitrogen cycle. And I have been measuring key water parameters, to gauge its progress. It's early days with my jarrarium. I'm not sure if I'll add some small animals, once the water has cycled. In either case, I look forward to seeing how it turns out. I'm sure I'll write some more aquarium posts in the future, so feel free to follow along.

Jarrarium - day 0


06 November, 2020

My first aquarium

It's amazing which videos YouTube suggests that I watch. Some of them make sense, like the ones on a topic that I've been watching recently. But it's the odd ones that I'm talking about here. You know the ones I mean? Those wonderful little videos from leftfield that seem to have nothing to do with my search history, but they fascinate me all the same. They turn out to be a pleasant surprise. Take the following video for example. It comes from the channel Foo the Flowerhorn


Here's someone who has setup a small low-tech aquarium. In it is a variety of plant and animal life. The video starts with a clean-up, and then goes on to a feeding. They place a slice of boiled carrot into the aquarium, and we get to see the shrimp feasting upon it. 

If anyone had tried to convince me to watch a video like this, by describing what was going on in it, the chances of me actually watching it would have been pretty slim. But I watched this one all the way through. And then I started watching more videos from their playlist. I was hooked. Proper hooked. As in, I'll watch three or four episodes of Ozark in a row kind of hooked. That's a pretty good show by the way. I highly recommend it. But I digress. Foo the Flowerhorn's videos not only captured my attention, but they also motivated me to get my own aquarium.

So begins an obsession with aquariums. I started Googling every thought, question and idea that I had about the life aquatic. Not the Bill Murray film, mind you. I poured over pages of information about setting up aquariums. I started daydreaming about how I want to create my own aquatic wonderland, and what would populate it. Ideas evolved and changed until I decided on what I want. Then with a shopping list in hand, I went to my local pet store, and got it all together. And despite going in prepared, I have already started to see how much I don't know what I'm doing. But it's a learning experience and a part of the fun.

I decided to setup a 30 litre low-tech experiment. I say experiment because I have learned just enough to get me into trouble, and I'm sure that I am about to face a steep learning curve. Things could go either way, success or failure. My hopes and dreams for my aquarium are already being challenged by my doubts. I think that I've put too much gravel in the tank. I don't quite like where I've put the plants. I should have bought more plants. Maybe my light is too bright. My test kit doesn't measure ammonia levels. And on it goes. It's only been a day since I put the plants in, and I'm already concerned for the well-being of my aquarium and its future residents. It's interesting to see how I'm already caring about it.

There aren't any animals in it yet. I am trying to get the environment balanced and favourable for whatever gets invited. I have been thinking about some Red Cherry Shrimp, along with a few tiny fish. The jury is still out on the fish species. I'll see how it goes. I think that it might be a month or so before I add any livestock. I'm excited to see how it all goes, sink or swim. 



01 November, 2020

Fascination with storms

 The draining heat and humidity of the afternoon had quickly given way to a worrying coolness. I turned to the west and looked to the sky. The approaching storm clouds had taken a greenish hue. The gathering wind carried in the first drops of rain. "Just great."

I hopped into the car, moved it under cover and turned it off. Getting out of the car, I was greeted by the sudden roar of the rain. From the open roller door of the workshop, the view across the lot was sheets of rain punctuated by flashes of forked lightning. It was coming in quick. Too quick. By the time I made it to the next car, the hail started to fall. "Fantastic. Moving all of the stock around while my car is getting pelted out in the street."

And that's how my Saturday at work was coming to a close. Certainly not the best afternoon. Despite the frantic push to get our stock cars under cover, and trying not to worry about my car, I still enjoyed the vicious beauty of the storm. There's something exciting about stormy weather. I feel a quiet excitement, energized, and focused. It's a heady mix. I'm not alone in how they make me feel. But what is our fascination with storms?

I considered a few theories to tackle the question. Danger, variety, or the promise of life-giving rain. Each had some merit. But they didn't entirely capture what felt magical about storms. So shifted from asking "why," and I started to consider "how." How people react to storms. 

People pay attention to storms and dramatic weather. It seems like a reasonable response. Depending on where they live and the typical weather patterns for their local area, a storm could present something atypical. Something that is atypical in our environment might present a risk. So when familiar patterns are gone, it's natural for people to look up and check out what's going on. What I find particularly interesting is how a situation feels when lots of people nearby start paying attention like this at the same time. Their rhythm and routine becomes broken. They switch off their autopilot behaviour, and their thoughts focus more keenly on the present moment. It's almost like they are sharing a time of collective heightened awareness. There is something unifying in that. And that's nice, so long as we can walk away without consequence.

28 October, 2020

7 tips for buying a car

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

 

I hate car shopping. I mean, I really struggle with it. I need to spend about a week motivating myself to even set foot on a car yard. And that's coming from a car salesman. If I feel that way about it, what hope is there for everyone else? 

Buying a car is a big decision. A car is a big part of our lives. It's how we get around, and is a part of how we see ourselves. And depending on where we live, work or study, then public transport might be out of the question. A car might be the only viable choice of transport. Yes, buying a car is an important decision, which often gets emotional and expensive before you know it. So let me share a little experience with you to make it easier. Here's seven tips for buying a car.


1 - Just admit it

Just admit it - you're there to buy a car. Not being able to admit this to yourself is one of the biggest obstacles to buying a car. Once you've walked the lot, asked your questions, narrowed your options and taken a test drive, then you need to decide if it's the right car for you. But once you have made that decision, then you need to be ready to do the deal. You might find the right car at the right price, but unless you admit to yourself that you're going to buy, then you're dragging things out and making it more painful for yourself.


2 - Know your budget

How much are you willing to spend? If you don't know the answer, take another look at your savings and your household budget. You do have a budget, don't you? If you don't know what you can afford, then it's going to be difficult to decide which cars you should be looking at. Whether it's a changeover, or a weekly repayment, this is crucial information for you to know. Afterall, there's no sense getting attached to a car that you can't afford. 


3 - Know what you need

Your salesman doesn't expect you to know their range inside and out. That's their job. They can help you to match a car to your needs. But you need to know why you're buying the car. Do you need a small runaround car? Do you need seven seats? How much boot space do you need? Is luxury important to you? Is it a ute that you're after? Decide on what's important to you, and decide on what you can live without. 


4 - Communicate

Use your words. Say what's on your mind. There are some pretty amazing salesmen out there, but not many of them can read minds. They ask questions so that they can help you. How you answer can have a big impact on your car shopping experience. Some of the most satisfied customers are the ones that communicate openly and honestly with their salesman. They're the ones that get what they need with minimal fuss.


5 - Don't play games

Do you hate mind games? Then don't start playing them. Forget being cagey, or keeping your cards close to your chest. That slows everything down, and it can stop you from getting what you want. When I started out in the industry, it surprised me how many customers would try to be crafty about negotiating by playing guessing games. Sadly, doing this often leads to frustration for all involved. Remember that a salesman can't force you to pay a deposit or sign a contract. So there's no reason to keep what you want a secret. You'll be doing yourself a favour by leaving the games behind.


6 - Take a fresh look at value

Some people assume that there is still large profit margins in new cars. Those days are long gone. On some new models, you will be lucky to score a discount of a few hundred of dollars. So if you feel insulted when a car salesman suggests a discount of $500 to get you onboard, maybe look at it another way before you get riled up. What if someone walked up to you now and simply handed you $500 cash? Most people would think they've hit the jackpot. So now that margins are tighter than ever, keep your price expectations in check to avoid disappointment.


7 - Make an appointment

Buying a car isn't like heading down to your local supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread. There's a fair bit more involved. Meeting the salesman, finding the right car, taking a test drive, getting a trade appraisal, and crunching the numbers, you could be there for a few hours. Car salesmen spend their days talking to lots of people, and may be already in the middle of helping someone when you turn up. So if you don't want to be left standing around, make an appointment and stick to it. This will make sure that there is someone ready to help you when you get there.


So there you have it. Seven helpful tips for buying a car, that this salesman wants you to know. No one was born into this job, so we all know what it's like to be on the other side of the table. Most salesmen are sympathetic to what you're trying to do, and we want to help. I hope that this post was helpful. This is not an exhaustive list, but these tips will go a long way to making your car buying experience easier. If you have any other tips for buying a new car, then feel free to post them in the comments below.

24 October, 2020

Cognitive dissonance

 I recently watched a thought provoking video by Stephen B.R.E. Brown from his YouTube channel. It's titled, "Why Are We attracted to Expensive Pens?"

In the video he goes beyond a simple explanation to the question in its title. He delves deeper. He offers a few answers to the question, whether or not they stack up logically, and how we sometimes rationalize our decisions when they don't make sense. The thoughts he shares apply to all manner of things; not just pens. I recommend watching it.

When Stephen discussed how people rationalize their choices, he used the term "cognitive dissonance". It's a state in which our actions are inconsistent with our thoughts. Being a pen enthusiast, he uses the purchase of expensive pens as an example. It wasn't long until I started to recall other examples that I've seen. I found it interesting to note how common this behaviour is.

People often buy things that they want but don't truly need, then justify the purchase to themselves or others by focusing on how it was on sale. In reinforcing how the purchase was better value than it would have normally been, the mind is associating a more agreeable value to the item purchased, resulting in less buyer's remorse.

Stephen briefly uses cars as another example in his video. Thanks to the time that I've spent working in car sales, I can relate to that example quite well. When we are thinking about buying a car and considering a number of vehicles, we are performing a series of value judgements about each of them. And sometimes the value that we assign to a car doesn't really stack up. If we look at cars as purely functional things, as transportation from one place to another, then sometimes the more luxurious features of a car aren't all that important. Sure, soft touch finishes are nicer than scratchy plastics. And ventilated seats are nice in the warm weather, but it's hard to make a case for them to be truly essential. Yet it's features like these that many people desire, and will do what they can to rationalize away the price tag. So, should we turn our eyes away from the finer things in life, and pursue only that which is functionally imperative?

I can't answer that question for you. We all value things differently. It comes down to affordability, and what drives the desire for the object. Is it comfort? Or status? Maybe an appreciation for craftsmanship? It's hard to put an accurate value on things while keeping our desires out of the equation. But perhaps it's not about the price of something, rather the value in the experience that it allows. The stories we tell each other, and the memories that we create, often involve the money that we spent. Sometimes the financially responsible thing to do is stay home and eat two minute noodles. But those aren't the times we remember; we remember the expensive holidays and overpriced meals that we shared with the people that we love.

If you would like to see more of Stephen's content, his site can be found at: https://www.sbrebrown.com/

21 October, 2020

No Man's Sky. No end in sight.

Everyone loves a good story, don't they? I know I do. There's nothing quite like becoming engrossed in the telling of some grand adventure, riding the rollercoaster of ups and downs experienced by characters that I love and those that I hate. Then, when I get to the ending, the storyteller wraps it all up in a nicely packaged finale. Well, sometimes. Because stories don't always end like that. One example of that is the videogame No Man's Sky. 

Fair warning, the rest of this post contains what might be plot spoilers for anyone that hasn't completed the game.

No Man's Sky is a sci-fi space game that centres around exploration and survival. The first 20 mintues or so of a new game is definitely all about survival. You play a character who typically starts on a planet with hostile environmental conditions, depleting life support, damaged equipment, with no recollection of who they are or how they got there. Then it's a matter of staying alive long enough to figure out what's going on. Once the often frantic start is out of the way, then the game settles into its core gameplay element of exploration. And there is a lot to explore.

The game's universe is a procedurally generated wonderland. There are 255 galaxies to explore. Each one of them is unique, and packed to the brim with various stars, planets, biomes, and lifeforms to check out. To give you an idea of just how massive the universe is in No Man's Sky, imagine needing to give up nearly 585 billion years to see it all. There is a good article about the game over at Mashable, which also breaks down the numbers. See: "No Man’s Sky" provides a soulful antidote to our anxious times

Along with the nearly limitless exploration, there is an interesting story to the game. It's a story that looks at metaphysical themes, including purpose, the nature of reality, and questions of fate versus free will. It was a story that I felt compelled to try and finish. I often played far too late into the evening, just to get that little bit further into it. Followed by a lot of mornings at work, filled with sleep deprived regret; regret that I wasn't at home still playing the game. But like all good stories, it eventually comes to an end. Or does it?

At the end of the game's story, you're faced with a decision that literally puts the fate of the galaxy in your hands. But whichever path you choose, you are still faced with some bittersweet truths - you will never be able to explore it all, and maybe nothing you do matters anyway. I think that's brilliant!

So many stories, through whichever medium they're told, leave us with a nice, neat, happy ending. And that's great. There's nothing wrong with happy endings. But some of my favourite stories have left things hanging; they've left a doorway open to uncertainty and an array of possibilities. Those are the stories that I like the best, and they often feel like they've left a mark on my soul. For me, No Man's Sky is one of those stories.

If you would like to check out the game, head on over to the No Man's Sky website and take a look. It's not a game that appeals to everyone, but those that like it often fall in love with it.

19 October, 2020

First business cards



My first set of business cards is in. Woohoo! Check them out.

I have been daydreaming about handing them out. Imagining the conversations with prospective clients or casual acquaintances, in which they are interested in my work. And after I rattle off an impromptu sales pitch, I hand them a card, planting the seed for future projects. Mutually beneficial projects, that make us both filthy rich. Haha. If only it always played out like that.

I spent some time thinking about the role that business cards play in 2020. The way in which people work is becoming more digital and remote. As a writer, I can quote, plan and complete a job from the comfort of my own home. It's the stuff that dreams are made of. It's not just freelancers, but a lot of jobs are heading that way. So, given that I may never meet some of my clients, do I need some old school physical business card in my pocket?

It depends. Some professions will find that business cards are indispensable. Others, not so much. Regardless of the job, business cards were never the key to getting a sale or closing a deal. The cards are simply a convenient collection of your contact details, along with your name and who you work for. Getting a sale, convincing a client, or securing a payday, is done elsewhere.

While business cards aren't the cornerstone of any business's marketing, they still have their place in how we work. Some of the people you meet, including potential clients, will ask for a card. So be ready to hand them one.

I'd like to say thanks to Officeworks for selling me the cards. My cards are based upon one of their templates. If you need some business cards, they have a wide range of nice templates to choose from, and they can work with custom designs too. And with a few options of cardstock and finishes available, you can be sure to create some nice business cards.