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A Beginner's Questions (With Answers)

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  1. Newbie Summary Posting
    by pmc/world.std.com (Patrick M Chase) (Fri, 9 Jul 1993)

Newbie Summary Posting

by pmc/world.std.com (Patrick M Chase)
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 1993
Newsgroup: rec.aquaria

Here's something I've owed the net for a long time now... I hope it helps out 
another newbie... it sure made a difference to me! I'll try to follow-up with
a post describing my first tank (which has been running successfully for
nearly three  months now).

This is a summary of the responses I got when I asked about setting up a new
tank  (some of them were Emailed to me, some are bits of a rolling
conversation, and some  were culled from the newsgroup - all of them  were
trimmed and headers/signatures  were removed):
-----
"I'm at the mall, and my girlfriend wants to try on some shoes. So I figure
I'll take a walk through the Pet Store over there and look at the puppies
and stuff. I find myself heading straight to the back where the fish are.
Well, I'm in there looking at some pretty cool fish for a little while and
I notice the price tags on the empty tanks near me... quite affordable...
hmmmm..... always wanted to get a fish tank...hmmm.... So's born a newbie.

I'm not the type to jump in over my head, but hit it all up-front and real
heavy when the time is right. So instead of letting a salesperson sell me a
'starter-kit', I head right to the bookstore. Picked up 'You and Your Aquarium'
by Dick Mills. Spent the rest of the day reading it, and then hit the net. Here
I find you folks and a plethora of information (as I expected).

So I'm still learning and want to scope all this out before I spend a penny.
But I need some practical advice to think over this weekend whilst I plan this
thing. So I'd like to pick some net-brains. I should mention that I have
grabbed the FAQs.

I picked up one of those Want-Advertiser's figuring there'd be a million people
dumping their tanks. I was right. But the asking prices vary to a huge extent.
I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?

My little bro has a 10g tank somewhere that he tortured some small guppy in for
several months when he was maybe 15 years-old. I seem to remember that tank
with about 4 inches of disgusting green water in it at any given time. Poor
fish. Anyway, I could grab that thing
(he must have it in basement somewhere) and outfit it with new gear. But now
I'm thinking 'will I outgrow this small tank too soon?'. My first inclination
is to get a reasonably large tank (maybe 25g to 55g). But is that too much for
a newbie?

I plan to keep freshwater tropical fish - Cyprinids, Angelfish, stuff like
that. I'd like to have a healthy mix in a community tank with plants as well.
Sort of 'representative' tank of typical fish and plants. Nothing too wierd.
So maybe 10g is too small? Maybe not? I could always get a bigger tank and
grab that little one for breeding or something at a later stage. Or start with
the samll tank and get an additional large tank later... but in that case
should I get pumps big enough for both tanks together?

Then there's the filters. Do I want an UGF? I mean, I've been reading about
the different filter types and the benefits/drawbacks of each. But which is
the better all-purpose device for the basic newbie with big aspirations? I
guess I'm looking for a 'What you want is one of these' statement from someone
in the know. And how big? And what brand? All of the above for pumps, heaters,
and lights.

I guess the big Q would be, what's a really tried and true setup for the
beginner. I don't want to wind up killing fish over ignorance, but I don't want
the weenie-gonna-lose-interest-in-a-month deal from the pet shop either.

So if anyone has any suggestions, I'd like to hear from you. A suggested setup
would be nice - Like tank size with appropriate corresponding heaters, pumps,
and filters, sample fish, sample plants, and recommended vendors/brands.

I don't have a huge amount of space, so I wanted to get a tank with a stand so
I don't have to find a strong table for it. Other than that, a bigger tank is
fine with me. And if anyone can recommend a good aquarium store in the Boston
area I'd appreciate it.

Anyway, I've still got 200+ posts here to get through so it'd be best if you
could Email me. I'll post a summary to the net for people in the same situation
as me.

Please help protect me from 'pet-store' advice. ;^)"
-----
... what follows is (are?) the responses...
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
>heavy when the time is right. So instead of letting a salesperson sell me a
>'starter-kit', I head right to the bookstore. Picked up 'You and Your Aquarium'

You start with two bonus points for good sense :-)

>thing. So I'd like to pick some net-brains. I should mention that I have
>grabbed the FAQs.

Three bonus points.

>I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
>range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?

Just depends on how gullible they are.  I once saw a 150g advertised
for $70...didn't have room for it, though *sniff*.  There's always
the possibility of leakage in buying used tanks...that and cracks
are things to watch out for.  Acrylic tanks are lighter and much
more expensive.  The scratch more easily, but the scratches can
be polished out more easily then scratches in glass.  Acrylic
has an index of refraction closer to water's then glass does...
i.e., it looks better.  Oh...note that there's a big price jump
at about 70g...the point at which they stop using tempered
glass and go to thicker glass (there is a 75g tempered tank now
which I'd have bought instead of my 55g had it existed at the
time).

>fish. Anyway, I could grab that thing
>(he must have it in basement somewhere) and outfit it with new gear. But now

Well, if it's free, that's good.  IMHO, 30g are a nice starting
size.  Not too huge, but more stable then a 10g.  Larger tanks
are more stable (chemically and biologically), let you have
more fish, etc., but of course also take more room and work.
Though I'd say that a 30g isn't going to be particularly more
work then a 10g.  Once you get up to 100g, it's a different
story, though :-).

>grab that little one for breeding or something at a later stage. Or start with
>the samll tank and get an additional large tank later... but in that case
>should I get pumps big enough for both tanks together?

People who get really into this rarely get rid of a tank.  You
keep your old, smaller tank as a hospital or fry tank.  So don't
worry too much about that.  Get filters and such that are
appropriate for the tank you have.

>the better all-purpose device for the basic newbie with big aspirations? I
>guess I'm looking for a 'What you want is one of these' statement from someone
>in the know. And how big? And what brand? All of the above for pumps, heaters,
>and lights.

Very debatable issue.  Some people like UGFs, others think they're
satan's spawn.  If you get one, get a powerhead to run it, not
an airpump.  I tend to recommend having two filter systems (the
impellers that drive these things often fail to restart after
power cuts when they get older...backups are nice).  As a second
filter, I like the Aquaclear line (I prefer the media arrangement,
reusable sponges and such, to the other models).  If you were
only getting one, I'd probably get the Aquaclear.  One advantage
they definately have over UGFs is that they can be easily 
removed from the system if you treat the tank with antibiotics
which would kill the biobed.

If you get a UGF you _must_ vaccuum the gravel regularly.  Really.
No smileys.  You really have to do this anyway, but it's even
more important with a UGF.  Make sure you buy a gravel vaccuum.
If you don't like carrying buckets, check out this gadget
called the Python (basically a gravel vaccuum attached to a
waterbed drainer).  I love mine (but then I have 4 tanks to
maintain).

If you get a big tank, and have $$, you can go with a canister
filter instead of the Aquaclear.  Lots of debate here, two:
I like Fluvals.  I'd consider the new Magnums as well (but
haven't used them).

Heaters...get submersible.  Good brands (IMHO) are Ebo-Jager, Visitherm
(though the calibration on their thermostats always bites).
These cost a bit more, but believe me, they're worth it.  If you
take shortcuts here you're liable to find you have a tank
of bouillabaisse one morning. 

Lights aren't an issue unless you get serious about plants.  Then
you'll have to junk  the hood which will come with the tank,
set up shoplights (or metal halides), and put in a mix of
plant lights and full spectrum lights.  Plants are a whole
different ballgame, IMHO...do one thing at a time.  When you
get a 75g to replace the 30g, then you can turn the 30g
into a plant tank :-).

>So if anyone has any suggestions, I'd like to hear from you. A suggested setup
>would be nice - Like tank size with appropriate corresponding heaters, pumps,
>and filters, sample fish, sample plants, and recommended vendors/brands.

Ok...so I suppose if someone I new told me to set them up, I'd
get: 30g tank, stand and hood (stand type is a function of taste,
decor, and $$$), Aquaclear power filter, and probably a UGF
and powerhead (Hagen or Penguin).  Get as much as you can
mail order and save many $$$.  Buy a copy of FAMA at a good
newstand to get mail order ads.  And find yourself a good fish
store in your area and through a little business their way
as well.  It helps a lot (especially for newbies) to have
a good store.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
  This is very similar to how I started last year around this time.

[...]
>thing. So I'd like to pick some net-brains. I should mention that I have
>grabbed the FAQs.

  Good choice.  Read Them.  Read them again.  Particularly the one on 
"filters" and "water quality".

[...]
>I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
>range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?

  A 55G tank goes new for about $90 at a local Wal-Mart.  However, remember that
you need a stand for it, and buying a stand can cost as much (or 2x as much) as
the tank you put on it.  Getting a tank and a stand together for $50 is a deal
no matter the size of the tank...

>My little bro has a 10g tank somewhere that he tortured some small guppy in for
[...]

  IMHO, a 10G is just the right size to start -- its small size limits the 
amount of stuff you can put in it, and gets you used to dealing with water
quality, filtering, and the "cycle".  I got mine about this time last year, and
went through two bad spots before stabilizing it; it's been happy for the last
8 months.  I'm now looking at 29/30G tanks, since I'm comfortable with the
fishkeeping principles involved and am ready to move on.

[...]
>So maybe 10g is too small? 

  Nope.  See above.  My tank has 15 fish in it, from an angel through zebras.
Plants are tricky -- get a handle on the fish first, then try plants.

>Maybe not? I could always get a bigger tank and
>grab that little one for breeding or something at a later stage. Or start with
>the samll tank and get an additional large tank later... but in that case
>should I get pumps big enough for both tanks together?

  This is what I'm looking at.  I asked about using one filter for two tanks,
but someone pointed out that I'll contaminate both tanks if a problem occurs in
one.  Power filters are cheap -- just filter them separately.  The smaller
tank can, when replaced, be put in a better location with more fish or just 
kept running to grow plants and/or be used as a "hospital".

[...]

  I use Whisper filters.  They're bashed a bit in the FAQ, but I think it's
unjustified.  The filter cartridges they use are *very* easy to deal with, and
I can get 24 of the suckers for $12 by mail order.  I only have to change the
carts about every week to 10 days (although this depends heavily on fish load
and water quality).  I looked at cannister filters, but they're much more
expensive, and I feel they're only justified for stuff bigger than the 29/30G
tanks I'm looking at.

  I don't like the UGF -- Angels like their water _very_ clean, and a UGF
depends on the crud in the tank to fall to the bottom and be digested by
bacteria and/or be vacuumed out every couple of weeks (a messy process).  The
power filters take the fish turds out of the tank, and they get thrown away
when I replace the fiter cartridges.  I should note that none of my fish have
died since July of last year.  RUGF looks interesting, but you have to push
filtered water under the plate, and  I'd need a canister filter to do that.

[...]

  My 10G setup:

  10G tank  (about $10 at the store)
  Whisper "C" Filter ($14 by mail order, cartridges in packs of up to 24)
  Penn-Plax 50W heater (I think it's penn-plax)
  Perfecto full hood and light.

  Fish : 
  1 angel
  1 "chinese" algae-eater
  2 pl*cos
  3 Tiger barbs (NOTE : these harrass the angel -- I need another tank to
                         separate them)
  4 Headlight-Taillights
  5 Zebra danios

  This is a rather high fish load.  I didn't mean to get it this high, but I let
my wife say "Look at these *cute* fish!" several times.  I finally got her a
small tank to put "her" fish in.  Start with Zebras -- they're practically
impossible to kill, are cheap, and are fun to watch.  Get them in groups,
though -- they're schoolers.  My five is probably a good number.

  Don't forget test kits for ammonia and pH, "Start Right" to dechlorinate the
water before adding it, and chemicals to raise/lower the PH if your tap water
isn't 7.0 (around here it's around 7.6 -- too high!).  Also get some "stress
Coat" -- it calms the fish down and helps with minor scrapes.

  Resist the temptation to use chemical clarifiers on a tank when it gets
cloudy.  If cloudiness persists for several days, check water quality and use
about 1/3 of the recommended dose of the clarifier chemicals as a last resort.

  Call "That Fish Place" (number in the FAQ) and the other mail-order places
listed therein and gett them to send you catalogs.  This stuff runs on about a
100% markup in the stores.  I'm planning to, with my planned 29/30G setup, get
the tank locally and then buy all the accessories (heaters, filter, hood) from
That Fish Place, where I'll pay about half to 1/3 of what the pet stores will
want.

[...]
  It helps to find out which of the pet stores in your area know what they're
talking about with respect to fishkeeping.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
While I'm certainly no aquaria expert, I did recently join the
hobby also. So I can tell you my newbie set up which has run
very well.  Larger tanks are more expensive, but the larger
volume of water makes them more stable and somewhat eaiser
for a newbie to manage. By the way, your small tank could be 
initially setup with a sponge filter ($8) and an air pump ($7)
and small heater ($9) for a starter kit; and then used for a
quarantine tank (for new fish) or a hospital tank (for sick fish)
so it wouldn't be a waste of equipment since you really need these
2 capabilities.

Now my set up: (I keep African Cichlids)

30 gallon long All-Glass tank (36"x13"x16")
Under gravel filter w/3" gravel
Aqualclear 301 Power head (pump for UGF)
150Watt heater
Fluorescent light and hood
some decorative rocks & plastic plants
some driftwood
a homemade cabinet stand (must be level,flat, & strong)

Total cost from my aquarium store (excluding stand & fish) ~$ 200

As a side note: If you know what you want and don't need help
from a salesperson; buy the tank and gravel locally, and then buy
the rest by mail order. You'll save a lot of money this way.

By the way, once my new tank cycled (see FAQ), I have had great
success with my system. Its a great hobby, welcome.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
     You asked for info, so here's one data point to start your
collection with.
     I'll begin with tanks and tank size. If you can liberate the
10g from your brother, do so. It will come in handy as a quarantine
tank for new fish that may be carrying disease, or later as a breeding
or fry tank if you get lucky in that regard... but if you have the
$$ and space, it is a good idea to get a larger tank. I have a 30g
long that I think is a nice size, 3 ft long and deep enough for angels.
Some folks are complaining about 3ft lights not being available (the
hood on mine has a 2ft fluorescent), so maybe the 4ft long 55g would
be better. Either way, you can buy or build an appropriate stand. How
good do you want the stand to look? Two types are readily available,
pine or veneered particle board, and IMHO they cost a lot given how
they look (ditto the wrought iron, which i forgot about). On the other
hand, they usually have a lower tier to put another tank on, i.e. the
10g.
     Usually with a tank they will try to sell you a hood. I would
advise instead getting a glass top and two striplights, or buying
a shoplight. The idea being that a full hood has a place for only
one fluorescent light, which is not enough to grow plants, and getting
a glass cover gives you the option to add lights later if you want.
     Next you want to look at filtration. Personally, I'm a fan of
the Aquaclear hang-on-the-back type filters, but with a 55g tank that
may not be enough. The advantage of the AQ filter is that it is easier
to clean than an UGF or canister. A canister, however, could better handle
the volume of a 55g tank. UGF's are useful in certain applications, but
IMO I don't think they are universally a good idea. Lastly, there are
sponge filters available that are cheap and run off an air pump. Where
possible I like to combine an AQ filter with a sponge, which gives
you mechanical filtration combined with a significant amount of
biological filtration. I'd recommend an air pump if I could, but I'm
not real happy with any yet. One big air pump, though, should be able to
run a sponge filter in both tanks. As far as a canister, the best I've
seen so far is a Fluval 203, which would work for the 30-55 gal range.
     For a heater, I think they recommend between 2.5 and 5 watts/gallon.
In reality, that means a 100-150 watt heater for your tank. I've had
good experiences with Visi-therm submersible heaters. And definitely
get a submersible heater, even of another brand, as the hanging type
are a pain.

     Anyway, after you collect the info, and decide what you want,
take a look at how much it costs locally, and how much it would
cost mail-order. Put together the numbers and then look at the
used stuff. I think you will find that most people selling
fishtanks don't understand depreciation, or even the fact that
they over-paid for their stuff, and ask too much for used equipment.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>'starter-kit', I head right to the bookstore. Picked up 'You and Your Aquarium'
>by Dick Mills. Spent the rest of the day reading it, and then hit the net. Here
	Excellent start!!! You win newbie prize of the week!

[...]
>I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
>range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?

	I got my 55 gal, with angle-iron stand, glass cover, and strip
	light, for $135. Pet store I talked to later said they could have
	matched that. However, my 55 gal has glass that's about 1/2" thick -
	something I didn't consider till I started looking at them in the
	stores later - it is either an older or better tank than much of what
	you can get in stores, and worth looking at if you are considering
	a large tank, as it is much better able to withstand stresses of 
	moving, etc. Avoid plastic - it scratches eventually. Used is ok
	if you check it out carefully, including the question of is it 
	watertight?!
>
>is to get a reasonably large tank (maybe 25g to 55g). But is that too much for
>a newbie?

	Personally, I think a 29 gal is the perfect size. It's large enough
	to hold a fair amount of stock, looks great, is big enough to 
	handle some mistakes in maintenance without tank conditions changing
	too wildly, etc. 10 is too small, except for hospital tank, water
	conditions swing more drastically the smaller the tank. I started with
	a 10 years ago, went to a 15, that's not a bad size, but really like
	29 the best. Of course, eventually you'll have to have a 55, and
	then a 70 or a 110, but that's a year or two down the line! %;^)
>
>Then there's the filters. Do I want an UGF? I mean, I've been reading about
	No. Easiest and best general purpose filter is power filter that
	hangs on your tank. The Whisper series is good, 
	faq section is good on this. I might try a Canistar if I was starting
	out. UGF are breeding grounds for pollution, hard to maintain, 
	often ineffective. You want to cycle tank at least 3x/hour, and 
	you should assume ratings are overestimated, and buy more filter than
	you think you need. You can always turn the flow rate down if 
	necessary. I have a whisper 3 on my 55, it's adequate but just
	barely. I have a penguin 160 on my 29, it's ok, but I think a 
	whisper 2 or even 3 would be better.
 
>in the know. And how big? And what brand? All of the above for pumps, heaters,
>and lights.
	Heaters - get two small ones, low wattage, put one at each end, that
	way you won't fry the fish if one overheats. There should be stuff in
	faq about this, or someone wiser will tell you, there is a formula for
	# watts/gal but I can't remember it. Get two heaters adding up to 
	need # watts. Pumps, if you do power filter, don't really need one,
	though airstones can be nice, or those bubble bars - if you do get
	a pump, whispers once again are pretty quiet, get a bigger one than
	you need, the 600 is good, or a 500 or 400, you'll use the capacity
	someday.
>and filters, sample fish, sample plants, and recommended vendors/brands.
 	I can't really recommend fish, that is so much a matter of preference.
	Do a LOT of reading on compatibility. A lot of people try to aim for
	fish from a certain geographical  area - I do roughly south american,
	with some asian oddballs. Try for plants from the same area - 
	that works nicely. That's just a suggestion , though, idea is to find
	fish which are:
		* non-agressive
		* same water temp (similar)
		* similar water chemistry
		* varying use of tank, ie bottom dwellers, mid water, top water
	If you want agressive fish - tiger barbs are an example - you should
	limit the tank to fish that can defend themselves. Also consider
	whether it is a schooling fish, and if so, buy several - most fish
	are happier in a group than alone. Examples are tetras, corys, angels,
	clown loaches, white clouds, barbs. Some kinds of fish do well in
	trios - 1 male, two females, so they don't harass the females to death.
	Examples are gouramis, bettas, guppies, platies, mollies. Watch out
	for fish that prefer some salt in their water, such as mollies - they
	will die eventually in a community tank. Also stay away from brackish
	water fish unless you decide to specialize in them - monos, puffers,
	etc. Be careful of jumpers - hatchetfish are an example - you need
	a tightly covered tank with these. Watch out for fish with specialized
	food needs - you should probably avoid these for now - fish like
	baby whales, knifefish, upside-down cats, butterflyfish, archer fish,
	etc. Also watch out for fish that turn into monsters - what will you
	do with a 10 pound oscar (eat him, as oleg was wondering?) or a 
	5 foot arowana? Don't get snakeheads or channel cats - cute when small,
	but guaranteeed to outgrow anything you have. Cichlids are interesting,
	but you should specialize in them as they tend to be agressive and
	have specialized water chemistry needs and tank decor needs. If you
	want them, do a tank of african cichlids, for example, but read up
	first. Cichlids are not community fish, except with other cichlids.
>
>I don't have a huge amount of space, so I wanted to get a tank with a stand so
>I don't have to find a strong table for it. Other than that, a bigger tank is
	Look for a really strong stand. Some of the ones they sell are  
	incredibly flimsy, and will sway when you walk by, or shake when 
	you move around them. Wood is good, if well done, or angle iron but
	it's harder to find. Also make sure your intended location is near
	a wall and substantially supported. Tanks are heavy!!
>
	I haven't addressed lighting, because I think you need to work on
	fish first. In general, most tank hoods are ok for fish, but inadequate
	for plants. Go flourescent rather than incandescent, anyway, you'll
	be able to grow some plants. If you think you'll want to do plants in 
	the future, best way is to have a hinged glass  cover for tank, and
	get strip lights that sit on top, with no hood. That way, you can
	add more later. Don't expect your plants to do really well until you
	have at least two tubes over the tank - 2 x 40 for a 50 gal, 
	2 x 30 for a 29 gal. Even then, it won't be enough. I just installed
	4 x 40 watt flourescent plant lights over my 55, hoping to 
	see the plants begin to take off. Had 2 x 40, it was ok, but just 
	barely. Anyway, worry about fish for now, add new plants if old one
	die, stay away from cabomba, and the plants that look like houseplants
	because they are - the pine stuff, the variegated green and white
	grassy stuff - they'll just die. Anacharis is good, java fern, java
	 moss, crypts are low light and may do well. Plastic is always an
	option, looks nice, never dies. My 29 gal is a goldfish tank, with
	blue gravel and neon plants, I love it!!! But there are nice realistic
	plastics too. Get some driftwood ( the kind that sinks, or anchored
	to slate) and/or plastic rock caves, for fish to hide in. Also some 
	nice rocks sold for use in freshwater tanks.

	Most important part of fishkeeping is water changes and not overfeeding.
	Change 25% of your water every two weeks, vacuuming gravel
	at same time - get one of those siphon hoses, "Hydro-Clean". They
	work great. Only feed what they'll eat in 5 min - we hear it again
	and again, but ignore it because fish are such beggars, but if you	
	overfeed, you'll pollute.

	Avoid fiddling with PH and hardness. Get a ph test kit, and a hardnes
	kit, small is ok. Test your tap water. Try to get fish that will
	do well in what you have. Trying to change it is liable to result
	in fluctuations that will stress them. However, most fish can tolerate
	non-optimum ph, though they may not breed, or then again they may.
	Our water is quite alkaline, but I've bred angelfish in it with 
	no amendments to it. Likewise softness/hardness - I have hard water,
	but tetras do fine in it.
	
	Be sure to get a water conditioner that removes chlorine AND 
	chloramines, and use it in all water you add to tank.

	My choice for a newbie tank would be a 29 gal, with whisper 2, 
	strip light and glass cover, two small heaters. I'd stock with 
	2 or three gouramis or angelfish - small ones, but not dwarf gourami,
	they aren't hardy, about 8 neon tetras (get larger ones so they
	don't get eaten), 2 or three corydoras cats, some other tetras. 
	But, that's just my preference. You could do a nice tank with
	all kinds of combos, it's what you like!! Good luck, let us know
	how it goes!
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
[...]
>I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
>range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?

There is no real range I am aware of. Used could save you some
money, but you have to be care of what was stored in the tank.
If someone used some bad chemicals on the tank it could 
potentially kill your fish. plastic ? (Arcylic?) look great, very
light weight, less light distortion, scratch easily, more expensive

Hmmm... I don't have a lot of time so I will try to be breif but
helpful from what I experienced. Go with the 10 gallon tank.
Try to get your equipment as cheaply as possible. Mail order from
That Fish Place works great for me. Why? There is a lot of learning
to do, so my experience has been to start small until you understand
a lot about aquariums. Water quality especailly. A 10 gallon, with
UGF, air pump, gravel, heater, food, fish, test kits, water quality
chemicals (declorinators, buffers) is good enough to keep you confused
for a while. After your tank cycles, get some hardy fish that
look interesting to you. Mill's book is a good reference. Match the
fish to your tank conditions and interests. Enjoy, learn, experiment,
have fun, and don't go broke. Oh yeah, hold off on plants, they
can be difficult and frustrating to keep and to do it right can
get expensive, but it is worth it when you do.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
[...]
>'starter-kit', I head right to the bookstore. Picked up 'You and Your Aquarium'
>by Dick Mills. Spent the rest of the day reading it, and then hit the net. Here

Could move, avoid 'starter-kits'.  Also avoid shops at the mall unless
they will sell you a tank cheap.  Shops like this will _sometimes_
sell tanks real cheap because the accesories are prices twice what
they should be.

You pick a very good book also.

[...]
>I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
>range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?

The reason the prices vary is because some people pay twice as much as
the stuff is worth at the mall.  They then expect to get 2/3rds what
they paid.  You can buy much stuff mail-order new for 1/2 the mall
price.  People that know what the stuff is worth will be selling it
for 1/3-1/4 of the people who don't.  A used price should be about 1/2
the discount new price eg new_price_at_mall=$150,
new_price_discount=$80, real_used_price=$45, clueless_used_price=$75.

Plastic looks nicer, costs more, and scratches.  I recommend sticking
with glass for your first tank unless you find a deal on a used plexi
tank in good shape.

>
>My little bro has a 10g tank somewhere that he tortured some small guppy in for
[...]

No reason not to go with a reasonable sized tank.  A 55g is the
largest mass-marketed size and is fine.  If you want something a
little smaller, go with maybe a 45g or 29g.  The 55g and 40g long are
nice because they are 48" long so you can build nice cheap flourescent
hoods for it out of shoplights.  The commercial ones are over-priced
garbage.  One of the commercial 48" hoods actually has two 24" tubes
(which cost more than 48" tubes) so the bulbs cost you 3X as much to
replace.

[...]

If you have the room, start with a least a 20g.  No reason not too.
The price difference won't be that much.

I recommend picking a style of fish and getting several of a few
different species as opposed to a one of everything community tank.
Theme tanks are much more impressive.

[...]

UGFs are okay.  Revere Flow UGFs are better (if you prefilter the
input).  You could drive a UGF with powerheads and an option gizmo
that prefilter the water with a sponge.  You could also drive it with
the output of a canister filter or both.

The alternative to UGF is a TrickleFilter for a bio filter.  Not
worth it for starters.

[...]

You have a good attitude, learn, buy, setup.  You won't kill fish if
you keep this up.

I recommend:

	Look up That Fish Place in the FAQ, order catalog.
	Look up Freshwater And Marine Aquarium magazine (FAMA)
		in FAQ and subscribe.
	Read through catalog when it comes to get feel for equipment.
	Select the size tank you want based on the space you have
	and what you want to spend after pricing things out.
	I recommend 20g-55g depending on space and money.
	Find a local store that will sell you the size tank you want
	cheap.  If you must, buy a flourescent hood for the tank.
	Alternatively, buy a glass top and build one out of a tube
	build shoplight.
	Select and order the supplies you need.
	One possible setup is:

		UGF plate
		one or two powerhead(s).
		Pre-filter powerhead gismo(s) for ReverseFlow UGF.
		Gravel (may be cheaper locally)
		PowerFilter (like Aquaclear, Wisper, etc)
		or CanisterFiler (like Fluval, Ehiem, etc.) (see FAQ)

	You will need some other gizmos like nets, food, maybe a
	python syphon thingy for filling, water changes, etc.

[...]
>Please help protect me from 'pet-store' advice. ;^)

No prob, read the FAQ, read the book, read the catalogs, read the
mags, you will soon know more than most FSGs (commonly used
ThreeLetterAcronym for FishStoreGuy).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
  Hello again... I have a couple more comments for you if you have a minute.

>Think I'm going to get a 30g with stand. That's been recommended. by a
>few people.

  I was warned by someone that 30G tanks use 36" flourescent bulbs, which are
tougher to find than the 24" bulbs that a 29G would use.  I found that _That
Fish Place_ carries 36" flourescent bulbs at a decent price, so there's one
srouce for them.  However, I thought I'd pass along the warning I got.  I'm
still up in the air between a 29G and a 30G.  29G is taller and uses standard
bulbs, but I like the overall dimensions of the 30G better.  Price diff is
about $13 in a local pet store ($40 vs $53)

[...]

  FYI, my plan for my 30G is as follows:

  30G tank  ($40-$50)
  Whisper 3 Filter ($25 -- That Fish Place)
  2 Hagen Submersible 50W heaters (for redundancy,each $13 or so at TFP)
  (this tank needs >75W total heaters)
  Full hood (Perfecto, $33 at TFP)

  Also, I'm allowing $25 for gravel and various tank deco stuff.  I'm not
getting any more fish, though -- I'll just transfer them a few at a time to the
bigger one.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Welcome to the hobby.

     Your on the right track. My suggestions are:

	1) FRESHWATER not Marine. I know you've decided that already.

	2) 20 - 30 gallon rectangular tank. The cost of the tank alone
	   will be minimal compared to the add on costs. Shop around.
	   Still try and get the 10 gallon one from your brother. You
	   might need it for a hospital tank.

	3) Good Plant-Growing flouresent lighting on a timer.

	4) A submersable heater.

	5) An RUGF rather than a UGF. Thats a Reverse UnderGravel Filter
	   rather than a normal UnderGravel Filter. I'll let you find out
	   difference. These things run off of little submersible pumps
	   called PowerHeads.

	6) To start things off, CHEAP FISH. I started my last new tank with
	   Feeder Guppies, guppies raised to feed to other fish, which cost
	   me 10 cents each. Plants too should be cheap at first: Water sprite,
	   Hygrophilia, even duck weed. These things get the bio-chemical
	   cycles going without costing a fortune if they go belly up.

	7) After about 6-8 weeks, your tank should be bio-chemically stable.
	   Now you can start thinking about what kinds of fish/plants you
	   really want. Think in terms of Landscaping (Aquascaping) and
	   Gardening. Plants and fish grow and die. There's a background and
	   a foreground. There's a bottom, mid water and surface. There are
	   plants and fish appropriate to each zone.


		|             |			Slope the gravel down from
		|             |			back to front. It makes the
		|             |			tank look deeper. It also
	back	|____         |   front		tends to accumulate the muck
	 of	|    \____    |    of		in the front where it's easier
	tank	|         \___|   tank		to remove.
		|_____________| 


	8) Water changes are important. NOT just water additions to make up
	   for evaporation. 20% per week taken out, you can use it for water-
	   ing plants, replace it with AGED or TREATED water. Chlorine is what
	   you want to get rid of in new water. It takes about three days for
	   chlorine to naturally evaporate from water. A water conditioner will
	   do it in 15 to twenty minutes. I also use blackwater extract, I'll
	   let you find out what that is, it's not necessary.

	9) Housekeeping. This is what kids fail to do when they have fish tanks.
	   This is like gardening, weeding, taking out dead fish/plants. Snail
	   removal. (water changes). This is my limitation on how many and how
	   large of a tank/s I can take care of. It's another chore that must be
	   done.

	10) Remember expensive fish are expensive for a reason. They may be
	   difficult to keep in captivity, meaning they die easily in the
	   aquarium. Or they're rare and/or only wild-caught, meaning you MAY
	   be contributing to their extinction (You also, as an experienced
	   aquarist, may be contributing to the knowledge base for it).

	11) Always ask "How big does this fish get in my X gallon aquarium?"
	   There are species out there in shops that can grow to be six feet
	   long and live for 20-30 years, if you let them. Oscars, Arowanas,
	   RedTail Catfish. I saw a RedTail Catfish at SanFrancisco's Aquarium
	   that was six feet and must've weighed 300 pounds

	12) The more places you give fish to hide, the less they do it. Except
	   certain nocturnal fish.

	13) Any fish will eat any fish that fits in it's mouth.

	14) Read about a species before buying. Just about all my impulse
	   buys wind up bad. There are several good catalog-type books that
	   will tell you about where the fish/plant comes from and what water
	   conditions it likes/tolerates, and whether it gets along with others.

	15) Don't overfeed, sit up straight, don't chew with your mouth open.

	16) Have fun. A fish tank has constant activity and no commercials.

	17) I like a tank that has groups of a species, 3 to 5 groups at most.
	    Corydoras Catfish do well in a group of 4 to 6 individuals. Tetras
	    and other mid-water schooling fish look good in a group of maybe
	    a dozen or so. A tank with ten or twenty fish, all of different
	    species looks too jumbled and chaotic.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>greenhouses and the like. - I just want a few houseplants. But this
>fish thing obviously requires a certain submergence into the fold to
                                       ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ :-)
>even begin to handle it properly.

Yeah.  The problem with fish isn't that it's a lot of work
or terribly complicated, just that it isn't intuitive.  Somebody
I know who was setting up a marine tank was really uset when
she was told that she had to do water changes every two weeks.
Seemed like a lot of effort.  But she has a cat...and she
changes his kitty litter.  But you _know_ when the litter
box needs changing (*phew*)...tank problems are less obvious,
so they need more education.

>
>Right. I'll see if I can get the 10g anyway. Besides, he's probably
>got a net and stuff too.

Good idea.  You can never have too much equipment.  I have a 
closet full :-).

>I think I'm gonna get an UGF w/powerhead. A friend who keeps fish
>recommended it. I'll also have to check out the other mail I got and
>see what they all say. Perhaps I can get an Aquaclear for the 10g tank
>and backup.

Slight misunderstanding...I meant having two filters running
on the tank at all times.  This may sound like overkill, and
maybe it is when you're first starting and have cheap fish :-).
What happens is the impellers (basically the same system in
powerheads and power filters, sometimes a better design in
canisters) wears with age.  Then if the power cuts some night
they won't come back on without some jiggling.  If nobody's
there to jiggle, it takes little time for your biobed to
die, followed by your fish.  This happened to a friend of
mine when I was fish sitting for him.  One day all was well.
Two days later the filter had failed to restart, the ammonia
level in the tank was through the roof, the filter was dead,
and the fish were at the surface gasping.  I spent the rest
of the week nursemaiding the tank (he still owes me :-)  ). Most 
of my impellers now stick occasionally, but I haven't lost 
anything yet.... 

When you get to bigger tanks this becomes somewhat less
important, since large UGF's will have 2 or more powerheads,
and the canisters are, I think, more reliable.

>OK. Makes sense. But don't I want a plant or two in the fish tank? Or
>should I get fake ones.

Umm...ok, bearing in mind that I've become something of a plant
growing snob lately (I have two dedicated plant tanks, one
fairly high tech), I'll say the following.  There are some
plants (java moss, java fern, water sprite) that are pretty
hardy and grow under low light.  To do much better, you need
more light.  But more light makes the algae grow, too.  To
beat that you have to decrease the number of fish dramatically
(to around 1/4" of fish per gallon) so that the nutrient
levels are so low that the plants outcompete the algae and
starve them out.  But most people aren't willing to have
so few fish, so they're continually frustrated.  As an example
of this kind of tank, I have a 30g with 2 24" fl. lights
on it that's looking pretty good lately.  It has a sand
substrate and virtually every square inch is planted.  It has 3 
(three) fish in it...a breeding pair of rainbows and a clown pleco.

So I'd say play around with the plants I mentioned, but don't
expect a garden showpiece.  This is what most people do, and 
the plants are basically disposable...they last a few months,
then you buy new ones (whereas people with "serious" plant 
tanks end up throwing out buckets of plants every week or to
just to keep the tank from being overgrown). If you get really determined 
one day, my suggestion is to start a tank specifically for plants,
where the fish are a secondary concern.  That mind set
was what finally got me a successful plant tank.  When you're
ready for that, ask the net again and you'll get lots of
input (there are a number of plant fiends around :-)  ).

>suggestion is something I needed. I'm worried about paying too much
>for stuff just because I don't know any better.

Mail order is _much_ cheaper...they buy in volume and get
special deals from the manufacturers that the corner stores
can't match.  But remember, if you find a local store you
like, throw them some business to help keep them in business...

>One last thing. How about some suggested fish species and plants for
>this 30g tank? I was recommended by that fried to NOT get Angelfish
>until I had a feel for it, but to get a grammy and a couple of catfish
>(he recommended 'pleckos'). He said to go with no more than 5 fish for
>the 1st few months. Comments?

The FAQ discusses new tank syndrome and the nitrogen cycle...make
sure you understand it.  It's pretty much the key to this
whole business.  In brief, yeah, maybe _one_ small
fish for the first month or so.  Get a test kit (I like the
Tetra Laborette, available mail order ~$14, for beginners) and use
it to monitor your ammonia and nitrate levels.  

Angels probably are sensitive...don't know much about them
myself.  Plecos are nice (they eat algae), but refrain from
buying one that will get 2 feet long (many of them do).  Clown
plecos are nice...I think most of the peckoltia (sp?) family
stay small.  Also, give your pleco  a bit of cucumber every
now and then.  People buy them to eat algae, then when it's
gone they slowly starve to death.  Lots of people wonder
why they can only keep plecos alive for about 6 months...
Often they're half starved when you buy them (if you see
bits of cucumber skin in the store tanks, you at least
know the store has half a clue...)

Best thing I can say as far as picking fish (again) is to
find a good store, then hold onto it for dear life :-).  
Might take some doing:  I drive to Baltimore (from D.C.)
to get to my favorite store.  But a good store (wth
knowlegable staff and healthy fish) is priceless to a
newcomer.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Forgot to mention.  You said you had a friend who kept
fish.  When you start your tank, steal a little of his
gravel (particularly if he has a UGF, but it'll work
either way) and put it in your tank with your first
fish.  That will "seed" your bacterial bed and help
jump start you past the initial breakin period (it
won't eliminate it, but it should shorten it).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
I can't really help you, since I'm pretty much a marine reef sort of
person.  I just wanted to compliment you on thinking, reading,

>....My first inclination
>is to get a reasonably large tank (maybe 25g to 55g). But is that too much for
>a newbie?

This I can take a stab at.  It is certainly true that the bigger the
marine tank the easier it is to maintain, and I believe that this is
true of FW tanks as well.  The only limitation is money and how much
work it is to clean and do water changes.  Smaller tanks are less
forgiving if something goes wrong.

[...]

>....Please help protect me from 'pet-store' advice. ;^)

Most of us have to learn not to trust stores the hard way.  You are
trying to avoid the initiation rituals...  :)

As far as I can tell you're doing everything just right.  Good luck.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
[...]
>'starter-kit', I head right to the bookstore. Picked up 'You and Your Aquarium'
>by Dick Mills. Spent the rest of the day reading it, and then hit the net. Here
[...]

Excellent starter book...I have it as well.  Some of the info is a little old on
the hardware end of the hobby as you will find when you look around a real
_fish_-store.  This is one thing you really need to concentrate on
straight-away -- FIND A DEDICATED FISH-ONLY STORE THAT YOU FEEL YOU CAN PLACE
_SOME_ OF YOUR CONFIDENCE IN.  Mall-shops may be okay for a few fish later on
down the road, but I regard any advice they may try to give me as sketchy at
best.  Even after you find a good fish-shop, their advice is still only worth
so much -- your experience will likely be your best advice.

[...]

I highly recommend "used" tanks.  I have two -- a 20gal "high" and a 30gal
long.  I got a complete Oceanic tank/light/stand along with various nice
filters, heaters, and pumps for $160.  Most equipment you find for sale will
not be Oceanic (sort of the Premuim brand, but not necessarily the best) so
will be somewhat cheaper ($$-wise).  I got the 20gallon with full complement of
basic equipment but no stand for $75 and that (I found out later) was even a
little steep.

[...]

If it's free, a 10g will be okay for starters, but you WILL want a bigger tank
SOON, so I would recommend against spending much (if any) money on one and it's
equipment.

[...]

Most equipment you would use on a 55g would be too much for a 10g and vise
versa.  10g equipment may work effectively on somethign up to 20g, but only if
it were a little over-sized to begin with.

[...]

If you go with something 20g or higher, an UGF would be run best if it were run
reverse flow (Goog kits available with Penguin powerheads.)  UGF (or RFUGF for
_r_everse _f_low) is a good option, but requires some hassle with cleaning. 
Over-the-back power filter are the easiest to maintain, but most provide little
biological filtration.  Canisters (in my opinion) are overpriced and are best
suited to specialized situations.

My advice would be (if you get a 20g-plus tank) would be to get a good
power-filter _and_ RFUGF.  The over-thhe-back Power Filter would provide good
mechanical filtration and help keep the RFUGF from accumulating too much gunk. 
The RFUGF provides mega-biological filtration and the RF part helps keep the
gunk near the top of the gravel for easy removal by both the power filter and
by your gravel vacuuming.  (if you look around a fish-store, you'l know what a
gravel vacuum is and probably know how it works -- if not, ask :)

One thign with RFUGF is that little aeration of your water will occur.  The
Power Filter will help, but a small air pump with an air-stone would greatly
help if you really want a high density of fish.

I would recommend keeping your stocking density low.  If you do this, your
Powerfilter and RFUGF will be able to perform most of your maintenance for you.

If you still want specific sugestion for equipment (size, brand, etc..) ask
away!  I have some stuff I need to get done right now, so I'll tank with you
later!  :)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ask and ye shall receive;  here is the 'beginner' tank that I typically
set people (my friends--I don't work in the pet biz) up with.  It has
the advantage of being large enough to have a decent population of
interesting fish while being cheap enough to be realistic for someone
who just wants to try out the aquarium thing.

20 gallon 'long' style tank -- 30x12x10 inches, with hood.  In my opinion,
20 is the minimum aquarium size.  Contrary to intuition, bigger tanks are
_easier_, because the larger volume of water is more stable and you are
less likely to commit the fatal mistake of overstocking.  If you want
plants, you'll have to shell out for a 'daylight' style fluorescent
bulb for the hood - cool white won't cut it.

UGF with one approx. 100 gal per hour powerhead.  Air pumps are obsolete
for running UGF's.  Use the powerhead with it's aeration function.  Also
buy a gravel vacuum siphon, as you will have to clean the gravel.
An alternative to gravel vacuuming is to set up a reverse-flow UGF, but
then you will have to run an airstone somewhere in the tank for
aeration.  UGF's are essential; nothing else will provide biological
filtration nearly as well for nearly as cheap.

Small size box filter.  A Whisper #1, Aqua Clear 150, et al.  They all
work.  Use activated carbon in it and clean it regularly.  Filters
take crap out of the water, but only you can take it out of the tank
(by cleaning the filter).

100 W heater. I like Visi Therm heaters, but others are good too.

Other items to have:
Basic water test kit.  Tetra makes a good one; whichever you get should
test ammonia, nitrite, pH, and hardness.

Thermometer.

5 gal water jug for water changes.

Some general advice:

Ignore formulas which tell you that you can put one inch of fish per
N sqare inches of tank surface or whatever.  The fundamental issue
is how much fish food you put in the tank and how often you do water
changes.  Pet stores keep huge numbers of fish in small tanks by
feeding them almost nothing and assuming they'll sell before they
starve.  This approach is not sustainable.  Remember that it's a lot
more fun to have a few healthy, vibrant, active fish than a lot of
sluggish, underfed, overstressed ones.

Feed the largest variety of food you can find.  One type of food
day in and day out isn't any better for fish than it is for us.

Do a 20% water change every week.

Don't get cichlids unless you are prepared to get completely hooked
and spend the rest of your life catering to their needs - take my
word for it.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>Those prices suprise me. I'm looking at used 29 and 30g tanks for $100
>(everything included) with the best ones being $75 or $50. Maybe I
>should just buy a new one. At least I know it's new. But does that
>include a stand?

Well, if you can get to Lancaster, PA (where _That Fish Place_ has their retail
outlet) they're selling Perfecto 30G tanks in the $35 range.  Otherwise, look
for used ones.  There are always lots of people upgrading to bigger tanks or
selling old ones because they're such a pain in the ass to move.  I took a cue
from your message of yesterday and looked in the local ad rag and found a guy
selling a complete 29G setup (with everything from the stand to the gravel/deco
stuff).  I'm going to offer him $100 for the whole setup and see what he says,
because the 30G setup that I'm planning, even at the discount prices, will cost
over $140 without the stand (I was planning to set up a couple of cinderblocks
and lay a board across them).

  I've found that a stand for a 29G or a 30G is in the $70 range around here,
and about $40 by mail-order.  That's for a basic stand -- cabinet stands (with
the door in them to hide your fish stuff) are up around $100 for a 29G.

>[...] However, I've been seeing alot of support for Aquaclear Power Filters
>rather than Whispers.. Just though you should know.

  I know that many people prefer the Aquaclears -- I had a "mini" for a while
and it worked OK.  I just like the media cartridge design of the Whispers --
it's a big convenience.  The AquaClears seem to filter more water with a
smaller box than others do.

>>  Full hood (Perfecto, $33 at TFP)
>
>Is that a glass hood? Does it come with lights or are you going to
>make your own lighting fixtures?

  It's a plain old plastic hood-n-light combination.  While I see the
advantages of the glass hoods, I'm not equipped (nor do I have time for) making
my own lights.  Now, if I were into plants, I would definitely need to come up
with a more potent light setup, but I'm not.  If I do get into plants, I'll
just replace the hood with something else at that time.

  A word of explanation -- I'm pretty busy, and we just moved into our new
place 4 weeks ago.  I'm trying for the best combination of a nice tank with
enough little things to cut down on the maintenance time without compromising
the fish or making it look stupid.  This is where the Whisper filters come out
on top for me.  If you have more time to devote to your guests, then by all
means do so -- putting more time into your setup really shows.  I'm lucky that
I have an established 10G which requires less than 15 minutes of maintenance
every couple of weeks (except for daily feeding).

>[...] This 'hobby' feels like it's going to be cheaper than
>photography at least! I always thought those big tanks (50g and up)
>were several hundred to over $1000 each. I never realized you could
>get a used 20g tank for $25 and filters are cheap too. I woulda bought
>a tank years ago!

  Acrylic tanks start at around $300 for a 20L.  That's probably where you got
those prices from.  However, I also was under the impression that the tanks
were $$$$ when they're actually $$ before last year.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
The advice I've been getting here is to skip plants until I get the
rest going right (i.e. filters and fish and stuff). Add plants later.
At that point I'll worry about lights. However, if I get a hood with a

     I'll make one last plug for plants. Granted, they may not live
     forever, I think having live plants around helps get the life
     in a tank going. If you buy say $1-2 worth of anacharis and
     dip it in a dilute solution of potassium permanganate
     (purple solution available from Jungle) avoid bringing in
     diseases. Stick a group on each side of the tank. Having plants
     around helps prevent or reduce the spread of algae as the nitrates
     and other fertilizers rise in concentration.

But then again, some people are dumping *everything* for $100 or so. I
figure if I can get a good 30g tank and stand for $50 (if I'm lucky) I
can splurge on the rest. From the Want-Ads:

30g with everything: $100
same (but with $200 in rocks): $200
same: $100
30g with professional gear (top-o-line) inc fish: $175
$110
$100
30g with Fluval 100, hood, heater, gravel: $40 (should call him)
$110 w/UGF and all
$100 w/UGF and all
30g w/heater, filter, gravel, hood, $75
same, $75

      These numbers seem comparable to what we get around here.
      However, I haven't had much luck getting to these things
      before the rest. My wife suggests calling the day the thing
      comes out, I'll have to try that. Actually, some of these
     numbers are really good...
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
I enjoyed reading your post. I can give you some advice from
personal experience, and I expect you'll read similar things 
from others in this group.

[...]
>I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
>range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?
Correct. Many ambitious Christmas gifts are collecting dust by now...
My rule-of-thumb is $1/gallon for a useable tank only. Up to $2/gallon
if there are accessories such as a stand. Beginner kits are just 
that. Usually not much worth keeping if you stay with the hobby.

Tanks can be either glass or acrylic. Each has its advantages and
disadvantages. Very old glass tanks has metal frames. These are
not recommended, and are now quite rare. Acrylic is more popular
with saltwater keepers, and I know little about that side of the hobby.

Acrylic offers more variety for shape and looks nice because the
plastic more closely matches the refractive index of water - ie
the view has less optical distortions.

Acrylic is easier to scratch and often has limited size access holes
to make cleaning harder. Take your choice.

>My little bro has a 10g tank somewhere 
>Anyway, I could grab that thing
>(he must have it in basement somewhere) and outfit it with new gear. 
[.....]
Sounds like your  hooked....

>But now
>I'm thinking 'will I outgrow this small tank too soon?'. 
Ah. My guess was right!

>My first inclination
>is to get a reasonably large tank (maybe 25g to 55g). But is that too much for
>a newbie?

I currently have modified 10gallon tanks for breeding, with two or
three independent sections. On the other end of the scale I have a
couple of 55gallon aquariums.

A 10gallon is something of a challenge for the beginner, but if you
do have success you will be in good shape for a larger tank, which
I find easier as the size goes up.

My favourite tank size is a 29 high (30 x 12 x 18 high), take a look
at the local pet shop. Avoid anything that has appliancce bulbs or
needs a 36 inch fluorescent lamp, which is an odd size. 

Lighting is very important, especially if you attempt live plants.
Fluorescent bulbs offer a better choice of light characteristics.
Four foot bulbs are plentiful and two footers are almost as easy 
but not much cheaper. 

Avoid the Hex tanks for two reasons, unless you like them a lot. 
They are deep, making planting and gravel cleaning tough, and the
small surface area reduces potential fish loading.

>I plan to keep freshwater tropical fish - Cyprinids, Angelfish, 
[.....]
>I'd like to have a healthy mix in a community tank with plants as well.
Good choice. I have always kept angels and breed enough to stock
the local pet shops.

>Or start with
>the samll tank and get an additional large tank later... but in that case
>should I get pumps big enough for both tanks together?
If you get a second (ie larger tank) your will likely keep the smaller
one. It will still require support hardware, and so there is not
much ecconomy to buying big gear for the future big tank, and
running it on the smaller tank first.

If both tanks are together you can use one air pump or one timer
for both, but generally each tank has it's own heater and lights.

>Then there's the filters. Do I want an UGF? I mean, I've been 
>reading about
>the different filter types and the benefits/drawbacks of each. 
Ah, the most hotly debated issue!!
If you aquire a used UGF then use it. I would not pay for one. I 
like motor driven power filters, the bigger the better (within 
reason, you're not attempting a tidal pool, are you?).

The third candidate for filters is the cannister. High initial
cost, easier to hide, lower maintenance due to longer periods
between cleanings.

>But which is
>the better all-purpose device for the basic newbie with big aspirations? I
>guess I'm looking for a 'What you want is one of these' statement from someone
>in the know. And how big? And what brand? All of the above for pumps, heaters,
>and lights.
Seeing as you asked.

--29H or similar tank and stand.
--Full hood with fluorescent bulb. Perfecto brand. (Use the 
  supplied bulb for 1 year, try a Triton or Vita-lite next time).
--External power filter. I like Supreme brand but there are lots
  to choose from. Go for 5 to 10 tank volume water changes per
  hour (ie 150 - 300 gph stated pump capacity). Supreme AquaMaster
  PME is very good for 10g, okay for 29g. Supreme AquaKing is
  very good for 29g and okay for 55g.
--Use activated carbon and floss, buy in bulk and avoid the
  costly convienence 'pads'.
--Air pump and air stone. The whisper pumps are great, so is the
  Tetra Luft G. Airline and gang valves to match.
--Heater. A submergible is very desirable as they are of better
  construction. I like Ebo-Jager. 5W per gallon or 150W for 29H.
--Timer. Get an appliance timer from the hardware store. Set the
  lights as you like for a total of about 12-14  hrs per 24 hrs.
  Heater, air and filter pumps run 24 hours a day.

>I guess the big Q would be, what's a really tried and true setup for the
>beginner. I don't want to wind up killing fish over ignorance, but I don't want
>the weenie-gonna-lose-interest-in-a-month deal from the pet shop either.
See above!
[.....]
[...]
However, it is smart to buy a tank locally as shipping is prohibitive.
Other 'hardware' is best bought by mail order. Try the FAQ or
phone 'That Fish Place' in Lancaster Pa, 1-800-733-3829. Ask for
a catalog - you won't be sorry.

>Please help protect me from 'pet-store' advice. ;^)
Don't knock the local stores too hard! You'll need fish and
advice. Find someone you like, not necessarily in the mall,
and put some business their way. That's who you'll turn to
if a fish is sick or you goofed and bought one that is ripping
up you tank.
[......]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Up to a point, larger tanks are easier to manage than smaller ones.  I
think 20 gallons is a nice size for a newbie.  Anything up to 55 or so
is stable and stays healthy, but the bigger size is more of a hassle
for cleaning and water changes.  My favorite filters are hang-on-the
back power filters -- Aquaclear is good.  Very low maintenance.  With
gravel and not too many plants, I would say maintenance would be a 4
gallon water change, with gravel vacuuming, every two weeks or so, plus
daily or twice-daily feeding.  You may have to scrape the glass at
cleaning time if you've got algae problems.  The water change will take
less than half an hour once you get proficient.  If you don't mind
wrestling big buckets of water, consider a larger tank, and keep the
water changes at 10%-20%.

Putting the lights on a timer will help keep both you and your fish
sane.

I got a 20 gallon goldfish tank three years ago.  A year ago, I
added a 60 gallon saltwater tank, which charmed me so thoroughly that
I've decommissioned the goldfish tank.

FYI, I think 60 gallons is a much more attractive size than 55, for
not much more work -- 55s are awfully skinny front to back.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Welcome to a wonderful hobby!

I started keeping fish about 4 years ago.  I "jumped in" as it were, and 
later regretted it.  You're doing a good job collecting information first.

As for set up, I'd say it doesn't matter too much.  Pretty much anything 
can be made to work.  For example, I've had white clouds breed in my
tanks many times.  The only times I've seen any fry is when the tank has 
NO filtration whatsoever.  This is mostly because in these situation, the
only fish I have in the tanks are white clouds, but you can see that the
filtration is not so important.

The most difficult thing to get straight -- the part that comes from
experience -- is  achieving *balance*.  Without balance, your tank just
won't be as enjoyable.  You'll get algae, or snails, or less-than-happy
fish.

I would suggest that you start slow, and keep things simple at first.

I have in my office at work what is probably an optimal tank for a
beginner. It's a 20 gallon tank on a store-bought stand.  It has very
little gravel  (enough to cover the bottom all over, with a little
mounded up at one end) and is therefore easy to clean.  For filtration,
I run a tetra brilliant sponge filter (driven by a Whisper 500 air
pump), and a Hagen Aquaclear 150 power filter.  The tank is stocked
lightly (a pair of kribensis and 8 tiger barbs) and is moderately
planted with live plants.  I run a Triton 18" bulb approximately 8 hours 
per day.

Some key points:

   o for stability: keep the tank lightly stocked, keep a minimum of
                    gravel, and clean the tank regularly.  Feed lightly
                    (once every two days is fine, ensure that all food
                    is consumed within a few minutes).

   o to keep algae to a minimum: lightly stocked tank, live plants,
                    regular water changes, 'reasonable' light

   o for plants: at least moderate light.  High light is better but
                    if you don't get the balance right you'll get
                    algae.  If you are using a minimum amount of gravel,
                    pot the plants.  For a potting substrate I use
                    organic potting soil (no chemicals added), a pellet
                    of laterite, then topped with a thin layer of gravel
                    to keep the water from getting muddy.  With this 
                    substrate, you won't need to add an additives to the
                    water.  If you don't pot your plants, you will need
                    to add fertilizers -- balance is difficult to achieve
                    here, watch for algae problems.

                    I only have success for certain types of plants.  Try
                    different species.  If it seems you can't keep one type,
                    try another.

   o for quiet: a like my tanks to be very quiet.  The power filters are
                    good for this.  I find Hagen and Penguin to be 
                    absolutely silent.  The Whisper models tend to buzz.
                    The Whisper air pumps, on the other hand, are very
                    quiet as far as air pumps go.  I've never tried the
                    tetra luft pump which seems to be highly recommended.
                    Avoid the Hagen air pumps.

I guess the most important bit of advice for setting a tank up is: go slowly.
It takes anywhere between 6 and 12 weeks before your biological filter is
completely established, and if you place too many fish in the tank during
this period, you will kill them.  Even after the bio-filter is established,
make changes slowly.  Don't wait 12 weeks with 2 fish in your tank then go
out and buy 15 more -- your bio-filter won't be able to handle the sudden
increase in fish waste.  Give it time to grow.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>I'm seeing 55g tanks for anything from $50 to $350. What's the 'real' price
>range? 

Depends on where you live.  In Los Angeles you can buy a new 55 gal tank (no
"accessories") for $50 if you shop around.  Around Silicon Valley you will 
pay at least 50% more, perhaps 100% more for the same thing.  

>Should I even go used? 

The prices for used tanks vary wildly.  In general glass tanks should not cost
more than $1/gal if they are in excellent condition.  You probably don't
want the "accessories" that people sell with their used tanks.  Invariably
you will spend way too much time cleaning them and they will almost always
be the most hideous colours and shapes.  Red gravel, neon plants, gaudy
castles, ugly rocks, nonfunctional and obsolete heaters, wimpy air pumps,
etc.  Buy equipment by mail order and you will spend less for brand new
things.

>What about plastic?

Older plexiglas tanks clouded and discolored with time.  The newer acrylic
tanks are quite sturdy and reliable.  They are much lighter and their
refraction index is better than that of glass, so the view through the tank
is not as distorted.  On the other hand, they are more likely to get
scratched and are mnore expensive.

>I'm thinking 'will I outgrow this small tank too soon?'. My first inclination
>is to get a reasonably large tank (maybe 25g to 55g). But is that too much for
>a newbie?

The usual reply is: the bigger the tank, the more stable it will be.
However, no two tanks or aquarists are alike, so it all depends.

>should I get pumps big enough for both tanks together?

Bigger pumps make more noise.

>Then there's the filters. Do I want an UGF? 

UGF requires regular maintenance.  An external power filter may be simpler
and quieter.  

>And how big?

Depends on the size of your tank.  Filters usually have the recommended tank
sizes listed on their boxes.

>All of the above for pumps, heaters, >and lights.

It all depends on what fish and plants you will be keeping.  Decide on
*that* and your questions will be answerable.

>I guess the big Q would be, what's a really tried and true setup for the
>beginner. I don't want to wind up killing fish over ignorance, but I don't want

The best approach is to get an aquarium book and read it.  These types of
books usually have suggestions for various setups and tank "stuffing" ideas.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>Yeah. Sounds like it. I'm looking for a 30g now and the best price
>I've seen is $40. Most people want $100.

$40 for a complete 30g set-up???  (tank, heater, NICE wood stand, good
FLOURESCENT light, plus all filters, heater, etc)

That reminds me about wood stands -- DO NOT get a press-board veneered
stand.  According to Murphy's Law it will get wet (obviously! :) warp,
get weak and COLLAPSE!  Make sure you get a good solid-wood stand! 
There's nothing wrong with the wroght-iron variety (aparth from
personal aesthetics), but if you look at a set-up with one of these it
should be CONSIDERABLY less than a comparable set-up with solid-wood
stand.

[...]

>Well.... I've been putting alot of thought to this. At this point I'm
>torn between an Aquaclear Power Filter and an Enheim canister filter.
>I've decided not to go UGF at all... but alot of netters are trying to
>persuade me.

Why no UGF?  Really, if you have a substrate at all, it will require
cleaning regardless of if you have UGF or RFUGF or nothing.  My
thinking is that if your gonna have it and _have_ to clean it, then
you may as well have the substrate working for you between cleanings
as a biological filter.  (RFUGF is deffinately the best option for 30g
and up -- much less maintenance than standard UGF.)

If I were to buy a new power-filter it would definately be either a
Whisper or an AquaClear.  Whispers really impressed me after this one
I use (that came with the set-up)....SUPER-quiet and the media-bags
are really cheap to replace when you buy them in the handy 12 or
24-pak boxes.  I've never used an AquaClear, but I have a similar
old-model AquaClear (called Dynaflow -- same but just a plain
box-filter, no fancy baskets or flow controls.) and it's a little
noisy if I don't keep the water level up religiously.  Also, the cost
of replcement filter-sponges and other media are kinda expensive for
the Aqua-clears.

I still hold that canisters (_especially_ Eheim!) are over-priced and
really only useful in specialized situations.  They're also much more
difficult to clean.

If you really feel your situation demands the use of a canister
filter, get one that is reasonable priced like Magnum or Fluval (by
the same people as the AquaClear).

>>I would recommend keeping your stocking density low.  If you do this, your
>>Powerfilter and RFUGF will be able to perform most of your maintenance for you
>
>Yes. I agree. I plan to keep stock quite low at first and gradually
>increase it as I get better at all this.

Without some type of UGF, you'll deffinately want to keep your load
low beacuse you'll have a (relatively) much smaller amount of
boilogical filtration to deal with the load.  Also, every time you
change your filter media, you'll be throwing away your biological
filter.  With an AquaClear, you may be able to get around this hitch
of throwing out your bio. filter by keeping a bag of what are called
"Bio-beads" after the mechaniocal filtration (sponge).  You don't
throw these away.

>Yeah... could you recommend an air pump for a 30g tank? Won't run
>anything other than an airstone, but I'd like to leave room for
>expansion and get a variable type. Got any ideas? I'm interested in
>the diaphram/vibrator type mechanisms.

The Whisper 650 has 2 outlets and adjustable output.
	$16.79 from Mail Order Pet Shop

Ph#:  1-800-366-7387 for 24hr Product Info. and Ordering
      1-800-326-6677 for Customer Service
      1-800-877-3834 for FAX
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
 I'm sure you've already heard from dozens of fishnuts on your desires
to start a tank but I'll add my $00.02 anyway.

  First off, WELCOME!  You've chosen an exhilarating and sometimes-profitable
hobby.  Although I have not made any cash off of my tanks (no desire, yet)
maybe someday I will.

  The first bit of advice, and I'm sure everyone is saying the same thing,
is buy the biggest tank you can get to begin with.  Maintenance is much
easier the bigger you get and the cost for equipment is marginally higher.
I recommend 29 gallons and up, 55 being the optimal.  Since there are all
sorts of shapes you can find a 55 to fit virtually any space.  Get your
brother's 10gallon anyway to use as a quarantine and hospital tank.  After
you add the initial fish you should quarantine future additions for a few
weeks to be sure they don't introduce unwanted diseases, etc. into the
established tank.  Many netters have lost whole communities to one diseased
new fish.  Back to tanks; used tanks are fine as long as you can run water
in them to be sure they're water tight.  Small leaks around the seams can
easily be fixed but larger ones on any facing should be avoided.  The
two types I would recommend are All-Glass and acrylic.  All-Glass is heavier
and thicker which makes it harder to break.  Acrylic is lighter and thinner
but very sturdy.  Other folks can give more details on the two types.

For a freshwater community tank with plants I'd go with a UGF, either straight
or set up for reverse flow. Some people power the UGF with standard 'airstones
in uplift tubes' but most prefer using powerheads.  Powerheads move more water
through the substrate (gravel/sand) and can even aerate the water.  They also
create currents strong enough for a river setup.    If your tanks is larger
than 40 gallons I'd get an external filter as well, either a powerfilter type 
(hangs on the back side with a drop tube into the water to suck it out) or a 
canister type (more expensive but infinitely better).  Once you learn about 
mechanical and biological filtration and aeration you will understand what type of 
filters to get.  Until you get experienced with multiple tanks (like a few
years) avoid trying to setup a central filtration system.  You may kill all
your tanks trying to do that now.  To recommend a filter, I'd say get an
Eheim canister filter, internal or external.  And a UGF powered with two
power heads rated for your size tank.  Be sure to use at least 2" of gravel/sand
on the UGF plates.  The thicker your substrate the better bacterial colonies
you get.

Get a good test kit.  In the beginning you should check your water constantly.
This is how you'll know what's happening in the water.  

If you're going to add plants, do so when you first setup the tank.  Add
about 1/3 of the water, plant the plants, then fill the tank up.  Your
decorations should be in place before you add any water.

Start out with hardy fish, add only a few in the beginning.  After about
6 weeks test your water.  If ammonia and nitrite levels are zip then you
can gradually add more fish, whatever you want.  But be sure you research
the fish you want to be sure they can exist in the temperature, pH and
water hardness that your tank has.  Also, be sure that all the fish you want
in the end are compatible, i.e. don't put Neons and small Angels in with
an adolescent Oscar.  

To avoid writing a book right now, I'll just explain my setup.  I've been
involved with it for 4 months and I've not had any problems.  Everyone on
the net says I have a good setup and am doing great for a beginner.
My setup:

Hardware:
45 gal High showtank (more square than rectangle)
UGF powered by one Hagen 201 powerhead and one airstone in an uplift tube.
One supplementary airstone floating freely.
Whisper 800 airpump driving the above stuff.
Whisper 3 (300gph) external powerfilter.
One 40w fluorescent light
One 30w Vita-lite (full spectrum)

Decorations:
2 large redstone rocks arranged to create a cave.
One linear, flat redstone rock, lying flat and propped up to create a 'ledge'.

Live Plants;
4 Vallisneria Gigantis
2 Ludwigia repens (red, very cool!)
2 Hygrophila (*large*)
2 arrowheads
3 cryptocoryne willsii (sp?)
1 Vallisneria spiralis (corkscrew val)
1 bushy plant (I forgot the name)

Now the fish:
1 Geophagus Jurupari (6")
1 Marble Angel (small, 2")
2 Blue Gourami (2 & 3")
2 Gold Gourami (2.5 & 3.5")
1 Pl*co (3")

More Angels will be added in the next three weeks.

The above tank has done very well.  I also have a 10 gallon FW tropical
with Neons, Swordtails, Red tail Black Shark and Chinese Algae eater.
There is also  bare-bones 10 gallon I use for quarantine and hospital.

One thing to remember is:  YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES AND FISH WILL DIE.  I
have not heard from any beginner that has not lost a few fish.  That is why
you start with inexpensive, hardy ones.  Save the Discus and other expensive
fish for later, when  you have more experience.  Get a good book on the 
care of aquaria and read, read, read.  Get involved with this netgroup.
They have helped me out a lot.

If you care to correspond I'd be more than happy to oblige.  Sometimes it's
easier to chat with someone at the same experience level rather than get
inundated by the hard-core fish heads out there.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
>That's cool. And that's why I don't really want to go with an UGF.
>It's hard to justify that to the UGF people though... sounds like
>laziness and appears to be a sell-out of tank quality to time.

My 10G tank looks just as good as any tank in a store with a UGF -- the trick
to keeping your gravel clean is not to feed too much -- most of the crud in
there is food, not fish turds.  As I said before, the thought of leaving it in
there to rot in a UGF disgusts me (but I like the idea of RUGF, and will
probably try it in a bigger tank with a cannister filter).  Also, I don't need
an air pump or power head, wihch can be noisy.  I don't have any aeration at
all except for the filter, and it doesn't spray/splash water at all.  In fact
it's so quiet that I never hear it -- noise was a big consideration when
getting a tank...  I'm trying to avoid air pumps for that reason.
[...]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
You're right that bacteria populate the entire tank, but they don't
come in significant populations except where there is significant
water flow and lots of surface area.  The surface area of the inside
of your glass is not significant relative to the internal surface
area of a sponge.  So, if you kill off your bio filter, the rest of
the bacteria in the tank will do some good, but not enough to keep
a moderately stocked tank healthy.

As for running a sponge filter along with the aquaclear:  it goes back
to what I said earlier -- anything can be made to work.  I've got a
friend who runs most of her tanks with only an aquaclear for filtration. 
 I prefer to supplement the aquaclear with a sponge because it means
that I don't have to be a careful when cleaning the aquaclear.  One
problem with sponge filters is that they are ugly.  If you can hide it
behind plants or rocks, that's not an issue.  In any case, I don't want
to suggest you follow a particular course, I just want to suggest
alternatives for you.

As for the ammo chips in the aquaclear:  I'd leave them out  after the
tank has cycled.  They don't do anything that the bio filter doesn't do
already, so they're just a waste of money.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
[...]
 I use That Fish Place, and have been happy with them.

[...]
 While you are looking for a used 30g, you might be able to find a used 10
 for less than $20.

[...]
 Two heaters is good idea, but a little harder to balance.  I have had good
 luck with Whisper.

>OK. Makes sense. What kind of vaccuum pump should I get? I noticed a
>few in the catalog. Alot of people are recommending those 'Python'
>things too.
  The cheapest one.  All they are are some tubing with a wider tube at
the end.  I personally have never used a 'Python' water changer.  I don't
use tap water in my aquariums, and have four five-gallon water bottles that
I carry around.  For one 30 gallon tank you will not be changing more than
five gallons anyway.  
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
[...]
>range? Should I even go used? What about plastic?
   Price is quite variable, a dirt cheap price is about $1 a gallon for small tanks.
 3$ for a large tank.  ( 55 gallon is medium )
   Going used is the best way to go.  You can get a stand and a tank for less than
 what the tank alone will cost.  But be careful, If you don't wan't to reglue 
 the tank make sure that there are no big leaks.  Look for water marks on the 
 underside.  Just be patient and look for a well maintained tank.  Also expect
 to buy new filters, power heads, and lamps for a used tank.  These are the parts
 that wear out the fastest.
    Plexiglass is a tough call.  It is light and easy to move, and you can polish
 the minor scratches out very easily.  It is more prone to scratching than glass,
 you need to be very careful when cleaning it( Scraping ).  I happen to have all
 glass aquariums, but I suspect that it is a personal preference.  
 
[...]
 Big tanks just require more $$, and patience.  Also more to clean, more fish
 to watch, more water to change.  Same steps just more of it. 

>So maybe 10g is too small? Maybe not? I could always get a bigger tank and
  Yeah it is.
>grab that little one for breeding or something at a later stage. Or start with
  Good idea, not only breeding, but isolation for sick fish and new fish.
>the samll tank and get an additional large tank later... but in that case
>should I get pumps big enough for both tanks together?
  Just put a inexpensize UGF in the small one, and a air pump to drive it, and
  a heater.  Should use mail order houses to save money.  Just look in a 
  TFH or other magazine.

  I would get the small tank and start keeping fish in it right away.  Get used
to the maintenance that is required for a small tank.  See of you really like
keeping fish.  Then in a couple months decide about getting the large tank.
If you are setting up a tank with many plants don't use bubbles.  They need the C02.
Use power heads submerged a couple of inches.  Don't use any filers that agitate
the surface alot.

>Then there's the filters. Do I want an UGF? I mean, I've been reading about
>the different filter types and the benefits/drawbacks of each. But which is
>the better all-purpose device for the basic newbie with big aspirations? I
  I think UGF is simple enough, and if you keep it clean you will never have 
  problems.  Of course if you keep too many fish in a tank extra filtration and
  cleaning will be needed.
>guess I'm looking for a 'What you want is one of these' statement from someone
>in the know. And how big? And what brand? All of the above for pumps, heaters,
>and lights.
  Start with the 10g, and make sure you like the results.  I have had good luck
with EBO-JAGER heaters.  They are easy to set, and have lasted years.  Get
submersable heaters.  They cost a bit more, but are worth it.  I use a variety of
differnt air pumps.  The biggest difference is noise, the more expensive ones
make less.  Power heads, I use AquaClear 201s, I have had many problems with the
301's so I don't use them.

>I guess the big Q would be, what's a really tried and true setup for the
>beginner. I don't want to wind up killing fish over ignorance, but I don't want
>the weenie-gonna-lose-interest-in-a-month deal from the pet shop either.
  Get a small tank, UGF, heater, air pump.  Put water in the tank.  Ask a local
fish store to check the quality of your tap water.  Use some water treatment to
remove chlorine, and heavy metals.  Set it all up and let it run for a couple
days.  Check the temperature in the morning.  Turn on the lights and then 
check the temperature at night.  Look out for direct sunlight heating small tanks
too much.  Go get a few small fish.  I like danios to start tanks with.  Zebra
danios are cheap, pretty, and easy to find, and they are also tough as nails.  I
helped a friend set up a tank a couple months ago.  Something went wrong and the
heater got turned up way too high.  When I got there the 5 neon tetras, and 3 clown
loaches were dead.  The 5 zebra danios were busy cleaning up the dead fish.  I
cooled the tank down with some room temperature water, and they are all doing fine
today. Only feed the fish once a day.  I know they look hungry all the time,
and they will eat much much more, but resist the urge.  Food is the best way
to kill your fish.  Change about 10% of the water each week, I use a gravel 
vaccuum to suck out wastes from the rocks.  After a while ( month or two )you will
notice that there is alot of brownish material coming from the rocks.  That is
good bacteria( unless you feed your fish way too much ).  Once this starts you
can slack off to once every two or three weeks.  Add more fish after a couple 
weeks.  Try to get some bottom feeders to catch all the food that makes it to
the bottom.

>Please help protect me from 'pet-store' advice. ;^)
  Don't talk to people in pet stores, until you know much more about fish.  They
are in the business of selling fish and supplies.  You can find good ones, but
be careful.  
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
[...]
Well, I can give you a bit of advice which is perfectly useless, since
I've never kept FW fish and don't even run a normal marine tank.  I
simply hate UGF's.  There are just too many ways in which they break
the rules that I think are important.

If I did run a UGF, I'd run it reverse flow with the best mechanical
filter ahead of it that I could get.
[...]
>Hey, I appreciate it! Sorry I'm so gabby... I've been responding to
>Email all damn night! You folks are burying me in Email! Must say
>you're all a friendly bunch of folks...

You looked like you might not kill too many fish before you gained
wisdom.  We don't see that too often.  :)

But besides that, it's the friendliest newsgroup around that I know
of.

>And I really do feel sorry for all the dead fish out
>there that people killed over simple ignorance.

Let's not forget greed and ignorance on the part of most stores.  I'd
say that this is the single biggest killer.  Well, that and cyanide
caught fish in the marine hobby, which is sheer greed on the part of
the wholesalers and shippers.  This one bugs me most of all.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
[...]
Note my office setup below -- no UGF.  I run a half-dozen tanks in my
fish room without a UGF.  I guess the advice here applies further than
the aquarium hobby: beware the fanatic.  All a UGF does is provide 
biological filtration.  If you provide an alternate bacterial bed for
the nitrifying bacteria, you can get rid of the UGF.  If you keep a 
*REAL* light fish load, so that your plants take care of the ammonia
that the fish produce, you can do without biological filtration all
together.

[...]
> Yeah... I'm gonna get a whisper and an airstone as well as the
> aquaclear power filter. No sponge filter.

What's the purpose of the air stone?  It will provide airation, but
your aquaclear should be more than sufficient.  If you don't want to
run a sponge filter, I wouldn't suggest you spend the money on the
air pump (unless, of course, you like the bubbles and it's a purely
aesthetic thing).

If you're only filter is an aquaclear, make sure that you're careful
to maintain your bacterial beds when you clean the filter.  I would
suggest that after the tank is cycled, do away with the ammonia
remover.  Run you aquaclear with 2 sponges and the carbon.  When you
clean the filter, rinse all of this in the water which you've just
siphoned from the tank.  When you replace media, don't replace both
sponges at once.

The most common mistake I've seen among people who don't research 
aquariums before jumping in deals with the biological action of
a filter.  Make sure you understand how a biological filter works
and how to maintain it.  Since you're undertaking this research
ahead of time, I don't expect you'll have a problem.
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Good choice on the 30.

If you are dead set against an undergravel filter, you need to go with
the cannister filter (Fluvals are much cheaper than Eheims, and work
fine in my experience).  The reason being that cannister filters
allow you to place some sort of high-surface-area medium in them to
provide a place for nitrifying bacteria to grow.  As you've no doubt
read (or will read), you've _got_ to have a population of these beasts
in your tank to oxidize the ammonia which makes up most of the fishes'
waste.  While the media in box-style filters will provide space for
bacteria, when you change or wash out the filter cartridge (or whatever),
all of the bacteria are killed, resulting in an drastic increase in the
ammonia level in the tank.  Cannister filters get around this problem by
having several layers of media, the last of which (farthest from the water
inflow) sees only debris-free water, and thus never needs to be cleaned,
and thus can harbor a permanent population of bacteria.  Anyway, enough
sermonizing.
As to your other queries, two 75W heaters would be better, in the sense
that there would be a fail-safe against one of them giving out, but
modern heaters are very reliable.  If you want to spend the money, go
for it.
Food-wise, I generally advise people to stay away from flakes, except
for very small fishes (eg guppies, small tetras).  Any fish big enough to
eat pellets should be given them, simply because they don't break up
and turn into muck on the bottom of the tank.  TetraBits are a good,
small sized pellet food, although they would not be ideal for
herbivorous fishes, as they are rather high in protein and fat.

As far as frozen food goes, brine shrimp are a good choice, but so are
bloodworms.

Another avenue to consider is freeze-dried food, such as krill (sometimes
called freeze-dried plankton).  This stuff is vary rich, so should only
be fed occasionally, but fish _love_ it.
The mail order house that I do business with (Mail Order Pet Shop) sells
lots of varieties of food, in particular generic brands which they import
from the orient themselves and are the best deal in quality food I've yet
to encounter.

Any sort of thermometer will do.  I like the kind with a suction cup which
allows you to stick it to the inside wall of the tank.

Tetra's combined test kit is called 'Tetratest Laborett'.
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This page was last updated 29 October 1998