Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tank Logs

Tank logging is the practice of keeping statistics on your aquariums.  It can be as simple as a blank book with hand written notes to as sophisticated as pie charts and photos.
In order to properly cycle a new tank, one very important task is to document your water chemistry readings every day.  These statistics, water parameters or 'chems' as we have nicknamed them, tell you how much ammonia you will need to dose your aquarium with every day during the cycle as well as giving you a good indicator of when your tank is stable enough to add fish.  For a very thorough explanation of the nitrogen cycle use this [link]  

What types of information do we need, when and what do they tell us?

The water test kit you purchased when you purchased your aquarium set up hardware should include the following tests, ph, ammonia {NH(3)}, nitrIte {NO(2)}, nitrAte {NO(3)} and most master kits include a test for ph2 or high ph.  Additionally, you should have purchased GH {general hardness} and kH {carbonate hardness} solutions and a thermometer. 

So, to set up the simplest log for this information, create a daily entry system that looks like this in your blank book.  You can put your dose of ammonia in the notes space as well as any other observations.  The ______ day in cycle field was very useful for tracking how long our tanks had been cycling as well as the named day of the week.  Once in a while you will notice something and think it not important enough to note.  Having the day of the week recorded is useful in reconstructing events.  This simple notation structure was what we first used, usually two entries per page in a 5x7 book.  Occasionally there was only one entry per page as we had extra notes such as a plant list or equipment list.

We then transferred our readings to very nice, free tank log on Badman's Tropical Fish website.  Their tank log system is more extensive than this simple format.  It gives you a place to record multiple tanks, equipment and livestock as well as some other nice features.  This was extremely helpful for research purposes and comparing hardware specifications.  Our tank chem readings and records were the first thing we did every morning while the coffee was brewing.  Truth be told, our tank logs have fallen into disarray as we have not kept up the dual logging system we started with.  Nevertheless, these logs are very important; you can see our 10g:view log here.

The reason the dual logging system fell into disarray is that we were recording the same information twice, every morning.  Not such a big deal, except that class schedule got in the way and something had to go.  We looked online for free tank log software; sadly there are not many choices and "free download" does not mean "free software".  Our requirements for the software we chose to test are as follows:
  • Free: this is nothing more than a simple database so paying an arm and a leg was out of the question for a student.  We were willing to go as high as $20.oo, as we believe a workman is worth his wages.  Programmers have to eat, too.
  • Specifically for or customizable to fresh water flora and fauna.  Seems the reef keepers need to test and document many more parameters than fresh water aqua-culturists.  All that extra recording space is bound to be confusing to someone brand new to the aquarium hobby.
  • Printable: the ability to print out whatever information one chooses.  Hardware specifications, water chems, fish statistics; any and all information one might need to take on a road trip to a fish store an hour away or more.
In addition to Badman's Tropical Fish tank log monitoring online, we also tried another site today.  Tankkeeper.com has many of the same features as does the system at Badman's.  In addition there is a sub module that allows tank keepers to document where they bought hardware and at what price-point.  Very useful when making sure you get the price matching discounts advertised.
For our purposes, if we continue to use an online record keeping system, we will stick with our account at Badman's Tropical Fish.

To the software choices; we chose to test Aqua Log and Aquarium Lab.  Aquarium Lab by SeaApple software is a very nice looking, feature rich program.  However, it is designed with reef aquarists in mind.  There are many things in this program that do not pertain to fresh water aquarists therefore; it would be somewhat confusing for the novice aquarist.  However, the experienced aquarist might find it useful.  At $24.95 it was just over budget.

Aqua Log on the other hand does just what we wanted a piece of software to do, record our data.  It will post reminders when the program is opened based on your predefined schedule.  However, that schedule is based upon the first entry of a particular item and the number of days you specify before the next action is due.  For example, if we entered water change data for December 24, 2009 and set the interval for a water change to 7 days, we would get a reminder for a seven day interval.  If we were monitoring something like medication in the tank, we would have to set up a different reminder evem if it were related to water changes.

The price is right, free.  It does output to either a text file for importing into Excel or Calculator in Open Office or you can view it as a web page.  This is where for us, it falls down.  The formatting for viewing as an HTML document is so old, it does not have even a basic style sheet.  As a result the table created for each entry has those thick, raised lines, we do not like those.  Anyone with a bit of HTML/CSS style sheet knowledge could easily clean up the output by copying it from the html page source and slapping it into another page with a properly formatted CSS style sheet in the header.  Piece of cake but not for a novice.  

This program also gives you the ability to print a blank data form for notes or to take with you on that road trip.  However; if you want to print your actual data log, better do it from an Excel or Calculator spreadsheet.  You will have much more control over the final print.

That wraps up this combined article on tank logging, what you need to know during tank cycling as well as a super-quick review of some tools to help you out.  We hope you found this information useful.  
The image of the tank data sheet up there at the beginning of this article was created as a 3x5" image to demonstrate how little space and effort daily logging takes.  It has been downsized to fit the article.  The benefits of tank logging can save your foggy memory and some cash on occasion.

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