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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
WARNING: Do Not Read If This Sort of Thing Does Not Appeal To You Within The First Paragraph.

I have struggled over the past few months, on a philosophical level, with the overall state of aquascaping in the United States. Every year I see overall rankings in contests ( which is not an absolute metric ) for The Americas drop, and increasingly see more developed and more well defined Aquascaping from other countries around the world, while we increasingly stay in the dark ages.

This applies on a personal level as well, and probably more prominently. The more I learn the more I come to an unsatisfactory result in my previous work. Although I believe all prior experience to ultimately be beneficial towards moving forward on a fundamental level. Frankly, I am desperate to be inspired by an aquascaper that isn't Amano and that isn't from a foreign country. The bottom line is: we, as a whole, ( big bold faced underline, yes very much including myself here ) suck at aquascaping.

Yes. I said it. We. Are. Bad. At. Aquascaping.

Now, I realize that saying so is not going to win me popularity points, and it will certainly attract flames. But I would at least urge you to consider reading the proposed solution before deciding that I am just an idiot and we in fact are not terrible at aquascaping. I also realize that I am inherently philosophical and not everyone shares this approach. I have always sought answers through a sort of meditative philosophical approach to things and this is how I best can suggest moving forward. I am very hesitant to use words such as a "zen" approach, because of how much that word gets thrown around so casually and often incorrectly in our culture.

My proposal moving forward is a wholesale shift in how we approach the idea of aquascaping on the next level: that it requires a discipline, and a balanced approach to all things. This includes segments from the way the water is filtered to who healthy the fish and plants are.

First, I will propose these core tenants:

1. The basis for an inspirational scape is the hardscape. Only the best materials should be sought with the most character.

2. The selection process should be done diligently with a mind towards fulfilling a focused vision without "forcing" the "wrong" pieces into a particular vision.

3. In selection of materials, as well as plants and fish, there should be no unnecessary elements. Unnecessary elements lead to a cluttered appearance and distract from the appearance of the layout.

4. The substrate line in the front should always, always be straight. Lines in the front that aren't straight cause a loss of focus in the design, and distract from the scape itself so people only "see" an alternating line of soil in the front.

5. Equipment must be chosen on the basis of: efficiency and long term effectiveness, as well as visual impact. Equipment should take up the least amount of surface area in the aquarium as possible, this distracts from the layout. Rimless tanks are ideal as a canvas point and illustrate the purpose of what equipment should be.

6. Keep equipment clean and organized around the area of the aquarium.

7. Water should be changed in the volume of 1/3 to 1/2 every four days. Every time water is changed the glass should be completely cleaned of all algae on it's surface and removed either with a razor or algae pad ( mag floats are usually not a good idea on planted tanks and rimless ). There should be no algae on the glass after this water change ( scrape algae before draining water)' you can see algae on the glass by looking at a panel of glass from the side or at an angle. The glass lily pipes or other filtration pipes should be diligently cleaned during this water change to keep their pristine look. The
diffuser should be checked for any algae growth on the white plate and when
present to the extent that the diffusion plate is green, it should be removed
and cleaned.

8. You should only own the amount of aquariums in which you can maintain this schedule of diligence and standard. Do not get overwhelmed.

9. Water chemistry should be held to the highest regard - to limit outside factors from tap water ( unless living in an area that already has idealic water conditions out of the tap ) effecting growth of plants. RODI water with the appropriate amount of seachem balance should be used in a prepared 5 gallon bucket ( or larger container for larger aquariums ), kept at room temperature for water changes. Water purity is of the utmost importance.

10. Dosing should only be performed in levels that are necessary for the inhabitants to thrive. Excess leads to waste and problems that require dramatic over correction, and the same occurs with not adding enough. Unfortunately this requires a little learning and diligence in monitoring plant health. Dosing should be done on a daily basis. If possible any water changing and dosing should be done in the morning before lights and co2 come on.


There is currently so much more to write and add onto this effective treatise, however I feel a period of refinement should occur through some healthy discussion of those interested in adopting this approach.

The core of the premise is, however that these tasks in terms of maintenance should be approached in a calm, enjoyable manner. It should be a calming experience to diligently keep the health of the system up to it's best. The mindset should be one of looking forward to the water change and the cleaning of the aquarium, rather than bemoaning the task. Admittedly it takes a lot of patience and practice to get to a point where you can do so quickly and efficiently and enjoy it. There's a lot of "pain and suffering" taxes on the way.

It should be something almost akin to a religious experience when you go to setup the aquarium, place the hardscape, plant the tank, fill with water ( dry start is extremely inefficient ), select fish and do maintenance.

And frankly, it takes a while to get to that point. It's a lot of frustration and 99% of people never reach the milestone. It is not easy, but the rewards will be bountiful.

I will submit more further writings on the topic later and delve even deeper into the philosophy, this is just basically a scratch on the surface.
 

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I appreciate that you take a philosophical approach to all of this, but I'm not quite so sure I agree with the
We. Are. Bad. At. Aquascaping.
line. I have seen some very nice work done by SOME people. I do, however, agree with your "maintainance as a relgious-esqe, devotionary act" idea. I do, probably quite contrary to most, actually enjoy water changes and maintainance, with the exception of pulling the canister off the tank and all apart for cleaning. I would like to discuss further on this subject, but as I'm at work, I should probably actually do some. Just dropping my half cent and letting you know that I hear what you're saying.
 

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I'll give my perspective -that of a noob who is working through setbacks yet becoming increasingly fascinated by this hobby.

From my lowly point looking up, I wouldn't say were bad. Our stars don't shine as brightly maybe but I'm optimistic. I think we'll get there. We're trying.

But I do agree that it is disappointing not seeing many Americans on the top tiers. I do want to look up to my own Michael Phelps in the planted aquarium world. Although, I don't mind getting ideas from the Hong Kong and Malaysian guys who I often see at the top.

I'm not sure how the rest of the world mentally approach aquascaping. Our countries gardening histories probably has an influencing hand.

"The core of the premise is, however that these tasks in terms of maintenance should be approached in a calm, enjoyable manner. It should be a calming experience to diligently keep the health of the system up to it's best. The mindset should be one of looking forward to the water change and the cleaning of the aquarium, rather than bemoaning the task. Admittedly it takes a lot of patience and practice to get to a point where you can do so quickly and efficiently and enjoy it. There's a lot of "pain and suffering" taxes on the way."

This is a struggle^. There are days when maintenance is calming and I observe my fish play joyfully in the current while doing so. Most of my maintenance days are, however, spent spilling water and cursing at algae. Grace, discipline and patience are not my forte :redface: I do hope that by participating in this hobby I will exercise and gain ground in those traits. Just the 2 cents of a newbie. Your post was an interesting read (in a good way).
 

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I have a noob point of view & question, too. Aside from the diligence required to maintain a show level tank, it sounds like you're comparing cultural differences in tank design. I see some folks here with styles similar to Dutch tanks, but mostly I see what I would call (in my noob way) biotopes - or biotope influenced tanks. It seems from what little I've seen of recent contest winners overseas, that in Asia and Eastern Europe, creating the illusion of realistic or fanciful above ground landscapes is the trend. Isn't that sort of comparing apples to oranges? I've seen some stunning - to my admittedly unschooled eye - American biotopes. I've seen some equally awkward and unbalanced Amano style tanks from overseas.
This should prove to be an interesting thread!
 

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We Americans have too many distractions. Too many other things to do, too many sports, too many working hours, too much money to save for college... Too little opportunity to make a living on this hobby in order for more people to be able to dedicate more time...it just isn't popular enough here to generate the ecosystem and economy that it does elsewhere...I think.

So, like Soccer, the best athletes just don't go that direction here.
 

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We Americans have too many distractions. Too many other things to do, too many sports, too many working hours, too much money to save for college... Too little opportunity to make a living on this hobby in order for more people to be able to dedicate more time...it just isn't popular enough here to generate the ecosystem and economy that it does elsewhere...I think.

So, like Soccer, the best athletes just don't go that direction here.
Well said, never thought of it this way.
 

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You can also look at it this way. Americans are very free spirited, we do things our way. Its not a bad thing, it is one of the many things that make our country great. We care little for what others think, as long as we enjoy what we are doing. It would be nice to see someone join the ranks of Amano or Oliver Knott, but if we don't we don't. We enjoy the hobby in our own individual way.
 

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My proposal moving forward is a wholesale shift in how we approach the idea of aquascaping on the next level: that it requires a discipline, and a balanced approach to all things. This includes segments from the way the water is filtered to who healthy the fish and plants are.

First, I will propose these core tenants:

1. The basis for an inspirational scape is the hardscape. Only the best materials should be sought with the most character.

I agree completely, but a vast choice of materials can cost an incredible amount of money.


2. The selection process should be done diligently with a mind towards fulfilling a focused vision without "forcing" the "wrong" pieces into a particular vision.

3. In selection of materials, as well as plants and fish, there should be no unnecessary elements. Unnecessary elements lead to a cluttered appearance and distract from the appearance of the layout.

4. The substrate line in the front should always, always be straight. Lines in the front that aren't straight cause a loss of focus in the design, and distract from the scape itself so people only "see" an alternating line of soil in the front.

I'm not saying I disagree, but have there been studies to actually map what people see first and where their line of sight moves throughout the scape? I'm personally ignorant to how layouts draw your eye. I know what I see, but how can I be sure someone sees the same things in the same order?

5. Equipment must be chosen on the basis of: efficiency and long term effectiveness, as well as visual impact. Equipment should take up the least amount of surface area in the aquarium as possible, this distracts from the layout. Rimless tanks are ideal as a canvas point and illustrate the purpose of what equipment should be.

6. Keep equipment clean and organized around the area of the aquarium.

7. Water should be changed in the volume of 1/3 to 1/2 every four days.

Why so often?

Every time water is changed the glass should be completely cleaned of all algae on it's surface and removed either with a razor or algae pad ( mag floats are usually not a good idea on planted tanks and rimless ). There should be no algae on the glass after this water change ( scrape algae before draining water)' you can see algae on the glass by looking at a panel of glass from the side or at an angle. The glass lily pipes or other filtration pipes should be diligently cleaned during this water change to keep their pristine look. The
diffuser should be checked for any algae growth on the white plate and when
present to the extent that the diffusion plate is green, it should be removed
and cleaned.

8. You should only own the amount of aquariums in which you can maintain this schedule of diligence and standard. Do not get overwhelmed.

Very true, and hard to actually do.

9. Water chemistry should be held to the highest regard - to limit outside factors from tap water ( unless living in an area that already has idealic water conditions out of the tap ) effecting growth of plants. RODI water with the appropriate amount of seachem balance should be used in a prepared 5 gallon bucket ( or larger container for larger aquariums ), kept at room temperature for water changes. Water purity is of the utmost importance.

10. Dosing should only be performed in levels that are necessary for the inhabitants to thrive. Excess leads to waste and problems that require dramatic over correction, and the same occurs with not adding enough. Unfortunately this requires a little learning and diligence in monitoring plant health. Dosing should be done on a daily basis. If possible any water changing and dosing should be done in the morning before lights and co2 come on.


There is currently so much more to write and add onto this effective treatise, however I feel a period of refinement should occur through some healthy discussion of those interested in adopting this approach.

The core of the premise is, however that these tasks in terms of maintenance should be approached in a calm, enjoyable manner. It should be a calming experience to diligently keep the health of the system up to it's best. The mindset should be one of looking forward to the water change and the cleaning of the aquarium, rather than bemoaning the task. Admittedly it takes a lot of patience and practice to get to a point where you can do so quickly and efficiently and enjoy it. There's a lot of "pain and suffering" taxes on the way.

It should be something almost akin to a religious experience when you go to setup the aquarium, place the hardscape, plant the tank, fill with water ( dry start is extremely inefficient ), select fish and do maintenance.

And frankly, it takes a while to get to that point. It's a lot of frustration and 99% of people never reach the milestone. It is not easy, but the rewards will be bountiful.

I will submit more further writings on the topic later and delve even deeper into the philosophy, this is just basically a scratch on the surface.
Lastly, what is the issue for a dry start? Personally, now that I've done one I can't fathom why I would ever go back. It was all around so very easy and I found my success nearly guaranteed, unlike the pain and suffering in endured trying to keep down freshly planted carpets, etc.

Would you mind expanding on your thoughts here?
 

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This thread means you're going to set up a 60-p following all these tenants right. Right?

We. Are. Bad. At. Aquascaping.
We really are.

1. The basis for an inspirational scape is the hardscape. Only the best materials should be sought with the most character.

2. The selection process should be done diligently with a mind towards fulfilling a focused vision without "forcing" the "wrong" pieces into a particular vision.
Agree. The right rocks or branches really do make all the difference, and some are just never going to work. I also wish people would just stop piling stones or up or having branches stick out willy-nilly without any apparent sense of direction or movement.

4. The substrate line in the front should always, always be straight. Lines in the front that aren't straight cause a loss of focus in the design, and distract from the scape itself so people only "see" an alternating line of soil in the front.
This along with tanks that have like 3" of substrate at the front are a huge pet peeve. Cannot unsee.

8. You should only own the amount of aquariums in which you can maintain this schedule of diligence and standard. Do not get overwhelmed.
BUT I JUST COMPLETED THE MINIDEX.
 

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Speaking as an academic philosopher by trade and an aquascaper by hobby, I ask what you mean about "philosophy" as the missing ingredient in American aquascapes? Most of your advice is very general and pretty obvious to anyone who's been in the hobby awhile - what makes it "philosophical" advice?

cheers,
joel
 

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Francis....I do agree with you and it has frustrated me over the years as to why Americans have not been able put forth better aquascapes BUT there have been several people that have developed great aquascapes over the years, Jason Baliban comes to mind. I have strived to try and get better, to create an aquascape that is tranquil, that produces an awe from the viewer, and I continue to try each week. But I think there is a difference between those who want to dabble in the hobby and those who want to compete in the hobby and I see some of those people who dabble want to try and compete. If you want to compete in this hobby, be ready to spend some $$$, time and energy because you will need it. If you want to dabble and just create a nice ecosystem for plants and fish then don't try and compete.

I do disagree with you on one thing you said and that is your idea on dosing. I have been doing EI dosing now for 5+ years and I do a 50% water change every week and I have not had problems at all with this system. Though your philosophy for putting just the right amount of nutrients for what the plants need is a good one, it would take alot of time and testing to assure you are.

I will close by saying this....I do feel that 97% of Americans are not ready and not up to the standards that have been set by other countries of competing with their aquascapes. So if you are going to compete, then study, look at your competition and be ready to spend money and time and energy, but if you are not going to compete and just want to enjoy water, fish and plants in a box, then enjoy but don't give American aquascaping a bad name and try and compete.
 

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Great post Francis.

Obviously you have the technical and aesthetic abilities to lead a discussion like this. Anyone familiar with the Bonsai tradition knows that technique is fundamentally involved with philosophy. It is almost impossible to separate the two. Having said that it is also clear that neither of those two considerations, neither technique nor philosophy are as important as the aesthetics that defines a real work of art.

I suppose I could go on with some points about styles the golden mean and such but I would rather start with this statement of yours.

“The substrate line in the front should always, always be straight.”
Are you suggesting that there should be a front? Are the other three sides less important? How does that differ from a Dutch aesthetic? I can’t say that I really even agree with this idea that the substrate line should be straight in the first place.
 

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I wouldn't saw we're bad at it. Do you go on foreign forums often? Do you go on German, African, Taiwanese, Chinese, Vietnamese or Japanese planted forums? All the tanks that make it to the State sides are the ones that are exemplary not the ones your average joe like me makes. As for our rankings in competitions? I'd say it's not so much that our husbandry is bad. We have some of the fanciest tech, most religiously meticulous cleaners and testers and obsessive hobbyists. Just look at some reef keepers, their hobby isn't just an obsession it's like have another job at home. No I think it's more because the people from winning countries have a culture more focused on nature. Coming from a Taiwanese background I know how the kids there spend a lot of time learning about Taiwanese animals and plants and they have excursions into the local rainforests. Japanese culture focuses on organic aesthetics, it's ingrained into their religion even. The vietnamese are smack dab in the middle of where nearly ALL of our plants come from.

And with the issue of hardscape. I don't think that's an issue. It's because retailers charge a premium for a stick or two or a bucket of rocks. Sure we can go collect our own but I'm a lazy american and I'll be damned if I have to drive out to the hill country or to a lake to collect my hardscape. Personally I don't really have the time or the focus or the desire to become a top notch aquascaper. I just want a tank that looks good to me, not to the world.
 

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I come from an art and design field so a lot of what you're saying I can relate to.

The philosophy is to know what looks good and what doesn't, a guiding principle. You can break almost any aesthetic rules and have things look good if you know what you're doing.

The practical things are maintenance, do a lot of scapes, and entering them in contests. Like they say, it's 99% perspiration. That's the only way you get good at what you're doing.

btw.. There a few excellent American aquascapers. They don't get the recognition their European and Asian counterparts.
 

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Wha? Folks have to work and do a decent job at caring for their tanks?
Heresy I say! haha

I think we only see the top rankings in the world from different places, this is not representative of the average. Reef seems to be more attractive than planted gardens in the USA. So many go there vs plants.

I have tried to suggest folks to do frequent water changes.......with limited success, good luck with that one..........

Likewise, I've not found excess ferts at least.....cause any issues, excess fish waste and such, less care for the filters and what not, definitely. I do not know what excess really is or means, it is a very poorly defined claim.

I think overall (99%), you are correct. I agree that much with your assessment Francis. I'm actually quite glad you care this much.

Simply getting folks to do this amount of effort and sustained effort, is not an easy task. You will find many will fight strongly against it. However, you may find some knowledge there as well and be able to reduce the labor. In other words, have your cake and eat it too. Keep a few tanks that require more work, then a few that do not, but the aesthetic and look still be the priority.
 

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This may be from left field; but is this really an issue that needs to be addressed? So what if USA "sucks at aquascaping..."?

Although I do appreciate the time you took to explain some pointers and tips.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Because this is an important topic I will take the time to reply to everyone individually. However my laptop is broken at the moment so please be patient with my iPad typing.

I appreciate that you take a philosophical approach to all of this, but I'm not quite so sure I agree with the

line. I have seen some very nice work done by SOME people. I do, however, agree with your "maintainance as a relgious-esqe, devotionary act" idea. I do, probably quite contrary to most, actually enjoy water changes and maintainance, with the exception of pulling the canister off the tank and all apart for cleaning. I would like to discuss further on this subject, but as I'm at work, I should probably actually do some. Just dropping my half cent and letting you know that I hear what you're saying.
Here is the best way to understand the we are bad line: it isn't derogatory or to say that any particular style is worse than another, as that is a matter of subjective taste (for example I don't like "landscape" aquascapes ).

Rather it is a statement meant to inspire inward reflection: yes, I suck. But that's okay, I am learning and improving. But first being able to know that you need improvement and to at first be able to admit that you may be wrong in how you set it up, etc allows for deeper growth and inward reflection to get to the "next level," this is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks someone can do - truly admit and be okay with the fact that they aren't great - at least not yet. Whether you are a true noobie or veteran of decades.

Using myself as an example - I would have said my aquascapes of a few years back were pretty good. Probably with a fair dose of "classic American arrogance." however, it was only once I could truly admit to myself that I might be wrong and that it wasn't as good as the idealized picture in my head, that I could move forward and progress.

Consider it a mental exercise.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I'll give my perspective -that of a noob who is working through setbacks yet becoming increasingly fascinated by this hobby.

From my lowly point looking up, I wouldn't say were bad. Our stars don't shine as brightly maybe but I'm optimistic. I think we'll get there. We're trying.

But I do agree that it is disappointing not seeing many Americans on the top tiers. I do want to look up to my own Michael Phelps in the planted aquarium world. Although, I don't mind getting ideas from the Hong Kong and Malaysian guys who I often see at the top.

I'm not sure how the rest of the world mentally approach aquascaping. Our countries gardening histories probably has an influencing hand.

"The core of the premise is, however that these tasks in terms of maintenance
should be approached in a calm, enjoyable manner. It should be a calming
experience to diligently keep the health of the system up to it's best. The
mindset should be one of looking forward to the water change and the cleaning
of the aquarium, rather than bemoaning the task. Admittedly it takes a lot of
patience and practice to get to a point where you can do so quickly and
efficiently and enjoy it. There's a lot of "pain and suffering" taxes on the way."

This is a struggle^. There are days when maintenance is calming and I
observe my fish play joyfully in the current while doing so. Most of my
maintenance days are, however, spent spilling water and cursing at algae.
Grace, discipline and patience are not my forte :redface: I do hope that by
participating in this hobby I will exercise and gain ground in those traits. Just
the 2 cents of a newbie. Your post was an interesting read (in a good way).
There is of course a steep learning curve in terms of groaning about doing maintenance - I mean the idea is so despised in aquatics ( except among seasoned hobbyists ), that companies even go out of their way to avoid ever mentioning the m word. It is evil and taboo and is the single thing that will stop xyz person from doing it.

However, this is something that should be embraced - when you get your technique down it takes no more time than say cleaning a cat food bowl or litter box. And I dare say doing a water change is infinitely more enjoyable than cleaning a litter box. Of course I exaggerate a little on the time, but about 30 minutes should be all you need to clean the filter pipes, change water and scrape some algae. On rough days an hour perhaps, but the more consistently you do it, the more you avoid having to spend that one day spending the whole day cleaning the tank because it got so out of hand.

When you aren't cleaning the water, a good exercise is to have a cloth handy to remove water stains from the glass, it takes a couple seconds and helps keep your equipment looking like new.

Take little steps, build good habits and patience comes - then you want to do it, it is your "relax task."

In terms of we are bad line - again I would say to read my previous post as it sort of answers that part of the question as well. But again it comes down to admitting straight out to yourself: improve. Baby steps at a time is okay even!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I have a noob point of view & question, too. Aside from the diligence required to maintain a show level tank, it sounds like you're comparing cultural differences in tank design. I see some folks here with styles similar to Dutch tanks, but mostly I see what I would call (in my noob way) biotopes - or biotope influenced tanks. It seems from what little I've seen of recent contest winners overseas, that in Asia and Eastern Europe, creating the illusion of realistic or fanciful above ground landscapes is the trend. Isn't that sort of comparing apples to oranges? I've seen some stunning - to my admittedly unschooled eye - American biotopes. I've seen some equally awkward and unbalanced Amano style tanks from overseas.
This should prove to be an interesting thread!
Dutch tanks are some of my favorite when they are well done! Not just Nature Aquarium. I also enjoy dabbling with "new" ideas. I don't have a particular liking for the landscape aquascapes of the eastern europeans, nor physical representations of actual trees, as I like more abstract interpretations of nature as opposed to actual replication.

The point is - the actual style doesn't matter, however there are certain overlapping principles and good tenants and ideas to adhere to that are beneficial for developing the ability to produce any Aquascape.

Now, I would strongly warn against jumping in and trying to just make a new style for the sake of doing so - pick your favorite and master that one first, then start tweaking and experimenting. This was my first mistake when I started: I had the hubris to say well, those aquascapes are good, (Amano and some others) but I can do better easily with this totally new idea! Turns out that was the worst tank I've ever done, to this date. You can even see the bones and remnants of that disaster on this forum.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
We Americans have too many distractions. Too many other things to do, too many sports, too many working hours, too much money to save for college... Too little opportunity to make a living on this hobby in order for more people to be able to dedicate more time...it just isn't popular enough here to generate the ecosystem and economy that it does elsewhere...I think.

So, like Soccer, the best athletes just don't go that direction here.
As a society, sure. I would agree. But on an individual level I have the at least naive idea that a handful will be able to spend the time and discipline to keep awesome tanks that are at the very least - very solid aquascapes.

I mean, once you get past the first few learning curves, it gets much, much easier and less time consuming and the rewards are worth it.
 
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