Surging Into The Millennium?

There's an unwritten rule in this office that we don't mention celebrities who indulge in or make their living from dangerous sports or activities. This stems from an unfortunate simile about a famous racing driver who was deceased before the magazine hit the shelves.

But disappointing though it is, the news that two unmanned Mars probes have failed to "call home" didn't surprise me. Despite all the advances in computers and other mechanical systems, and despite the high quality training afforded to pilots, astronauts and even journalists, a simple human error or a millennium bug can undo it all.

This is quite a big deal if you're "floating in a tin can" and, believe me, it seems quite a big deal when you've committed thousands of words of your immortal journalism to your 'Mac computer for a few hours - then deleted the lot (been there, done that).

A pause while I press the "save" key.

So what's this got to do with fishkeeping? Well, these days, just about everything. Tanks and equipment are getting more sophisticated, and computer-managed marine systems are here; simpler systems still need careful management, and the easier they are to manage the more likely it is that you'll forget to do the job properly. That's human nature.

Of course, the more equipment you add to a tank, the more there is to go wrong. RCDs seemed a great idea until I worked out that the power was far more likely to go off through a power cut than an in-tank disaster, and if it did, with a standard RCD, it wouldn't come on again.

Immediately I was left balancing the system of controls against the safety of my pond. The lives of my fish against the lives of my children? (It's worth noting that there are RCDs around now that switch back on after a power cut.)

The point is that however many mechanical aids you have on your tank or pond, there's no substitute for constant vigilance; and however good your systems are, human errors are still your biggest threat.

Take our in-house "experts". Over the years (and I'm included in this) we've done some really daft things. Like cracking a heater which was left on as the tank was emptied; like cleaning out office tanks, being distracted by the phone, and forgetting to plug them all in again; like failing to properly re-attach a return pipe from an external filter to the aquarium and flooding the office floor overnight (fish survived); like setting up a tank and filling it first, then adding the rock and not noticing the overflowing water as it hit expensive photographic equipment; like trying to use an open framework litter bin to do an emergency water change; and like forgetting to use an adequate cushion of polystyrene around the connection block of a heating mat - and cracking the tank when it was filled.

All moments of the purest - very human - insanity. One way around these type of problem is strict routine. Buy and use test kits - pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Check that equipment is working at daily intervals; pay special attention to thermometers. Count and check over your fish each day (try to look at both sides). If one is missing, do everything reasonable to find it.

Oh - and at 12.30am on January 1, 2000 remember that everyone is going to be checking their electrical equipment and boiling their kettles, causing a massive power surge and possible disruptions to your electricity supply. It could pay to be near your aquarium just then...

© Steve Windsor. May not be reproduced in part, or whole, without permission.