Enclosure? What closure?

This is a slightly altered version of the design for DEAL BREAKER’s project box. It makes me look like I am much more proficient at this kind of thing than I actually am, but hey… fake it till you make it.

The box was designed on this great online editor called boxes.py. It is written in Python and you can use a limited online editor (which I did) or download the software and run it on your computer in python. The version that runs on your computer allows for much more customization.

Once I had the basic dimensions and attributes of the box figured out the program output this image as an .ai .svg or .pdf file.

I then brought the file into Illustrator and starting adding shapes for the various fittings I wanted to mount directly on to the box. This included the cut-outs for the panel mounted sensor plugs (3/4″ TRS (tip, ring, sleeve – typically used with audio – like electric guitars), the LCD screen, holes to mount toggle switches, indicator LEDs, holes for the wires fed into the relays and for the various tank lights.

For a lot of these I used the data sheets to get the correct measurements, which is probably the most I have ever used a data sheet… but for some of them I guestimated and surprise, surprise – its bitten me in the ass a few times already. The indicator LED holes are way to big and I have to figure out how to mount them now…

I sent the finished design to a local Laser Cutting Studio and they got the finished product back to me in about 5 days for $70. The studio also does acrylic cutting, which is more expensive, but good to know.


Thuja occidentalis

Another cool little experiment.

I uprooted a tiny Eastern White Cedar (Thuja Occidentalis) while hiking in the woods around in the Algonquin region of Ontario. These trees are slow growers and love moist, nutrient rich soil. They are sometimes referred to as Swamp Cedars.  Apparently, Jacques Cartier called it the tree of life after indigenous folks keyed him into the ability of the tree to prevent scurvy (remember this if you’re ever stuck in the woods for months.) by providing a source of Vitamin C. Though, due to the presence of the neurotoxic compound thujone, internal use can be harmful if used for prolonged periods or while pregnant.

Thuja Occidentalis can be a very long-lived tree in certain conditions, with notably old specimens growing on cliffs where they are inaccessible to deer and wildfire; the oldest known living specimen is just over 1,100 years old, but a dead specimen with over 1,650 growth rings has been found

I wasn’t sure if this tree was going to survive. I don’t really understand how the tree works with the seasons – does it need a wintering period?

I am also not sure if there is any way that the tree might leech the resins present in coniferous trees into the water (many online resources suggest not using conifer wood in your aquarium for this reason).

All this said, the tree is starting to produce new growth and moving towards the light.

Another mildly successful experiment.

Project DEAL BREAKER – so close.

I made some major strides with Project DEAL BREAKER today.

I was able to fine tune the various DS1820 temp probes as well as use the DS3231 RTC’s internal temperature probe (it has this so it can calibrate the time keeping crystal and be much more precise than RTC’s with an external crystal) as a means to check the electronics enclosure temperature.

But the big jump was getting the Flow Sensor working. I found a pretty simple and easy to use library for flow sensors that does a great job. I was having a ton of trouble with it and because the code would compile and upload fine, I thought I had the electrical hookups wrong. I was pulling my hair out, but this library helped me out!

In the blurry photo below (again, lost my cool phone and used a potato instead) you can see the LCD display panel that sits above the tank as the main monitor. It tracks:

  • Date & Time (This is the DS3231 RTC – the key being that even if there is a power outage, the watch battery in the RTC (real time clock) will maintain the count and keep good time, so if the power turns back on, any scheduling based on the RTC’s time will be intact and up to date. )
  • Air Temperature and relative humidity (DHT22)
  • H2o temp using a ds1820 (display tank)
  • Sump temp using a ds1820 (10 gallon sump filter – where the heaters are)
  • Litres per minute (hoping to change this to hour… waiting on the geniuses on the Arduino forum for some help as I haven’t been able to figure out the conversion yet)
  • And lastly, the temperature of the electronics enclosure.

Very happy that the flow rate sensor is working. Its pretty interesting too. I am moving about 23 Litres a minute through the filter, which is about 1300 litres per hour. There is roughly 130 Litres in the aquatic portion of the tank, so I’m cycling the tank through the filter about 10 times per hour, which is great. It might be a little too much actually, but since its not crazy turbulent, I am considering keeping it at this high rate to see what effect it has on my water parameters… specifically, my ammonia is around .25ppm and I’d like to bring it down more – and my Nitrates are a little high – around 20ppm… I’d like to get it down to around 10. I also added a good chunk of filter floss to the sump the other day, so hopefully we’ll see the levels change some in the coming week or so.

I should note that the Serial Monitor that is available through the Arduino IDE offers more information, including what relays are on/off. This data will likely be included in the wifi expansion and sent to a database so that I can see over time how things like pump, air pump, lights etc impact the tank.

Next Steps:

  • Wire up all of the toggle switches and indicator LEDs
  • Wire up the relays and attach the Mains Voltage.
  • Clean up the wires and replace wires with colour coded custom fits wires.
  • Start operation REAL FAKER and implement Wifi connectivity.

Goddamn shit. Tank Update:

  1. Project DEAL BREAKER is going smoothly. It was a little harder than I thought it would be to implement, but that’s because I have switched some of the hardware around and some of the libraries didn’t talk well with one another. It is a reminder that I still have a lot to learn.
    At this point, I have almost everything working in concept. The relays are all working and (in theory can be) triggered by toggles as well as the DS3231 RTC at specific times. I have temps from three different temperature probes, the DHT22 temp/humidity sensor working well and I think I’m very close to have the Flow Rate sensor working. The code that I have for the Flow sensor compiles fine, but gives a funky number. I think its electrical noise, I need to add a resistor into the circuit, but I haven’t had time to do detailed electrical work recently… mostly just been rewatching the Sopranos and mulling over the code. When DEAL BREAKER is fully implemented, I will post the code and a more complete list of components to a post.
  2. After the main DEAL BREAKER stuff is done, the next step will be interfacing it with a ESP01 Wifi Module and start logging inputs on a MySQL database here – ie: PROJECT REAL FAKER.
  3. The above video is the first thing I ever made with an Arduino Uno and my introduction to this stuff. I had a rough idea of what Arduino was – a simple tiny computer that could prompt an output based on an input. If this, do this. So obviously its more complicated than that (or at least, it often is), but I ordered a kit off Amazon for $50 or so and its expanded exponentially since. Two years later and I basically need a barn where I can have an electronics lab, a grow/tank room and a painting/fabrication studio…
  4. Goddamn. I lost my phone. I went to a suburban fish store last week and bought some fish, a couple plants and another thing or two. I was writing an in-depth post for this blog while on the long bus ride back into Toronto proper, when I nearly missed my stop. I grabbed my fish friends and inadvertently left my phone on the seat beside me. In the large scheme of things in the universe – this is insignificant. In the tiny and self involved scheme of the universe- this is a giant pain in the ass. Not only do I not have a phone to appease my nervous fidgeting, I also can’t take photos of the tank as it rapidly progresses in this early phase. The dawning irony that my trip to fish store was about to double or triple in cost due to the replacement of my phone was also not welcome.
  5. I bought five more Panda Corydoras catfish for the tank. A giant and tragic flaw in my system: I recently found three Cory corpses in various stages of the sump weir. I thought that I had protected the opening enough, but it would appear that I had not. It was unfortunate, but I’ve temporarily over-covered the weir. The entire opening is stuff with polyfill. I think in the near future I may order a laser-cut acrylic insert that can be placed over the opening, allowing the full flow of water, but nothing big enough for a fish to get through.
  6. I also bought 8 Ember Tetras (Hyphessobrycon amandae) on the same trip. They seem to be doing well. They are colouring up and I’m looking forward to setting up a brine shrimp hatchery for them. Occasionally they will school together and its very cool – but I think there’s not quite enough of them to display shoaling behaviour all the time.
  7. I think once the tank chills out for a bit and I can get the water parameters under more control (more on that in another post), I would like to get a predatory fish – probably a pair of Dwarf Pike Cichlids so start regulating the Guppy population, and ideally, keep it at an absolute minimum. The guppies are already too numerous and I have a funny feeling that their random swimming behaviour disrupts the Ember Tetras shoaling. I think also just have a calmer tank with more substantial fish personalities would feel more resolved – hopefully, keep the water cleaner too.
  8. I also got a few more plants – a couple bunch of Sagittaria subulata and some Java Fern. Underwater garden is looking good, but they need some time to grow in. My Cryptocoryne Usteriana (I think) is doing pretty well. From what I have read, upon replanting they typically lose a lot of their leaves and send up new shoots and leaves once re-established. 2 of the 3 plants are sending up prominent new leaves, which is great. I would like to start Co2 injection soon, but apparently… this “hobby” is becoming “an obsession” and I have to “manage” my “time” and “money” more “responsibly“.
  9. Experiment update:  A little while ago I mentioned that I was trying to grow some aquatic plants in my hydroton sump tank emersed from the water. I have some Alternanthera reineckii, a rosebud of the same crypts I mentioned above as well as a year old, stunted and struggling Anubias in the sump. The anubias was a last ditch effort to see if the plant was worth keeping at all whatsoever.
    I am happy to report that all three plants are showing emersed growth. The Reineckii is growing the slowest, but you can see it has corrected its direction a couple of times and has tiny new leaves. The crypt is sending up a new leaf just like its buds upstairs and the Anubias is growing brand new, electric green leaves.All in all, the idea of have a sump with a “laborartory” in it is paying off. Any new sump design in the future will emphasize a space to work with plants (not to mention, grow food plants) within the system.


Hibiscus Syriacus – Rose of Sharon

Here’s another quick experiment. This is a Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus Syriacus ‘Woodbridge’), I think. We have a few trees in our yard. They propagate through lateral shoots underground and pop up like weeds throughout the spring and summer.

I grabbed some young trees/shoots in mid October and tried to dig up their roots as much as possible.

As with most foraged plants, I gently washed the roots in water to get all the soil off and then dunked each tree in a mild hydrogen peroxide solution.

Each tiny tree was planted in hydroton that sits on the main land shelf. Each root system gets a good amount of water, but are not completely submerged. The roots have, however, grown straight down into the water.I think this mini experiment is working. Two or three of the saplings have taken off and are growing quickly with new leaves. They are also turning sharply towards the light, which creates a nice effect.

The other, larger Rose of Sharon I planted didn’t show much promise, but has recently started to bud new leaves. The second stage of these experiments will be bastardizing some bonsai techniques to train the trees into more interest and less visually predictable shapes. I will begin wiring them soon. I should note that I have also tried transplanting a Eastern White Cedar from the Algonquin region, but it has shown no growth at all. The leaves are still green, and it appears to be leaning towards the light, but no action yet.

Over & out.

Commence Preliminary Exploration Campaign in Project MEAL MAKER & REAL FAKER

I’ve added a tab in the primary menu of this site called ‘Data Trove’ – it links to a php page outside of the wordpress template style and will hopefully display data from a variety of sensors in real time (or perhaps upon refresh).

Its an ongoing experiment and learning experience. Projects working with data and visualization will be henceforth known as REAL FAKER.

My goals for this are to have:

  • Continuous updates to the database once every 10 minutes
  • Long term historical data
  • The ability to export info to google sheets.
  • Simple visualizations – line graph etc
  • Display multiple databases



“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.”

  • Boards mounted
  • Clock keeping accurate time (was previously a problem)
  • LCD set up (4 x 20)
  • Relays, sensors mounted and preliminary figuring out has begun.
    • I think I need to rewire the sensor mounts and use the black, red, yellow sensor cords. I butchered it last time and I can’t figure out if I’m grounding the wrong pin etc etc… its annoying and some of the soldering is brutal. Live and learn.
  • The RTC timer is working well, but the DS1302 rtc module does not have the capability or the libraries to use it as a timer. Will be purchasing the a DS3231 to replace it.
  • Lots more to do. I am somewhat rebuilding the code based on the previous versions. I’ve changed too much hardware and small adjustments are starting to infringe upon other parts of the system.
  • Have started playing with displaying data from a DHT22 online via a NodeMCU dev board, but I think that’s a long way away from getting the paludarium controller data online.

Emersed Experiment

Thought I would try a little experiment.

I’ve read that both Cryptocoryne and Alternanthera reineckiic can both grow emersed.

Thought I’d throw them in my aquaponic sump refugium area and see what happens. Both plants are fairly new to the aquarium… I think about a week old now, but I’ve seen absolutely no discernable growth on them. Not that big a deal, but I figured that these two little rosebuds could try something different and we might learn something.

So far, the sump has been a neat experiment. The water moves at a brisk pace and is fairly oxygenated, so plants seem to do well in the hydroton (expanded clay balls used in horticultural setups).

The only real problems so far are:

  1. The hydroton is still not waterlogged enough to sink completely. It’s slowly losing bouancy, but still floating. Because of this, seedlings and plants can start to sink as the clay balls move slightly with the water or as the plant becomes heavier through growth or taking on water weight.
  2. Because I am a dummy, when I designed the aquarium stand I didn’t factor in enough space to actually work inside the sump. Originally my plan was to have more emphasis on aquaponic growing, but it’s a shitshow trying to get my hands inside while avoiding getting cut on the glass baffles and not mangling anything I’m working on.

In the next iteration of this project (likely years down the line…. and constructed on my own property), I’d like to build a large aquaponic grow bed. Something along the lines of 2 4*8′ beds that can filter multiple tanks or one large pond like tank. It will likely also involve a green house and a more extensive monitoring system.

If I was giving advice to someone looking to start installing a sump, I’d say:

  • At least 30 gallons
  • Gate valves (more expensive, but more precise than ball valves)
  • Use acrylic baffles and soften the edges to avoid slices your fingers
  • If the aquarium is not in a noise sensitive room (like a bedroom or living room), use a 12v RV style water pump and add a 12v dimmer/regulator to it as a simple means to control output from the sump.

For now… Let’s see how these guys grow. My hope is that they take to emersed growing and I can eventually repatriate them to the paludarium above the water line and hopefully see some different growth or even a flower or two.


Tanks up and running. Guppies and 5 Panda Cories. I’m going to let the aquatic plants grow in for a bit before deciding what to do next in the water. The idea is to have a pretty dense curtain of stemmed plants that can block the PVC piping supporting the land area. Need to find more cheap stem plants.

The terrestrial plants are growing in nicely. They need to be trimmed soon.

Sump is working fine except for the noise. I have to figure that out. I know there’s a variable with the way that water moves around the system, but I can’t seem to find it. As of this writing, the tank gurgles and burps incessantly.

I need to find some more biological filtration media. Using Hydroton turned out to be a bad idea. Thankfully it was cheap and I like having it around, but it takes forever to sink (this means that as the water level in the sump fluctuates, the clay balls rise and fall, dislodging seedlings and stirring up any detritus on them. 98% of it is still floating after weeks. On the plus side, the tank is running, cycled and relatively clean right now with the current amount, so its kind of a silver lining to be able to add 130% more filter media. I would like to keep the hydroton as a top layer resting on whatever addition media I scavenge.

I also still need to figure out the lid situation. I want to buy a panel of Polycarbonite Plastic (stuff they use for greenhouse panels) but its an annoying thing to take on the bus, so I keep putting it off. And buying acrylic sheets is expensive. However, I think a lid will make a huge difference in the tank. The humidity shift would be really drastic and I’d be interested to see how the terrestrial plants react – especially some of the mosses that seem to just be sitting there.

I think the tank can sit for a bit and grow out – though I may get tempted to buy a dozen small tetras and a pair of Dwarf Pike Cichlids soon. I added 5 Panda Corydoras catfish to the tank last week and they are fucking awesome. I’m going to purchase 5 more for a nice school. They really do have an interesting behaviour to them – between their sociability and occasional high speed flourishes across the tank and up to the surface to gulp air, they are a great sitcom to watch in the tank.

Next big era of the project is the final phase of the Arduino implementation – code named ‘Deal Breaker’. The goal of operation Deal Breaker is to have the Mega, Relays, sensor boards, LCD, and lights and power supplies hooked up and securely installed in the enclosure.

Operation Meal Maker will be installing the wifi capabilities to that data gathered by the sensors is logged into a MySql database and available on this website.

Northern Ontario – Woods and Shorelines

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I chose the Amazon basin as an inspiration and model for the aquatic portion of the paludarium.

That was because of a couple things: The popularity of many fish from the region means there are a variety available and that the environmental requirements of the fish are well understood. I considered trying to make a northern Ontario inspired project but it was very difficult to find information about the fish and water parameters that would be of use to a hobbyist. I thought about just catching minnows and other small fish, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to feed them adequately, what temperatures they need (would I need to cool my tank in the summer? That would be prohibitive.) and most of interest to me, did a small fish from Northern Ontario require a winter period and how would the lack of one affect fish behaviour and health.

So while the tank is somewhat South American, the shore line is very much inspired and populated by Northern Ontario woodlands in early summer.

I find this area of the planet so compelling – the extremes of climate in the Boreal forest are so radical and evident. Its one of the funny things about spending all this time trying to mimic or recreate a small and ultimately futile slice of nature inside a glass display case; its no where close to the overwhelming feeling one has while surrounded by a vast, natural ecosystem.

This is a small collection of photos that I’ve taken while wandering about in the woods.

*** update photo gallery ***