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AGA Convention

First, thanks to all who made the conference happen.  From my viewpoint,
the conference ran VERY smoothly.

And thanks to all those who attended and chatted and shared in the experience.
Everyone made me feel welcome, and it was great meeting people that I'd only
known thru usenet and APD and websites.

I arrived friday, about 5:00pm by the time I got to the hotel (Houston
traffic is the worst I've ever seen, and I lived in SoCal for a
while!).    There were shuttle vans taking people from the conference
hotel over to Village Tropical (a great houston fish store), and to
Aquarium Design Group (imagine an art gallery of MASSIVE planted
tanks!), and then to Aquarium Environments, a business that does
construction, installation, and maintenance of large tanks for

Since I got in late, I didn't get to take the shuttle to Village
Tropical.  My first stop was Aquarium Design Group.   You walk in, and
see a MASSIVE wall of tanks.  These tanks are 8-10 feet long, about 3
feet tall (the tank itself, not counting the stand/hood), and
beautifully planted.   As Jeff Senske later explained during his
"Aquascaping" presentation at the conference, their tanks use mostly
easy plants, and fairly slow growth plants.  This is because they are
putting together these huge tanks for offices, stores, and high-end
homes.  They can't prune every other day like high growth would
require, and the tank can't require MANY hours per week to keep it
looking nice.  After Aquarium Design Group, the shuttle van took us
over the Aquarium Environments for a great barbecue that went on into
the night.

The next day, bright and early the main conference presentations
began.    First up, at 8:30am was Don Kingore from Kent Marine
discussing a new line of products for planted aquaria being released
by Kent Marine.   It's whole line of components, including Nitrate,
Potassium, Iron, etc.    I'll be eager to see the reports from fellow
aquarists on these new products.

I was up next.   I was running on just a few hours sleep, mostly
because I was so nervous the night before that I couldn't get to
sleep.    The presentation went pretty smooth, except that I didn't
move from behind the podium the entire time, and so some people
could't see the parts of the slides I was standing in the way of!  My
presentation was titled "Plants: Nature's Test Kit" and the main
concept was the idea of determining nutrient levels by simply
observing the plant growth.    I will be working on a full length
article of the subject.   The highlight of my presentation for me was
when Claus Christensen stood up after my presentation and said how
much he enjoyed it.   Even if everyone else in the room thought it
sucked, I would have been completely satisfied.  But from what I saw
and heard, the overall reaction was good.  I was really worried that I
would look like an idiot trying to talk science in front of people who
know 100 times more than I do.   But it seems I was worried for no

After a short break, we all hurried back in for what I consider the
"MAIN" presentation.  Nothing against myself or any of the other
speakers, but this was Claus Christensen of Tropica!   And what an
amazing show.  Photos and stories of plant research expeditions to
Asia.    There were pictures of a river, and showing the same part of
the river in various seasons, with crypts and other aquatic plants,
fully submerged at one time, then completely out of the water at
another.     He had pictures of crypts in the wild suffering from the
infamous "crypt meltdown" that we sometimes see in our tanks.   We
watch Claus and other Tropica researchers wade and swim in these
rivers.    After Claus' presentation, Dave Gomberg was selling copies
of the Tropica plant book.   I bought a copy, and Claus was kind
enough to sign it for me.   For all those not in attendence, I know
that Dave Gomberg sells the Tropica book by mail as well.

After lunch, the next presentation was on Aquascaping by Jeff Senske
of Aquarium Design Group.  Jeff went into great detail about the
design choices he makes when designing one of his company's great

The last presentation of the day was by Erik Olsen.  Erik is a great
speaker, very relaxed and fun.  His presentation was all about
photographing an aquarium.  He covered just about EVERYTHING you might
ever need to know about the subject.    And to demonstrate the
principals he was discussing, we got to watch the evolution of a tank
that he set up specifically for the Amano contest.

After Erik's presentation, there were a few unscheduled hours of time
before dinner banquet.   I used that time to take a trip down to
Village Tropical.  If you are in the Houston area, do not miss this
shop.   Dozens of tanks full of plants for sale, lots of them are hard
to find species.  They had several great display tanks, including one
with a bunch rainbows.  It's actually a good thing that this store
isn't here in Denver, or I would get it big trouble with my wife for
spending LOTS of money on plants and fish.

Back to the hotel, I went back to my room for a few, and fell asleep
and ended up being about a half hour late for dinner!  Lucky for me,
there was plenty of food, and no activities had started yet.  So, no
harm done.

Dinner was good, and after dinner, the winners of the AGA Conference
were announced, and slides of all the winning entries were displayed.
The "Best of Show" tank went to Luis Navarro.  You really must take a
look at his tank.  The tank is amazing, and all the more incredible
that the tank itself is a standard 55g tank.  I'm sure most of you
know how tough it is to work with a 55g tank, since it's only 12" from
front to back.

After we finished with the contest results, we were treated to another
presentation from Claus Christensen.   This time, Claus took the
entire Tropica crew (50 people!) down to South America.  After seeing
the crypts of asia, we figured were going to see some South American
soft water plants.   Well, we did see lots of South American plants.
But the water was ANYTHING but soft.   The area they went to was in
Brazil.   I'll need to ask someone who was taking better notes the
exact name of the area, but the water was originating on top of a
plateau, where it then filters down thru calcium-carbonate rich rock,
and emerges in springs which feed into rivers and a huge swamp type
area.   Instead of tea-tinted soft water, this was crystal-clear
water, with a KH of about 18 degres, and a GH at least that high.
Most of the substrate was PURE calcium carbonate.  A bright white
bottom.   The plant growth was unbelievable.   The plants were all the
usual South-American plants.   The ones that we are often told are
"soft water" plants.   Claus made the point that those plants that are
typically considered "soft water" plants are simply those that do a
reasonable job of surviving and growing in very soft water.  These
same plants, in rich hard water, grow MUCH better.    There were
massive swords, huge fields of stargrass, a few species of Ambulia,
basically anything that could grow in South America was found there in
the very hard water.   Claus showed a slide with some water sample
analysis numbers, and even though the plants were growing wonderfully
without any signs of deficiency, there was ZERO measurable iron in the
water.  And since the substrate was calcium carbonate, it seems
unlikely that the plants are getting any iron from there.

After most people had left the banquet, I was lucky enough to get to
spend some time chatting with Claus and a few others who stuck around.
And we looked thru the slides again a second time, just to soak up all
the details.

The next day (Sunday), the morning started off at 8:30am with the
Panel discussion.  Myself and the 4 other speakers answered assorted
questions from the rest of the attendees.     One humour thing that
took place right after the panel:  Claus and I were discussing various
nutrient issues, and he asked what I use to fertilize my tanks.   I
told him that TMG is definitely my favorite, and actually had
mentioned that to him the previous day.  He nodded, and then a
light-bulb went on over his head and he said "Oh, TMG is tropica
master grow...."   He had never heard it called that before!

The final event for the day was the auction.   Lots of nice plants,
many going for very reasonable prices.   I saw some nice other stuff
too.   Hydrologix donated several things, including one of their very
nice CO2 reactors.   As far as plants go, one of the hot sellers was
Narrow-leaf java fern.   But the biggest winner of the auction had to
be a mysterious and rare plant brought by Claus.   The plant was
Pellia endiviaefolia.  Look at it up on the tropica site for a sneak
peak.  There were two small bags of Pellia in the auction, each bag
just a few inches long by a few inches wide.    One bag sold for $75,
and the other sold for $80.00!

Well, I hope all who didn't get a chance to attend enjoyed this
summary.     It was very fun to finally put a face with some of the
names I see regularly on this newsgroup, and on APD.   I now
understand that you don't need to be a professional scientist to
participate in, and enjoy these conferences.   I have a strong feeling
that the fun and excitement of the conference will get me motivated to
do some new things with my tanks.

And Scott, thanks for the Best Shirt award!  It's about time someone
told me it was blue, not green!