Estes Marine Sand (aka Stoney River, Ultra Reef, and Imagitarium at Petco and Petsmart) is the only sand I use or recommend. It doesn’t need to be cleaned before or after going in (this alone is worth the extra cost over cheapo options), is the perfect grain size, very uniform, sinks quickly when they mess with it, comes in different colors (I usually do half black and half white), is actually made for aquariums, and costs no more than gravel. In over ten years of using it, I have NEVER had it develop toxic gas pockets, even without anything stirring it (snails or manually) and even when it is 3″ thick. There is a reason it is the sand in my 300-gallon planted goldfish community, 235-gallon reef system, and my 75-gallon. You buy a sand once. In a year, you won’t even remember what the cost was. The type of sand you choose will make a big difference in the aquarium for years to come. It is not something worth cutting corners on.

All filters should be cleaned monthly. There’s nothing magical about the inside of a canister that makes it so they don’t need to be cleaned. They collect the debris for us to remove it from the system. If we don’t, it just rots and lowers water quality. There’s nothing beneficial about letting it get so clogged up that it can’t even move water. The idea that they don’t need to be cleaned is nothing more than an excuse for laziness. The good news is that if you actually clean them every month, it’s very quick and easy (as little as 10 minutes).

Heaters are the number one cause of tank crashes. Having worked in retail and service for many years, we’ve seen it happen over and over with all types of heaters. The following are the best ways to protect against any heater problems.

1 – Don’t use glass heaters, they can all be problems (even the almighty Eheim). We only trust and carry the Aqueon Pro. They are shatterproof metal core. The black finish means they look good even in the display (and disappear on a painted black background).

2 – Keep it weak. All recommendations are too strong. Anyone telling you something like “Bigger is better, put a 500-watt heater on that 55” hates you and is trying to kill your fish. A heater that is too strong WILL kill your entire tank one day when it fails on. The usual guide of 4-5 watts per gallon is more than enough to lethally overheat a tank in most homes (unless your house is unusually cool). We aim for about 2 watts per gallon. This is enough to heat the tank, but not enough to overheat the tank too much if it fails on. So a 75-gallon should only have about 150 watts TOTAL. Not to mention that the stronger the heater, the more heat is packed into a small space right next to the electrical components, then we’re surprised how bad those 500-watters can be.

3 – Split that amount of power between two heaters. This allows one heater to stay off if the other fails on. For example, if you want 150 watts total, you buy two 75-watt heaters.

4 – Use an InkBird controller. Set the controller to your desired temp and use it to control two or more heaters that are set for two degrees warmer than your desired temp. This means the heaters will always be on when the controller tells them to be, but they will shut themselves off if the controller ever fails on or has some other issue (such as the probe coming out of the water).

5 – Replace your heaters every 1-3 years. If you just use one or two of these methods, replace them every 1-2 years. If you are using all of these methods and therefore have more redundancy, you can go 2-3 years. But just waiting around for your heaters to inevitably fail isn’t the way to go. Replace them routinely before they are a problem so you have almost no risk of your heater failing and destroying your tank. They are cheap, especially compared to the value of your livestock in a fully stocked tank. It’s worth it.

Buoyancy problems can have multiple causes. It’s especially problematic in fancy goldfish because we took an elongated football-shaped body and bred it to be highly compressed and shaped like a tennis ball. This means the organs aren’t arranged the way they are naturally, so the digestive system, swim bladder, and swim bladder duct can all be compressed, have extra folds, or not even fill the area they do naturally.

1 – It could be a digestive system problem. This could be because they get too much air when eating. Feed high quality sinking pellets. DO NOT SOAK FOODS, this removes water-soluble vitamins. Feed gel foods if sinking pellets are still problematic.

2 – It could be a swim bladder infection. This could be caused by the swim bladder duct or swim bladder itself being infected. Make sure your water quality is good, do some extra water changes, make sure your filters aren’t neglected, and step up the weekly water changes to be larger.

3 – It could be that the swim bladder or swim bladder duct is fully or partially compressed. If part of the swim bladder is compressed, then that side of the body will dip lower than it should. There isn’t much that can be done about this. In my experience, this is the most common issue. You should still try the other treatment options to make sure it isn’t one of those issues since they can actually be treated.

At the end of the day, we bred these fish to be shaped ‘wrong’, so we can’t be surprised when they have problems with their organs not being arranged properly, and buoyancy problems is the most common problem we see in these guys due to that.

I’ve worked with sumps and canisters on a wide variety of tanks. I’ve found canisters to be much more reliable and effective. They are a guaranteed win right out of the box. Their routine maintenance is easier too. Sump maintenance is usually a lot shorter, but it’s much more often (something the pro-sump people always conveniently forget to mention). Swapping out a filter pad or filter sock in a sump takes a couple minutes tops, but that’s usually twice a week. And if life happens and you miss one, the water just bypasses it and it’s doing NOTHING. With a canister, you drag it to the sink and clean it every month. If you actually do it every month, it will be pretty quick and easy (literally 10-15 minutes). AND, if life happens and you miss it for a week or two, no big deal. The water’s still not bypassing the media. In addition, because canisters are closed, they force the water through the mechanical which means you can do much finer mechanical (literally cram in filter floss as tight as you can).

Another huge downside to sumps is you can either spend too much on a manufactured one that probably isn’t the exact design you really need or want, or you can design and build it yourself. There are some great ways to go cheap, but that’s still researching all of the following: what size sump, what type of overflow, is your tank tempered so you can ever drill it, are you sure THAT panel of your tank isn’t tempered, what layout for the sump, what type of glass should I use for the baffles, which silicone is safe again, what media exactly, should I use filter socks or filter pads, if I do socks, should I clean them in the washing machine (eww!), in a bucket, or replace them very regularly, which return pump flow rate do I need, should the return pump be AC or DC/controllable (that one’s easy, the answer is DC/controllable), how to plumb it all, I hope it doesn’t leak, what if my design ends up not being perfect the first time, and more. Oh wait, what was that perfect answer in a box ready to go that was a guaranteed win without having to do anything else? Oh yeah, a good canister!

Some people doubt or try to downplay the capacity of a canister. My own first-hand experience with them leaves little room for doubt about what they can handle. The best examples I’ve worked with were: 1 – A 220 with 2x 2′ pacus and a 2′ achara catfish. The tank was run by just one Fluval FX5 with no issues. 2 – A 220 packed with African cichlids. Again, it was run by just a Fluval FX5. A 300 that was at least moderately stocked with fancy goldfish and community fish. It had a sump, but the sump never achieved the mechanical filtration the tank needed. Eventually, I added a Fluval FX6 to it and it was immediately cleaner than it had ever been.

Another issue often used to support sumps is their increased media capacity. This is legitimate, but let’s think about this. If a single FX6 can handle a 220-300 gallon tank, then it has enough media. It’s actually really hard to not have enough biomedia, that would cause the tank to literally never cycle. The other major issue is mechanical. Again, because they are closed, canisters can actually exceed sumps when it comes to mechanical, even though they lack the capacity to have unnecessarily redundant types of media. The other issue I see a lot are people recommending absurdly more filtration than needed. As shown above, a single FX6 can handle anything you can throw at it from about 125 gallons up to about 300 gallons. At about 300 gallons and up, I would consider a second FX6. Under about 125 gallons and you don’t need anything more than an FX4 (unless you’re getting close to a 125 and it’s a heavily stocked tank).

Does all this mean there are no tanks with sumps that look amazing? Of course not. But, for the average aquarist who doesn’t have experience working with various designs and would highly prefer to have great filtration right out of the box, a canister is by far the better option.

Here’s an article with the pros and cons of sumps vs canisters plus a design for a sump if you go that route anyway.

These fish are dragged out of the ocean, left to overheat on a dock, shipped halfway around the world, re-bagged, shipped halfway across the country, get crammed into a retailer’s tanks with fish they can’t get away from, are forced to start eating bizarre new foods or else starve to death, get taken home where they get a whole new set of tankmates, half of the fish die during all this, and the ones that actually make it we’re putting at even more risk by rolling the dice and risking them jumping out to end up dried up on the floor?

I wish people would drop it with the anti-Glofish thing. If you don’t like them, fine. No one is asking you to buy them or even like them. But them being GMO doesn’t harm the fish in ANY way. And in fact, they single-handedly eliminated 99% of the demand for fish that are harmed by means of being dyed, injected, and tattooed.

Them being GMO isn’t an issue. They took a gene for a pigment and added it to a fish. It didn’t hurt the fish, they don’t have to do it to every fish before being sold since it’s genetic. There are lawmakers out there who have no clue about science in general, let alone the details of genetics or GMO making laws to ban it in some places because they don’t understand what’s going on. That doesn’t mean there is actually any harm.

If you want to get upset about harm to fish, get upset about all fish in the hobby. Most don’t end up in tanks of people who come to places like this to find out proper care. They end up as a disposable decoration in a tank that never gets water change, gets fed the cheapest food, and the fish slowly die over the course of a year or two. That happens to every fish out there, not just Glofish. It happens to every Oscar in a 55. It happens to little 10-gallons with small community fish that even if they fit in a 10, the care slowly kills them. Don’t get your panties in a knot over Glofish where there is no actual harm taking place. Get upset over the mass harm done by this hobby as a whole. Again, not those of us who care enough and actually take good care of our tanks, but the masses who will never ask a question in a group like this and unknowingly kill their fish.

Even the best species of damsels get too aggressive and after you lose fish to them, you learn the hard way that the best species really aren’t exceptions. Every single week at the shop we have someone come in complaining about how their “good” damsel killed a fish.

Most fish in this hobby are still wild caught. These fish are dragged out of the ocean, left to overheat on a dock, shipped halfway around the world, re-bagged, shipped halfway across the country, get crammed into a retailer’s tanks with fish they can’t get away from, are forced to start eating bizarre new foods or else starve to death, get taken home where they get a whole new set of tankmates, half of the fish die during all this, and the ones that actually make it we’re putting at even more risk by cramming them into a tank with damsels they can’t possibly get away from. Just because people have them mixed things no problems YET doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. I can’t tell you how many stocking issues can be avoided if people took into account the overall trend instead of following someone who also doesn’t want the normal rules to apply and are also hoping to be the exception. Ask them how long it’s been successful. Ask how many have it still going well after two years. Then all of a sudden those damsels aren’t as nice as some make them sound, or clowns, or flame angels aren’t nearly as reef-safe as that one guy made them sound, etc.

There are too many options to settle for ones with a massive history of killing tankmates. You cannot put damsels in your tank and then get mad or surprised when they act like damsels.

It varies from individual to individual. One won’t touch anything, another just nips at clams or zoas, and another nips at everything. This is why every day of the week you will find people claiming they’re fine, that they’re not as bad as people say. Yet, you’ll find just as many people who’ve had problems with them. If they’re not ALWAYS reef-safe, then they’re not reef-safe. It’s not worth the risk just to lose corals and then have to tear your tank apart to get them back out. Just because people have them mixed things no problems YET doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. I can’t tell you how many stocking issues can be avoided if people took into account the overall trend instead of following someone who also doesn’t want the normal rules to apply and are also hoping to be the exception. Ask them how long it’s been successful. Ask how many have it still going well after two years. Then all of a sudden those damsels aren’t as nice as some make them sound, or clowns, or flame angels aren’t nearly as reef-safe as that one guy made them sound, etc.

Good mechanical that’s maintained every 3 days, a strong skimmer, a strongly lit refugium, and if all that’s not enough, carbon dosing. Have the right algae eaters. Cutting back on food is bad unless you are genuinely overfeeding.

Honestly, I would NEVER use an UGF anymore. They are literally the worst type of filter out there, they don’t have a single benefit over other types of filters, just downsides.

Even if they were just as good, they don’t work with sand and switching to sand was one of the best improvements I’ve ever made in this hobby. Tanks are cleaner, less maintenance, and sand is much more natural.

I know there are people who have been using them since the ’80s or earlier and refuse to see how much better other filters, and that’s fine, they’re free to keep using them until the end of time. But having used UGFs a lot, including reverse flow with strong powerheads and cleaning them well every week, and STILL seeing how much gunk they trap where you can’t get it out, I would NEVER even consider them.

NO DAMSELS! No pseudochromis (dottybacks). No clowns other than percula and occelaris. The others are complete a**holes and are to be avoided. (Yes, before someone replies, I know you and two other guys mixed them with no problems yet, good luck!). Add the clowns LAST, they’re too aggressive and will make it hard for other fish to settle in. No Xenia (you’ll love it at first, but then it will spread, you can’t get rid of it, and you’ll hate the day you ever considered it). No green star polyps. Keep it simple. Take it slow. Lights are key. If it’s not ALWAYS reef-safe, then it’s not reef-safe (flame angels, coral beauties, etc.). Just because people have them mixed things no problems YET doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. I can’t tell you how many stocking issues can be avoided if people took into account the overall trend instead of following someone who also doesn’t want the normal rules to apply and are also hoping to be the exception. Ask them how long it’s been successful. Ask how many have it still going well after two years. Then all of a sudden those damsels aren’t as nice as some make them sound, or clowns, or flame angels aren’t nearly as reef-safe as that one guy made them sound, etc. Bulk Reef Supply’s 52 Weeks of Reefing videos are amazing (but very in-depth, so not necessarily the best first step into your research). This site has a lot of great articles:

SunSuns aren’t good. They have a long record of dying after just a year or two. Yes, every day of the week you can find people who have them for longer with no issues, but the percent of people who fit that description is much smaller than with other filters. A Fluval WILL last you 5-10 years without even trying. You will be part of the lucky minority if your SunSun is still running in two years. It’s not worth the risk of a leak or losing all your fish because it died just to save some money. Every single client I’ve had who had them had to replace them after a year or two. Regularly on these forums you will see yet another person asking “My SunSun died, what should I replace it with?” Again, not every single one does this, so you have enough people saying they’re great to think they’re worth taking a shot with them, but I would NEVER trust my own tanks with one, not even if you bought it brand new and gave it to me as a gift.

1 – Nitrate is only one of the bad things water changes remove. It’s also the only one we have a test kit for. There’s also growth-inhibiting hormones, dissolved organic compounds, etc.

2 – Water changes also replace all the good stuff such as GH, KH, etc. Without this, you would have to dose these, which most people wouldn’t get right.

3 – More water changes are better. There’s a reason why discus, stingray, and other crazy people do crazy water changes, as much as 100% twice daily (which is insane). More typically, they’re still doing 75%+ multiple times a week.

4 – Having done it both ways, I wouldn’t go back to small water changes. Tanks run cleaner, fish grow faster, they get bigger, they have fewer health problems, and they breed better. They just do better, a lot better, with bigger weekly water changes. I firmly believe that everyone claiming their tanks do so well without big water changes are right, but I also firmly believe that even the best of those tanks would do even better with bigger water changes.

Here’s an article with more detail:

One of the most common trends we’ve noticed lately is how many people who try live plants don’t realize their light is too weak. Usually, someone asks which light would be good for the plants, they go with one of the recommendations (usually on the cheaper end of the suggestions…) and then the plants don’t really do well or even slowly die. So they think they need to upgrade their substrate, change ferts, maybe start CO2, etc. when all along it was just weak lights.

Here is one of my planted tanks. Inert sand, no soil, no root tabs, no CO2, strong air stones, massive weekly water changes no matter how perfect nitrate is, Seachem Flourish general liquid after each water change, and strong lights. I use black box LEDs for reefs because you can adjust the color and intensity to get exactly what you want. This is the one I use:

If the tank is smaller, then something like a Nicrew or Finnex should be good. Just make sure it’s controllable, I bought one that wasn’t and it was way too strong.

Mixing Station

300-Gallon Water Changes


NLS 125g Thera+A 1mm

Fluval FX4, hands down. They are strong, silent, hold a ton of media, and have great hardware. They’re a guaranteed winner right out of the box.

Fluval FX6, hands down. They are strong, silent, hold a ton of media, and have great hardware. They’re a guaranteed winner right out of the box.

AquaClear 110

Filter Roller

Jebao DC Controllable Pump

Jebao DC Controllable Powerhead

Reef Octopus DC Controllable Protein Skimmer

Aqueon Pro Heaters

Cobalt Neo-Therm Heaters

InkBird Heater Controller

Screw-in Refugium Light

Black Box Viparspectra Refugium Light

Kessil A360WE Tuna Blue

Nicrew RGB multi sizes 48″

Nicrew RGB 30″

Fluval 3.0 48″

Philzon Black Box LED

WattShine Black Box LED

Bright Nicrew LED 18″

Seachem Matrix

Seachem Matrix Carbon

K2 Media

Seachem Flourish

Seachem Flourish Tabs

Seachem Cichlid Lake Salt

Seachem Malawi Buffer


Eshopps Overflow Box 75

General Cure



E.M. Erythromycin






Innovative Marine ATO

Golden Pearls

Water Bandit Rubber Python Adapter

Coral Photo Filter

Water Alarm

Wifi Power Strip

Ziss Internal Tumbling media reactor


GE Silicone 1

Test Tube Holder


Are you debt-free with an emergency fund? If not, then I wouldn’t worry about investing yet. If so, then start an account with TD and take their education at You can also take this course for more education: Then, use TD’s paper trading until you get that side figured out before adding the emotional side with actual trading. What to invest in will depend on your style, risk tolerance, timeframe, etc. In the beginning, until you figure out a better way, don’t do anything more than ETFs. They’re tax-favorable cmpared to mutual funds and you can get ones focussed on growing sectors. Fidelity has great screens, but TD should too (I haven’t tried with them since I’m already used to Fidelity’s). You can screen for performance and certain sectors such as biotech, solar, etc. Never invest in anything you don’t understand. Even just SPY is good until you figure out something better. If you can’t explain it to a kid, you don’t understand it yet.

I pay for multiple paid services (and have dropped others).

Amplitrade just emails a list of 10 stocks each month that you’re supposed to just invest your portfolio in evenly. The service is good, beats the S&P by a lot, and is simple. Certainly no discussion or anything though, it’s his algorithm and the email list, that’s it. There’s not reasoning or explanation, there’s no email in the middle of the month getting out of any position ever, just the list of ten stocks.

7Investing is similar except it’s seven stocks and you have to check their website instead of getting an email. I’m still paper trading this one mostly to see how it compares. It’s similar to Amplitrade I think, but more likely to have stocks that don’t have options or at least options with very low activity (I only trade options 99% of the time).

Motley Fool Stock Advisor is definitely a scummy salesman feel, but their stock picks aren’t bad. If you can zone out the constant attempts to upsell you, the stocks aren’t bad. My best gains last year were from a stock on MF SA that I didn’t see mentioned ANYWHERE else. So for the cost, they are worth it to me to at least get a good list to consider even if I won’t blindly invest in every recommendation they make. They’re also a buy-and-hold style, which to me sounds more like “if I hold long enough, eventually I’m right” which a lot of investors have, but is not my preference.

Investors Business Daily Leaderboard is good and the most active of all of these. I think they usually have an eye on certain stocks and then when they move above a certain point it’s their trigger to invest. The problem is sometimes this is after a huge move up which makes it look like you’ve already missed the boat.

Between these four, I trust Amplitrade the most. Not only is their style the simplest, but the track record since I’ve been using them has been the best.

I have Fidelity and TD. I’ve used Fidelity a lot longer. They both have something I like that the other doesn’t have. TD is definitely MUCH more modern looking and streamlined. Between the two, I’d definitely go with TD.

I’ve also had Tastyworks but hated it. The interface is VERY different, it’s a lot less intuitive, I never figured out what their circles are supposed to mean. They do let you follow people to see their trades which is at least interesting, but I’d rather use TipRanks to do that.

I don’t look for dividends at all. There are two types of companies, those that are reinvesting in themselves because they’re growing and those paying dividends because they’re no longer growing. Yes, there are exceptions, but if you’re looking for dividends, you’re going to miss out on A LOT more growth than you’ll gain with the dividends with stocks that don’t grow nearly as much.

I think professional help is worth the modest cost. These laws are super-complex and change every year. It’s effectively impossible for a non-tax person to accurately determine everything they actually do and do not qualify for and truly max out their own benefits. If we pay someone $300, it will only take them finding that much of a difference to break even. Even if you happened to get it perfect THAT YEAR, it’s worth it to know for sure you actually got it perfect.

ELI5 Options:


Your screening and lease are essential. They are the vast majority of what determines how well things will go.

We found a standard lease for VA and put it in Word. Then we found a few leases from actual places in VA and combed through them, adding everything the standard lease didn’t have. Then we added a few things over the years as needed. Now we have a great lease and have never lost an eviction (which we almost never have to do now due to our good screening, see below). I’m happy to share this lease with anyone. You can use it or just look through it for things to add to yours. There’s a full article on landlording and our actual application, lease, and addendum at:

For Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), we now just tell them: “ESAs aren’t a problem. However, due to all the fraud with them, we just give the paperwork to our lawyer. As long as everything’s good, we’re happy to have you. If there is any fraud, we let our lawyer handle it.” This strongly discourages anyone who knows their ESA is bull. Tone is key though, the whole point is to make them think other landlords will be easier pushovers. The only time someone still submitted paperwork we didn’t even kneed to check it because it was obviously legit. If they do give you paperwork, ask them “Is this everything you want us to submit to our attorney?” This is another reminder that you’re not the pushover they’re looking for and gives them another chance to flake out.

We have high/strict screening requirements so that we can make exceptions as we want to but can fall back on those requirements if we need to refuse someone. Credit is more important than income. I’d rent to someone with good or little credit and not quite the income because they’ve proven that even when things are tight, they keep their priorities straight. I would not rent to someone with bad credit and amazing income because they’ve proven that even with the great income, they still can’t act enough like an adult to pay their bills.

Find comparable units in the area and see what they go for. Comps don’t have to be exact, just enough to know if yours should be more or less. So if you have a 2 bed, 1.5 bath townhouse, a 3 bed townhouse is still a great comp and (unless there’s something really bad about it), it should be more than yours. Don’t be afraid to go for more rent. It’s more money for you and self-selects better tenants. Worst case you ask a little too much, don’t get responses, and lower the price a little until you get responses.

Have high standards for income and get at least two months’ of pay stubs from each person 18+. They need 3x the rent in TAKE-HOME pay (deductions from their check before they even get it don’t help them pay you) and good credit (we require 670, but that may vary depending on your area and price point). This self-selects better tenants and you can always make exceptions when reasonable (such as a low credit score but only because of a lack of history and there’s nothing bad on their report).

Don’t rush. Don’t make exceptions. Don’t consider sob stories. People very rarely take responsibility for their own actions.

Everyone 18 and over goes through the full credit/background check and income verification. List them all on the lease and use the term “jointly and severally” (such as “Tenant: John Smith, John Doe, and Jane Doe, jointly and severally”). This makes them all fully liable for all rent, damages, etc. Also, any children should be listed by name as occupants.

We do not check references of previous landlords, it’s a waste of time. Only one of a few things happens: 1 – They’re a good tenant and the landlord says so, so you get a good reference. 2 – They’re a bad tenant but the landlord wants to get rid of them so you get a good reference. 3 – They’re a bad tenant and know it so they have their friend pretend to be the landlord and you get a good reference. Or 4 – They’re too dumb to know they’re bad and the landlord is too dumb to get rid of them so you actually get a bad reference (this almost never happens). So ask for them on the application but don’t waste time actually checking them. Focus on credit and income verification.

We use for our credit and background checks.

I think one of the key factors in finding work is first stepping back and thinking about the type of work that autistic people tend to do well at. Tasks such as putting things where they go, making things right, finding problems, etc. are all things we tend to do naturally, even if not working. Depending on skill level, this can be stocking shelves in retail, librarian, file clerk at a law firm, accounting, IT, inventory manager, inspector, etc. If we find work that gives us a natural advantage or at least is consistent with our strengths and habits, then we’ve greatly tipped the probability of success much more in our favor. From there, the boss might be bad, hours might be horrible, coworkers are nasty, etc. can all undo it, but we at least gave ourselves a good fighting chance.