Monday, October 4, 2010

The difference in difficulty between imagining something and actually doing it is pretty large, guys.

I've received a lot of emails, to the effect that a single small enclosure is not impressive enough. These emails usually express the view that this project is unbelievably simple and easy, and that the current design is settling for mediocrity. Most demand some kind of multi-enclosure "City", with hamster tubes connecting them. Other demands include an algae colony for replenishing the air (without need of a surface pump) a small aquaculture pod to supply the hamster with plants to eat, waterproofed turbines outside to generate tidal power, a hamster wheel with electrical generator to keep the batteries charged, hamster mini-subs so they can leave the colony and explore, and so far my attempts to suggest that these are all far too elaborate for a one-man project scheduled to take no more than a month or two have been met with scorn, and the opinion that perhaps I'm too stupid for this project, that they "could do a way better job" if they "felt like it".

The truth is that lots of things seem simple and easy until you actually try to do them. As I found out with the Mk. I habitat, it's harder than it seems in one's imagination to put something underwater, replenish it's air, and keep water out. This has been a learning process for me; what initially seemed like a pretty basic project has required me to do everything from calculating the lung volume and breathing rate of an adult dwarf hamster to working out whether the selected pump would replenish air fast enough, given it's cfm rating and the increase in water pressure at 8 feet.

I've also learned that water doesn't stay out of an enclosure just because you need it to, or because it seems like it will in your head as you study a potential enclosure. A lot goes into making a container watertight, and not just any will do. Not many companies sell watertight containers; many claim to but they are intended only for keeping clothing and documents dry in humid climes, not for being submerged, and many that claim they are safe to submerge instruct you never to submerge them below three feet. In the subset of available enclosures that are truly watertight and that will withstand pressure at useful depths, most are not transparent. If i had chosen an opaque enclosure it would probably have provoked an outcry. What's the point of putting it underwater, after all, if the interior camera (and hamster) cannot see the 'world' outside? But among the subset of watertight containers that are transparent, none are much larger than a shoebox. Anything bigger than that is typically briefcase sized, opaqe, intended for marine biologists carrying electronic equipment, and hundreds of dollars.

I did explain this to many of the critics who then accused me of being lazy for relying on ready-made enclosures. They asked why I don't simply build my own. Well, because I do not have infinite funding, a 3D printer, or access to a machine shop. If I had these things, I probably would.

However, I don't want to let any of you down. I can explain the difficulties involved in this project until I'm out of breath but at the end of the day, I want to delight rather than disappoint, which means I need to complicate the project in order to satisfy those of you who want to see something more elaborate than what I had planned. To that end, I have purchased a second enclosure;
This one is 7.7"x3.5"x7.4". It's wider than the one I have and not quite as tall, but it should add some much appreciated extra space, possibly for a second hamster.

I plan to use the power drill I'm still waiting on donations for to drill a "pilot hole" in the wall of both boxes, after having traced the rim of the hamster tube in black marker on each wall as a guide. I'll then widen the hole gradually using a dremel tool (which I also don't have yet) until the hole on the wall of each enclosure is precisely the right size for the hamster tube. I'll then use the 3M Marine Grade Silicone Sealant to seal the rims, and the air holes in the tube.

It will be less structurally sound than a single contiguous enclosure but evidently one enclosure isn't enough, so here we are. My main concern is how I'll weigh this assemblage down without stressing the spots where the hamster tube connects with the wall of each enclosure. I'll need some kind of platform with lots of holes in it so that I can fasten the enclosures tightly to it with wire, and then attach weights evenly to the bottom of the platform:

So as to avoid making any of you wait, I'll be sinking the single-enclosure habitat sometime in November for repeated "missions". That way if something goes wrong when building the two-enclosure habitat (like the plastic cracks) all will not have been in vain.This will be interesting. It's not what I signed up for, but you've gotta give the people what they want.


  1. I really want to see this in action, I can't wait

  2. The people who wrote complaining probably didn't take into account that you are trying to do this without the hamster perishing from asphyxia or pneumonia.

    But I can't help but wonder if hamster claustrophobia is possible and would be an issue.

    Anyhow, the new project is looking great. If it succeeds, will you stop there or expand the horizons of underwater hamster-dwelling habitats? Why not a four, or even six-enclosure habitat for the future?

  3. No reason I couldn't keep expanding it, provided this works, and provided I can afford to.

  4. I have most of these tools. If you lived anywhere near me I would totally let you burrow them / help you :3

  5. In the least I can suggest that you get some sort of poly carbonate tubing the diameter you need instead of trying to make a hamster tube work. It would not have air holes and be more structurally stable.

  6. I agree with what Deanthiro said,I am not sure of how strong a hamster tube is and if it would hold up to the pressure. Here is a link on how to calculate water pressure of things being submerged

    If you need help with the calculations I can help.

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  8. This is a bit off topic, but with regards to the moon pool, I admit I was skeptical at first, but fter extensive research, I believe you. But wouldn't it be much simpler and more convenient to add a small hole (perhaps 2 inches in diameter) in the center of one of the enclosures. Much less space exposed to water, but still ample drinking room. Also, if I were you, I would add a small mesh (perhaps chicken wire or netting of some sort) cover to the hole. Fasion it into a bowl shape and your hampster will be able to drink without fear of falling into the water and being removed from the enclosure.

    Just a thought.

  9. Scaling up from simple to complex is as a rule of thumb easier than to go from nothing to complex. Algae are nice but all biological processes are fickle as fuck and you'd need the current systems as backup anyway. Since i gather you want to learn from this experience to make a underwater lair i recommend ignoring the haters and starting simple and upgrading when you deem it acceptable (reducing the risk on hamsters and overal morale). Are you planning on monitoring parameters like temperature / oxygen / CO2 concentrations?

  10. Hamster burrow. I dont think claustrophobia will be an issue.

  11. The CO2 moniter is cool but a little advanced and very expensive. Right now I think it will be okay if he just pumps in and removes air at a decent rate. If hamsters are anything like humans, they can rebreathe used air since I dont think their little lungs can greatly reduce the oxygen content of the air. Simple circulation should do well for now.
    Even if the pump system were to fail or at least be unable to get air down to operational depths, the volume of air in the container compared to the hamster is a lot when you think of how a scuba tank has a phone booth's volume of air and lasts about an hour. Lets keep this nice and simple for now, but when he makes himself an underwater habitat it might be a good idea to get the CO2 monitor.

  12. Thanks for the advice everyone. Ryan, definitely adding an inch or so of wood shavings, just enough to burrow under.

    Thomas, according to the math, the air flow provided by the pump I've chosen is sufficient for 15 hamsters. It's one of the reasons I'm open to the idea of expanding the habitat.

    Deanethiro, I've actually found a company that will sell polycarbonate tubing cut to spec. I'll be using that instead of hamster tubing for the reasons you mentioned.

  13. Even though the hamster wheel generator is impractical you may want to put one in anyway, or rig something up that he can run on. He will need to have some exercise.

  14. You mayant to put more than an inch of wood shavings, it would be enough to cover him, but more like a blanket than a burrow. I know from personal experience that hamsters like more than that. You may consider picking up a bag of bedding. It comes almost like wads of torn up brown paper towels, it clumps together, and is relatively inexpensive. If you add two or two and a half inches of it, it would be plenty to make your hamster feel comfortable, secure, and warm.