I post this in the hope that someday other newbies to fishkeeping will find it and save themselves a little trouble. Coming into this with no knowledge of anything fish-related, I got all of my information either online or in books. I ended up finding that some oft-repeated statements didn't apply to me, and learned a few other lessons, as well. Keep in mind this is just my experience. I'm not claiming any of them to be universal truths.
1. "Clear ammonia is easier to find than ammonium chloride." This was definitely not true for me. I wanted to do a fishless cycle, and didn't want to use rotting shrimp, so I went searching for clear ammonia. I couldn't find it in any local store. I tried to find Ace ammonia, because there is an Ace Hardware near me. They didn't carry their own brand of ammonia. I ended up buying a little bottle of ammonium chloride from Foster and Smith online.
2. "You can cycle a new tank without material from a cycled tank or a bacterial additive." This may be true, but it's also excruciating. I cycled this way for 8 weeks and got absolutely nowhere. I gave up at that point and added Dr. Tim's One and Only. My cycle was kickstarted- I had nitrites and nitrates in days. It still took several weeks to cycle, but it worked. The cycle completed and I haven't had any odd readings or fluctuations. I read a lot of conflicting information about these "cycle starters" online and that's why I initially decided against using them. Now I would never bother trying to cycle without them, or media from my tank that is now cycled.
3. According to the Internet, feeding a betta is more dangerous than playing chicken with a train. I have read everything I could find about feeding and still know absolutely nothing about the right way to feed. I have read: "Pellets and flakes are rejected and cause swim bladder disease." "Pellets swell in the stomach." "Flakes are not palatable." "Live foods carry parasites." "Frozen foods are too rich/lack nutrition." "Freeze-dried foods swell in the stomach/lack nutrition." "Peas are good for constipation/will worsen constipation because bettas can't handle vegetables." "Over-feeding will kill your fish." "Under-feeding will kill your fish." "2 pellets per meal is underfeeding." "3 pellets per meal is overfeeding." "Feed the size of your fish's eye ball...and/or feed twice as much and it will be fine/dead". For me, I have ended up just feeding very carefully and hoping for the best.
4. Can't find frozen foods in a store you trust? If you decide to order them online, you might not want to do that in the middle of the summer...even with one-day shipping and ice packs. *sigh*
5. Everything you read will be contradicted somewhere else. Even the previous sentence. I once read a woman (who "knew" because she worked in an aquarium store for many years and had done a lot of "research") state that bettas are, in fact, coldwater fish.
6. "Your local fish store knows best." The internet had me believing my LFS would be the answer to all my problems and the perfect place to pick out a betta. "They're more knowledgeable than pet store employees," people said. "They carry items that pet stores don't." My actual LFS's website was beautiful and they had hundreds of likes on Facebook. They said they had all kinds of betta fish. Sounds promising, right? It was a disaster. All of their tanks were filled with algae. The bettas were in small bowls. There were 5 of them. You could only see one through the algae and waste that had clearly built up in the bowls over weeks if not months. I ended up going to a chain pet store and finding very knowledgeable staff and very clean aquariums. This, of course, will not be the case for everyone, but it underscores the point that I sometimes read: You should visit multiple stores before deciding to patronize one. You never know what you're going to find, regardless of their size or reputation.
7. If your fish has been in a bowl and you move it to a tank, it may zoom around like crazy for a couple days before chilling out. I didn't know what to think when my betta started slowing down after a little while...was something wrong? No, he was just acting normally after being hyper because of his big, new environment. Makes sense, but I hadn't read anything about it before.
8. Finding good betta decor is best done in-store where you can feel it for sharp edges. That said, I ended up with these: Colorburst Florals and Petco betta plants, and Underwater Galleries caves and arches.
9. You desperately need a good, accurate thermometer. They are not kidding about this. My first heater was at a consistent 81 degrees for several days, then shot up to 88. It had awesome reviews. It was garbage. If I hadn't had a digital thermometer, I never would have known.
10. Different water testing kits measure differently. Again, it makes sense, but I hadn't read about this anywhere. I read that liquid test kits were more accurate than test strips, but that was it. If you are cycling and want to understand your results better, watch this excellent video for explanation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPiDRid_Km8
11. If you're searching forums and aren't sure of what the right answer is, message someone who seems to know what they're talking about. (Special thanks to Hallyx- if he hadn't generously taken the time to help me, I'd probably still be cycling my tank).