After reading the info here and having a couple of conversations with onbalance, I've decided to try a bicarb start for the medium grey plaster pool we are plastering Tuesday. It seems that it would result in a smoother and longer lasting finish. Over the years we have used the traditional and acid start ups for colored plaster.
I acquired the 55 gallon barrel from a friend in the tree business and will cut it up and turn it into a slurry tank. I will do my best to log reports of the chemistry and conditions as they are observed and report them to this thread. I have ordered the TFP test kit to monitor the process.
These are the results from testing makeup water using Aquacheck test strips:
Total Hardness 0
Since I can only get it started and babysit the slurry tank for a couple of hours, we have decided to start with two 50lb bags of bicarb sliced up in the bottom of the slurry tank to have a level of controlled dilution of the bicarb.
Figured this might be a good wintertime discussion and experiment.