A Shrimp and Something Else

Posted in Under the Sea on June 17th, 2008 by MadDog
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On Saturday, I got the first good chance to try out the new Canon G9 in its underwater housing. For moderately priced gear, I have to say that, so far, I’m very happy with it.

Here’s a little nudibranch (a fairly rare one). It’s about 2 cm long:

 Nudibranch

A huge numbers of megapixels (12) and a very sharp lens combined with a very good macro capability (able to get very close to the subject) is a combination that is ideal for small subjects.

This tiny shrimp, about 2 cm long, is a good example. I’ve never before had a camera that could give me so much detail up close. I you look carefully at the shrimp (as always, just click the picture for an enlargement), you can see it’s a mama carrying a clutch of eggs. Look to the right of the bright marking on the back and you will be able to make out the individual eggs:

 Commensal shrimp

I took both of these shots without flash. I like that, because using flash is always a pain for me.

Stay tuned for the next few days, please, while I get my life back under control. I want to get back to posting every day.

I Stalk the Elusive O’Hare

Posted in Mixed Nuts on June 13th, 2008 by MadDog
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No, heaven forbid, I’m not back in Chicago. I just need to catch up with myself.

I ended up at the Hilton by sheer luck. I can’t afford it. My internet-placed reservation turned out to be for a (much cheaper) hotel that was close to Midway, not O’Hare. It was certified to have an ‘airport shuttle’. Too bad for me that there was no shuttle to it from O’Hare. I flew helicopters for years out of Midway Airport. So, I was feeling suitably stupid.

Here I should mention that I made the reservation myself. Eunie would never have made so straightforward a blunder. When she blunders, it’s always insufferably elegant – and rare.

Anyway, a sweet and merciful young lady took pity on me. When I asked her if I could get a room, the price came back at $259. When I looked suitably dejected, she immediately got on the phone and cancelled my reservation at the other establishment. I was horrified at first, thinking only that I now faced a night and most of the next day on a bench somewhere in the bowels of the terminal.

Then she smiled and handed me a crumply little piece of paper with $119 handwritten on it. She didn’t say it out loud. I was attacked by a sudden urge to leap over the counter and hug her. Chicago cops frown on that. I told her respectfully that she was a treasure and thanked her for her kindness.

Settled into the now not-so-pricey Hilton, I had time to kill. How better to do so than to take my trusty companion hunting? I stalked my prey mercilessly. I love shooting at night without a flash. Out of about two hundred shots that night, I’ll show you the ones that pleased me the most.

There’s little about O’Hare that’s aesthetically pleasing (except see my Tunnel of Light post). At night, however, it does take on a sort of industrial charm. This shot is from down near Terminal 3 just at last light – that’s the Hilton looming on the left:

 O’Hare Terminal 1 at last light

From the other end of the street, it’s even drearier. Where are the people? 

Industrial view of O’Hare Terminal 1

Going back down in front of Terminal 3, things are picking up. The bustle of traffic adds to the visual appeal: 

At O’Hare the bustle of traffic grows

And yes, people are all about. Standing, waiting, thinking, worrying? Loneliness and melancholy intrude on the scene:

 O’Hare night people

I stood in this area for about an hour taking surreptitious photos. Those that noticed were amused rather than alarmed. Four years ago, I’d have had cops all over me.

This lady was there the whole while. I felt compassion for her. Someone was obviously very late:

 O’Hare lady waiting

Back down in front of Terminal 1, the late night hustle was full on.

Getting busy at O’Hare Terminal 1

Needing a rest, I retired to the swanky Gaslight Club at the hotel. I had an excellent salad and this lovely nightingale serenaded for a couple of hours:

 A nightingale sings at O’Hare

All in all, not a bad night for being stuck in Chicago.

I Take the Big Plunge

Posted in Mixed Nuts on June 12th, 2008 by MadDog
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As Eunie had booked me into the Hides Hotel in Cairns for two nights to recuperate from jet lag before going home to Madang, I found myself with a perfectly good day at hand and nothing to do.

I’d seen the movie The Bucket List on the plane. As I wandered around Cairns afoot, I was thinking of all the things I’ve never gotten around to doing. I also speculated on how many chances I have left to do them.

There was a precise moment when the universe jiggled a little (Hmmm. What’s that about? I thought.) My eyeballs locked onto a gaudy sign.
Yes! It’s going to be skydiving today!

I stood outside a few moments wondering what I was getting into. A nice young lady inside gave me the scoop. I quickly decided that I had to decide and pulled out the plastic. The store is orderly, comforting, and just a tiny bit scary – all that ferocious looking black and chrome strappy stuff hanging all about. Looks a little S&M. Inside the Skydive Cairns store:

Inside the Skydive Cairns store

All of the gearing-up and instruction is done at the store. This is probably a good idea, since it disconnects you physically from the scene of the crime against nature that you are about to commit. It allows you to think rationally and pay attention to your instructions. Still, someone is bound to start thinking too much:

Not everybody reacts the same

When everybody looks like a character from Mad Max, we’re herded out to the van for a short ride to a small airport. And, we see a most unusual aeroplane:

 The turbine-powered Cresco - custom built for skydiving

It’s a purpose-built skydiving plane by Pacific Aerospace in New Zealand – the Cresco. It has a huge turbine engine, big fat wings, and it climbs like a terrified spider monkey. We ascended to 14,000 feet in only about seven minutes. It’s a tight fit in the cabin.

My Tandem Master, Theresa, sits behind me. As we neared our jump altitude, Theresa began tightening up the four straps that held us together. I mean those straps were tight, man. If I held my breath, I could feel her breathing. I know what you’re thinking! The answer is yes, it does feel pretty cool. I tried to breath calmly and evenly so Theresa would know what a brave soul I am. Here I am trying to stay cool:

 In the plane on the way up

When the moment comes, it’s almost over before it starts. You and your Tandem Master are straddling a big foam cushiony thing that runs the length of the cabin. There is one each for the two lines of jumpers. You are vigorously scooted forward by your Tandem Master (few choices left at this point) and spun around to face the door. Your feet go on the step, as instructed. Then you cross your arms in front of you and lay your head back on the shoulder of your Tandem Master. The next thing you know, you’re hurled forward and it’s too late to change your mind. This seems to be a good way to stop people from bolting at the last moment. As you can see, I cheated a little. I really wanted the full experience:

 Sitting in the door

What comes next, if you have not experienced it, will probably come as a surprise. At that altitude, there’s really no feeling of falling at all. It’s more like you’re hanging from something (a nice young lady, in this case – no problem there) and staring at a giant picture of the ground being slowly brought closer. All the while there’s this strong blast of refreshingly cool air bathing your whole body. I thought it would be a big adrenaline rush. For me it was just mesmerising. As we’d say in the 60’s, it was a stone gas, man.

Here’s Theresa and I just starting the sixty-second freefall:

 Out the door

Our cameraperson was yet another astonishingly cute young lady (how DO Australians produce so many of them?) named Elisha. She was busy taking photos of us. I have a disk full and videos also. It costs extra, but what good is it if you don’t have the pictures?

I was so enraptured by the sight of the ground slowly rising to embrace me that Theresa had to keep reminding me to look up at the camera. This is your typical ‘old dude goes skydiving’ shot, but it makes me giggle like a schoolgirl to see myself in it:

On the way down - freefalling

As with all good things, the freefall eventually ends with a jolt. I think it would be nice if the Tandem Master would say something like, “Okay, I’m going to pop the chute now and your body is going to feel like it’s being drawn and quartered.” It didn’t happen. It was just BANG and you go from 200KPH to about 20 in about one second. It’s not entirely unpleasant. I just think one might enjoy it more if one knew when it was coming. In all fairness, Theresa may have told me – I might not have heard. There was some serious rewiring being done in my brain.

Then the other cool part of skydiving begins. Floating like a feather. I was amazed at the amount of precision control the chute allows. Theresa let me pull the handles to turn us one way or the other or speed up and slow down. We did some very tight fast spins that were over mercifully soon. They were fun and not scary at all, but I didn’t want to lose my lunch.

The landing was not at all what I expected. In the shop, Theresa made me demonstrate several times that I could reach down and grab my leg (one at a time, of course), grasp it behind the knee, and hold it straight out in front of me. I thought, “Hmmm . . . She’s going to do a little running landing while I’m keeping my legs safely up out of the way. How very clever.”

As you can see, that is not the case. We both had our feet out in front and landed flat on our bums. I was a little anxious for the last few seconds as the ground seemed to be coming up pretty fast. At the last moment Theresa did something with the controls and we simply plopped down in the grass:

 Coming in for a landing

Safe on the ground, it takes a few minutes for the silly, giddy feeling to die down a little. Here I am feeling silly and giddy:

 Safe on the ground

Though I had an excellent experience and would recommend it to anyone in reasonably fit condition, I have noticed one lingering, ominous side effect – I now want to do it every day.

Home Sweet Home

Posted in Mixed Nuts on June 6th, 2008 by MadDog
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It’s a long, long way from Hamilton to Madang. I stopped over one night in Chicago and two in Cairns. I’ve many adventures to report and photos to show you.

First, I have to spend a couple of days rebuilding my computer at home. It hasn’t had a software refresh for about six years. It’s too slow to be useful. By early next week, I’ll be back to posting daily.

Have a look at this: (click on it for an enlargement)

Orange Ice

Have you noticed the tiny crystals of frost that sometimes appear between the two plastic windows on an airliner at high altitudes: I suppose that there is enough air leaking thorough the tiny hole at the bottom of the inside window to put some moisture in that cavity. The outer pane must be ferociously cold.

Anyway, you can see the tiny frost crystals glowing orange from the setting (or rising, I can’t remember) sun. You can also see the deep blue sky and the wing of the plane in the blurry distance.

I have some interesting shots to show you over the next few days – when I get my computer sorted. Would you like to see what the ground looks like when you’re falling through it straight down at about 200 KPH? I’m going to show you.