The Spider That Stayed All Night

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on September 17th, 2008 by MadDog
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Yesterday evening as I talked with our security guard, Charlie, I noticed a tiny spider in the hibiscus bush next to our veranda steps. It had spun a nice little orb web and he was sitting in the middle looking like an X with a blob in the middle waiting for dinner to fly into his trap.

The light was too low for a non-flash shot, so I went back into the house to get an LED diving light to see if that would work. He didn’t like the light at all. He kept running away from the centre of his web to try to hide behind a leaf.

This is the best shot I managed:

Eight legged buddy lit with a dive torch 

The trick works, but the angle of the lighting is critical. The leaf of the hibiscus is overexposed so much that, even with Photoshop, I can’t get the whites unblocked – there’s just no information there to manage. I decided to try the trick again sometime.

In the morning, at about a quarter to six, I got up and noticed that we were going to have a good sunrise. The colours were cheery – just what’s needed at that normally gloomy hour. There was a fire in town somewhere and the smoke was drifting lazily in the still air across the view from right to left. It gave the town a hazy cast against the brightening sky:

A smoky sunrise from our veranda

I looked to see if my little eight-legged buddy was still patiently lurking. Sure enough, there he was in the same web waiting, now a bit impatiently I think, for breakfast.

I trudged back into the house for the dive light. As the sky lightened, I got a nice green out-of-focus background of the lawn against which to frame him.

Holding the light just so, I managed this shot:

The little spider the next morning

He’s only about the size of your little fingernail.

Little creatures fascinate me. Oh, I like the big ones also. Elephants are my favourite. The sight of a baby elephant playing gets me all mushy inside.

The little creatures, though . . . How do they do it? They are so tiny and seemingly helpless against the vast world around them. So many bullies about and, like praying mantises, females who would like to take your head off.

It makes me think of high-school.

This Dame Is No Lady

Posted in Dangerous, Opinions, Under the Sea on September 16th, 2008 by MadDog
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Damsel . . .

The word seems innocuous, if antiquated. It comes from the Latin dominus, or in the case of a female, domina. It means, more or less, head of the household.

We talk of a “damsel in distress” and we think “poor defenceless woman.” The roots of the word imply the opposite. We’ll get to that later.

But first, let me show you some delicious fish soup. Everybody, well almost everybody, likes a fine, beautifully crafted fish chowder.

Divers use this term – fish soup – when the aggregation of fish expected is exceeded beyond rational explanation. In other words, there are a great many more fish hanging about than could be reasonably expected.

On Saturday, I saw one of the finest fish Soups that I have ever seen. We went diving on The Henry Leith near Wongat Island.

Just above the stern of the ship there were so many fish congregated that I could not get them all into the view of the camera. If I backed away farther, the cloudiness of the water made the scene too indistinct and speckled. So, what I show you here is only a part of the spectacle.

On quick inspection, I count nine different species here. I’m sure that I’m missing a few:

Fish Soup - The Henry Leith

If you think about this, it’s bizarre. We think of fish as being all cousins under the skin. However, different fish, obviously, are as different from each other as a sheep and a wolf. In the photo above, I see a wolf at the bottom of the round notch in the centre. There you can easily make out in the distance a Blue Fin Trevally – a wolf of the reefs. There are plenty of sheeplike fish in the photo.

What are they doing in one big mob? Think of shotgun wielding Lifetime Members of the National Rifle Association* (Like the Governor of Alaska now in the running for the Vice-presidency of the U. S. of A.) trying to blend in at a Sunday afternoon picnic of Quakers.

Under the stern railing, I found two rather uncommon Spotfin Lionfish cuddled up together – an unusual sight:

Spotfin Lionfish on the Henry Leith

You can just make out the spiky fins of a third one in the upper left corner.

The star of this post, however, is cruising ominously past my fingertips in this shot:

Golden Damsel cruising

This is the Golden Damsel (Amblyglyphidodon aureus). She’s no lady. (Actually, it may be a male – it’s hard to tell.)

There are about 320 species of damselfish worldwide and over 100 of them are found in the waters of the island of New Guinea.

One characteristic common among damselfish is pugnaciousness. If you want to pick a fight with a damselfish, go ahead. You’ll probably escape unscathed, but it will be only because you are far too big for it to rip you to tiny quivering shreds in a reasonable period. Given adequate time to nip and snip, it would certainly have a go.

They also make a peculiar grunting sound when perturbed. I sounds like “Unh, unh, unh, unh, unh, unh, unh!” spoken very quickly. Try it. You’ll sound just like an irritated damselfish. You can hear it for quite a distance. When I hear it, I start looking around to see who’s going to be nipping at my finger shortly.

What I didn’t, and can’t show you is the several times that the little demon successfully attacked my hand. I was flinching so much that I never got a clean shot.

This is a warning nip.

Golden Damsel warning

The damselfish is implying, “Doesn’t hurt, eh? Wait ‘til I do this to your hand!“:

Its warning unheeded, the little Kamikaze zooms in for the kill. I tensed my arm and focused my superpowers on avoiding the flinch. I sincerely wanted to get a shot of it biting my hand. I was hoping for some green blood:

Golden Damsel zooming in

Foiled again! The little schemer went straight for my wedding ring.

A ring-kissing damsel?

Golden Damsel kissing my ring

I felt like the Pope of fishes.

Later in the day, I brought two other divers to The Henry Leith. They too reported sustained vicious attacks, yet escaped unharmed.

Oh, by the way, Nemo is a damselfish. Have a look at the dentition on this little fellow.

*DISCLAIMER: I was, for some few years, a member of the NRA. I discontinued my membership when I could no longer support the legislative agenda of the organization.

I never used a semiautomatic weapon when hunting – on principle. In my opinion, semiautomatic and fully automatic weapons have only one purpose – killing human beings. They have no place in the hands of a sportsman.

A bolt action rifle with a telescopic sight is still the most accurate and dependable firearm available for hunting. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

All that said, it was a bolt action rifle that killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Let’s face it. All guns are for killing. I got rid of all my guns when I decided I no longer needed to kill anything – ever.

Home Town Snaps

Posted in Mixed Nuts, PNG Culture on September 15th, 2008 by MadDog
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A couple of weeks ago I spent half a day wandering around Madang looking for images that speak to me about my home town. I was writing an article for Ourway, the new in-flight magazine for Airlines PNG. I haven’t received word yet if the article will be published.

I’ll share a few photos that I did not submit with the article.

Here is the view of Madang from Nob Nob, a small mountain north of Madang. That’s Astrolabe Bay in the background:

Madang from Nob Nob Mountain

This is Machinegun Point on Coronation Drive. You are looking in the same direction as in the photo above. This is a very popular swimming hole:

Machinegun Point

Here is the fish market at the inlet close to the Madang Resort Hotel. You have to be lucky to find a good fish, but it is a popular hang-about spot:

The Fish Market

This is the lily pond on Modilon Road. It features one of the best Frangipani trees in town:

The Lily Pond

This is one of the old grave markers in the cemetery next to the main market:

A tombstone in the old cemetery

And, here is another:

Another grave marker

This shows some of the many artefacts for sale at the shop at the Madang Resort Hotel:


Finally, here’s one that was painful to get. I spent an hour on Faded Glory being tossed around by heavy, confused seas to get this shot of the Coastwatchers Monument. This is one out of about 300 shots:

The Coastwatchers Monument in Madang

I sometimes enjoy walking around Madang looking for the odd angle or fresh perspective. If you have not yet seen my “Going to the Market” post, you might have a look.

The Blue Spotted Stingray

Posted in Dangerous, Under the Sea on September 14th, 2008 by MadDog
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There are many kinds of rays. In the waters around Madang we see Manta Rays, Eagle Rays . . . even once a Guitarfish at the bottom of Magic Passage.

All rays are members of the taxonomic superorder Batoidea (batlike, I guess) of cartilaginous fishes containing over 500 distinct species in thirteen families. You’ll probably remember that sharks are also cartilaginous fishes (they have no bones, just cartilage). However, sharks fit into a different place on the taxonomic tree. They are like cousins of the rays.

In the family Erwinadfatilus (true rays) the Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) is the most commonly seen ray in these waters. Our favorite hunting ground for these potentially dangerous critters is on the sandy bottom around the wreck of The Henry Leith near Wongat Island.

On Saturday, we visited The Henry Leith and I got some of the best stingray action shots that I’ve managed so far. It is my pleasure to share them with you.

Here we see a Blue Spotted Stingray showing its usual hiding behaviour. It will sail in over the sand, drop to the bottom and flip its wings until the sand covers it. You usually cannot see its tail. This one has just started to be concerned about my approach and is lifting the outer edges of its wings in preparation for flight:

Blue Spotted Stingray

Here we see that it is becoming truly alarmed and is trying to make up its tiny stingray mind whether to split the scene or not:

Blue Spotted Stingray - Getting nervous

If you surprise a stingray, you’ll quickly learn the error of your ways. They will leap up out of the sand with a snapping noise and flail around trying to get away from you. This is the cause of many injuries, sometimes fatal. Everybody knows the sad story of Steve Erwin, so I won’t dwell on the danger aspect.

However, if you approach slowly, they will be able to think it over and decide how to escape and do so in their own good time. It makes sense from the perspective of the stingray, if you think about it. A rapidly approaching threat requires a hasty retreat with little regard for tactics. If a threat is approaching slowly, you might have a chance to sneak away quietly without drawing the attention of a potential predator.

Stingrays have probably read The Art of War by SunTzu.

“Okay, I’m outta here!”

Blue Spotted Stingray fleeing

After gliding a few metres, this fellow decided that I was no longer a bother and started to settle back down into the sand:

Blue Spotted Stingray settling down

Until I approached once more. He then gently lifted up off the sand again to find another hiding place farther away:

Blue Spotted Stingray fleeing again

No experienced diver with a brain in his head would attempt to ‘play’ with any kind of stingray. This little fellow looks completely harmless and is, in fact, cute in an alien sort of way. However, if you look carefully at the last three photos (click any photo on this site to enlarge), you will clearly see the sting on the upper surface of the tail. This smallish ray in only a bit over a metre from nose to tail tip. I’m guessing that the barb is 6-10 cm long. That’s enough to penetrate deeply into your body. Even a ray this small is potentially very dangerous.

I can’t imagine anybody stupid enough to try to grab one of these little beauties. However, I will say that I have approached this species slowly and carefully hundreds of times with my camera and I have never been the least bit concerned for my safety. I must have spent, in total, about an hour holding my breath while taking stingray photos. Man, would I love to have a rebreather rig!

Part of the fun of diving thousands of dives over many years is learning from observation. You begin to understand the behaviours of creatures in different situations. It is one of many things in my life that produce those first few thoughts to come to my mind as I rise in the morning; I’m the luckiest guy on the planet.

Shalom, chaver.

Photographer’s Note: I was very fortunate to be able to use available light for this series. The sun was directly overhead. We were in 18 metres of clear water with a bit of large particulate matter. I used a Canon G9 in a factory housing. I shot in the RAW mode (of course) with no flash. I used Adobe Bridge to open the file in Photoshop CS3 in the Camera RAW filter dialog. Having adjusted the colour temperature and tint sliders to the far right of their range, I opened the RAW files into Photoshop itself. At that point, I used Auto Equalize and then Auto Colour. Next I used the NoiseNinja Pro filter to clean up the grain. I then reduced the size to my standard web shot of 1280 pixels on the longest axis. I darkened the upper and lower edges to frame the subject. Finally I applied the Smart Sharpen filter to give me a pleasing level of sharpness. I saved the file as a JPG and adjusted the compression to end up with my standard web shot file size of about 200K and that’s it – DONE! Only a couple of decades ago this would have been impossible to do without a major photo laboratory.

Muli Ants and Weird Gravity

Posted in Humor on September 13th, 2008 by MadDog
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It’s Saturday morning and it’s raining. Bummer!

If I look out my window, I can just see a bit of clearing in the west, so I think that we will be okay for our regular 10:00 dive.

In the meantime, I’ve been sitting here since six o’clock waiting for something to develop in my brain. The Muse Thalia has her hand on someone else’s shoulder.

Sitting here staring numbly at my screen, my eyes felt a tug of horizontal gravity* pulling them to a couple of photos I took some few days ago of ants. Ants appeal to me as photographic subjects. I guess it is because they are always so busy and it is surprisingly difficult to get good shots.

I watched this one attempting to climb the trunk of one of our Fishtail Palms. Those long black fibres were impeding his progress severely. Every time he would run into one, he would have to stop and figure out which way to go. I tried to read his tiny little ant mind. All I got was static and faint mumblings. “Hey, what’s this – another one?” “Where is everybody?” “Now, where was I going?” “Oh, yes, up!” “Where’s the W.C.?” “Who’s the clown who left these things laying around?” Ants don’t send out very strong vibes:

Ant on the run

Don’t let this little guy fool you. He’s no ordinary ant. He’s a muli ant. He will bite you until you dance a frenzied little dance and scream, “Get it off. Get it off!”

Just look at those fierce little black eyes, menacing antennae, sickle-like mandibles, upthrust abdomen – “Hey, YOU! Don’t point that thing at me – get outta my face with that camera. Want a taste of formic acid? Yeah, I’m talkin’ to YOU with the hair, you pathetic mammal!”

Feisty little guys:

The dreaded muli ant

What’s really comical is when you’re traipsing through the bush and you run into some low hanging branch where they lie in wait. Wait until you get about a hundred of these little furies on you. Down your neck; in your hair. How do they get inside your underwear so quickly? The stink of formic acid makes your head spin. They’re stinging and biting everywhere at once. It makes one want to scream, “Oh, please, I’m begging here, just throw some gasoline on me and set me on fire. GET THEM OFF!”

Trimming the hibiscus in our garden always proves to be hazardous duty. The ants stitch together leaves with spit or something to make a nest of sorts. I don’t think that they breed in there. Maybe it’s like a bivouac or a big camp meeting. They’re probably all in there out of the rain singing, “Michael, row the boat ashore . . . halleluiah . . .”:

Dont go HERE!

If you snip a branch with one of these bombs on it, you’ll know in a second. Before you can even drop it, they will be swarming up your arm yelling, “Attack, attack! Eat the mammal, eat the mammal!”

Hey, I think I see a bit of sun out my window. I’d better get moving or I’ll be late to pick up my divers.

*My body seems to be composed of some substance that is affected by a creepy kind of gravity that doesn’t pull down, but rather sideways – and I can never tell which way it’s going to pull. As I’ve aged, the effect grows more and more worrisome. I sometimes tumble in a heap to the ground for no apparent reason. My doctor, bless her heart, says, “Tsk, tsk” and rolls her eyes. My therapist offers pretty much the same diagnosis. Not helpful at all.

The Silly Season

Posted in Humor, Opinions on September 12th, 2008 by MadDog
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Ah, politics . . . Brarak Obama declared on the Dave Letterman show that the Silly Season of Politics has begun. Contrarily, he also said that there is no non-silly season for politics. I tend to agree.

Bringing on this comical confusion was a monumental goof by his running mate, Joe “Loose Lips” Biden.

But first, for you foreigners, I have to tell you, briefly, about our own Silly Season of Politics here in Madang. I’m sure my fellow Madangers will forgive me if I don’t get my facts straight; I’m notoriously ill-informed.

To protect my life, I’ll make this a hypothetical situation. Politics here are pretty hypothetical anyway, so it’s not a stretch.

Candidate C wins few votes. Candidate A wins many. There’s another candidate, candidate B, but he’s pretty much a bystander in all this. Candidate C whines, one of many whines, that he could have won if only Candidate A had not benefitted from “undue influence” exerted on his behalf by a former major political figure. Candidate C goes to court and persuades a judge to make the previous election go away. It did. Now we have to have another election.

Since when does the campainging of former office holders on behalf of potential office holders constitute “undue influence”? Again, I have to claim ignorance and stupidity on my part if I’m wrong about this. But then, I’m not running for office, so I have an excuse.

It’s actually much funnier than that, but we don’t discuss these things in public.

Anyway, back to Mr. Biden’s gaffe.

I present it here to you [with my witty comments] in full, snatched directly from that font of wisdom, Old Man Internet:

Make no mistake about this [I want you to believe me], Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified [shaky ground ahead] than I am to be vice president of the United States of America [has audience’s attention now]. Let’s get that straight. She’s a truly close personal friend [we’re about to find out how close] , she is qualified to be president of the United States of America, she’s easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America [seems redundant to me], and quite frankly, [slight pause here] it might have been a better pick than me [Joe qualified to receive Sheba’s tongue at this point]. But she’s first rate, I mean that sincerely [obviously], she’s first rate [okay, okay, she’s first rate], so let’s get that straight [said “let’s get that straight” twice].

Oh, Joe! What were you thinking? You have fired a torpedo directly into the engine room of the USS Democratic Party. You actually said what almost everybody has been thinking. Even Republicans, who are now wringing their tiny hands in glee. We can hear the Republican Party’s collective sigh of relief clear over here in Madang. Even Krakatau didn’t carry that far, for pity’s sake.

Joe, step up and claim your reward:

Joe Biden Sporting Sheba’s Tongue

Wrapping this up, I have to note the slight pause before the fatal words “it might have been a better pick than me.” The pause might indicate that Joe was considering, briefly, whether he should articulate what his brain was sending to his lips. I have some advice on that matter.

In my experience, if I have to consider whether what I’m about to say is appropriate, safe, funny or not funny, wise, stupid, unfriendly, confrontational, or whatever, then I am certain I should very likely not say it.

If, in that moment of hesitation, you make the wrong choice, you might very well end up sporting Sheba’s tongue.

Memories in a Box

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 11th, 2008 by MadDog
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Part of the purpose of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi is to be our personal journal. Indeed, though I hope to entertain you, patient reader, and myself as I write, someday I will have built a treasure house of memories for Eunice and myself.

This post falls into that category – life’s progression recorded digitally and locked away. It’s more fun than a scrapbook and involves no stinky glue.

Back in April of this year we were packing up everything we had left in the USA to send it over to Madang. The rationale for this was simple. We never intend to live in the USA again, so there seems no point in keeping memorabilia there.

So, we packed up all of our ‘stuff’ and shipped it off, hoping to see it again someday. Of the two crates, one has now arrived. They were supposed to travel together for company, but the shipping agent miscalculated and now the crate containing the Harley is still at sea because it was put into a different shipping container that was destined for another ship.

This crate followed a rather torturous route beginning in Springfield, Illinois. From there it was trucked to JAARS shipping in North Carolina. JAARS used to stand for Jungle Aviation and Radio Services – as delightful an acronym as I’ve ever heard. It was then packed into a container and shipped to the west coast. I don’t know where it visited in from there on, but it eventually ended up in Lae to clear customs. It was then accidentally trucked to Ukarumpa, from where it went back to Lae and then by Rooke’s Marine truck to Madang. It ended up on Clint Rooke’s little ute on its way to our workshop on Alamanda Crescent:

On its way to the workshop

Clint’s forklift then deposited it into our workshop:

The crate goes into the workshop

The next afternoon, Eunie and I started what we imagined to be a lengthy process of unpacking it. We had used several hundred long wood screws to assemble the crate, so it took a while to unscrew them all. Thankfully, we had an electric drill to take care of that task:

Take out a few hundred screws

Nearly disassembled, we start to see the goodies inside (including my own treasured cargo of 1,200 cigars):

Goodies inside!

It took no time at all to load the stuff into our Navarra and drive to our house where Sheba was waiting to inspect it all:

Sheba inspects the cargo in the back seat

Elapsed time for unscrewing, disassembling, transferring, driving, and unloading: about an hour and a half. We celebrated our efficiency. It took days to make the crate and pack it.

Of course, the hard work is just beginning. Now we have to find room for all that stuff. Most of it will end up on display in some manner or other. If you have ever been in our house you know that it already resembles an overstuffed museum. I’ll have to have some new shelves and cabinets built and clear some wall space.

Back in the USA there remains only a seemingly unsellable house and our precious 1973 Triumph Spitfire 1500.

It’s good to have everything in one place now. It makes me feel truly settled for the first time in over three decades.

I can hardly wait for the Harley to arrive. I’m hoping it will be my Christmas present this year.