Some Surprises in the Bush

Posted in Mixed Nuts on April 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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You would not expect to find one of these while strolling around in the bush in Papua New Guinea. The truth is, if you know where to look, you can find one. It’s a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, surely, along with the P-51 Mustang, among the most beautiful, not to mention deadly, aircraft ever built.
P-38 Lightning

However, it won’t look anything like the one above. It will look like this:

Upside-down engine of Lockheed Lighting P-38
I have visited this crash site several times. One of the propellers stands in the front yard of my house as a memorial to the folly of war. I’m as certain as I can be about the identity of the aircraft. The engines and propellers are a match. There are, of course, few eyewitnesses left alive. Papua New Guineans, however, are extremely adept at oral accounts of history. Certain people are entrusted with “telling the story correctly.” The aircraft was described to me in perfect detail, though none of the storytellers would have been likely to have seen a P-38 at any other time. “Two aeroplanes joined together by their wings holding a house for the captain in between.” It could only be a P-38.

Tagtap took me to the mountainside where the pilot’s parachute dropped him. He showed me the direction that the pilot travelled and described to me how the Japanese found and killed him.

I have reported this crash site several times to several agencies. All deny that it exists. I asked about all the planes that went down about which no position is known. The answer is in bureaucratese, “We have no information on that.”  DUH! Isn’t that what I’m trying to give you?

Never mind.

Another thing you might not expect to find is a scarecrow. I’ve never seen one in PNG before. I asked Tagtap. It seems an elderly lady was buried on top of this particular hill. At Easter time, some descendants came to pay homage. He thinks that they put up this effigy for spiritual reasons. “Or, they were just fooling around”, he added:

A scarecrow?  Or is it?
I’ll be showing you some terrifying bugs over the next few posts. We’ll start with this one. Tagtap says that touching this one is a no-no. “Em bai sagrapim skin belong you nogut tru!”  Meaning, roughly, It will make you itch horribly. Just as well. It doesn’t look like something I’d want to play with anyway:
A caterpillar that you do not want to touch
At the end of the day, we put the boys to work building a bush shelter just because we wanted one, not because we particularly needed it. Call it the perks of being lapun  (old). The boys slaved away for an hour or so and built us a fire while we chatted. The fire got a little bigger than I’d planned. You can see Tagtap cringing awaay a little. I told him he had to sit closer to the fire because his skin is dark and I needed more light on him. He seemed to buy that line:

A cozy fire (more like a conflagration) to take off the chill

Two old buddies sitting by the fire telling fanciful stories. This is Papua New Guinea, mate.

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I Go Bush

Posted in Mixed Nuts on April 16th, 2009 by MadDog
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No, I have not had a sudden change of heart concerning the former President of the USA. Yesterday I started on a bush walk at about eight in the morning and didn’t return until late in the afternoon. It was not by far the most rugged country that I’ve covered afoot. However suffering recently through my 65th birthday, I’m beginning to feel my age a little. By the afternoon the uphill slogs were making my knees noticeably wobbly. For bush walking that is accessible and manageable for most people in fit condition, you can’t beat this area. Believe it or not, it’s a twenty minute drive from my house:
Rugged country for a bush walkI organised the bush walk as research for an article that I’m writing for Paradise Magazine, the in-flight magazine for Air Niugini. I have an old friend named Tagtap who lives on Nob Nob Mountain.  We’ve known each other for twenty-eight years. He’s even older than I. I wanted to relive some old bush treks with him. I hired three of his “children” (pikinini bilong mi  in the local pidgin – could mean son, nephew, grandson, adopted son – whatever) to carry my backpack, tripod, water, and me, if necessary. Thankfully, the latter did not occurr. Here is Tagtap, on the left, me, and two of my porters:
Tagtap, me, and two of my porters (you didn't think that I was going to carry anything, did you?)It would fair to ask, “Who took the photos?” Ingeniously, I brought along my tripod. I set up each shot in which I wanted to appear with the camera mounted on the tripod. I taught each of the boys how to press the button slightly, wait for the green box on the screen indicating that the camera had acquired focus, and then push it down the rest of the way.

The trick worked well for this shot:

A refreshing dip in a mountain stream
I set the camera up with a neutral density filter to cut the light way down. I then put the camera on manual and closed the lens down as far as I could. I ended up with about a quarter second shutter speed – just enough to motion-blur the water and make it silky looking. Of course, I had to hold very still.

The title of the article will be Bush Tucker – PNG Style.  In case you’re not familiar with the term, bush tucker means food that you can find in the wilderness.  In this shot, Tagtap is showing us how to find a wel mami  or wild yam:

Tagtap showing us where to find wild yams

I’ll be mixing in more images and stories of my bush walk over the next few days (or weeks – who knows?).

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Cameras and Water Don’t Mix

Posted in Under the Sea on April 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve been taking photographs underwater for a long time. In the beginning, it was nearly more torturous than it was worth. I started out with a small plastic housing made to protect 35mm throw-away film cameras. It came with a strobe light. I think it cost a couple of hundred dollars. Of course there was no focus, no zoom, no close-up capability. It was as basic as a camera can get. Add to that the hopelessness of getting film properly processed and printed in Madang, and you don’t leave much room for fun.

Nevertheless, I did take many hundreds of shots, waited for the pitiful processing, patiently scanned them into the computer and dutifully put them up on our old diving website (which is still up, but an embarrassment – I’m too sentimental to take it down). You can still find the original web site there by following the “the old web site” link. An example of the best we could manage with this rig can be found here. Compare that shot with this one.

As I began to get serious about underwater photography, I purchased an Ikelite housing and strobe for my Minolta SLR camera. It was a monster. It leaked like a sieve. I managed to flood two cameras. Fortunately the cameras were available very cheaply in used camera stores. I took many hundreds of shots with this housing and it sits in an honoured position in the “MadDog Museum of Incomprehensible Folly” at our home (admission free if you BYOB).

Underwater photography - the old way
The rig above weighs about a thousand kilograms (rather, it feels as if it does) and is very difficult to manage underwater. Jumping into the water with it was always a risky proposition. I received several bruises and at least one bloody nose over the years that I used it. After a while I gave up the macho delight of plunging into the water holding onto a boat anchor and asked someone to hand it to me after I was safely bobbing on the sea.

The next outfit was an Olympus C8080 in a factory PT-023 housing. I never had any argument with the quality of the shots that I got with this rig. The images were an order of magnitude better than film (DIGITAL – AMEN!) and it was a quarter the size and a tenth the weight of the old rig. It was still a two hand job to handle, but at least I could enter the water with it without risking injury.

I did, however have several BIG arguments with the build quality of the housing. It broke on me twice. The first time it broke I noticed a small leak and managed to surface before I lost a camera. The whole front of the housing is made to come off so that one can (presumably) fit another type of port for the camera to look through. However, the entire front of the camera was held in place by two little cam-lock devices that hooked onto tiny plastic projections on either side of the round port opening. The projections are about the size of the little clicker thingie on the end of a ball-point pen (you can see the remains of one in the image below). When one broke, the whole front of the housing came loose. You can imagine the result:

Olympus PT-23 repair job number one
Though I saved my camera by surfacing as quickly as I safely could, I did lose a camera the second time the housing broke. This time it was the main hinge that holds the housing halves together. The housing is intended to open like a clamshell so that you can load the camera into it. Most underwater housing are made such as this. The problem is that (again) the amount of material devoted to strength was inadequate. The hinge broke while I was underwater and allowed seawater to flood in. The result was this mess:

A drowned Olympus C8080

That’s right, a completely destroyed C8080 camera. I found another one cheaply on EBay and began with a vengeance to re-engineer the fastening together of the two halves of the housing. Here is what I devised:

Olympus PT-23 repair job number two
The stainless steel plates and bolts replace the hinge mechanism. The other side is still held together by the original snap-lock fasteners. It works okay, but it’s a little fiddly to get the bolts adjusted just so. I still use it for teaching and as a backup.

My current camera and housing is a Canon G-9 in a factory WP-DC21 housing.  Here is a picture of the housing:

The Canon WP-DC21 housing for the G-9 cameraI like it very much. It fits in one hand, creates images as good as I need, and it cost me only about US$600 when I bought it new. I have no complaints.

My only problem now is that when the jerk on the street stole my camera, he (or the cop) dropped it. Here’s the damage:

Canon G-9 thief caused this damage when he dropped it

It doesn’t look like much and has no effect on the usefulness of the camera until you put it into the underwater housing. Then the little thingie that allows you to control the button shown above presses constantly on it and locks up the camera. You can take pictures, but you can ‘t work any of the controls. Here is why:

Damage to Canon G-9 caused by thief when he dropped it

The green arrow shows the button again. As you can see from the red arrow, the metal was bent in the fall and now is separated slightly from the main frame of the camera. This causes the button to be further from the frame than it was. I did manage to fix it by shortening the little plunger that is meant to allow you to push the button while underwater. So, it’s fixed now.

I have a new Canon G-10 and a new WP-DC28 factory housing waiting for me in Canada. I’ll be taking photos with it when I return to PNG in mid-June. Whoopee!

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The Last Fish

Posted in At Sea, Photography Tricks on April 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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The Game Fishing Association of Papua New Guinea 2009 Titles are over now. I enjoyed going over the The Madang Club each evening to take photos for the Madang Game Fishing Club, but I am, as are not a few others, breathing a sigh of relief that it’s all over for another four years. They rotate the host club of the Titles around so that nobody has to host it more than once every four years.

The last image that I want to show you from the competition is this beautiful sailfish. I have never seen one in the water. I’ve been told that the colours are so fantastic that they appear unreal – as if it were some kind of incredible neon sign. Immediately upon being removed from the water, the colours begin to fade as the fish dies. It’s sad:

A beautiful sailfish
I should say that it is sad for the fish. Obviously the fishermen are happy with their catch. We have lived off the sea from the time the first human walked for the first time to a beach, picked up a bivalve, smashed it open, and found something tasty inside.

On to other matters.

If you are a regular reader you know that I am a sky freak. Just about any place on earth you can stand in one place, practising a little patience, and you will be rewarded by the sky with relief from boredom. The sky is a forever movie. It’s never the same scene twice.  Here is a stormy morning in Madang. About fifteen minutes later it was bucketing down rain:

Stormy morning panorama in Madang, Papua New Guinea

The image above is a stitch-up of five exposures and covers a viewing angle of about 160°. It is ridiculously simple to take these panoramic shots. Most new digital cameras have a special mode to help you line them up. There are a variety of programs, some of them free, that will stitch the individual images together smoothly so that it appears that the image was captured with one exposure. The advantage is, of course, that it is the only way that you can get such a wide field of view in one image. For instance, have a look at these panoramic shots of Prague and Budapest. You may want to click on the panoramas to feel the full effect.

I categorise this next one under “happy accidents.” If you are a photographer, you will recognise that it is a very long exposure. The primary clue is the appearance of the water. Long exposures give the water that “fuzzy mirror” look. This was a fifteen second exposure. The long exposure cancels out all the little sparkles from many, many wave reflections and blends them all together so that they appear smooth, while fixed features on the land remain sharp:

Long exposure sunrise with Air Niugini plane on approach

The shot above would be unremarkable except for the rumble that I heard immediately after I pushed the shutter release. At that point I noticed the Air Niugini flight coming in on its crosswind leg and getting ready for its turn to approach the runway on my left. If you click to enlarge you will see the tracks left by the lights of the plane and the little blips where the strobes were firing.

Here is another fifteen second exposure that I grabbed earlier on the same morning. I’m tossing it in just because I like the magenta tones and the stars around the lights. You get these star patterns when you have the iris of your camera nearly closed. I had stopped mine down to f8 and added a neutral density filter so that I could get the long exposure time at 80 ISO. Sorry about all the geeky details, but some out there might be interested.

Magenta Sunrise

In olden times, any serious photographer would include all of the information about an exposure in the details of the image. The information would include the camera make an model, the lens used, the opening of the lens (the f  stop), the shutter speed, the maker and type of film, the speed of film, the type developer and other chemicals used to process the film, the type of projector used to print the exposure, the lens of the projector, the f stop and time of the exposure, the type of paper used, its speed, chemicals used to develop the print, any tiltage, burning or dodging used in the exposure, and probably a half dozen other items that I’ve forgotten.

All that was before digital. It’s much easier now.

I leave you today with an interpretation. Taking photographs is only half the fun. Improving Mother Nature’s handiwork is the other bit. Here is my interpretation of a sunrise panorama that I captured last week:

A blazing sunriseI call it Heaven’s Gate.

Pretty corny, eh?

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Two Ravens

Posted in My Garden on April 13th, 2009 by MadDog
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Two Ravens . . .     One sits on a coconut frond. The other flies around the tree. It’s a simple image, just the kind I like.

Two Ravens

Most of my images contain more information than I prefer. Art, whether I’m writing or presenting images, speaks to me about freedom. I’m free to present whatever amuses me or whatever I wish to say. The reader is free to ignore it, interpret it, comment upon it, or copy it and change it into something else. (Have a look at the Creative Commons copyright notice in the footer.) The Two Ravens  shot, in a sense, transcends the subject of ravens and coconut trees. What would happen if I showed the image to one hundred people and said, “Tell me a little story about what you see.” Of course, I would probably get about one hundred different answers. Some of them would be mundane. Some would be revealing. Some would be transcendental.

This is what makes Two Ravens  more interesting to me rather than, for instance, the next image – a spider eating a bee:

Spider eating a bee

I suppose that it is probably amusing to nearly anyone except the bee, but it is not the same kind of image as Two Ravens.

Well, what about a grasshopper:

Same thing. Oh sure, it’s pretty, I suppose. But, it’s too specific. The story is too obvious. It is an image of a grasshopper on a budding flower. That’s about all you can say about it. It requires no interpretation.  Therefore, it is less interesting.

One could say the same thing about the bee hovering at the heart of a hibiscus flower, its hind legs fat with pollen:

Bee on a Hibiscus flower

Once you have described what is in the image, the story is over. There is no mystery, no enigma, no gestalt.  Just a bee and a flower. The bits and pieces don’t add up to more than their sum.

I’m a compulsive image maker. One might say that I am an Image-O-Matic. Something catches my eye – out pops the camera. What you don’t see, patient reader, are the thousands of images that are pure visual drivel.

I save those for when I have time to make them more interesting.

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Back to What Passes for Normal

Posted in At Sea on April 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I need to get my mind off of fishing now. It’s time to get back to what passes for normal. I confess that I really don’t much care for fishing. I like to eat fresh fish. I don’t mind catching a fish. But, day after day in the hot sun on a boat waiting for a fish to behave so stupidly as to impale itself on my hook is not my idea of fun. I’ll do my fishing underwater with a camera, thank you.

It’s not that i don’t like fisherfolk. They are lots of fun to hang around. I suppose I’m a fishing groupie.

So, on the way back to normality, here’s an image of the Finisterre Mountains  as seen from Faded Glory:The Finisterre Mountins as seen from Faded GloryThe coast along this area is spectacular – white sand beaches, rocky beaches, black volcanic sand beaches, cliffs, rainforest, towering blue mountains in the distance – how difficult are you to please? We’ve got it all. There was a spectacular bush fire that burned all day. we could see if from twenty kilometres:
A large bush fire with the Finisterre Mountains in the background

Yesterday morning, when I left Rooke’s Marine after fueling up, the sky was on fire:Sunrise in Madang as seen from Rooke's Marine

Now we’ve come full circle back to the usual fare of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  – playing with images and making a general fool of myself. I believe that I’m safest when I do what I do best:

An watercolour rendition of "Sunrise with Star"

What I do best is create the kind of ridiculous images that one might find at Woollies (That’s Woolworths for Yanks) in a cheap frame for ten bucks. The image above is a faux  watercolour of a sunrise at my house (yes, the sun rises and sets over my house – the true Centre of the Universe). It’s titled MadDog Sunrise with Star. Click on it if you crave nausea.

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But, What About the Fish?

Posted in At Sea, Opinions on April 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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I got an interesting comment today from my email buddy and Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  reader, John Belton. It is timely and pertinent to the current whoop-tee-doo in Madang, namely the 2009 GFAPNG Titles. To make things simpler and because some may miss the comment and the answer, I’ll quote his comment and quote my answer:

John commented:

I sincerely hope that all of the fish caught were actually eaten. If not, then the GFAPNG should introduce catch and release competitions like most of the ones in Australia are these days. Killing fish just for a competition doesn’t sit well with me me any more.

My answer:

Not a fish is wasted, John. I cast a jaundiced eye toward some fishing practices also, but these fellows are doing it the right way. I don’t know what the percentage is, but listening on the VHF radio reveals one after another report of fish that were tagged, released, and reported in for points. When I took two fishermen out on charter for two days, I was given a handful of tag cards and the little numbered tags that you stick in the fish. We caught nothing.

All of the fish that are brought back to Madang are immediately moved to a big freezer container. These fish will be given to the Madang General Hospital (I think – or some other institution or charity). As far as I can determine, not a single fish out of (guessing here from the catch numbers that I heard yesterday) about 500 fish caught during the Titles will be wasted.

A few fish will die after release from injuries sustained during capture. As near as I can see, that is the only “waste”. The truth is that most fish suffer far worse from predation by their fishy kin than they do from game fishing, IF IT IS DONE RIGHT.

Thanks for the comment, John.

For those still having problems with the concept I ask, “What about the cows?” If you’re a vegan or suffer the milder form of the disorder, a vegetarian, I ask, “What about the carrots?” (Carrots have feelings too.) The truth is, humans cannot live without eating something that has once lived. It’s nature’s way. Get used to it.

As for myself, I eat very little meat these days, mostly because I can’t afford it. Fresh fish are — strangely enough — very difficult to get here in Madang, so there are none of them in my diet.

Okay enough philosophising.

John also sent to me this link to a very interesting YouTube clip featuring the weirdest living thing that I have ever seen (and I’ve seen some very weird stuff, kiddies – I’m a connoisseur of weird):

If you yawned at that one . . .

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