Phoney Fauna

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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It was a magnificent day up at Blueblood on Sunday. The sea was flat, the sky as blue as a cornflower and the sun was shining with all its might. The beer was cold and friends were all in their Blueblood Spirit. I took three cameras with me and a tripod. This created a rich resource for humorous remarks from some who are photographically impaired, but others were interested to see what I was doing. It made no never mind to me, as I was happy with the joking, a cold brew, a cheap cigar and my cameras. The scenery was cooperating beautifully also:

The beach at Blueblood

I had to combine every darkening device that I had (neutral density, crossed polarisers, etc.) to make the exposure long enough to get the “smooth water” shot above. Even with all that, I managed only a two second exposure on the Olympus SP-590 on the tripod. That’s not long enough to get the glassy water effect. Sorry for the technical gobbledygook, but some out there might be interested.

Switching to the Canon G10 braced on the railing, I got this nice three-frame panorama that went together very slickly in Photoshop’s photomerge feature:

Mike Cassell and Pascal Michon fishing at Blueblood

Mike Cassell and Pascal Michon did a little fishing off of the beach. Mike caught a small cod of some kind, but it wasn’t big enough to grease a skillet, so it went back into the sea.

Trevor Hattersley pointed out a butterfly feeding hungrily on the red hibiscus that surround the beach house. I grabbed the Olympus because of its excellent zoom and good image stabilisation. As I was taking the shots I kept thinking that it was a waste of time. I could see that the shutter speed that I was getting was way too slow. I could have used flash, but I hate it. It always spoils the natural colours of outdoor images.

However, when I got the shots up on the screen in Photoshop, I began to see some prospect of turning them into art:

Red hibiscus and butterfly

Taking a technically spoiled shot which otherwise has an interesting subject and good composition and making it into a beautiful image is one of the things that I love best about image programs such as Photoshop. In the shot above, the colours are exciting and surreal. Part of the butterfly is reasonably well focused and suffers not too much motion blur. The primary wings are completely blurred, but you get the impression of them and it lends to the feeling of motion, which was fast and furious. I was very happy with this shot when I was finished.

This one is even better. At first I despaired. Then I noticed that I could actually see a faint image of the butterfly’s primary wings as a sort of blurred shadow. I worked on the rest of the image, over saturating the colours until I got the right fantasy feel and then I darkened the faint outline of the primary wings. Again, I was pleased:

A butterfly on a red hibiscus

I also got a couple of nice shots of the red hibiscus flowers. This is a shot of the back side of a blossom with interesting dark under saturated leaves in the background and a little greenery for contrast:

Red hibiscus from the back

I think that this one is my favourite flower shot of the day. I really like images of sunlight filtering through the petals of flowers. It’s something that I try to capture whenever I can get into position to do it. This blossom was hanging in just the right spot at the right angle and had the right background for sweetening up my day even more:

Red hibiscus with sunlight shining through

What a beautiful place in which I live. Blessings rain down on me every day like a warm summer shower.

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Suspicious Skies

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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It’s just impossible to witness and photograph thousands of beautiful sunrises and sunsets without beginning to believe that nature could do better. Spcifically, Mom Nature could do better if she had some Photoshop lessons. This is pretty presumptuous thinking for a mere mortal. Nevertheless, I’m a moral weakling and easily succumb to shiny new things that prove my lack of respect for authority. The “I could have done it better” theme runs rampant through my more fanciful exercises in portraying reality in images.

Witness this atrocity:

A "Too perfect reflection" sunrise

It was quite spendid that morning. I was up before 06:00 with my tripod, chair, Canon G10 and an orange Fanta. The only thing that was missing was a cheap cigar. Either Mercury or Venus (I could look up the position on that morning, but I’m too lazy) was high in the sky and shining fiercely. I used a frightfully long exposure through a polariser and a #1 neutral density filter to make the water look glassy. Nevertheless, I wasn’t satisfied. The sky didn’t look dark enough. Fooling around, I discovered that I could apply a graduated filter with just about any attribute attached to it to the image while it was still in the Camera Raw filter. Vliola!  I got an evenly graduated ever darkening sky. Applying the same procedure upside-down gave me the effect that I needed to balance the image for the water. Very nice. Except that the star all but disappeared. I had to fake it. I painted it in. If I hadn’t told you, you wouldn’t know, eh? I will state, however that the reflection is real.

This one is a perfectly good picture that looks very much like an interesting sunrise, umm?  Hah, it’s a sunset. It seems that they are mostly interchangeable unless you can spot something in the image that gives it away. Madang residents might just possibly recognise this as a view from Tab Anchorage  looking west. Therefore, it must be a sunset, unless Superman has once again reversed the Earth’s rotation:

The "It's not really a sunrise" sunrise

This one has no obvious fakery.You probably wouldn’t catch it unless you had seen it. It was weak, weak, weak. The colours were pastels at best. I had to saturate and vibrate unmercifully to get anything remotely pretty:

The "Water too smooth" sunrise

This one, I like, even though it’s an obvious fake. The colours were quite nice, if a little bizarre. However, the water had nothing going for it. It was a little windy and it took on a greenish-grey cast that made me slightly ill. I used the old trick of taking the top part, above the water line, flipping it upside down and laying it down over the water while reducing its opacity so that the texture of the water shines through. It’s an obvious fake, but it’s still pretty in a “Bible Illustration” sort of way:

The "Too fake reflection" sunrise

This is my favourite fake of the week. I got lucky to have a ship pass by as I was sitting there behind my tripod. When I got the image up on the screen it needed a lot of help. I have bashed the colours so severely that they look as if they need a long stay in hospital. The ship reflection is also an upside down overlay as in the image above. It’s gaudy, cheap looking, and cheeky.

The "Fake Ship Reflection" sunrise

But, you can’t say that it’s not interesting. (okay, okay, you can, but I won’t believe it)

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My Dad

Posted in Mixed Nuts on August 16th, 2009 by MadDog
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A couple of days ago my Dad found out what comes next.   He’d been very ill for quite a while and his quality of life was so profoundly affected by near deafness, lack of mobility, and finally, near blindness, that his passing was undoubtedly a blessing to him. My nieces, God bless them, who have cared for him and my severely ailing mother told me that he was in no pain and probably never realised that he’d arrived at the end of the road. That too is a blessing.

There are many reasons why my emotions are confusing at the moment. You either know about it, or don’t really need to know. So I’ll not say much about history.

When I sat down to write this on Sunday morning, I began by using the Search Box in the sidebar to look up all the posts in which I had mentioned my Dad. I was frankly surprised that there were so many. Apparently he’s been much more on my mind that I’ve admitted to myself.

Here’s one of my favourite photos of my Dad:

Arnold William Messersmith - Milne Bay Province - WWII

I wrote about him a time ago here. Dad was a dance teacher (tap, adagio, ballroom), an incredible acrobat, a highly accomplished amateur photographer, and a master craftsman jeweler. I owe many of  my modest talents and much of my athletic ability to the tutelage of my father. That’s not to mention that I know my way around a dance floor fairly well.  Here’s another image of my Dad during WWII:

Arnold William Messersmith - 1944

As you can plainly see, he had to beat the women off with sticks; he was a very handsome guy. I got my dark skin partly from him and partly from my Mom’s Cherokee grandmother, something that has served me well in the tropics for three decades.

When I originally started Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  a couple of years ago, I began with the “About” page in the sidebar. The first thing that I talked about was my Dad’s time in New Guinea during the war and what an influence that was on me. Dad, myself, and my son, Hans were all in the US Army 38th Infantry Division, a peculiarity of our family history.

It’s appropriate that I make some small offering of honour to my Dad as I close this post. Since he developed in me a life-long interest in the wonders of light and the images that are our primary emotional connection to the world in which we live, the best honour I can present is an image.

Dad, this sunset is for you:

A Sunset for Dad

Rest in Peace – Arnold William Messersmith


I Utilise My Time Machine

Posted in Humor on August 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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Tomorrow morning I caught this beautiful sunrise at about 06:15 ENT (Earth Normal Time).

Perhaps I should explain. But first, the sunrise:

Gob-smacking Sunrise

Last week I suffered a seizure of ABL (Acute Bone-Laziness), failed to post on Friday, refused to drive into town on Saturday, went to the beach on Sunday, and spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday feeding you a steady diet of fish, because I had nothing else up which to serve you. (I really hate it that I can’t end a sentence with a preposition. What idiot dreamed up THAT one?)

I have weakly committed myself to avoid that mess as often as possible. Therefore, I’m getting into my time machine today to produce a post that will magically appear as if it had been posted tomorrow. In other words, I’m writing this on Friday (which is actually Thursday for most of you on the other side of the IDL (International Date Line) for appearance on Saturday, (which will look like Saturday to you, but is actually Sunday for me), so that I’ll have no nasty hole in my calendar on Monday for me but Sunday for you. Got that?

Here is a detailed schematic of my time machine which I built out in the laundry shed. You could whip one up in a couple of days if you can get your hands on a couple of hundred kilos of Unobtainium (Chemical Symbol – Um), which, unfortunately for you is difficult to find anywhere except PNG where we are, fortunately, up to our cheeks with the stuff. Of course, we haven’t had a #2 Phillips screwdriver landed since August of 1983, but we can fix that with the time machine, can’t we?

A time machine that you can build in your garage

Seriously though, if you could go back in time, to when would you go, to where would you go, and what would you take with you if you could only take, say, ten kilos (besides your clothing, of course)?

I have spent far too much time thinking about this. I’ve developed several scenarios, none of which entirely satisfy me.

The one that comes closest to making me grin is probably sometime during the industrial revolution somewhere in Europe. What I’d take with me is easy – BOOKS! It would be cool if I could take them as microfiche strips, because then I could take a whole library in ten kilos. If I had to restrict myself to paper, I’d tear off the covers and just take the guts. I’d take as many college level textbooks as I could get past the weight limit – chemistry, physics, maths, biology, botany – what have you. I’d soon be the wealthiest man on the planet or the deadest. Plenty of people would kill for that kind of knowledge if they saw the books.

It would be pretty cool to show up in a time machine that looked like this:

Time machine movie prop

Bizarrely enough, this is a popular subject among the young eggheads that I usually hang around with (okay, okay – with whom I usually hang around). I’ve heard some genuinely wacky ideas. One friend wanted to go back to ancient Egypt and knock off Cleopatra to take her place. She was going to take ten kilos of pantyhose with her.

What do you think?


Out of Ideas – Back to the Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on August 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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Having bashed out my brains against a wall of Windows 2008 servers, I’m in no state to be witty or even intelligible, so it’s time for more fish. If you’re still uttering, “Errrrrp . . . ” from the last meal, excuse me please.

We’ll start off with something nearly indigestible, nevertheless recognisable. Everyone has seen a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima),  at least in any movie featuring divers. Some hapless fool is always getting a leg or arm caught in one. Here’s the man-eating beast slobbering in wait for the unwary:

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)

Of course, that’s all Hollywood silliness, a commodity that is never in short supply. A Giant Clam couldn’t eat you if it wanted to. It hasn’t got a brain, so it doesn’t “want” to do anything at all. It’s a filter-feeder. It sucks in water at one end, runs it through some fancy lace work to strain out the goodies, and ejects the useless salt water out the other end.

It’s hard to believe that some slugs that call themselves humans kill these huge creatures for a fist-sized ball of muscle that pulls the shells together if the clam sees a threat. Yes, it does have eyes – hundreds of them all around the margins. Just swimming over the top of one will make it close its shell. Can it hold onto you? No.

Here’s something also familiar, but even less edible. The humble Starfish (Fromia milleporella):

Starfish (Fromia milleporella)

You’ve seen this image before, but I’ve dolled it up for publication and the image is much better, so I’m dishing it out again – makes a great screen saver or desktop background image. The thing about starfish is that they don’t move very fast. I guess that that is an understatement. I reckon that top-speed for this little hand-sized fellow is about a kilometre per year. If you look at one from the side, you can see the hundreds of tiny “feet” that they walk on. The feet are moving very quickly, but the steps are teensy-weensy.

Moving toward the unfamiliar (not to mention less edible) here is a magnificent Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata):

Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)

This image is easily the best that I’ve ever gotten of this critter. It’s a perfect example of what we call a “specimen shot”. I wish I had gotten the same individual from the side also, but it would have involved some serious coral scrapes, something to be avoided if at all possible. Aside from the fact that it’s not good for the coral (we’re covered with deadly bacteria and fungi), a coral scrape itches beyond belief and keeps on itching for several days while it exudes stickiness that is disgusting. It can also easily become infected.  You’ve probably seen this image here before. I can’t remember for certain.

Ending up with something edible (if it doesn’t eat you first), but uncommonly seen by anyone but divers, feast your eyes on this terror:

Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)

This image has appeared here before, but I reworked it extensively for the magazine article, so I’m dishing it out again. The toothy menace is a Yellowmargin Triggerfish, sometimes known as a Green Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus).

What makes them so interesting, aside from the pit-bull face is that they are exactly that – the pit-bulls of the sea. I’ve seen a lot of scary things in my 2,000 or so dives, but I’ve never been as disconcerted (okay, scared into a panic mode) by anything more that one of these charging at full speed (pretty fast) straight at me. They don’t turn away as a shark normally would. They just keep right on coming unless you do something to stop them. One of these little beasties can take a sizeable chunk out of you, even through a wet suit. I’ve seen divers lose bits of their swim fins when a Yellowmargin bit some off and promptly spit it out.

We don’t tease them.

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Posted in Humor on August 13th, 2009 by MadDog
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Have you ever sat back with a cold brew or a nice glass of Chablis and read a contract or proposal? Well, of course, we all have. It’s those quite, oh so pleasant moments in life that pull us through and give us courage to face the daily challenges. I prefer my proposals with an icy cold Chardonnay and a cheap cigar, but hey, to each his own.

Proposals are the most fun to read, because perusing one is akin to putting together a 100,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, except that you have lost the cover to the box. Furthermore, the pieces each have bits of colour on both sides. Not to make it too easy for you, the shapes are all exactly the same, except, of course for the edge pieces, which don’t actually fit anywhere – they are for a different puzzle altogether.

Here’s a picture of the moon, just to confuse you:

My proposal for the target group

What makes proposals so amusing and pleasure-inducing is, of course, the employment of the highest literary form yet invented by human beings, i. e. Gobbledygook. This was brought into the focal point of what passes for my brain today by my good buddy Tristan Clements on my Facebook page this morning.

Scientists speculate that whales and other cetaceans, such as dolphins, have created an even more esoteric and informationless language, but they can’t understand any of it (the scientists, not the cetaceans), so it’s not of much use to proposal writers as yet.

Back when I used to write for computer magazines, I used a watered-down form of Gobbledygook to explain things like “assembly language” and “object-oriented programming.” Of course, I understood nothing at all about what I was writing, much as I understand little of what I’m writing today, but the point was to fill pages and pages with “information” that looked cool and contained nothing useful at all, but eggheads could stand around with a Jolt Cola and argue for hours concerning the fine points. It made everybody feel good and nobody got hurt.

Ah, I see that I’m drifting. Back to the point, if there truly is one.

Anyway, Tristan’s link was The UN Fund for Gobbledygook, an organisation which, appropriately, does not seem to exist. Nevertheless, aside from its non-existence, it does appear to have a mission of sorts:

In this context, the UNFG developed the Program for Capacity-Building in the Field of Language Transparency Impact. The program assists in dispensing with harmful idiomatic practices, and promotes the use of a standardized international framework for document authoring. Designed as a Public-Private-Sector Partnership within the Framework of the Global Compact, and supported through supplemental grants from individual donors, the program has made a significant contribution in this field.

It is strange that the Mission Statement itself is written in a Creolised dialect of Gobbledygook which is entirely too understandable to native English speakers. It might fool the North Koreans, but it doesn’t cut the mustard with us. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have obscured their mission with greater attention to care-of-duty.

The interesting thing about the site is that, if you’re in a pinch for a quick-and-dirty paragraph to fill out a proposal page, you can jut click the button a few times until the Java script poops out something sufficiently intelligible.

Here’s a couple of examples:

In the context of decentralisation, the Chief Technical Adviser will work to unlock clusters, through inter-agency-coordinated governance-related socio-economic policy advocacy activities.

That was nice. I didn’t understand a bit of it. It made my head feel all fuzzy inside.

Here’s some more:

At the national level, exploratory research points to nationally owned monitored cost-benefit analysis frameworks for development assistance planning.

That one actually brought actual tears to my eyes. Here’s an actual picture of my actual tears:

Proposal tears

As you may have noted, my belief is that Gobbledygook should always be printed in pretty pink. Fluff is an intrinsically pink substance, so we should let nature have its way.

In the limited time available to me for this research I could not exhaust the Gobbledygook generator. If did, however, become a little repetitive after a while. I think it may have developed a stutter. This is no big deal, since the fundamental characteristic of Gobbledygook is its interchangeableness. Any given paragraph of Gobbledygook can be exchanged for any other paragraph without changing the underlying meaninglessness a whit. That’s the beauty of it. It makes editing so easy.

I sincerely hope that you have found this instructive and informative.

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A Rainbow, A Promise, The Audicity of Hope

Posted in Book Reports on August 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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We enjoyed a brief but very nice double rainbow on the way in to the office this morning. Some people were walking down the road toward us, so they couldn’t see it. When I stopped to take a photograph they thought, at first, that I was shooting them. When I pointed into the sky and said, “Promis!”  they all knew what it was and turned around for a look:

Double Rainbow

The Tok Pisin word for rainbow is promis  (pro-meess) from the English work promise. The reason being, of course, that in the Old Testament, after God drowned everybody except Noah and his followers, God promised not to do it again. Well, he actually hedged and said that he wouldn’t use water  to do it again. Then he invented the rainbow and stuck it up in the sky to remind everybody that he’d promised not to drown them again. Cute, eh?

However, that’s not what this post is all about. I’m was just wasting your valuable time.

This post is about, in my stupefyingly wacky opinion, how Americans think. More precisely, it’s about how we might encapsulate modern American thought in a way that anybody who can read can figure out a lot about us without going to too much trouble.

I’m going to lose a lot you here, especially some my American comrades of the rosy hue (the Red State inhabitants, not Communists). Nevertheless, I’m going to forge ahead into uncharted territory by suggesting that anybody who is wondering what it means to be an American and wants to get it in one easy-to-understand dose could do worse than to read Barack Obama’s (he wasn’t President when he wrote it) book, The Audacity of Hope.  There, I’ve said it.

Here’s a photo of a framed woven thingie that Eunie made decades ago before we became cynical expatriates:

Barack Obama - The Audacity of Hope

Upon it lies the book which has taken me over two months to read. I’m not usually such a slow reader. The reason that it took so long is that, on almost every page, there was some statement, concept, ideal or funny remark that I had to stop and think about for fifteen or twenty minutes. All that thinking really adds up.

It would be ridiculous for a goon like me to review the book for you. Therefore, I’ll just ramble on a bit about it.

There was little that I did not like, insofar as the politics go. That is, of course, because my left leg is shorter than my right one due to a broken femur. However, I did very much like the manner in which Obama presents the points and counter points. In my opinion, he seems always to strive to present a balanced view, sometimes at the expense of weakening his own position.

No one can argue that Obama is not an excellent writer. I found the book very enjoyable. His sense of humour comes through, along with a rather surprising humility which seems not to be feigned. We have to remember, of course, that no one in this day and age could be elected President of the U. S. of A. unless he has presented the world with a New York Times  best seller.

The reason that I’m writing about the book is that many of my readers are not Americans – a large portion, in fact. Though probably half of my American readers will disagree with me, I’ll say it anyway. If you’re wondering what makes Americans tick, socially, politically, morally, religiously, in family life, etc. then read this book.

If you’re less than enchanted by political views to the left of Rush Limbaugh, give it a shot anyway. You’ll find it a fun read. You can enjoy the good bits and still have plenty to gripe about.

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