I Left My Money in a Leaky Boat

Posted in Dangerous, Humor, Mixed Nuts on September 30th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I woke up this morning and turned on CNN, the first thing that I heard was that I might soon be getting wet. The earthquake in American Samoa (8.3, so they say) was making big ripples. CNN wasn’t helpful, since they haven’t discovered Papua New Guinea yet, so I had to wait until I got to the office to find out that it was due to hit Madang at 10:41. My office is about a hundred metres from the ocean and about one metre above sea level. I decided that I was too busy to be bothered. Anyway, it’s now 11:28 and my feet are still dry, so, I guess I’ll stop thinking about it.

Well, it’s a gloomy subject today, so we may as well begin with a gloomy sunrise:Gloomy Sunrise

To transition into my subject of the day, here’s another sunrise as seen from our veranda. This boat may or may not be leaky. It was still afloat when it went around the corner into Dallman Passage:

Leaky boat sunrise

I only wish it were the same for the next one. Here is an image of a very leaky boat. My only comfort being aboard this leaky boat is that I have a lot of company. I’d brave it alone, if only I could help others, but that’s not to be. It makes me think of the Minnow  and the “three hour cruise”. What you are looking at here is the rapid and terrifying demise of our financial future:

The Leaky Boat Graph

The graph starts out in 2006. The red line is our Charles Schwab investments. The blue line is our PNG shares. The upward kinks are when we made deposits. The downward movements are all, except for one, the leaky boat syndrome. As you can see, our lifetime savings are now about half of what they were at their peak. If you start thinking of what might have been,  it’s only a fraction of our projection. It’s interesting to note that PNG shares were still climbing even as world-wide investment values were imitating lead balloons. It’s dropped now, but holding steady. Cash under the mattress will do as well.

It’s obvious that my daily interest in recording share values evaporated when hitting the ticker on the web only produced additional depression. You get to the point where you just don’t want to know. You feel like shooting the messenger, and then maybe yourself.

The big  drop on the right in the red line is when we pulled out all of our cash from the Schwab account to pay down the mortgage on our last remaining property. It’s in falling-down condition, but there is a renter there covering the mortgage payments. I want to get out of debt. In two or three years, except for incidental credit card charges, we won’t owe anybody a dime.

We’ve followed the “best advice” to the letter to try, on our pathetic income, to be as responsible as possible to provide for our future when we may no longer be able to earn (like now).  What’s it done for us? Nada, zip,  zilch!

When it was advised that our best bet was to buy houses, leveraging each one to get another, we did that. Well, we all know how well that  went. We’ve sold them all but one now. We didn’t lose much, but we didn’t make anything either. When the best advice was “buy and hold”, we did that. How’s that working for you?  I’m not so happy with it.

Our new financial plan is to ignore everybody’s advice. I’m through with the “Talk to Chuck” philosophy. I can look back now and see a dozen times when I went with the “best advice” against my gut instinct and got zapped for it in the end (pun intended). We’re smart enough to manage our own money. Right now, it’s going into cash and paying off debt. If we’re able, we’ll invest in the future in things that we control with our own hands and our own brains.

Rage spent. Tirade finished. How about some flowers?

Here’s a pretty little orchid only about the size of your thumb. There is a huge spray of about a hundred just down the steps of our veranda:

A front-yard orchid

And the magnificent Harmonious Daisy which I have featured several times since our visitation by Swami Monty:

The Harmonious Daisy

Hey, it’s only money.

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Blueblood Birthdays

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 29th, 2009 by MadDog
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There seems to be no way to avoid the continuing embarrassments of birthdays, short of dying. Even then, relatives will be heard saying, “Oh my, you know it’s Uncle Joe’s birthday today. He’d be 109 years old today if he wasn’t dead.” I don’t find this very amusing and I’m changing my will to disinherit any heirs who refuse to sign a blood oath forbidding them from making me sound older that I was when I die. (Something wrong with the verb tenses there, but it seems inscrutable to me at the moment.)

Anyway, Mike Cassell and Nigel Burrows (hope I spelled his name right) were subjected to the birthday torture on Sunday up at Blueblood. Lawrence Manning chipped in to man the axe for the barbie wood:

Lawrence is a lumberjack and he's okay

Never has so much energy been expended for so little firewood. I got so tired from watching him that I took my camera, a cold SP Export Lager, and my usual cheap cigar up the road to snap some nature. My first encounter was with what I lovingly call the Mellow Yellow Plant: *

Mellow Yellow plant

This territory has a penchant for outrageous foliage. It’s a bit of a shock when you come here and discover that a significant portion of the vegetation forgoes the usual froggy green for psychedelic hues not usually seen outside Hollywood studio productions.

Even plants which mature into the more sedate and acceptable shades of the shade tree often sprout improbably tinted new leaves:

New leaves

When mango trees are producing new leaves they often appear to be bright orange from a distance. That’s how you know where to go and pick up the best mangos from the ground in a few months. Watch out for dogs!

Then I came across this absurd thing:

Red flowers

What is it, a joke? It’s the Liberace of flowers, the Elvis of blooms. the Dolly Parton of blossoms.

When I got back to the Blueblood Hilton, the usual suspects were lined up in the water in front of the veranda:

The line up

It sounded like Hotel California.  I could hear The Eagles’ straining falsettos faintly in the back of my head. No, wait. It was Mike cheerily demanding, “Bring me my wine!” The chorus chimes in, “Bring us our wine!”:

The Blueblood mob in a birthday mood

One bottle was rejected as unfit for human consumption; “Vinegar”, Mike announced. I drank it – well, most of it. My taste buds are shot like the shocks on your ’74 Pontiac Firebird that’s up on blocks in your front yard.

Then the “Madang Open Floppy Frisbee Stupid Tricks Championship” commenced. It went on and on. It was the worst Frisbee tossing and catching that I’ve ever witnessed. A herd of turtles could have done better. I do allow that there was something seriously wrong with the Frisbee. It was all floppy.

The floppy Frisbee contest

There was, however, a shining moment. When the others tired of making fools of themselves, Pascal Michon decided to create a more challenging game. On the umpteenth attempt, Nigel managed to get the Floppy Frisbee through the eye of the inner tube as Pascal tossed it into the air.

And then we all went home.

* For the uninformed, the term comes from the 1966 Donovan single Mellow Yellow  which hit #2 on the Billboard chart in 1966. It was a truly groovy sound. It was commonly assumed, at the time, that the song referred to the smoking of dried banana skins as a means to hallucinogenic enlightenment, one of the most thoroughly busted myths of the age. Countless drug starved experimenters stunk up their kitchens preparing for a little day tripping only to find nausea and a throbbing sore throat at the end of that hypothetical rainbow. The other references to Mellow Yellow are even less appropriate for this journal and I shall point you to them only indirectly by means of this link.

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Spiders, a Hazardous Crab and a Pesky Butterfly

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 28th, 2009 by MadDog
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Before we start with the creepy-crawlies, I’ll show you sunrise at our house this morning. It was hardly worth the effort. I’m accumulating a ridiculously huge collection of sunrise panoramas captured in our front yard. I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do with them. That is, aside from tossing them at you practically every day. It does give me something to do in the morning when I wake up at 05:00 other that think about how our savings have disappeared. More on that another day. There are enough of us in that boat already.

Sunrise this morning

Now that we’ve dispensed today’s sunrise, we can proceed to the juicy bits. This seems to me to be an unreasonably scary spider. It was about half the size of my hand. It was in the middle of a web the size of one of those big, silly exercise balls that you roll around on. I don’t know what it intended to catch in that massive trap, but I was careful that it did not end up being me.

Scary spider

Those black dots are not its eyes, but they do a very spooky imitation. Its legs are improbably long and it appears as if it could club you to death with its hind end. Forget about the fangy bits in the front. I don’t want to think about it.

Now, this one’s not so bad. It’s just one of your regular, run-of-the-mill nasty eight legged horrors. However, check out the size of the beetle that it’s eating:

Spider eating a huge beetle

You’d think that a bug that size would put up some kind of fight, eh? Well, it was too little too late. Sorry, Mr. Beetle. You’re lunch.

This stupid butterfly is still foiling my attempts to get a good shot of him:

Pesky butterfly that eludes my photographyMy previous efforts were knocked back severely by a shot that Trevor Hattersly got. I’ve not forgotten. I’m determined to best him. What really irks me is that we’re both using Olympus SP-590UZ cameras and I am the one who sold him his. It’s really too much. As you can see from the shot above, I’m still well behind. I’m convinced that this is the same butterfly. It’s taunting me.

Okay, if the spiders are getting to be a bit much, let’s move to something a little less (ah, that’s what you think)  scary. Here’s your basic model coconut crab. Yeah, he’s got pincers, but he doesn’t look as if he could do much damage. Maybe get a blister on your little finger – maybe get a blister on your thumb (whoops, I seem to have slipped off into Dire Straits lyrics again – that’s happening far  too often these days):

A very hazardous crab

Let me lay down a firm warning to you. You do not  want to mess with these characters. If it get hold of any bit of you . . . well, if you want to read an amusing personal anecdote on the subject, have a look here.

We can finish up today with this shot of a cargo ship tied up at the main wharf across from our house:

Ship at night in front of our house

I had to work it over severely because of the noise in the shot in the low light. It’s more art than photography now. A few years ago, such an image would have been worthless – just spotty and unclear. Now we can turn throw-aways into something pretty, even if we don’t know what to call it.

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Hold Your Nose – We’re Going Under!

Posted in Under the Sea on September 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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We’re going diving, but first I have to get this out of my brain:  How smart can Google be?

I Googled this (without the quotes) “how many people are killed by falling coconuts each year?” Out of the ten hits at the top, nearly all claimed that 150 are killed in an average year by falling coconuts. This is, you understand, of no little importance to me. I spend a lot of time out in my garden, which is lined with 25 metre coconut trees. I’m quite certain that a konk on the head with a coconut from that height would spoil my entire day.

Interestingly there was one hit from THE ISLOMANIAC ™ (islomaniac: īl-o-mā’nē-āk’ [noun] One with a passion or craze for islands) which claims that the number is purely mythological. And, as you’d expect, there was a rebutting comment exposing an obscure journal article as evidence supporting the quantity.

So, never mind that Google pointed me to pertinent information on the first hit, I’m nevertheless no more informed than I was before.

Still unsatisfied that Google is trusworthy to point me to useful information, I tried the classic: “how many angels can dance on the point of a pin?” Again, Google pointed me to some interesting pages, but failed to answer the fundamental question for me. It seems that nobody knows for certain where the question originated (though it is a very obvious  query and of huge significance), but Wikipedia has an interesting, if brief, history of it.

The most informative hit was number nine from the Journal of Improbable Research.  It’s titled Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem  and, though it still fails to quantify the exact number of angels, it does set some handy upper and lower bounds. I was especially amused to be brought to the realisiation that, if angels are small enough, and are not massless, an angel sock-hop of sufficient popularity could produce a black hole!

Okay, enough philosphy. Let’s get wet.

Here’s how the fan coral looked without the flash:

Sea fan - natural light

Here’s how it looks with the flash:

Sea Fan - flash exposureFakey, fakey, fakey. Okay, that is the end of my nearly daily protestations of using artificial light for UW photographs. You must  be getting bored with that.

This is an interesting coral that we see on nearly every dive. It’s Lobophyllia hemprichii.  We call it, “That bright red stuff.” It is, indeed, red. You can see it glowing from a great distance:

Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)

Here is a thick branch of Staghorn Coral with an encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp.)  eating it from the bottom up:

Encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp. ?) growing on Staghorn Coral

You wouldn’t think sponges could be that viscious.

This critter is a Leopard Sea Cucumber, a kind of bech-de-mere (Bohadschia argus).  You can see some little bits of seaweed and coral sticking to it. They sometimes cover themselves completely with camouflage material. They are rather beautiful, if squishy, creatures with an astounding defensive weapon. The stickiest, nastiest substance on the planet.

Sea Cucumber ( Bohadschia argus)

I don’t have an image of my own to show you, so I’m filching (with attribution) this from OceanwideImages.com. The image is by Gary Bell:

Leopard Sea Cucumber by Gary Bell / OceanwideImages.com

If you poke (a no, no) or otherwise bother the Leopard Sea Cucumber, it will emit these seemingly innocuous white filaments. You could not be more wrong if you think that they are no bother. Pity any critter who gets stuck on these. They don’t sting, but they are nearly impossible to get off. You have to let the dry (and STINK) until they flake off.

Winding down now, I have one more shot for you. This is a perfectly ordinary coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis)  on the left. That’s not the interesting item in the image:

Coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis) on the left with a crayfish hiding on the right under the ledge

What is amusing it the lobster hiding under the ledge on the right. Sometimes it is easy to fixate on a particular specemine and miss something 30 cm away. I could have had a good chance for an image of a critter not yet in my collection, if I’d only noticed it.

Maybe next time.

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Odd Things – Including the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts on September 25th, 2009 by MadDog
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The sunrise at my house this morning was particularly unremarkable. I woke up at about 05:30, looked out the front window facing Madang Harbour and mumbled, “Hmmmmm, zilch.” Still, I got my Canon G9, some filters, my tripod, a chair and a Fanta Orange soda and stubled out to the edge of the water to see if anything interesting would happen.

A lot of big fish were jumping. I’m going to have to borrow a spinning rod from someone and see what I can catch. The sunrise was uncooperative:

Sunrise at my house this morning

However, on the way to the office, I had much better luck. Here’s a shot along Coronation Drive. I’ve featured this location many times on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Sunrise on Coronation Drive

The image from the camera was very nearly monochrome. I had some fun with Photoshop adding the colours that you see.

There’s a Monty Python theme today, so I’ll now announce, “And now for something completely different.”

On our dive last Saturday I saw this beer bottle lying on the reef. It is completely encrusted with coral-like growth. I won’t be long before it will become a permanent part of the reef:

Everything becomes part of the reef - even a beer bottle

While we’re still underwater, on the same dive I spotted this starfish (Choriaster granulatus)  which has, some time ago, lost an arm to a predator:

This starfish had a leg taken off by a predator. It's growing back.

As you can see, it is growing back quite nicely. Starfish can regenerate an entire organism from just one arm. No kidding. If you chop off an arm, a whole starfish will grow from it. Medical researchers are frantically trying to figure out how this regeneration trick works. Imagine the cures that could follow such discoveries.

Well, that’s serious enough for a Friday.

My nieces and I have been trading back and forth a few of our favourite Monty Python moments. If this doesn’t give you a grin, then there is something seriously wrong with you:

Thanks to Christel Courossi for passing me the link on Facebook.

That’s from Monty Python and the Holy Grail,  in case you’ve forgotten. I’m deeply saddened by the nearly total dissappearance of this kind of silliness from our world. It’s getting much too serious for me. I can’t get through a day without contemplating, speaking, attempting or raging about something utterly ridiculous.

It is part of my charm.

Vanity is the other part.

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Blue Dusk – Red Dawn – White Thistle Down and More

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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It was a gloomy evening when we arrived home late from the office last night. When I got out of the car, my right hand reached instinctively toward the Canon G9 that I keep in a holster on my belt in the back. I used to carry a Walther P38 9mm in the same location. The camera has proved much more useful:

Main wharf in Madang at duskThe stars around the bright lights are caused by the camera settings that I was using. Since I wanted the stars around the lights, I used the smallest lens opening I could get. You have to set the camera on manual to do these kinds of things, but sometimes it’s worth it. The small opening of the iris of the lens causes diffraction because it is not completely round. It’s made up of little leaves that move in and out to change the diameter of the opening. Each point where two leaves meet causes a ray of the star. You can tell how many leaves the iris on your camera has by counting the rays around a bright light. In this case, I know that my camera has a six leaf iris.

The big news in this part of the world is the spectacular dust storms in the general area of Sydney, Australia. The following image was happily filched from ABC News (That’s the AUSTRALIAN Broadcasting System, folks, not ABC in America):

Huge dust storm in Sydney (via ABC News)Imagine waking up in the morning and looking out your kitchen window to see that! I’d take a couple of valiums and pull the covers up over my head.

I promised white thistle down and I deliver what I promise, though sometimes a little tardily:

Thistle down

The little seeds have just come loose and are awaiting a breeze to carry them to their new homes. For the time being, they are hanging like Santa’s beard around the base of the fading blossom.

This bee was very busy and difficult to snap. It sorely underestimated my determination, however. This was the best of about fifty frames:

Highlands beeThe bees in the highlands seem skinier than our nice fat little buzzers on the coast. I suppose they are a different species.

This is very nearly what we used to call a Lady Bug when I was a kid:

Lady bug looking at meThe one above is having a good look at me. After a few seconds it decided it didn’t like what it saw and began to try to escape.

Why it never flew, I don’t know. It just kept running around on the same leaf while I kept snapping away:

Lady bug hurring home to save her burning childrenEvery time I see a Lady Bug I’m reminded of the horrible sayings and songs that adults deliver like sour medecine to children. Is it supposed to be good for us? I remember this little ditty from my youth:

Lady bug, lady bug
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire
And your children are burning.

Is this supposed to make kids feel good? Even the Itsy-bitsy Spider  seemed depressing to me. Up the spout, nearly drown going down, back up again . . . whew! Gives me the heebeejeebees.

I’ll finish up today with another shot of the Yonki Dam spillway:

Youki dam spillwayI liked the shot from a few days ago. This one has the same colours, but the effect of the camera angle makes it tell a completely different story.

Sometimes images are like new friends. They take a little time to grow on you.

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The Knights Who Say, “Ni!” Demand Shrubbery

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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It is theoretically possible that many readers are, as I am today, wracking their brains to recall how Scene 13 of Monty Python and the Holy Grail  goes. But first, Something Completely Different:

Bouganvillia flowers on water

As I was sitting in Faded Glory  at the Madang Resort Hotel last saturday, someone had been trimming the Bouganvillia shrubs and, as is the custom, throwing the cuttings into the sea. Everything gets thrown into the sea here. Nevertheless, it makes a pretty picture.

So as not to keep you waiting, refresh your memory of The Knights Who Say, “Ni!”

[spooky music]
[music stops]

KNIGHTS OF NI:   Ni!  Ni!  Ni!  Ni!  Ni!
ARTHUR:   Who are you?
HEAD KNIGHT:    We are the Knights Who Say… ‘Ni’!
RANDOM:    Ni!
ARTHUR:    No!  Not the Knights Who Say ‘Ni’!
HEAD KNIGHT:   The same!
BEDEVERE:    Who are they?
HEAD KNIGHT:   We are the keepers of the sacred words: Ni, Peng, and Neee-wom!
RANDOM:   Neee-wom!
ARTHUR:   Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!
HEAD KNIGHT:   The Knights Who Say ‘Ni’ demand a sacrifice!
ARTHUR:    Knights of Ni, we are but simple travelers who seek the enchanter who lives beyond these woods.
KNIGHTS OF NI:    Ni!  Ni!  Ni!  Ni!  Ni!…
ARTHUR:   Ow!  Ow!  Ow!  Agh!
HEAD KNIGHT:   We shall say ‘ni’ again to you if you do not appease us.
ARTHUR:   Well, what is it you want?
HEAD KNIGHT:   We want… a shrubbery!
[dramatic chord]
ARTHUR:   A what?
KNIGHTS OF NI:   Ni!  Ni!  Ni!  Ni!
ARTHUR and PARTY:   Ow!  Oh!
ARTHUR:   Please, please!  No more!  We will find you a shrubbery.
HEAD KNIGHT:   You must return here with a shrubbery or else you will never pass through this wood alive!
ARTHUR:   O Knights of Ni, you are just and fair, and we will return with a shrubbery.
HEAD KNIGHT:   One that looks nice.
ARTHUR:   Of course.
HEAD KNIGHT:   And not too expensive.
ARTHUR:   Yes.
HEAD KNIGHT:   Now… go!

So, Knights Who Say, “Ni”, shrubbery ye shall have. Here is a bit of budding shrubbery:

Pink Flowers

I insist that this also could loosly be classified as shrubbery:

Little Blue Flower

And here is an infant bit of shrubbery:

Green bud

Though ferns are not technically shrubbery (are they?) I’m throwing this in as a bonus:

Clurly fern frond

This fern has a doppelgänger lurking behind it.

Fern and its shadow

Take heart, I’m nearly finished. My continued fixation on water drops hasn’t dimished. Honestly, when I was a kid, I never wet my bed. (I still don’t, but I’m only 65, so we’ll have to wait and see.) Anyway, I couldn’t resist these happy little drips on a fern frond:

Fern with water drops

I am so easy to please.

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