The Dreaded Sticky Thong and Other Curiosities

Posted in Under the Sea on October 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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Before we get to the thong (no,  not that  kind) I’ll show you a few other odd critters that live in my front yard.

This peculiar thing is commonly known as a Cushion Star, or as my Grandmother told me, a Sea Pincushion. If you’re on less familiar terms with the critter, you may call it Mr. Culcita novaeguineae:

Cushion Star or Sea Pincushion (Culcita novaeguineae)

I doubt that they are aware if you get the gender right, so it won’t much matter. They reproduce both sexually and asexually, so such distinctions probably seem silly to them.

I admit with some shame that it nearly impossible to resist the urge once in a great while to pick up one of these football sized legless starfish and give it a toss at your dive buddy. I’m certain that this activity is much opposed by “Amalgamated Cushion Stars Committee Against Humans Playing Football With Us”, a loose confederation of local Cushion Star bowling clubs. How they manage to bowl with no arms is beyond me. Anyway, here’s a side shot:

Cushion Star or Sea Pincushion (Culcita novaeguineae)

They are squishy in a very strange way. If you poke it, it feels hard at first, almost stone-like. However, if you nudge gently and continuously, your finger will begin to make a dent that continues to deepen until you begin to feel very guilty and pull your finger away. Then, slowly, the dent will become more and more shallow until it is gone.

You’ve seen Notodoris Minor  before. It is absolute torture to get an image of these things which shows their actual shape. They are so monochromatic that the camera, even your eyes, can’t capture the subtleties of shading that model the contours of the critter. Visually, they look like a vivid yellow blob. It strains the eyes to make out any details. I worked feverishly on these shots to bring out the fine differences of shade in these images to show you bizarre shape of these nudibranchs:

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)Compare the distinction of detail between the shot above and the shot in this post. I think that I’m finally getting it figured out.

Hard to please today?  Okay, how about two Notodoris Minor ?

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)

Take that!  However. I think that we may have intruded on a little tête-`a-tête,  so let’s leave them to it.

Finally, I can complete my report to you concerning the stickiest substance know to man, the filamentous cuvierian tubules exuded from the stinky end of the Leopard Sea Cucumber, a kind of bech-de-mere (Bohadschia argus).  I wrote about this before.
The sticky white filaments of Bohadschia argus on a flip-flop

What I didn’t know, on the day a friend accidentally stepped on one (no harm done to the Leopard), that my friend Amanda Watson took a photo of the goo-encrusted flip-flop (or thong, as we call them here).

I managed to get most of it off without covering my fingers. Imagine the stickiest, nasty old chewing gum that has been baking on the sidewalk for a week.

This stuff is worse. Much worse.

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A Steamy Jungle and Guests Steven Goodheart & Pascal Michon

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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I have an image of my own today, but I’d first like to show you some images of friends who have responded to my pleas for treasure.

The first two come from Facebook friend and regular correspondent on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  Steven Goodheart of Berkeley, California. Steven is a science writer. Since he was formerly an editor for a large textbook publisher, he has a vast storehouse of information concerning where to find what, something that has already helped me to provide more interesting and accurate information.

The first shot really grabs me. I’d call the composition excellent. It makes good use of the Rule of Thirds. The smaller, gnarly tree and its shadow pierce the space and take it over like Atilla the Hun:

Berkeley Nature Walk by Steven GoodheartThat one is a calendar shot if I ever saw one. Some images remind me of others. This one recalls an image that I showed you from Central Park in New York City.

Stepping from grandeur to minutia, here is a huge mob of my favourite insect, the Lady Bug:Lady Bugs by Steven Goodheart

I have no idea why Lady Bugs do this. Steven said it was immediately following a heavy rain. Thanks, Steven, for these shots. Keep them coming. I’ve shown you some Lady Bugs here and here.

My friend and dive buddy, Dr. Pascal Michon (our naughty resident Frenchman) sent me an image of this very nice little project he did for his nephew who was inquiring of his uncle about Hermit Crabs. It was clever of Pascal to use the images from my journal:

Bernard L'ermite by Pascal Michon

I can’t read much of it, but it tickles me, nonetheless. People often ask me about using my images. If you look at the bottom of the journal you will see that everything is covered by a Creative Commons copyright. The terms of the copyright allow free use of any text or images as long as you state clearly that it came from me. I prefer my attribution to be my email address, but my name will suffice. The only restriction is that, if you want to use it in any way that could be considered commercial, you have to ask my permission. I usually don’t ask for payment, but I always ask for the end product, for instance, a book, t-shirt, URL of a website and so forth.

I was disappointed by this image when I first saw it on the screen. It wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be. So, I spent a half hour or so ‘artifying’ it:

Steamy Jungle and Ship

I’m calling it Steamy Jungle and Ship.

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A Dog’s Breakfast of Images

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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a dog’s breakfast: British slang for “a complete mess” has been in usage since at least the 1930s. While no one took the time to write down the exact origin of the phrase, the allusion involved seems to be to a failed culinary effort, perhaps a burned or botched omelet, fit only for consumption by the mouth of last resort, Fido.

It’s been one of those days. Today I have (1) consulted with business associates concerning the establishment of J & E Enterprises Limited, (2) consulted with the Investment Promotion? Authority concerning whether or not the company is a “foreign” company, (3) adjusted our organisational chart so that it isn’t, (4) appointed a new director, (5) fixed a radio transceiver [unsuccessfully], (6) filled out many forms on which were printed questions which I did not understand (faked it), (7) tried to get another transceiver working [still out on that one], (8) tested a solar panel and battery, (9) ate lunch [five minutes while visiting BoingBoing], and it’s only 14:56.

That’s why I get the big bucks. (In my dreams.) Now, I’m staring at an empty page.

So, I’ll throw in your general direction some images that don’t seem to belong anywhere else.

This is a Bird of Paradise flower. Okay, okay, the whole thing is not the flower. The flowers themselves are only the little ‘molars’ of the dinosaur’s lower jaw, which is what it really  looks like to me. The big tusky things on the left are it’s . . . er . . . tusks.  I don’t know what the big white thing on the right is, maybe a thighbone of a human, who, according to some, were wandering aimlessly around contemporaneously with the dinos:

Bird of Paradise Flower

That being disposed of, I’ll now show you a Ship of Fools sort of image. An improbably tiny ship in a big, improbably blue sea under a surrealistically improbable sky. Don’t stare at it for too long:

Sunrise and Ship

I have to admit that I’m overly fond of this one. I showed you a similar shot a time ago. I just got around to working on this one. I had to do surprisingly little to it. The Canon G9 did a fine job all by itself. It’s the moon (didn’t notice it, eh?) rising across the harbour from our house:

Moonrise over Madang

Under the surface of Mama Ocean we are forever seeing blobby or spiky or weird things about which we have not a clue. This one caught my attention last Saturday and I decided to investigate it carefully instead of dismissing it as “sea goo”. As I was looking it and photographing it, I still didn’t know what it was. It’s about half the size of my hand:Juvenile Diverticulate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)It wasn’t until I got the image up on my computer that it clicked and I realised what I’d been looking at.

Hah! It’s a juvenile Diverticulate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia),  as any fool can see:Diverticulate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)The shot above is similar to one that I showed to you a few days ago. (Except better.)

That mystery now having been solved, I must return to the work for which I receive what is laughingly called “pay”.

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Guest Shots – Trevor Hattersley and Ron Barrons

Posted in Guest Shots on October 21st, 2009 by MadDog
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I very much enjoy featuring images sent to me by my friends on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Unfortunately, few friends send me samples of their work. I’m pestering a few of them to do so, but shyness seems to interfere. If you are a regular reader of this journal and you have images that you think will be appreciated by our audience, then please feel free to email them to me. Work them over until you are happy with them and send 1600 pixel (longest dimension) JPG images that are between 200 and 300 Kilobytes. Include some text describing the images and I will include that also. I’ve featured Trevor Hattersley’s images before here and here. Heidi Majano has also had a guest appearance.

Don’t be shy. Have a try.

We’ll start with a couple of shots from Trevor Hattersley. He’s been a keen amateur as long as I’ve known him, probably about twenty years. He recently purchased from me a spare (ordered two by mistake from Amazon) Olympus SP-590UZ superzoom camera and has been diligently learning to use it feature-by-feature. Up at Blueblood a couple of weeks ago he was playing with macro shots and came up with two very nice fungi:Bracket Fungi by Trevor HattersleyThis one of Bracket Fungi has very accurate colours, perfect focus and nice composition. A shot that anyone should be proud to display.

Here’s another fungi shot by Trevor:Mushroom-form fungi by Trevor HattersleyAgain, we have interesting and accurate colours, good composition, fine focus (click to enlarge) and a generally interesting and aesthetic image. Well done, mate! I was happy to see that Trevor resisted the urge to use flash on these shots. They are very natural looking – just the way that your eyes see them.

Now let’s move to another friend a world away. Ron Barrons hails from Hamilton, Ontario in Canada. He’s a very experienced and knowledgeable photographer with a good pair of hiking boots. Since Hamilton is the Waterfall Capital of the World, it’s not surprising that Ron has a plethora of beautiful images of water tumbling over rocks. The Niagara Escarpment is responsible for this cornucopia of waterfalls, something for which local photographers are eternally grateful.

Here is a beautiful shot of Grindstone Falls:Grindstone Falls by Ron Barrons

This one is of the cascade below the falls:Grindstone Falls Cascade by Ron BarronsRon has the “silky water” technique down pat. This requires a tripod, a neutral density filter to cut down the amount of light coming in through the lens, and long exposure times. The result is that the water takes on a very fluid and smooth look which intensifies the appearance of flow. You can see some of my Hamilton Waterfalls and our adventures in waterfall country here, here and here.

Ron is not a one-trick-pony. He sent several gorgeous Canadian Autumn shots taken from the heights around the Niagara Escarpment. This one is a beaut:

Canadian Autumn by Ron BarronsHere is another, looking up at the escarpment itself:A Canadian Autumn at the Niagara Esarpment by Ron Barrons

I could not resist the urge to try making a watercolour of one of Ron’s beautiful shots. This one is of Rattlesnake Ridge:Rattlesnake Point by Ron Barrons - Watercolour Rendition by MadDogYou will need to click to enlarge to see the full watercolour effect. Ron was kind enough to allow me to modify his work and publish it here.

I know that many of my readers must be serious hobby photographers. Please send me images that move you and allow me to showcase your work here.

I’m not fooling around. I mean it.

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Hermit Crab Survives Earthquake

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on October 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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An egocentric popularity-hound such as I would never pass up a chance to get a bookmark in your browser. I got so many comments on my Facebook page about the Hermit Crab a few days ago that I’m going to repeat the ploy – this time with another poor, unsuspecting Dardanus.

Last Saturday at Barracuda Point  near Pig Island  I was fooling around under the boat using up the rest of my air and looking for something, anything to shoot. I noticed a Trochus shell sitting on top of a plate coral. This is a dead giveaway for the presence of a Hermit Crab. There’s no other way that the shell is going to get there.

I went over to have a look and saw that there was, indeed, a hairy little occupant. I tipped its house over as gently as I could, though I don’t imagine that it felt very gentle to the householder. Here is the shell, appearing empty:

An empty Trochus shell?No, wait! Somebody’ home:No, somebody is in there. A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.Having observed this many times, I’m intrigued that Hermit Crabs don’t seem to be able to get their eyes out for a look-about before exposing their thorny, but undoubtedly tasty legs first. It’s like sticking your hands around the corner and waving them to see if your burglar has a gun.

Anyway, out comes Mr. Crab looking a mite grumpy:

Hey, who turned my house over? A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.

While its feet still dangle above the coral it seems to rest a moment to evaluate the situation. Is it possible that it’s waiting to see if there will be an aftershock?

Sooner or later, the job of re-erecting the house must be done. This requires reaching way out of the front door, grabbing the coral and giving a mighty heave:

You JERK! Now I have to fix this mess. A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.One wants to get this over as quickly as possible as the soft, ticklish and predator attracting end of the critter is highly exposed.

Now, go away and leave me alone. A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.

Finally, with an audible ‘plop’ the house returns to its vertical position. A little grooming is in order now. Clean up the bits knocked off of the top of the house onto the coral. Be sure to check if anything tasty fell off of the roof.

I’ve never met a hermit crab that I didn’t like. I wish that I could say as much about people.

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To Flash or Not To Flash – That Is the Question

Posted in Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on October 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yes, you have guessed it. I am going to bore you once again with the topic, “Whether to Flash or Not?” This is a matter of little import to those who do not regularly submerge their precious cameras in high-pressure saltwater, something which surely violates fundamental laws of nature and sanity.

The vast majority of people snapping away today depend on their cameras to decide whether to flash or not. I am against this notion, since it produces countless nasty-looking photos Alas, I am a voice crying in the wilderness. My word on the matter is simple:  Learn how to make the flash on your camera submit to your will and then learn when you need it and when you’d get a getter image without it. Many people have thanked me for this entirely unsolicited advice. Your mileage may vary.

So, what’s the big deal underwater? Who cares?

Well, you do care, if you are interested in seeing what a given critter actually looks like underwater. If you just want a pretty picture with bright colours, then you turn on your flash and you will have far less work to do on your computer to get a usable, if misleading image. I usually want my images to display to you what I saw. Here is (yet another) example, a Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia):

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)

I think that it is quite pretty as it is. Moreover, it is exactly as it appeared to  me when I saw it at about 25 metres at Barracuda Point,  which is lousy with the things.

From the same position, I took this image with the flash turned on:

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)

Well, that too is a pretty image, but it’s not what I saw. One has to remember that, the deeper you go, the less of the spectrum is left. Only blue and a little greenish light penetrate more than a few metres. So, everything looks blue. Your eyes magically adjust to most of this and restore some balance. However, when you add the sunlight colours of the flash, which is designed to mimic sunlight (its colour temperature), then you completely upset the colours which are displayed in the resulting image. In effect, you have shown the object as it would appear at the surface.

Here’s another one:

Palm Coral (Clavularia sp.) - Available Light -

That’s a Palm Coral (some species of Clavularia)  which has appeared here before. It was shot in with the natural lighting. Check the delicate green shades in the centres, especially around the edges of the clump, where the exposure is a little less. This is a very pretty coral with delicate nuances of colour.

In this flash shot that I got last Saturday for comparison, the nuances are overpowered by the sunlight-white light of the flash:

Palm Coral (Clavularia sp.)

All of the pretty greens are lost.

Here is one more example. This one is a little harder to justify. This is our old friend and regular on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) - Available Light

For comparison, I made one exposure with natural light and one with flash. By now, I’m sure that you can see the difference. The shot above is flash-less.

This one is with the flash turned on. Again, it is not an unpleasing effect. In this case, it does score some points. Because it intensifies the colours that are the distinctive markings of the fish (primarily the orange spots and the dark pectoral fins, not to mention the clown-like eyes), it helps one to remember the primary identification features:

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) - Flash

If you memorise the image above, you’ll have no trouble identifying the species when you are cruising over the sandy bottom.

You just have to remember that the first example image, without the flash, is how it is actually going to appear.

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Watching Little Gifts Grow – The Coconut Tree Project

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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We’ve been watching with mixed feelings hundreds of people out making Madang an even more beautiful place to live. I say mixed feelings, because there is some question whether the modest pay that has been promised to them will be forthcoming.

Work crews have been out for several weeks now. They are cleaning along the roads, cutting back bush that hides little kids about to dart out in front of your car and planting hedges and trees. One of the wonderful aspects of living in Madang is what amazing things you can do for very little money.

I went up to the Coconut Research Institute today and purchased 400 dwarf coconut seedlings for K100 (that’s about US$40). We are giving them to the work crews to be planted along the roads in our neighborhood. For the price of a case of beer we can plant 400 trees. Imagine that!

The Coconut Research Institute in Madang, Papua New Guinea

I can’t take any credit for planting them, of course. I wouldn’t live through the experience.

Here is the kind of tree that I purchased. They do not grow tall enough to interfere with power lines. In fact, they are so short that you can knock down a refreshing green coconut, containing the delicious fluid locally called kulau, with nothing more than a stick:

Dwarf Coconut Trees

Here are three of the ladies who work at the Institute loading the seedlings on our rusty old truck:

Loading the coconut trees into the truck

It is going to be a genuine pleasure to watch these trees grow, provide shade for the weary (coconuts from these trees don’t have so far to fall before they knock you on your head) and provide a refreshing bit of nourishment to any passerby who desires it.

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