Sunset Dreaming

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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Morning is my second favourite time of day. I’m usually up by about 05:30. The first thing that I do is look out of the front windows of our house to see what’s going on in the sky. The sunrise a few mornings ago displayed itself as a beautifully muted array of pastels. Here’s the wide-angle shot from our front yard:Sunrise in MadangIf you’re wondering about my favourite time of the day, it’s when I sit down in my favourite chair, with my favourite beer, my favourite brand of cheap cigars, a bit of favourite reading material and pet my favourite (only) dog, Sheba. I can feel the stresses of the day evaporating like a cool misty haze around me.

A minute or so later, I got this image with a mid-telephoto setting:Sunrise in Madang

Man, I love those colours. It’s too bad that, here in the tropics, sunrises and sunsets fly past so quickly. In general, they last about ten or fifteen minutes at the most. That’s because the sun (and moon) are rising and falling straight up or down, not at an angle as in temperate zones. You have to get your camera out and be ready. I have missed fantastic sunset shots by being only one minute too late.

Yesterday, I showed you an image of this same Notodoris Minor  Nudibranch. This image was taken at Planet Rock  with flash:Nudibranch (Notodoris minor) at Planet Rock

The one from yesterday was captured by available light at about 30 metres. You can compare the difference.

Here’s our old favourite the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculatus)  also at Planet Rock:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus) at Planet Rock

I’ve been concentrating very much on getting good specimen shots. I’m trying to get a publisher for a coffee table book called The Fishy Families of Madang.  Anything for a buck.

On the way back from Blueblood last Sunday on Felmara,  Mike Cassell’s boat, I caught our friend Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset light:
Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset

It is redundant to say that happiness is a state of mind.

So, I won’t say it.

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He Got Hair Down To His Knee

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on October 16th, 2009 by MadDog
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The Beatles song, Come Together  has been wafting around in my head this morning. I’ll tell you why in a little while. First I’ll show you an amusing sunrise at our house this morning:Sunrise at our house in Madang, Papua New GuineaI massaged this image rather brutally, because I was trying for something a little surreal. As you can see, the lighting effect on the fore shore is improbable. I’m calling it Ghost Harbour.  I’m pretending it’s sunset, because that makes it creepier.

And now I’ll explain the teaser. Have a look at this critter:

Hermit Crab (Dardanus sp.) at Planet RockIt’s a Hermit Crab, some species of Dardanus;  I can’t tell which. It was as I was working on this image that the spooky Beatles lyrics and tune began to insinuate themselves on my stream of consciousness.

Here come old flattop, he come groov’n up slowly
He got joo-joo eyeball, he one holy roller
He got hair – down – to his knee
Got to be a joker he just do what he please

Is it any wonder that I’m barely in control? I can still sing this song from memory, beginning to end. I haven’t a clue what it means. To us, at the time, it was just another fab from the Fab Four. Whenever I hear it, even today, I cannot help closing my eyes, tilting my head back, and getting into that pleasantly numb groove. And, of course, singing along in a gravelly nasal baritone.

Okay, enough of that frivolity.

Here is something that you don’t see every day. It’s a nudibranch with the fetchingly obnoxious name of Notodoris Minor.  I don’t know why it’s called minor,  because, by nudibranch standards, it’s huge  – about 7cm for this one:

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor) at Planet Rock

You can see these things from an incredible distance, because they are so bright.

While we’re on yellow, here is a Feather Star (Comantheria schlegeli):

Feather Star (Comantheria schlegeli) at Planet RockThese shots all came from the dive last Saturday at Planet Rock.  I had shots from that dive yesterday and I’ll have more tomorrow.

This is a close up shot of the same Anthea  species that you saw yesterday with Pascal Michon in the background. It’s devilishly difficult to tell which species of Anthea  that you are looking at unless you can get a close-up shot of an individual, a very difficult task. So many of them look very similar that I usually just lump them all together:

Anthea (species ?) at Planet RockSome things I never tire of seeing.

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A Bearded Fish and Some New Features

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ll start with the geeky, boring stuff. I’ve added two new features and made one other change to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  The new features are not obvious until you look for them.

First, I’ve added what’s called Related Posts.  You won’t see them when you come in the “front door” by using our main address, for instance, if you have us bookmarked. However, if you come in on a “single post” link, such as you might do from a search engine result or from a Facebook link or a dozen other ways, you will see HOME at the top of the sidebar and, if you go down to the bottom of the post, you will see a selection of posts that directly relate to the content of the post you are currently reading. This is handy for me and for you. I don’t have to constantly think of posts related to the current subject that might also interest you and you can easily find other posts that have similar content.

If you arrived from a bookmark to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  you are on the “front door” (all recent posts) page. You will see no HOME in yellow at the top of the sidebar. If  you want to see posts related to the one you are reading, all you have to do is click on the title of the post  and you will be taken to the “single page” version of that post. At the bottom, you’ll find the related posts. I did it this way because the “front door” page would become impossibly long if each post also included related posts.

The other thing that I’ve added is a gizmo that allows you to be notified by email whenever a comment is left on a post on which you have commented. This is a great way to keep discussions going. You don’t have to go back to a post to see if anyone has replied to your comment.

When you leave a comment by clicking on the “Comments” link at the bottom of a post (and I encourage you whole-heartedly to do so), you will see a new little checkbox just below the “Submit Comment” click target. It says, “Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.” That’s exactly what will happen, supposing that you have given your real email address. (It’s surprising how many nasty comments that I get which have bogus email addresses. I don’t approve them for display. I just delete them.) You will know when I or someone else replies to your comment and if anybody else chimes in. Thanks, Robert of Trupela Tok  for suggesting this feature.

Finally, in response to regular readers with slow connections, I’ve reduced the number of posts shown on the “front door” page to seven down from fifteen. This should make the loading time less irksome. If you think that you’ve missed something (tragic, I know), you can always use the “Previous Entries” link at the bottom of the page.

Okay, let’s get to some images.

Here is a rather poor shot that I got at Planet Rock  last Saturday. As long as you keep it small, it doesn’t look too bad. There was a lot of particulate matter in the water, so the blue is lumpy and speckled. It would have taken hours to clean it up and it still wouldn’t have been publishable. Still, here in the journal, it’s pretty and interesting:

Swarming Anthea with a diver in the distance

The diver is Dr. Pascal Michon of Divine Word University. The fish are some species of Anthea. 

Here is a fish that I have been trying to capture for a long time. It is a kind of Grouper and has the unusual name of the Spotted Soapfish (Pogonoperca punctata).  Aside from it’s unusual name, note that it has a beard:

Spotted Soapfish (Pogonoperca punctata) at Planet Rock

No, I don’t know what the beard is for. They are quite shy and usually hide under coral ledges where it is hard to see them. My dive buddy Albert Serra Pou spotted this one.

I was curious about the common name – soapfish ??  I found this on  “As with all soapfish, if stressed, it may release a toxic substance (grammistin) from the skin that could kill itself and all tankmates. Prevent any stressful conditions in the tank!” I gues that explains it.

Here is a dramatic image of the incridible flourescent Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  at about 23 metres on the east side of Planet Rock:

Incredibly red Bulb Anemone at Planet Rock

You have seen it before here. I admit to dramaticising the colours . . . mmmm, slightly. For art’s sake, you understand.

This prickly looking thingie is a Feather Star or, more properly a Crinoid. I think that it’s a Comantheria briareus,  but it’s pretty hard to tell. The colours of Feather Stars are somewhat variable and sometimes you have to count the “arms” and look at the “feet” to tell which species you are looking at. Since touching them causes a lot of damage (the arms stick to you and pull away from the animal), it’s not worth hurting them to determine which species it is:

Feather Star (Comantheria briareus)

Last, but my trophy kill of the day, is a Checkerboard Wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus):

Checkerboard Wrasse [intermediate phase] (Halichoeres hortulanus)

As with many fish, many Wrasses go through two or more phases of life during which they display dramatically different colours and body details. This individual in in the Intermediate Phase, between baby and adult. Like most teenagers, this fish believes that being seen in fashionable clothes is the key issue.

By the way, this is one of the best specimin shots that I’ve ever been lucky enough to snap. What you see is what you get.

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More Sky and Water – Maybe a Little Lightning

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ll start today with a couple of images that I got a few nights ago when I was trying to capture lightning in a thunderstorm. Here is an amusing image of a boat tied up at the south side of the compound near the airport. You can see the lights of the airport glowing in the distance and off of the bottoms of the nearby low clouds. The lighting on the boat and the fence and trees is from the main wharf which is at least a half-kilometre away:Boats in the light from the main wharf a half-kilometre away

The shot took fifteen seconds to expose. You can see a bit of motion blur on the boat, as it was bobbing around in the gentle waves.

This is the only shot of the thunderstorm that showed any lightning. My Canon G9 only allows up to fifteen second exposures. I wish I could get a full minute out of it. There wasn’t enough lightning in this cloud to make more than one or two flashes in fifteen seconds. This was the best shot that I got. I’m going to try again soon:A bit of lightning in a Cumulonimbus cloud

Strangely, this year has been almost absent of thunderstorms.

Here is a shot of Coconut point in the morning sun. I got this one on the drive into town a couple of days ago:

Coconut Point in the morning sun

It’s not a bad sunrise shot, but not as spectacular as some. What is interesting is that I accidentally caught a mob of Flying Foxes returning to town after there night-time raid on the gardens. You might have to click to enlarge to see them.

I got some nice images last Sunday on the way back from Blueblood on Mike Cassell’s boat, Felmara.  Here is a shot into the lowering sun with the Canon G9 set with the Night Snapshot scene setting and the flash forced on:Wake spray of Felmara in the afternoon sun I really enjoy having specific settings on the camera in the form of Scenes. It takes care of most of the adjustments that you need for particular shooting conditions. I could have recreated this shot using manual settings, but I would have to think a lot more. With the G9 I simply had to set the camera on Scenes, choose the Night Snapshot by spinning the wheel until it appeared on the screen, push the flash control until I could see that it was on demand and fire away.

This strange apparition is a lenticular cap on a Cumulonimbus cloud:

Lenticular cap on a Cumulonimbus at sunset

The cloud (called a pileus [Latin for cap] – thanks, Steve Goodheart) is rising up so quickly into the upper atmosphere that it is pushing warmer, moister air above it in a sort of shock wave. The warm, moist air can’t get out of the way, so it gets moved up to colder regions and the water in the air condenses into a small lens-shaped cloud that sits on top of the thunderstorm. There was much more of a rainbow effect visible to the naked eye. I couldn’t capture those nuances with the camera.

Though a US$4,000 camera and lens could do a much better job on this very technically demanding shot, for US$400, I’m quite happy with what my Canon G9 gave me:

Canoe in the late afternoon sun

The problem here is what is called dynamic range. I don’t know what the real numbers are, but I’d guess that there is at least 100,000 times as much light in the sun glowing through the thin cloud layer than there is in the trees in the foreground. The little sensors in point and shoot camera simply cannot handle this difference. So, everything gets compressed into a smaller range.

However, the technical aspects of this shot are not what I’m thinking of now. What I am thinking of is the gift that I got when the opportunity arose. There was a good deal of luck involved. Felmara  was moving at a rapid pace. I was shooting a medium telephoto shot from a bouncing boat. I had maybe a one-tenth of a second window for the shot.

Luck was with me.

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A 17MPG Lincoln – Well, There’s Your Problem

Posted in Rants and Rages on October 13th, 2009 by MadDog
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In the summer of 1976, back when we had some money, I went out one morning and bought a new Corvette Stingray. It was bright red with white leather interior. I tell you this only to let you know that I am not immune to the “need for speed”. After a year, a couple of speeding tickets and the horror of the first year’s insurance premium, I sold the ‘Vette. I decided that what I needed  was a way to get from Point A to Point B with the minimum of fuss and expense. I bought a new Chevette, a horror of an automobile if there ever was one.

The key word in the paragraph above, for today’s rant, is need.  I do truly believe that we are shortly going to be living in a world based much more on need  than want.  This will be a radical departure for those who have enjoyed the good fortune for generations of living in the rich, industrialised, privileged nations, such as . . . er . . . excuse me, the U S of A.

For instance, who needs  this:

Lincoln Advertisement from The Atlantic magazine

I’m not picking on Lincoln in particular. My fight is with Detroit (Okay, okay, US auto makers and all the hangers-on who prosper by the continuing excesses of the industry). Click on the ad and look at the bottom. After bragging shamelessly about employing relatively ancient technology (it’s been around for a while) to achieve “Cleaner, Faster,  Smarter”, they continue the gloating by announcing that this automobile gets 17 MPG! Is that supposed to impress me? It does, but not the way they want it to.

Note my emphasis on the word faster  in the paragraph above. How fast do we need to go anyway? Passenger cars with engines producing in excess of 300 HP have no place in the rational world today. Who buys these cars and why?

If you’re still with me, it probably means that you don’t own one of these battleships.

By the way, what happened to styling? You used to be able to identify an automobile a block away. Now they all look the same. Oh, sure, there are “styling” differences, but this does not fool me. Cars look pretty much the same today because they are all up against the same physics of streamlining. There is only so much you can do with the shape of an automobile to make it distinctive. If you veer far from the theoretical ideal to achieve a particular look, you’ll loose points for fuel efficiency. Therefore, the more aerodynamically efficient cars become, the more they will look the same.

End of rant. I need to pet my dog now and simmer down:


Isn’t Sheba adorable? She’s nearly three years old now. Sheba’s easily the smartest dog that we’ve had. We’ve put a lot of effort into training her and it has paid off nicely. Usually it only takes a facial expression or a gesture of the hand to let her know what I want her to do. If she can’t see me, she responds very quickly to voice commands. She does occasionally get carried away. In that case, the whistle comes out. She knows that she can’t ignore that without being called a “bad dog”. She really hates that. I’m convinced that mongrels make the best pets. That’s probably because I am such a mongrel myself.

I have a couple of more images for you today.

On the way back from Blueblood on Sunday we were cruising in Mike Cassell’s boat, Felmara.  Our friend Dr. Pascal Michon was doing a little fishing. He needed to blow off a bit of steam, as he had, only a little while earlier, lost his glasses when he dived off of the boat while wearing them:

Fishing Rods against the sky

Here’s an amusing image of a Shimano reel in the late afternoon sun:

Fishing reel in the afternoon.

Pascal caught a three kilo Spanish Mackerel, little consolation for loosing his glasses. We’re going to do a dive there to see if we can find them. I did manage to find Amanda Watson’s prescription sunglasses for her when she did the same thing. It’s all up to luck.

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Visualizing Your Facebook Network of Friends

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I recently saw a few friends using the Friend Wheel application on Facebook, I was suddenly captivated by the concept of seeing my FB friends as a network. This is a natural thing for a computer weenie and CIS major. It’s a very geeky interest. However, it is amusing to make discoveries about which of your friends are the most connected, and to whom.

The Friend Wheel is pretty, but I did not find that it gave me enough information. Once you get it loaded with your friends (just type “friend wheel” into the search box in the upper right corner of your Facebook page and you’ll go directly to it), you will see an interactive screen that looks something like this:The Facebook Friend Wheel application display
The cool thing is that you can move your mouse around to any name and the connections to that name will light up. It’s fun and pretty, but It didn’t ring my bell.

The next one that I found that was easy to use is Social Graph. You can find it by typing “social graph” into the search box. Once you start the application and allow it to access your friends, you’ll get some interesting network graphs. This is mine, zoomed out far enough so that you can see the entire network:Facebook Social Graph application - all of my friends

It’s immediately clear that there are some outliers that have no connections to anybody but me, or possibly one or two other outliers. This tells you nothing about your relationship to the friend, but it does tell you that you could bring this friend into the big “connectedness ball” in the middle by suggesting the friend’s name to many of your other friends within the ball.

As you zoom in on the graph, you’ll see the profile image of your friends in each node. You can point to a node with your mouse and see highlighted the connections of that friend to all of your other mutual friends. For instance, here is the “Eunice cluster” consisting of my wife, Eunice, and her connections to my friends:

Facebook Social Graph application - the "Eunice cluster"

Moving my mouse to my son, Hans, I can instantly see all connections to any friends that we share:Facebook Social Graph application - the "Hans cluster"

Social Graph does another interesting trick. Apparently, if it finds a particularly dense cluster of tightly interconnected friends, it colours the “mob” (my word for it) pink. Here I can clearly see Eunie’s family, mostly nieces and nephews all in a big pink blob:Facebook Social Graph application - the "Eunice's family cluster" 'mob' shows by pink

If you want to try this one, there are some fun things to do. The first is to just watch it build your web. I have only 193 friends at present, a few of which I will probably “X” because they never really use FB or we have nothing to say to each other. (These graphs are all useful for “weeding” your friend garden.) The other thing that is fun to do is to try grabbing one of the friend nodes and moving it to another place on the graph. The whole graph will go momentarily jumpy and quickly the node will return to its correct position. There is a great deal of computation going on here. I’d love to see what a graph with 1,000 friends would do, though I would hate to have 1,000 FB friends.

Here is another interesting network graphing application for Facebook. It’s called TouchGraph – just search for it as described above. You have to install this one, but it’s easy-peasy to do. Here is how my Firefox page appears with the application running:

The Touchgraph application for FacebookAs you can see, if you click to enlarge, I’ve highlighted Australia and I am shown all of my friends with an Australian IP address.

Here I have mouse-clicked Eunice and I can see the connections to our mutual friends:

The Touchgraph application for Facebook - the "Eunice cluster"I found several other applications by Googling for “facebook network visualizations”. The ones above are those that I feel are the easiest, most useful, and the most fun to play with.

Visualising your FB friends as a network and seeing these kinds of details could allow you to hand-craft a group of friends that let you use FB the way that you  want to use it, rather than depending on the friend “suggestions” that so often lead to unproductive or even undesirable connections.

Have fun!

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A Mixed Bag of Nature

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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Best plans aside, I find myself here at the office on Sunday morning. I ran out of time yesterday, so I managed to get only one post finished. Nevertheless, it was good luck, since I got some very nice sunrise shots this morning on the drive to the office. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see them, however. I’m still catching up with images.

Coming back from our dive a week ago on Saturday, I had to stop Faded Glory  in her track to get this image of the sun low in the sky over the airport. Dad told me, as he was teaching me photography, over and over, “Composition is King.” Pretty colours are nice. Sometimes we simply want snapshots to capture memories. However, when you’re shooting for something to hang over the mantle, you have to pick your moments and compose the shot with care. I like to think of myself as a painter. I ask myself where I would put my easel, what palette of colours would I use, how do I want to portray the subject, where do I want the viewer to focus?

Two Coconut SunsetThe two coconut trees in the image make a perfect focal point. Researchers have done some very interesting work using gadgets that can record where a subject’s eyes are looking at any instant as they view images. What they have found is that the eyes search out a particular point and keep coming back to it. As the viewer takes in the image and processes it, the eyes dart around the image, stopping at places of interest. Very often, however, the eyes return to a single point of interest. Click on the image above to enlarge it and study it a minute. I bet that your eyes keep returning to the two coconut trees. For an image of a person, the point of interest is almost always the eyes.

Now, let’s take a little trip to somewhere else. I don’t know where it is, but wherever we are the moon comes up in a most startling fashion. Okay, okay, it’s our front yard. A few evenings ago a friend called me saying that I had to run outside with my camera to catch the moon rising. (My friends know me.) I was a little tardy getting out with my tripod and camera, as I first had to dress appropriately. I was too late to catch the huge orange blob just above the horizon, but I’m quite happy with this image:

Psychedelic Moonrise

It can hardly be called a photograph now, since it has suffered merciless manhandling by Photoshop. Nevertheless, it is an interesting image. That’s all that I wanted.

And now, for something completely different.

I can’t pass up certain images that catch my eye underwater. Sea Squirts are among my favourites. They seem improbable to me. They clump together in a manner that makes me think of little hamlets where the faeries live:

Sea Squirts - Atriolum robustum

It seems that I’m waxing a tad too poetic this morning. Still, as faerie houses go, these are credible. The little houses above are Atriolum robustum.

There is a nice big fish called the Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis).  As with many fish, the juvenile looks nothing like the adult. This is the juvenile Midnight Snapper:

Juvenile Midnight Snapper - Macolor macularis

It’s a terrible shot, but I excuse myself because this fish is fiendishly clever at avoiding the camera. They move constantly out of range (this is a telephoto shot) and always try to hide behind something.

I’ll wrap it up today with yet another image of this improbable Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Blue Starfish - Linckia laevigata

Not aiming to sound irreverent, I beg forgiveness for imagining God as a kid, scattering around the universe all of the most treasured toys. Surely, this must be one of them.

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