Wrapping Up 2009

Posted in Under the Sea on December 31st, 2009 by MadDog
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After yesterday’s dark and whiny rambling through the back alleys of my nearly comatose mind, which prompted friends to call to see if I was planning to depart post-haste to greener pastures (or no pasture at all), I should maybe craft some slightly more upbeat prose. As a recovering (seemingly forever) bipolar, I need to be reminded once in a while that things are never so dark as I may wish to paint them on a down day. The flip side of that, as those who’ve experienced that hideous roller-coaster will instantly proclaim, is that things are never so bright either.

But, never mind. I’m over that. My craving for sympathy is satiated and I still have plenty of pineapple upside-down cake left. Today we will meet a couple of new characters and visit again with some old friends. A few days ago I took KP Perkins for her first dives after the completion of her Open Water Course. On our second dive, we went to The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There, on the sandy bottom I got this pitiful shot of what we call a Leaf Fish. The “book” common name is Peacock Razorfish. This the juvenile phase of a species variation of Iniistius pavo:It’s a funny little thing. Against the creamy white bottom it looks very dark brown. I had to squeeze very hard on the lemon to get a bit of detail out of the body. Tha’s why it doesn’t look like a very good picture. We call it a Leaf Fish because, unless you are looking for it, you will be fooled by its colour, shape, the little topknot looking like a stem and its insane wobbly swimming motion into believing  that it is a leaf.

Here is another new something for you. It’s a coral, but I’m unable to determine the species name, since I can’t find it in my book. So, I’ll just call it Spiral Coral for now:What intrigues me about this coral is the striking resemblance between this overhead view and images of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. Say what? Well, it’s a famous family of oscillating chemical reactions which can create amazing visible spiral patterns such as this:

I wouldn’t care to claim that I understand these reactions in anything other than a very general way. The details were not covered in CHEM-101 forty years ago. Nevertheless, the images were still im my mind and I could look them up with “spiral chemical reactions” using Google images. Ain’t the web great? Anybody can seem like an authority on anything. Wait, maybe that’s not  so great.

Well, here’s a spiky old friend from only a few days ago. It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):I’m sure that it’s the same one that I showed you before. It lives there.

Here’s another old buddy, the gorgeous Tomato anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus):It this shot you can see the strong blue tint that is often seen in the white vertical bars. I’m not sure if this is really pigmentation – it doesn’t appear to be so. I think that it either some sort of reflection of the sky (it seems to be more common on a sunny day when most of the sky is blue) or it is a property of the surface of the skin similar to butterfly wings that produces colour by means of optical effects at the nanometric level. But, who knows? Maybe God just paints it that way. I’m no expert.

Here’s another bit of underwater eye candy that you’ve seen here before. They are Sea Squirts (Polycarpa aurata):I like to think of them as elf shoes. See, they have nice little elastic bands around the ankles so that they won’t fall off in the midst of mischief-making.

This is a shot that I really like. It’s our old friend, the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  way out at the end of his front porch:They usually stay right next to their hidey-hole. It’s rare to see one that doesn’t have its tail down the burrow. This one has strayed a few centimetres away. You can see the trail of “dust” that it kicked up when it last came out only a few seconds ago.

I had one chance at the shot above before the little spotted pixy dived back into its burrow. The image turned out perfect. Though it’s not colourful, it is exactly as I saw it.

That is as close to diving as I can get you unless you’re ready to get wet.

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Nearing the End

Posted in Guest Shots, Mixed Nuts on December 30th, 2009 by MadDog
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Counting the years as they whiz past seems less fun than it did at twenty. And, whizzing past they are.  It’s a pity that life speeds by so quickly as you get close to whatever is at the end. It feels as if I’ve had the pedal to the metal since I was thirteen and now I’m running flat-out in the fog at night with my hair on fire. The thought, “Pretty soon I’ll be dead.” intrudes daily into my otherwise manageable world.

Well, there is no sense in crying over milk that has yet to be spilt. It’s not that death frightens me. I made peace with death a long time ago. Accepting The Big Sleep as something that is as natural as life itself, indeed, defining life,  has removed the heebie-jeebie factor from the death equation for me. There’s some kind of Big Plan. My death is simply a part of that. I’ve been inches or seconds from death so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve lost interest in counting. Death is the biggest tease of all. How close can  you get?

No, I’m not going to off myself. I’m having way too much fun for that. I’ve been sitting here listening to Pink Floyd for about three hours now. That’s enough to make anybody ponder darkly the meaning of life.

Today I’m feeding you a stew of images that don’t fit anywhere else. Butter up some bread and have a seat:

That was Wongat Island  which just flew past and is left in the wake of Mike Cassell’s boat, Felmara,  on our way up to Blueblood on Christmas Day. It has a very nice beach and is the only place that I know of where you can pick up magnificent specimens of weathered blue coral. I’ll have to do a post on it someday.

This is a much prettier island image. I think that it is Sinub Island;  the outline looks right. I wasn’t really paying much attention to navigation, since I wasn’t driving:The sun lit it up nicely and a polarising filter over the lens darkened up the sky just as it is supposed to do. The big Cumulonimbus cloud is casting a lovely reflection on the sea.

Here is an example of how to blow out your whites. The little sensor in my Canon G9 simply can’t handle the dynamic range of brightness levels in this shot:The rest of the image was recoverable, except for the blocked blacks which I can live with in this image. However the bright area in the centre was blown out to pure white. I couldn’t get any detail out of it. This is where a US$5,000 camera comes in handy, if you have the moolah for it. I had to fake something in there, so Photoshop saved the day with the Selective Colour tool set on Absolute. Choosing Whites as the colour, I tweaked up the Yellow slider and added just a touch of Red. It looks a little fakey, but hey, what do you expect for a tenth of the price?

This shot fits my mood today like a glove. It’s raining and cold outside; Eunie would say that it’s winter today in Madang. The Finnisterre Mountains  are glowering in the distance as rain tumbles down from the gravid clouds:Mind, when we say ‘cold’ were talking maybe 24°C (75°F). I never sweat any more. My body has fallen deeply in love with tropical weather. In Indiana, at this time of year, I’d be dead in a month – I’m sure of it!

I gave you a frame of this series of sunrise over Astrolabe Bay  in another post. I like this one better:The canoe man is more clearly visible here. I also used a different mood for the colours. You can compare them, if you like.

Since I seem to be wallowing in the ephemeral nature of life today, here is a perfect image with which to illustrate the principle:

When I named this image Ephemeral Mushrooms, I thought that I was being very cute and trippy. Then I Googled the phrase and got 731 hits. So much for originality. Among other scholarly titles was, The Predictability of Ephemeral Mushrooms and Implications for Mycophagous Fly Communities.  That will give you the gist of the subject. I didn’t even know that mycophagus flies had  communities. I thought they were like wandering hunter-gatherers.

Okay, okay, I’ll wrap up this orgy of self-pity and random fluctuations with a Guest Shot by our fine friend and enthusiastic fellow photographer, Ron Barrons of Hamilton, Ontario. Ron, like myself, is a waterfalls buff. Here is his latest shot of Princess Falls.
I call the image above Princess Falls Mugged.  That’s because it’s my interpretation of the image that Ron sent to me. As I do, Ron struggles with ‘flat light’. He emailed the image to me with the remark that the lighting that day was very flat. My addition of a blue sky at the top seems to contradict this, but it’s fake. Punching up the contrast and increasing the γ of the image did wonders for it. Lightening only the shadows and changing the water in the pool from sickly green to deep blue put on the finishing touches. Actually, I liked the shot the way Ron sent it to me.

By the way, Ron said that Princess Falls only works when it rains. Otherwise it is dry. A dry waterfall. Hmmm . . . Is  it a waterfall, when it’s dry? Anyway, Ron said that he was going out to try again, but it will have to wait until all the ice is gone. Thank heavens I  don’t have to deal with that!

I simply couldn’t resist “improving” it.

Ron is a forgiving guy.

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Christmas Day at Blueblood

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 29th, 2009 by MadDog
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Christmas Day started off with a beautiful sunrise. No, I lie. It was a cloudy day that didn’t promise much and didn’t deliver either. The weather threatened to dump on us all day, but managed to hold its water. The morning sky didn’t look anything like this:Arriving at the beach house, we were greeted by the establishment’s cheery welcome sign unceremoniously nailed to a roof beam. There is a thatched roof over the lower deck. As you can see, it is made of palm leaves. In this case, they are the leaves of the Sago palm. The material, after it is ‘sewn’ into long mats, is called morota:The mats are then laid down across the rafters starting at the outer edge of the roof and moving toward the centre. Each mat is laid over the one below it. The result is that rain flows down the leaves and off the edge. Inside, it stays nice and dry. Before we get into the images of Christmas Day at Blueblood, I’ll show you what’s been happening with Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. I don’t dig around too much in the statistics, but at the end of the second full year it seems appropriate to have a look. First, who is reading? Here are numbers from December 1 – 26 of 2009:

Countries Pages Hits
United States us 35583 298614
Australia au 11241 70207
Netherlands nl 7259 17353
Great Britain gb 4655 40234
Canada ca 3633 42595
Russian Federation ru 2171 4509
India in 2037 16155
Germany de 1652 15347
France fr 1112 10451
China cn 1007 3471

I listed only the first ten countries. Papua New Guinea is 39th on the list. There are a few surprises. What is Netherlands doing way up there? I know far more people in Austria than the Netherlands, but Austria is 56th on the list. I know nobody in Russia or China, but there they are. The only way that I can explain this is by looking at the content of the journal. Though I try to appeal the broadest audience possible, I do have a lot of specialised content here and that makes for a lot of search engine hits. In fact, about 30% of the traffic comes just from Google, much of that from Google Images. You tenacious readers out there are giving us some healthy numbers:

Unique visitors Number of visits Pages Hits
25573 32718 (1.27 visits/visitor) 87556 (2.67 Pages/Visit) 700320 (21.4 Hits/Visit)

That’s not bad numbers for less than one month for a puny little site such as this. It’s getting up around 1,500 unique visitors per day. I can remember a year ago when I was doing cartwheels if we hit 200. I was rather pensive on Christmas Day, not my best time of year. Therefore, I didn’t take many pictures. Here is a cheery one of nearly the whole gang out swimming around the floatie thing:And here are two little angels in a rubber duckie:I like this one of Mike Cassell, as fine a mate as a bloke could have, and his grandson, Josh:As the day progressed and a little wine began to take the edges off my melancholy, I did sally forth with camera in hand to snatch the soul of this perfect hibiscus blossom:That’s me. The soul snatcher.

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Random Images for Your Amusement

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 28th, 2009 by MadDog
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Once again, I’m left dead for a theme. Succumbing to writer’s block is not something to be enjoyed. It’s not part of my game to simply throw out a bunch of images with no comment. However, today the words are getting stuck somewhere. Maybe I can shake a few loose. It’s a sure formula for gibberish.

We’ll start with the standard ‘my house’ sunrise:

Hmmmm . . . That wasn’t so bad. Let’s move along.

This is a bit more interesting. On the way to the office a couple of days ago there was a fellow paddling up the coast in his canoe just off of Coronation Drive:At the far right, on the horizon, you can see the tail end of the Huon Peninsula  and the last of the Finisterre Mountains.  The towering cumulus clouds that you can see below the overcast are probably much more than 100 kilometres in the distance.

Now, here is a shot that I really enjoy. On our way back from Blueblood on Christmas Day, Kar Kar Island  was looking very splendid and mysterious:I caught Mike Cassell’s boat Felmara flying up the coast toward Madang with the island looming in the background about fifty clicks away. It makes a rather dramatic image.

Here is the standard Coconut Point sunrise, which you have seen here many times before:

I’m puzzled by the dark streak in the sky. It was persistent, pronounced and quite straight. We do not see aircraft condensation trails here in the tropics, or at least we rarely see them. I cannot remember seeing one in all the years that I’ve lived in Madang. My guess is that it’s a combination of factors. First, we are not under any heavily travelled routes. Another thing is that the air above us is generally too warm to form lasting condensation trails except at extreme altitudes. My best guess is that the dark line is a shadow of an invisible trail of condensation between the sun and the high layer of clouds.

Hey, it’s just a guess.

Here is something that I don’t think that you’ve seen before on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  – an image of Bag Bag Island:It is further away from Madang than Kar Kar Island  and considerably less mountainous. I had a lot of trouble with the colour of the island itself. It was far too blue. While trying to get it right, I ran out of time. It looks a little odd – like a pile of dust, not like an island.

Finally, here is an image that gives me a chuckle:It’s not a particularly good image; the Orangefinned Anemonefish is out of focus, as is my hand. However it does bring to mind the friendly, feisty anemonefish of The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  I have done hundreds of dives in this small area and I know every knob of coral and every fish. I do not understand the behaviour of these anemonefish, but it amuses me greatly. They seem to know me!  Yes, I know that is absurd, but there is something  odd going on. At several specific and consistent anemones, the fish will come up and rub against my fingers and nip at them. The nipping I get. Many anemonefishes do this. They are absolutely fearless, as if nipping at a giant predator would drive it away!

These, however, seem to ‘enjoy’ rubbing gently against my fingertips. It’s positively disconcerting. If they weren’t so cute, it would be a little creepy. In the shot above, I was attempting to get a record of the behaviour. As it turns out, it’s easier contemplated than accomplished. You may be amused to see another of the Damselfish family (as are the Anemonefishes) nipping away at my hand.

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When Nature Says, “Hey, Look at THIS!”

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 27th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I was a kid, every rock in every stream and every log in every forest was a potential treasure chest for me to explore. I loved the sense of anticipation. What might be found under that flat sandstone slab? Bugs, salamanders, mysterious moulds, anything seemed possible. I’m glad that I haven’t lost that. Many diversions of youth are simply that – diversions from the business of growing up. The love of nature and the capability of being pleasantly surprised and gratified by nature’s many wonders is a good thing to hang on to. There are some youthful distractions that serve us well as we mature.

Up at Blueblood on Christmas Day I got a couple of pleasant surprises. One of them was this bright red moth:

I think that it was nearing the end of its pitifully short life. Its wings were ragged and it seemed listless, as if it desperately needed a nap.

A few months ago, during a severe period of beach erosion, this coconut tree was undercut by the waves and fell over into the water. Coconuts can survive very close to the salt water as long as there is sufficient rain to keep salt from its shallow root system. This tree is in peril. Filling in around the base to protect it from further erosion and allowing its roots to gather fresh water will save it:

You can see that it is trying to survive. It has already begun to change its direction of growth. It will naturally grow upwards if it survives, giving it a graceful curve toward the sky.

However, in its current dire straits, it is exhibiting some abnormal growth patterns. I have never before seen such a strange pattern of growth in the leaves of a coconut frond:

Among those of us who pondered this odd pattern, speculation ran rampant. There were several theories. When I first saw it, I thought it was someone’s joke. Then I realised that was simply not possible. We finally settled on some kind of osmotic imbalance that is causing the leaves to improperly separate at the tips as the frond unfurls. This would cause the tension to bend the tips of the leaves as is seen here, because they have no way to assume their natural position. The little fibre that attaches the tips of the leaves together as they develop never ‘lets go’.

I did find one reference to a disease problem with coconuts that might be causing this weird leaf growth. It’s called Crown Choking. (See the UPDATE at the end of the post.)

The light in this image was horrible. It was a flat-light day with a solid bright grey sky. About the worst thing that you can do on a day like that is to point your camera skyward and try to capture something back-lit by the brightness of the clouds. That’s exactly what I had to do to get this shot:

You can see the hideous flatness of the details. I had to twist the histogram mercilessly to get any details. However, it was worth the effort. I think that what we’re seeing here are two ant nests. However, I have some questions. The leaves on the plants seem the same as the rest of the tree, so I’m guessing that they are branches vainly trying to invigorate the dying tree. The ant nests speak for themselves. But, what are the rope-like bands encircling the branch? These are typical of a parasitic or saprophytic growth hanging on to the tree and either using it for support or sucking the life from it. There is a lot going on in this picture, much of it a mystery to me.

Here is something not so mysterious. It’s our little friend, the gecko. Now that we have had no cats in the house for a year or so, the geckos are coming back in normal numbers, which means about one per square metre, it seems. They make a happy little barking noise when challenging each other:Having dinner with some Chinese friends one night, we were discussing the propensity of the Chinese to bet on practically anything. We were told of the amusing practice of betting on the number of barks that will be heard from the next gecko to speak. The bark count tends to run from about four to ten, with a Bell shaped curve. The strange thing about this is that, once you have played the game a few times (it takes all evening and the conversation can continue – it’s very civilised), you can not stop counting gecko barks. Once your brain is trained, you can’t shut it off and it is extremely accurate. It reminds me of how I learned to automatically count gunshots. Another odd thing is that there is hardly ever any question among players as to the number of barks. Apparently , everybody can learn to do this accurately, so there is no need for arguments. As I said, it’s very civilised.

And, here is our little friend’s favourite food:Well, actually, not so. The geckos seem not to like these muli ants. They are big, very feisty and chock full of stinky formic acid. They will happily take on a human being, even standing up on their hind legs and threatening the hapless hand to stay away. They bite ferociously.

As I seem to be running out of steam for this post, I’ll leave you with a sight that I have seen many, many times:

Very often, as we sit near the small islands off the coast, we see huge thunderstorms marching up the line of mountains a few kilometres inland.

You need to worry, if nature can no longer surprise and amuse you. Get some new glasses and keep your eyes open.

UPDATE:  I received an email from Kevin Lock which may shed some light on the weird palm fronds:

I am guessing that the appearance of that frond is not a disease but just an emerging new frond.  We have a few Golden Cane Palms and emerging new fonds have a similar appearance.  Attached is a snap of one on ours today.

Here is the image that Kevin sent:

In this healthy plant, it’s clear that the unfolding process is the same as the one we observed. I wondered about it, but rejected it as a normal condition mainly because I had never observed it before.

Thanks, Kevin, for giving us another good reason to keep our eyes open.

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Cleaning Up the Christmas Mess

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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My birthday has come and gone. Christmas has come and gone. Boxing day has come and gone. I’m now waiting patiently for New Year’s Day. It to, providing nothing drastic occurs, will come and go. So will 2010. And, so it goes. I’m still having fun, so let it roll. I do, however, need to settle on a new New Year’s Resolution. So much left to improve . . . so little time left.

When I came to the office this sunny Sunday morning to catch up on two days posting which I missed (shame, shame), I fully intended to do so. However, a faulty power supply on our main router had knocked the web on its bum. This was a big monkey-wrench in my gears. It took me a couple of hours to find the problem. I kept trying to sort out the router – no luck. Then I got a new router and set it up. It worked fine on the test bench. Plug it into the network – buzz, humm . . . same problem. Fortunately William Butler was looking over my shoulder, patiently waiting for the web to come back. He pointed out to my foggy mind that the problem was the same and the only common factor was the power supply. DOOH!  I should have thought of that. This is why my job becomes more and more annoying year after year. They keep inventing new stuff and I can’t keep up!

Anyway, here is an amusing panorama that I grabbed the other day. If you ever get tired of looking out my front door, I’m going to be out of the journaling game:

Spooky, eh?

Yesterday out on Astrolabe Bay,  the Finisterre Mountains  looked like big piles of coal in the distance:I took KP Perkins, a Yank who has been working for the British Volunteer Services Organisation, out for her first SCUBA dive. She has just finished her Open Water Course. Other than teensy-weensy problems with her buoyancy control, which everybody  experiences at first, she did herself proud and had a good time. We did a second dive to celebrate:

Working with new divers is one of my favourite things.

Back to the scenery one more time. Here is a sunrise scene that taxed my Photoshop skills. As it happens, it was worth the effort:

Now, as I can see that I’m never going to catch up today and I’m hungry, I’ll close with something that seems to be a favorite among my readers – the forever humble and humorous Hermit Crab, some species of Dardanus:

Hopefully, I’ll finish catching up tomorrow.

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Christmas Presents on a Coral Reef

Posted in Under the Sea on December 25th, 2009 by MadDog
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Well, it’s Christmas Day here. Most of the world will not catch up with us for a few hours. In the spirit of the season, I’ve prepared a modest, hastily constructed Christmas present for you. I honestly had something much more elaborate planned, but we all know how plans go this time of year. Just ask all of the people who are lined up for a plane or train. I’m quite happy to be “Home for Christmas” without moving a muscle.

So, to my readers, who have given me so much joy since I started Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  only a little more than two years ago, here is my humble gift to you:

You can no longer say that nobody has ever given you a Spirobranchus giganteus  for Christmas.

And, since I have exactly one Christmas Tree Worm image left, I am going to give it to you for Boxing Day:Now, let’s get on with the party.

Here is a cute little “puppy dog” Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  being desperately persued by a Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus)  looking for some fast food:The little cleaner wrasse is in its juvenile phase. It will be much less dramatic as an adult. They swim with a curious curling motion to advertise their services. It always reminds me of a fish dancing to Chubby Checkers singing “Come on Baby. Let’s Do the Twist.”

This Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus)   is a very handsome fish, indeed. They are easily spooked, so you have to sneak up on them while holding your breath:After a minute or so, just as you are dying for good, deep breath, you might get a chance for a shot. I only managed one exposure of this fish. Fortunately, everything worked perfectly. It’s a good specimen shot.

Being right in the middle of nudibranch heaven, it’s not surprising that I run across cute little eye candies such as this on a regular basis.It has the less-than-endearing name of Phyllidiella pustulosa.  Just play with that one for a while. You’ll find it just as revolting as I do.

Finally, as I run out of words and images, I leave you with one of my trusted and favoured themes:Yes, that’s right. Once again I give you Water Drops. I just can’ t stop taking pictures of them.

I am so easily amused. It comes of having a simple mind.

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