Hermit Crab Lovefest

Posted in Under the Sea on January 24th, 2010 by MadDog
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From Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (along with the astonishingly stupid “1 Tip of Flat Belly” ad which is one reason why I will try as long as possible to aviod Google Ads on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

her·mit \ˈhər-mət\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English heremite, eremite,  from Anglo-French, from Late Latin eremita,  from Late Greek erēmitēs,  from Greek, adjective, living in the desert, from erēmia  desert, from erēmos  desolate
Date: 12th century

1 a : one that retires from society and lives in solitude especially for religious reasons : recluse b obsolete  : beadsman
2 : a spiced molasses cookie

her·mit·ism \ˈhər-mə-ˌti-zəm\ noun

There’s nothing there that would lead one to believe that Hermit Crabs might be party animals. Nevertheless, have a look at this:

Now, I don’t know what that looks like to you, but to me is seems that three Hermit Crabs (Calcinus minutus)  are getting down to business. However, we mustn’t overlook the possibility that they are “just friends”.

I’m not even going to mention the molasses cookies. I try to keep this a family-friendly site.

This is another Hermit Crab (Dardanus sp.)  who seems to be minding his own business, though he is clearly attempting to appear as ferocious as possible:This little hermit has a pronounced sense of style. Its taste in architecture is impeccable. Its house looks as if it could have been inspired by Frank Loyd Wright. I would not be surprised to find it as the subject of an Ukiyo-e  woodblock print. This ties in nicely to Wright, since he was, aside from being my favourite architect of all time, a dealer in Japanese art.

That’s right, I’m lost in my own head again. Wait until I get my Zippo fired up so I can find my way out of here.

Okay, I’m back now. It’s odd that I don’t remember seeing these beautiful Orange Starfish (Echinaster luzonicus)  before a few days ago:

On Saturday, at the Eel Garden, I saw four of them, including this more rare six-legged individual who seems to have misplaced, or offered up for dinner, two of its legs.

This commoner five legged star person has managed to hold on to all but one leg:Never mind, They will grow back. In fact, if the leg is spat out by the hungry fish which decides it doesn’t like the taste, a whole new starfish will grow from the severed leg.

Well, let us leave the invertebrates to their own devices.

Many anemonefish display the disconcerting habit of staring you right in the eyes. Isn’t this supposed to me the universal sign of challenge or aggression. Here this Orange Finned Anemonefish (Amphiprion chrysopterus) seems to be asking the age-old questions, “Hey! Who you lookin’ at? You lookin’ at me? You want trouble, mate? I got yer trouble!” I like the little nondescript damselfish in the background who is hurrying to flee the scene of impending carnage:As some prefer to be outwardly agressive, other, wiser critters such as this Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  spurn the macho tactics and find cover from which to taunt:Above, Nemo, the fish every little kid wants to grow up to be, sasses me from the relative safety of his anemone. “Nyaa na na na na naaaa . . . this is deadly poison . . . you can’t touch me.” Little does Nemo know that this species of anemone will simply feel ilke silk on my fingers and I’ll feel nothing but a slightly creepy chill up my spine.

Never mind. I wouldn’t think of hurting Nemo.

I’d rather take on Chuck Norris with one hand tied behind my back. HUUURRRAAAAA!

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As I See the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on January 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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After yesterday’s marathon post concerning the dumbing-down of science I seem to be at a temporary loss for words. Those who tire of my bombast but enjoy the pretty pictures will sigh in relief. I’m also running three days behind, so I’m using my Time Machine to fake it, as usual. My aparent sloth is not as it seems. I wanted to do a post on Saturday. Unfortunatley, TELIKOM’s so-called “repairs” of my telephone line lasted less than a week, so I never made it online and did not have time to go to the office. Then, on Sunday, my intent was once again to catch up. Unfortunately, our car wouldn’t start . . . yet another headache. Are you tired of my whining. Okay, I don’t blame you. I’ll proceed briefly.

As regular readers will know, I like showing you what I see as nearly as possible the way that I see it. Sometimes “BLUE” is the only way to describe it:The above is a view of the bottom of Magic Passage from about half-way down the slope at about 15 metres on a good visibility day.

Down at the bottom, we were suddenly surrounded by a school of curious Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus):
These characters actually seem to enjoy swimming around divers. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. They commonly swim within a metre of us, their big eyes rolling around like Al Jolson singing Mammy.

These are not particularly good pictures, but that’s okay for today. Not every shot I get swells my head. Some are simply reflections of my experiences that recall moments of pleasure. Here Anita plays with a little mob of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):The cheeky little devils like to nip fingers. I prefer to get my nips bare-handed, but gloves are safer for the diver and for the fish. Who knows what nasty germs lurk on our skin which we may never notice, but would be deadly so some innocent creature just looking for a good time.

You’ve seen many Hawkfish here. However, we don’t always see them in profile, posing as if for a presidential protrait. Here a little Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitchthys falco)  is caught from above:He is not unaware. You can clearly see that he has one eye cranked up to keep me in view.

You’ve also seen the Bluestreak Goby (Valenciennea strigata)  here before.I like this shot because it’s realistic – warts and all. You can see sticks, leaves and other detrius strewn about. Reefs are not neat places, especially close to a river outlet.

This shot also has a nice, natural feel. I assure you , this is exactly what I saw:At The Eel Garden, near Pig Island,  there is a huge anmemone patch full of these Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion malanopus).  The depth is only about four or five metres there, so snorkelers can see this scene with ease.

Back tomorrow with more fish while I catch up with myself. I hope my car is fixed today. Otherwise, I may swim to work tomorrow.

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AAAS Dumbs Down Science

Posted in Humor on January 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m much the same as Bill Gates in one respect. Bill had little formal training to facilitate his transformation from pimply-faced geek to gozillionaire geek. I have had little formal training in my transition from uneducated trailer-trash lout to the internationally recognized know-it-all that I am today. Yet, we both somehow get by.

I owe much of my success as a bore to my lifelong pathological obsession with reading science journals. I succumbed to this disease before the age of ten, when I began pilfering copies of Scientific American  from local newsstands. After my first introduction to law enforcement, I got a paper route and subscribed. While other illiterate preteens were looking at the pictures in comic books, I was looking at much more interesting pictures in my carefully preserved and continuously expanding library of science journals. At that point my comprehension level was approximately -97%.

Now that you have sufficient background information, I shall proceed with my tirade.

As I have previously bragged about, I am a card-carrying PROFESSIONAL  member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. How this came about, I have no idea. I suspect that the organization conducted a random search for suckers and my name popped up. I received my membership card, which I have proudly displayed to hundreds of perfect strangers and a one year subscription to Science,  the mouthpiece of the organization.

The gotcha, of course, came at subscription renewal time. I was torn between (A) forking out about Two Hundred U.S. Bucks to renew the subscription or (B) carrying around a membership card that was clearly expired, exposing me as an EX  Professional Scientist. I considered carefully modifying the expiration date on the card, but I’m far too ethical to do anything so shady . . . mmmm. Eunie, finally tiring of my whining, said, “Write the cheque and shut up!” I sighed a sigh of pure love. I like the rough stuff.

Anyway, I continued to wade through Scientific American,  for which my comprehension level was approaching 93% (more about that later) and added Science  each week, beginning at a CL (I’m getting tired of typing) of about -17%.

However, I’ve noticed lately that my CL has been rising exponentially. I attribute this not to any elevation of my brain power, since this is clearly not the case, as I’m reminded daily by my friends. I lay the blame directly on the publishers of science journals. I’m not a conspiracy geek, but I am  beginning to wonder . . .

As a case-in-point, I present the cover of Science for 27 November 2009:*

Aside from the fact that I do not believe that it’s seemly to portray living cells as if they were Simpson characters (a little compass?  come on!), the shameless use of Alfred E. Newman’s likeness on the cover is an obvious ploy to capture the Budweiser-swilling teenage crowd.

Not wishing to portray Science  as the originator of this massive dumbing-down of science, I should mention that Scientific American  was, indeed, the perpetrator, commencing with it’s infamous “Toy Boat” issue of August 1987:

To illustrate my premise I present these atrocities from that very issue.

Here we see, in this astonishingly cheesy Nikon ad, Albert Einstein equated to The Three Stooges:

This exposes the shameless money-grubbing attitude of the rag. But, wait! There’s more.

A few pages later we’re confronted by the ineptitude of Scientific American’s copy editors:

Is this a simple failure to comprehend the principles of editing? At the time, I heard an alternate theory bandied about. Some claimed, quite reasonably I believe, that this was a coded message from the notoriously leftist scientific community (all college graduates) to their Commie brethren cowardly hiding behind the Iron Curtain and lending succor to the nefarious masters of the Axis of Evil. Decoded by IBM’s Blue Canker Sore, the most powerful computer of the time, it reads (paraphrasing), “Get out now or you’ll soon be sweeping floors for a living.”

Okay, I have flogged Scientific American  enough, already.

Let’s get back to flogging Science.  Here is example of the silly pandering that’s dragging science down to the least common denominator and artificially inflating my CL:

Science’s increasing use of video game screenshots is a foolish attempt to simplify complex concepts to the level that any fool with a Nintendo can understand them. This goes against the entire history of science, which clearly discloses a philosophy that espouses the principle that nobody  who does not receive massive grants should be allowed to understand anything.

As further evidence, I present a mystifying illustration which had nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the article:

I call this the “Distraction Ploy”. It is clearly designed to distract the reader from the opaque complexity of the arguments in the text so that the author can pretend that he has actually explained something. “Hey, what do you want me to do? Draw Pictures?”, the author can claim.

Speaking of drawing pictures, here is a suitably illustrative example of what I’m talking about. Has anybody yet figured out what I’m talking about? No? Good, that’s my point exactly:

Now, instead of pondering imponderable mathematical equations which I comprehended not in the least, I’m forced, because of the fancy chart, to spend hours to achieve the same result – total bafflement. I prefer to arrive at total bafflement by the more elegant and traditional method of indecipherable equations with lots of curly lines mashed up with sharp angles and tiny little numbers.

Another area of concern is the use of famous personalities to try to convince us that science is “easy”:

Here, in this image, Mister Bean is preparing to inject a radioactive substance into the heart of a doubtlessly uninformed patient. The implied message is, “If Mister Bean can do cutting edge medical science, any boob can do it.” This goes against every cherished principle of science. Science is supposed to be hard,  that’s why they call it science. Duh! Haven’t you ever heard of Rocket Scientists? It’s all about job security. The Americans and Russians were falling all over themselves to hire the previously-evil Nazi scientists after the second humiliating surrender of Germany. Why? (one might ask) Duh! (I say again) Because science is hard!

Patience, I am nearly finished.

As a final, and I might add, convicting bit of evidence, here is a complex graphic that claims to explain the previously mysterious principles of “up”, “down”, “right” and “left”:

It also, once and for all, scientifically establishes the location of the human armpit. Hey, man. You don’t have to draw me pictures!

Give me an equation!

* There may be individuals who are so humourless that they fail to recognize the forgoing as a fun-loving jab at a prestigious organization. If you are one of those individuals and you are feeling litigious, I refer you to George Carlin’s lawyer.

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Green Snake Terror – Morelia viridis

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts on January 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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I have some serious business to discuss this morning, but first I want to convey to you this light-hearted missive from reader John Burke of Queensland:

I have been reading your journals for some time and enjoy them.  I spent 12 months in Lae in 1965 then 5 years in Mt. Hagen.  My home is now in Burpengary, Queensland, Australia.  Our local General Practitioner [doctor – ed.]  asked me one day if I had any pictures of spiders in PNG.  I saved copies of the ones you placed in your articles and gave them to him. Looking at the first Pic the Doctor reeled in horror.  It turned out that the man had a Phobia and was trying to come to terms with it.  All the photos of spiders I have given to him.  It think it has helped him.

Sincerely, John Burke.

Thanks, John, for that sweet bit of country humour. My only question is, who is Gary and why is he burpin’? But, seriously folks, it is nice to see that my daily toils might ultimately serve some more noble purpose than providing yet another tactic to while away a few more minutes of a tedious day at the office.

Now, down to the business at hand.

The Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis)  is one little sweetie of a snake. My old buddy at Nob Nob Mountain, Tag Tap, called me to tell me that he had a green snake for me. We’ve enjoyed many bush walks together and he shares my love for all of nature’s creatures. I asked him to send it down to Madang for me, since I’m tied up all week in our Annual General Meeting and could not get up there to take photos of it.

Here is the little beauty getting comfortable on my hand:Every experience that I have had with this species has been highly pleasant. If it has been in the shade, it will feel cool to the touch and will be very sluggish and placid. As it warms up in the sun it becomes a little more active and may attempt to escape. It soon gets comfortable with being handled. Its skin is very smooth and soft, feeling much like human skin.

Here is another shot of me holding the snake:It looks as if I’m strangling it, but my hold is very loose. The snake, however, will surprise you if it gets snugly wrapped around a finger or wrist. It can squeeze very hard. It got a single coil around one of my fingers and it constricted so tightly that my finger began to turn blue. I had to get someone to help me to gently unwrap it.

Here I am looking more ridiculous than usual:

My friend Carol Dover calls the outfit my “little gay-boy shorts”. This shot reminds me of the character Lt. Dangle from Reno 911.  Hey, they’re comfortable and breezy. I’m happy and firmly fixed in my gender and don’t mind looking silly. I’ve made a career of it. I do admit that my legs look too skinny, but that ‘s the camera angle.

But, this about the snake, not me. Here’s my old friend and co-worker Steve wearing a Green Tree Pyton and firmly grippnig the handle of a pint of Guinness:

No, I lie. It’s coffee. I can tell because there is no delicious creamy head on it. Besides, I’ve never known Steve to imbibe.

I can’t wrap this up without showing you a close-up of the head of this beautiful creature:

It looks ferocious, but I’ve never, as many times as I’ve handled this species, seen the slightest inclination to bite. Your mileage may vary.

I had considered taking this voracious rat eater home and letting it loose in my garden, where it’s services would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, given the (understandable) paranoia among nearly all Papua New Guineans concerning all snakes I was worried that it would not survive its first encounter with a human. That’s not even considering the reaction of our dog, Sheba. So, being mindful of the snake’s welfare, we packed it back up and sent it back up to Nob Nob with a request that Tag Tap release it again to it’s natural home.

I’ll wrap this up by announcing that my sweet Eunie, my wife and best friend for over 45 years, was yesterday elected Director of The Pioneer Bible Translators Association of Papua New Guinea, Incorporated. Her previous position was Director of Support Services, meaning that she was my boss. She’s now the Big Cheese, the Head Honcho, The Boss, the Capo di tutti capi.

My situation hasn’t changed.

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Catching Up With the Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on January 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll begin the day’s foolishness with a puzzle fish. By browsing my big fish book and the web, I can usually identify nearly everything that I photograph. Sometimes it comes down to whether I have the time to search diligently. I am now overcome by hopeless despair, because I cannot identify this fish:I know that it is a Shrimpgoby, but I haven’t been able to find an exact match. There are a few wanna-be candidates, but with each there is some feature that does not match. I’m very happy with the image, as it is the first time that I have spotted this species. However, I’m frustrated that I can’t identify it.

You’ve seen the Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  here many times. I often present it as a “find the fish” puzzle. It is superbly camouflaged:I captured the image of this one because of its stubbornness in the face of danger. They are usually quick to scoot away if you approach too closely. This one, however, was determined to occupy its favourite perch, even though I was fooling around with the anchor chain at the end of the dive and nearly dropped it right on its tail.

The Sandperches and Lizardfishes share many commonalities. You can easily see how a beginner might confuse this Latticed Sandperch [female] (Parapercis clathrata) with a Lizardfish:If you want to see a male of this species, you can find one here.  It looks pretty much like the female, except that it has a black spot on it’s head and a big orange lower lip making him look a bit like Rachel Uchitel.

Here’s an image with which I am very happy, It nearly (I said nearly ) makes up for the wretchedness demonstrated by my inability to find that cursed Shrimpgoby. This is a beautiful Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus):Wrasses, in general, go through dramatic changes of appearance as they progress through life. There is usually a Juvenile Phase (JP), an Initial Phase (IP – sometimes called the Intermediate Phase) and a Terminal Phase (TP). This individual is in the Initial Phase. That means that it is reproductively mature, but has not yet assumed the body form of a fully mature adult. For instance, its hump head will become much more pronounced as it ages.

The Humphead Wrasse is sometimes called the Māori wrasse, Napoleon wrasse or Napoleonfish. Japanese divers invariably call it the Naporean Fis.  I should also mention that this is a huge  fish, compared to the specimens which you usually see here. I guess that this individual is about 1.5 metres long and weighs a couple of hundred kilos. In some areas they have become locally extinct, because they have the unfortunate attribute of being extremely  tasty.

Since I have some nudibranch lovers out there I’ll throw in this (Fryeria menindie):I fear my ID here may be a little shaky. If anybody cares to venture another guess, I’ll surrender without a struggle.

Finally, let’s retreat to a far corner of the saloon for a little giggle. Deep in the bowels of The Coral Queen,  we found the sink where the beleaguered sailors could refresh themselves.The light was so poor here that I had to resort to monochrome to get a usable image.

Now you have it. Everything and  the bathroom sink.

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A Few Madang Birds

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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I haven’t shot any birds for quite a while. That’s a shame, because most of them are delicious. There are exceptions, such as the famous Pitohui, which are poisonous and therefore not likely to end up on my table. Okay, the truth is that these days I shoot birds exclusively with a camera, so my appetite for avians must be satisfied by the humble chicken.

So, some while ago I decided to shoot every interesting bird that I saw in a single day. My weapon of choice was my Olympus SP-590UZ superzoom which protrudes its lens to a ridiculous 26x optical magnification. It’s downright sinister and not a little indecent. Admittedly, this extreme zoom is far less sharp than a US$5,000 dedicated lens which weighs approximately as much as a Volkswagen. However, it produces usable snapshots and has a special “Bird Watching” mode that sets you up for shots like these with a simple push of a single button.

I’ll start with the worst of the shots. This is a young European Black Kite (Milvus migrans) sitting at the top of a tall tree along Modilon Road watching traffic:You can clearly see the faults of the tiny superzoom. I had to mercilessly chop out noise, losing much detail in the process. The colours are less than thrilling.  The original exposure was also not very sharp due to optical deficiencies in the lens. However, let’s look at the upside. I took this shot from nearly 100 metres. I had to crop it very little – you’re seeing about 80% of the original frame. The sky was dead white because of the overcast, so the lighting conditions were about as bad as they get. I had to fake a blue sky. Still, it’s not bad for hundred metre hand-held shot from a camera that sells for less than US$500!

Over at the Lily Pond on Modilon Road I found some very nice water birds tip-toeing around on the huge lily pads. Here is what I think is a Yellow Billed Egret (Ardea intermedia): There are supposed to be crocodiles in this pond. In fact, up until a few years ago, I can guarantee that there were crocs here. Brian Lusmore tells a story of a night when he was returning home to the Teacher’s College and had to stop his car next to the lily pond to move a log that someone had placed across the road. This is a very common occurrence in PNG. We simply get used to it. You do, however watch out to see if there are any guys with guns hiding in the bush, as this is a common ambush techniques. Anyway, getting back to Brian’s story, he was taken aback when the log moved as he approached it. It seems (you’re way ahead of me here) that the log was a rather large, scary crocodile warming itself on the tarmac.

Here’s another shot of the egret:I see these all the time. It’s silly that I’ve never bothered to shoot them.

Sharing the pond with the egrets were several Spotted Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna guttata):I’m fairly sure of the identification. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Fish are my game.

Here are some younger individuals:Papua New Guinea is a bird watcher’s hell. Out in the bush it is very frustrating to engage in the Sport of Eccentrics. You can hear them all around you squawking, squeeking, singing, ringing like bells and producing a continuous cacophony that makes it impossible to sleep at night. However, because of the density of the foliage, you can hardly ever see them.

That’s why I do my birdwatching in town.

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Starfish Day for Julie

Posted in Under the Sea on January 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Julie, a Facebook Friend, tells me that she really digs starfish. Because I can use all the friends I can get and Julie never scolds me for attempting a humorous comment on her status changes, I think that her polite hint deserves an appropriate response.

Since I do, despite my geeky aura, appreciate the sentimentality evoked by images of starfish, I’ll set the stage with this mushy shot:

I can hear the murmurings of “Awwwwww . . .” from here. I have no idea who the people were. They simply happened to be standing on the rock while I composed the image. It was a very lucky break.

The truth is, I nearly overstayed my prime time. During an attempt to catch the sailboat out on Astrolabe Bay,  I was nearly inundated by a wave crashing on the rocks:Now that I’ve set the mood in my inimical way, we shall proceed to tickle Julie’s fancy with some yummy starfish.

You know, I’ve seen  this shape before.  There is a logo somewhere, on a product or representing some organization, that is a cartoonish figure of a starfish (two eyes, a mouth, etc.) with the top of the star a little crooked, as if it were wearing a hat which is a bit askew. This Fromia milleporella  reminds me of that:Please keep in mind that this is Annual General Meeting week and I’m sitting here trying to stay interested and not fall asleep. My mind wanders in particularly unusual ways. I keep feeling fluid draining from my sinus cavities. It’s seawater. My wife, Eunie, tells me when to raise my hand to vote on a motion. As you can imagine. I’m a little more distracted than usual.

But wait! Let’s get back to Julie’s starfish. This is one that you’ve seen here many times, the lovely Choriaster granulatus:You may be tiring of seeing this critter, but I’m nowhere near finished taking pictures of it.

Here’s is another which you have seen here many times:I’m sure that everyone out there has seen images of the Mimic Octopus which is able to contort and recolour its body in marvelous ways to appear to be any of several non-octopus critters. However, have you ever seen a Linckia laevigata  mimic a snake? As of now, you have.

It may surprise some that this lump is a starfish:Called a New Guinea Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae),  it appears more like a bumpy, spiky football. In fact, it is supremely tempting to pick it up and attempt to kick it back and forth between divers using the floppy fins.

Of course, we never actually do  that.

Bon appétit,  Juli.

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