A Little Nature Walk at Nob Nob

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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Two steps forward, one back. Repeat. Life has somehow developed this annoying pattern. I think it started when I was born. By the way, exactly why was I born? Anybody? Anybody at all? What, no ideas? Well, me neither, but since I’m still here taking up space, I may as well keep on keeping on and see if anything interesting pops up.

Despite my depressed self esteem to the contrary, I still seem to be useful. That’s something of which I need to remind myself nearly daily. Hey, I go to work (nearly) every day, (occasionally) on time, and I (usually) stay until I feel like there’s nothing more I can start on or have a reasonable chance to finish. I get (most) things done (eventually). (Nearly) all of the computer gear works and (mostly) the operation is (a little) more reliable and controllable than it was two (or several) years ago. I (pretty much) do what I am told to do, (more or less) without grumbling, and I (try to) take on as much as I feel that I can without (completely) botching up the work. The feeling of still being (somewhat) useful is something I need very much. All in all, I’d give myself average marks for utility.

I’m more than a little surprised by how many things I have accomplished without having a clue as to what I was doing. The list is tedious, but full of tasks which had to be taken on. I have had a lot of help and good advice along the way. I seem to be checking items off faster than the list is growing, so that gives me some sense of progress. The stunning thing about this whole process is how I managed to get through so many things without creating yet more chaos by way of my abysmal ignorance. I can count a few minor miracles among the lot and more than a few near disasters. It’s a mixed bag.

I’ll give you an example of dumb thinking – I thought about it and I took the dumb choice. I recently sold Eunie’s 1973 Spitfire 1500 to my cousin. God bless her and her husband for relieving me of it. One crucial operation was to get the title to the car in her hands so that they can get licence plates for it. How the title to a car in Indiana ended up in Madang is another story.

Anyway, I prepared all of the necessary paperwork to facilitate the transaction, including some tricky stuff because we don’t have anything called a Notary Public (a term which I have never understood). Instead, we have what is called a Commissioner for Oaths. This person is charged with confirming your identity when you sign a document – just what I needed. But, guess what? The place where the Notary Public signs and stamps the document looks nothing like the place where a Commissioner for Oaths performs the same function.

So, this required a few hours of scanning things into the computer, fiddling with the format and fervently praying that the officials at the licence branch would cut me some slack. They can be notoriously picky or wonderfully compassionate, depending on the weather.

After doctoring the documents, I placed everything in a brown envelope and scratched my head. I could choose to send it by DHL at an exorbitant cost, about US$50. It doesn’t pay to use the fastest (one day) service, because it’s going to take a couple of weeks anyway. So, I had a choice. Blow fifty bucks on DHL or trust the PNG Postal Service to get it there by Registered Air Mail at one tenth the cost. What do you think I did? Right, my Frugal Plan kicked in and I hustled over to the post office holding my fingers crossed.

BIG MISTAKE! My cousin waited and waited and waited. I got more and more frantic, something which I have been practising and getting very good at. After a futile attempt to trace the package, my cousin told me that the only information available was that it was “awaiting dispatch” from Port Moresby. That wasn’t helpful at all. Inquiries by me at the post office on this end at first drew a blank also. I was told quite bluntly that I couldn’t even begin a trace until at least one month had passed.

Well, as it turns out, the item does not appear to be lost, but now is finally on its way to Indiana. What happened? A bomb! Well, not exactly a bomb, but the mention of a bomb. It appears that somebody somewhere got all excited about a real or imagined (not clear which) bomb which may or may not have been sent or not sent through the postal service either to some place in North America or Germany or possibly Australia. Really that’s more information than we normally expect to extract from the postal authorities. All of the mail to North America, and who knows where else, was held hostage at the Port Moresby post office and not released until the second day of December, just in time to be hopelessly retarded by the Christmas clogging. We counted this as good news, which gives you a general idea of our normal expectations of life in Paradise. I may possibly have learned a lesson. When frugality conflicts with wisdom, give wisdom a break or at least a nod.

Today the sale of the house in Brownsburg is supposed to close. That will be a significant milestone for me. Do you think I’m sitting on pins and needles? Yeah, you’re right.

And, so it goes.

I see that I’ve digressed severely from the nature walk. In fact, I haven’t even started. So, on with the show.

This is some kind of bug on a hibiscus blossom. Yeah, I know it’s not a true bug. I guess it is katydid; I don’t know which and I can’t say that it’s very important to me. I’m a fish guy. How do they manage, being so spindly?

I couldn’t tell if it was eating the naughty bits of the flower or if something else ravaged them.

This is an interesting plant which is native to the hot places in the Americas. Somebody dragged a few of them here and planted them. We call it diwai pen  in Tok Pisin.  The translation is the “paint plant”. Here is a blossom and some of the fruit:

For those who care, the taxonomic name it Bixa orellana.

The name “paint plant” derives from the reddish-orange goop that is found inside the fruit. I was going to get a picture of it, but these did not seem to have any:

The substance is used to decorate bodies for celebrations. These things are very difficult to photograph. Digital cameras seem to have problems capturing detail in “all the same colour” areas. I had to fiddle with this image quite a bit to make it usable. It is red, red, red.

Shooting a praying mantis is an easy task. They don’t generally move very fast. It’s common to find them in the shrubbery, but this one has perched itself on an iron post. That made me happy enough, because it simplified my job. Just in case you’re feeling geeky I’ll mention that I used a very small aperture for this shot so that I could get the maximum depth of field. I wanted the structure of the roof on the other side of the post to be discernible:

It is a magnificent beast.

This shot is better:

That’s creepy enough for me.

This is a non-amusing shot of a staghorn fern. They get quite large. This one was about as big around as a fair sized coffee table. It appears as if someone lopped off a leaf at some point. I don’t know what all that stuff is which looks like lettuce; I’ve not seen that before on a staghorn:

As I said, it is not a very interesting picture.

So, what to do when a picture flops? Turn it into art!

That’s much better. I’ll call it Alien Vegetation.

I’m holding my breath for the closing of the house tomorrow. I may soon be free at last!

I just got an email from my friend Steve telling me that the house will be burned to the ground on the 8th of January by the volunteer fire department. I’m trying to decide how I feel about that. At least it won’t be my  house that’s burning.

This will be my last post for 2010. I will not be sorry to see this year dissolve into history. If hard pressed, I can remember positives, but they are nearly submerged in a sea of grief and loneliness. What 2011 will be like is largely up to me. Many things are beyond my control; I’m not immune to the vagaries of life. However, I can adjust my attitude.

That is one thing which I can  fix. The rest is a box of chocolates.

UPDATE: Reader Jeff Allen passed along the taxonomic name of the fern. It is a bit curious – Platycerium superbum.  Be careful how you pronounce it.

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Ali’s Roos – Guest Shooter Alison Raynor

Posted in Guest Shots on December 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sometimes an image has nothing at all to do with photography and everything to do with the subject. A wonderful example of this is the stack of shots which I received a few days ago from my friend Alison Raynor of Queensland, Australia. You’ll find Ali here as the guest shooter in several posts. Ali lives in a magical place and has what seems to me to be a magical life. I think that these images, taken at long range from her veranda, support my somewhat romanticised vision of her habitat. I’ll let Ali explain:

I know that there is no quality to these photos at all, but the subject matter and sharing these incredible moments with you is what is important. Taken from the veranda on max zoom – they were not good and so I played with them in my Mac Photoshop . These juvenile male roos were playing at being the “big boys”. They would fight to the death in a real battle. The big buck at the right of this picture is the boss man, big daddy, and he is overseeing the young ones. The 3rd photo cracks me up. I would love someone to write a caption. Number 5, standing on their tails to do battle, you don’t often see it let alone get the privilege of wrapping your shutter around it. Hope you like them Jan. They are really only for you to look at and enjoy.

Well, I’m certainly not going to keep these to myself. Within the constraints of the image quality of consumer grade “super-zoom” cameras, these are beautiful shots. The extra-long zooms lenses on some cameras loose a great deal of quality when stretched to their limits. They yield usable, but not sparkling images. I’m happy to live with this, considering that an equivalent 600-800 mm zoom lens mounted on a high range digital SLR camera would set me back a significant portion of my yearly income. I would have to give up eating.

Ali did a good job of cleaning up the images. The only thing that I did was to run a noise filter and then balance them so that they are more or less the same tone. Colour noise and fringing are real problems with these super-zoom images, so I followed Ali’s lead and reduced them all to near monochrome. The roos are the story, not the photography.

Here’s “big daddy” supervising a sparring match between a couple of youngsters:

And this is the classic “boxing kangaroo” pose:

The boxing kangaroo was featured on the flag of the Australian entry into the Ameraca’s Cup race in 1983. I remember driving through the Ramu Valley in that year, listening to the race on the radio and cheering Australia on. It’s also used on the flag of the Australian Army soldiers clearing mines in Afghanistan.

This is the one for which Ali would like a caption. Care to leave one in a comment?

That shot really captures a moment.

Here’s another one worthy of a caption:

I don’t even know what to say about this one:

How can they do that?

Finally, when they tire of the game, they hop away.

I remember Eunie telling the story to anyone who asked us how we managed to convince our eleven year old son, Hans, to go peacefully off to Papua New Guinea. Hans had only one request. He said that we could go if we promised him that he could go to Australia and see kangaroos in the wild. His favourite childhood toy was a fuzzy kangaroo.

We kept that promise.

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Get High on Dynamic Range – HDR

Posted in Photography Tricks on December 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ve purposefully laid low during the Christmas holiday. I believe that this has been good for me. I know that some of my friends are concerned that I’m becoming a hermit, but that is not the case. In the last few months I’ve attempted to socialise normally, sometimes at the expense of my well being. Living in an atmosphere which relentlessly reminds me of my loss has not been easy. Normal social gatherings have been difficult.

Anyone who has suffered a loss of a spouse knows exactly what I’m talking about. Loneliness is intensified by being with loved ones who shared the life experience of knowing the person who once occupied the empty chair. One can feel very much alone even when surrounded by friends. At some point a decision must be made whether to continue to suffer that pain or to retreat for a while to allow strength to recover.

After the holidays I will begin to behave normally again. The time of relative solitude has been good for me. It’s allowed me to gather my wits and gain a fresh perspective. I’ll soon be starting a new year. Life will not be rosy. I don’t expect that. There could still be major setbacks. However, I have accomplished much. I’ve taken control of many aspects of my life with which I was formerly out of touch. I’ve renewed my faith and strengthened it. My plan for 2011 is to recover as much as possible of my life here in Madang and shape it into something which will allow me to be a full person again. There is much which I have left behind and more yet will have to be considered as to its usefulness to me in the future. However, I can see that my future, though seen through a glass darkly, has promise. It is a different promise from any which I formerly imagined. But, it is not dark of necessity. I do  have within my power, trusting in my faith, that I can make it bright if I take the right path.

Through a dear friend I got an offer of a small photographic shoot for Coatwatcher’s Hotel here in Madang. I was happy for the work, though it was not an easy job. As I was working on the images I experienced a sudden geek attack and decided to devote a post to the technique involved. Sudden geek attacks cannot be ignored.

Here in this image you can see the problem. This is a shot of the hotel dining room looking out over Astrolabe Bay:

As you will note, it’s not very exciting or aesthetically appealing. In fact, it’s downright ugly. What’s the problem? Well, the problem is that a lot of light is in the wrong places. This is a typical back-lit image. The camera cannot cope with the huge dynamic range of light levels varying from very bright to very dim. Our eyes adjust constantly to allow us to take in this range of brightness levels. Viewing this scene, you would be perfectly able to see all of the dark areas. As your eyes rise to the bright light outside, your eyes will compensate automatically. No camera can do this.

So, how can a photographer without complex and expensive lighting equipment take a decent photograph of this scene? A fantastic trick became available to photographers with the dawn of the digital age of cameras and powerful computer processors which can do the maths. It’s called High Dynamic Range Photography. In theory, it’s pretty simple. Anybody with a decent camera and a computer can do it. I wrote a post on HDR a couple of years ago.

The first image was what one might call a “normal” photograph. I simply set my Canon G11 on an automatic setting and took the shot. The result is miserable. However, what if we could take several shots, adjusting the camera for each level of brightness, and combine the best exposed portion of each frame into one image? That is exactly what HDR photography is all about.

I first set my camera to get a well correctly exposed image of the outside area including the sky and water of Astrolabe Bay. It’s even worse. The inside is completely black:

Next, I took another exposure with the camera set to capture the dark levels inside the dining room:

That’s just as bad, except that you can now see the areas of the image which were nearly black. However, the outside area is completely washed out. I had my camera mounted on a tripod for these three shots. It’s important that the camera does not change angle or distance to the subject. The software needs details of the images to remain in the same position on the frames so that it can match the images up perfectly before it begins the task of selecting the best exposed areas of each image to combing in the final HDR shot.

Then, using the Merge to HDR image of Photoshop, I combined the three images to produce this one:

This is a perfectly useable image for the calendar which the client wanted to produce. I’ll now collect my pay.

It is a characteristic of HDR photography that most images appear a little strange to our eyes. We are not used to seeing such a compression of dynamic range. It really looks more like a painting than a photograph. However, for the client’s purpose, it was the only way to get the shot.

Just for fun, I set up my tripod in my bedroom and took three shots of my little corner office. This is the underexposed shot:

I won’t bore you with the overexposed shot or the auto setting shot. That would be tedious.

This is the combination of the three images:Certainly, I could have used flash to capture the same image, but that would give the shot that flashy, unreal effect which I don’t like. The colour tones are rather sickly, because of the colour of the cloth on my curtains. I didn’t bother to correct it. I wanted it to look exactly the way my eyes see it. I’m going to change to white curtains!

One does not absolutely have to use a tripod, given reasonably steady hands and firmly planted feet. I took a stroll up at Nob Nob mountain the other day with a friend. I’ll have some nice nature shots from that visit in the next few days. They sky was cloudy and the light was miserable, not what you want for landscape photography. I shot two images. This one is correctly exposed for the dark foreground vegetation:

This one is exposed for the sky:

Even with only two exposures Photoshop did a credible job of producing a useable image:

It’s not going to win any contests, but it’s a nice picture. You might note some funny colour fringes around one of the clouds at the upper right. It’s an artefact of the merging process. I didn’t bother to correct it, because it’s a good example of some of the problems which can crop up out of the blue, so to speak.

If you would like to see more examples of HDR photography, try here and here. Some of these I like and some I very much do not  like. Certainly, HDR has a place as an artistic tool. However, if taken to extreme, it gets tiresome very quickly. So many shots look like cheap posters.

Okay, now I’m going to make some cheesy, cheap poster shots. I can hardly wait.

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Living Frugally for Fun and Profit

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. I’ve spent a lot of this morning answering messages sent to me from friends, many of whom I have never met, wishing me all the best and congratulating me on my longevity. The former sentiment is welcome and comforting. The latter, well, it seems something that happened to me gradually and is only now becoming troublesome. I have enough faith and understanding of human nature to know that I’m wintering now. That is the season that is upon me. Spring will come, sooner or later, and someday I’ll start a new life that is beyond my imagination. I’ve learned patience, especially in the last half of my life. Living in Papua New Guinea is an experience that fosters patience in the wise. My spring will come.

Since this is the saddest birthday I have ever had, I’ll now do what is best for me. I’ll amuse myself with feeble attempts at humour while annoying you. This will be fun. Along the way, I’ll puzzle you with some images that are utterly unrelated to the subject matter.

Upon my return from Australia, I was immediately deluged with not-so-subtle clues that my life had changed dramatically. I found myself deep in debt. The circumstances leading up to this, some obvious, some not so, were many and complex. They are boring, so I’ll not put us all to sleep with the details. Of course, the financial situation was only one of many changes. I’ve learned to cope with most of these. Some can be fixed. Some can’t. Loneliness is the worst, but that can’t be helped. It’s difficult to explain to why one can feel lonely to the bones while surrounded by laughing friends. It seems unlikely. It is, however, profoundly real.

I must learn many new skills to enjoy this new life. I must accomplish many things to assure happiness. One thing which I can  do something about is money.

I made some mistakes at first. I talked too much. I’m a compulsive talker. I give too much away. I trust more than I ought and I take it for granted that others will be as interested and inquisitive about me as I am about them. I want to get under the skin, and sometimes that is unwelcome. I erred in giving the impression that I was broke and in dire financial stress. This is not the case. I’m better off than most of the people on this planet – much better off.

I’m not broke. I am just being careful. Throughout our lives, Eunie and I followed the “best financial advice”. Oh, what a mistake that was. It seems that most of those who formulate this advice are those who have already gotten theirs  and are looking to get their hand’s on some of yours.

The worst mistake, among many, which we made was to buy into consumerism and borrowing. It’s easy to talk about these twin evils today, since many of you have also been stung by these wasps. Thirty years ago, nobody would listen. We certainly weren’t.

I won’t go into the property fiasco in detail. It’s too boring. Let’s just say that nobody today is suggesting that it’s a good idea to buy old houses and rent them out, expecting them to provide a retirement income. You can imagine how that turned out. However, thirty-five years ago that was the “best financial advice”, at least from the person in whom we had placed trust.

What I will go into is the matter of debt. I often wonder what my world would be like today if I had resisted to ever buy anything for which I could not pay cash. Certainly there are many, many things which I would never have had. However, today I have none of those things. They’ve turned to dust or whatever happens to all those things I “needed” then and no longer even exist in my memories.

Okay, time for a picutre:

That’s my good buddy Monty Armstrong (whoops, I nearly typed Python) with his trusty Canon G11 camera. The water was nice and clear that day.

So, how does one avoid buying everything which catches the eye and immediately insinuates itself in your brain as a need? For me, it wasn’t easy. I spent most of my life learning to subdue the urge. The problem is that plastic makes to far too easy. We lived for many years without credit cards. We resisted the temptation for quite a while. However, I can remember going for a decade with monthly payments to Household Finance. I don’t care about all the money I spent on the stuff,  but I’d sure like to have the interest back!

Well, I digress. Let me get back on point. What is the difference between being a miser and living frugally?

Let’s have a look at the definition of a miser from the Princeton Word Search:

(n) miser (a stingy hoarder of money and possessions (often living miserably))

Hmmm. . . that doesn’t sound very pleasant. It doesn’t sound like a person you’d want to have as a friend, either. Who would buy you a beer? Would this person share a cab fare without counting every penny? I don’t think so. I knew a guy like that once. He owned a barber shop in a small town where we lived for a couple of years. We made the mistake of going on a holiday with him and his wife. He drove us crazy with his accounting. Oh, there was no problem if I said, “I’ll get that.” However, if I didn’t make the offer, then out came the notebook and pencil. Scratch, scratch, scratch – here’s your share. I had a pocket full of change clinking as I walked. I hate small change.

Well, that’s clearly not me. In the first place, I’m not stingy, never have been.  And I’m not miserable, at least as far as money goes. Those miseries I do have will subside. Money problems require a strategy. I have a strategy.

Okay, now let’s look at the definition of frugality:

Frugality is the practice of acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal.

That doesn’t sound nearly as bad.

Here’s monty again. He’s shooting a Prickly Sea Cucumber which you can see if you click to enlarge:

The part of the definition I want to bore you with is “to achieve a longer term goal”. Consumerism is definitely not about long term goals. Most of the junk we buy is designed  to be useless or undesirable within a matter of months or, at most, a few years. I don’t need more stuff.  I have a house full of it now which I am actively trying to unload. Things are not what I need. What I do need is a plan for life. One of the many goals within that plan is to be measurably better off in each year of my remaining life, at least for as long as possible. Since my income is declining and will continue to do so, baring some miracle, then the only way I can achieve this is by “acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services”. Well, hey, that sounds reasonable to me!

Oh, I bet you haven’t seen one of these for a while:

It’s a marine snail. The brown thing blocking the entrance to the shell is doing just what’s it’s supposed to do – block the entrance. It is a common feature of most marine snails and many of the terrestrial species.

It seems astonishing to me that consumerism has been so successful at converting desire into need. Happiness today seems mostly to be packaged in that hateful clear plastic which defies all but the sharpest most dangerous object which comes to hand. I still break into a cold sweat when I enter an electronics or camera store. Oh, wow, I need  that! And that  and that too!  Out comes the plastic. At least I did until now. No more! I have a plan.

My plan is simple. I will never again purchase anything on impulse. I vow to give myself at least twenty-four hours as a cool-down period before making a purchase. I don’t care if it’s a great price on a camera that I’ve been craving or a cheap memory stick. If I can think about it for a day and I’ve asked myself if the purchase will really improve my quality of life sufficiently to justify the cost, then I might reach for the plastic. However, I will never do so if I know that I can’t pay off the amount before the next monthly billing cycle.

Snail wasn’t enough for you, eh? How about a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):The last thing I want to do now is to accumulate yet more stuff. I’m trying to get rid of about 90% of what I have. It’s excess baggage and I’d rather deal with it a bit at a time than have to sing the blues someday when I have to leave Madang and deal with a house full of items which have no place to gather dust any more.

But stuff isn’t the only concern. For example, there is the matter of diet. Here on MPBM I once mentioned eating steamed cabbage, pumpkin and beans. That should not be taken as an advertisement that I’ve become a miser. It happens that those are foods which I like. Having lost my sense of smell, I now find that simple fare appeals more strongly to my taste than rich foods. The fact that it’s cheaper to eat that way is, to my way of thinking, a bonus. I used to eat a lot of meat and cheese, foods which are expensive here. I’ve found that I now have little taste for cheese. My cholesterol level thanks me for that change. The meat which we get here never has appealed much to me. Frankly, I always found it a little smelly – not as fresh as I’d like it to be. So, why should I buy it now?

Here’s an Elephant Ear Sponge (Lanthella basta):
They also come in green and bright yellow.

I lost over five kilos while I was in Australia. I was looking just a little hollow. Since coming back I’ve gained it all back and then some. I now weigh more than I have in the last fifteen years. I’m getting plenty to eat. In fact, I’m going to have to cut back or get more exercise, probably both.

So, thinking now about my plan, just what is it? First, I’ll turn down no opportunity to increase my income. If it continues to decline in my present situation, I will eventually have to consider if another situation might be better suited to me. I’ll purchase nothing that is not necessary for my physical well being unless I am convinced that it will significantly contribute to my quality of life for a meaningful period of time. I will not go into debt again for anything. If I can’t pay for it in thirty days, I can’t afford it.

It’s that simple.

Here is the last shot of the day, a Blackblotch Lizardfish (Synodus jaculum):

Cute little fella, eh?

I’m not so insensitive to suggest that my plan is for others. It’s custom tailored to my situation. Realistically, most people in economically switched-on areas of the planet need credit to live what they perceive as a decent life. The nature of modern economic practice demands it. Who can pay cash for a house or a car, for that matter?

However, it’s interesting to dream up a little thought experiment to imagine how one might avoid the worst ills of spending money which one does not have. It seems to me that frugality, as a life-long plan, might work out pretty well. One might think of it as the middle road.

So, I’m not going to play the big spender when I’m out with friends, but I’m not going to be a miser, either. It’s the middle road for me.

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Guest Shooter – Pania Brown

Posted in Guest Shots on December 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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Tonight it’s my pleasure to bring to your screen a young photographer who is learning the craft. Pania Brown and I have been corresponding on Facebook for some time concerning photographic techniques. When Pania started her studies for a Diploma of Professional Photography, I suggested that she gather work from her assignments and others from her favourites collection and send them to me for a Guest Shoot. I really enjoy giving people what is sometimes their first exposure on the web.

It’s our great fortune that I’m not in a writing mood tonight. I’m still digesting the events of the last few days and bracing myself for the Christmas holiday. So, I’ll let Pania introduce herself and present her images along with her comments. I’ll jump back in at the end.

Enjoy!

` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` `

My name is Pania Brown (nee Williams) and I am a proud ex MK (Missionary Kid).  It’s been 23 years since I left PNG, but I still call it home.  I consider myself blessed, for my formative years were spent growing up in a beautiful part of the world.  My first 9 years were lived on a variety of remote village mission stations out on the Ramu River,  and then I was gifted with 5 delicious years from the ages of 9 -14 exploring all that the lovely Madang had to offer.  For me the memories are vivid, full of colour and movement.  For me it will always be a magical place that time forgot.  It is of course all a matter of perspective, and as a child I focused not on the relative isolation that my poor mother must have faced.  I worried little for the pesky weevils that had once again invaded the flour.  Nor did I lose any sleep for the safety of my father as he traversed the swollen flooding rivers, avoided the crocodiles, bull sharks, snakes, spiders and other incredible creatures that lurked within the jungles.  It concerned me not that the truck was bogged, or that the next plane in with all our food supplies had been delayed for another 3-6 weeks by bad weather.  Such concerns were not for me to concern myself with, for as a child for there was always fish to be caught, friends to spend my time with, fresh tropical fruit to be picked and coconuts a plenty. For me the experience was one of total adventure, of true fun and exploration – everything that an ideal childhood should be.  On return to Melbourne (Australia) at the age of 14 I struggled greatly to adjust.  For me the reverse culture shock was extreme.  My beautiful outdoor playground and reef was replaced with trains, buses, tall skyscrapers, millions of people – a relative concrete jungle with danger on every corner.  I yearned for the blue of the ocean, the colour of the reef and the simplicity of life in a land that commercialism hadn’t quite invaded…  but that was 1987 –  perhaps it’s not the same any more, but for me time has stood still.

These days I call Townsville home in the beautiful Far North of Queensland.  We have a lovely home perched on the edge of a river.  I find myself surrounded once again by stunning examples of natures finest.  I decided recently to do something that I have wanted to do for years – a Diploma of Professional Photography.  It’s a far cry from my day job which is founded more in operations management, recruitment, reporting and meeting KPI’s. I claim to be no expert by any means and there are many more gifted than I, but to tell a story and to capture a memory is the greatest gift of all.  One that I hope to share with those that I love and hold most dear – and hopefully to extend to those that I am fortunate enough to call friends as our paths cross in life.

Jan has kindly invited me to submit a guest shoot on MPBM with a few samples from my recent assignments.  This is indeed a great privilege and a great honour as I know full well the calibre of his reading audience and the high regard with which he is held, so thank you for sharing your wonderful wall with me Jan.

The first shot I have included is of a beautiful Frangipani flower – it reminds me so much of life in PNG.  Very simple, but the colours are like a delicious bowl of tropical fruit – thus it’s common name I guess – “fruit salad plumeria” –  almost looks good enough to eat, but I can tell you from childhood experience they taste like “beep beep”

“True Balance” was a bit of fun, a Sunday afternoon project during a beach walk with my family.  I spent ages playing with this one -a simple stack of washed beach rocks towered up and balanced precariously as the waves threatened to knock it crashing into the foam while I darted in and out of the waves and avoided dunking my camera in the sea.  I can still hear the giggles and the yells of “No!” as I got the last shot and a big dumping wave washed it all away.

“Nature’s Treasure” was taken the same day and I love the fragility of this tiny perfect shell cradled in my little daughter’s hand.  There was no way she was going to let this one go – even whilst I tried to capture the image she clung tight and squealed when the waves got too close and threatened to wash her new jewel back into the sea from where it came.  I remember well the beautiful shells we found in PNG and that same feeling I experienced as a little girl when a lovely cowry shell caught my eye, and for a moment I had a tear in my eye for my little girl was experiencing that same wonderful gift of God’s finest creations.

The next group of shots were taken in one of my latest assignment submissions.  The project with which I was charged was to shoot a variety of images for a magazine shoot – to reflect “a sense of place” – to capture the essence of Townsville in a handful of shots.  So I give you now a quick visit to my lovely home town.  I hope one day you will venture here too, for it like Madang is a beautiful and relatively unknown part of the world.

I’ll start you off with a lovely view across the bay – shooting back across the water and looking towards Castle Hill with the cheeky Red Baron bobbing in the foreground.  Castle Hill is an iconic Townsville landmark.  There is a strong hill climb culture in this town – new comers are challenged to climb the slopes, whilst many locals are amused by these silly antics and still proclaim that there is no need to climb that which one can drive up in a car.  After 4 years living here I finally mustered the courage to climb the hill and now climb it weekly.  The sense of accomplishment is fantastic and invigorating, some would even say therapeutic.  There are many that run, cycle or climb it regularly and it is considered by many to be a ritual or a right-of-passage to be considered a true local.  The Red Baron is a lovely old floating bi-plane that offers scenic tourist flights over our fair city and Magnetic Island.  It is a pleasure I am yet to experience, but the looks on the faces are certainly priceless as it does low fly-overs and buzzes the unsuspecting tourists lying on the beach.

Next stop is the deliciously cool and invigorating “Strand Water Park”.  It can only be described as a colourful explosion of bright colours.  Thousands of mega litres of clean water cascade, squirt, spray and pour from every corner of the playground.  This image freeze frames the lovely water, the motion is stalled for a brief second but the squealing and delight of dozens of children still continued as the water dumped out of that fantastic big bucket and onto their heads.   It’s how we came to live here, with the prospect of new jobs we came to inspect this new town – our three children agreed unanimously that this would be a good place to call home as nowhere else had such a fabulous water playground.  They were right; it’s been a fantastic place to take our visiting friends and relatives and is always talked about long after their visits.

In completing this project I was trying to capture not only the classic and iconic landmarks of our town, but to also capture random snippets that “didn’t quite fit’.  This shot of the delightfully French inspired canopies and wrought iron light fittings in downtown CBD Townsville doesn’t quite fit with our theme of tropical palm trees and old Queenslanders and reminded me much of downtown Paris.  Perhaps Townsville is a big Shabby Chic, but I was intrigued all the same that I could create an image of one town that looked more like another.

Next stop a quick shot taken under the Bowen Road Bridge.  Relatively tranquil but I loved this shot as it creates a sense of remoteness when in fact right behind that wonderfully talk brick tower is a modern and bustling housing estate.    I loved the reflections and quiet peace in this shot when in reality, above me on that giant bridge thundered hundreds of trucks, buses, cars and roaring motorbikes.

The mystical wall was another location that many have inquired about.  For me it was a bit of an Alice in Wonderland moment. I wonder, I wonder, what’s behind the wall?  in fact there is an old run down red brick building that used to be a convent but the building is now quire derelict, and the yards are now cluttered with old broken car bodies, boats, building materials, but from this angle it could take you anywhere.

The shot of the mystery swimming man was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.  I giggled with glee as I realised I had caught him mid motion, totally focused on each stroke.

And finally I leave you with one of my favourite shots – “Townsville Pier by Night”.  The gorgeous blue is striking, the lens flare a total fluke but I was so happy to have captured a special moment with my beloved husband.  A delicious and rare moment of “two” in a busy life of “five”.

Thank you for sharing my journey, perhaps one day if you are passing through you will stop for coffee and enjoy the view from my veranda as I do . . .  until then God Bless.  May you enjoy every day as if it were your last and treasure most the moments spent with those that have been given to share your journey in this life . . .

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As a middling good amateur photographer, it is interesting to me to look at Pania’s images to see if I can think the way she was thinking when she tripped the shutter. In each of the images I fancy that I can determine how she was giving voice to the vision. I see a good eye for composition, nice use of the rules without making the rules the point of the image. Certainly, I see things which I might have done differently, yielding a different vision, a different voice. Photographers love to look at the images of other photographers. I’ve seldom encountered criticism, but often answered very pointed questions. We are, in our way, very geeky. That’s what makes it fun.

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How Bad Can It Kill Me?

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ve been holed up in the house for about three days. Today I opened the bedroom curtains for the first time. It was sunny outside. I think that I know what sent me into this latest deep depression. I’ll tell a little about it later. I’ve been having some face-to-face with a friend who has dealt with this kind of uncontrollable emotional paralysis in her own life. It’s comforting to have someone to talk to that understands from first hand experience.

However, I’m not here to blab on about distress. I’m in the mood for a bit of humour. Let’s see if I can pull it off. It’s time to laugh a bit.

A week or so I was talking to someone about something difficult I had to accomplish and I was trying to make it sound light-hearted. I had intended to say, “How bad can it hurt me?” It came out, somewhat more ominously, “How bad can it kill me?” I took a mental note of that and proceeded to bore my friend with the details of my plan to conquer this horrible thing which was an everyday problem for many people, but made me feel as if I were a passenger on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. When his eyes glassed over I relented. Later, I began to think about my Freudian slip.

I certainly don’t recommend fooling around with fate and getting yourself in such a pickle as the one in which I’m presently fermenting. Nobody is stupid enough to bring such things upon himself. Nevertheless, I must admit that there is an upside. Regardless if it is true or not, there is a certain freedom in feeling  that I have nothing to lose. Of course, I know that it is not true, but knowing is not feeling,  knowing is not accepting.  I have many things going for me. I’m healthy, if putting on a little too much weight. I’m reasonably sane and able to take care of myself day by day, though my bed only occasionally gets made. I have a job which I can still perform well enough for the time being and I’ll improve as I get better. I have a nice house to live in, though I do rattle around in it like a cracked marble. I have friends to annoy. All in all, I’m likely better off than maybe eighty percent of the population of the planet.

I admit that I can’t do a post without images. I’m sure that this stems from the fear that what I’m writing is so abominably rotten that nobody could possibly read it without becoming nauseous. If I throw in a few pictures, it might possibly be seen as a redeeming value. Here is the rather unusual sight of three Solitary Corals (Fungia fugites)  cuddled up together:

Let me get back to what is passing for a train of thought tonight. As I was saying, perceiving a current state of life as being unsustainable over the long run and being not so nihilistic as to believe that there is no hope that it might get better is the starting point. So, it’s pretty bad, but it could get better. Now add that what has happened is the worst thing possible that could have happened. Yes, it could have happened in a worse way, but there is nothing on the list that could possibly top it. And the list is exhaustive. Okay, throw into the equation that even if more bad things pop up, they can’t make me much worse than I am now. My money all disappears – hey, money is not security. What good is it doing me now? I lose my job – well, that would be tough, but it would just force me into a change. The list goes on.

Nothing that I can think of really threatens me. This seems to create some kind of weird super-power. Call me Sticks-and-Stones-Can-Break-My-Bones-But-Nothing-Can-Really-Hurt-Me-Man. No, that’s too long a name for a super-hero.

Ah, now I remember what set off my hiding-under-the-covers period – the second coffin-building incident in less than two weeks. I won’t go into the details. It suffices to say that it was another time of grieving:

It does strike me that I look terribly angry in that shot. I was going for “resigned”. It came out much differently. By the time I came into the office to discover that it needed to be built, a friend had already been recruited, so at least neither of us had to face the job alone. I am getting rather good at knocking together a coffin. I don’t plan to take it up professionally, but one never knows.

Feeling this freedom of relative invulnerability, however, it not a safe thing. It can make one reckless. I find myself thinking outrageous thoughts about what I might conceivably do. I fantasise. I make astonishingly stupid plans. I catch myself dreaming of selling everything and scuttling off to Bali or Rio and living off my photography and writing. Then I’m brought up short by the realisation that I’ve found no way to live off it yet and the fact that I might starve trying to is not  an improvement on the present situation. Not a bit.

No, I’m better off now staying here and doing what I was sent here to do. That’s where my security lies now. In some ways that’s a hard pill to swallow, but that is only because I’m not exactly ecstatic about life at the moment.

This horrible thing, looking for all the world like “The Small Intestine from Outer Space” is a Prickly Sea Cucumber:

It’s not a great picture of one. Possibly you can see the hideous frilly arms that wave around engulfing whatever seems edible. I’ll have to try feeding a banana to one.

Yes, fantasies sustain me these days. I’ve always been an exceptionally good daydreamer. Walter Mitty has nothing on me. I’ve dreamed up several schemes lately, none of which have proved, upon the most cursory consideration, to be remotely feasible. Most of the difficulty lies in where,  I might go. Except for Papua New Guinea and the USA, any place I might choose to go would present considerable difficulty. You must have permanent residency to work in almost any country worth living in. That is a high hurdle.

I had a passing fancy for Costa Rica until I began to look at the residency problem. I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to jump through all of the hoops. The same goes for Canada, which I would like to be able to think of as my final “home” when I’m so broken down that I need to crawl into a hole and wait for the end. I’d probably have to do it as an illegal immigrant. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to end up? I’d have to start a new journal and make it anonymous.

I met a friend at the Madang Lodge and Restaurant last Friday evening for some light conversation. I noticed that the big storyboard on the back wall had been decorated for the Christmas season:

I got this storyboard along with four others about the same size while on a trip to the Sepik River quite a few years ago. They were among the largest I have seen. I don’t know how much they would be worth now – probably quite a bit, as they are very hard to come by now. I have two of them about the same size hanging in my house.

Much of the future is too fuzzy for me to think about with any clarity. I wish I had something like this:

Yeah, a big brain – that’s the ticket. I need a huge Platygyra lamellina.

Then again, I probably spend far too much time pondering the future. When I consider that, I feel silly, but I’ve always been that way. Yeah, a thinker about the future and silly. I admit to both. It’s painfully obvious that the future is the thing over which I have the least control. How delusional it was to believe otherwise. It was all planned out . . .

Look what all that planning got me. Best simply to plan to brush one’s teeth in the morning. If that works out, then begin to plan what to have for lunch. Anything beyond that is getting risky.

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Becoming Hirsute and Bad Pictures of Tennis

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on December 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, the last few days have been a weird circus of nearly surreal events. I’ll tell you a little about it as I go along.

First, I’ll tell you a story about a family dealing with an all too familiar tragedy, a child with a serious health problem. This came to my attention when my son sent me an email about the Brand family. Hans tells the story better than I could:

Thought you might get a kick out of the attached. Some friends of mine at church, the Brand family, have a son, Caleb, who has leukemia. On sort of a spur of the moment thing, I announced to my co-workers that for $50 a month donated to MacKids (the MacMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation) on his behalf (it’s where he is receiving treatment) I would allow my hair to grow uncut until the money stopped coming, and for another $50 a month I’d do the same for the beard. Apparently my co-workers want to work with a guy who looks like a crazy homeless person, because $400 in donations later I now find myself committed to at least six months of no hair cuts and two months of beard growth, and I expect that more money will be ponied up when the expiry date for the beard arrives.

I decided to try to take a photo of myself every morning as long as the money is flowing, so that I could have a record of it. The attached is the result so far.

And here is the animated image: (I could not figure out how to prevent its constant repetition, so don’t stare at it too long.)

Hans Messersmith becoming hirsuit

Those of you who do not know my son will not appreciate the humour. Hans is as stable and dependable as the Rock of Gibraltar. There has been nary a hint of bother from him since he was born. He does, however, break occasionally into the mode of spontaneous goofiness, usually in a good cause. While being exceedingly proper, he exhibits a profound suspicion of up-tight propriety. This foray into the wacky world of on-the-edge symbiosis of in your face humour and sober consideration of  social responsibility is just what I have always expected of him. I like to think that he got just the right mix of genes from his parents.

If you would like to read more try The Brand Family blog.

My depression has worsened, something which I expect is probably temporary. The whole seemingly endless mood is clearly reaction depression and I’m sure that it will remain variable. I know this, because the worse things get, the worse I feel. To lighten things up a bit I went to the Madang Country Club last evening to watch the tennis semi-finals. I know nearly all of the people on the teams. Some of them have been close friends for decades. I had intentions of taking some great action shots. I failed miserably. So, I’ll take great pleasure in showing you some really bad images of rather good tennis players and tell you where I went wrong. Here is Trevor Hattersley serving (no comment):

If you look carefully you can see the yellow tennis ball blasting its way off the racket. You’ll find it by following the trunk of the coconut tree.

I’ve pledged myself to avoid anti-depressants if I possibly can. I will get though this, given time. When I work my way up to full, healthy functionality I don’t want to find myself dependent on pills to keep me level. That would mean that I have simply replaced one problem with another.

While there are several reasons for my current setback, some of them I cannot discuss, because it would be an infringement on the privacy of others. I’ll leave that alone and simply say that we’ve had yet another fresh onslaught in the area of health. If you need to know, you already do. If you are the praying kind, our little mob of survivors could certainly use some non-specific petitions for our welfare.

My photographic problem was twofold. Neither had a solution. First, there was not enough light. Then there was the problem of a relatively inexpensive camera. If you care to spend enough, light is not a problem. You will undoubtedly note that the pictures are motion blurred:

That is a motion-blurred Pancal Michon dodging a sizzling return.

If you have enough bread for a full-frame sensor camera (a few thousand bucks), you’ll get a huge area to catch the photons. ISO numbers can run up into the thousands. The most I can squeeze out of my Canon G11 is about 800. With the light level which I had, that worked out to a shutter speed of about 1/40 of a second. That’s way too slow to stop tennis action.

Have a look at the extreme motion blur in this shot of Trevor. The image is useful only for illustrating how not to do it:

In that image we have the double curse of motion of the subject and motion of the camera itself, which shows up most clearly in the streaked surface of the court.

An extremely annoying beast having to do with the sale of my house back in Indiana  popped up its gnarly head today. Do to a miss-addressed email presenting me with an important document which I had to sign and return as an original, I had to do some serious juggling. It seems that the rest of the world has these magical things called, Over-Night and Two Day delivery options. Well, that is just not going to happen from Papua New Guinea. If you are flying your own body by commercial air from Madang to Indianapolis it takes the better part of three days. That’s with good connections.

So, at the last minute, as I was getting ready to go to DHL and spend a small fortune in the hope that the document would arrive before the closing date, I remembered that a friend was flying to the USA today and I had already given her one document to mail for me when she arrives so that it would get there on time. I don’t know what corner my brain was hiding it, but there wasn’t much light there. I do have some hope now that the closing will go off as planned and I will start out 2011 with one less piece of excess baggage.

What do you do with a totally useless image?  Turn it into art:

Massaging it with the Photoshop Poster Edges filter makes it slightly less nauseous.

I know that my responses to unfavourable developments seem to be over-reactions. I get comments, sometimes a little hurtful. I know that I’ve always been a drama queen. It’s in my blood. There is absolutely nothing I can do about that and I’ve learned to live with it. But I have  had a grand piano dropped on my head from a great height. I expect to be ultra-sensitive and more than a little paranoid. I think that I have some reason to be so. The sequence of events over the last few months is simply too outrageous to allow me to be calm and collected.

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