Ramblers Skydiving – The Rides

Posted in On Tthe Road on March 30th, 2011 by MadDog
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You may note that I have once again been absent from Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  for a week. This is not my fault. It is the fault of the Great Australian Outback, where a web connection is a rare thing. I was, of course, nowhere near the real outback, which is way out west from Toogoolawah, where the Skydiving Ramblers Drop Zone is located. I was the well-treated guest of Dave McEvoy and Ali Raynor, two friends I met in Madang when they visited there. Dave carried the Ramblers torch and founded Ramblers Parachute Centre in 1974.

I really had expected to hang loose at the drop zone for a few days as an observer and general all-round pest. I ended up doing a tandem jump and getting two rides in the drop plane in the bargain. This was an unexpected pleasure.

Here is a shot which I took of the drop zone from the wonderful Caravan:Which I will get to in a moment.

First, I want to show you one of the wonderful sunsets which one can expect here when the weather is fair:Colourful, eh?

This is the amazing Cessna Caravan. It is not only beautiful, but it is an absolute pleasure to ride in:I have never been up front in a plane with a “glass cockpit”. There were only a handful of conventional instruments visible. There were two large management displays such as this one (one for the pilot, one for the co-pilot) with a huge GPS navigation display between them. Flying this plane is pretty much a push-button operation:I was flabbergasted to hear how much this plane cost.

One of the more interesting aspects of my two flights (this one with pilot Carl, in the image) was that I had to strap on a parachute:Some of you will know that I’m an old pilot, mostly helicopters. Everybody knows that helicopter pilots don’t wear parachutes. How would you use it, exactly? However, I’ve done a fair amount of fixed-wing flying, also. It amused me that this is the first time I have ever worn a parachute. It amused me further that the Caravan is possibly the safest aircraft I have ever had the pleasure to fly in, discounting commercial airliners, of course (how safe are   they?).

Here is Roger, my first pilot. I include his image only so that I can mention that I was suddenly caught up by the idea that I’d never flown with anyone names Roger and I could not get my mind off of the novelty of saying, “Roger, Roger.” every time he spoke to me. I think it got a bit annoying after a while, so I stopped doing it:

Roger’s a forgiving bloke.

There were many other amusements at the drop zone. The bird life and kangaroos were great fun. These lorikeets were always about, making more noise than one would think possible:I found myself strangely incapable of getting a single kangaroo picture. I simply could not get close enough for a shot. However, I did get some great koala shots, which I will show as soon as I can get them off my Olympus camera. I forgot my cable and the card adapter, so I have no way to transfer the images to my computer.

Here is a self-shot image of me sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of the Caravan:I’ beginning to look like Gabby Hayes. It’s time to trim the beard.

I’ll finish with another Toogoolawah sunset:This one shows a crepuscular ray just to the left of centre. Well, we’ve all seen them before, even if we didn’t know what to call them. Only the hopelessly geeky know those kinds of things (did I say that?). Anyway we see these rays all the time. This one struck me as a little out of the ordinary because it is shining like a big orange searchlight on the bottom of a cloud above the horizon. If you click it to enlarge the image you’ll see it better. You’ll also see five birds which happened along just as I was taking the shot.

I’ll be back tomorrow with shots of my tandem jump. Geronimo!

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Reflections

Posted in On Tthe Road on March 24th, 2011 by MadDog
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“Been crook, mate.” is how an Australian might put it. It doesn’t refer to criminal activity. It means I’ve been sick. What seemed to be a waning viral chesty thing suddenly regained its foothold on my aging carcass and discovered a new and vigorous life in my tortured sinuses. I call this extremely poor timing. This is the first day in a week when I’ve felt like doing much other than laying in bed moaning about my face which felt as if it had been in intimate contact with the massive bumper of a speeding truck. This explains my absence from MPBM for a week.

Other than that, I’m having a pleasant, if surreal, time. The trip to Teewah was fun and refreshing. It took my mind off things for a while, a welcome interlude, indeed. I’m trying to retrain my mind to leave aside things best not thought of. Possibly you know what I mean. It’s those pesky themes which plague your thoughts, forcing you to go around and around trying to think of solutions to puzzles which have none. I had just about banished this kind of pointless mental exercise from my life. Recently it has returned with reinforcements. Now I have to subdue it again. The change of scenery is helping.

I’ll return to Teewah in my head this morning before I have to get to work and catch up on ten days worth of ignored urgencies. As the title implies, reflections are on my mind – not the moody kind – I disposed of that already. The watery places around Lake Cootharaba abound with captivating counter-images. Here are a few:

The phantom tree is far more, ummm . . . spiritual than its hardwood doppelganger.

The water here is deeply stained with tannin from the rotting vegetation:

The ground all around reminds one constantly that the path follows the contours of a giant sand dune.

Reflections create amusing symmetries everywhere:

There are great seas of magenta-tinged reeds. Nearly all of the vegetation in this area does not appear truly green to me. I find myself constantly removing magenta from green shades to make them look more natural to my eyes. That’s really a cheat. I shouldn’t be doing it. Coming from Madang, everything here looks dried out and sickly. I admit to freshening up the greens in these shots.

Huge swaths of scraggly forest show fresh evidence of bush fires. Two years ago an enormous portion of this area was burned out. Strangely, in these habitats, fires are not only untroublesome (to the vegetation, anyway), but absolutely vital the very survival of many species:

Many Australian plants cannot propagate without fire. The heat allows the seeds to escape from the protective pods. I’ll be talking about that in a post soon.

This burt-out Banksia tree is a good example. Though it finally succumbed to the last fire, its final crop of seeds was released to regenerate when things cooled off.

Here you see Ali Raynor cleverly taking my picture through the hole. No, that is not a spear she is holding.

What it is is the central spike of this plant. This is what is commonly (but politically incorrectly now, as I hear) called a “blackboy”. They are quite impressive and can live for hundreds of years. The proper name is Xanthorrhoea:

The reason for the political incorrectness of the common name is rather obvious, but seems just a little, uh . . . unnecessarily sensitive to me. Here’s the explanation which I casually ripped from Wikipedia:

“The best known common name for the Xanthorrhoea is blackboy. This name refers to the purported similarity in appearance of the trunked species to an Aboriginal boy holding an upright spear. Some people now consider this name to be offensive, or at least belonging to the past, preferring instead grasstree.”

Okay, enough of that. I’d rather let them explain it.

As soon as we started up the path to the lake and encountered the wetlands further up the dune, we were surrounded by millions of toads ranging in size from a pencil eraser to a tennis ball. Did I mention that there were millions of them? Mind you, I didn’t count them. Apparently, they all come from these:

Yes, Virginia, those are tadpoles, some of them sprouting legs already. There were millions of them also. They seem to have no predators here. I suppose that their number is limited only by the size of the edible insect population available to feed the adults.

It seems that they grow up to be these:

I, being ignorant, of course, believed these to be cane toads – a menace if there ever was one. Discussing this with the ladies accompanying me proved to be useless. None of these Queenslanders could state with conviction that these were or were not cane toads. Possibly that is because none of them have engaged in the popuplar sport involving a doomed cane toad and a hefty golf club. This morning I perused Google Images for cane toad pictures. It’s my judgment that these are something else. These are nowhere near ugly enough. Comments are welcome.

Tomorrow I am off to Toogoolawah for a few days with Ali Raynor. I have absolutely no idea what is in store for me, but I hope it includes some spectacular images of skydiving, kangaroos, koalas and whatever else I can manage to get stuck into. I’ll have a dial-up connection there, so my postings may be sparse.

If I can shake off this disease, I’m going to have some fun.

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Photography Boot Camp – Class Day

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Boot Camp, Photography Tricks on March 18th, 2011 by MadDog
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For the last few days I’ve been passing on a bit of knowledge about photography to five women who were eager students. It’s been fun. We’ve covered some of the basics. We started off with The Exposure Triangle, some basic relationships which every photographer who is serious about images needs to know.

Some interesting questions were posed. How do I get the bird on the fence to be in focus while the background is blurred? How do I do macro photography? It’s amazing how many of these mysteries can be cleared up in a few hours of study and practice.

Since I’m leaving tomorrow morning, today was graduation day. I asked each of my friends to give me two images which they like to put here on MPBM. I’ll show them in alphabetical order. They are all interesting images and all illustrate that the material was well learned.

Here is Ali’s “Reflection”:Ali’s images lean toward the abstract, something which I like.

In “Impression” Ali shows that she has the basics of macro photography figured out:She’s currently hampered by a camera which has limited manual controls and tries to figure out everything for her.

This image, Jann’s “Banksia”, is nicely composed and very pleasing:She did a good job of capturing the sky reflected in the water.

And Jann has certainly learned to do macro:There is the slightest hint of motion blur in the enlarged image. Jann knows that a faster shutter speed would have fixed this. The composition here is good, also. Nice use of negative space and the subject is off-centre enough to add interest. The image has a voice. The ant is asking, “Where to now?”

I like the composition here in Martina’s “Man and Nature”:It’s a clever image.

Martina has also learned her lessons well in the area of depth of field:She now knows how to make the foreground of the image sharp while blurring the distant objects.

Most cameras will not expose this scene correctly. The clouds will be blocked to white and have little detail. In “On the Beach” Narelle has demonstrated that she can whip her camera into doing her will:Good on ya’, Narelle.

Here in “Teewah” Narelle again demonstrates correct exposure:All of the students learned more than I had hoped. What started as a lark ended up being more work than I had anticipated. My abilities to pass on my knowledge improve each time I work with students. I’ve pretty much learned what they will ask and have already figured out easy to understand explanations.

Val has long been a deft hand with macro. She’s captured many fine images of the tiny stuff. Here in “Magic Mushrooms” she shows that she can handle difficult situations. The light level here was very low. It required some jiggling of controls to get the shot. Most casual photographers never figure this out:Of course, most don’t need to, because they are never much interested in standing on their heads in near dark to get an interesting shot.

Here in “Coloured Sands” Val demonstrates a very conventional shot well exposed and nicely framed:

Val is one of those people who can truthfully say, “I’ve been everywhere, man!” She’s traveled around the world and is off once again in a short while – this time to Nepal. I’m jealous.

I’m quite happy with the work and progress of these five friends. I find teaching fun and I’m pretty patient. I kept having to remind them that there are no stupid questions.

There are only stupid answers.

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Climbing Mount Pasta

Posted in On Tthe Road on March 17th, 2011 by MadDog
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Today is my last full day at Teewah in Queensland, Australia. Like everything in life, it’s been a mixed bag of treasure and trash. I began the trip under a cloud on Sunday evening when I finally admitted to myself that I was sick.

I can pretty well predict when I’m going to have respiratory problems; the symptoms are always the same. There’s no point in boring you with the details. It suffices to say that we ended up at the emergency room at the Gympie hospital, a place where I would have been very happy never to have seen again. Eunie nearly died there only a few months ago. I was told that (a) it would cost me more than A$200 just to see someone, (b) I would have to go to a pharmacy to get an antibiotic (if, one was prescribed) and (c) no pharmacies were open. Clearly, it was not a place of healing for me. As it turned out, I have been sick for the last few days, but it appears that I will live.

Other than that, it has been mostly very pleasant. I am staying in a house on the beach with five women. That can’t be all bad, eh? I’ve been giving basic photography lessons for a couple of hours each day. That’s fun also. I’ve gotten plenty of exercise and seen some interesting things. If you desperately need to see me before tomorrow morning, you will find me under the red dot:Exotic, eh? Hot, too. The first day was cloudy, but it’s been steadily improving. Yesterday, I got a little sunburned.

Speaking of yesterday, I got some nice shots on the beach and up at the picnic table on the low dunes. Here are Martina and Ali strolling up the beach:Since I’ve been doing photography lessons for a while, I’ll let you know that I got this shot by placing the camera only a few centimetres above the sand and shooting upward. “Dramatic Angle” is a good rule of composition. We also have “The Rule of Thirds” (well, nearly), and “Diagonal Lines”. You can cram a lot of rules into one shot. Don’t beat it to death, though. It’s a pretty picture.

In the later afternoon, up at the picnic table on the rise behind the beach I noticed that I could see my shadow on the beach:

The little vertical shadow in the middle of the bright area on the beach is me. It seems pretty cool to me, as it is about fifty metres from where I was standing.

There were several flocks of birds on the beach. I got lucky with this shot:My next camera will have a brighter viewfinder. If I have one complaint with the Canon G11 it is that you can not see a blessed thing on the LCD screen in bright sun. It’s pretty worthless. I will say that this is a very common fault with many cameras. For this shot I had to point the camera in the general direction of the birds, since the LCD screen appeared pretty much black.

In this shot timing is the key. I came down to the beach to get some shots of Jann and Narelle on their boogie boards. As it turned out, I couldn’t get close enough to get a decent shot without getting me or (horrors) my camera wet. The water felt like ice to me. Ali came along down the beach. When I saw her raise her arms something in my brain said, “CLICK” and my finger obeyed:

Here an unidentified woman on the beach adds a focal point to an otherwise uninteresting image:
We started off to Lake Cootharaba sometime in the morning. I haven’t cared a bit what time it is since I left PNG. I don’t want to know. I’m just letting life flow over me. I’m a big, fat rock in the middle of the creek of time. Let it flow, baby, let it flow. Anyway, it soon became apparent that the sign that proclaimed “Lake Cootharaba – 2KM” was clearly insane. It was not even close. We walked and walked. It got hotter and hotter.

We finally arrived at a huge expanse of water that was very pretty, but otherwise not very useful. The water is the colour of strong tea. The average depth is only 1.5 metres:

Then we started the long climb up the big dune behind the village of Teewah. We did this for the view. I’m always suspicious of advice that suggests that the view will be much better if you only climb higher. My suggestion is usually, “I can see fine from here.” Still, a man must be dragged along in the company of women. I’m not complaining – really . . .

It was not unlike climbing a mountain of pasta, the extra slippery kind. For each step forward, the foot slides back ninety percent of the original stride. Add the heat, the still air, the blinding sun, remember that you’re getting hungry and thirsty too – pretty soon you’re wondering why you left the house. Being naturally lazy doesn’t help much, either.

Finally, we reached the top of the dune. I sensed downhill walking soon. I was much relieved. Even with sunglasses, the bright sunlight was blinding when reflected off the white sand:I could see my salvation over the top of the last rise.

The view was amusing. Worth the climb. I guess it depends on how much energy one is willing to spend to reach the goal. Mountain climbing has never been my thing. There’s too much I haven’t seen from down here. Still, it is a pretty sight:

I can’t say that I’m proud of that panorama, but it’s not my fault. The contrast between the sky and landscape here was ferocious. It’s obvious that I had to bring up the brightness of the landscape dramatically to get some kind of viewable image. It appeared nearly black by the time I got the sky down to a reasonable level.

Bored yet? Hey, wait until tomorrow. It will be class day at Photography Boot Camp.

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Sand – Teewah Beach

Posted in On Tthe Road on March 15th, 2011 by MadDog
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It’s been quite a while since I have done a simple photographic essay, one in which the images tell the story. I like that sort of thing, because I enjoy working with the images more than the words. Images obey my will. Works fight me.

Today, I’ll show you images which I took yesterday during my first stroll up Teewah Beach, which stretches for about a zillion kilometres up the Eastern Australian coast from Noosa. From the little village of Teewah this sandy access roads leads down to the beach:You’re not going to go much faster than twenty KPH once you reach the top of the rise.

Ealier in the day I came up in the back seat of a 4WD vehicle at eighty KPH on the hard-packed beach:It was an interesting ride, to say the least. It seemed to go on forever, but it is only a few kilometres.

The vehicles on the beach leave an interesting comment on occupation of Earth by the human species:In case you are wondering about the little round blobs of sand:For lack of a better term, I’ll call them crab pellets. As the crabs clean out their holes after a high tide, they roll up the sand in little balls and shove them around in amusing patterns.

I also leave my marks in the sand:

Above the beach lies a tangle of native Australian flora:I’m told that huge monitors live here. I haven’t seen any yet. I don’t know if my leg is being pulled. I’m so gullible.

Where sand and sea meet, colours clash:

Surprisingly little life is seen; a few sea birds, random crabs and washed up Bluebottle Jellyfish, a very dangerous critter:Here is a washed-up green bottle:

Someone had a party out at sea. There was no message inside.

I observe the crabs at work:

I saw many curious marks in the sand above the tide line where some spindly grass grows:

It took a few moments of observation to realise that they are caused by the tips of the grass blades continuously flipping grains of sand from their paths as the wind blows them about.

The sands in different areas of the beach are remarkably variable:

I hope to make a longer voyage up the beach soon to the area called Coloured Sands – sounds interesting.

Walking the beach gives one plenty of time to think between grabbing images. It’s simultaneously noisy with the sound of the pounding surf and sometimes disturbingly quiet. Time for reflection.

But not too much reflection.

Yes, I enjoy letting the images do most of the talking.

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Gympie Miscellanea

Posted in Mixed Nuts on March 14th, 2011 by MadDog
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Today I’m off to a place called Teewah. I know there is beach there and a small village. I do not know if there is any wireless data connection. I’m guessing not. I’ll be there for four days unless natural disaster intervenes, so I may be off the air for a little while.

I have little idea what is in store for me, but I know it will be different from the normal routine. I filched this image of the area around Teewah from the web:Looks interesting, eh?

Time is running out this morning. I got up late. Now I have to rush a bit, so I’ll be mercifully brief. My last post contained an image of a Bromeliad similar to this one. This shows what the flowers look like when they come out:

Not long before I left Madang there were severe floods over wide areas of Queensland. Here are a few of Val’s images of the disaster:

Many businesses in Gympie were completely submerged. Even now some stores are still being repaired.

This is one of the more fortunate residents:

This is a Galah or Rose-breasted Cockatoo:

The word galah, in Australian usage means a person who is acting in a silly way.

This is a Morris Cowley, one of the most poorly named automobiles in history:

And, while on the subject of poorly named items, this is the Bellygood restaurant:

Okay, I’m out of time.

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Back to Gympie

Posted in Mixed Nuts on March 11th, 2011 by MadDog
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I may as well say it and get it over with. My last visits to Gympie were during the worst days of my life. Regular readers will know about that. I’m not here today to revisit the past. I’ve done enough of that over the last few months.

I will say that upon entering dear friend Val’s home for the first time since August was a bittersweet experience. I had been wondering how I would handle it. The first couple of hours were very strange and disturbing. What happened was pretty much what I expected. Certain places in the house evoked memories which hit me like a truck. I was determined to control these reactions, because I did not want to live with them for the next few weeks. After a while it dawned on me that the experience was both necessary and healing. I’m going to have to continue to deal with place-connected memories for years to come. Some of them will be very pleasant. Some will not.

While I’m blabbing on with the story I’ll show you some of the amazing flora in Val’s garden. This is a bright red something. I don’t know what it is, but it is certainly impressive:

It is ridiculous how little I know about plants. It doesn’t bother me. I depend on others to tell me what they are. I’m sure I’ll get comments with helpful information. That’s if anybody is still reading. (Val now tells me that it is Antherium . . . whatever . . .)

These struck me as very pleasing. The colour is intense and the white outline seems purposeful:

It looks as if the flowers are coming from the tree, but the blossoms are on a bush behind the tree.

This is an unlikely looking contraption. The white flower extending from the side looks out of place:

I had the usual problems on the trip down to Brisbane where Val picked me up. I broke my sunglasses. There were a few moments when I wasn’t sure my credit cards were working (YIKES! That is a heart-stopper.) As nothing fatal seemed lurking on the horizon, I began to relax a little. It seem that I’ve made it this far unscathed. I know it seems unreasonable to be so satisfied that I made this short part of my journey without mishap, but my confidence level hasn’t been all that great recently. Now I’ll give myself a very small pat on the back and think so far, so good.

Here is another strange one. It looks to me as if it is related to the one above:

On Monday we will be going to Teewah on the Sunshine Coast. I’ve never been there before. Friend Ali Raynor says that there are beach houses there. I’m looking forward to seeing the Australian coast again. The beaches seem to go on forever. The water will probably be much too cold for me. That’s okay. I spend enough time already submerged in brine. I’m partially pickled.

Another stunning something-or-other:

It seems to me that Australia has even stranger plant life than Papua New Guinea. Possibly that’s because I’m so used to seeing the same plants every day at home.

This small tree next to Val’s back door is covered with these beautiful flowers:I have a wireless USB dongle left over from my last trip to Australia. I decided to bring it along to see if I could plug it in to get on the web. I knew that it would not have any credit left on it, but I remember recharging it with my credit card. That was the source of my credit card fright. When I tried to recharge the prepaid plan the web page came back saying that my credit card was “not accepted”. Great! Here in Australia with no money. As it turned out, the company does not accept credit cards issued by US banks. It would be nice if they told travelers that before scaring them out of their wits. They said that I could use my card at their office in Brisbane, which is only a four hour round trip from Gympie. Very helpful, eh? We ended up using Val’s credit card.

I’ll finish up with this outlandish thing. I believe it is a bromeliad of some kind:

I looked in Google Images to see if I could find anything like it – no luck. It appears to have grass growing in the middle at first sight, but closer inspection reveals that it is some kind of spiky stuff. Val says that small flowers grow from it.

So, I am settling in for some relaxation and distraction. I’m going to use the time for attitude adjustment. I can use a lot of that.

Thanks to all who wished me bon voyage.

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