Secret Colours and Angry Skies

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 29th, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again, a schedule much busier than I imagined possible and a couple of bad days have kept me off of my soapbox for longer than I like. I was on a roll there for a while but allowed myself to be derailed. I have some news and a few random amusements to unload on you today. Fasten your seat belts, kiddies.

If you happen to have read my post from a couple of weeks ago in which I mentioned the possibility of a health problem, let me tell you that you can forget it. It was nothing. My host, Steve, arranged for me to go to see a doctor, a family member.  The test result was negative. One less thing, eh? I’m even more relieved than I imagined I would be. I should mention that this cost me nothing. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of generosity lately.

It was also arranged by Steve that I would go to an optometrist for an exam and new glasses. I was dreading this, as it usually ends up costing me at least US$500. Free! Again! I will get a nice pair of titanium framed glasses with magnetic shades and my eyesight corrected to 20/20 for the first time.

A few nights ago millions of Americans were hunkered down close to a TV listening to moment-by-moment reports from people being pounded by the weather, wondering if they were next. I heard a snippet of news the day after that there were 150 tornadoes reported on that night. My friend and hostess Marta called me down to see this image of a radar hook echo blasting down Interstate 74 towards Brownsburg. I don’t know if the supercell produced a tornado:

A huge tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You can see a video clip here. Very scary!

I went outside to see if I could see any of the classic signals of an impending tornado, such as mamatus clouds, roll clouds or the “green sky“. It did look threatening, but I saw none of the really scary signs:

I took a couple of shots anyway.

The evening passed with no tornadoes close to me, but many suffered the worst night of their lives. Several hundred people have lost their lives in this stormy month of April.

One to a lighter subject, I visited one of my former institutions of so-called higher learning, Butler University. I have not lived up the the expectations of the graduates of that august university, the most important of which is that you earn huge stinking piles of money. I simply laugh when they send me solicitations for contributions. I visited Holcolmb Gardens for about the millionth time:

In the garden is a charming bronze of Perserphone, the goddess of vegetation. I always thought that she looks as if she is bored. There is a funny story regarding fraternity boys and prominent parts of the bronze’s anatomy. I will not tell it here, but rather leave it to your imagination. I will give you a small hint by disclosing that the story contains a reference to a can of Brasso polish.

This is Steve, my host, inside of a construction the purpose of which I will let you guess:

No, it is not a play-house. Come to think of it, maybe it is, but not for children.

During Steve’s latest adventure out in the woods (a hint) involving the use of the mystery object above, he and his friends discovered a treasure trove of morel mushrooms:

These appear to be giants to me. I’ve had no contact with morels since I was a child when my father hunted for them. I remember him making a delicious pancakes containing huge slabs of morel.

Patience – I am winding down now. I’m going to be gone from Brownsburg for a couple of days, so I may be absent for a while again. Yesterday I found myself on 10th Street in Indianapolis with my cousin, Jack, who had taken a day off to haul me around and entertain me. I’ll tell more about that later, perhaps. My eye was caught by this photographically dull, but thought provoking image:

A less disturbed person might pass by here and notice nothing. I saw Ghost Houses. Leave it to me to make a mountain out of a molehill. Still, every one of these forlorn little stairways once led to a humble abode where humans lived out their lives. I count six of them.

Along the canal beside the garden I mention above grows a brushy scrub forest area which is springing to life after a hard winter. I spied a bit of colour from the little bridge over the canal and crossed over to make my way down to the water line. There I found this tree expressing itself with all its might:

It is, to me, a happy image of renewal. I gave it all my care to prepare it for display. Secret Colours won’t hang in any gallery, but it calms me.

Peace.

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A Weed

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 25th, 2011 by MadDog
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Well, here I am in cold, rainy Indiana. I hardly know what to say, but I’m sure that feeling will pass as my fingers warm from the exertion of typing. It’s taking me much longer than usual to get over my jet lag. I’m up until two or three in the morning and then I sleep until nine or so, four or more hours beyond my normal wake-up. It’s five in the afternoon now and I can hardly hold my eyes open. The body is such a creature of habit, eh?

Now, just as I have you fascinated by my struggle with jet lag, I’ll abruptly switch to another equally enthralling subject – Weeds.

When I went out into Steve and Marta’s lovely suburban yard yesterday and marveled that it was 18:30 and still full daylight, I struggled with my cantankerous mind for a subject with which I might distract myself for an hour or two. I observed the redbuds budding, the flowering plums flowering and the flame maples afire with smoldering seeds. Ah, yes, very nice. Yet some glimmer of shy colour drew me to the back of the lot where a drainage ditch lurks for the clumsy-footed. Yes, here in the neglected corner thrives my favourite weed, the lowly dandelion:

As I fiddled and fretted to compose the ultimate image to express the soul of the dandelion my fevered brain steered recklessly along twisty roads searching for a metaphor like an empty-pack smoker driving around looking for an open shop which still sells cancer-sticks. Suddenly, with a crash of thunder and a flash which temporarily blinded me, the analogy appeared to me. I am a weed.

This goes a long way toward explaining my affinity for dandelions. Dandelions are terribly clever in the arts of survival. I think that’s why they thrive where other weeds perish for lack of the social skills necessary to successful flora. Dandelions are not too awfully ugly. In fact, they exhibit certain charms. The flower is cheery by weed standards. Who can deny the handsomeness of a full, healthy dandelion blossom? The dandelion lies low. It is not erect and proud as the bolder, but more imperiled weeds. When it is not in bloom only the more critical lawn owners take much notice of it, especially as long as the dandelion does not stray into the front yard. Stay in your place, dandelion. The dandelion has a fabled past and appeals to our sense of humour. It is the clown of weeds. It dresses in bright raiment in the early spring. As the season wears on it adopts a comical fluffy head which amuses children and less inhibited adults by coming utterly unglued with the slightest puff from smiling lips. The bright blossoms, harvested in the spring, make an amusing wine with little effort. In the fall, it hides away quietly, leaving hardly a trace.

Yes, I am a weed. A special weed. A weed which is learning the tricks. I’m a dandelion. Trample me, if you must. Spray me. Go ahead, try to yank me up; I’ll come back bigger and more tenacious. I’m a tough customer and you’ll not soon be rid of me. But, if you can cut me some slack and give me a little room in the back corner of the lot, I’ll put on a pretty show for a while and do my best to amuse you.

Daffodils, on the other hand, have no weedy characteristics. They beg for nurture. A hard frost will be fatal. They need their space and it had better be in a good neighborhood or they will sulk:

This is a rather strange daffodil which I have not seen before. Frankly, I don’t think it’s as pretty as the ones with the little trumpet in the middle. I think it’s called a Double Golden Ducat, but I’m not sure.

This is the only time of the year that anybody notices a Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis):

This is their fifteen minutes of fame.

Up close, the redbud blossoms are rather pretty, if minuscule:

It takes a lot of them to make an impression. Think of them as poor people. You hardly notice one or two. It usually takes crowds of them to attract any attention at all.

The deep shades of magenta painting the blossoms of the Flowering Plum tree stand out against the new green leaves which shall soon become darker than the flowers:

It was getting darker as I took these shots. The light was very flat under the cold, threatening sky. I had to boost the ISO on my G11 to 400 to get a decent shutter speed.

The tiny helicopter seeds of the maple tree share the same tint as the plum:

Okay, I think I have plants out of my head for a little while. However, my wrist now itches.

Whenever I come to North America, I have to buy a new watch. Believe me, I’d rather live on Tropic Time for which something as superfluous as a timepiece is not required. In Madang things happen when they need to happen, not a moment sooner (though sometimes hours later):

I have a bag full of old watches at home, the batteries of which have all turned turned to sickly green mush with little scraps of silvery stuff sticking out at odd angles. Never mind. I have not paid more than $6.99 for a watch for decades. I broke my record this time at Wal*Mart (Yes, I know – don’t say it). I had to pay $7.50 for this stunning “Sport Watch”. When I say “I had to pay” that’s misleading. In actuality, I was chauffeured to Wal*Mart by friends Ed and Becky who cared for my worldly needs in Honolulu. They bought me some food and a watch. Hey, I’m not proud. I could have done without the “Sport Watch” label which makes me feel slightly more ridiculous than usual. Oh, well. One can’t expect perfection for seven and a half bucks, eh?

I have one last item of intense interest to the traveling public. It doesn’t fit anywhere else, so I’ll throw it in here. I rode from Phoenix to Indianapolis via US Airways on an airplane which was quite obviously falling apart as we watched. I was suspicious from the beginning when I noted that the armrests had ashtrays built in. It’s been a long time since I saw that. There were bits and pieces of ceiling trim falling down. My fellow passenger’s seat would not stay in the reclined position, so, being an old-fashioned gentleman, I traded seats with her so that she could better sleep. As I began to fill the time with skeptical examination of our winged chariot I was more and more alarmed:

Hey, there’s a screw loose right in front of my eyes! I took a picture, of course. Many of these little caps were missing entirely. In fact, great sections of the side trim of the seats which cover the mechanism and prevent snagged clothing were absent without leave. In the toilet the rim of the contraption had chunks missing, as if attacked by a madman with something more sturdy than those dinky little plastic knives they give you which refuse to cut butter. The holes had been filled in by some substance resembling Silly Putty.

As the line in California Dreamin’ goes, “I began to pray.” This kind of blatant, in-your-face neglect does not inspire confidence. I kept thinking, “If they let me see this, what horrors are they hiding from me? What do the engines look like, for pity’s sake?”

Anyway, here I am, despite US Airways best efforts to kill me. I say, “Neeeaaaahhh – missed me. GO ON, TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT. You can’t hurt a man with nothing to lose!”

As a parting blessing for you, I give you a man who is much worse off than I. Tom Dickson is a fellow who has somehow been coerced into taking seriously one of the most insanely trivial, culturally degraded and irresponsibly numbskulled jobs on the planet. Somebody pays this guy to show us what happens when we try to blend things which ought not to be blended. He begins the insufferably wacky demonstration with the words, “For years people have been asking us to blend Silly Putty.” Yes, I am sure that for a great many of us this question has robbed us of sleep and done irreparable damages to our psyches for decades – “What would happen if I tried to blend a big blob of Silly Putty?” I know that I have suffered greatly while longing for an answer. If you want to be enlightened, watch this.

Good night and good luck in your future life.

 

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Limo – Bye-bye Honolulu

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on April 23rd, 2011 by MadDog
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I have about three hours left before I’ll be picked up by a friend and hauled to the airport for my flight through Phoenix to Indianapolis. I have a severe case of the travel jitters. It’s high anxiety time.

So, I find myself with some time to kill. I seldom actually kill time, I just wound it. Today I subdued some time which would otherwise have doubtless been ill-spent by going to a movie with my hostess, Fran. I was a little leery of the title, Soul Surfer (be prepared to lower your volume to avoid the noisy surf soundtrack on this site) and the subject matter, which you probably already know, but I’ll tell you anyway. Bethany Hamilton, a thirteen year old surfer, suffered the loss of her arm to a shark. That’s more than I really wanted to think about, but there was nothing else fit to watch in the theatre, so I decided to take a chance. I’m glad I did. I seldom label anything as “inspirational” (it takes a lot to inspire me), but this one deserves it. I cried through a lot of it. That’s the “weepy old man” thing.

I’m no movie critic and I’ll not (for once) pretend to know what I’m talking about. I’ll blurt it out anyway. Anna Sophia Robb has a way to go, I’d say. I hope that as she matures she’ll seem  more real. At this stage, she’s a fine actor, but seems to me to fall short of the transparency which allows me to suspend all disbelief. Hey, give her a break. She’s got everything going for her. She’s stunning in a girl-next-door kind of way and she’s beginning to figure out how to make us believe. I’d love to be around long enough to see what she can do when she’s thrity-five or forty.

Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid didn’t seem to be stretched much by their roles and didn’t go for broke. They both made me cry, which is to their credit in my book. Hey, it’s not that hard. Lorraine Nicholson was trying very hard, but didn’t have much to work with in the script. I’d like to see her when she’s more challenged. The rest of the cast was cartoonish, but that can be forgiven. Hey, kiddies, this is a good flick if you can get past the “not Oscar material” flavour. I give it thumbs up, if anybody cares.

I have to admit that the thing which distracted me most was how did they do it? I had some idea that there was major digital trickery involved in the disappearance of Anna’s arm, but it was reasonably well done. If you’re as amused as I am about this, have a look here.  I was so wrapped up in the story and busy trying not to make too many sobbing noises that I forgot to look for the give-aways which betray the gimmick. There were a few pretty good surfing scenes, but the rest of the cinematography had “B” written all over it.

Thanks, Fran, for putting up with a peculiar old man, putting a roof over my head and dragging me off to a movie. It’s the cheapest week I’ve ever spent in Honolulu and I had a good time. That’s a rare combination here.

As I was walking along yesterday I saw one of the ridiculously long limos which endless roam the local streets. I’m sure that there must be longer ones somewhere, but I haven’t seen them yet. I snapped this shot:

Never being satisfied with what my camera delivers, I decided I wanted to make it even longer. This should have been relatively straightforward, but I ran into some distortions which I did not like and had to change my mind about what I was doing. What I may have done here is to create the world’s longest Alfa Romeo:

At least that’s what it reminds me of. I had to remove the front license plate, because it was so distorted by the transformations that it gave away the gag. That huge lower lip makes it look as if it’s pouting.

This ridiculous blossom gets my vote for the most outrageous Hibiscus I’ve ever seen:

If I were going to name this it would have to be the Carmen Miranda Hibiscus.

Okay, getting silly now as the hour of departure approaches, here’s a Japanese bride being photographed on the beach while a sunbather watches while I watch them all:

I won’t think about that too long. I’m reminded of the early Star Trek episodes in which the ship’s computer would warn Spock, “Prepare for recursion.” Google failed to return any reference to that in Star Trek.

I’m disappointed.

I’m scheduling this post to be published while I’m winging my way across the ocean. As usual, I may seem to be here, but I’m really not.

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Jazzing Up Your Image – The Process

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on April 22nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again, as you read this, I will likely have been stuffed into a long metal tube with a huge mob of other flesh and bone humans and am presently leaving a trail of noxious fumes across the frigid night sky between Honolulu and Phoenix. At Phoenix, I’ll hustle from one winged meat wagon to another and arrive, hungry, tired and lonely in Indianapolis. I pray the ground will not be white. I’ll be greeted by an old friend who will house and feed me for my time in Indy. My life today depends pretty much on the love of friends. That’s a good thing. It keeps me going, sometimes even when I’d rather not go.

Faithful reader DogsDon’tPurr commented that she would like to see some step-by-step illustrations of how a digital image is processed in order to produce a more pleasing image, according to the likes of the photographer. I had to think that over for all of five minutes. I’m pretty much running out of material here in Honolulu, so I grabbed a couple of illustrative images from my camera and recorded intermediate steps in my processing so that I can show the steps which I take to prepare my images for presentation. If you feel yourself getting drowsy, switch to another channel.

I don’t suggest that my method of working with images is any better than anyone else’s. Each image maker needs to tailor a sequence which feels right. I used Photoshop for these images, but similar results can be achieved with any image manipulation program, providing it has tools sufficient for the task.

I chose the first image to make a point. The shot as it comes from the camera does not need to be perfect. That’s why we have software to fix them. Practically nothing gets from my camera directly to these pages. I fiddle with every image until I’m happy with it. I took this yesterday evening at sunset from the apartment of a friend:

As it is, it’s a throw-away. There are so many problems with it that I’d bore you to list them. In fact, it’s so bad that I knew from experience that I would never end up with an image which looked “natural”, so I had it in mind from the beginning to go for the “vintage postcard” look. With an image like this, that’s what you’ll end up with anyway, so it’s best to just go with the flow.

First I lightened it up a bit and straightened the buildings.

Next, I had to decide what portion of the image I really wanted in the finished product. I used a cropping tool to remove the obtrusive building to the right and a little of the building on the left along with some of the bottom of the shot:

Now that I look at it on the page, I wish I’d removed the small building on the right also. I could easily make it vanish, but I’ll leave that for another time. What’s left is what I want to show. That’s cropping.

Then I lightened up the lower part of the image because all detail was buried in the shadows. Photoshop has a special tool for lightening up dark parts and darkening light parts in the same operation. I use it often for such images:

Now I can see some detail in the dark part at the bottom, but the colour is dismal.

So, I go to work on it with a tool that allows me to modify the hue of selected colours. I’m dealing mostly with green, so I need to take magenta out and add lots of cyan and yellow:

In the same operation I also took some cyan out of the red, which richend and warmed the sky a bit. The greens are now much brighter, but there is already an artificial look to the image, because I’m trying to create something from nothing. Now we’re crossing over into interpretation. I’m making it up as I go.

Next, I lightened the entire image. Then I used a special selection tool in Photoshop to select only the sky and I increased the saturation and contrast. This livened up the sky considerably:

I also lightened up the buildings and increased the contrast to give them some depth.  In this step I had to fix each little balcony on the building on the left. Some of them had furniture on them. I removed it all. You may have to click to enlarge to see what I’m talking about. You may note that I brightened up the lights in the buildings.

After looking at the image for a while I decided I may as well go the final step in jazzing it up. I did not like the strong blue cast in the clouds on the horizon, so I desaturated them to make them grey, leaving just the tops bluish. I also selected the top third of the image and made a graduated edge on the selection (I “faded” it on the bottom edge). I darkened this area to make the sky more dramatic. It’s an old movie trick:

There we have it. A “Vintage Postcard” shot from Honolulu. And, this proves the point:

Aloha.

For the next demo, I decided to use an example of an image which is not so shabby right out of the camera. You could print this water lily shot and put it in your photo album with reasonable pride. It’s a “lucky” shot:

Ah, some, however, are never satisfied. I can see the possibilities, but it needs some work. This is a sister image to one I put on these pages a while ago. The bee is just facing the other way.

First, I brightened up the entire image and cropped it so that it conforms more to my sense of composition which is biased strongly towards the Rule of Thirds (if you don’t know, you can use my search box):

On my Canon G11 I tend to shoot images slightly underexposed as it seems to give me better saturation of the colours. Maybe I’m dreaming. It’s just a feeling. I haven’t done any side-by-side comparisons to prove it. While I’m rambling photographically, I’ll mention that I’m going crazy trying to edit images on this five year old Toshiba notebook. The screen is horrible. The slightest change of angle changes the contrast drastically and the room lighting makes a dramatic difference. I know the quality of my images has suffered since I left my huge, high quality graphics monitor in Madang. It’s an ancient Sony CRT terminal, but I love it.

The difference in the next image is subtle. If you look at the centre of the blossom, it will appear less colourful than the image before. It may appear to be a step backward:

What I was doing was changing the balance of colours in the center to bring up some subtle shading which was barely discernable in the original. I’ll fix the drabness in the next step, but if I did that first, I’d be unable to get back the shading in the centre which makes the details there more visible.

Here I’ve restored the vibrancy of the colours and sharpened the detail. The greens were still pretty dull and there was little to work with there. I jazzed them up as much as I could without making them look too fake:

I also selectively brought out the bee by brightening only the mid-brightness areas, leaving the shadows dark. For “naturalness”, I’d call this image finished.

Yet, the image still lacked zing. After scratching my head for a while, I decided to abandon all caution and dip into the Artistic Filters in Photoshop. For this shot I chose Poster Edges and applied it with some restraint:

It’s easy to go too far with Poster Edges. All I wanted was just a bit more outlining of the petals and a little more definition of the detail in the centre of the blossom.

There. It’s done.

I’ve known a great number of people who had a good eye for an image and produced great pictures, but were unhappy with their images for a variety of reasons. All of these vague dissatisfactions can be evaporated by a little patience learning to use a few tools in an image editing program. One doesn’t have to spend anything to get in the game. There are lots of free choices. Though not as slick, GIMP is a good editing program that will do just about everything that Photoshop will do, at least the things that a sane person would want.

I’ve taught many people to edit their images in just a few sessions of an hour or two. Once one is “over the hump” of the learning curve, self instruction is easy, considering the huge number of free tutorials available on the web.

The initial learning process can be a little frustrating, as I do not allow one to write down keystroke-by-keystroke instructions. I have found that rapid progress and retention come from understanding the process rather than memorizing the steps. I’ve also found that a glass of nice Merlot makes the whole learning experience much more enjoyable for both student and teacher.

Imagine that.

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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 21st, 2011 by MadDog
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I need to begin by stating that I hate baseball. Perhaps that’s too strong. I am intensely indifferent to baseball. I feel much the same about most team sports, having been the runt of the class throughout my school days. Playing any team sport was always an acute embarrassment to me, because I was too small to be useful in most games. Baseball, football and basketball were the most troublesome, because nobody wanted me on their team. Tsk, tsk, how sad. Pity me.

Anyway, when Pastor Ron Arnold of Kaimuki Christian Church, brothers and sisters who have stuck with me for three decades through thick and thin, invited me to go to a baseball game with him on Monday evening, I was more than a little surprised. It seemed so ludicrous. My first thought was, “Yeah, sure. I want to go and sit for several hours watching the game that is at the top of my list of Don’t Want To Do Things.” Then, reason overcame me for a lucid moment and I realised that Ron was reaching out with the hand of friendship. How was he to know?

I attempted a diversionary ploy by mentioning that if I went to a baseball game I would probably want to drink a beer, that being what I imagined that men do at such events. I had previously only been to one baseball game in my life. I immediately fell into a deep, dreamless slumber and had to be vigorously shaken to waken me when it was all over. Ron was ready for such attempts to give him the cold shoulder and said that he would have a beer with me, which surprised me once again. I had to relent. Who can turn down such an invitation?

So, at a little after six we were off to the baseball stadium to watch the Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawaii battle it out with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. True to his word, Ron treated me to one of the largest beers I have ever attempted to consume:

That image is one which I never expected to see while housed in this body. That’s me enjoying a baseball game. It was immensely helpful to be accompanied by a friend who knew all of the arcane mysteries of the game and explained them patiently as needed. At least I could now watch a game without being completely baffled by what is going on in front of my eyes. By the time the fifth or sixth inning came along I was a bit peckish. We went down to the concession stands and each of us procured a ridiculously huge hot dog. I couldn’t begin to eat all of it. It was platoon-sized. Ah, America . . .

Possibly the most interesting event of the evening occurred immediately following the National Anthem (yes, Virginia, the American one) when another National Anthem was sung with great vigor. The song, heretofore unknown to me, is Hawaiʻi ponoʻī, which means “Hawaiʻi’s own”. Surely Hawaii is unique in this respect, as it is in many others.

So, as the clock winds down on my time in Honolulu, I have, on my Ticket of Life,  punched the little box which is labeled Baseball and enjoyed a splendid distraction with an old friend and champion of my work. Though a baseball game was not on my bucket list, I have added it and checked it off retrospectively.

I’ll likely have only one more post before I’m herded onto a huge aluminium livestock mover and slung across the remainder of the Pacific Ocean on my way, circuitously, to Indianapolis, where I will be miserably greeted by snow, I very much fear. So, I’ll now bore you silly with an accumulation of left-overs which fit nowhere else. In the tremendously pretentious pond outside the Waikiki Hilton, I was very surprised to find a kind of fish which is familiar to me, namely African Chiclids the genus of which I believe is Pseudotropheus:

At one time, Eunie and I had seven tanks full of various African Chiclid species. They are very colourful fish and have interesting breeding habits. You can see the egg-spots on the anal fin of this female which, some speculate, serve as a sort of target for the male when he is called upon to do his thing. Some of them are mouth-brooders. The fry spend a great deal of time in the mouth of the female until they are large enough to fend for themselves. Though this is not an image of which I’m proud, it turned out much better than I had reason to expect. I was shooting down at an angle through about fifteen centimetres of rather murky water.

This shot is likewise undeserving of any prizes. I include it only because I was amused, seeing it on my computer screen, that the foamy water, frozen by a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, appears very much like ice:

I’ve uploaded a higher resolution file than normal so that you can click on it and see the frosty detail. I did not expect this. It was a happy surprise.

This little bird is the Zebra Dove, Geopelia striata:

You can see them anywhere on Oahu and, presumably, on the other islands. They hang around anywhere that might have food on the ground, so you’d better be prepared to have them waddling around your feet while you eat outdoors. The have an annoying habit of staying just ahead of your feet while you’re walking. It sometimes makes me feel as if I might step on one, but it hasn’t happened yet. They are pretty, in a girl-next-door sort of way. The purple feet make me giggle.

I’ll wrap this up with a motley collection of Hibiscus shots. You can’t swing a dead cat here without damaging a Hibiscus bush. They are everywhere. I suppose that’s appropriate, since the Hibiscus is Hawaii’s State Flower, specifically the Pua Aloalo (Hibiscus brackenridgei), a bright yellow species. Here is some sort of pink variety:

As it is in Papua New Guinea, there seems no end to the colours to choose from. I see new shades nearly every day. Until 1988 pretty much all varieties of Hibiscus were glommed together and the group as a whole was considered to be the State Flower. At that time, the Pua Aloalo was selected as the sole member of the Hibiscus tribe to represent the state. Bet you didn’t know that. Neither did I until five minutes ago. The result of which is that some older material shows the Hawaii state flower in the wrong colour. It is properly yellow. No substitutes allowed!

Is this hot pink? I’m decades behind on colour names. A trip to the paint store makes me laugh out loud. Who chooses those names? No matter the name, my camera had a very hard time with it:

Digital sensors of the kind I can afford still don’t have enough dynamic range to capture such super-saturated colours realistically.

This is a yellow variety which I think is the Pua Aloalo, but I’m not sure:

Anybody want to jump in on this one? The blooms on this bush seemed to be very close to the ground compared to most of the others.

This one has a cup-shaped blossom:

It’s fun to shoot Hibiscus, because there are a huge variety of colours and they pose so nicely. Eventually you end up with a colossal collection of images which you have spent a ridiculous amount of time building and are worth absolutely nothing to anybody. It’s sort of like collecting Hummel Figureines, except you don’t have to pay for them. What could be better?

The church paid for me to go see a shrink today. What a thoughtful thing to do. I know it was Pastor Ron’s doing. Thanks, mate. I was happy to find that the very nice young man with lots of sheepskins hanging on his wall prescribed only books for me – no meds. It was very interesting to me that he said that at the level of depression which I’m experiencing, there is no medication which has been proven more effective than a placebo. Well, I took St. John’s Wort for years knowing all along that its effectiveness was disputed. It gave me some feeling of control.

My reluctance to go on medication for my depression is based on two ideas. First, there is considerable doubt whether a medication would have any beneficial effect at all – it’s a toss-up, unless you’re pretty bad off to start with. Even if it does make me “feel better”, that is just going to lull me into a state of mind where I ignore the root causes of my depression and do no deal with them. That’s even worse. I don’t want to feel better because I’m ingesting a powerful psychoactive drug which is constantly meddling with my natural brain chemistry. As bizarre as my head lab is, I’ve grown accustomed to it and I recognise that the quirkiness it generates is a big part of what makes me me. I like being a bit off-centre. It’s the major portion of what little charm I have. The other problem is that even if it works, if it makes me all mellow and chilled out, I can’t keep taking it forever or I’ll sizzle my noggin permanently and become utterly dependent on it. So, what happens when I go cold turkey? Hey, all those pesky things I didn’t notice while whacked out on Prozac come slithering out of the bushes and begin gnawing on my ankles. They’ve been lying in wait for me while I was in the zone.

No meds, please. I need to take life in my bare hands and subdue it. It’s gloves off from now on.

MPBM reader and Facebook friend Kristy congratulated me for soldiering on in a message yesterday and reminded me of something Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re walking through Hell, keep walking!”

Excellent advice, I’d say.

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The Army Museum and Other Curiosities

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on April 20th, 2011 by MadDog
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I can hardly take in the fact that I have only three days left in Honolulu. As I’ve said already, it has been strange and disturbing to be here without Eunie, but I realise that these intensely unhappy feelings are going to be with me for a long time and I need to learn to deal with them. More distressing yet are the seemingly unending series of meetings, appearances and presentations I must take care of in order to properly discharge my responsibilities to my supporters. These were once obligations which Eunie and I attended to with confidence. Now it is the loneliest thing in the world for me.

Still, there have been some distractions which I have enjoyed. I had decided to go to the Army Museum, forgetting that Eunie and I had been there many years ago. I had a couple of false starts finding it. People kept giving me instructions like, “It’s right down there.”, pointing in some vague direction or, “Keep going until you’re almost to the water and look for the flags.”, indicating generally in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. Having finally found it I immediately recognised that I’d been there before and the inevitable weird feeling that there was something very important missing flooded over me. I toughed it out and went through the museum. You can cover the whole thing easily in an hour.

There are many well designed displays chock full of goodies for war buffs. Here is a nicely done display of all of the Japanese war planes which participated in the attack on Pearl Harbour:

The models were very beautifully constructed down to the finest details. All of them had tail numbers of planes which were in the attack and most gave the pilot’s name.

Here is a display of a period photo of Waikiki beach with a replica of one of the many machine-gun nests which were placed there in preparation for the expected invasion:

I tried in vain to find any other images of these defenses on the web – no luck.

No history of Hawaii’s role in World War II could be complete without the story of the 442nd. The motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was “Go for Broke.” It was composed of Japanese-American men, mostly from Hawaii. The tale is powerful and it is well told in the museum. These men proved their loyalty without doubt during their bloody battles with the German Army in Europe. They were one of the most successful and highly decorated units of the war. The price for this was paid in flesh. The casualty rate for the unit was extremely high.

I saw a couple of flame-thrower demonstrations when I was in the National Guard. My general impression was that I wanted nothing to do with them:

My opinion hasn’t changed at all after seeing this display once again.

I have done some wandering in other places. Here is a carefully composed image of what I not-so-jokingly call The Hundred-Million Dollar Mile:

Such naked displays of wealth can be found in countless breezy ports around the world. Honolulu hasn’t the glitz and sophisticated, snobbish class of the Euopean leisure nests, but it holds its head up when it comes to flamboyant spending.

I ducked my head inside the outer door of this establishment and eyed with great amusement the intimidating iron gate hidden just out of view of the aimless wandered. The stern warning, “MEMBERS ONLY” was enough to turn me away:

Ah, well, the Yacht Clubs in Lae and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea are much more welcoming, if not so ostentatious. The Madang Club, along with the Madang Game Fishing Association is a very friendly place where visitors are gladly welcomed. Maybe the principle here is that the farther away you get from the big money, the more hospitable the atmosphere becomes.

More in line with the common man’s reach and taste is this sort of yacht, the classic Hawaiian outrigger racing canoes:

This shot was taken on a Sunday morning. As you can see, it is a very popular sport.

I got all arty while composing this shot. It was a little tricky, because I was working against the rhythm of the small groups of canoes racing for the finish line. I wanted to capture the contrast of the small canoes, steeped in Hawaiian history, the glamorous yachts in the mid-distance and the cold, blank-faced buildings in the background. The image as it came from my camera was speechless. All of the elements were there, but the hues and light levels were all wrong:

It might surprise you that I spent more than an hour working on the image. The sky was all blotchy, pale white, so I made it blue. The buildings had an unnatural cyan cast and seemed very flat. I sharpened them, and the masts, warmed up the hue and boosted the contrast. It took a while to get just the look I wanted.  Moving down, the larger boats behind the canoes and the dock were deeply shadowed on the sides, so I brightened them up and removed a bluish cast which made them look strange. Finally, the canoes required a lot of work to make them look the way I wanted. It’s still a very ordinary photo, but it now speaks to me much more clearly. Except for the cost of a modest camera every three or four years, this hobby costs me nothing but time, which I count better spent than staring at a television set.

As my final gasp of artistic expression for the day, I’ll present Buildings and Sky:

Simplicity appeals to me, mainly because my life seems to be far more complicated than it needs to be. I looked up at these buildings against the dark blue sky and listened. Little observations, sounding much like me speaking to myself, began to whisper. . . See the faint cirrus streak connecting the tops of the buildings? See the stark contrast? See all those angled lines, some strong and some faint, barely observable? See the strong black columns intruding? See the reddish glow of the sunlight reflected from the coppery windows. The width and height of this image exactly match the Golden Ratio, which is supposed to be a most pleasing shape to the human eye. The buildings follow the Rule of Thirds.

It’s fun to see how much information can be crammed into such a simple picture.

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Honolulu Again – The Paper Boat

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 17th, 2011 by MadDog
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My emotions are very confused now in my second day in Honolulu. I last visited in 2008 and wrote several posts while here. It feels very strange to return alone to a place which Eunie and I visited many times. It is a convenient stopping point in the mid-Pacific about half-way through the long trips back and forth between the mainland USA and Papua New Guinea. There are people here who have been friends for thirty years. It’s a very sad feeling to be here without her.

I have to learn to deal with these emotions; they will diminish, but never depart. Certain places, events, sounds and sights will always provoke melancholic nostalgia, such as this beginning of a Waikiki sunset:

The day began with a visit to my supporting church to get the car they had offered. Though the offer was generous, it did generate a considerable amount of anxiety. Driving in Madang is not much of a challenge if you have mastered the martial art of pothole dodging. Driving in Honolulu is another matter entirely. Though drivers here seem to me unusually placid and slow to anger, the sheer mass of traffic is daunting to a fellow from the bush. I did not want to have to burden someone with the task of picking me up and returning me to my friend’s apartment every time I needed to go to a meeting, but I certainly was not eager to take on city driving. I’ll have to do it when I get to Indiana. I’m satisfied to forestall it until then. So, I said thanks, but no thanks to the vehicle and departed in a friend’s car.

My first order of business was to purchase a bag of fruit. I have gained ten pounds since I left Madang, partly due to Val feeding me rather too well. I’m not as vain as I used to be; at sixty-seven it seems a little pointless. No matter how vain I am, I will never look as good as I did before. Life wears us down, eh? Anyway, I’ve decided to cut back on several food and beverage items of which I have indulged myself a little too freely on the grounds that “I’m on vacation.” While this is usually an excellent excuse, I am indulging myself right out of my wardrobe. My jeans all have a 79cm (31 inch) waist. At my normal weight, I fit easily into them and need a belt to remain secure – just a belt, no suspenders – I’ve always lived dangerously. Now I can barely get the buttons fastened and a belt is superfluous. I am far too frugal to buy new clothes; my jeans have a few good years left in them. So, I must stop putting it on around the middle. All those words were just to introduce this shot of a little farmer’s market that sets up shop three times a week just down the street from Fran’s apartment:

As usual, I was flabbergasted by the prices. I don’t see how people live in Hawaii. Three apples, a medium bag of grapes, six bananas and a little container of pineapple chunks cost me over twenty dollars. A small, one room apartment in Waikiki (very modest and no view except the noisy traffic in front) rents for $1,000 or more a month. For “more” read “much more”. I would soon starve if I had to live in Honolulu. Some of the other food items were pretty reasonable. I got a decent Mexican lunch for $7.00. The lobster tails (see the orange sign) were the only bargain at ten for $20.00. Go figure.

Which brings me to a subject which has long disturbed me about the city. I’ll begin by saying that I am completely ignorant of the social problems here and may be out of line. If so, I apologise. There seem to be an inordinate number of down-and-out souls in the streets. Possibly there are no more than would be found in any large city, but here they strike a sharp contrast with the glitz and gluttonous consumption of a city where one can rent a Ferrari for nine-hundred bucks a day. And this brings us, the long way around, to the paper boat.

As we passed near the fabulous grounds of Ft. DeRussy, the American military recreational centre, we noticed a fellow displaying a very strange little model boat. He claimed to have made it himself and asked twenty dollars for it. Though it was very interesting, I had no way to carry it on my travels. Fran decided to buy it. The man said it was made of magazine pages:

I had no reason to doubt this, but it seemed unlikely.

As you can clearly see, it is absolutely true. I can’t see how anyone can regularly create something so labour intensive and sell it for twenty dollars. There is something altogether different going on here.

Here is another shot showing that the logs are made of rolled-up paper:

Having had plenty of experience in Madang with street peddlers I wondered, as the money changed hands, what the fellow was going to do with it.  I was going to tell the end of the story here, but I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to be disrespectful to the man or demean those who are in such dire straits. Let’s just say that it is sad. And count our blessings.

Not far down the street is the impressive statue of the last royal ruler of Hawaii, King David Kalakauma:

Called the Merrie Monarch, presumably because he was such a fun-loving guy, he wanted to consolidate many South Pacific Islands into a Polynesian Empire. This proved to be ill-fated. The history of his reign is interesting reading. The politics and power plays at work in Hawaii at that time were somewhat bizarre.

The evening scenery proved even more colourful. This strange object is a poi pounder:

I searched for a while for an interesting link to pass on to you. Strangely, there seem to be none. Use your imagination. I don’t think King Kong could manage to pound his poi with this one. The usable utensils are obviously much smaller. If you’ve got a few minutes, you might be amused by this video clip demonstrating that the traditionally male job of pounding poi is very hard work.

I’ll interject a photographic note about the shot above. The light was obviously very dim. I had to boost the ISO to 400 to give me a shutter speed of one second. I then braced the camera against a handrail and took three exposures to make sure I had one with no blur from camera movement. Though there is a lot of noise in the image, it is usable. The long shutter speed produced an interesting “silky water” effect in the fountain.

As the day got sleepy (jet lag setting in) we walked out to the west end of the beach for a good view of the setting sun:

I happened to catch a jet airliner heading for final approach at the airport.

On the walk back I got this shot of one of the best lit trees in town:

Aloha.

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