Good Fences

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 14th, 2011 by MadDog
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As you read this I am likely being hurled across the mighty Pacific at a frightful speed on my way to lovely Hawaii. I hope my hair doesn’t catch fire again. Eunie and I had our first big Hawaii adventure in Honolulu with our son, Hans. After our brief island holiday we flew more or less directly to Madang and arrived, tired and bewildered, thirty years ago yesterday, the 13th of April, 1981. That was a lifetime ago.

I certainly do love Hawaii for its multi-culturalness. Hmmm . . . I seem to have coined a new word. If it doesn’t exist, it should. Oahu has provided us much amusement over the three decades we have been stopping there to visit friends and supporters. Kaimuki Christian Church has backed our work in Madang in spirit and cold cash for all these years. I’m going there to show my gratitude and report on the sad events of 2010.

None of this has anything whatsoever to do with today’s subject. I was just leading you down the garden path.

It’s said that “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”. Well, that also has nothing to do with what I’m going to talk about, if I ever get around to it.

On Sunday, I went out to the great Oz bush (actually not far from Gympie) to pretend to work with a group of nice people from the Gympie Rotary Club. I must admit that the whole Rotary thing is a bit mysterious to me, but the folks have their fingers stuck into a lot of very helpful pies. I’ve been to a few meetings in Madang, but never had the energy to join. Really, I’m not much of a joiner. That’s a poor excuse, I know.

The amount of damage done by the floods in Queensland earlier this year is astounding. Thousands of people are still out of their homes and fifteen lives were lost. I believe that nine are still listed as missing. What we were dealing with here is more mundane, but nevertheless a personal tragedy for many farmers. I’m talking about this:

I reckon it’s impossible to say how many kilometers of fencing were destroyed in the floods. I’ve given little thought to fences in the past. If you’re a livestock farmer, I imagine that you care a lot about your fences. Livestock do not tend to stay at home willingly. They naturally prefer to roam and herd more or less randomly. They are like Hollywood actors in that respect. In the shot above you can see Val toiling in the foreground to remove the tangled mess of . . . stuff . . . which had been deposited on the fence by the flood water. In many places the fencing is knocked down completely and in other areas it has been washed away. We were warned not to breathe too much while clearing away the trash. “It’s flood debris.”, we were told, as if this explained it all. I tried not to breathe. I was not successful.

After clearing the mess, we were told which areas needed to be cleared completely so that new posts and barbed wire could be installed. While we were there this truck hauled away several loads of tangled wire. It was a very tricky job to collect the stuff and get it up on the bed of the truck. At first it seemed impossible to me:

After a while I got the hang of it. Barbed wire is scary. It bites!

We came across an entire irrigation system which had been washed down from upstream:

The pipes looked very heavy, but I soon discovered that they are made from very thin aluminium. I could carry an entire length on my shoulder. These too went on a truck to be hauled off somewhere. I have no idea where all this stuff was going.

When we took a break it was all so very rural Australian. I wished sincerely that I had a beautiful, sweaty Akubra hat to suit the mood. Then again, I’m not sure Yanks are allowed to wear them.

As if the barbed wire were not enough to contend with, there were plenty of noxious plants:

We were warned of poisonous snakes also. I think that Australians like to scare each other. I never saw any.

After clearing the old fencing, we had to deal with downed fence lines which had salvageable wire. This required learning a skill which I’d previously never even considered – rolling barbed wire by hand. It is very tricky indeed. I managed to do quite a few rolls, scratching myself in the process only once:

The main problem is that the roll becomes quite heavy as you snake more and more wire into it. You also have to turn your body around as you roll to accommodate the wire as it wraps into the coil. You can’t twist it. It’s a lot like rolling a stiff garden hose, but it’s heavier and it wants to eat you.

In the evening we went to a classic Australian barbecue. I got my last chance to practice eating like an Australian. It’s highly amusing. The fork is held with the tines curving downward instead of up (probably appropriate for Australia) and the knife is used to pile food on top of it. Much care is given to getting the proper mixture of foods onto the fork and carving the pile into a precise shape. I have not quite gotten the hang of this yet. I need more practice. Then the whole conglomeration is shoved into the mouth with little ceremony. Someday I may take some pictures to demonstrate the process for your amusement, if I can find a willing participant. Australians seem to require both hands to eat. If you tied an Australian’s left hand behind his back he would starve.

While at the barbecue I walked out to the obligatory swimming pool and stared into its eerie blue-lit water. Whatever I was looking for, I didn’t find it there. So I took a picture to record the moment of non-enlightenment:

When I saw the image on the screen, I scratched my head, trying to remember why I wasted the pixels. Then I was suddenly overcome by an intense urge to express myself in art. Nothing unusual about that. It would be so much better if I could draw or paint or sculpt or whatever. It is frustrating to have so many beautiful things floating around in my head with no escape route. It’s very crowded in there. I’m left with no option but to fake it, as usual. This is my tribute to nonrepresentational art.

There is a ghost of me in the image. The two dark diagonal bars on the margin of the pool are shadows of my legs.

That’s all there is left of me. I’m gone.

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Every Bloomin’ Thing

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 12th, 2011 by MadDog
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Well, the fun just keeps on coming. I have, in the last couple of weeks, spent nearly US$1,200 on medical tests. These people must think I’m made of money. I have news for them. I’m all turnip inside. All I have to show for it is that I “might have something wrong” with me. Those are my words, not the doctor’s. The doctor could not be more specific. I don’t envy doctors their jobs, but it nevertheless annoys me that one cannot get the information one needs. It’s unreasonable to expect more, I suppose. If one takes one’s car to a mechanic saying, “It makes a funny noise.” the likely answer will be, “That’s because there’s something wrong with it.”

If one complains that the answer lacks detail, the likely answer will be, “Well, if you want more, it’s gonna cost you. The free consultation is over.” Hey, we all have to make a living, eh?

I’m quite certain that nobody but a die-hard masochist would relish receiving medical bad news. Right now, anything time-consuming or expensive is bad news to me, because I have a schedule to keep and I’m practicing intense frugality. Once I’m in North America, I’ll have a bit more wiggle room, at least as far as scheduling is concerned. As for the frugality, I’m rather enjoying pinching pennies. I’ve discovered the joy of learning how little I can spend while doing something other than lying in bed all day complaining.

Do we ever have any truly attractive options when such things come up? I think not. I have no option to do anything at all until I get to the USA. I have no time left. I might choose to get the needed test done while in the USA, but I’d have to start from scratch with the same preliminary tests over again. Then there is the horrendous medical system (or lack thereof, as the case may be) to deal with. Doing anything about it while I’m in Canada is out of the question. I have no rights there. I will most likely do nothing until I end my North America segment. I can continue the tests in Australia, since Val has agreed, most generously, to take care of me if the need arises. I can’t say how important that is to me. Or, I may choose to do nothing at all. It’s the “wait and see” approach.

I’m not ready to divulge any details of the medical mystery for a few reasons. I don’t have enough information to make an interesting story. I’ve been told that the likelihood that it is serious is not overwhelming (my words again – possibly wishful thinking). I don’t have time now to do the necessary test (undoubtedly also very expensive) to discover if there is, in fact, anything detectable wrong with me. So, why do I even mention it?

I don’t really know. I’ve been dealt another hand of cards. Hmmm . . . what game is it that we are playing? Can’t recall. Well, I’ll just paint a smile on my face and bluff while I’m trying to remember. It’s the old “box of chocolates” thing again.

In two more days I’ll be winging my way across the western Pacific Ocean to Honolulu. I need to make a stop there to see long-time supporters of my work. It will be a friendly reception, I’m sure, but nevertheless stressful. I have always felt at home in Honolulu, but living there is horribly expensive. I gave up dreams of retirement there long ago. That seems to be only for the rich. It’s a nice place to visit. Bring your credit cards. Blessedly, I have a place to crash with an old friend. My supporters are lending me a car, which makes me tremble with anxiety. I’m being turned loose in Honolulu traffic with someone else’s car! We’ll have to wait to see how much I’ll actually drive it.

I’ve been fretting over travel details today after visiting the doctor again. I got stuck by the nurse for my Pneumovax shot for a bargain price. So far that has been the bright point of the day. As you may detect, my mood is not joyous, so I’ll move on to today’s so-called amusement, a collection of unidentified Australian wildflowers.

Most of these shots were taken at Teewah. The bush area there is full of mysterious blossoming vegetation. For instance, this bizarre thing:

Many seem to require a caption:

I’d call this one Raggedy Anne.

This looks strangely like a Sweet Pea, but I’m sure it’s not:

Possibly Pop-Eye could tell us. Did you get that one, kiddies? A poor attempt at humour.

I was told the name of this flowering tree, but immediately forgot it:

Though my sense of smell is permanently crippled, I could detect a very sweet fragrance from these flowers. Supposedly the parrots get drunk on the stuff. Sadly, I did not see that.

I’m trying to think if I know of any other flowers which have exactly three petals:

No, nothing is coming through. Anybody??

This is probably the prettiest shot of the bunch:

It appeared to me strange that nearly all of these plants grew in seeming isolation. I expected them to occur in patches of the same species.  I’ve been wondering about this. Again, nothing comes to mind. Maybe I’m hallucinating again. I wonder what causes that also.

These were common enough all over the beach at Teewah, just above the high tide line:

As with many things, the most common was the most uninteresting.

This one captured the ugly prize, I think:

I didn’t touch it, as it looks poisonous.

My pre-travel jitters are rattling my cage with great zeal. This afternoon, I rattled Val’s cage with my fretting over a line on my electronic ticket for Sydney which stated in no uncertain terms:



0 pc / 20kg

Okay, which is it? Is it nothing or is it 20 kilos? It seemed, at first, that nobody knew. At least the information was unavailable or inconclusive over the demon-possessed, much-cursed automated question answering line. Be honest now; do you hate those things? Val finally got a human (or computer which had attended acting school) on the phone who seemed to indicate that I would be allowed one bag in the hold of 20 kilos. Why don’t they just say that?

Anyway, I have tomorrow to pack my pathetic rags in my checked baggage and pray that they won’t weigh my carry-on back-pack or (horrors!) actually measure it. I try to conceal it as much as possible until I’m actually on the plane in the hope that nobody will notice. So far, this ploy has worked for me. It is impossible to get it into the overhead storage. I travel with my US$8.00 suit jacket and my black fedora. These items cleverly hide the fact that my back-pack can not reasonably be considered as being underneath the seat in front of me. I also pretend to be asleep. My feet are jammed in on either side of the back-pack so that elevated knees will not give the game away. I don’t imagine that this actually fools anybody, especially the cabin crew. Perhaps my pitiful appearance and ridiculous attempt at subterfuge gains me mercy.

Was travel this tricky in the days of the stage-coach? I doubt it. Then the world was much bigger. Maybe that bigger world was simpler. I like simple. Why can’t I have simple? It seems out of reach.

At least my sense of humour is still more or less intact.

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The Lilies of the Pond

Posted in On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on April 9th, 2011 by MadDog
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Yesterday it was impossible for me not to think of Eunie’s death seven months ago. How I miss her. How I’ve changed. I’ve gone through another lifetime in the last few months beginning with despair and suicidal thoughts, stark fear and crippling grief. Much of that is now behind me, hopefully to return only in isolated episodes. Perhaps I am maturing in this strange new life. Loneliness remains my most troubling companion, but I’ve come to realise that it not need plague my future. My allies are my faith, my friends and naive hope.

Being here in Gympie for the last few weeks has been not unlike traveling to a different, less lonely planet. It has provided me with a wealth of distractions and allowed me to heal more rapidly. Certainly travel itself is stressful and I’ve had to make some major adjustments. The stress I felt in Madang was the pressure of the too familiar. Everything in life reminded me constantly of loss and provoked the aching in my heart. Here, at least, that is absent.

So, being in a reflective mood today, I naturally began to think about light. I think that may be a pun of sorts. I don’t usually contrive puns, because I’m no good at it. I suppose that I just proved that point.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about light from the perspective of an artist, in particular, a photographer. It seems to me, and I know that it’s not an original thought, that we do not, in fact, see the real world. Perhaps that requires some explanation. What we do see is only light. Our eyes do not respond to objects, they only sense light. That’s all there is as far as our eyes are concerned. We see only photons reflected or emitted by objects. Though this may seem a very abstract, even meaningless distinction, it’s important in the sense that one who intends to capture the essence of an object must be very aware of the roll of light in revealing the nature of the subject. Indeed, it is all we have to work with. Try turning the lights out.

In this shot of a water lily, one of the better flower images I’ve produced lately, I was working with the light, molding it, in fact, to my will:

The flat, grey light of the overcast sky did not do what I wished. It provided only the colours and the shape. I had to create depth by digital trickery. The bright glow of the yellow centre washed away the detail which I saw with my eyes, but was lost in the electronically recorded image, a common fault of digital cameras. I had to find it in the information and restore it. I was completely unsatisfied with the lack of depth in the water drops. They looked like cartoons. It took some fiddling to make them drops again.

I am the proverbial guy who knows nothing about art, but knows what he likes. I have an idealised template of an image in my mind when I sit down to work with it. My camera provides a good starting point, sometimes better than others This is the beauty of photography today. A dabbler such as myself can produce images which, in another age, might have been presumed to be the work of a master:

I had similar problems with this image. I had to dig deep in the digits and grab back what the flat light took from me. In this case I took a more painterly approach, intensifying detail to the point of parody. At least the leaves in this shot have no serious imperfections.

In this shot of a blossom just opening, I went further down the road of recreating the image to suit my ideal of it. A trick of the light made the deep center seem to glow. Again, details were nearly absent. I struggled mightily to pull them out. I’m quite happy with what happened around the outer edge of the glowing centre:

The little puddle of water on the leaf under the blossom is also a gift.

I got another gift here in the form of a busy bee:

I’m pleased by this snap shot. When working with bees, one has to be quick. They don’t pose. I also like the stems flowing across the frame. “Angled lines” is a good compositional tool to keep in mind.

Voluminous tomes have been written about light from the perspective of the photographer. I’ve read a couple. Though informative, much of the information deals with studio lighting. Since I’ve never been attracted to that kind of photography, the information is mostly academic, but it does provide insights into things an amateur might do well to think about. My advice is to learn to enjoy playing with light. In this shot, which was hopeless with the natural light, I had to find a useful way to use the dinky flash on my Canon G11:

The camera wanted to put way too much light on the subject. I had to ask the long-snouted grasshopper to stick around for a while as I fiddled with the intensity of the flash. I finally found a setting that gave me a good exposure.

Here in this shot of a very fat spider illuminated by a flat, listless sky, the problem was to find a way to give the spider some depth:

Franky, this shot would have been a throw-away if done on film and processed normally. A genius in the darkroom could have pulled up from the negative the detail present in the underexposed body of the spider. With Photoshop, it was the work of a few minutes.

Photography is much more fun for me today than it has ever been before. I can’t believe I stuck with film so long.

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I Shoot Myself

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 7th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’ve had an interesting few days. I went a couple of weeks ago to get a physical check-up. A few months ago I was wishing to find something which would kill me as quickly and painlessly as possible. Now I am more hopeful. It would be nice to find that nothing serious was amiss. Well, it seems there are a couple of numbers out of whack, but I’ll not go into that until I have more information. It’s probably nothing serious, but I can’t get it checked out now. I’m just too busy. If the second round of tests come back with a frown, I may have to take some more time at the end of my holiday to stop in Australia to get myself checked out thoroughly and go in for repairs if necessary. The cards keep coming, whether one is ready for them or not. Best to keep playing with as cool a head as one can manage.

I did get my wrinkled old skin examined expertly. I was amazed that it cost me only $35. Decades of careless sun exposure have forced me to have tiny bits and pieces frozen off here and there.  Some pesky spots on my head turned out to be nothing. Good news. One little place on my hand had to suffer the liquid nitrogen treatment. It’s a fascinating thing to watch, but don’t be in a hurry for it. Be careful with the sun, kiddies. It wants to kill you.

I’m a fanatic about getting my flu shots every year. We have some terrible flus floating around here. I know that these yearly vaccine concoctions probably will not protect me from those, but it makes me feel better when I get jabbed. I’m very fond of placebos. I wish I could get them by the dozen. So I asked my doctor to script me for the flu vaccine for 2011 and also the Pneumovax pneumonia vaccine, which I have not received for a few years. You’re supposed to get it twice in your life, five years apart. I’ve gotten sort of used to being alive now, after a spell of intense ambivalence, so I would rather not get struck down by something as mundane as the flu or pneumonia. If I’m going to go, I want to do it with a bit of panache.

In line with my extreme frugality, I decided to save another $50 trip to the doctor’s office by injecting myself. It’s really no big deal. When I was in “the military” we were always having to practice injecting. I don’t know why they wanted us to be so proficient. Maybe it was training for a future life on the streets. Anyway, it’s kind of interesting to give yourself a shot. In fact, it stings a lot less when you do it yourself. The flu shot turned out to be no problem at all, as it came neatly packed in a throw away syringe:

As you can see, this image is part of my continuing plan to amuse and enlighten. I may or may not succeed.

Alas, I discovered my plan to cheat the medical industry out of fifty bucks was foiled, as my Pneumovax came in a vial. I was tempted to use the syringe for the flu shot over again, but I was afraid Val would catch me. I can’t imagine that she would have approved:

Nice try. Now I have had to make yet another appointment and fork over another five ten-spots just to get some person in a white suit stick a needle in me. You just can’t win at this game.

By the way, the cane toads came back to the frog pond the next day with reinforcements. Val squirted disinfectant on them to try to kill the pesky beasts. They’re nice and clean now and no worse for the experience. I was funny to watch them blowing soap bubbles:

I was tempted to go and get one of Val’s golf clubs and practice my wedgie or whatever it is golfers do. I despise golf. No, wait. That’s too strong. I find golf puzzling. Okay, now I’ve offended all of the two or three golfers out there who may read this. I’m sorry. Sometimes I just blurt things out. It’s not my fault. I’m impulsive that way. Blame my mother or my father or some other ancestor. I got some truly bad genes. I’m amazed that I’ve stayed out of jail so long. Hey, it’s never too late!

Rummaging around for something else to throw at you today, I ran across this shot of the beautiful red mushrooms which we found near the beach at Teewah a while back:

I reckoned that these would be easy to identify, but no luck. Anybody want to have a go?

Okay, I’m randomising again. Perhaps I should focus a little.

On the way to Teewah, the sky was flamboyant. It was all herringbone and ripples. As I understand it, this is a sign of an extremely unstable upper atmosphere. Something got up its nose. Anyway, as the trees whizzed past with the relatively stationary clouds in the distance, I was mesmerised. It doesn’t take a lot to mesmerise me. I’m hyper-sensitive to mesmerisation. Now I can’t stop saying the word. See what I mean.

So, to make a long story a little shorter, I started thinking about how to capture the effect most cleverly. It turned out to be simple, okay, relatively simple. Here’s an example:

My first efforts were not all that flash.

So, here’s how a photographer thinks:  First, I know I want a relatively slow shutter speed so that the trees in the foreground will be motion blurred. Here’s some nice motion blur, better than the first one:

Next, I have to remember to hold the camera pretty still, as moving the camera with the slow shutter speed will cause the clouds themselves to blur from “camera shake”. The image stabilisation gizmo in the camera can only do so much.

Also, I gotta make sure the camera can focus, since it’s going to get pretty confused by all the whizzing. That’s pretty simple. I just have to set it on manual focus and push it to infinity. Bob’s your uncle.

Except, and there’s always an except, with the slow shutter speed, there was way too much light. My G11 won’t stop down more than ƒ8, and that wasn’t enough. Fortunately, it has a nifty built-in neutral density filter which can be turned on with a couple of stabs of the finger. Once I got that set, the rest was easy. I could get it down to a nice, slow shutter speed:

The perfect sky and the perfect tree.

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Me and the Frog – Rampant Miscellanea

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 4th, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again hard up for a subject, yet needing to express myself, I’ll demonstrate my flair for the nonsensical today.

But first, I want to revisit the koalas from yesterday. I don’t usually comment here on readers’ comments, but Ali Raynor came in yesterday with a real charmer. Have you ever heard a lonely (and presumably eager for a cuddle) male koala in full song? Well neither had I until an hour ago and I can’t get that . . . uh . . . noise  out of my head. Please, for pity’s sake, click this link to hear a sound that you would not ever guess could come from a charming little koala. Brace yourself.

Ok, now brace yourself again. I have seldom featured a less flattering or more disturbing image of myself here, but this one seemed somehow necessary to me this peculiar evening. My brain is manufacturing funny chemicals again. I need something to settle my nerves. My toes, after a month in Jamaica on holiday, are tingling again. Today, after I finished mowing Val’s lawn, we strolled down to her frog pond and I foolishly mentioned, for the second time, that it was looking pretty sad and neglected. Val promptly mentioned, also for the second time, that it needed cleaning. Okay, I learned many years ago that one can generally safely let an initial such comment slip past, but the second one requires some sort of action. Today there seemed to be only one appropriate response.

Clean the frog pond:

As any fool can see, I’m up to my shins in green slime. Fortunately, I no longer have any sense of smell, so stink wasn’t a problem, at least not for me. I should also mention, while I’m bemoaning my general decrepit state, that I noticed, when I got this image on the screen, that my beard was getting intolerably bushy. I immediately went to retrieve my whisker whacker and mowed it.

While remaining on the lookout for poisonous snakes, I was startled by a movement in the water and nearly took a slime bath. Then I noticed that it was a frog, which is just about the last thing I expected to find in this frog pond. A rather handsome frog, at that:

I have no idea what species it is. Perhaps a reader will enlighten us. There was also a small cane toad in the pond. Both were put out of their house while it’s being cleaned.

UPDATE: Reader Pvaldes once again nailed an ID for us. The frog is Limnodynastes peroni  an inhabitant of Eastern Australia.

While pond cleaning I was nagged by the thought that I sincerely wished that I had a microscope. I kept wondering what algae species were squishing between my toes. I’ve always been a fan of Spirogyra  algae, of which there are over four hundred species. It is commonly referred to as “pond scum”. However, under a microscope, it is quite elegant. Oddly enough, it is also the name of one my favourite jazz bands, with the slightly different spelling of Spyro Gyra.

I suppose that everybody knows about black swans. I did not know nearly as much as I thought. I saw these at a little park in Gympie:

Black swans are found only in Australia. It’s a different species from the white swans found elsewhere. They loom large in many aspects of Australian culture. I ripped this bit from the Wikipedia article about black swans:

The Black Swan’s role in Australian heraldry and culture extends to the first founding of the colonies in the eighteenth century. It has often been equated with antipodean identity, the contrast to the white swan of the northern hemisphere indicating ‘Australianness’. The Black Swan is featured on the flag, and is both the state and bird emblem, of Western Australia; it also appears in the Coat of Arms and other iconography of the state’s institutions.

While languidly researching black swans I was amused once again by the way one can be led down a long garden path by the ridiculously connected web. I stumbled on the very interesting “Black Swan Theory“. What is that, one might ask (or, more likely one might not, but I’ll explain it anyway).

Taking it in the light of recent events, I think of it as the “We Should Have Thought of That” theory. I speak specifically of the 2011 earthquake in Japan and the subsequent nuclear disaster. (I’ll insert a small disclaimer. I’m not opposed to nuclear power generation. I do, however, think that we have to find a safer way to do it.) Getting back to the theory itself, here is the way I think it works. We’re talking about big, unexpected events and how we react to them.

  1. The event is a surprise (to the observer).
  2. The event has a major impact.
  3. After its first recording, the event is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could  have been expected (e.g., the relevant data were available but not accounted for).

Well, the recent events in Japan seem to fit pretty well. The more I thought of this, the more it intrigued me. Did I mention the funny chemicals? I started to think of Black Swan events. How about the housing loans fiasco. We should have thought of that, eh? Hmmm . . . even the rise of the internet seems to make the grade as a Black Swan. It certainly surprised Bill Gates. I wonder if he ever said to himself, “Duh, I should have thought of that!”

I soon got bogged down in my efforts to find a definitive set of Black Swan events. The financial industry seems to have captured the concept and is currently holding it hostage. Every hiccup of the market is now a Black Swan event. I don’t think they are quite caught up to reality. Hey, guys! The whole system is hopelessly broken. It needs a major overhaul. While they are doing that they might want to think about throwing a few more miscreants in jail.

Okay, enough with the black swans. I’m getting dizzy.

Hmmm . . . how about a hair ball:

I found this dubious object in the vast archives of the Gympie Gold Mining and Historical Museum, a collection of quaint structures housing a seemingly endless agglomeration of random objects, a few of which have something or other to do with the mostly defunct but one time huge gold mining industry in the area.

This object caught my eye immediately, as I’m a casual fan of old engines of any kind:

Ho, hum. It’s an old petrol engine. But wait! It was made in Evansville, Indiana. Nearly all of the other old engines in the museum were made in England. I wonder if a Hoosier equipment salesman once made his way around Australia.

Here is the strangely disturbing logo of the Hercules Gas Engine Company:

What, precisely is Hercules (it is, presumably, the great god himself) doing to the engine. Producing it? Seems like he could just snap his fingers, eh? Fixing it? Posh, why should an engine made by a god need refurbishing? Why is his loincloth flapping in the breeze? These are important questions.

Ah, life’s little mysteries.

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Ferocious Koalas

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 2nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Ali Raynor, my host while I was at Toogoolawah in Queensland, told me that she thought that it was a pretty rare thing for a tourist to get a chance to see and photograph koalas in their natural habitat. I reckon that she must know what she’s talking about, since she conducts regular trips to the bush for koala spotting.

At first I couldn’t see them at all unless I followed her pointing arm. From the distance we were initially seeing them they looked like black dots in the gum trees. In all we saw about a dozen of them. The place to where she took me is not widely known. In fact, I heard Ali tell one inquirer as to where we were going to see them that, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” That seems a bit drastic to me, but the idea is, I guess, not to have a gozillion people tramping through the area scaring the ferocious little beasts.

I do, of course, use the word ferocious in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The very idea of a ferocious koala brings to mind the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  However, later on you’ll see a shot which gives you an idea of the size of their claws. I would not want an angry koala, high as a kite on eucalyptus oil, to land on my face.

The thing koalas do best is to look extremely laid back, comatose, in fact. Here is a nearly comatose koala:

This is the most common pose which I observed. They do notice you walking around. I guess “drowsily observant” would be a good way to describe their natural state. No matter what position they were in, they seem to favour slowly snuggling up to the trunk of the tree to try to blend in. I suppose that they believe they are hiding. It doesn’t work, but it is cute. Cute is a word which keeps popping into your mind like a pesky mosquito buzzing around your ear at three in the morning.

You will quickly bore of sleeping koala images, so I’ll break this up by showing you this sad excuse for a kangaroo picture:

When I took the shot, the kangaroo was so small, even at the full 26X zoom of my Olympus SP-590UZ camera, that I thought that I’d missed it. It wasn’t until I got the image up in Adobe Bridge that I noticed that the kangaroo was still there.

Okay, back to the koalas for a while. This was my only shot of a koala on the move:

Truth is, they simply don’t move around that much. This one was climbing a branch at what I’m sure was a breakneck speed for a koala in a vain attempt to run from us.

As a serious amateur photographer, I can’t say that I’m proud of these shots, though I did put a fair amount of effort into making them as good as I could. I was up against a couple of serious problems. First, the light was absolutely ghastly. There is hardly any worse light than a bright grey sky. It washes the colour from everything and makes any sense of depth go as flat as a pancake. If you are shooting upwards, it’s even worse. I took about a hundred exposures, half of which were unusable.

The other problem is the miserable performance of the early super-zoom lenses. My Olmpus was one of the first of the super-zoom consumer grade camera. I don’t buy professional equipment, because I can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for a high-quality camera and lens. Some things are simply out of my income range. So, I make do with the best I can afford. If I do buy another super-zoom camera, I’ll insist on doing some shooting with it first so that I can check the lens perfomance. It took supreme efforts to get these in shape to put here for your enjoyment. Even with all that, if you click to enlarge them, you will see the effects of stretching the camera beyond its reasonable limits.

Uh, did I mention claws? Imagine these tearing into your flesh. Don’t let that sleepy look fool you:

It’s only a ploy to lure you within range. This is the rare carnivorous variety of koala.

I noticed many trees with power line insulators banged into them. Ali said that is has only been about five years since the practice was abandoned by the utilities company in this area. It seems terribly rustic:

Once in a while you can spot a koala which seems to be uncommonly alert:

I fact, this one looks a bit peevish. Perhaps it found our presence an affront. Maybe it was just curious.

Of all of the poses, I liked the “Nyaa, nyaa, you can’t see me!” the best:

They will try to edge around the tree to become less visible. It’s comical to watch a koala when two people begin to walk around the tree in opposite directions. It will slowly turn its head from side to side while trying to decide which way to go. Then it gives up and hugs the tree harder. It’s too bad they are so fat. If they were flatter against the tree they would be hard to spot, since the camouflage in their fur is quite effective.

I’ll leave you with a shot of the Old Town Hall in Gympie:

It’s about as curious a conglomeration of architectural features as I have ever seen, though the overall effect is not unpleasing. I’d be willing to bet that it was designed by a committee.

Keep in mind that I know absolutely nothing about architecture, except that I love Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. For me, that’s enough. How wonderful it would be to live in that house.

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Ramblers Skydiving – The Jump

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 1st, 2011 by MadDog
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I really should get in the spirit of things and think of a cool April Fool’s joke to play on my unsuspecting readers, but I’m not nearly so clever. So, I’ll just play it straight. A couple of days ago, I wrote about my rides in the wonderful Cessna Caravan at the drop zone of the Ramblers Skydiving near Toogoolawah in Queensland, Australia. Today, I’ll tell about my tandem jump.

First, I’ll show you a picture of my hosts, Dave McEvoy and Ali Raynor. They visited Madang in 2010 and stayed at my house. I was very happy that they returned the hospitality in spades:

As may be obvious, Dave has just landed after a jump. He doesn’t drag a parachute around after him all of the time.

Before I get into the jump, let me show you the wind indicator:

When I first saw this I thought that it was a very poor wind indicator and not positioned right anyway. The vane is too small. It wouldn’t be very sensitive. I supposed that the rock was to keep it from blowing away. By the way, that’s Ali and Val behind it.

Then, upon reading the sign, I realised that the whole thing is a joke:

If you read the text, you might get a giggle.

The fellow in white was my Tandem Master, Moci. That’s pronounced as “Motsy”. It’s a Hungarian name. Moci was a paratrooper in the Hungarian Army before coming to Australia. He’s a very nice fellow and made the experience comfortable and enjoyable:

Here he has me strapped into my part of the tandem rig.

Moci has his own business at the Drop Zone. He is a Master Rigger. He is responsible for the maintenance of all of the parachuting equipment:

This is a shot of his rigging loft.

It may appear as if we are praying fervently here, which is not a bad idea, but we are only discussing the finer points of hurling ourselves out of the door of a speeding airplane:

The praying came later.

Here I am with Moci, making my way to the Caravan:

It is very uncomfortable to walk with that harness on. It exerts unwanted pressure in awkward places. You walk very much like a duck.

Here I am strapped firmly to Moci and exhibiting gobs of confidence:

This second tandem jump was much better than the first. I had more time to work up to it and I knew the people with whom I was jumping. I felt no anxiety at all. In fact, I was fairly panting to get out in the slipstream and have a look down.

Once at the door, one has little time to think the situation over. You are going and that’s that. As it was, I looked forward to the fall. We jumped from 14,000 feet:

Sadly, I have no images of us hurtling through the air with my hair on fire. If you like, you can check out my first tandem jump to see the “Bart Simpson hair”. The free fall segment was terrific. It seemed to last longer this time. It was very cold up high, but you could feel the air warming during the fall. That is a weird sensation. I wasn’t prepared for the canopy opening, so it caught me by surprise. I probably didn’t hear Moci warn me, as I was screaming like a banshee. It just makes you want to holler!

I don’t know if I will ever get another chance to do this, but I’m grateful that this item on my Bucket List is now well covered.

Now I will show you something which I will bet that most of you have never seen:

I seriously wanted to get some Kangaroo shots while at the Drop Zone. I saw many, but could not get close enough for a picture, even with the 26X zoom on my Olympus camera. So, I did the next best thing. I took a picture of Kangaroo dung. I hope it amuses you.

I can’t leave the area without paying homage in pixels to Beautiful Downtown Toogoolawah:

What you are seeing is about half of it. If I had turned around and faced the other direction, I could show you the other half.

Sometimes civilisation comes in small packages.

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