Madang – The View from Heaven

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on April 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my day to try to catch up. I’m behind in some paying work as well as still behind here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Today is the first day in a week on which I’ll be posting the same day as the post date. Not that it makes much difference to anyone but me. I hate getting behind in my work, because I am fundamentally extremely lazy. It’s all too easy for me to start thinking that I just don’t have enough time, so there are some things to which I’ll never attend. Then I have to be honest with myself and think of how many hours a week I spend staring at TV. I’ve come to think of this as a complete waste of time. Frankly, if I really want down time, I’d rather read. TV is the lazy person’s amusement. It requires absolutely no effort and little imagination. I simply don’t want to spend my life that way any more.

So, with the sermon out of the way, let’s have a look at this morning’s sunrise:Not bad, but not great, either. Maybe I’m getting a little to demanding. After you’ve seen a few thousand here, it’s easy to get picky.

As the title suggests, we’re having aerial shots today courtesy of Sir Peter Barter with whom I hurled through the atmosphere for almost three hours on Tuesday. His Robertson R-11 is a beautiful little machine. I can only imagine what a dream it is to fly. Here is a lovely shot of my home town, Madang:As you can see, the bulk of the town is on a peninsula. To the left (east) is Astrolabe Bay  and to the right is Madang Harbour.

Here is another shot looking north. You can see part of Madang Town and the North Coast:The chain of islands stretching to the horizon is where we do most of our diving.

This a very nice angle from which to view the entire Madang Coast:Madang is on the left. The large island is Kranket,  followed by Leper Island, Little Pig Island  and Pig Island.  These are all local contemporary names, except for Kranket Island,  which is traditional. The others have different names on the nautical charts.

This image covers pretty much the same area, except that you are looking east out over Astrolabe Bay:The fuzzy blue area under the clouds to the right is the mighty Finisterre Mountains. 

I got some very nice shots of some of our favourite dive sites. This is Magic Passage  in the centre and the southern tip of Leper Island  on the right:Kranket Island  is on the left. This is easily the best aerial view that I’ve seen of Magic Passage.

This shot shows an easy month’s worth of daily dives. At the far left is Little Pig Island  with The Eel Garden  to its right. The large mass is Pig Island  with superb diving all around the ocean side. At the bottom is Barracuda Point:

Up the right side clear to the edge of the image is all wonderful diving. The gap in the barrier reef near the top is Rasch Passage,  an excellent dive.

That’s my back yard from the air.

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The Big Red Ball

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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The caption says This Morning’s Sunrise, but it’s actually yesterday’s. That’s because it’s 04:00 here in Madang and I’m wide awake doing yesterday’s post. In the afternoon yesterday our Internet connection crashed. Some pages would load quickly and others not at all. I suspected a DNS problem (sorry for the Geek-speak), but I couldn’t find anything wrong with our setup. I made a long-distance call to Hostmonster.com, my server farm in the USA. I couldn’t get on to the help desk for the host, because their page was one that wouldn’t load – wouldn’t you know it! They said that it looked fine from their end. I was still thinking DNS when I called Hitron and talked to a technician named Nali. He did some checking and found that our uplink to the satellite was completely saturated. I unplugged a couple of bandwidth hogs and the problem disappeared.

The funny thing about this, to a Geek anyway, is how focused one can become on an incorrect analysis of a problem. I was frantically pinging all of the DNS IP addresses of the satellite and thinking, okay, there’s a problem up there. Actually the problem would probably have been on the ground, but my brain had gone all funny by then, since it was 15:00 and I had not yet gotten around to doing a post. I hate getting two days behind. I need to feed you regularly or you’ll die.

Anyway, the problem was sorted out and we’ve doubled out uplink bandwidth. (HITRON users – If you cancel your old plan and begin a new one, you’ll get a much lower rate. We doubled our uplink speed and still our monthly bill is K1,000 less!)

In the future, I’m going to have to remember not to panic and to tick off all of the possible explanations for a problem before I bite onto one like a bulldog and worry it while the real difficulty sits in the corner giving me the finger.

Here’s the aforementioned sunrise:I think the season is changing. I hope to get some more of these soon. It’s a peaceful time of the morning.

And, here is one of the big red balls:That is some species of Feather Star. This one is particularly red. Using the Mark I eyeball alone, it looks deep, deep red – almost black. When you use the flashy thing, you put some red light which has been lost due to scattering by the sea water back into the spectrum. Therefore, with the flash, it looks bright red. Cool, eh?

Here’s the other big red ball. This outrageous cluster of red flowers popped up overnight in our garden. It’s a good 20cm in diameter. I’m going to toss this out to my botanist readers, because I don’t have time to figure out what it is:You can see the plant itself on the left. It appears to me to be some kind of a bulb plant, like a lily. Somebody will identify it. Steve, Ali, get to work! I need ID.  UPDATE:  Friend Anne-Marie Gregory in England has informed me that this is a Blood Lily (Haemanthus multiflorus, subsp. katherinae). Thanks, Anne-Marie.

Out at the end of Barracuda Point there are some little canyons in the reef, a whole series of them. They are fun to explore, because they are in the surge zone and you never know what you’ll find there. On big sea days it’s simply too rough. You get tossed around and bang into the walls. That’s not good for the diver or the sea life. On Saturday, the sea was calm, so we could explore with less bruising:This is a cute little Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):You can put hawkfish in the search box and find many posts featuring them. They are among my favourites, because they are easy to photograph and spectacularly coloured.

Well, it’s a few minutes after five in the morning now.

I have to get started on today’s post.

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So, So Blue

Posted in Under the Sea on February 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, now I’m only two days behind. No thanks to TELIKOM. For some reason known only to God and the local manager, I got a call this morning from a guy in the business department. He seemed to want to sell me a PABX system to fix my problem. I asked him if it had any copper lines going to the exchange. He didn’t know. I asked him if he knew anything about the USB wireless adapters that were announced for sale in April and still don’t work. He said he didn’t know. I asked him if he knew anything at all. He said he wasn’t sure. I think the local manager is trying to avoid me. Every time I call, he has “gone to pick up his kids at school” (funny thing for a manager to be doing in the middle of the day) or, “just stepped out”, or “in a team meeting”. Hah! Since his office is only a few steps from mine, that makes it a little easier for me. I can station one of my spies in the parking lot and he can inform me by walkie-talkie when the guy comes to his office. My means are many and nefarious.

I will not let this matter rest.

Never mind. I’m soon going to set up a wireless link between our big radio tower at our office and my house. I’ll have a fast 24/7 connection for absolutely nothing! I’m going to take my two TELIKOM handsets and throw them into the ocean where they will do the fish more good that they have ever done me. I’ll set up some Skype phones in the bedroom, lounge and our new J&E Enterprises Limited office and say “Goodbye and thanks for all the fish!” to TELIKOM forever. How glorious it will be to see the day when none of my communications have to pass through a single piece of TELIKOM’s crummy gear. Digicell will do me nicely for a portable. TELIKOM’s cell service doesn’t work half the time anyway.

I should possibly apologise to my readers who do not live in PNG and therefore do not understand the agony of trying to get simple phone service. My good mate Trevor Hattersley’s phone has not worked for five months. Most people simply give up and buy a cell phone. In fact, I believe that is exactly what TELIKOM wants. They want to abandon huge sections of copper cable that are so old that they can’t support even voice service. This leaves outlying small businesses stranded with no phones. Imagine owning a hotel (Such as Jais Aben) if your phones do not work half of the time. Yet TELIKOM offers no business alternative.

Okay, okay, enough for today. The pictures aren’t that great today either.

Today’s music is Pink Floyd’s Pigs on the Wing  from the ethereal Animals  album of 1977. It’s strangely in tune with my mood today. I also like Dogs  from the same album. Some of the lyrics bring tears to my crusty old eyes for their timeless poignancy. The guitar riffs are stunning.

Do you have to deal with people who think like this?

And after a while, you can work on points for style.
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.

Sure, we all do. Sadly, some aspire  to that philosophy.

Never Mind. My task is only to show pretty pictures.

Here’s a little mob of Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)   who, happily, never have to make a phone call: Lucky little critters, eh? You’ll probably have to click to enlarge them.

This is one of the prettiest Feather Star images that I’ve managed:The lovely Lamprometra  seems to be in a state of grace, all curly and calm.

This is a sort of throw it out and see who likes it shot. It makes me think of looking down into a particularly nice aquarium at some friend’s house. He must be very good at his hobby:It’s a bunch of small Anthea  of some species that I can’t identify.

Some of you will recognise these Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)  from many other posts here. I shoot them whenever I get the chance:I think “conformists” when I look at this image. I don’t like the feeling. If I stare at it long enough I can see them moving. Must be all the drugs I’ve been taking the last few days.

I usually strive for natural colour. Of course, that’s not what you get from the camera. They usually look more like this:Sometimes blue is what you need.

From Animals,  I leave you with Sheep:

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away;
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air.
You better watch out,
There may be dogs about
I’ve looked over Jordan, and I have seen
Things are not what they seem.

Peace.

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Massive Rainbow Heralds More Fishy Things

Posted in Under the Sea on February 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Let’s start out this morning with something that we don’t see every day. If you’re a regular reader, you know that our house faces east and looks out across Madang Harbour. If condition are just right, as the sun is lowering in the west and it is raining over Madang Town on the peninsula, we might get a bit of a rainbow. A few afternoons ago we got a spectacular double rainbow. I was too slow to get the camera going, so I missed it. Wouldn’t you know, a few days later, we got another good one. Fortunately I was just getting out of the car and had my camera with me. I ran out to the back of Faded Glory and grabbed this five frame series which I stitched together in Photoshop to make a rainbow panorama:I’m a bit surprised that I got no red in the rainbow. It is usually pretty strong. Maybe someone out there can explain it.

I have some more shots from our dives on Saturday at Pig Island where we hunted the Eel Garden and Barracuda Point. The Eel Garden is a favourite place to stalk the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):It’s not fair to use terms like “ugly” for such a creature. They probably look fine to each other. In fact, this is probably the Steve McQueen of scorpionfishes.

If I’m making less sense than usual today, I’m blaming it on my horrible cold. I feel as if my head is stuffed full of cotton and I can’t concentrate on anything. I should be at home in bed, but I’ve finally coerced the TELIKOM technicians to do a bit error rate test on my line to my house so that I may get back an Internet connection. Unfortunately, they have no vehicles on the road. The manager mentioned something about registration, so my guess is that someone either forgot to register them or the cheque bounced. Either is equally likely – or both.

Anyway, the Barracuda Point dive was equally productive. Here is a lovely mob of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello) cruising past me:Something is terribly wrong with these barracuda. They are supposed to be ferocious predators. Many attacks on humans are reported. Our barracuda, however , seem to be uncannily tame. I regularly swim up to them an stick my camera withing inches of them. The don’t seem to mind at all. If I get too close, they simply make a bump in the line to accommodate me. If I get closer still, they break the line and join up elsewhere. It’s a breathtaking experience.

A week wouldn’t be complete without some nudis. We’ve been finding many of them recently after a long period during which we hardly saw any at all. This Phyllidiella pustulosa is one of our most common varieties:I realise that I’m showing you a lot of them. I hope you’re not getting bored. We’re all nudibranch geeks here. My speciality is not in identifying them, but rather taking the most perfect images that I possibly can. I want to eventually come up with an identification guide for all of the species in the area. As there are hundreds, I’m afraid that I’m in a race with the Grim Reaper to complete the project.

Another that I’ve been trying to get The Definitive Image of is the Notodoris minor:Put “notodoris” in the search box to see how I’m doing. I’m not sure these shots are better than the last batch.

I certainly have more anatomical detail in these images, but I’m not as happy with the molding of the body surfaces:Since I’m still having to catch up on my posts and I have an impending battle with TELIKOM today, I’ll sign off and wish you a good day.

Please don’t get too close to your screen. I wouldn’t want you to catch this cold.

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Hungry? Have a Delicious Sea Cucumber (Bêche-de-mer)

Posted in Under the Sea on December 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday, our regular dive day, we went to Barracuda Point,  on the eastern side of Pig Island.  The water at the surface was filled with particulate matter, but below about twenty metres, it was fairly clear. Just after we entered the water we saw this huge Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas).  This species is also known as the Prickly Redfish or the Pineapple Fish. Of course, it’s not a fish at all, neither is it a pineapple. However, its species name, ananas,  does mean pineapple. Well, okay, a pineapple is actually Ananas comosus.

Bêche-de-mer


Believe it or not, people eat them. I guess people eat just about anything, but I have a problem with this one. Of course, there are many different species. None of them look tasty to me:Prickly Red Fish, indeed!

How prickly? Have a look at this. If you scaled this up to human size, we’d all be covered with 10 cm wide spiky star-shaped red warts:It’s pretty in a very bizarre way – definitely one of the more unusual skins that I’ve seen.

Here is the front end:Or is it the back end? Some Bêche-de-mer have easily discernible front and rear ends. I didn’t take time to give this one an anatomical exam. You can usually tell by the trail of sandy poo left behind. There was none here. Maybe it was constipated.

Keeping with my rare Christmasy mood, Here is a bit of green to go with our red. It is a particularly lovely Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):The outside of the ‘jug’ is the underside of the anemone. They usually lie in the feeding position, which is spread out like a carpet. If the surge gets to be a bit much or it is not a good feeding time, the skin contracts and pulls up, often leaving only a few tentacles sticking out of a hole. Surprisingly, any anemonefish residing in the anemone will be popping in and out of the hole, much as you see here. By the way, the fish here is the Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion).

Keeping in the spirit of “what you see is what I saw” here is an image of some Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  coming up the side of the reef. Note all of the particulate matter floating in the water:It’s not all clear sailing.

Not forgetting my intent to bring you a Christmas Tree Worm every day until the 25th, here is your Spirobranchus giganteus  for today:Happy holidays!

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Barracuda Point – Dirty Water – Disappointing Results

Posted in Under the Sea on November 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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We arrived at Barracuda Point  near Pig Island  on Saturday morning in bright sunshine. The water was very turbid with a lot of particulates drifting around. Miserable shooting conditions! I did manage to salvage a few shots from the lot. Not much to look at, I’m afraid.

This Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)  looks like the entrance to hell:Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria) All it needs is some red-hot lava boiling down there in the bottom.

Hungry? Have some Pizza Anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer):

Pizza Anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer)As you may notice, I’m a little terse today. We’re still rolling out a new network at the office and, computers being what they are, it’s two steps forward and one back.

As I mentioned, the shooting conditions were awful. Here’s a mediocre image of a few listless Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  taken with flash:Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) If the fish is in the right (or rather wrong)  position, the power of the flash blocks the side of the fish to full white, losing all detail. You get the same result if you take a picture into a mirror with the flash on.

Here’s another example of the much despised flash effect. Have a look at this imag of a Pixy Hawkfish [red variation] (Cirrhititichthys oxycephalus):Pixy Hawkfish [red variation] (Cirrhititichthys oxycephalus)The fish does not look anywhere near that red in natural light.

Here’s an absolutely terrible shot of an Eclipse Butterflyfish (Chaetodon bennetti):Eclipse Butterflyfish (Chaetodon bennetti)I’d have deleted it if it were not the only image that I have of this species. Oh, well. It gives me something to strive for.

Again I’m foiled, this time by a chunk of coral in the way. The Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)  likes to stay just far enough away from you to tease:Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)Your brain is saying, “Swim a little faster and you’ll have him!” Your body is saying, “Whoah! Heart attack time!”

Of course, by the time we came up a storm was passing over, everybody was shivering, and the wind was howling like a banshee. We went home for Saturday afternoon naps instead of the usual fun and games. Every day isn’t perfect.

Even in Paradise.

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Hermit Crab Survives Earthquake

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on October 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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An egocentric popularity-hound such as I would never pass up a chance to get a bookmark in your browser. I got so many comments on my Facebook page about the Hermit Crab a few days ago that I’m going to repeat the ploy – this time with another poor, unsuspecting Dardanus.

Last Saturday at Barracuda Point  near Pig Island  I was fooling around under the boat using up the rest of my air and looking for something, anything to shoot. I noticed a Trochus shell sitting on top of a plate coral. This is a dead giveaway for the presence of a Hermit Crab. There’s no other way that the shell is going to get there.

I went over to have a look and saw that there was, indeed, a hairy little occupant. I tipped its house over as gently as I could, though I don’t imagine that it felt very gentle to the householder. Here is the shell, appearing empty:

An empty Trochus shell?No, wait! Somebody’ home:No, somebody is in there. A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.Having observed this many times, I’m intrigued that Hermit Crabs don’t seem to be able to get their eyes out for a look-about before exposing their thorny, but undoubtedly tasty legs first. It’s like sticking your hands around the corner and waving them to see if your burglar has a gun.

Anyway, out comes Mr. Crab looking a mite grumpy:

Hey, who turned my house over? A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.

While its feet still dangle above the coral it seems to rest a moment to evaluate the situation. Is it possible that it’s waiting to see if there will be an aftershock?

Sooner or later, the job of re-erecting the house must be done. This requires reaching way out of the front door, grabbing the coral and giving a mighty heave:

You JERK! Now I have to fix this mess. A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.One wants to get this over as quickly as possible as the soft, ticklish and predator attracting end of the critter is highly exposed.

Now, go away and leave me alone. A Dardanus Hermit Crab emerging from a Trochus shell.

Finally, with an audible ‘plop’ the house returns to its vertical position. A little grooming is in order now. Clean up the bits knocked off of the top of the house onto the coral. Be sure to check if anything tasty fell off of the roof.

I’ve never met a hermit crab that I didn’t like. I wish that I could say as much about people.

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