What Can Make Me Happy?

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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At the end of my last post, I talked about my current inability to derive joy from activities which have previously provided me with the emotional, intellectual and spiritual satisfaction which we all crave. This disablement has resulted in a strangely lifeless life. I’m sure that for many readers this will be preaching to the choir. As I’ve said before, this is my first experience with dire personal tragedy. I’m a late comer just catching up with most people my age.

My friend suggested that, as I engage in these experiences, say a Saturday out with friends on the boat SCUBA diving, that I pretend  to enjoy it. I took this to mean that I should try very hard to not let my mind wander to subjects best left alone for the moment and that I engage with others as if nothing had happened and laugh when it seems appropriate and so on. You can make up your own list of fakery. The theory is, I suppose, that if one does this consistently it will become real. This makes some kind of wacky sense to me.

A day or so later I got a Facebook message from Ush Antia who has departed Madang, but is fondly remembered by her friends. Having read my remark about pretending, she sent to me a very interesting link. A guy named Dan Gilbert presented a twenty-one minute lecture titled Why Are We Happy? I’m not going to go into detail about the content, because you can watch it for yourself. I’ll just say that our prefrontal cortex gives us some remarkable abilities that we may not ordinarily recognise. Here’s a little blurb about the lecture:

Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness,  challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

Really, if you are less than ebullient concerning life in general, you might want to view it.

In order to investigate and reorient myself to what my current standards of happiness are, I decided to conduct a little experiment. All of the images which have speared in Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  are in one folder on my computer. I set out to scan through these several thousand images as quickly as possible, getting as far as I could in five minutes and pick out eight pictures which instantaneously, as in a word association test, elicited the response, “happy”. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Some of the images seem logical responses while others are puzzling. I’ll comment briefly on each one, if I can think of anything to say.

This one is so obvious that it requires no analysis. It is a composition of many tiny images from MPBM in a mosaic which simulates a picture of Eunie and I at our anniversary party.

Who would not respond with “happy” to this?

This one is not so straightforward. It’s important to remember that analysing these lightning responses one-by-one is a bit like Monday morning quarterbacking.

I think that I responded with “happy” here because, though the surface message of the image is decidedly not happy, the experience of expressing these feelings in an artistic manner was  happy. I derived considerable pleasure from the process of capturing a precise mood in an image.

This one of Carol Dover goofing off during a dive is another obvious choice. Friends always make me happy. That’s because I have no troublesome ones. That has not always been true in the past.

While it is sad that Carol is no longer here in Madang, true friendships never leave the heart.

This shot of a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  got the “happy” tag because it is one of my favourite underwater images and always makes me think about the great mysteries of the sea.

It is one of the few underwater images in which I have deliberately fiddled with the colours. This is not the natural colouration of this anemone. However, I wanted to accentuate the surreal beauty and alien quality of the creature. So I did. That’s the beauty of digital photography. You can do anything you like.

This one is not to difficult to figure out either. It immediately brought to mind all of the wonderful times I spent with Eunie in far away places. I don’t remember anything about this lovely statue which we found in Berlin of a young woman releasing a bird. I do remember that we both were captured by its beauty and significance. It belonged in that place.

Eunie and I were very fortunate to have been able to travel considerably during the last thirty years. The necessity of moving back and forth between Papua New Guinea and North America gave us the advantage of seeing many places without spending much extra money.

As I looked back over my choices and pondered my response to each, this one gave me slight pause. It is of a lady selling her produce at the Madang town market.

I did enjoy working with the image. It required quite a bit of effort to get it just the way I wanted it. However, I don’t think that is why it struck the ‘happy” chord. Maybe it represents home to me. That’s a bit of a stretch, but it is close enough.

This baby balancing shot taken up at Blueblood is a no-brainer. Kids, friends, tropical warmth and water, a party . . . who would not think “happy”?

I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

The last shot also is obvious – family. I got this image of Tamara, Pippa and Audrey on the train returning from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. It is one of my favourite images of Hans’ little family.

Though there is the sadness of so seldom seeing them, happiness is the feeling I enjoy whenever I think of them.

What can I take away from this little exercise? I’m not sure that I know. All that I can do is make an observation.

Of all of the ideas, things and people in the images above, only one is physically missing. While it is a very crucial point that my wife is no longer on the scene, everything else remains, at least for the time being.

So, the question is, can I take what remains, do a lot of pretending and take the lessons of Dan Gilbert’s lecture to heart, trusting my brain to rewire itself in its own self interest as a function of its natural immunity against adversity and despair? Will my prefrontal cortex kick in and create a new standard of happiness?

I trust that it will. And when it does, it will feel real to me. Right now, I don’t see how it can happen. That it will  happen requires trust in something much bigger than my brain. God will have to handle that one.

I trust that God will do that for me.

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Fake Art For Sanity’s Sake

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I needed a sanity check. Life has changed so dramatically in the last few weeks that it has left my head spinning. I’m a born nester. I guess it’s my feminine side trying to assert itself. I can handle just about anything if I can get back to my nest every night. Get out to raise a ruckus and create chaos every day and then fly back to the nest and watch it on the news – that’s my idea of the proper life for a man.

Alas, ruckus raising and chaos creation aren’t high on my priority list now and I don’t have any time for those rolly-coaster rides. However, I do have a treasure trove of images and stories saved up. A huge part of it has never been seen before. For today, I chose a few of my favourites from past posts and gave myself the luxury of an hour to pretend to be an artist. It’s one thing that stimulates me without having to leave my temporary desk on a big, round table in front of the couch.

This one is called Buddy.  It is one of several images which I had reproduced in large format for sale. I did manage to sell most of them, but I decided to keep the original of this one, since I like it so much. It’s a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

I ran this one through the Photoshop grinder pretty thoroughly to get the nearly cartoon-like look. The fish is still the focal point, but the filter effects changed the Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  into a fantasy foreground.

You first saw these dolphins in Happy Accidents. I see magic in that original image every time I look at it and it seems all the more special because it was a snap shot taken in a one-second window of opportunity. These are the ones which tickle me – the ones that were gifts:

I decided to try to turn it into a rough watercolour.

Both of the following shots first appeared in The Aquarium in My Front Yard. I’ve put the original references for some of these into links so that you can compare the originals, if you are that hard-up for amusement.

This grumpy little critter is a Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):

My goal here was A Grumpy Clown,  you know, like Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons.  I think that my have nearly achieved it.

This one from the same post, of a trio of Anthea, I’m titling, Are You Talkin’ to US?

They also seem a little grumpy, though not so tough.

Of the lot, this one I like best. It took the most time to get it right. A click to enlarge it will be more rewarding.:

I’m calling it Refuge.  Maybe that has to do with my mood. It is an evening view across the harbour from our house in Madang. I don’t know when I will see it again.

Eunie is better now that she began taking the powerful anti-inflammatory which she mistakenly stopped the day after the ERCP. I am going to have to monitor her medications – yet another something which I’ve never had to do before.

I’m learning a lot of new stuff. None of which I ever wanted to know. If you’re going to win at poker, you have to learn to play the cards.

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Out With the Girls

Posted in Under the Sea on July 31st, 2010 by MadDog
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The ladies predominated the numbers on the boat today by three to one. We had five divers in the water today at The Eel Garden near Pig Island.   I got some pretty pictures of marine critters and a couple of nice shots of two of my favourite models. This morning it looked like a rain-out. The sky was dismal and the sea was up. By 10:00 the sun was out, but it was still a bumpy ride. I’m all worn out from the day’s fun, so I’ll spare you a lot of my usual senseless chatter.

We went Triggerfish hunting, which can be a risky sport, but there were none around. I had thought to give the ladies a thrill, but the fish were not cooperating. Down at the bottom of the sandy bowl, I found one of my favourite anemones with a pair of Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  staying close to their Bulb Anemone host Entacmaea quadricolor:


I’ve been photographing this same anemone for years. Every picture is different. How could I get bored with it? These are very likely females.

Down on the catamaran, the underwater fashion shoot was all set up. The water was clear and the light was right. Geneviève Tremblay took her turn first:

I don’t think that I have to tell you that Geneviève is female.

About that time a huge school of Purple Anthea females (Pseudanthias tuka)  came rushing past:

What’s going on here?

The next thing I see is Ush doing a “Tiger Ambush” pose:

Need I mention that it is a female tiger?

I have no idea if this pretty little Starfish (Fromia nodosa)  is female or not. In fact, my science fact bin is empty. I can’t remember if there are  male and female starfish and I’m far too tired to care:

It certainly looks feminine.

That’s it. I’m finished.

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More Eel Garden Goodies

Posted in Under the Sea on July 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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Here is the way I like to see Faded Glory’s  anchor. This is a shot from The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There is a big sandy bowl there which makes a good anchorage. You can safely drop anchor there with no worry of damaging any coral. Coral damage when anchoring is a constant worry for us. Fortunately, we can usually see the bottom clearly and find a bare rock or sandy spot in which to drop anchor. After getting in the water, we always check the lay of the anchor to make sure that we will inflict no damage.

Nevertheless, there is sometimes broken coral. We have no money to put in proper moorings at dive sites. A few years ago we all contributed to having about a dozen stainless steel hooks drilled into the reefs. There were to be floating buoys on each site. We could tie up to these buoys and avoid dropping anchors on the reef. Withing weeks, all of the floats on the buoys had been stolen. At the present time there is only one buoyed dive site, The Green Dragon  B-25 bomber.

Local divers have no money to do this. All we can do is be as careful as possible. Several representatives of so-called environmental organisations who claim to want to do wonderful things to “save the reefs” have sat in my office and extolled the virtues of their efforts. I have yet to find any of them who will actually come forward with the funds to provide proper facilities to protect the dive sites from anchor damage. Talking to school kids is fun and it’s cheap. In my opinion, it is about as effective as spitting on a forest fire. When am I going to find an environmental organisation which is ready to put its money where its mouth is?

That’s enough rage for a Monday morning.

This is Fire Coral. It’s name is not a joke:

Back when I was young and exuding clouds of testosterone fumes, I enjoyed the macho look of diving without a wet suit. I had a little more blubber as protection from the chill then. Our water averages about 28-29° C, so as long as you keep active, you don’t get cold. I remember a few times when I inadvertently brushed against fire coral. It is a distinctly unpleasant experience. If I had to describe it, I would say that is not unlike having been mauled by a tiger and then getting someone to pour vinegar into the wounds. It will  get your attention.

Way down in the bottom of the sandy bowl at The Eel Garden is a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  which I have been photographing for several years:

Th odd thing about this anemone is how it changes colours. Sometimes it looks sick. I remember when we used to keep a salt water aquarium. I would bring back anemones and keep them in the tank until they began to look a little tired. Then I would put the back where I got them. After a while, they would regain their original healthy look. Finally I got tired of all the work and guilty about all the stress I was causing to poor critters which had done nothing but give me pleasure. I gave the tank away and decided to look and not touch.

I don’t know why these Sea Squirts (Phallusia julinea)  are so outrageously yellow. I photograph them often because they always make an interesting image:

In this shot I used a very throttled-back flash to lighten up the foreground and allow the background to appear darker. I’m discovering many new techniques as I get bored with doing the same thing week after week. It reminds me of when I bought a new Corvette back in our rich days. Every month I drove it faster. Finally I got a speeding ticket and decided to sell it. What I’m doing now is much safer.

I love the colour contrasts in this shot of a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

It one of the effects that I’m working on. I want to get some contrast between the artificial sunlight from the flash and the saturated aqua and blue shades of the water at deeper stages of the dive.

One of the things which I have always loved about photography is that there are a gozillion ways to take a picture of the same thing. How may ways could you photograph a tree? It fascinates me. After years of shooting underwater, I’m now getting bored enough by it to start exploring seriously. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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Items For the Easily Amused

Posted in Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on May 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m greatly relieved that Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  now seems to be alive and kicking again. A recent double-whammy of weird interactions between plugins and some possible security problems conspired to knock me off of my own site and caused many readers to receive weird offers to download a mysterious “wordpress.gz” file, dump them to a 404 “Not Found” page, or behave normally, as the fortunes of fate dictated at the moment. I’m sad that this happened, because the last thing which I want to generate in my readers is frustration. My game is amusement, not apoplexy. If you do encounter any problems with the site, please inform me by email or leave a comment, if possible. I can’t fix anything which I do not know about. I’ll praise once again my WordPress guru, Michael VanDeMar, who, for a modest sum, plucked my precious baby from the tar pit and washed her clean. If you are a WordPress user, you will probably need Michael someday. Put him in your contacts now before you forget.

If you’re a long-time “local” in or around Madang, you will remember Doctors Michael “Mick” and Margaret Horwood who were the local sawbones in town for years. We lived in a small flat above their office. They are wonderful, caring doctors and excellent friends. Mick still comes up to Madang on occasion and dives with us. His son, Will, recently visited us along with some of his fellow medical students. Will was visiting Sam Young, a friend in New York City, and got this phenomenal shot of the skyline with an iPhone!

Not too shabby for something with an Apple logo on it. I confess to not being an Apple fan. Please don’t hate me. However, one of our co-workers has just arrived with a new iPad. In a couple of days I will deliver to you the definitive review of this absolutely fascinating, but seemingly useless product. I admit that I was mesmerised the first time that I squeezed my fingers together and watched the images shrink and then grow again when I moved my fingers apart. Mind blowing!

Here is something that I’d bet that you have never seen. It is the underside of a New Guinea Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae):

It clearly shows that it is really a starfish with the stubbiest possible legs. Yeah, yeah, I know that most people call them arms. But, we don’t walk on arms, do we? If somebody asks you how many arms a starfish has, answer, “Zero, dummkopf.” If you click to enlarge this image and look carefully, you will see some small shrimp crawling around on the underside of the critter. Look for the two dark eyes and then you will see the rest of their nearly transparent bodies.

And, here is yet another thingie which only the most bizarre of you may have ever seen:

It is an extremely juvenile Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor).  When I first saw this from a couple of metres away, I bubbled into my regulator, “What the . . .” It is very small, only about 20mm across. I honestly couldn’t say what it was until I got the shot on my computer and enlarged it. Seeing it big made it clear from the shape of the little bulbs with the . . . er . . . nipples on them (hey, what would you  call them?) that is is definitely an itsy-bitsy Bulb Anemone.

At the Madang Lodge Hotel and Restaurant there are several carving similar to this one of two old men and a dog in a canoe:


There is a guy in Madang who carves these. I think he may have a patent on the design. I have coveted these for years. Maybe if my new jobs work out, I may commission one. I don’t know where I’ll put it. Our house is so full of artifacts that we’re running out of wall space.

I saved this one for last because it makes me giggle. Click to enlarge this image of a Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus):

I’ve uploaded it to my server lager than usual so that you can see the raw hatred and anger on the face of this fish. If this fish had been a tiger, I’m certain that I wouldn’t be sitting here boring you into a catatonic state. Fish don’t usually react to me this way. Maybe it got out of bed on the wrong side.

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Photgraphing the Photographer

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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ANZAC Day has past now, and I’m into the work week with a fury. Well, a flutter, anyway. I’m so far behind that some things are simply getting put into the If I Ever Get Around To It tray. My situation report this morning will be terse, but I do have some nice snaps for your amusement.

I’ll begin by showing you my distressingly flabby triceps. As I was shooting a very nice sunset on Trevor Hattersley’s Lyin’ Dog,  I kept noticing flashes coming from behind me. I took little notice, since everybody was ohhhing  and ahhhhing  at the pretty colours. I assumed it was someone who did not know enough to turn their flash off. Little did I suspect that I was the subject and the cameraman knew exactly what he was doing. Witness the work of Lt. Colonel Simon Watts:Thanks for sending that along, Simon. It will help me to get back to hitting the weights a couple of times a day.

Once in a great while, I get a shot that drops my jaw. So much is up to luck. You can do it perfectly ten times and only one will be good. A hundred times and maybe you’ll say, “Oh, that’s really nice.” Give it a thousand times and you might get something like this:When the colours are so ethereal that it looks fake . . . no, painterly,  then I feel as if I’ve been somehow blessed. It is, of course, a Spinecheek Anemonefish (Amphiprion biaculatus).  There are presently two of them living in a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  with incredible pigmentation at Planet Rock.  I’ve been shooting this same anemone for at least fifteen years. I visit it every time I dive at Planet Rock.  I’ve shown it to hundreds of divers. It’ my  anemone. I’ve made it the most famous Anemone in Madang, so it owes me.

Bulb Anemones, like some other anemones, can display an almost unreal range of colours as you can see from the one in this post.

This is what happens when you stack beauty on beauty. Kate and I were the only divers on Saturday, so we had Planet Rock  all to ourselves. Here a lazy Blue Plastic Toy Starfish (Linckia laevigata)  lounges atop an ancient coral bomie wearing a feather star for a cap while Kate provides the real eye candy:

Lots of blue there.

Since I’ve gotten started with blue, we’ll just keep that theme. Here’s an unfortunately motion-blurred shot of a Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion)  in a Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):The tentacles of this anemone were absurdly blue. I don’t think that I’ve seen one this bright, though there are several other colours which reach this level of saturation. Witness the wonderful green-tentacled Magnificent Anemone here.

What this shot lacks in quality, it makes up for in blueness. It’s a school of Fusiliers of some kind racing past me:We like to say that diving in Madang is very much the same as diving in a huge aquarium. We seldom have to deal with fussy weather or big seas. The water is not always crystalline, but the quantity and the wonderful nearness  of the sea life makes up for the less than perfect visibility.

Not even Paradise is perfect. We don’t care. It’s close enough for us.

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A Bearded Fish and Some New Features

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ll start with the geeky, boring stuff. I’ve added two new features and made one other change to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  The new features are not obvious until you look for them.

First, I’ve added what’s called Related Posts.  You won’t see them when you come in the “front door” by using our main address, for instance, if you have us bookmarked. However, if you come in on a “single post” link, such as you might do from a search engine result or from a Facebook link or a dozen other ways, you will see HOME at the top of the sidebar and, if you go down to the bottom of the post, you will see a selection of posts that directly relate to the content of the post you are currently reading. This is handy for me and for you. I don’t have to constantly think of posts related to the current subject that might also interest you and you can easily find other posts that have similar content.

If you arrived from a bookmark to Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  you are on the “front door” (all recent posts) page. You will see no HOME in yellow at the top of the sidebar. If  you want to see posts related to the one you are reading, all you have to do is click on the title of the post  and you will be taken to the “single page” version of that post. At the bottom, you’ll find the related posts. I did it this way because the “front door” page would become impossibly long if each post also included related posts.

The other thing that I’ve added is a gizmo that allows you to be notified by email whenever a comment is left on a post on which you have commented. This is a great way to keep discussions going. You don’t have to go back to a post to see if anyone has replied to your comment.

When you leave a comment by clicking on the “Comments” link at the bottom of a post (and I encourage you whole-heartedly to do so), you will see a new little checkbox just below the “Submit Comment” click target. It says, “Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.” That’s exactly what will happen, supposing that you have given your real email address. (It’s surprising how many nasty comments that I get which have bogus email addresses. I don’t approve them for display. I just delete them.) You will know when I or someone else replies to your comment and if anybody else chimes in. Thanks, Robert of Trupela Tok  for suggesting this feature.

Finally, in response to regular readers with slow connections, I’ve reduced the number of posts shown on the “front door” page to seven down from fifteen. This should make the loading time less irksome. If you think that you’ve missed something (tragic, I know), you can always use the “Previous Entries” link at the bottom of the page.

Okay, let’s get to some images.

Here is a rather poor shot that I got at Planet Rock  last Saturday. As long as you keep it small, it doesn’t look too bad. There was a lot of particulate matter in the water, so the blue is lumpy and speckled. It would have taken hours to clean it up and it still wouldn’t have been publishable. Still, here in the journal, it’s pretty and interesting:

Swarming Anthea with a diver in the distance

The diver is Dr. Pascal Michon of Divine Word University. The fish are some species of Anthea. 

Here is a fish that I have been trying to capture for a long time. It is a kind of Grouper and has the unusual name of the Spotted Soapfish (Pogonoperca punctata).  Aside from it’s unusual name, note that it has a beard:

Spotted Soapfish (Pogonoperca punctata) at Planet Rock

No, I don’t know what the beard is for. They are quite shy and usually hide under coral ledges where it is hard to see them. My dive buddy Albert Serra Pou spotted this one.

I was curious about the common name – soapfish ??  I found this on SaltCorner.com:  “As with all soapfish, if stressed, it may release a toxic substance (grammistin) from the skin that could kill itself and all tankmates. Prevent any stressful conditions in the tank!” I gues that explains it.

Here is a dramatic image of the incridible flourescent Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  at about 23 metres on the east side of Planet Rock:

Incredibly red Bulb Anemone at Planet Rock

You have seen it before here. I admit to dramaticising the colours . . . mmmm, slightly. For art’s sake, you understand.

This prickly looking thingie is a Feather Star or, more properly a Crinoid. I think that it’s a Comantheria briareus,  but it’s pretty hard to tell. The colours of Feather Stars are somewhat variable and sometimes you have to count the “arms” and look at the “feet” to tell which species you are looking at. Since touching them causes a lot of damage (the arms stick to you and pull away from the animal), it’s not worth hurting them to determine which species it is:

Feather Star (Comantheria briareus)

Last, but my trophy kill of the day, is a Checkerboard Wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus):

Checkerboard Wrasse [intermediate phase] (Halichoeres hortulanus)

As with many fish, many Wrasses go through two or more phases of life during which they display dramatically different colours and body details. This individual in in the Intermediate Phase, between baby and adult. Like most teenagers, this fish believes that being seen in fashionable clothes is the key issue.

By the way, this is one of the best specimin shots that I’ve ever been lucky enough to snap. What you see is what you get.

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