Waterspout!

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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I had intended today to write a post called “Green’s the Thing”, but then Trevor Hattersley came into the office with an image on a flash drive which upset me very much. Last Sunday, work seemed more critical than fun. I turned down an invitation to come up to the beach at Blueblood for the second week in a row. As if that’s not bad enough, I missed seeing something that I’ve wanted to see all of my life – a waterspout!

Here’s Trevor’s nice shot of the waterspout:You can clearly see that it appears to be a hollow tube. He said that the base was visibly sucking water up from the sea. He tried to get a telephoto shot, but a temporary brain malfunction prevented him from remembering what I’ve told him a thousand times about focusing his camera. Thanks, Trevor for the shot. I sneer at you for not telling me that a waterspout was on the entertainment schedule.

So, to the green. Green just happens to be my favourite colour. Green stuff is easy to find on the reef, especially if you pay attention to corals. Here is a close-up shot of a Brain Coral (Platygyra lamellina):The tracks of skeletal material are not always squiggly; sometimes they are straight:The area which you see in the image above is about 10cm wide.

Acropora  corals can also be green. This one is about the size of a large coffee table:In this shot, you can see hints of the spiral shapes that dominates the large scale growth pattern of many corals.

We’ll take a brief break from coral to adore this cute little Linckia multifora  starfish:Three of its arms have been bitten off, but are growing back nicely.

Prepare to use your imagination. Look at the right side of this Acropora  coral:Does it look a little like Australia to you?

Well, it’s almost 07:00 and I have to quit now. When I got back from diving on Saturday the motor on Faded Glory  would not go up, only down. Down doesn’t help. Up is what I needed. So, this morning, I have to take the boat over to the marina to get it fixed. I’m often reminded that a boat is simply a hole in the water into which you pour money.

I’ll leave you with a nice shot of our lovely orange lilies:Now I have to haul the fuel tank and the battery out to Faded Glory.

If I leave them on the boat they will be stolen within a week. Security guards seem to believe that their primary duty is to get a good night’s sleep. Useless! Why do we bother?

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The Skunk and the Crystal Goblet

Posted in Under the Sea on April 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday was a dirty water day. I had a boat load of people; I think there were ten. With seven divers in the water, I had to actually do my Divemaster thing, keeping an eye on everyone. This was not easy, as there was only about ten metres of visibility. We went to the south end of Leper Island  first. It was uninspiring. After our surface interval to dump the excess nitrogen, we did another dive at The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  There was no point going any farther, since everything near Madang seemed to be equally nasty.

At The Eel Garden,  directly under Faded Glory,  we found the resident Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii).  Anemones can stay a long time on one place. Most of them, in their final stage, become sessile. This simply means that they don’t move around:This anemone has been in the same spot for several years. I think that its wandering days are over.

I love patterns, as regular readers will know. I use many of them as desktop backgrounds. This shot of coral polyps really pleases me:There is a delicious combination of randomness and order here. The arrangement of the polyp tentacles suggests dynamic action. This is an entirely correct visualisation. The coral was only about five metres down and there was a constant surge. This was keeping the tentacles in constant motion.

I have no idea of the species of this coral. I was struck by the outrageous colour:I note that very few underwater photographers treat coral seriously. Truthfully, I find coral as interesting and as rich with photographic opportunities as fish. However, most people want to see fish. I try to give a bit of both.

Here’s an elegant example of coral beauty, a young fire coral:There will be no doubt concerning the common name of fire coral commencing with the first contact between it and your skin. It burns like billy blue blazes. Immediate treatment with vinegar, making one smell like a salad and suddenly reminding everyone on the boat that they are famished, is the best immediate treatment. This needs to be followed up by 1% hydrocortisone ointment, which we always have on the boat. It causes no permanent damage except possibly to the dignity of a grown man with tears running down his cheeks after scraping his inner arm across a patch of fire coral.

Here are a couple of Nemofish, as the Japanese now call them. It is probably the only species on the planet that has ben permanently renamed by Hollywood. It is, of course, the common Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula):If you watch them for a while, it’s easy to understand why they are called clowns. They bob about in the anemone as if they were bright orange and white striped toy balloons in a tornado.

As for the Crystal Goblet, you will need to exercise your imagination a little. If you can’t do that, then I will bet that you are not a regular visitor here. This is some kind of Sea Squirt, a fairly rare one in these waters:I say that it is rare not because I’ve researched it, but because, in over 2,000 dives here, this is the first one that I have seen. It is large for a Sea Squirt. The larger individual on the right, which I presume is a more fully developed version of the one on the left, is about 4cm in diameter. It is extremely transparent, as you can see.

We had a very good time at Jed’s house last night. The theme of the party was The Letter B.  It reminded me a little of Sesame Street:

It was a no-brainer for me to come as a Beach Bum. I didn’t even need to dress up. My normal casual attire needed only minor accessorisation. Karaoke was an integral part of the entertainment.

In the image above I’m performing my own crusty rendition of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind.  It was intensely forgetable.

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Pardon My Tubeworms

Posted in Under the Sea on April 16th, 2010 by MadDog
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You’re going to think that you’re seeing double today. Going through my images from dives at Barracuda Point  and The Eel Garden  last Saturday near Pig Island,  I found some vaguely amusing near-twins. Each pair has similarities, but not the same ones. Stick with me while I build a mountain out of a molehill.

The humble Tubeworm (Sabellastarte sanctijosephi)  is an easy photographic subject unless you get too close. If you do, it will disappear down inside its house more quickly than the human eye can follow. Now it’s there; now it’s not:It seems like the same “now”. All that’s left is a puff of dust.

Here’s another Tubeworm:Both of these shots have nice detail if you click to enlarge. The “feathers” are incredibly complex.

The next twins are of Coral (Acropora hyacinthus).  I think that both species are the same, but some corals are impossible to tell apart without examining the microsopic structure of the skeletal framework:The shot above is from directly overhead. You can see a hint of the spiral growth form which is characteristic of many plate corals.

Here is another colony shown more from the side. Again, you can see vague spirals:The colour of the two colonies was different, as you can see. In the second image you can see the variations of brightness caused by the refraction of sunlight through the waves at the surface of the water. When you see this live, it is constantly changing. It reminds me a little of disco lights.

Lets take a break with a prettier image. This is Kate:Kate lives in Madang and works with the Fred Hollows Foundation the Vision Statement of which reads, “Our vision is for a world where no one is needlessly blind, and Indigenous Australians enjoy the same health and life expectancy as other Australians.” They need to work on that one, as they also do important work in other places.

One of my favourite little critters is the Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco).  They are famously cute and give one good fun trying to get them to hold still long enough for a shot. This little fellow seems to be missing his fourth dorsal ray. Maybe it was bitten off. You can see it better in the shot that comes after this one:They scamper about within a small area as their google-eyes stay fixed on you. You end up anchored in the same spot, swinging the camera wildly around hoping for quick snap. The lighting in the shot above was very poor. The sun was behind a cloud and coming slightly from the other side from where I was shooting.

Here is the difference that good light makes:The sun was full on and coming from behind me. Good lighting makes these little jewels glow.

What a difference a ray makes.

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Warship Panorama, Blondes and Other Stuff

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on April 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is yet another day when there will be no plot to follow. I’m free associating. Come along for the ride. The big Australian Hydrographic Survey Ship HMAS Leeuwin sitting across the harbour from our house inspired me to Zoomify nearly the entire west side of the peninsula.

Here is the view from our front yard in a zoomable image:

On the far left is the main wharf and the warehouse. Moving to the right, you see HMAS Leeuwin.  If you zoom in as far as possible, you can read the name of the ship on the side of the bridge. At the far right is a the only three floor house in Madang. It belongs to a big-shot politician about whom I will say nothing else. I’m not a fool. In front of the house is a sunken boat. Again, no comment.

Geeks may be interested to know that the image above is about 20 MB and is comprised of nearly 1,000 files.

Eunie occasionally feeds me tidbits from the newspaper. I read neither The Post Courier  nor The National.  They’re simply too depressing. However this tasty morsel merits a bit of space here:

BLONDE-haired women may be traditionally labeled as fun-loving and less intelligent but a new study reveals they earn seven percent more on average than women with other hair colours. They also marry wealthier men, who earn six percent more than the husbands of other women, the University of Queensland study revealed. The study, which surveyed 13,000 women, found that the difference in pay remained the same even when factors such as height and education were removed. No other hair colour had the same effect. The research, reported in journal Economics Letters, does not explain just why blondes earned more and have wealthier husbands. But Dr David Johnston, who led the study, said: “Blonde women are often depicted as being more attractive than other women, but also less intelligent. But it seems the association between blondes and beauty dominates any perception that they have low intelligence.”

You see, this makes perfect sense to me. Having married a fun-loving blonde who is also, I’m quite certain, the Smartest Person On the Planet, none of the positive aspects of blondeness surprise me. My wife missed out on the big money, but that’s because she married for love. That she got a looser for her trouble is not her fault. I’ll never be a big earner, but I’m ever so sincere and also cute and cuddly – like a 59 kilogram puppy.

Well, I’m not out of space yet. I’ve done a lot of work this morning and I have a few minutes before my lunch hour. I don’t actually take a lunch hour. I just eat while I work. That leaves me more time for a beer when I get home. Then I have to go back to work again in our “other” office. I’m not complaining. It’s not like I’m stoking boilers on the Titanic.  Most of my work is enjoyable now that I have the network bludgeoned into submission. So, since I’ve got the time, here’s this morning’s sunrise which I have titled from the depths of my boundless imagination Sunrise with Canoe:Also, since we can’t have a post without a fish smell, I’ll show you a Mushroom or Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites):The green stuff is a kind of Sea Squirt. Tomorrow I’m going to show you the biggest blob of those that you are ever likely to see. I bet you an hardly wait. The anemone above and to the right is the fairly rare Merton’s Anemone.

Here’s a cute little Linckia multifora  Starfish:That one’s for you Julie. It seems that one of his legs has decided to have its own way. In reality, I suspect very strongly that this starfish regenerated from a single severed leg. That would explain the one huge leg while the others are small. They are only now approaching normal size after having sprouted from the cut end of the severed leg.

Maybe if I ate enough of these I could grow a new face.

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Actual Work! Oh, NO!

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 25th, 2010 by MadDog
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You’ll get less sense than usual from me today, which is no sense at all. Today some people at the office expected me to do some actual work. The nerve of them! I’m the guy who lives in squalor back in the IT Dungeon; the bearded dude who comes and goes in silence and nobody bothers unless the building is on fire. Some might even have to think about that one. Anyway, it was 15:00 today before I had time to think of some novel way to irritate you.

I’ll start with the same ol’ same ol’ morning sunrise:Yeah, yeah, ho-hum. Seen that scene before, man. I never get tired of looking out my front door and wondering what the day will bring. By the looks of the weather this morning, it doesn’t seem promising.

So, I hopped over to BoinbBoing to see if I could find a muse hanging about. Amid the dross of eclectica I found this delightful item for all the dads out there seeking Daughters’ Day presents:

If I’m mistaken and there’s no Daughters’ Day yet, just give it a while. Hallmark will invent it and then you’ll be obliged to spend five bucks for a twenty-five cent dard or pay the consequences in icy stares. Yes, someone has finally made Cat 5e network cables for your darling little girl. I’d say that these will work just fine until she hits about 45, unless she keeps small, yappy dogs. In that case, you’re set for life. Notice the jeweled connectors. You can get these from Cables Unlimited.

If you see these in your son’s room, you might have a little talk with him.

Being pressed for time, my mind had to wander at double-time quickstep, so I Googled “stupid stuff for girls” and found a veritable treasure chest:

Among hundreds of idiotic items at Stupid.Com I found – I can hardly bring myself to say it – Glow In The Dark Fingernail Polish. This is, presumably, for the young lady who tends to believe that she has ceased to exist when entering a dark room. She has merely to look at her hands, assuming that she can locate them, to reassure herself of her existence.

Personally, I find this unspeakably creepy, but then, I never had a daughter. Since I want to be fair about all this, I really should have a Stupid Stuff for Boys day soon.

Well, I could go on and on with this frivolity, but now it is time for the public service portion during which I will attempt to impart important information to you. You will, of course, find this information utterly useless. That is my speciality.

First, I’ll show you this rather uninteresting image of Some Kind of Coral:I can’t find it in any of my books and I’m far too lazy to wade through the web to give you an obscure Latin name about which you care not a whit. Now that I have a second look at it . . . does that dark shape near the top look like a mouth screaming? Whoa, let’s move on.

I said nothing serious or substantive would be forthcoming today, but I can’t find any place else to sneak in this imag of a Sea Squirt (Didemnum membranaceum)  colony with a Robust Feather Star (Himerometra robustipinna)  squatting right in the middle:I can’t really explain why I laughed hysterically when I saw this at about ten metres. It’s a diver thing.

You know, it’s a strange sensation to laugh with a big rubber regulator in your mouth. I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten used to that feeling anyway – sucking on that big pipe for air. It’s . . . undignified. It’s even weirder to cough and a completely wild sensation to sneeze. At first it’s very scary, when you feel a sneeze coming on and you can’t stop it and you wonder what’s going to happen. Then, KAPLOOOEEE, you let fly and a huge cloud of bubbles comes out and you think, “Gosh, that felt good!”

It’s even possible to vomit underwater, though I do not recommend the experience just for kicks. Yes, I have done it and yes, I didn’t like it at all. There are two methods used. One is to remove your regulator and get it over with as quickly as possible. This is not considered safe, because you may choke when you try to get air again and then it’s probably all over. The other way it to just blow chunks into the regulator, gasping between gushes and trying not to suck too much back in. You might still have to take your reg out and shake it around to get rid of the . . . stuff, so that it works properly. This also is considered dangerous.

I hope that I haven’t put you off your breakfast.

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Jesus Racing and More Coral

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 24th, 2010 by MadDog
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All of my friends here in Madang know that I am a Christian believer and they know that I make my living, or some of it anyway, working in a Christian mission that translates the Bible into the local languages. And, they all know that I don’t shove that in their faces. Most of them are simply not interested. I discuss matters of belief only when someone raises the topic. Therefore, “in your face” evangelism and pushy tactics make me uncomfortable. I don’t think that it’s nice and I don’t think that it’s effective.

So, I was disconcerted when my good friends Trevor Hattersley and Karen Simmons, whom I recently joined in wedlock, passed to me these images which they snapped on the highway during a pleasant visit to Oz. This is something that you don’t see every day:When I first saw JesusRacing, I rolled my eyes.

And then I remembered the days of my youth when I spent many Sunday mornings with my Austin-Healey Sprite at the local abandoned air strip with the Sports Car Club of America crowd enjoying the smell of burning rubber and castor oil (yes we put castor oil in the crankcases – weird, eh?). There was a very active and successful racer who held interdenominational church services every week on the circuit for those who cared to come. Many people attended who were obviously not part of the churchy crowd, but simply enjoyed the company of fellow racers and didn’t mind the religious falderal.

I asked him once if it bothered him that he never went to church on Sundays. He said something like, “I like racing the way Jesus liked parties.” Puzzled, I asked him to elucidate. He said, “Well, Jesus performed his first miracle by turning the water into wine at a wedding party.” The conversation went on and I soon had a rather different view than I previously held.The web site is interesting, primarily because there’s an honesty there which you often don’t see in “promotional” evangelism. For instance, Andrew “Fishtail” Fisher explains the difficulties of financing the expensive sport of motor racing while excluding commercial sponsorship. “Confusion of the message” is the problem, as he puts it.

I’m odly ambiguous about this. On one hand, it makes me squirm a little. Maybe a little too flash, eh? On the other hand if you can plaster ads for laundry detergent all over a top NASCAR bullet to sell your soap to women, why not write Jesus in bright red letters on your car if that is your message? Some will laugh and scoff. But, isn’t that slightly hypocritical? Which is the more profound message, soap or Jesus? Even if you think that they are both equally inane, my question is the same, “Then what’s your problem?”

As soon as I get over this sinus infection and I’m off the “antibiotic of last resort” I’m going to hoist a brew to the folks at JesusRacing. Or maybe a glass of red would be more appropriate.

Thanks, Trevor and Karen.

What would Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  be without something that smells like fish? I shall now deliver.

Here’s another something that you don’t see every day. It’s Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinuosa):And yes, it does look exactly like bubbles. Under the bubbles are ridges that are as sharp as razors. I won’t say that I popped a bubble once to see how tough it was and got cut. No, I won’t say that. It would make me seem even more stupid than I am. The yellowish fingery looking stuff in the image above is Lobed Leather Coral, a species of Lobophytum.

This coral is a nasty customer. I’m talking about the gooey looking mass of macaroni like blobs in the centre. The things on the left are sponges. The coral is Euphyllia glabrescens:The operative word here is “ouch”. I once made the tragic mistake of draging my arm across a mass of this stuff while lining up for a shot. I had no wetsuit on that day. I will not  do that  again.

I call this stuff “underwater napalm”. It is very sticky and wherever it touches your skin it feels as if you’ve been sprayed with molten steel:What’s worse is that if your try to scrape it off the pain simply gets worse and the stuff spread like it’s alive. Well, it is  alive, for pity’s sake and it’s going to get even with you for disturbing its peace. It even looks evil. It reminds me of a heap of tiny ears.

Okay, I’m out of words now. I’ll be here tomorrow again to say Hello to you and spout the same old gibberish.

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From the Strange to the Beautiful

Posted in Under the Sea on March 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I have a couple of days left to irritate you with my babbling on about my solo dive off the beach at Wongat Island  last Saturday. I worked on a few more images yesterday evening. They run from the very strange to the very beautiful. Get ready for a trip.

I can sit back and close my eyes and imagine plunging through an alien atmosphere in a space capsule. When I land and walk around in my space suit (stay with me here) I’m stunned by the strange and wonderful creatures which abide in this hostile world. I see things like this:Every time that I dive I am acutely aware that I am entering another world. The image above is of a couple of higher invertebrates, namely Sea Squirts. This species is Phallusia julinea.  Never mind the racy name (see φαλλός ). They are strange by any standard.

I had a lot of trouble getting this shot of a Blackbarred Razorfish (Iniistius tetrazona):They are very skittish and stay just far enough away that you can’t get a good shot. I had to get this one from about three or four metres away, which is much more distant than my normal shots of small subjects. My average camera to subject distance for little critters is 3 – 30 cm. This fish is in the family of Wrasses. This is a teenager in what is called the Initial Phase. This is the middle phase of development. The Juvenile Phase comes first and the Terminal Phase represents the adults. Very often the first two stages appear remarkably different from the adults.

This freakishly beautiful monstrosity is a juvenile Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):They are ridiculously easy to photograph, since all they do is hang in the water waiting an unsuspecting fish to mistake them for a bit of rubbish and move a bit too close to the toothy end. Then, with a clicking noise and a movement too quick for the human eye to see, the fish disappears into the mouth of the Lionfish, which is the common local name for these wonderful, poison-spined fish.

Here is a group of Periclimenes  shrimp enjoying themselves at the local disco located in a coral. The name of the joint is Heliofungia actiniformis.  You can pop in there for drink and shake your booty any day except Sunday from 8 PM until the early hours of the morning:Lady shrimp are admitted with no cover charge and receive a gratuitous cocktail of their choice to enhance their mood.

I accidentally got my camera stuck in the JPG mode for about half of the shots that I got on the dive. I usually shoot RAW:That statement has nothing to do with my attire. It’s a technical thing that you either know about or don’t. I’m not going to bore you with the explanation. The problem with not  going RAW is that you lose a lot of control over the colours, especially when shooting underwater. The shot above may look nice to you, but I can see a lot of problems with the hues. Never mind. The Chromis  are pretty anyway. I couldn’t figure out which species they are.

Speaking of pretty, I’ll show you pretty.

I found a nice little crab shell on the bottom and brought it up on Faded Glory.  We never take anything living from the reef, but an empty shell (with no resident hermit crab) or a crab shell is fair game. Our friend Ush started fooling around with it and I grabbed my camera. One doesn’t want to miss opportunities for the Kodak Moments:

So, I say once again. Beauty is where you find it.

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