Time Warp

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on November 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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I had no intention of being absent from this place for an extra day. I have no shortage of ideas for posts and writing seems to be more than usually good for me these days. However, the power situation in Madang for the last few days has been absolutely miserable. On Thursday my UPS died a hideous death. I went to get a new one, hating to spend the money, but unwilling to risk my computer. On getting it home I was disheartened to discover that it did not appear to work. So, I spent the entire weekend without the web. I felt as if I’d had a lobotomy.

As it turned out, the new UPS worked fine. I took it back to the dealer today. It was pointed out to me that I had the connections wrong. Sigh . . . Yet another stupid mistake. How many does it take?

None of that has anything at all to do with what I want to write about today.

I can remember at times near the end of the year, such as now, when I would think to myself – for example – “Where did 1992 go? Time is whizzing by so fast! I’ll soon be dead.” This is what happens when you’re having fun. When life is sweet it flashes past so quickly that it seems unfair. You feel cheated. The inevitable close of the show seems to be approaching in too much of a hurry.

And then something happens. Suddenly life is not such a joy ride. Nobody escapes these seasons. Winters come to us all. Winters seem to last forever, eh?

Remembering that I once thought where did the year go, it seems so awfully opposite now to look at the calendar and note, as it has been creeping up on me day-by-day, that it has been only two months today since Eunie died. Amazing! It feels like a year. It feels like forever. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I’ve had plenty of time to think about it – centuries. I found it an odd coincidence (is there really such a thing?) that I met Nancy Sullivan today, who is an old friend I seldom see, and practically the first thing that she said to me upon reflecting that it had been only two months was, “It seems like forever, eh?” My case rests.

I pondered mightily concerning what images I might use for this post. Dali’s The Persistence of Memory kept wafting around the corners of my mind. Finally I decided that I needed timepieces. No worries. Eunie and I both had a small collection of what we called our “Seven Dollar Watches.” We collected them from Wal*Mart:

I looked for the better part of an hour for Eunie’s watches. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried for a while when I couldn’t find them. It’s that kind of day. I put mine on a sly grinning cat which Eunie applied to a bedspread, along with frisky puppies, well over two or three decades ago. It’s a very durable bedspread. It will outlive me. I hope some child enjoys it.

I can hear the watches ticking. Too fast? Too slow? I can’t tell.

Then, unbidden today, but always on my mind otherwise, came the thought of solitary creatures as I looked through the images of my dive on The Green Dragon B-25 bomber on Saturday. Solitary creatures . . . I don’t intend to stay that way forever, not if I have anything to say about it. Eunie will be my cheerleader.

Here is a solitary Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula):

That’s right. It’s Nemo come to cheer us up. Good luck, buddy.

I wonder if time will speed up again in a year or so. Of course then, when I’m having some fun again, I’ll moan that it’s going too fast. I’m never satisfied.

Here’s a critter that seems to prefer solitude, a Ribbon Eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita):

Weird, eh? But pretty.

Now with my brain churning so furiously that it has set my hair on fire I run across this image which I took at the end of the dive. It seems to fit here:

It’s good old Faded Glory. She’s a lot like me. She’s beat up and corroded, but she’s still afloat. She’s still a bit pretty in a sort of efficient, functional way. She’s still got a lot of love and good times to give. Just like me. I’m certain that someday this will be my favourite image of her.

I’ll wrap this up with a magic trick. See . . . nothing up my sleeves.

Stuck in the sand near the rapidly deteriorating corpse of the war machine in which good men died I found this bit of the Perspex windscreen, which was smashed to smithereens when the bomber ditched near Wongat Island. Geneviève hovers like a pixy ghost in the near distance:

This shard of plastic has been resting alone in the warm sea since about the time I was born. It had never been disturbed before. I came along on Saturday and dug it out of the sand. I resurrected it.

I carried it back to the wreckage and dropped it into the pilot’s seat.

Home at last.

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Bulldozer – The Spotted Shrimpgoby

Posted in Under the Sea on September 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday I went out on Richard Jones’ and Pascal Michon’s boat Sanguma  for our regular weekly dive. We motored up to Pig Island  to The Eel Garden, one of the few places where the sea was calm enough to be comfortable. The water was full of particulate matter. That spells trouble for photography, unless you can get very close to the subject. Therefore, all of my images from the dive are shot from a distance of a few inches. Today I want to show you a series of images of the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  and the commensal shrimp (Alpheus ochrostriatus)  that lives with it.

The shrimp goby and the goby shrimp share the same burrow. The burrow is maintained by the shrimp. In return, the goby keeps guard and may provide a source of food. Approached too closely, both will dart back into the burrow.

Here we see the shrimp goby standing guard at the side of the little ditch that is always present running from the burrow to the sand dump. You can also see the goby shrimp pushing a load of sand up out of the burrow:

The goby shrimp shoves the sand along with its head and claws, reminding one of a tiny bulldozer:

When the shrimp reaches the sand dump it pushes the sand up into a little pile at the end of the ditch. If the pile gets too big, it will move off to the side at the end of the ditch and start another pile:

Here we can see the shrimp after it has pushed the sand onto the pile and is getting ready to go backwards down the ditch and back into the tunnel for another load:

The process goes on indefinitely. Its work is never finished.

I enjoyed the dive this week more than last, the first since returning from Australia alone. I was far too unsettled that day. I should not have been diving at all. Faded Glory  is finally back where she belongs. When Rich Jones and I put in a new mooring buoy last week, somebody stole it the first night. So much for our security staff. They are too busy sleeping at night to walk around.

The work load has not diminished noticeably. Trevor Hattersley did help me get a handle on part of it. We will have to have more sessions as I progress until, eventually, I have a handle on my personal finances and the insurance claims are settled. I am looking at these things as challenges, not problems. However, they are big challenges. I haven’t had time to grieve properly or get lonely. All that will come later.

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Underwater Pencil

Posted in Under the Sea on August 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll be less chatty today, because I spent most of the day up at Blueblood. We are also dealing with a health problem which Eunie has been suffering through for a couple of months and a definitive diagnosis is probably not going to be available with the medical technology available here in Madang. It is very likely that Eunie will be leaving Madang in the next few days to go to Cairns where more sophisticated equipment is available and we can figure out what is causing her illness. Any treatment required for her problem will be available also in Cairns, so we’re certain that it’s the right move to get her out of here as quickly as possible. We’ve decided that I’d be pretty much in the way while that process is in progress, so I’m staying in Madang until we know what’s what.

I need to distract myself and possibly you also. I’ll show you a few more images which we got during our dive at The Eel Garden on Saturday. Here are a trio of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  with Ush cruising past in the background:

There was a lot of particulate matter in the water, so I had to blur the distant background to get rid of it. It turned out to be a pleasing effect.

You might be surprised to find a pencil on the bottom at twenty metres, but if you hear the story, it will make sense. Divers sometimes use pencils to write on plastic slates. This one was accidentally dropped, I suppose. Why didn’t it float to the surface? It’s wood, eh? Well, after several submersions at depth, they soak up so much saltwater that they don’t float any more;

Here is a flock of Three-Spot Dascyllus (Dascyllus trimaculatus)  drifting around their somewhat crowded anemone host:

They appear to have only one spot at first glance. If you get close up you can see a paler spot. However, search as I may, I have never found the third spot. Obviously whoever named the fish was math-challenged.

This is just a nice little reef scene – not much to say about it:

This is my most favoured shot of the day. I snapped it just as I was coming up at the end of the line to reboard Faded Glory:

So, now you know what it looks like when you’re watching your diver friends clambering back on the boat. The big bubbles which you see in the foreground are mine.

I hope to have more information by tomorrow evening concerning our plans for the near future.

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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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Light and Shadow – Two Views of Beauty

Posted in Under the Sea on July 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had bright prospects on Saturday morning. The sun was shining in a partly cloudy sky and there seemed little chance of rain. However, when we got out into Tab Anchorage  it was clear that the sea was restless. The rolling waves promised an uncomfortable hour for any friends who were not safely under the surface of the water in the blissful calmness of Mother Ocean.

I never saw the ocean until I was twenty-five years old when Eunie and I took our infant son to Panama City, Florida while I was in Advanced Helicopter Training at Ft. Rucker Alabama. I was stunned. It was the first time I had seen a body of water wide enough that I could not see the other side. It had the aspect of infinity. Since then I have learned a curious fact. Practically anybody can get sea sick if conditions are bad enough. It takes a lot to get me sea sick, but I have been truly miserable for hours at a time during very rough passages. Therefore, I am very sensitive to the condition of my passengers. We found ourselves driven by the waves to our favourite calm cove at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  for the third week in a row.

There are a few places where we can dive even though the sea state might drive other boats back to the Madang Club for an early beer. Fortunately, The Eel Garden is a dive which never grows dull. Here Faded Glory’s  anchor and chain rests safely on the sandy bottom while the mottled lighting of the sand indicates the chaotic waves on the surface:

I decided that there were plenty of opportunities for high depth of field shots in these conditions. Here comes “Deep Focus” again.

Within moments of settling to the bottom I was presented with this little tableau. On the bottom is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)  and hovering above is a Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor):

Old-time PNG residents who enjoyed diving or snorkeling always called this “The Steamship’s Fish”, because its colours are those of the Steamships Trading Company which was one of the major suppliers of the bits and pieces of our daily lives.

Turning around the other direction, I found one of God’s Little Jokes, a bright, toy-like Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Every single time I see one of these I feel a smile coming to my face. It’s something that simply can’t be stopped. In my head, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Why?” and “Why not?”

Still within the first minutes I came across this pair of Six-Spot Gobies (Valenciennea sexguttata).  This made me particularly happy, since this is only the second time I have photographed this species. The first image was less than I usually hope for. This time I got much better lighting conditions and two  of them:

Double the fun! Please don’t ask me why they are called Six-Spot Gobies when there are clearly seven spots. (We’re counting the blue spots, in case you’re wondering.)

Now we come to the images which really make me smile. Genevieve Tremblay just got some shiny new gear. She was diving with a borrowed set which had some serious deficiencies. There was nothing dangerous about it. It was simply not up to the standards which are comfortable for a new diver. Here she is teasing a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  and grinning at me:

How cute is that, eh? The lighting was very nice for this shot. I didn’t need to use flash and the depth was shallow enough that It was easy to get natural skin tones.

This shot taken at about twenty metres on the old catamaran shows an effect that I’m trying to learn. It’s Genevieve again with a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the foreground:

I could have Photoshopped out Genevieve’s hair standing on end, but decided not to. We sometimes look a little odd underwater. It adds to the charm of the image. I have a bunch more of these shots from Saturday which I will show soon.

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A Curious Collection

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on June 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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Okay, today I’m just winging it. I have no coherent plan, no petty rage to vent, no earth-shattering news, no malicious gossip (no, wait . . . I hate that stuff), and no gonzo wisdom to dispense. I’m reasonably calm, considering the mountainous pile of work which I fear will soon avalanche down upon me and out of which no St. Bernard will come bearing a little keg of Monk-crafted brandy will come to dig me.* I partook of my placebo this morning, consisting of a tiny nibble off of the edge of a 5mg Valium tablet. I know that it’s not enough to affect my body chemistry, it simply lets me feel as if I have some control. I feel like a mouse nibbling on a teeny-weeny chunk of cheese which must last him for a month. The things you do when the mind starts to go . . .

So, I’ll spare you the chatter and show you some images which have lifted me out of the muck a couple of times already this week. We’ll start with a sunrise for which I can credit only God. Sorry folks. Simple physical processes are not up to the task:

Thanks, God. I needed that one.

This is a picture I got a few weeks ago up at Guntabag with my old buddy Tag Tap. He took me to a tiny little house to see this wonderful old man who they say is eighty-three years old:

It is hard for me to keep tears from my eyes when I look at this image of a man who has lived almost literally from the stone age to the space age. How much the world has changed during his lifetime. He would have been born at a time when nearly the entire population of Papua New Guinea lived in areas which had never been mapped and were presumed to be uninhabited. I do not know his name, and If I did, I would not tell you. Names of venerated persons, especially those who are in the twilight zone are often not spoken aloud. A glance or pointing of the chin in his direction is sufficient to indicate the subject of the conversation. He was alert and could speak, offering to shake my hand. However, he was clearly confused concerning why a foriegner would want to come to meet him and take his photograph. I’m going to get a good framed print made of this one and send it up to him.

I can’t get enough of the Finisterre Mountains.  Despite being surrounded by mountains to the west, the Finisterres,  across Astrolabe Bay,  are the only ones which we can see clearly:

I’ll call that one Too Blue.

I’m calling this one Boards Over Water at Blueblood:

The sand from out feet on the deck and the ripples of sand under the water below the deck connected furiously in my medula oblongata. I stared curiously at my hands as they, of their own accord, set the controls on my trusty Canon G11 and framed the shot. I heard a subtle “click” inside my head when the shutter released. It was surreal.

Here is a happy, happy picture:

It is (Rozlings take note) Roz Savage, Genevieve Tremblay, me and Jo Noble in Faded Glory  on our way out to Planet Rock on Saturday. Thanks to pal Meri Armstrong for the snap. Meri was intensely concerned with getting the iconic Madang Coastwatchers Monument in the background. I enlarged my bicep only slightly – honest! And, by the way, I am not “making a donkey” out of Genevieve. I’m giving the Peace Sign.

Which reminds me. I haven’t shown the Faded Glory  Diving Crew t-shirt logo for a long time:

I’m putting it up here because I’m looking for a t-shirt company who can make some up for me. If anybody out there has any ideas, please leave me a comment or send me an email.

Just a couple of more and then you can get back to work before the boss comes around. I love spirals. When you are in the sea you are surrounded by them. Here is one of my favourite spiral shots:

What I like about them is that none of them are perfect. They are only suggestions of what spirals might be if they tried harder, if they cared more about being true to their good nature. They remind me of humans.

So, now that I’ve gone completely silly, I may as well carry on. I saw this bottle on the otherwise pristine reef at Planet Rock:

As you can see, the reef is desperately trying to incorporate it into itself. It is a hopeless task, because the bottle is of a different nature from the reef. The reef lives. The bottle is dead and always has been. The bottle does not belong to the reef and the reef does not want it there. So, the reef hides its shame and restores its beauty by absorbing the foreign bottle into itself.

I’m calling it Message in a Bottle.

* Please note the incredibly clumsy sentence which I crafted to avoid ending it with the prepostiion “out”.

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Saturday at Last!

Posted in At Sea, Mixed Nuts on April 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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What a week! It was a long slog through the muddy wasteland of servers oozing error messages and tangles of wires tugging at my feet like “wait a minute” vines. We did, however triumph. I can’t think of a single thing in the IT Dungeon that is not humming along in harmony with the organisation and my happy boss. We’ve even got a new web site up for my employer, Pioneer Bible Translators – Papua New Guinea Branch. I would never have gotten it done if not for the help (okay, he did it – I just made a few adjustments) of our former Director, Kyle Harris. He volunteered to do the job and I owe him big. Thanks, Kyle. It’s nowhere near finished, but I’ll be adding more content soon and the blog section will be updated at least weekly.

I’ll start this off quickly, because it’s 08:30 and I have to picky my divers up at 10:00, with this morning’s sunrise:Amusing, but hardly spectacular.

The panoramic view is similarly uninspiring:

Who am I to complain? I’m lucky to still be seeing sunrises here in Paradise. I’ve been nearly fired so many times that I’ve lost count, mostly for being a jerk. It’s happening less and less these days, so they are either getting used to me or I’m improving. I tend to accept the former explanation.

Might as well throw in yesterday’s sunrise:I’m ready for the rainy season to be over. During the dry there’s a good sky almost every morning. I can get back to rising at 05:30, grabbing camera and tripod and sitting down for a half hour of introspection while the big dude upstairs puts on a spectacular show just for me. Sometimes I pretend that I’m the only person on earth seeing it. Maybe I’m right . . . sometimes. Anyway, I certainly enjoy sharing them with you.

And, often when I return to the house, this is what I see:A hungry Sheba, our mutt, with that expression that says, “Okay already. You’re going to feed me now. Right?” The tail tattoos on the floor for emphasis.

My goal is to crank out six works of fake art each week to develop my so-called skills. This week I managed only one. It is an outrageously coloured faux watercolour rendition of the Yellowmargin Triggerfish which we teased a few days ago:Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus  if you care.

Okay, I have to rush now, since there’s always the chance that there will be a problem with Faced Glory,  since she’s probably nearly as old as me . . . in boat years. In an hour and a half I’ll be looking at something very similar to this:Not a bad life for an old man, eh?

Oh, and there’s a big costume party tonight with the theme being the letter “B”.

I’m going as a beach bum. I don’t even have to dress up.

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