Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m still wrapping my mind around the idea of getting back to the roots of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  We are up to nearly one thousand posts. That seems impossible to me. If the average post runs 1,000 words* then, if that guess is close to reality, that works out to be about 1,000,000 words of pure drivel which I have produced in a little over three years. The average length of a novel is 60,000 – 100,000 words. In sheer volume, I’ve produced roughly 12.5 novels during that period of time. Just think what I could have accomplished if I had put my mind to it.

I would have joined the sweaty masses who have written “The Next Great Novel” which absolutely nobody wants read, much less publish. In fact, I would have produced a dozen of them. How fortunate it is that I did not waste my time pursuing such a ridiculous dream. I would love to write fiction. The problem with writing is that a great many people do it rather well.

It is the same with acting. All of my life I have had dreams of being an actor. I’ve been in many amateur productions. A few scatterbrains even said that I might posses a smidgeon of talent. And therein lies the rub. A gozillion people can act or write reasonably well, well enough that one can stand to watch them play roles or read with some amusement what they write. However, even those with prodigious talents find success elusive. It requires intricate and complicated connections, fortuitous circumstances, and great magnificent piles of good luck to get a break.

Faithful reader ZydecoDoug commented yesterday that my Green Coral Imperfection shot “belongs on a magazine cover”. Well, I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is how to attract the attention of those holding the purse strings.

Hey, I’m beginning to bore myself. Let’s get on with Miscellanea.

A rather strange definition might be in order. I ripped this from some site at Princeton University:

  • S: (adj) assorted, miscellaneous, mixed, motley, sundry (consisting of a haphazard assortment of different kinds) “an arrangement of assorted spring flowers”; “assorted sizes”; “miscellaneous accessories”; “a mixed program of baroque and contemporary music”; “a motley crew”; “sundry sciences commonly known as social”- I.A.Richards
  • S: (adj) many-sided, multifaceted, miscellaneous, multifarious (having many aspects) “a many-sided subject”; “a multifaceted undertaking”; “multifarious interests”; “the multifarious noise of a great city”; “a miscellaneous crowd”

So, now that we know what it means . . .

I have gotten more and more interested in shooting faces recently. I’m found here and there attempting to get candid shots. It’s very annoying. I caught George up at Blueblood a couple of weeks ago:

I was really going for the lighting here. George has a rather dramatic face. The light here seemed about right to me. When you can’t control anything, you take what you can get and make the best of it. I’d like to do more shooting under controlled conditions, but then you lose the spontaneity and you’re into poses. The little bit of carved post at the far right is a nice touch. I now wish that I’d left more of it in the shot. After a few days you can always pick out the things which you did wrong with an image. It never fails.

Here is a cute little Calcinus minutus,  more commonly known as the  Hermit Crab:

I tried flash in this shot and it ruined it. The light was very dim, but kind to me, nevertheless. The image has a soft, pleasant appeal. Though I wasn’t intentionally composing (that’s difficult when dealing with nature), I ended up with a couple of very important rules being satisfied. One is The Rule of Thirds and the other is Angled Lines. Also, the regularity of the radiating lines in the coral contrasts nicely with the more or less randomness of the patterns in the Hermit Crab.

Here is a shot that I like because it looks as if it is an expensive aquarium in a high-class hotel lobby:

There’s not much to say about it otherwise. It’s just a pretty picture of a swarm of Anthea and a couple of Feather Stars.

Here’s something a little more to the point. It’s a fairly large sponge, about a half-metre across. I am far to lazy to look up the species:

Sponges generally take in water at the bottom, from which they extract food and oxygen, and “exhale” it through the top from an opening called an osculum. Here you can see two of those openings.

They are much more interesting when you get a close look:

Here you can see the intricate, uh, . . . sponginess of the inside of the beastie. Well, it is  a sponge. What else might we expect.

I’ll finish up with another face. This mug belongs to my good friend Trevor Hattersley. It’s a familiar expression for Trev. I call it, Who, me?

Trev looks a lot different these days, compared to a couple of years ago. He let his hair and beard grow. I’ve known him for a long time. I gotta say that this is the first time since I met him that I think that his appearance matches his demeanour.

He’s a natural-born pirate.

* I note now that this post runs 883 words, so my guess may be a little high.

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Corals and Friends

Posted in Under the Sea on October 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today’s lecture will provide you with utterly useless information about coral. I’m certain that you will find this to be an illuminating and valuable experience. There will be no quiz at the end.

We’ll start with this ordinary image of a fan coral. This is the way we usually show them – flat side facing the camera, so that one can see that they are fan-shaped. Fascinating, eh?

What does make this picture mildly interesting is that you can see a very young Feather Star taking advantage of the food-rich water flowing through the fan. Both critters are filter-feeders. When I got these images at The Eel Garden near Pig Island,  the water was full of yummy plankton and other edible bits and pieces. Everybody was getting a good feed, but we were getting stung by some of the more vicious floating creatures.

Here is a small cluster of Fan Coral seen edge-on:

I seldom think to photograph fan coral from this angle. It is a fresh perspective.

Here is a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  resting between two different coral species:

Some corals are able to coexist very close to each other.

Other corals need their space. This shot is really quite interesting (yawn):

Here we can see a hard coral completely surrounded by a leather coral. I suspect that what is going on here is that the hard, staghorn-like coral in the centre is producing some chemical that tells the leather coral, “Back off, Jack!” This phenomena is quite common in nature. It was the keystone observation in the discovery of antibiotics. In 1928, Professor Alexander Fleming noticed that some glass plates which he had coated with a film of Staphyloccus  bacteria had some spots of mold growing on them. Around each mold colony was a clear ring free of the bacteria. The mold was Penicillium notatum.

Okay, enough of that.

Here is a cute shot of Geneviève Tremblay learning to steer Mike Cassell’s Felmara:

We had a gathering of the usual suspects up at Blueblood last Sunday. I rode up on Felmara,  because I did not want to drive up the coast alone.

I think often about how fortunate and blessed I am to have such a fine group of friends. Here is the mob gathered around the table after a good meal:

I decided to have a little rest in the hammock.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I had a long conversation last night with the lady who is handling my claims at the health insurance company. My friend Trevor Hattersley is helping me to sort out this very complicated mess. The lady gave me some information about a different way that I can submit claims. It will allow me to submit all of the as yet unpaid invoices and request that the providers be paid directly by the insurance company. I was not aware of this. I am close to breaking the backs of my two credit cards. This new way of submitting claims will probably save months of time getting all of the claims settled. It will also save me a lot of interest on the amounts on the credit cards.

That conversation removed part of the heavy, very stressful load of concern which I’ve been carrying. Last night I got nearly five hours of sleep. I have been averaging three. I call that a big improvement. I have plenty of serious challenges ahead, but now this one seems much more manageable.

I’m feeling very grateful.

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The Vain Varicosa

Posted in Under the Sea on July 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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Dont’ try to figure out the title of the post yet. It’s so stupid that you will simply waste your time. I’ll get to it.

Busy, busy, busy. When I went out this morning I was wondering how I was going to cram in all the things that I “had to do” before clocking out. One of them was to take this picture of a sunrise, a very peculiar one:

Frustrated with the violet hue (which, by the way, I saw with my own eyes, but can’t explain), I spent far too much time trying to get rid of it and then decided to leave it, because that’s the way it was. It is not a very good idea to fool with Mother Nature, even when she seems to be fooling with you.

But, getting back to “things I have to get done today”, I really need an attitude adjustment. There are categories:

  • That which must be done to maintain life (eat, get a little exercise, don’t offend any mobsters, etc.)
  • That which one must do to keep one’s job or jobs (should be obvious to you unless you are about to be sacked)
  • That which you would like to do just to show that you’re pulling your load (help with the housework, wash the car, mow the lawn, etc.)
  • That which you need to do in order to maintain some level of personal satisfaction (this too, you probably already have figured out)

The problem is putting them all into some kind of balance. I still haven’t gotten a handle on that. I probably never will.

So, since this is something which I do to maintain some level of personal satisfaction, I’m going to blow off some of the more essential tasks and show you the source of the ridiculous title of this post. It is a nudibranch, specifically a Phyllidia varicosa,  of which you have seen many specimens before:

The title is a stupid pun combining the species name, varicosa,  and vain, which we all understand (“You’re so vain – da da da da da da da.”) with varicose veins and don’t ask me why that popped into my mind. So having established what kind of a day it’s going to be, let’s get on with the rest of it.

By the way, I am calling that P. varicosa  image a perfect specimen shot. If anybody wants to argue that, then put up your dukes and show that you did better. I’m laying the matter to rest until I get (or I am challenged with) a better one. That’s another brag down for the day. How many do I have left? I’ve lost count already.

Here’s a nice, symmetrical shot of  a Fan Coral and a Feather star:

No, I’m not going to say a lot about it. It’ speaks for itself. Let it talk for a few seconds. Pop it up and have a look. Hear anything?

Me neither.

A little gaggle of Shadowfin Soldierfish (Myripristis adusta)  were swimming through the notch leading to the catamaran. Having plenty of air and not much else to do, I took a picture of them:

Think of that shot as part of my continuing efforts to demonstrate that not everything under the sea is as exciting and beautiful as you see it on TV.

This is a bit better. These little devils are usually almost impossible to shoot well. The Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  is a shy, shy fish:

This is probably the best shot which I have ever gotten of the fat little puppy-like swimmers.

Then, a few metres away, I found another one ducking in and out of a hole:

Another good puffer shot. When you’re hot, you’re hot!

Looking back up at that list, I think that I have to get to work now.

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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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Grass and Water

Posted in Under the Sea on July 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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I was standing out in the front yard this morning watching the sun rise up steadily, much too bright for good sunrise shots, and I looked down at my feet. The warm wine light of the fat, yellow orb was casting a very curious glow on the vegetation and shallow harbour water inches in front of my toes. I started to think about it. I took a picture.

It’s a very ordinary image. Yet, the familiarity of my surroundings give me context to extract much more from it than might be apparent to you:

The brown, twisty gnarls are the roots of my coconut trees. They are presently the only thing saving my front yard from melting into the rising waters of Madang Harbour.  The local sea level has risen at least twenty centimetres since we moved into our house twenty years ago. No, this isn’t global warming. It’s a local tectonic phenomena. We are on one end of a small plate which is tipping. Our end is going down. The gnarly roots speak to me.

The area at the edge of the water is almost daily flooded by boat wakes. The constant salting causes great stress to the grass at the edge of our lawn. The fresh grass shoots are vigorous and bright green.

All around me I can hear the splashing of fish. At this time of the morning predators are coming into water only ankle-deep and driving prey up toward the shore. I remind myself of the small life and death struggles taking place within a couple of metres from where I stand.

How much can you pack into an image.? I guess it depends on who is looking at it and what associations they can make.

Well, enough of the early morning moodiness. Have a look at this delightfully curly Feather Star (Comaster multifidus):

I didn’t think much of this shot when I first saw it on the screen. The composition is not so bad, but the varying distances from the flash left me with some spots far too bright and others too dark. It took a bit of fiddling, but I finally reckoned it was good enough to show.

I love Sea Squirts of all kinds. One could easily make a career of cataloging the varieties within a half hour boat ride from my house. I don’t know how you could make a living doing that, but it would be fun. These are Atriolum robustum:

I got some nice depth of field on this shot and the colour balance is spot-on. You are seeing exactly what I saw.

These are the same Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  on the same plate coral which I showed to you a few days ago in Sharp and Smooth:

It’s just another frame from the same series. I like the depth in this one, though the general composition is not as good as the shot in the earlier post.

You’ve seen this exact Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  before. I’m going to keep shooting him until I have him nailed down:

One might think that it would become boring doing hundreds (over 2,000 now) of dives in only a couple of dozen locations. I think it depends on what you expect from diving. For me it’s about being with friends, feeling the stress melt away when I slip into Mother Ocean, and photography. You don’t need to spend a lot of money travelling from place to palce like a well-heeled gypsy to get these pleasures. I’m happy to stay at home and squeeze the lemons.

Here’s two more of the Usual Suspects, Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

I had some fun playing with the colours in this shot. I can see some areas which are distinctly fake. However, I decided to take some liberties with Mother Nature.

I just don’t want Eunie to catch me. Shhhhhh . . .

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Hanging Out the Door

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 27th, 2010 by MadDog
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I am now officially so far behind that I will never catch up. Yesterday had a three hour chunk removed from my plans when I went out on Sir Peter Barter’s Robertson R-44 helicopter and spent a literally hair raising period of time hanging out of the door. I’ve always had a sort of fetish about sitting in the open door of a helicopter with my feet hanging over the side. It’s so close to the edge, right where I like to walk. I spent many hours sitting in the open door of a Hotel model Huey when I wasn’t piloting.

At one point I let the wind get under my headphones. That was a mistake. In a flash they were clunking against the rear window on the end of the cord. I reeled them in and mumbled, “That’s not good.” into the microphone. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Though the trip put me further behind in my work schedule, I got 480 images for the grist mill of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

Those will dribble in as they fit with the plans of my wandering Muse. Today I’ll show you this pretty shot of the far north end of Madang with Kranket, Leper, Little Pig and Pig Islands  stretching up the coast:I have a few rather sensitive images also – things that some folks hereabout, I’ll let you guess who, might not want you to see. I’ll just have to see if my waning testosterone level allows me to display them.

In the meantime, let’s go to the fish market:This should be starting to look familiar by now, since I’ve shown it many times. It’s the wonderful fluorescent Magnificent Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  hosting Spinecheek Anemonefish (Amphiprion biaculatus)  at Planet Rock.  Put “spinecheek” in the search box to see plenty of these wonderful fish.

Since I’m feeling a little frayed around the edges – up until 01:30 last night and had just one too many glasses of red, I’ll tickle myself back out of my temporary coma with some brightly coloured feathers:That one was a Comanthina schlegeli.  I can’t find species names for most of them. It has a lot to do with counting legs and arms. Since the creatures are so incredibly delicate and stick to you like super glue, I don’t care to destroy them just to figure out what the Latin name is. Let the guys in the white lab coats take care of that.

Here’s a very pretty one which I can’t identify:It’s curled up very neatly.

This is the feather star equivalent of The Mall:

Everybody wants to go to “The Mall”, especially in small towns. “Oh, let’s go to the city to The Mall!” The kiddies shriek, “The Mall, The Mall. Oh, yes! Take us to The Mall!” Personally, I don’t get it. I avoid the places like the plague unless I need something which I can’t purhase somewhere else. The main problem is that I nearly always get lost and end up wandering from door to door looking out into the parking lot to see if I can remember if it’s the one where I left my car. I once took a cab to a mall, just to avoid that trauma. I experience a mild form of panic when this happens. I worry that I may have had a mini-stroke. It’s hard to know what to do. Go to the security goofs and admit that I can’t find my car? I’d nearly rather slit my wrists in the central fountain and go out with a bang. They could  decide that I might be a danger to myself or some unspecified “others” and bang me up in the slammer while The Suits figure out what to do with me.

Oh, sorry, I’m running on again. The brakes went completely out on our truck today. The timing was unfortunate, as I was blasting up Modilon Road at about 80 kliks per with my hair on fire. It’s such  a weird feeling when you shove that pedal and it just glides all the way to the floor with as much resistance as I could offer to Raquel Welch. With some fancy clutching and shifting I managed to get it creeping back to the office. They towed it away an hour ago. I had just put the “For Sale” signs out yesterday. If figures.

Alright, enough! Have a look at this:

Dig that hair, man. It looks as if Kate and the Feather Star are in a fierce competition. “Hah! My hair’s bigger than yours!”

Okay, I’m finished now. You can go back to work.

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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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