Living Frugally for Fun and Profit

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. I’ve spent a lot of this morning answering messages sent to me from friends, many of whom I have never met, wishing me all the best and congratulating me on my longevity. The former sentiment is welcome and comforting. The latter, well, it seems something that happened to me gradually and is only now becoming troublesome. I have enough faith and understanding of human nature to know that I’m wintering now. That is the season that is upon me. Spring will come, sooner or later, and someday I’ll start a new life that is beyond my imagination. I’ve learned patience, especially in the last half of my life. Living in Papua New Guinea is an experience that fosters patience in the wise. My spring will come.

Since this is the saddest birthday I have ever had, I’ll now do what is best for me. I’ll amuse myself with feeble attempts at humour while annoying you. This will be fun. Along the way, I’ll puzzle you with some images that are utterly unrelated to the subject matter.

Upon my return from Australia, I was immediately deluged with not-so-subtle clues that my life had changed dramatically. I found myself deep in debt. The circumstances leading up to this, some obvious, some not so, were many and complex. They are boring, so I’ll not put us all to sleep with the details. Of course, the financial situation was only one of many changes. I’ve learned to cope with most of these. Some can be fixed. Some can’t. Loneliness is the worst, but that can’t be helped. It’s difficult to explain to why one can feel lonely to the bones while surrounded by laughing friends. It seems unlikely. It is, however, profoundly real.

I must learn many new skills to enjoy this new life. I must accomplish many things to assure happiness. One thing which I can  do something about is money.

I made some mistakes at first. I talked too much. I’m a compulsive talker. I give too much away. I trust more than I ought and I take it for granted that others will be as interested and inquisitive about me as I am about them. I want to get under the skin, and sometimes that is unwelcome. I erred in giving the impression that I was broke and in dire financial stress. This is not the case. I’m better off than most of the people on this planet – much better off.

I’m not broke. I am just being careful. Throughout our lives, Eunie and I followed the “best financial advice”. Oh, what a mistake that was. It seems that most of those who formulate this advice are those who have already gotten theirs  and are looking to get their hand’s on some of yours.

The worst mistake, among many, which we made was to buy into consumerism and borrowing. It’s easy to talk about these twin evils today, since many of you have also been stung by these wasps. Thirty years ago, nobody would listen. We certainly weren’t.

I won’t go into the property fiasco in detail. It’s too boring. Let’s just say that nobody today is suggesting that it’s a good idea to buy old houses and rent them out, expecting them to provide a retirement income. You can imagine how that turned out. However, thirty-five years ago that was the “best financial advice”, at least from the person in whom we had placed trust.

What I will go into is the matter of debt. I often wonder what my world would be like today if I had resisted to ever buy anything for which I could not pay cash. Certainly there are many, many things which I would never have had. However, today I have none of those things. They’ve turned to dust or whatever happens to all those things I “needed” then and no longer even exist in my memories.

Okay, time for a picutre:

That’s my good buddy Monty Armstrong (whoops, I nearly typed Python) with his trusty Canon G11 camera. The water was nice and clear that day.

So, how does one avoid buying everything which catches the eye and immediately insinuates itself in your brain as a need? For me, it wasn’t easy. I spent most of my life learning to subdue the urge. The problem is that plastic makes to far too easy. We lived for many years without credit cards. We resisted the temptation for quite a while. However, I can remember going for a decade with monthly payments to Household Finance. I don’t care about all the money I spent on the stuff,  but I’d sure like to have the interest back!

Well, I digress. Let me get back on point. What is the difference between being a miser and living frugally?

Let’s have a look at the definition of a miser from the Princeton Word Search:

(n) miser (a stingy hoarder of money and possessions (often living miserably))

Hmmm. . . that doesn’t sound very pleasant. It doesn’t sound like a person you’d want to have as a friend, either. Who would buy you a beer? Would this person share a cab fare without counting every penny? I don’t think so. I knew a guy like that once. He owned a barber shop in a small town where we lived for a couple of years. We made the mistake of going on a holiday with him and his wife. He drove us crazy with his accounting. Oh, there was no problem if I said, “I’ll get that.” However, if I didn’t make the offer, then out came the notebook and pencil. Scratch, scratch, scratch – here’s your share. I had a pocket full of change clinking as I walked. I hate small change.

Well, that’s clearly not me. In the first place, I’m not stingy, never have been.  And I’m not miserable, at least as far as money goes. Those miseries I do have will subside. Money problems require a strategy. I have a strategy.

Okay, now let’s look at the definition of frugality:

Frugality is the practice of acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal.

That doesn’t sound nearly as bad.

Here’s monty again. He’s shooting a Prickly Sea Cucumber which you can see if you click to enlarge:

The part of the definition I want to bore you with is “to achieve a longer term goal”. Consumerism is definitely not about long term goals. Most of the junk we buy is designed  to be useless or undesirable within a matter of months or, at most, a few years. I don’t need more stuff.  I have a house full of it now which I am actively trying to unload. Things are not what I need. What I do need is a plan for life. One of the many goals within that plan is to be measurably better off in each year of my remaining life, at least for as long as possible. Since my income is declining and will continue to do so, baring some miracle, then the only way I can achieve this is by “acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services”. Well, hey, that sounds reasonable to me!

Oh, I bet you haven’t seen one of these for a while:

It’s a marine snail. The brown thing blocking the entrance to the shell is doing just what’s it’s supposed to do – block the entrance. It is a common feature of most marine snails and many of the terrestrial species.

It seems astonishing to me that consumerism has been so successful at converting desire into need. Happiness today seems mostly to be packaged in that hateful clear plastic which defies all but the sharpest most dangerous object which comes to hand. I still break into a cold sweat when I enter an electronics or camera store. Oh, wow, I need  that! And that  and that too!  Out comes the plastic. At least I did until now. No more! I have a plan.

My plan is simple. I will never again purchase anything on impulse. I vow to give myself at least twenty-four hours as a cool-down period before making a purchase. I don’t care if it’s a great price on a camera that I’ve been craving or a cheap memory stick. If I can think about it for a day and I’ve asked myself if the purchase will really improve my quality of life sufficiently to justify the cost, then I might reach for the plastic. However, I will never do so if I know that I can’t pay off the amount before the next monthly billing cycle.

Snail wasn’t enough for you, eh? How about a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):The last thing I want to do now is to accumulate yet more stuff. I’m trying to get rid of about 90% of what I have. It’s excess baggage and I’d rather deal with it a bit at a time than have to sing the blues someday when I have to leave Madang and deal with a house full of items which have no place to gather dust any more.

But stuff isn’t the only concern. For example, there is the matter of diet. Here on MPBM I once mentioned eating steamed cabbage, pumpkin and beans. That should not be taken as an advertisement that I’ve become a miser. It happens that those are foods which I like. Having lost my sense of smell, I now find that simple fare appeals more strongly to my taste than rich foods. The fact that it’s cheaper to eat that way is, to my way of thinking, a bonus. I used to eat a lot of meat and cheese, foods which are expensive here. I’ve found that I now have little taste for cheese. My cholesterol level thanks me for that change. The meat which we get here never has appealed much to me. Frankly, I always found it a little smelly – not as fresh as I’d like it to be. So, why should I buy it now?

Here’s an Elephant Ear Sponge (Lanthella basta):
They also come in green and bright yellow.

I lost over five kilos while I was in Australia. I was looking just a little hollow. Since coming back I’ve gained it all back and then some. I now weigh more than I have in the last fifteen years. I’m getting plenty to eat. In fact, I’m going to have to cut back or get more exercise, probably both.

So, thinking now about my plan, just what is it? First, I’ll turn down no opportunity to increase my income. If it continues to decline in my present situation, I will eventually have to consider if another situation might be better suited to me. I’ll purchase nothing that is not necessary for my physical well being unless I am convinced that it will significantly contribute to my quality of life for a meaningful period of time. I will not go into debt again for anything. If I can’t pay for it in thirty days, I can’t afford it.

It’s that simple.

Here is the last shot of the day, a Blackblotch Lizardfish (Synodus jaculum):

Cute little fella, eh?

I’m not so insensitive to suggest that my plan is for others. It’s custom tailored to my situation. Realistically, most people in economically switched-on areas of the planet need credit to live what they perceive as a decent life. The nature of modern economic practice demands it. Who can pay cash for a house or a car, for that matter?

However, it’s interesting to dream up a little thought experiment to imagine how one might avoid the worst ills of spending money which one does not have. It seems to me that frugality, as a life-long plan, might work out pretty well. One might think of it as the middle road.

So, I’m not going to play the big spender when I’m out with friends, but I’m not going to be a miser, either. It’s the middle road for me.

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Nudibranch Eggs for Breakfast

Posted in Under the Sea on May 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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How I keep getting so far behind, I don’t understand. I’m doing yesterday’s post on Sunday morning, it’s almost 08:00 and I haven’t done today’s post yet. I have at least one magazine article that I must write today and I have another one to edit. How did I get so busy? I didn’t plan to be working this hard at 66. Maybe it’s a good thing. I don’t have time to get sick. If a doctor told me that I had a fatal disease, I’d simply have to tell him that I don’t have time to die.

There was a rather strange sunrise yesterday:I can’t decide if I like it or not. It’s almost too  moody.

One of the stars today is our little buddy, the Notodoris minor  nudibranch:I’ve been showing quite a few of these lately. I’m having fun photographing an uncommon species. I’ve found a spot where they are hanging around for a while. I’m fascinated by them, but know very little as was recently pointed out by reader Frank Peeters who explained that, in a previous post, I was seeing double.

Less than a metre away, we found this ribbon of eggs:This makes five or six times recently when we’ve found eggs in this area.

I’m rushing through the post today, so you’ll be spared my usual meandering. We’ll get right on to this Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)  which was lounging directly under Faded Glory  at The Eel Garden  where we were diving:

Giant Clams are very common here. Unfortunately, many people harvest them from the reefs. I was once at Alotau where there were racks metre-wide shells which were being sold as pig feeders. Disgusting!

These are Diagonal Banded Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus lineatus).  They are difficult to photograph in the usual not-so-clear waters around Madang. They stay just far enough away to be hazy:

This is easily the best shot that I’ve managed of them. It doesn’t look like much here in the thumbnail. Click on it to get he larger image. It’s quite nice.

This shot is my pick of the day. It’s a little Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  who appears to be chewing on an anemone tentacle:This one also deserves a click to enlarge. The little fish looks as if it is fretting. “Oooo, who are you? You big bad thing! Stop blowing bubbles at me and go away.”

Sorry, I got a little carried away.

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More Freaky Underwater Stuff

Posted in Under the Sea on February 2nd, 2010 by MadDog
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I have a few more shots from our recent dive at Magic Passage to show to you this morning. I’m not feeling very chatty today, so you’ll be spared the usual verbal assault that comes along with the pictures. The more images that I process from the Canon G11 the more impressed I am. Now, if I can just find a student, I can get started on something that I’ve wanted to do for years – teaching underwater photography!

This is a cute litte baby Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima) only about as wide as your hand:Awwww, cootchie, cootchie, coo. If you click to enlarge, you will see its “eyes”, which are the turquoise spots around the edges. I had a hard time taking this shot, since I had to get the camera close, but every time I did, the clam would sense the shadow – they can’t really “see”, but simply sense light and dark – and withdraw into its shell.

Here is a nice shot of some Feather Stars (Comantheria briareus):These things are all over the place. There are many different colours. They have little “feet” to hold onto the rocks and they move very slowly about, looking for the best supply of food drifting past. The arms are very sticky and break off easily, so you have to be careful when moving around them not to cause them harm.

This is a beautiful Blue Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona sp):I have noticed that these are spreading like weeds in the area of Magic Passage. I don’t know what that means, but I’m a little worried about it. It is ridiculous that there are no facilities for marine research in Madang, something which I am hoping to do something about soon. More about that later – stay tuned. Anybody out there wanting to do marine research in the area should contact me.

I have a couple of new Sea Squirts for you today. This is a Sea Squirt of the Botryllus genus:The species name was not given in my resource book. It may not even have a name yet. There is so much here that is unidentified. Geeks may notice that the colony is growing on a different kind of Sea Squirt, possibly a species of Polycarpa. You can clearly see the spiracle at the upper left – it’s the big black hole.

This is a Sea Squirt of the Didemnum genus and a real beauty it is:The colour is amazing. You can also see that one Feather Star has chosen this spot to perch for a while. It is interesting that the colours are similar. I can’t imagine that this is anything less than chance, since there are absolutely no brains involved here. It’s blind luck that the hue of the Feather Star and the Sea Squirt colony end up being the same.

Finally, here is another shot of the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis) which I showed to you recently. It is a bit easier to see the fish in this shot:Most of the scorpionfish are well camouflaged. The Papuan is a master. I’m the serious photographer in our little mob of divers, but there are several who are better at spotting things. I let them swim around looking for stuff and I wait to hear someone banging on a SCUBA tank. Then I go over an shoot the critter.

It’s good to have friends.

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Diving at the Country Club

Posted in Under the Sea on September 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday, we were bored with the usual dive sites. I’ve done most of them at least a hundred times. A couple of years ago, we did a dive on the point just in front of the club house at the Madang Country Club. The sea there was reasonably smooth on Saturday, so we decided to have a go. You have to watch the sea state and the wind closely, since the only place to anchor is only about ten metres from the rocks.

We went straight down to about 40 metres at the south side of the point, intending to work our way around it and come back to the boat over the top. It was not as clear as I like, but the canyons there are fairly spectacular. I got this shot of a sea fan at about 35 metres in natural light. The Canon G10 is amazing:

Sea Fan

It was shot in the RAW mode (always, please, for underwater shots – it’s the ONLY way to go) and worked over with the Adobe Camera RAW filter to adjust for tint and colour temperature before loading it into Photoshop. At that point you can sometimes just apply the Auto Tone or Auto Colour controls and come up with a shot that needs only minor adjustments. It is only a matter of how picky you are how much more work you want to do.

Here on the bottom at 40 metres I found someone’s clothes. No bones, so I don’t think anybody was in them:

Clothing found at 40 metres

I’m always harping about using natural light for UW photos. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. I like for my images to look as close as possible to the way that I saw them. The gaudy colours of flash photography are pretty, but no diver is going to tell you that you will actually see those colours while diving.

Here is an excellent example. At 40 metres, under a ledge, no less, I found this lonely nudibranch. The Canon G10 handled the shot with aplomb. It was a very slow shutter speed, so I had to brace the camera firmly, but, with a little Photoshop magic, you are seeing the nudibranch exactly as I saw it:

Nudibranch shot with natural light under a ledge at 40 metres

Now have a look at the same shot taken when I turned on my flash:

Nudibranch shot with flash under a ledge at 40 metres

It is certainly prettier, in the sense that it has nice, bright colours, but it is not what I saw.

There seemed to be quite a few critters much deeper here than I normally see them. Here are some Anthea  at 40 metres, about twice as deep as you normally see this particular variety:

Anthea at 40 metres

Coming up to shallower water near the end of the dive, I found this Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)

The title Giant is a bit misleading in this case. This specimen was only about a half-metre long.

This goofy looking thing is a kind of sea squirt. There are an incredible variety of sea squirts around here, most of them with interesting shapes and colours. This one, however, takes the cake in the “God’s little joke” category:

Tunicate (Polycarpa aurata)

In case you care, it’s a Polycarpa aurata.

I’m never unaware of the great blessing of living in a place where, for a few bucks worth of fuel, I can go out with my mates every Saturday and dive in one of the most prolific and beautiful marine habitats on the planet.

What’s more, my mates always kick in for the fuel, and a little extra. What more can a guy ask?

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Out of Ideas – Back to the Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on August 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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Having bashed out my brains against a wall of Windows 2008 servers, I’m in no state to be witty or even intelligible, so it’s time for more fish. If you’re still uttering, “Errrrrp . . . ” from the last meal, excuse me please.

We’ll start off with something nearly indigestible, nevertheless recognisable. Everyone has seen a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima),  at least in any movie featuring divers. Some hapless fool is always getting a leg or arm caught in one. Here’s the man-eating beast slobbering in wait for the unwary:

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)

Of course, that’s all Hollywood silliness, a commodity that is never in short supply. A Giant Clam couldn’t eat you if it wanted to. It hasn’t got a brain, so it doesn’t “want” to do anything at all. It’s a filter-feeder. It sucks in water at one end, runs it through some fancy lace work to strain out the goodies, and ejects the useless salt water out the other end.

It’s hard to believe that some slugs that call themselves humans kill these huge creatures for a fist-sized ball of muscle that pulls the shells together if the clam sees a threat. Yes, it does have eyes – hundreds of them all around the margins. Just swimming over the top of one will make it close its shell. Can it hold onto you? No.

Here’s something also familiar, but even less edible. The humble Starfish (Fromia milleporella):

Starfish (Fromia milleporella)

You’ve seen this image before, but I’ve dolled it up for publication and the image is much better, so I’m dishing it out again – makes a great screen saver or desktop background image. The thing about starfish is that they don’t move very fast. I guess that that is an understatement. I reckon that top-speed for this little hand-sized fellow is about a kilometre per year. If you look at one from the side, you can see the hundreds of tiny “feet” that they walk on. The feet are moving very quickly, but the steps are teensy-weensy.

Moving toward the unfamiliar (not to mention less edible) here is a magnificent Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata):

Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)

This image is easily the best that I’ve ever gotten of this critter. It’s a perfect example of what we call a “specimen shot”. I wish I had gotten the same individual from the side also, but it would have involved some serious coral scrapes, something to be avoided if at all possible. Aside from the fact that it’s not good for the coral (we’re covered with deadly bacteria and fungi), a coral scrape itches beyond belief and keeps on itching for several days while it exudes stickiness that is disgusting. It can also easily become infected.  You’ve probably seen this image here before. I can’t remember for certain.

Ending up with something edible (if it doesn’t eat you first), but uncommonly seen by anyone but divers, feast your eyes on this terror:

Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)

This image has appeared here before, but I reworked it extensively for the magazine article, so I’m dishing it out again. The toothy menace is a Yellowmargin Triggerfish, sometimes known as a Green Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus).

What makes them so interesting, aside from the pit-bull face is that they are exactly that – the pit-bulls of the sea. I’ve seen a lot of scary things in my 2,000 or so dives, but I’ve never been as disconcerted (okay, scared into a panic mode) by anything more that one of these charging at full speed (pretty fast) straight at me. They don’t turn away as a shark normally would. They just keep right on coming unless you do something to stop them. One of these little beasties can take a sizeable chunk out of you, even through a wet suit. I’ve seen divers lose bits of their swim fins when a Yellowmargin bit some off and promptly spit it out.

We don’t tease them.

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The Deadly Ice Cream Cone

Posted in Dangerous on March 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I need to get back into the water. Let’s see . . . If I sweet-talk my boss (that’s my wife Eunie – Yes, really!), I might be able to take off tomorrow afternoon for a dive. I’ll tell you later how that goes.

In the meantime, I’ll get figuratively back into the water by showing you some more shots that we got on the inside of the reef at the West end of Pig Island last Saturday.

Here is something that I’d bet that you haven’t seen all week:

Sea Pen (Vigularia sp.)
It’s a Sea Pen. This one is some species of Vigularia.  It sticks up out of the sand about 20cm and looks a lot like a feather. What is surprising is that if you give it a tap, it pulls down into the sand and disappears! I love to see the look on the faces of divers who have not seen this before.

This thing is a Fan Worm (Sabellastarte indica):

Fan Worm (Sabellastarte indica)
It looks like a dead bird fallen on the coral with its feathers blowing slowly in the wind. If you get too close, it will disappear down into its tubular house so quickly that you can see no movement at all. One microsecond it’s there and the next, it’s vanished. It’s about the size of your hand.

Of course, almost anybody would recognise this is a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)
This one is hardly a man-eater. I remember in the old movies when a diver would get caught in a giant clam. They can  clamp together quickly, but I seriously doubt if the clam would like to keep your leg inside. It would probably want to spit it out as quickly as possible. This one is about 30cm long.

Here is a different shot of the Spinecheek Anemonefish that I showed to you the other day (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)
The little partner is probably unrelated. I used to think that all the Anemonefish that inhabit an anemone were related to each other. I discovered that this could not be less true. Since there is a free-swimming planktonic phase in the life-cycle, each individual fish must find a host anemone or die. The chance of it ending up on the same anemone on which it was spawned is practically nil. I’ll write more about that sometime. I learned it while researching an article on Anemonefish for Niugini Blue magazine.

In a large sandy area there were thousands of tiny hermit crabs all moving in the same direction in a hurry. I’ve never seen that before and I don’t have any idea what it was all about. Here are a couple of them:

No, I haven’t forgotten about the Deadly Ice Cream Cone. This is a Cone snail (Conus litteratus):
Cone snail (Conus litteratus)
It is one of the most deadly creatures in the ocean. It has a harpoon-like barb that it uses to kill fish. Yes, you heard that right. This snail is a vicious piscivore. This one is about as long as a finger. I’ve seen movies of a cone snail harpooning a fish larger that itself. Here is a video clip of a Cone Snail capturing a small fish:
Is that scary? If you stuck your finger close to the business end, you could be dead in 24 hours. I turned this one over with a stick to I could take the shot.

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Ocean Patterns

Posted in Under the Sea on January 2nd, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve always been fascinated by the infinite variety and complexity of natural pattens. I reckon that nowhere else on the planet are these patterns more striking and varied than in the ocean.

Sometimes the more mobile of the inhabitants can form patterns. These patterns are less rigidly organized and regular. They change from moment to moment. Here Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) hover in a cloud over plate coral:

A cloud of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) hangs over plate coral

Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus) form a solid mass of fish. This creates a mesmerizing pattern that looks artificial:

A solid mass of Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)

The spots on a giant clam mimic a leopard:

Giant Clam pretends it's a leopard

Extended coral polyps feed on passing yummy bits. The flower-like polyps extend starlike, gather food, and then clench like a fist to “swallow” the meal every two or three seconds:

Coral polyps feeding in the ocean current

Being less mobile, the stone-like skeletons of coral serve up more visual feasts. Here you can see that the plates under the growing edge of this coral are so thin that sunlight passes through and casts a golden glow:

Sunlight glows through thin coral walls

The familiar Brain Coral presents a treacherous maze:

Brain Coral - not as yukky as it sounds

Algae growing upon and within the coral can look like tree-lined streets between twisty rows of apartment blocks:

Twisty, tree-lined avenues on coral

A bumpy coral head doesn’t disrupt the persistent labyrinth:

The maze goes right over the hills on this coral

Evenly spaced alien vehicles travel along canyons on a strange planet:

Alien vehicles navigating twisty roads on coral

Holding with the alien theme, I wonder how many UFOlogists would swear that this photograph must show the skin of a visitor from another world:

Close-up of the skin of a reptilian alien discovered in my garden in Madang, Papua New Guinea

Some patterns are so strange that no appropriate title comes to mind:

Weird coral pattern that defies description

I snapped all of the coral pattern images above in a single thirty-minute dive. There were many more patterns, but I selected only a few, since there’s a time limit for staring at these things.

If you want to get trippy at work, download the larger versions of these images and use them for screensavers or desktop backgrounds.

It can make your head go funny.

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