The Big Hole in My Calendar

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on May 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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Regular readers will note that I have been off the air since Sunday. I was working on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  when suddenly I found myself locked out. I could not even get the login page to load. I got this strange message:

Not Found

The requested URL /wordpress/wp-login.php was not found on this server.

You are receiving this error because there was reason to believe you may have violated the system’s security protocols. If you think this was an error, please submit details about your activity through the form below and you may be unblocked. Providing your email address will speed up this process.

Thoroughly disgusted and believing that I had been hacked, I gave up for the day and laid around feeling sorry for myself. On Monday I got in contact with a WordPress Specialist, Michael VanDeMar, who began to examine my server for any evidence of foul play. By mid-Tuesday he had me back up and running. If you ever get in a jam with your blog, he’s your man. I give him ten out of ten.

As it turned out (GEEKSPEAK ALERT! – Geeky stuff in this paragraph.), it was not a hack, or at least it wasn’t the direct result of a hack. I was using a product called SecurePress to shield me against hackers. It seemed to do a pretty good job and notified me each time a hack occurred (several times a day, usually). I am also using a WordPress plugin called WP Super Cache which makes my pages load much faster on your computer. As a result of a previous attack which was interpreted as coming from my own IP address WP Super Cache began directing users to the message above which is doled out to suspected hackers. I should have picked up on this, but I did not make the connection. That’s what experts are for. So, if you are using SecurePress, pay attention to the part in the instructions which cautions you that you could get locked out of your own site.

But, now I have this big hole in my calendar. It irks me, but it would be obsessive to go back and fill it up. I’ll just have to live with it.

Okay, with all that mess now disposed, let’s have a nice, cheery sunrise:

That is the brightest red one that I’ve seen since the last dry season.

Here is another sky shot which shows an interesting effect which you will probably not want:
I saw the beautiful towering cumulus over the mainland and wanted to get a shot of it. However, my camera was still in its underwater case. I wiped the face-plate as well as I could with my towel, but it left some streaks. The diffraction that you see in the top of the image is caused by the bright sunlight being scattered by the nearly invisible streaks on the faceplate of the housing only an inch or so in front of the lens of the camera. It’s an interesting effect and could be useful. Back in the old days we used to smear a very thin layer of Vaseline on a clear filter and screw it on in front of a lens. Different patterns of smear created different diffusion effects. It was especially nice for that soft-focus look when photographing the ladies.

Since I’ve been off the air for a few days, I have a craving for fish.

Here is a nice Barrel Sponge at Barracuda Point near Pig Island  with some Antheas and a few Dascyllus swimming around it:

The water was not very nice that day. The visibility was only about eight or ten metres.

I did manage this reasonably nice shot of some Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis):You can see some sub-adults in the shot. They are the ones which still have traces of the juvenile black with white spots pattern. The golden coloured one in the middle is an adult, as are the darker ones to the left. The one on the right with the faint white spots is a sub-adult.

Finally, here is an absolute storm of baby fish:

I’ve put this one up on the server at extra high resolution – 4,000 pixels. It’s worth a click and a wait to see it close up.

The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back to regular daily posting from now until the next hiccup.

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The Half-Eaten Gumdrop

Posted in Under the Sea on April 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Once again, I find myself in the middle of the evening trying to catch up with the day. How did I hustle so much and accomplish nothing that I can call progress? It seems to be becoming a way of life. How thought provoking. The harder I work the less I accomplish. I spent half the day putting little tags on wires so that I can tell where they go. I’m drowning in wires! Throw me a life-preserver. No, wait. That’s a mixed metaphor. I’m strangled by wires! Throw me a hatchet.

This Bannerfish exasperated me from the moment I met it. First, I couldn’t get close enough for a shot. I had to chase it, something which I usually avoid, since it usually simply burns up oxygen. Then, when I finally set up a successful ambush, it sped away so fast that all I could manage was a quick panning shot. I’m surprised that it turned out so nice:More consternation arose when I tried to identify it. After a search through my pitiful collection of references I spent a few fruitless minutes with Google Images. No luck. Phooey!

UPDATE: Thanks to my old pal Tris  for jabbing me in the ribs to point out the the fish is not a Bannerfish at all, but a Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus).  Thanks for “helping” me, Tris.

The Bigeye Trevally (Carnax sexfasciatus)  at Barracuda Point  on Saturday were splendid. You don’t really have to chase them. You simply swim closer and closer as they whirl around.  This shot was snapped at less than two metres:I soon have to back off to slow my breathing. I let them meander around me for a minute or so and then join the procession again.

The problem with Trevally is that they are so blasted shiny! It’s very difficult, with a small-sensor camera such as my Camon G11, to get enough dynamic range to capture the dark and mid-range tones without blowing out the whites:Still, I’m happy with these shots. Even after chasing them, I still got two dives and over 100 minutes off of an 80 cubic foot tank. My gills are working just fine.

Here is a not too wonderful shot of some Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis):The interesting bit is that we have adults and a couple of teenagers. The juveniles are black and white with spots and bands. You can still see a trace of the juvenile colouration and pattern on the two teens in the middle.

This is a perfectly normal Pyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:Vaguely amusing, eh? They are easy to photograph, so I tend to show you a lot of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re getting bored.

Okay, how about this one which has had a chunk bitten out by a predator:It’s the Half-Eaten Gumdrop mentioned in the title.

Many nudis remind me of some kind of fancy candy and, strangely enough, take me back to Vienna. The Austrians go for the fancy candy. There are shops which sell nothing else.

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Ancient Art Show Material Discovered

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on March 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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Regular readers may note that my mind wanders more towards the end of the week. This is because I dive on Saturdays and I usually have enough pretty pictures beginning on Sunday which I can intersperse with mind numbing jibber-jabber to fill a page. Heaven knows that I seldom have anything important to say. I do, however, strive to say it with some degree of flair, if not true style. Polish is way beyond me. If I could polish prose, I’d be making a living from it. Prose polishing doesn’t run in my genes. I’m more of an assembler. I’ll screw and glue the chair. It’s someone else’s job to polish it.

Which leads me to . . . well, nothing. So, instead, I’ll concentrate on telling you more about me,  my favourite subject. Write what you know about, eh?

Yonks ago, when I was a young feller in my mid-50s the Madang Country Women’s Association up and did themselves an art show. Being a dilettante artist, I decided to try my luck. It was all for charity, you see. That usually means any fool can pretend to be anything he likes and pretty much get away with it.

If you’re a regular here, you’ve seem my so-called art work. It’s pure fakery – the purest kind. I take pretty pictures and grind them up in a computer and it spits out something that, when printed on paper, might fool bumpkins into thinking that the producer has some sort of talent. That, of course, it the whole point of the excercise.

Not wanting to get caught in a lie, I had to coin a new word to describe my wholesale pimping of digital excretion as art. Thus the novel term “Photostylizations”. I even adopted the Americanisation of inserting “z” in place of “s” to further confuse the issue:

That’s the poster which I prepared to introduce my “work”. That’s more or less how I looked at 50. I’m considerably more handsome now.

One of the “pieces” that has enjoyed the most longevity is this Beach in Christmas Bay  from an image I captured at Bag Bag Island:

It didn’t sell. So it, along with several other of these, is still hanging behind the “Blue Dolphin Bar” at our house to give the place a little class. I’ve also used this one several wedding program covers as a background image.

This is an old favourite of mine. It’s titled Fletch.  It’s based on a photo of Jan Fletcher which I grabbed at Kar Kar Island.  She was free diving down into a fresh water spring just off the coast:All of these were framed and numbered 1/1 meaning that they would never be printed again in the same format. Some people in Madang own 1/1 MadDog originals which will be worth a fortune when I’m dead. I hope that they laugh all the way to the bank.

Here’s a nice little pair of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):And another lone one:

This is a Many-Spotted Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides):The common name is obvious. The taxonomic name, not so.

And this, regulars will recognise as a Spinecheek Anemonefish (Amphiprion biaculatus):Above is the mom.

Below is the baby:Cute, eh?

This is a Shadowfin Soldierfish (Myripistis adusta):It does have a bit of the military look. Maybe it’s the chain-mail armor.

This one I titled Piscus Psychedelicus  for obvious reasons. It’s really a Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis)  with its colours radically modified:The colours on this one came to me in a dream.

Another little fellow who will be familiar to regular readers is the Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus Reticulatus):The title of that one is Size Doesn’t Matter,  one of my favourite phrases.

Just because I could, I threw a gratuitous flower into the show. Straining my imagination, I titled this one White Flowers:The Madang Country Women’s Association apparently never recovered from the Art Show, though it was a financial success. I think that my stuff alone garnered about K500 and I was among possibly twenty genuine artists.

I hope that they do it again someday. My legend needs constant nourishment to stay alive.

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Underwater Photography – Abort, Retry, Fail

Posted in Under the Sea on January 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Back in the Bad Old Days of MS-DOS, if you were working with computers you would see, probably once an hour (it seemed so, anyway) the unhelpful message on your screen: Abort, Retry, Fail.  None of these three suggestions were ever of much help. It was Microsoft’s way of saying, “That’s not gonna happen, man.” Yeah, sure, you could usually figure out what was causing the problem, but most of the time there wasn’t much you could do about it.

You’ll be happy to hear that there is a way that you can once again experience these excruciating moments:  through the magic of underwater photography. I’ve collected a little gallery of horrors to illustrate a few of they infinite things that can go terribly wrong. I hope it amuses you, as an observer, more than it does me, as a practitioner.

SUBJECT RUNS AWAY

I wanted, longed, deeply desired, the moment that I saw this fish to capture its soul in digital bits. Sadly, the job is botched. This is a rather rare yellow colour variation of the Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

When I say rare, I mean that I have never seen this species with as much yellow on its body. It really is a beauty. This one, as you can see, was at a cleaning station – it’s like a car wash for fish. The underpaid and little appreciated workers in this car wash are the little cleaner-fish, one of which you can see here vainly chasing the Puffer in hopes of gobbling a few more parasites from its skin. You can see the little Bluestriped Cleanerfish trailing along behind. These little puffers run away (probably screaming in fishy terror) as soon as anything big approaches. They don’t swim very fast – just fast enough to spoil the shot.

The observant observer will note that the image is spoilt by motion blur. I was trying to pan the camera to follow the movement of the fish, which should have produced a reasonably sharp image of the fish with a motion blurred background. As it happens, I got it half right; both fish and background are blurred by the camera movement. I’m putting this one in the RETRY category. The big problem is that I may never see such a magnificent specimen again.

SUBJECT LOOKS PRETTY UNDERWATER – TERRIBLE ON THE SCREEN

These little Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)  looked ever so pretty fluttering in the lazy current along the bottom at the Eel Garden close to Pig Island  on Saturday:However, the finished image is sadly lacking any interest whatsoever. You had to be there. As soon as I started working with the image I realised that the magic was in the motion. You can’t truly capture motion in a still image. I’m putting this one in the FAIL category.

SUBJECT IS A CAMERA TEASER

This juvenile Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis)  is a pretty cool fish. They don’t look anything like the adult, which is a big brown lump of a thing. However, cool or not, this fish is a nightmare to photograph. Like many fish, it has an inbuilt standoff distance or “comfort zone” which you can, under no circumstances, violate. If it could talk, it would be saying, “Back off, Jack!”:

I did manage to get this rather pathetic shot from about four feet away with the flash turned on. It was as close as I could get. Apparently not many photographers have done a lot better. I Googled for images of this species and didn’t find anything much clearer than the shot above, except for images that were obviously shot in aquariums. I’ll let this one pass with a RETRY.

SUBJECT DARTS AROUND FRANTICALLY

This rather uncommon species, the Red And Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  swims spasmodically back and forth in its host and never even gives you an adequate opportunity to frame the shot. If fact, you’re lucky if the fish is even in the frame  when you push the shutter release. I only barely managed to catch it in this shot:This is compounded by the confounded shutter lag that is common in point-and-shoot cameras. I’d guess that the Canon G10 I’m currently using waits about a third of a second before capturing the image after I press the shutter release. So now, you have to guess where the fish is going to be during your next eye-blink. It’s like guessing which kernel of popcorn will explode next. This one can only be a RETRY.

SUBJECT DOES SOMETHING INAPPROPRIATE

Sometimes you just get a surprise. I would not ordinarily take a picture of an animal defecating. It’s simply not that interesting unless you’re a kid obsessed with scatological humour. We were at the deep end of the Eel Garden’s sandy slope where I was shooting the Red and Black Anemonefish when my dive buddy Carol Dover directed my attention to this big Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax):

As you can plainly see, it was enjoying a nice, leisurely, satisfying poop. Without going into the unsavory anatomical details, I’ll simply point out the you can clearly see where the poop came from. There’s quite a bit of it, since the critter eats about 99% sand and digests only the digestible bits. All the rest comes out as tidy little sand sausages.

I’m putting this one in the ABORT category.

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A Mixed Bag of Nature

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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Best plans aside, I find myself here at the office on Sunday morning. I ran out of time yesterday, so I managed to get only one post finished. Nevertheless, it was good luck, since I got some very nice sunrise shots this morning on the drive to the office. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see them, however. I’m still catching up with images.

Coming back from our dive a week ago on Saturday, I had to stop Faded Glory  in her track to get this image of the sun low in the sky over the airport. Dad told me, as he was teaching me photography, over and over, “Composition is King.” Pretty colours are nice. Sometimes we simply want snapshots to capture memories. However, when you’re shooting for something to hang over the mantle, you have to pick your moments and compose the shot with care. I like to think of myself as a painter. I ask myself where I would put my easel, what palette of colours would I use, how do I want to portray the subject, where do I want the viewer to focus?

Two Coconut SunsetThe two coconut trees in the image make a perfect focal point. Researchers have done some very interesting work using gadgets that can record where a subject’s eyes are looking at any instant as they view images. What they have found is that the eyes search out a particular point and keep coming back to it. As the viewer takes in the image and processes it, the eyes dart around the image, stopping at places of interest. Very often, however, the eyes return to a single point of interest. Click on the image above to enlarge it and study it a minute. I bet that your eyes keep returning to the two coconut trees. For an image of a person, the point of interest is almost always the eyes.

Now, let’s take a little trip to somewhere else. I don’t know where it is, but wherever we are the moon comes up in a most startling fashion. Okay, okay, it’s our front yard. A few evenings ago a friend called me saying that I had to run outside with my camera to catch the moon rising. (My friends know me.) I was a little tardy getting out with my tripod and camera, as I first had to dress appropriately. I was too late to catch the huge orange blob just above the horizon, but I’m quite happy with this image:

Psychedelic Moonrise

It can hardly be called a photograph now, since it has suffered merciless manhandling by Photoshop. Nevertheless, it is an interesting image. That’s all that I wanted.

And now, for something completely different.

I can’t pass up certain images that catch my eye underwater. Sea Squirts are among my favourites. They seem improbable to me. They clump together in a manner that makes me think of little hamlets where the faeries live:

Sea Squirts - Atriolum robustum

It seems that I’m waxing a tad too poetic this morning. Still, as faerie houses go, these are credible. The little houses above are Atriolum robustum.

There is a nice big fish called the Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis).  As with many fish, the juvenile looks nothing like the adult. This is the juvenile Midnight Snapper:

Juvenile Midnight Snapper - Macolor macularis

It’s a terrible shot, but I excuse myself because this fish is fiendishly clever at avoiding the camera. They move constantly out of range (this is a telephoto shot) and always try to hide behind something.

I’ll wrap it up today with yet another image of this improbable Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Blue Starfish - Linckia laevigata

Not aiming to sound irreverent, I beg forgiveness for imagining God as a kid, scattering around the universe all of the most treasured toys. Surely, this must be one of them.

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