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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Cruising the Eel Garden

Posted in Under the Sea on April 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, here it is on a Monday evening at 19:30 and I’m dead tired and behind the eight-ball. Monday was what Mondays are. How does so much messiness accumulate over the weekend when everybody’s supposed to be playing or resting or otherwise not creating problems for someone else to solve?

So, I’ve had my beer and my cigar and I’m going to sit here for a while and annoy you. It’s my hobby, being annoying and inserting my absurdist opinions and philosophy cagily into these supposedly informative and amusing accumulations of words that we refer to as posts.  I’m like the guy with the huge model train layout in his basement who, after dinner, forces guests to lumber down the steps to the dank recesses of the underground toy railway where they will be treated to several hours of mind-numbing narrative concerning the building, operating and care of . . .

Excuse me. I drifted off into my alternate universe there for a moment.

Anyway, when we were cruising The Eel Garden  on Saturday, we surprised a few critters by blowing masses of poisonous air at them and flashing blinding lights in their eyes. This critter was neither surprised nor blinded. It’s dead:Sometime recently, possibly the preceding night, this poor little bivalve met its maker. Fortunately it had no brain to wither in fright nor mouth with which to scream. It is, nevertheless, a sad little scene. I vainly tried to find a shell book here at the house to identify it, but I think that I must have hauled them all off to the office. I call it the Alien Writing Shell;  always have and always will.

I was showing Kate the comical floppiness of an Elephant Ear Sponge when this surprised Brittle Star crawled out and said, “What the . . . “We flashed it with the Men In Black memory zapper thingie that is built into my camera and left it to recover. It will be blissfully unaware of the experience.

Monty Armstrong was busily snapping away with his new Canon G11. You can see a nice, big, fat Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch there at the bottom of the image. We now have three G11 setups in our little gaggle of divers, though Rich Jones has yet to baptise his:

His excuse on Saturday was that he had a cold. Personally I think that his decision to forego diving had something to do with the fact that there were no less than six bikini-clad young ladies on board our two vessels. I’m too old to notice such things, of course.

This male Purple Anthea (Pseudanthias tuka)  was at least as surprised as I was when I flashed him. It was a snap shot that I didn’t expect to come out at all. I had just popped over the top of a bommie and he was desperately thinking about which way to flee: This is the only good shot of the male of this species that I have. It was simply dumb luck to get it.

A Dardanus  species Hermit Crab was likewise surprised and equally annoyed when I knocked his house down much the same as the wolf did to the three little pigs:This one seemed particularly peeved and simply glared at me for a while before reaching down and pulling his abode upright again. Not all crabs are created equal. Some are crabbier than others.

A rarely seen Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyallarus)  gave me only about two seconds before scurrying under a ledge:I sometimes amuse myself by pondering what these creatures would think of us if they could, in fact, think at all. If they were the philosophical equivalent of humanists, would they count us as miscreants or mentally disturbed? If they had religion would we be Gods who disturbed their peaceful world for our demented amusement?  I can dig it either way.

If I’m lucky, I won’t dream about that tonight.

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Cute Lady – Cute Dog – Cartooning Again

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on April 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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It’s Easter Sunday morning. In Papua New Guinea it’s an official holiday, so I have no excuse for going into the office. Miraculously, my TELIKOM copper line has dried out sufficiently so that I can get on the web, albeit at glacial speed. I sincerely hope to get my wireless connection to the office going tomorrow. It’s disappointing that we’ve put so much money and effort on it and it doesn’t work. I’m certain that the fix is simple. It just involved getting up on the supermarket roof again.

I have a small collection of miscellanea for you today. I am simply too lazy on this last day of a long weekend to go through the 160 exposures that I took on my two dives on Saturday. There are only two here. You will simply have to wait a bit longer for your fish. I hope that you’re not too hungry.

This morning I went outside to check out the photographic possibilities. Beside the front door, where I installed my last link in the wireless hop to my office, there was a katydid perched on the Cat 5e cable. I can only assume that it was trying to heal the link:Unfortunately, it’s efforts were unsuccessful.

Since this is an entirely random accumulation of images, I’ll jump to this one of Swami Monty wielding his new Canon G11 at some unsuspecting underwater critter. This was Monty’s first outing with the new rig, which is identical to mine:Richard Jones also has the same gear. I think that we’re going to have to start a G11 club here in Madang.

Today’s spider is a spindly looking critter. I’m not sure what the purpose of all the webbing is. Maybe it simply provides a firm scaffolding on which to hang:There is a fair amount of detail in this shot. It’s worth clicking to enlarge.

On one of the dives on Saturday I found this poor starfish which has had a leg chomped off by some predator:I can’t imagine that a starfish leg would taste very good, but then I’m not a fish. The most likely predators of starfish are sharks, rays and larger bony fish (as opposed to sharks and rays, the skeletons of which are cartilage and not true bones).

Back to the garden, I found one of my favourite subjects – water drops:As they say, simple things for simple minds.

I’m still slaving away to learn cartooning techniques. I’m not at all happy with the commercial software for creating cartoons from photographs. Most of the results look horrible and require a huge amount of reworking. If I’m going to go to that effort, I may as well develop my own workflow to get the results that I want. It’s really one of the most interesting and enjoyable Photoshop tricks that I’ve tried:

You saw the image above with Ush and Andrew and Jade Marshall’s Blue Heeler pup yesterday. I cleaned up the clutter in the background and cartoonised it.

I have in mind to someday write some cartoon strips based on photographs for Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

I need to broaden the horizon. It’s getting smelly in here.

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Lightning Down! – The Nob Nob P-38

Posted in Dangerous, Mixed Nuts on February 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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A combination of TELIKOM’s totally worthless copper wire phone network, a full day of diving on Saturday and a fairly grueling bush walk on Sunday has put me three days behind. I won’t bother to mention that I’ve also got a bad cold. Yes, I’m feeling pretty sorry for myslef. I intended to do a post on Saturday morning but could not, of course, get any connection. We had a full day of diving, so I was too knackered to go into the office where resides my only connection to the world from here on Planet X. Early Sunday morning we headed for Nob Nob to visit the site of a downed P-28 Lightning aircraft. It’s now Monday afternoon and I’m just getting started writing Saturday’s post. I will  catch up. I must  catch up. It’s becoming compulsive, but in a good way.

Anyway, here is Monty Armstrong leading part of the pack of rag-tag hikers up the trail to the crash site:

The highest elevation that we reached was about 400 metres. The crash site is in deep jungle on the side if a precipitous slope at 125 metres. That means that we walked mostly downhill from the highest point, near the spot in the photo above, to the wreckage. The footpath, if that’s what you could call it, was ankle-deep in mud much of the way. I started out the walk barefoot, because I know that I would do better that way. The five hikers were myself, Monty, Greg, Jo, and Tag Tap. I fell a half-dozen times, Monty nearly went down a couple of times, Greg crashed one time spectacularly, but Jo never fell once.

Need I mention that the walk back was about 275 metres uphill, very uphill,  on the same muddy path? I never really got badly winded, but I walk very  slowly.

At the site the jungle is so dense that you can hardly see the sky:

That was the biggest hole that I could find. It can be a spooky place. If you get lost, you could walk right across a trail and not even notice it. Local folk, of course, know every square metre.

So, what’s the big fuss about? Well, it’s about this beautiful but deadly machine:

The image above is from Mark Karvon’s web site where he offers a stunning array of fine art prints.

Here’s Monty surveying the site with his expert Mark I Eyeballs. Monty has torn apart and reassembled more that a few old war birds, including P-38s:

We had a cheap metal detector with us which allowed us to find many more bits and pieces that I have managed to uncover on previous visits to the site.

Here’s Jo providing a bit of eye candy to an otherwise grungy shot of one of the Allison engines:

The far left side of the engine is missing, as is the whole crankcase. You can see the crankshaft, connecting rods, a few of the pistons and the intake flanges.

Here is a shot of the turbocharger:

We searched in vain for anything that had a number on it. Our hope was to find the area where the cockpit smashed in. Without a more sophisticated metal detector and a digging crew, there is not much point in visiting the site again.

There are slightly varying stories of the fate of the pilot. All versions have him bailing out and landing safely, so we’ve never worried about disturbing human remains. Sadly, we can find no evidence that would indicate the serial number of the aircraft. This means that the people of the area will never know the name of the man who they tried to protect from the Japanese soldiers.

A crashed war plane is not the only unsettling thing we found. This millipede was at least 10cm long. They exude a highly toxic fluid which burns skin like acid:

Jo saw a snake cross the path directly in front of her. She didn’t even scream. Light on her feet, doesn’t scream when startled, single – hey guys, are you listening? Oh, did I mention that she’s a yachtie?

Here’s a shot of my GPS resting on the engine:

You’ll probably note that I’ve blurred out the coordinates. Serious investigators are welcome to contact me for more information.

My old buddy, Tag Tap has been with me to this site several times on our bush walks. I doubt if we’ll go back. We’ve shown it to probably every person who has an interest in working so hard to get to a place where all you can see is twisted metal:

However, every time I go here, I think a little bit about my dad. He had nothing to do with airplanes, but he did fight the war here in the place where I now enjoy the fine life. I think about the man who flew this plane. How, with an engine on fire, he popped the canopy and jumped out, hoping that his chute would save him, not daring to think of what faced him if he survived the fall.

And then, he died at the hands of the enemy.

It is a sad place.

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Spooky – Diving the Lady Anne

Posted in Under the Sea on January 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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On Saturday, Monty Armstrong (A. K. A. Swami Monty) and I dived The Lady Anne an old tanker which sank from sheer neglect in Madang Harbour. Month by month we saw her going down by the stern. Eventually, she rolled over on her side and hung there at anchor for several more weeks. Finally, with a sigh of relief, she went to her rest at about 15 metres on the muddy bottom. Here is a shot of Swami Monty inspecting a propeller:Since she lies on her side, it is a bit disorienting to swim along her length. You can see just far enough to make it very spooky.

Here a ladder lies on its side against a bulkhead. The bulkhead is now the “deck” and the ladder seems as if it has fallen over:Here some Banner Fish swim near rusting winch machinery:And, a hatch, once a vertical door leads down into the bowels of the ship:Here again, a wall that was once vertical provides a playground for more Banner Fish:Closer to the surface there were billions of fibre-like particles in the water. At first, with horror, we thought that they were probably fecal matter from the hundreds of “drop toilets” located around the inner harbour – a sanitation nightmare that the Town of Madang sees no need to fix, I suppose:However, on close inspection, we were astonished, not to mention relieved, to see that each little fibre was a living creature.
They appear as tiny sticks with a fuzzy spiral frill wrapping around their length:

How do they swim? That’s the amazing bit. At the upper end of the body is a tiny, nearly transparent propeller! You can see it in the close up shot above. I captured one to bring home to examine it under a microscope.

Once you realise what you are seeing, you note that all of them are madly spinning their propellers as if they were an infinite fleet of stick-like helicopters. I have no idea what they are nor why the water was filled with them that day.

Every time that I think that I’ve seen it all, I am humbled.

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The Arc-Eye Hawkfish and a Weird Sponge

Posted in Under the Sea on October 5th, 2009 by MadDog
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I pushed the shutter button about a hundred times on Saturday’s dive at Magic Passage. Yesterday, I showed you some shots that took some major work to come alive. Today, it will be a mixed bag, some that came out of the camera requiring little work and some that required a gentle massage.

One thing that I like to do it to get what we call “specimen” shots. These are images that show the characteristics of the species in as much detail as possible and capture the natural colours. If you are looking a good fish reference book, you’ll see the fish exactly as it appears when it’s right in front of your eyes at, say ten metres, where I got the next two shots. I like to do specimen shots, because it tests all my skills at once. It has to show the fish clearly for identification purposes. It has to display the natural colours. Moreover, hopefully, it will be aesthetically pleasing.

Once in a great while, everything works out just right and it’s as easy as falling off a log to get a good specimen shot. This time I was very lucky and got two nice images from different angles of the same individual under the same conditions. Meet the Arc-Eye Hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus):

Arc-Eye Hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus)

I am very fond of all of the Hawkfishes. We have several species here and they are all very lovely little creatures. I tend to take an anthropocentric view of the “why” of all of the wonderous beauty of nature. It’s that way because I’m here to appreciate it. It’s philosophical mumbo-jumbo, but it satisfies my pragmatic approach to deep thinking.

Here’s the second shot from the front. Isn’t it a splendid critter? If you were a Hawkfish of the opposite gender, you’d fall in love instantly:

Arc-Eye Hawkfish (Paracirrhites arcatus)

If you haven’t had enough Hawkfishes, you can see more here, here, here, here and here.

Now we go from something strangely pretty to something pretty strange. Believe it or not, this is a metre wide sponge. That’s not huge as sponges go. Some barrel sponges are much larger. This is an overhead shot. All those holes are there so the colonial organisms that make up the sponge can feed and breathe:


Here is what it looks like from the side. This is a rather large specimen, being a little over thirty centemetres high:


I don’t do a lot of diver shots, because I’m usually so busy trying to get that perfect image of some critter that I don’t yet have in my collection. I do like this shot of Amanda and Greg finning along above the edge of the passage:

Greg and Amanda

Here’s a shot of Monty Armstrong getting ready to reboard Faded Glory  after the dive.

Monty Armstrong

I’ve lost a huge percentage of the former diver mob that used to come out on Saturday. There seems to be little interest in diving in Madang these days. I hope that’s not a trend that will continue. Otherwise, I’ll be doing a lot of solo dives on Saturdays.

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