Nob Nob and Kar Kar

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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Today’s post title mimics the sound of baby talk. Nob nob kar kar goo goo. Maybe that’s a stretch. I’m going for a little humor today and finding it more difficult than usual. Some days are easier than others. It’s a roller-coaster.

A few persistent and pedantically observant readers may note that my spelling seems inconsistent. For instance, in an earlier sentence I used the word humor. In other posts I have spelled the word as humour. The machine which I am using today has a US English dictionary installed in Firefox, my web browser of choice. I usually use my computer at home or in my office, both of which have Australian English dictionaries. One might ask why.

Okay, since you are so inquisitive, I’ll tell you why. Having lived in Papua New Guinea so long that I can’t remember how to behave anywhere else, I have observed that Australians are laudably picky concerning spelling. I care about spelling only to the extent that I prefer not to appear as if I don’t care. Strangely enough, Americans seem more tolerant of UK/Australian spelling preferences than Australians are of the “Americanisms”. Therefore, I learned early on that, since a great deal of what I write ends up being seen by those who adhere to UK/Australian spelling than the American standards, it is prudent for me to use the Australian forms. It is simply too onerous a task to have to switch from one to another according to who might be the predominant audience. Australians seem to stumble over every Americanised (Americanized, if you are an American) form while Americans simply zip through text littered with Australian forms.

So, in the text of MPBM posts when there are alternate spellings you will usually not see the American forms. I’m not anti-American. I’m just catering to the closest audience and the one which finds the American forms to be a little odd. I’m not saying that Australians are spelling snobs. They are snobs about very few things, certainly no more things than Americans. However, there are some things which can set them afire. One is the American preference placing the letter z  near the end of words for which Australians insist must have an s.  For example, let’s take the word recognise.  To Americans this spelling appears strange, possibly exotic or even wrong. The Amercan form would be recognize. However, most Americans can recognise/recognize the word. They are not outraged by recognise.

Some Australians, however, would be compelled to point out, after careful consideration assisted by a healthy slug of Foster’s Lager, that is American  spelling. This might be accompanied by a slight frown.

So, there we have it. Now I have managed to insult both Australian and American cultures in a few brief paragraphs. If you are not already tired of the subject, you might look at an interesting Wikipedia item on American vs British Spelling Differences. I learned quite a bit from it.

Having dispatched my insults to my homeland and my favourite playground, it’s now time to proceed to the subjects. Last week I had the great blessing of a house guest. Dr. Riley Savage, a young Australian physician, has been in Madang several times working with the local hospital. Each time she was here she went out to dive with us. I invited her to take advantage of the guest rooms that Eunie and I had prepared so that visitors to Madang could economise by staying in a bed and breakfast atmosphere. It was a wonderful treat to have a friendly face for a few days in the big, lonely house.

We could not dive on the day before Riley was to fly back to Australia. This is because it is unwise to have any excess nitrogen in the blood before traveling to a high altitude. It can lead to symptoms of “the bends”. Instead, we went to visit old friends on Nob Nob mountain. Tag Tap took us for a brief bush walk. On our way up to his house we stopped at the Pacific Orientation Course camp to take in the view of Madang, Astrolabe Bay,  the North Coast and Kar Kar Island.  Here is a shot of Kar Kar Island  taken from the ridge upon which sets the huge TELIKOM communications tower:

The air was too hazy for a good shot. I had to massage this one very roughly. Kar Kar Volcano is potentially very dangerous. It is not gentle on our minds. One of the more interesting recent events occurred on the 4th day of December in 2009 when Kar Kar did not  erupt.

Here is a slight telephoto shot. I was attempting to get a better balance of tones. I tried combining multiple exposures including one underexposed, one normal and one overexposed. I then combined them in Photoshop for a single High Dynamic Range image:The resulting image is no improvement, but does have a point of interest. Look at the top of the big towering cumulus cloud (Cumulus congestus)  to the right of the peak. The rate of vertical development at the top of the cloud is so rapid that the two or three seconds between my exposures was long enough for multiple images to develop. Photoshop did a good job of lining up the three hand-held images, but it couldn’t cope with the motion at the top of the cloud. I’m still learning the HDR process. I was disappointed in this shot. I expected to be able to see detail in the brightest area of the cloud. I think the reason is that my underexposed frame was still washed out in the bright part of the cloud. I should have reduced the exposure even more to capture detail in the brightest areas.

While still on the ridge I shot this rather plain flower. It is not a very interesting shot except for the discoloured areas of the petals:

I’ve seen this on many flowers here. Red hibiscus blossoms often have bright blue patches which look a little wilted. It appears to me as if there is a base colour on the petal which is overlaid by another colour. If something happens which disturbs or removes the top layer of pigment the base colour shows through. You can get a hint of this by the general appearance of the petals. There is a hint of blue showing through.

When we started on our bush walk, I was strangely uninterested in shooting. I took only a couple of exposures. Riley was shooting everything, but I failed to get any images from her before she returned to Australia. This line of mushrooms up the side of a rotting tree did catch my eye:

Tag Tap said that they are edible. I’m cautious. I never eat wild mushrooms unless I find them at the market. These looked as if they were safe, but I don’t trust my extremely limited knowledge. Even if they are not poisonous, I might still be taken on a trip for which I’m not prepared.

I was greatly amused by this very elaborate flower. I think is is some kind of Pasiflora:I hope that Anne-Marie sees this and let’s me know what it is. Tag Tap says that it is used to combat fungal skin infections. If one has an itchy patch all that is needed is to find some of these and rub them vigorously on the skin. I had no itches, so I didn’t try it. Pasionfruit and Sugarfruit flowers are very similar in configuration and general appearance to this, but are much larger.

UPDATE: Anne-Marie rescued me with the species name. See her comment.

Getting back to Kar Kar, here are a couple of panoramic stitches of multiple images which include the island. You can see it in the distance at the left end of the large island:

With my equipment and skills images without obvious geometric distortion seem out of reach. I have seen a few, but the requirement for this seem complex to me. The shot above has no troublesome distortions, but it sags a bit in the middle. I ran out of time before I figured out how to correct this. I’m sure that Photoshop provides a method, but I couldn’t find it quickly.

A second series of exposure and a different style of stitching yielded this image:

The water line in this one is straight and most if it looks more realistic. However, the distortion at the right is distracting.

These images are for Rich Jones. Rich asked that the shot include the swinging rope from the Tarzan post. There was a Big Event at Blueblood recently of which I hope to write soon.

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A Little Nature Walk at Nob Nob

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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Two steps forward, one back. Repeat. Life has somehow developed this annoying pattern. I think it started when I was born. By the way, exactly why was I born? Anybody? Anybody at all? What, no ideas? Well, me neither, but since I’m still here taking up space, I may as well keep on keeping on and see if anything interesting pops up.

Despite my depressed self esteem to the contrary, I still seem to be useful. That’s something of which I need to remind myself nearly daily. Hey, I go to work (nearly) every day, (occasionally) on time, and I (usually) stay until I feel like there’s nothing more I can start on or have a reasonable chance to finish. I get (most) things done (eventually). (Nearly) all of the computer gear works and (mostly) the operation is (a little) more reliable and controllable than it was two (or several) years ago. I (pretty much) do what I am told to do, (more or less) without grumbling, and I (try to) take on as much as I feel that I can without (completely) botching up the work. The feeling of still being (somewhat) useful is something I need very much. All in all, I’d give myself average marks for utility.

I’m more than a little surprised by how many things I have accomplished without having a clue as to what I was doing. The list is tedious, but full of tasks which had to be taken on. I have had a lot of help and good advice along the way. I seem to be checking items off faster than the list is growing, so that gives me some sense of progress. The stunning thing about this whole process is how I managed to get through so many things without creating yet more chaos by way of my abysmal ignorance. I can count a few minor miracles among the lot and more than a few near disasters. It’s a mixed bag.

I’ll give you an example of dumb thinking – I thought about it and I took the dumb choice. I recently sold Eunie’s 1973 Spitfire 1500 to my cousin. God bless her and her husband for relieving me of it. One crucial operation was to get the title to the car in her hands so that they can get licence plates for it. How the title to a car in Indiana ended up in Madang is another story.

Anyway, I prepared all of the necessary paperwork to facilitate the transaction, including some tricky stuff because we don’t have anything called a Notary Public (a term which I have never understood). Instead, we have what is called a Commissioner for Oaths. This person is charged with confirming your identity when you sign a document – just what I needed. But, guess what? The place where the Notary Public signs and stamps the document looks nothing like the place where a Commissioner for Oaths performs the same function.

So, this required a few hours of scanning things into the computer, fiddling with the format and fervently praying that the officials at the licence branch would cut me some slack. They can be notoriously picky or wonderfully compassionate, depending on the weather.

After doctoring the documents, I placed everything in a brown envelope and scratched my head. I could choose to send it by DHL at an exorbitant cost, about US$50. It doesn’t pay to use the fastest (one day) service, because it’s going to take a couple of weeks anyway. So, I had a choice. Blow fifty bucks on DHL or trust the PNG Postal Service to get it there by Registered Air Mail at one tenth the cost. What do you think I did? Right, my Frugal Plan kicked in and I hustled over to the post office holding my fingers crossed.

BIG MISTAKE! My cousin waited and waited and waited. I got more and more frantic, something which I have been practising and getting very good at. After a futile attempt to trace the package, my cousin told me that the only information available was that it was “awaiting dispatch” from Port Moresby. That wasn’t helpful at all. Inquiries by me at the post office on this end at first drew a blank also. I was told quite bluntly that I couldn’t even begin a trace until at least one month had passed.

Well, as it turns out, the item does not appear to be lost, but now is finally on its way to Indiana. What happened? A bomb! Well, not exactly a bomb, but the mention of a bomb. It appears that somebody somewhere got all excited about a real or imagined (not clear which) bomb which may or may not have been sent or not sent through the postal service either to some place in North America or Germany or possibly Australia. Really that’s more information than we normally expect to extract from the postal authorities. All of the mail to North America, and who knows where else, was held hostage at the Port Moresby post office and not released until the second day of December, just in time to be hopelessly retarded by the Christmas clogging. We counted this as good news, which gives you a general idea of our normal expectations of life in Paradise. I may possibly have learned a lesson. When frugality conflicts with wisdom, give wisdom a break or at least a nod.

Today the sale of the house in Brownsburg is supposed to close. That will be a significant milestone for me. Do you think I’m sitting on pins and needles? Yeah, you’re right.

And, so it goes.

I see that I’ve digressed severely from the nature walk. In fact, I haven’t even started. So, on with the show.

This is some kind of bug on a hibiscus blossom. Yeah, I know it’s not a true bug. I guess it is katydid; I don’t know which and I can’t say that it’s very important to me. I’m a fish guy. How do they manage, being so spindly?

I couldn’t tell if it was eating the naughty bits of the flower or if something else ravaged them.

This is an interesting plant which is native to the hot places in the Americas. Somebody dragged a few of them here and planted them. We call it diwai pen  in Tok Pisin.  The translation is the “paint plant”. Here is a blossom and some of the fruit:

For those who care, the taxonomic name it Bixa orellana.

The name “paint plant” derives from the reddish-orange goop that is found inside the fruit. I was going to get a picture of it, but these did not seem to have any:

The substance is used to decorate bodies for celebrations. These things are very difficult to photograph. Digital cameras seem to have problems capturing detail in “all the same colour” areas. I had to fiddle with this image quite a bit to make it usable. It is red, red, red.

Shooting a praying mantis is an easy task. They don’t generally move very fast. It’s common to find them in the shrubbery, but this one has perched itself on an iron post. That made me happy enough, because it simplified my job. Just in case you’re feeling geeky I’ll mention that I used a very small aperture for this shot so that I could get the maximum depth of field. I wanted the structure of the roof on the other side of the post to be discernible:

It is a magnificent beast.

This shot is better:

That’s creepy enough for me.

This is a non-amusing shot of a staghorn fern. They get quite large. This one was about as big around as a fair sized coffee table. It appears as if someone lopped off a leaf at some point. I don’t know what all that stuff is which looks like lettuce; I’ve not seen that before on a staghorn:

As I said, it is not a very interesting picture.

So, what to do when a picture flops? Turn it into art!

That’s much better. I’ll call it Alien Vegetation.

I’m holding my breath for the closing of the house tomorrow. I may soon be free at last!

I just got an email from my friend Steve telling me that the house will be burned to the ground on the 8th of January by the volunteer fire department. I’m trying to decide how I feel about that. At least it won’t be my  house that’s burning.

This will be my last post for 2010. I will not be sorry to see this year dissolve into history. If hard pressed, I can remember positives, but they are nearly submerged in a sea of grief and loneliness. What 2011 will be like is largely up to me. Many things are beyond my control; I’m not immune to the vagaries of life. However, I can adjust my attitude.

That is one thing which I can  fix. The rest is a box of chocolates.

UPDATE: Reader Jeff Allen passed along the taxonomic name of the fern. It is a bit curious – Platycerium superbum.  Be careful how you pronounce it.

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Get High on Dynamic Range – HDR

Posted in Photography Tricks on December 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ve purposefully laid low during the Christmas holiday. I believe that this has been good for me. I know that some of my friends are concerned that I’m becoming a hermit, but that is not the case. In the last few months I’ve attempted to socialise normally, sometimes at the expense of my well being. Living in an atmosphere which relentlessly reminds me of my loss has not been easy. Normal social gatherings have been difficult.

Anyone who has suffered a loss of a spouse knows exactly what I’m talking about. Loneliness is intensified by being with loved ones who shared the life experience of knowing the person who once occupied the empty chair. One can feel very much alone even when surrounded by friends. At some point a decision must be made whether to continue to suffer that pain or to retreat for a while to allow strength to recover.

After the holidays I will begin to behave normally again. The time of relative solitude has been good for me. It’s allowed me to gather my wits and gain a fresh perspective. I’ll soon be starting a new year. Life will not be rosy. I don’t expect that. There could still be major setbacks. However, I have accomplished much. I’ve taken control of many aspects of my life with which I was formerly out of touch. I’ve renewed my faith and strengthened it. My plan for 2011 is to recover as much as possible of my life here in Madang and shape it into something which will allow me to be a full person again. There is much which I have left behind and more yet will have to be considered as to its usefulness to me in the future. However, I can see that my future, though seen through a glass darkly, has promise. It is a different promise from any which I formerly imagined. But, it is not dark of necessity. I do  have within my power, trusting in my faith, that I can make it bright if I take the right path.

Through a dear friend I got an offer of a small photographic shoot for Coatwatcher’s Hotel here in Madang. I was happy for the work, though it was not an easy job. As I was working on the images I experienced a sudden geek attack and decided to devote a post to the technique involved. Sudden geek attacks cannot be ignored.

Here in this image you can see the problem. This is a shot of the hotel dining room looking out over Astrolabe Bay:

As you will note, it’s not very exciting or aesthetically appealing. In fact, it’s downright ugly. What’s the problem? Well, the problem is that a lot of light is in the wrong places. This is a typical back-lit image. The camera cannot cope with the huge dynamic range of light levels varying from very bright to very dim. Our eyes adjust constantly to allow us to take in this range of brightness levels. Viewing this scene, you would be perfectly able to see all of the dark areas. As your eyes rise to the bright light outside, your eyes will compensate automatically. No camera can do this.

So, how can a photographer without complex and expensive lighting equipment take a decent photograph of this scene? A fantastic trick became available to photographers with the dawn of the digital age of cameras and powerful computer processors which can do the maths. It’s called High Dynamic Range Photography. In theory, it’s pretty simple. Anybody with a decent camera and a computer can do it. I wrote a post on HDR a couple of years ago.

The first image was what one might call a “normal” photograph. I simply set my Canon G11 on an automatic setting and took the shot. The result is miserable. However, what if we could take several shots, adjusting the camera for each level of brightness, and combine the best exposed portion of each frame into one image? That is exactly what HDR photography is all about.

I first set my camera to get a well correctly exposed image of the outside area including the sky and water of Astrolabe Bay. It’s even worse. The inside is completely black:

Next, I took another exposure with the camera set to capture the dark levels inside the dining room:

That’s just as bad, except that you can now see the areas of the image which were nearly black. However, the outside area is completely washed out. I had my camera mounted on a tripod for these three shots. It’s important that the camera does not change angle or distance to the subject. The software needs details of the images to remain in the same position on the frames so that it can match the images up perfectly before it begins the task of selecting the best exposed areas of each image to combing in the final HDR shot.

Then, using the Merge to HDR image of Photoshop, I combined the three images to produce this one:

This is a perfectly useable image for the calendar which the client wanted to produce. I’ll now collect my pay.

It is a characteristic of HDR photography that most images appear a little strange to our eyes. We are not used to seeing such a compression of dynamic range. It really looks more like a painting than a photograph. However, for the client’s purpose, it was the only way to get the shot.

Just for fun, I set up my tripod in my bedroom and took three shots of my little corner office. This is the underexposed shot:

I won’t bore you with the overexposed shot or the auto setting shot. That would be tedious.

This is the combination of the three images:Certainly, I could have used flash to capture the same image, but that would give the shot that flashy, unreal effect which I don’t like. The colour tones are rather sickly, because of the colour of the cloth on my curtains. I didn’t bother to correct it. I wanted it to look exactly the way my eyes see it. I’m going to change to white curtains!

One does not absolutely have to use a tripod, given reasonably steady hands and firmly planted feet. I took a stroll up at Nob Nob mountain the other day with a friend. I’ll have some nice nature shots from that visit in the next few days. They sky was cloudy and the light was miserable, not what you want for landscape photography. I shot two images. This one is correctly exposed for the dark foreground vegetation:

This one is exposed for the sky:

Even with only two exposures Photoshop did a credible job of producing a useable image:

It’s not going to win any contests, but it’s a nice picture. You might note some funny colour fringes around one of the clouds at the upper right. It’s an artefact of the merging process. I didn’t bother to correct it, because it’s a good example of some of the problems which can crop up out of the blue, so to speak.

If you would like to see more examples of HDR photography, try here and here. Some of these I like and some I very much do not  like. Certainly, HDR has a place as an artistic tool. However, if taken to extreme, it gets tiresome very quickly. So many shots look like cheap posters.

Okay, now I’m going to make some cheesy, cheap poster shots. I can hardly wait.

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Big Fat Mountains

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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I took a drive up Nob Nob Mountain  yesterday with some visiting friends to show them our magnificent Astrolabe Bay  and the surrounding coastline. A prime feature of this beauty is the Finisterre Mountains  across the bay. Because of the rain all morning, when the sun finally came out, it was quite clear, so we got a terrific view of the mountains.

If I were a painter, I think that one thing that I would enjoy is being able to interpret the same scene or object in many different ways, according to my whim. Alas, I have not a smidgen of artistic talent. However, I do have a yummy selection of cheap cameras and I have acquired a bit of cleverness with Photoshop. For the first time in the history of man (bring up The Ride of the Valkyries  in the background now), an ordinary bloke or blokess can, with the minimum of fuss, create wonderful scenes that would make a landscape artist of a hundred years ago weep.

Here are three interpretations of the same scene from the top of Nob Nob Mountain.  You are looking out across Astrolabe Bay  at the Finisterre Mountains:

Finisterre Mountain Panorama 1An astute (very  astute) observer would note that I have exaggerated the vertical aspect by about 20% to make the mountains appear taller.

Here is a different interpretation of the same scene:Finisterre Mountain Panorama 2Changing the aspect ratio and including the dramatic sky changes the mood of the image completely, but keeping the mountains just about a third of the way up enhances the focus on them. The eyes have to move around a lot more in this image, because there are several focal points.

In an attempt to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, I took another series with mid telephoto. I didn’t even have to exaggerate the height of the mountains in this one. The telephoto effect did it for me. Using a telephoto lens will always make background objects appear larger with respect to foreground objects:Finisterre Mountain Panorama 3Of course, while I was up at Nob Nob,  I had to have a little nature walk also, just to see what was buzzing.

Guess what I found buzzing in a crevice of an ancient Frangipani tree – hornets!

My camera appears closer that I actually placed it. I used a little telephoto with my macro setting and didn’t get closer than about a third of a metre (or one foot, if you insist). I honestly don’t know if they are hornets or wasps or whatever. I just know that I’m not going to let them sting me if I can help it. I was once trimming a tree in my yard and did not notice a small hornet’s nest. They came at me about a dozen strong and I took about twenty hits before I got to the edge of my yard and dived into the harbour. Man, that smarts!

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful orchids here. Have a look at this one:Strange OrchidWhat’s that supposed to be?

And this, my gentle readers, is a passionfruit flower:Passionfruit Flower and fruitPointing out the obvious here, note the passionfruit at the lower left. I can’t say that I like them much. They taste too perfumy and sour to me. The flowers are certainly beautiful. We have another fruit similar to this that we call a sugar fruit. It has the same hard shell with the gooey stuff inside around the seeds, but it is much sweeter.

When I got home from the mountain, this copra boat was heading out to sea, probably to Kar Kar Island:Copra BoatWhen the winelight falls on our beautiful harbour in the afternoon, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

With my camera, of course.

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I Go Bush

Posted in Mixed Nuts on April 16th, 2009 by MadDog
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No, I have not had a sudden change of heart concerning the former President of the USA. Yesterday I started on a bush walk at about eight in the morning and didn’t return until late in the afternoon. It was not by far the most rugged country that I’ve covered afoot. However suffering recently through my 65th birthday, I’m beginning to feel my age a little. By the afternoon the uphill slogs were making my knees noticeably wobbly. For bush walking that is accessible and manageable for most people in fit condition, you can’t beat this area. Believe it or not, it’s a twenty minute drive from my house:
Rugged country for a bush walkI organised the bush walk as research for an article that I’m writing for Paradise Magazine, the in-flight magazine for Air Niugini. I have an old friend named Tagtap who lives on Nob Nob Mountain.  We’ve known each other for twenty-eight years. He’s even older than I. I wanted to relive some old bush treks with him. I hired three of his “children” (pikinini bilong mi  in the local pidgin – could mean son, nephew, grandson, adopted son – whatever) to carry my backpack, tripod, water, and me, if necessary. Thankfully, the latter did not occurr. Here is Tagtap, on the left, me, and two of my porters:
Tagtap, me, and two of my porters (you didn't think that I was going to carry anything, did you?)It would fair to ask, “Who took the photos?” Ingeniously, I brought along my tripod. I set up each shot in which I wanted to appear with the camera mounted on the tripod. I taught each of the boys how to press the button slightly, wait for the green box on the screen indicating that the camera had acquired focus, and then push it down the rest of the way.

The trick worked well for this shot:

A refreshing dip in a mountain stream
I set the camera up with a neutral density filter to cut the light way down. I then put the camera on manual and closed the lens down as far as I could. I ended up with about a quarter second shutter speed – just enough to motion-blur the water and make it silky looking. Of course, I had to hold very still.

The title of the article will be Bush Tucker – PNG Style.  In case you’re not familiar with the term, bush tucker means food that you can find in the wilderness.  In this shot, Tagtap is showing us how to find a wel mami  or wild yam:

Tagtap showing us where to find wild yams

I’ll be mixing in more images and stories of my bush walk over the next few days (or weeks – who knows?).

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