Flatworms and Ice Spikes – Yikes!

Posted in Under the Sea on January 14th, 2011 by MadDog
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I can remember seeing ice spikes before, but I never had an opportunity to capture a photograph of one. A few days ago I opened the freezer door to get some ice and I got a surprise also. One of the cubes was topped by a perfect little ice spike. Here it is:

I’ve read that the purity of the water is a key factor in the formation of ice spikes. My water here at home is all rainwater which is stored in a big cement tank under my front porch. I suppose it is relatively pure, as there would be no dissolved minerals as are found in ground water. The spikes form when the water is freezing. If conditions are just right, they grow in the final stage of cube formation. Since water is one of those rare and peculiar substances which actually expand when freezing instead of contracting, the little bit of water that is finally freezing keeps expanding and the only place it has to go is up.

I’ll show you a few shots from our dive up on the wall at Blue Blood last Sunday. It was Flatworm Day, but I’ll get to them later. While we’re on the subject of strange looking things, here is a Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinosa):

These look like balloons, but they feel like . . . nothing! They are so incredibly delicate that I don’t see how they survive. If you fiddle with the polyps they contract and leave a razor-like skeleton exposed.

Here is one of the many flatworms which we saw. I have never seen so many individuals and so many different species in one place. It’s a little hopeless for me to look up the species name, so I won’t bother:

I’ll be showing images of the other species which we found over the next few days.

This coral shot has a wealth of detail in it. It’s worth a click to see the delicate structure:

I’ve uploaded it at a larger than usual resolution so that it can make a good desktop background.

This is one of the largest colonies of this reddish coral that I have seen:

Finally, I’ll throw in a Flabelina  genus nudibranch. This is one of the better shots that I have of these. They are only about 30 mm long, so it’s difficult to get a really good close up:I don’t know where this depression is going. There seems to be no bottom. At least I’m still mostly functional. I get up and go to work except on days when I’ve notified the office staff that I have something else going on or I have urgent personal things to which I must attend. I socialise, I write. In short, to outward appearances I seem to be relatively normal. Inside smoulders a train wreck. In this heap of rubble the fire is spreading. I’m still rejecting drugs, because I still believe I can manage without and I don’t want to trade what I think is a manageable situation for one which lasts for an indeterminate length of time and may or may not help me. Furthermore, at the end of any treatment, I’d be left with the problem of getting off the drug. This can sometimes cause its own problems.

Even as bad as I feel now, as I look back over the last four months I have to acknowledge that I can mark progress month by month. Some of it is very significant progress. I’m sleeping much more easily and the nightmares have relented. The panics have receded into the dark corners. I sometimes feel those cold fingers reaching out, but they no longer pull me to the floor. Social gatherings have become easier to tolerate and I can sometimes feel good for an entire evening. Suicide no longer seems like an option. That’s a lot of improvement.

My friend Alison Raynor just suggested to me that I should start concentrating on how much I’m going to enjoy my trip to Australia. I think that’s good advice.

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Leper Island Curiosities

Posted in Under the Sea on January 7th, 2011 by MadDog
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The diving has been sporadic over the holidays. People were off cavorting elsewhere and I was hiding out. Now things will hopefully be returning to something resembling normality, me being one of those things. I’ve picked out some of the more interesting images from our last dive at Leper Island  to display here this evening. Fish seem to be more and more difficult to chase. I don’t think the fish have changed. It’s me. Though it seems impossible, I am becoming even more lazy. Let the fish come to me.

Corals don’t move around much, in fact, not at all. They provide easy fodder for my hungry lens. I’m particularly on the lookout for colourful specimens. Part of my laziness is demonstrated by my lack of attention to species names. I’ve decided that they are not so important after all. All that they do for me is provide lots of Google hits. Let the colours speak for themselves and we’ll stick with generic names such as “coral” and “sponge” and so on. This coral is strutting its stuff in a most flamboyant manner:

One might suspect that I’ve fiddled with the colours in this shot. While that’s true, it was minor fiddling, mere accentuation. I might be forgiven for that.

This coral is altogether different from the previous one. While the former was flashy, this specimen is so subtle that one might not appreciate it at a distance:

Ah, but up close it is a different story:

The violet colour sprinkled with great care across the tops of the colonies is exquisite. I don’t know what it is and I have not seen it before. I’m happy for it to remain a mystery. We need our mysteries, eh?

Well, I’m tired of coral all ready. Restless, that’s what I am. How about a sponge? This one is outrageous:

Yes it really is that bright. I often wonder if these colours have any purpose. But, then again, I often wonder about a lot of things.

Now here is something which one doesn’t see every day. Dive buddy Rich Jones spotted these two nudibranchs presumably doing what comes naturally:

It’s worth a click on the image to see the clarity that is possible from a cheap underwater outfit such as my Canon G11. Passable stuff for an amateur on a budget. I could never get images such as this when I was shooting on film.

I cropped the shot down and used a Photoshop trick of repeatedly enlarging the image by 110% until it is about four or five times as large. It can then be sharpened to make it appear as if the shot were taken at an impossibly close distance. It’s now possible to see what they are doing. Well, not exactly. It’s just a jumble of miscellaneous spindly bits:

Never mind. It’s a private party, anyway.

Tomorrow marks four months since Eunie departed from Brisbane to claim her reward. Kindly people ask me almost daily, “How are you doing.” That’s a good question. I wish I had an answer. All in all, I suppose that I’m doing, as they say, better than expected. In fact, I am doing considerably better than I expected and I don’t fully understand why. For a while there I wasn’t sure if I’d be around to welcome 2011. I’m sure that I am being cared for by my creator. If I didn’t believe that, I simply wouldn’t bother. Wasting away seems to be a popular alternative. However, over and above the care from above, I’ve also gotten huge attention and love from my friends. Moreover, giving credit where it’s due, I’m coming to realise that my survival is largely due to whatever minuscule amounts of common sense and wisdom which I absorbed from my dear wife over the course of nearly a half century. That’s a lot of training. Even for someone as slow as I it was bound to be helpful when things got rough. Thanks again, babe.

I must end my hermit episode. People will give up on me if I don’t make an effort. Tonight they are having some kind of quiz thing at the Madang Country Club. Though I’m not a member, Rich will sign me in as a guest. I think I’ll venture out. I wonder if anything has changed?

Anything could happen.

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The Material Disconnect

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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It has been a strange week. Our bruised and battered little group of survivors suffered fresh wounds. I have been hammered by wild mood swings. I found myself unable to cook, sleep or write for several days. I’m not sure why I chose this week to take on a very hard job. In reality, I suppose that it was because the support which I needed to take it on was available.

Since I returned alone to Madang from Australia, carrying Eunie’s remains in my backpack, I have laid on the bed each night and tried not to think about her clothing, shoes and the heavy blue box of ashes behind the closet door a little over a metre from my head. I want to think of Eunie; oh, how I want it. But, I don’t want the memories to be provoked by things.  I find it very disturbing when I’m suddenly confronted by fear, loss and profound loneliness when I look at objects which initiate those emotions. Unfortunately there is hardly a place in Madang where my eyes can rest comfortably. The memories I desire are those which come spontaneously from inside when I sit staring at the sea or the sky, when my mental space is not crammed full of images of objects. She can break through the remaining clutter and touch me.

So, one evening last week Trevor and Karen came over to help me “survey” the situation and devise a plan. As it happened, I had come home from work early that afternoon, because I could not keep my eyes open. I lay down to sleep for an hour or so. Upon waking, I felt strong enough to begin. I decided to take on one drawer. It was the top drawer in the tiny chest which we shared. I talked to Eunie as I worked. I whispered my new theme song over and over, Oh, baby. Oh, baby.  When I had finished the top drawer without collapsing, subduing intrusions of negative emotions as best I could, I decided that I might as well continue. Within an hour or so, I was surprised to find that all of the contents of the three drawers were sorted and piled neatly on the dining room table.

By the time Trevor and Karen arrived I had nearly worked my way through the one metre of closet space allotted to Eunie’s hang-up items of clothing. As we sat at the table partially covered with Eunie’s things and ate the pizza which my friends had brought with them, I could not escape the feeling that I was putting on a brave face for them. I know that they are very worried about me. They helped me to decide which things should go to the Country Women’s Association to benefit the charitable projects which Eunie had supported for decades and which should be held aside as special gifts for her friends. Once again I felt a profound appreciation for the kind of emotional support which is given to me so freely and unconditionally.

In the morning I took some of Eunie’s nice cotton pull-over tops over to my next door neighbour’s house for her to give to her daughters and nieces. One of Sisilia’s daughters, Esmerelda, came over to help me to carry Eunie’s clothing to the back seat of my truck. After she left, as I stood there surveying the sad little scene, I did what came naturally. I took a picture:

As you can see, all of Eunie’s clothing, everything that she owned, could fit on the seat. I found that startling. It seemed to me to be such a small collection. Eunie was always beautifully dressed, but spent very little on clothing. She had a knack for choosing wisely but modestly. She looked great and smelled great. Nice perfumes were her only luxury.

Quiet elegance. Subtle sensuality. Beauty which gets under your skin:

My baby.

Okay, we need a transition here. I may as well make it abrupt. I have to get up and get ready to go up to Blueblood on Rich Jones’ boat. I have to do something to try to lift my spirit. I did get some decent images yesterday. This is a young Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):

As they grow older they get more freckles and grow darker. You can find other images of them here by searching for “freckled”.

I like this shot of a tubeworm growing out of a large coral head with Rich Jones hovering in the background:

Nice depth.

Rich spotted this tiny nudibranch. I don’t know the name of it:

I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the little bits at the front which were vibrating frantically in the current.

This is a kind of sea squirt which I have shown here before:

It strikes me as very elegant, indeed.

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The Wonderful Distraction – Fake Art

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on October 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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There are so many things which I’d like to say. However, now I am falling just short of  finding the words to articulate these things. I never really believed that some thoughts were inexpressible. I’m learning much about life lately. It seems a bit late for a grammar school education about Getting Along in Life. Today’s lesson is about being tongue-tied, mute, unable to find the expressions, analogies and idioms to translate the thoughts spinning in my head into English. I’m writing this on Friday, the eighth of October. If you’ve been following, you will recognise that day as being singularly significant. Not to put too fine a point on it, one month ago my wife went to claim her reward.

Yes, today is a bit of a hard day. I arose early and called in to the office after 08:00 to beg a day off. I have music and pictures to prepare for the memorial service tomorrow. Our office staff have been infinitely understanding and supportive. Lorraine Collins, a dear friend who lived in Madang for some time has flown in from Cairns to come to the service and stay a few days in the company of old friends. She came over to have lunch with me. Afterward, we watched a movie. I was glad for the company and the distraction.

It’s a good thing that I did have company today. I would otherwise buried myself in work and not have had the chance to sit with a friend and quietly talk about what is happening to all of us. It is  a shared experience. I can’t imagine that it would be more intimate if I were were with my blood family. So, speaking of things left to do today, I’ll get on with tomorrow’s post. Yes, I’m writing this on Friday. I’ll schedule the post to go out tomorrow. I do not know what tomorrow will bring to me.

I took a couple of hours of otherwise wasted time last night to do something other than attempting to sleep. It seemed mindless, but more emotionally useful to look through images from past posts and turn them into fake art. Sometimes it is better to do something completely useless. It gives one the feeling of wasting time usefully. And so, since I can’t transfer my feelings to the computer screen, I’ll give you fake art instead.

Here is Honey the aged mare from Honey, Beast and Other New Friends:

Honey and I got along well. This may have been because, in horse years, she is my age. We understood each other. Most of these images will require you to click to enlarge to see the effect of the Photoshop filters which I used to create the fake art images. This one had a light treatment with Poster Edges, just enough to punch up the edges a little and give it some texture.

I finished all of my chatter at the beginning, so I’ll simply show you the rest of the images with my brief comments about how I made them.

This is a shot of a diver’s bubbles with a glass block effect applied:

It is more interesting if you enlarge it.

When we were in Fiji earlier this year I got this image of Bougainvillia overhanging the hotel pool. It’s a delicious mix of colours made all the more yummy but the Watercolour filter:

Reducing the number of colour values in the image by increasing the posterisation effect in the filter creates some interesting patterns in the water.

Still in Fiji, here is an image from The Nadi Temple – A Feast for the Eyes:

This is a more severe flogging of the image with the Poster Edges filter. It is very posterised, using only a few colours from the millions available. The edges are extremely accentuated. This gives a nice poster effect.

Here are some orchids from my garden. I wanted a mild distortion effect, in this case the Watercolour filter, and I also wanted to bring the flowers dramatically forward in the image:

The Watercolour filter worked a treat. Bringing the flowers forward proved to be far simpler than I had thought it would be. All I had to do was reduce the saturation of the green tones in the background, reducing them to near monochrome. This piece turned out better than I though it would.

This Phyllidia ocellata  nudibranch makes a perfect subject for a cut out. The black background makes the absurd colours of this outlandish critter pop:

Nice design for a black t-shirt, eh? A touch of the Poster Edges filter gave the nudi an interesting texture.

Finally, I’ll toss in another nice piece by Lindsay Smith. Take note that I do not include Lindsay’s work in the fake art category. Lindsay actually sketches. Oh, that I had such talent:

Lindsay sketched this lovely lady over a background of my image of an oil slick on the water in front of my house. I enjoy seeing such imaginative uses of my photographs.

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The Vain Varicosa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me neither.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A SCUBA Diving Bee?

Posted in Under the Sea on July 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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This morning I was out stumbling around in my garden looking for something to shoot. I was nearly ready to give up, not having found anything that I haven’t already snapped a hundred times, when I came across this small bee wearing a SCUBA diver’s mask:

It’s only Tuesday and I’m already running out of material. When I start pulling your chain about diving bees, you can tell that I am desperate. Yeah, I know that it’s silly, but look at its eyes. I have never seen a bee, or any other insect, with eyes such as this. They are huge. They also have an unusual shape, which I suspect give it an enormous field of vision. This makes me think that it is possibly an insectivorous bee. A bee which hunts on the wing would need exceptional vision. It also does not resemble the standard, flower-visiting bee. I watched it for some time. It was showing no interest in all of the flowers around it. In fact, it gave the distinct impression of a hunter lying in ambush.

UPDATE: Faithful reader and friend Alison Raynor has already nailed down the identification of this bee. It seems that I coulnd’t have been more wrong. Oh, wel. It’s not the first time:

HI JAN,
COULD THIS BE YOUR CRITTER?
Blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata) are native to Australia, but also occur naturally in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia. Unlike other bee species, blue-banded bees are solitary insects. They typically build nests in sandstone, mud or the mortar-gaps in the brickwork of houses.

Blue-banded bees specialise in an unusual sort of flower pollination called ‘buzz pollination’. Normally flowers release pollen passively, but some species are specially designed to be pollinated by ‘buzz pollinators’ that grab onto the flowers and vibrate them quickly to release the pollen.

Okay, the bee doesn’t dive, but I do. I ran through some more frames from our dive at The Eel Garden last Saturday and found a few which may amuse, if not amaze you.

Though this will probably mean little to you, I can testify that this is an unusual image. This Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax)  does not belong on this bumpy coral. It is a creature which gobbles up sand by the bucket, runs it through its innards, sifting out the digestible bits, and then excretes the sand out of its other end:

Why it is wandering around up here on this coral shelf, metres away from its feeding ground, I have no idea.

The lower fish, whiskering around in the sand, is a Goatfish, specifically a Parupeneus forsskali:

They feed by bulldozing around in the sand, throwing up big clouds of “dust” and using their whiskers to find food. The other fish is a Redbreasted Wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus),  a fish which usually stays far enough away to be difficult to shoot. It is not unusual to find other fish hanging around where a goatfish is feeding. They often stir up items which do not interest them, but other fish find tasty.

This is a Longnose Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus):

It’s not a particularly good shot, but my excuse is, as usual, they try to stay at a distance. How they calculate the distance at which it becomes nearly impossible to shoot them, I don’t know. They must know more about cameras than I do.

This is a reather handsome Soldierfish named Myripistis amaena.  His friends call him Misty. He has a gender identity problem. That’s why he wears the butch outfit:

Chain mail is very “in” at the bars where he hangs.

You are undoubtedly tired of the Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch. Well, you may as well get used to it, because it is one of our more common varieties and I haven’t got the absolutely perfect image on one yet:

I’ll let you know when I do.

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Sharp and Smooth

Posted in Under the Sea on July 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Weekdays come and go. My last work week consisted of exactly one day – Friday. Wouldn’t it be nice if Friday was the only work day? You could go to work in the morning knowing that when you clock in you are beginning your week and when you clock out, it’s the weekend again. Pay might be a problem, however. I’m working on a plan to live without money. If I get it worked out, I’ll let you know.

And following my one-day work week came Glorious Dive Day! I had nobody going out on Faded Glory  this week, so I skipped all of that boat loading and unloading and just went out with Richard Jones on Sanguma.  I have to admit, I really like getting picked up at my front door. It’s quite a treat compared to my usual Saturday routine.

The dive was quite nice. The Eel Garden was putting on a fine show. I got some very nice underwater shots. However, as it sometimes happens, my favourite shot of the day has nothing to do with fish. Ush is one of my favourite photographic subjects, at least when she is not too shy. I kept seeing wonderful reflections in her cheeky red sunglasses. A little coaxing got her into the mood to pose for me:

When I first saw the result on my computer screen I was not overjoyed. Though Ush gave me just what I wanted, my exposure skills were not up to snuff. It took me the better part of an hour to massage the image into what my original vision demanded. I wanted the sharpness of the sunglasses and the reflections, but I needed Ush’s skin to be as soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom. Well, it pretty much is in reality, but cameras are harsh to skin, as we all know. I’m happy with the finished product. It’s the most fun I’ve gotten from a single image for quite a while.

Now this one . . . this one is a mistake. It was so bad that I nearly deleted it. However, I sometimes like to play the photographic savior and redeem otherwise worthless frames:

The Soldierfish was swimming away, it was too distant, and the light was all wrong. On top of that, I had my flash turned on, which threw off the colour balance. I know! I’ll call it “Art’.

Richard Jones came over to me with a rock and seemed quite excited about it. It took me a moment to realise that on that rock was a nudibranch which I had never seen before. Of course, I took its picture. It’s a Phyllidia ocellata:

I have to say that it is probably the most humorously patterned nudibranch which I have seen. Some nudis are ethereal in their beauty. This one is wearing a clown suit.

I should know the name of this Planaria, more commonly called a flatworm. I got this shot standing on my head, because it was under a ledge. I’ve turned it right-side-up for you:

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m not going to look it up. Somebody out there help me. It’s very common here.

I’ll finish up with a couple of “Deep Focus” reef scenes. As several readers have pointed out, there is nothing special about these high depth of field shots. It’s just a matter of setting your camera right and having favourable shooting conditions:

However, I have noted that few underwater photographers actually do it. It seems as if nearly everybody either shoots macro shots of little things or big, gaudy scenes shot with super-wide angle lenses and multiple flashes.

I don’t see many shots such as these which use a cheap camera and a normal lens stopped down to achieve maximum depth of field:

I find them pleasing, because when I seen them I can honestly say, “That’s just the way it looked to me.”

Someday, that is going to come in very handy for me.

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