Fortune Favours the Bold

Posted in Mixed Nuts on November 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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The hardest part of writing this post will be making it short enough to be readable. I seem to be full of words tonight. See, I’m rambling already. I watched The Postman  a few nights ago. The megalomaniacal general had a great line, which is by no means original. “Fortune favours the bold”, he said. I’m a big fan of Movie Wisdom, so I was powerfully drawn for a while by the seduction of an improved life situation by simply stepping up to the plate and spitting in the general direction of the pitcher. Though I don’t believe in a key principle of the ancient saying, I now find myself in a world in which a bolder, less timid and fearful approach may possibly serve me well. Perhaps I should explain. (Maybe you should get a cup of coffee. This will take a while.)

The key principle to which I do not subscribe is the concept of fortune itself, or as I will describe it here, luck. I can state with no fear of successful contradiction that there is no such thing as luck. If you think that you are lucky, or unlucky for that matter, you are deluded. I can hear the howls of protest clear over here in Paradise. Possibly a thought experiment is in order.

Suppose I flip a coin five times and it comes up each time heads. We might scratch our  heads, eh? Five times in a row it’s heads? It seems unlikely. But, we have to admit that it’s possible. Now suppose that I propose a bet. I will bet you that the next flip will be heads. Would you take tails at even odds? What if I sweetened up the bet for you? I put one of something on the table (call it a Dollar or whatever, just to make it interesting) and you put two and I let you choose tails. Some people at this point might be thinking, “Take the bet. It’s got to be tails, since it’s come up heads five times in a row.” Some people would be dead wrong. It’s a sucker bet. The next flip of the coin has exactly one chance in two of coming up tails, or heads, for that matter. My expected return on the bet is greater than yours, since the probability of either of us winning is actually the same and you put two dollars on the table. In fact it doesn’t make any difference at all if the coin came up heads five times or ten times or a hundred or a million times (however unlikely that might be) in a row as heads; the next flip still has only a fifty-fifty chance of being tails.

I’m sure that you wouldn’t take the bet anyway. You don’t believe in luck either. You’re too smart for that.

Hey, I’m not making this up. Now let’s take that and extrapolate it to the general concept of luck. It doesn’t take much imagination to do so. Upon examination, the idea of luck disappears in a puff of fairy dust. Lucky numbers in the lottery – posh! Nonsense. Bad luck – no such thing; good luck – the same. Probability is computable, but inexact. One can predict outcomes only within calculated ranges – some outcomes more likely than others. Some will win. Some will lose. Nothing can predict who with any certainty more than the formulas provide. More importantly, there is no mystery force which changes the outcome of future events based on outcomes in the past. Artillery shells do sometimes fall into an existing crater. Lighting does occasionally strike twice.

Okay, so “Fortune Favours the Bold” doesn’t seem so true, huh? At least not if we think of fortune as lucky outcomes.

All that was a red herring. I’m not here wasting your valuable time today to blather on about luck. I want to talk about being bold.

What if we take that old phrase and gently massage it until it mellows into something we can reason with. How about if we say, “Good outcomes tend to be achieved by those who are prudent, but not overly cautious.” Or maybe, “One might be better served by being less fearful so that clear, rational thinking can be the basis of decision making.” Well, now we are getting to an approach that does not depend on the clearly false idea of luck to succeed.

So, the question I am pondering is:  How do I overcome the paralysis of fear? I want good outcomes, but I can’t put my trust in luck. I haven’t been lucky lately. (Wait for it – the humour is coming.) Yet the saying pulls me powerfully to its promise of reward. It seems so true. Maybe if I were a bit bolder, things might go better for me. Why? How could this be.

Why the answer has been so long coming to me is puzzling. I’ve been putting my trust in the wrong place. When what felt like the foundation of all of my comfort, security and welfare was jerked from beneath me, I fell into a dungeon of terror. All of the minor uncertainties of life from which I was formerly protected by a partnership as bullet-proof as a tank suddenly became gigantic threats, each one magnified by grief, stress and depression.

I try to avoid getting all religious on you, dear readers, because I know that I’m speaking to a very broad audience and that is not the purpose of this journal anyway. However, there is no other way to put it. I now need to put all my trust where it belongs. My wife is not my security, my source of welfare and comfort any longer. If fact, if I’m honest, Eunie never was. Oh, she was only to happy to be that for me, but she could not. Not really, no matter how much she wanted to be.

I’ve talked this over with some very switched-on, caring people whose opinions I trust. They tell me not to beat myself up over this. Many people who enjoy such intense, Vulcan Mind Meld relationships such as Eunie and I shared for nearly half a century fall into a dependence that is both understandable and, to a great extent, unavoidable. In fact, this kind of implicit trust, interdependence and division of labour is a major source of the synergistic power of such relationships. Together, we added up to more than two. So, I don’t feel so bad that I let that take over. It was a great ride and we accomplished much more than we ever dreamed we would. I’m infinitely sad that it’s over, but I need to compartmentalise that sadness.

Now I need to get my functionality back. I can’t do that if I can’t think clearly and rationally about problems. If I allow my doubts and fears to control my decisions, I’m not going to get anywhere. I can reduce this impediment by remembering my ultimate source of security. It’s not money. It’s not things. It’s not my abilities. It’s not my friends. It’s my Creator, my Father. It’s God.

Boldness is the exercise of one’s beliefs accompanied by a certainty that positive and well considered actions will produce desirable outcomes. Timidity and fear are not compatible with confidence and trust. I need to act in accordance with my beliefs, my world view, if you please. I either trust or I do not. If I do not, then I must fall back on my own resources, which have already proven inadequate to deal with present circumstances.

Okay, I lost a few of you there, but that’s okay. I’m not here to preach. This is an intensely personal experience which I am telling you about. That’s all. You can take it for what you will. Hopefully, someone will dig it.

Now for some nice, self-deprecating humour.

It is fiendishly difficult to find images to go with such a post. I couldn’t find any pictures of myself being bold. I found that rather odd. Oh, well. I can do what I usually do – fake it. All of these images have appeared on MPBM before, just not in the same post. So, move along folks; there’s nothing here to see.

Here is one of my favourite shots of me faking boldness. It’s from I Take the Big Plunge:

Actually, I wasn’t scared at any time. I spent so much time flying helicopters or sitting in the door with my legs dangling in the air that it didn’t worry me at all. The only thing that did frighten me a little was what Eunie would say when she saw the pictures. I didn’t tell her that I was going to do it. That was stupid, not bold.

It was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable experiences of my long and strangely wayward life. I highly recommend it. If I can get to Australia again someday, I’m going to take lessons with Ali and Dave in Toogoolawah. I have a standing invitation.

Okay, I give it to you. This is not bold according to the definition we’re using. It’s dumb. It’s from Why Ron and Eunie Were Nervous:

It did produce a nice “silky water” shot of Tew’s Falls in Hamilton, Ontario:

That one is from Silky Water – Hamilton’s Waterfalls.

While we’re on waterfalls, here I am boldly luxuriating in a jungle pool:

I call this my “Tarzan” shot. Aaaahhh eeeeee aaaaahhhh eeeee AAAAAHHHHH . . .

Getting there was the bold bit, for an old dude, anyway:

If memory serves me, it was about an eight hour slog up and down heavily jungled mountains which made my knees scream. Both of these shots are from I Go Bush.

The last three here are completely off the wall and are excellent examples of narcissism gone wild in a world where faking it can get you anything you want. You’ve seen a kaleidoscope image of this character recently. Getting this close to a Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus  is considered, with good reason, risky. Risky is not the same as bold:

Even the name is scary, eh? It’s a Yellowmargin Triggerfish. It will try to eat you if you hold still enough. This one is from The Beauty and the Beast.

Okay, this is crossing over into the stupid category. Check the teeth. Do not try this at home:

That one is from Sharks, Schmarks – Triggerfish are the Demons.

Just to show that I’ve not gone all Rambo now that I’ve taken boldness to heart, I’ll demonstrate my tenderness and sensitivity by showing you this lovely fake watercolour of The Fish Which Tried to Eat Me:

As the old mantra for crazy people goes, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better.”

Gute Nacht.

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Look Through My Kaleidoscope

Posted in Photography Tricks on October 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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Before I get started showing you the ten rather odd images for today, I’ll tell you what prompted my thinking about looking through things. Since I returned from Australia, I’ve been suffering from a variety of physical and mental ailments, most of which have never been problems before. One of them is paranoia. I’m not feeling weirded out by this, considering the number of very bad things which have happened recently in my life. It seems obvious that one might rightly feel a bit of paranoia under such circumstances.

For example:  I can see well enough to navigate around the house without my glasses, but I would not dare to drive and reading is impossible. I was certain that I had my last pair of glasses tucked safely away somewhere as a backup in case I lost my current pair. “Somewhere” is the catch word. I suppose that whether one might consider this to be a “very bad thing” depends on one’s personal evaluation, but all that I can say is that I simply could not stop thinking about it. After ever more frantic searches, I cannot find them. At least a hundred times the thought popped into my head, “Just ask Eunie.” Well, that’s not gonna happen. It makes my heart pound whenever my mind slips like that. It feels like running full tilt into a brick wall.

Anyway, I pictured losing my glasses and having to ask someone to fly with me to Australia for a new pair of prescription specs. It did not occur to me that there might be a simpler solution. Then I met Dr. John up at Blueblood last week. I discovered that he is an Optometrist with the Fred Hollows Foundation of New Zealand here in Madang. He told me that they could fit me with standard, ready-made glasses which should work well. I got an eye exam at the Fred Hollows Clinic yesterday. I walked out with three pairs of nice glasses. One pair is for distance, driving, boating, and so forth. A second pair is for computer work. It works best at arm’s length. The third pair is for close-up work or reading.

So, I now no longer need to fear losing my glasses. As soon as I can afford it, I’ll go back and get two additional sets of specs. I’ll leave one at the office and stash the other in a safe (and remembered) place in the house. My total investment will be about K180 (roughly US$60.00). Now I have one less fear on the list. It was small, but it was nagging. I was forever laying my glasses down and forgetting where they were. Eunie would always find them for me.

This episode left me thinking, “Just how stupid am I?”

Okay, having disposed of that item and reminding myself that other difficulties may also have simple solutions, if I can only discover them, let’s proceed with the gaggle of weird images for today.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by kaleidoscopes. I could spend an unreasonable amount of time staring through my grandmother’s very fancy dream maker. It sent my mind on mini-trips to strange and wonderful places. I’ve seen many computer generated multi-mirror images. Most of them do not please me much. I did get a little inspired by the work of Kathleen Farago May in her guest shot on MPBM, though the images lacked real-world components. I Googled for Photoshop plugins designed to create kaleidoscope images and got lucky on the first try with the Mehdi Kaleidoscope Plugin, which is free. I was immediately hooked. Here is a very amusing view of a Juvenile Oriental Sweetlips:

The presence of recognisable real-world images makes the kaleidoscope idea work for me.

Here is another featuring a Butterflyfish:

I wanted more.

Okay, it’s getting even better with this Yellowmargin Triggerfish:

I really like the background pattern in this one. It makes the Triggerfish leap off the screen.

From the same post as the one above, we have Jo Noble free diving:

The centre is quite abstract. As the eye moves out it suddenly encounters the lovely, graceful form of the diver.

A little more abstract, but still realistic is the Green Coral image from just a few days ago:

I have to admit that not much was gained from kaleidoscoping this one. I like the original image better.

This one is maybe my favourite of the bunch. The starfish pops out from the seemingly abstract background:

That one if from Saturday at the Office.

I call this one Hands Across the Water. It’s a kaleidoscopic view of a cartoon treatment of my friend, Carol Dover:

This effect is a little strange. It makes me a bit dizzy.

Here is another one which can make your head spin. When doing human forms you have to watch out for “creepy” artefacts:

The face effects in this one are interesting, but the strange blobs which came along for the ride are a little disturbing.

This one of Ush playing with a shell is less creepy, but even more head-spin inducing:

Kaleidoscoping faces is obviously a little tricky.

What about whole people? My initial experiments didn’t yield much that was pretty, except for the one of Jo Noble. I decided to keep trying. Reducing the number of mirrors seems to be the trick. Here is a much modified image of Jenn Miller floating languidly in the sea at Pig Island:

All of these were surprisingly easy to create and the process doesn’t take much time. I did discover that not every image makes a good kaleidoscope pattern. It seems to work best if the subject is clearly defined against the background. Otherwise, it gets all jumbled up.

You can take it a step further and create purely abstract patterns very easily, but the original image is lost in the multiple reflections very quickly, if you are not careful.

It’s fun to have a new toy. Especially if it was free.

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Saturday at Last!

Posted in At Sea, Mixed Nuts on April 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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What a week! It was a long slog through the muddy wasteland of servers oozing error messages and tangles of wires tugging at my feet like “wait a minute” vines. We did, however triumph. I can’t think of a single thing in the IT Dungeon that is not humming along in harmony with the organisation and my happy boss. We’ve even got a new web site up for my employer, Pioneer Bible Translators – Papua New Guinea Branch. I would never have gotten it done if not for the help (okay, he did it – I just made a few adjustments) of our former Director, Kyle Harris. He volunteered to do the job and I owe him big. Thanks, Kyle. It’s nowhere near finished, but I’ll be adding more content soon and the blog section will be updated at least weekly.

I’ll start this off quickly, because it’s 08:30 and I have to picky my divers up at 10:00, with this morning’s sunrise:Amusing, but hardly spectacular.

The panoramic view is similarly uninspiring:

Who am I to complain? I’m lucky to still be seeing sunrises here in Paradise. I’ve been nearly fired so many times that I’ve lost count, mostly for being a jerk. It’s happening less and less these days, so they are either getting used to me or I’m improving. I tend to accept the former explanation.

Might as well throw in yesterday’s sunrise:I’m ready for the rainy season to be over. During the dry there’s a good sky almost every morning. I can get back to rising at 05:30, grabbing camera and tripod and sitting down for a half hour of introspection while the big dude upstairs puts on a spectacular show just for me. Sometimes I pretend that I’m the only person on earth seeing it. Maybe I’m right . . . sometimes. Anyway, I certainly enjoy sharing them with you.

And, often when I return to the house, this is what I see:A hungry Sheba, our mutt, with that expression that says, “Okay already. You’re going to feed me now. Right?” The tail tattoos on the floor for emphasis.

My goal is to crank out six works of fake art each week to develop my so-called skills. This week I managed only one. It is an outrageously coloured faux watercolour rendition of the Yellowmargin Triggerfish which we teased a few days ago:Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus  if you care.

Okay, I have to rush now, since there’s always the chance that there will be a problem with Faced Glory,  since she’s probably nearly as old as me . . . in boat years. In an hour and a half I’ll be looking at something very similar to this:Not a bad life for an old man, eh?

Oh, and there’s a big costume party tonight with the theme being the letter “B”.

I’m going as a beach bum. I don’t even have to dress up.

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The Beauty and the Beast

Posted in Under the Sea on April 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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Saturday dawned bright and sunny, but I was too late for a sunrise. I slept in until nearly 07:00. By the time I got up, there was no time to do a post, so I’m catching up today. It’s worth the wait, because I got some splendid shots during the day. We had a few adventures.

Jo Noble has mentioned to me a couple of times how she loves to free dive down and swim through the divers’ bubbles. It’s fun, it tickles and it’s a visual treat. The bubbles sometimes form mushroom shapes as big as your hand. If you stick your finger in the “bell” shape at the top, it explodes into a hundred tiny bubbles in a circle.

So, we decided that I’d go down after Monty and Kate got into the water  and shoot Jo swimming through the bubbles. It was a very good idea. Look at this beautiful shot:It might not be the most elegant pose in the history of underwater figure photography, but I like the animal power of it. Jo is going for the bubbles, pure and simple. She’s chasing them with all her might.

This one is a bit more dreamy. It reminds me a a reverse rainstorm:Jo is an aquatic beauty caught in an up-pour of air drops. I struggled to get some good skin tones out of this one, but the data was simply not there.

The next pose is much more sleek and lovely, but still portrays the power of the dive. If you’ve never free dived, you might not realise how much effort and skill it takes to get turned over and kick your way down, especially into salt water. It’s not as easy as it looks. Those of you who free dive will probably remember, as I do, the difficulty of learning to do it gracefully. If it’s done right, you see the swimmers bottom for a moment as she flips heels over head, the legs shoot straight up out of the water to gain weight above the water line and that weight propels the diver downwards and she reaches for a big double armful of water to pull herself downward.

Here Jo shows the technique perfectly:Isn’t that beautiful? How lucky to be there with a camera!

Since I’m now doing two dives on Saturdays we decided to have a little fun on the second one. I’m such a cheapskate that I rent only one tank. If I get an 80 (that’s a big one) I can get nearly two hours of dive time from it. Monty says I have gills. He may be right.

Anyway, on the second dive we decided to play the tropical divers’ equivalent of Russian Roulette, “Tease the Triggerfish”. Regular readers have seen triggerfish here before. Triggerfish are about the size of a football. In fact the Latin name is derived from the word for “ball shape”.

Here are two Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)  guarding a nesting cone, the big, funnel shaped area in the sand with the rubbish in the centre:Though they are not currently mating, they come back regularly to these areas to check things out. On Saturday there were about ten of them patrolling the area.

The plan was that Monty would take pictures of me trying to get close-ups without getting bitten. The have teeth. Oh, my do they have teeth, teeth like a Pit Bull and a temperament to match. I had the thickest wet suit and the most experience with a camera, so it was my duty to get up-close and personal with the little devils. Did I mention that they bite? I’ve seen chunks taken out of divers’ fins by these critters.

As it turned out, Monty and Kate were distracted by some anemonefish and weren’t of much use to me:

The did get into the fray pretty quickly, as the triggerfish were getting very agitated and were darting about everywhere. They like to get about five or six metres away from you, square off, lower their head and make a charge, waggling like crazy and visibly accelerating directly at you. At that point you begin to ponder in earnest if they are going to break off the attack or not.

The attack profile is particulary terrifying for a male diver. The demons seem to favour a mid body target which makes it appear as if they are going directly for the, ah . . . how to put this delicately . . . the groin area.

Some of you have seen this before:I got so tired of describing the two most dangerous triggerfish to divers on my boat so that I could tell them to get behind me that I had them tattooed on my back.

Now, I can hear the mumbling out there, so don’t act like you’re not sceptical. Non-divers are naturally suspicious of the tall tales, since hardly ever comes back with so much as a scratch.

I did get one very lucky shot just before I nearly soiled my wetsuit:

Did I mention the headlong charges? Did I mention the teeth? This beast was travelling about thirty KPH when I snapped this shot, just before he flicked aside with an audible SNAP.

We call this fun.

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Out of Ideas – Back to the Fish

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

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

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)

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

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

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

Starfish (Fromia milleporella)

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

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

Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)

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

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

Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus)

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

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

We don’t tease them.

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