Malapascua!

As usual, the diving in Malapascua, Philippines, is supreme: I have seen the thresher sharks on two occasions even though I couldn’t take any pictures of them, since the top of Monad shoal was too dark at 25 meters in the early morning on days with bad weather. But I’ll still get some more shots at shooting them! and, the macro diving on the island is simply breathtaking, even with a well serviced regulator. Especially the house reef of Evolution Diving is always a very interesting place to hunt minute marine organisms. Dragonets, ghost pipefish, snake eels, shrimp of all kinds, diverse echinoderms, all is there. One thing which is mostly lacking are corals, though, so I suggest calling the dive site house muck rather than house reef. Muck, as in muck-diving, the king’s discipline in underwater photography.

I wrote a blog post about the dynamics on the house muck a short while ago, and it was interesting to see the place now. In brief, after typhoon Yolanda the house muck was taken over by algae as described in above blog post. Now the original biodiversity is coming back, even though a very dense population of small sea urchins has taken a hold. Some wrasses and the Manila puffer are eating these, so eventually the urchins might be reduced to reasonable numbers again. The seagrass is recovering in patches and the fish life is diverse in spots around the newly sunken boat wreck and some of the bamboo fish attraction devices.

Here are all the shots I took so far in Malapascua. Enjoy.

And these are some goodies from the Evo house muck:

Pacificklaus Enjoying himself when traveling, again

Observations:

Singapore Air is top: Enough space even for someone who goes to the gym regularly, and not just to chat. Tasty food, and gorgeous stewardesses, tall young women in tight-full length uniforms in a traditional pattern. Lovely smiles, ladies with both Chinese, Indian and Malay backgrounds. Also, Singapore Air let me take 33 kgs of check-in luggage, which is great for anyone travelling with as much scuba gear as I do.

The Philippines are just the happiest place I have ever been to. I was hanging out with a mate in one restaurant, and the eatery across from us had two girls employed to stand at the door and show passersbys the menu. After a while they spontaneously started to sing. People here will not fall into the pit of everyday grumpyness nearly as easily as in most other places. They two turned what could have been a pretty boring job into a happy get-together.

Geckos! I love the geckos. There is nothing like having a lizard with superbly evolved surface-adhesion pads on its feet run over the table between beers. I’ve been missing these.

Can’t wait to be underwater again here!

A juvenile fingered dragonet, seen at the Evolution house muck.

A juvenile fingered dragonet, seen at the Evolution house muck.

Malapascua here I come!

In a few more days, I’ll be back in the Philippines! This trip will first lead me back to Malapascua, home of the thresher sharks. I will also do some tech diving with the guys at Evolution on this island.

Then, I’ll be heading to the Dumaguete area on the island of Negros, next to Cebu, for more quality diving. I can’t wait for warm water, great viz, stunning biodiversity and all of my friends in the Philippines!

First Ever Pacificklaus Movie Review: Lucy

On Sunday I watched “Lucy” with friends. An entertaining movie. Scarlett Johansson is hot, in an interesting way, and the cinematography is well done: the cuts keep up the tension of the story very well, and some of the computer graphics are superb. The acting isn’t bad either. The story of the movie is that a naive exchange student (Johansson) is abducted by Korean gangsters and has a bag of drugs implanted into her body to force her to smuggle it to Europe. The drug bag bursts and gives her nervous system superpowers.

What was a bit irksome for me was the supposed neuroscience background for her transformation into the Übermensch. Supposedly, according to a lecture given by supremely authoritatively sounding Morgan Freeman playing a famous professor, regular humans only use 10% of their cerebral capacity. Using successively higher proportions will lead to superb superpowers. “What about using 100% of our cerebral capacity?” asks one audacious student: “He can not even imagine” answers the Professor. Such a high brain usage would be the realm of science fiction.

Uhm, that’s really not quite true.

If you are incapable of using even a small part of your brain you will be in trouble. And that kind of trouble happens all the time: it’s called a stroke. Miss a few percent of your cortex, and you might not be able to speak, see, walk right or recognize your wife even while being able to see her. Using “only 10% of your cerebral capacity” as is claimed in “Lucy” that normal humans do, will certainly leave you as a brain dead vegetable. Ok, ok, I know this movie is not meant to be a documentary, but you could ask for some kind of realism, can’t you? Is the general public really so scientifically illiterate that it can be fed baloney like that without cringing?

After contemplating the issue a bit more, though, I came to the conclusion that the scientific illiteracy in “Lucy” is no worse than what I see in some of academic neuroscience.

“Lucy” is in many ways no less scientific than a promo video for the Blue Brain Project. Both feature fancy computer graphics of flashing neurons, plus a lot of buzzwords. “Building a brain in 10 years”? That claim is only gradually less absurd than the pseudoneuroscience out of “Lucy”. Vacuous pseudophilosophical babble about a conscious universe? You’ll get that both in the movie and in the academic outreach video. Also, the computer-woman fusion at the end of “Lucy” is no more ludicrous than the claims by the folks who stick a lot of well-connected chips onto one circuit board and then claim that’s somehow like the brain (uhm, it’s not). And these are just some of the harshest examples of ludicrous scientific hyperbole aimed at shamelessly garnering research funding and publicity. “Lucy”, while offering nothing scientifically, at least has some really nice shots of Scarlett Johansson’s superbly athletic legs.

via Wikipedia.

Immortal vs. Sex

Adult Actress extraordinaire Annie Cruz asks on Twitter:

Would you rather have sex and die immediately after or never have sex and be completely immortal? Tweet your answers.

As usual, nothing is kinky and weird enough as that it does not happen somewhere in biology:

Have sex and die immediately. Well, not right immediately, but most cephalopods, the octopi and squid, usually die after one mating event. They hatch, eat eat, eat and eat, grow really fast, find a mate, do a few good humps, lay some eggs, and die. In octopi the females at least protect the eggs till they hatch, in most species both males and females wither away after doin’ IT once. Very sad. I like octopi, they make an intelligent impression when I see them underwater.

A dying cephalopod, after having had sex only once.

Never have sex and be completely immortal. Well, it’s not an animal, but actually closer to an animal than a plant: a fungus. If you are a fungus, you can just clone your cells, and be immortal, for all practical purposes. A fungus in Oregon is estimated to be 2400 years old. Well, it gets even better. The fungus is huge: it covers almost 9 km2 and weighs an estimated 600 tons. Immortal and bigger than Ronnie Coleman. Wow. The fungus would feel like a boss, if fungi could feel anything. Negative: all that growth happened asexually. While most fungi can produce reproductive organs (mushrooms), some species don’t.

What would I prefer? Right now I am having a good amount of sex, am pretty huge (not as big as Ronnie or the honey fungus, though) and still have not died yet, so while it’s unlikely, it could possibly still be that I am in fact immortal. I’ll stick with my status quo.

Slim Engineering

Ok, what I will write about is admittedly a niche problem. Not solving it will not cause serious harm and suffering to anyone. No wars or famines will result from this issue. But it will annoy me, and a few of my friends. What is that problem: over-fancy-ish engineering of underwater camera housings. I think there is way too much effort going into coming up with fancy new features, and too little thought into making things simple and solid.

I am using a Hugyfot housing for a Canon 5DII digital SLR camera to take pictures underwater:

Canon5DMkIIbackground

I like the housing. It’s small and sturdy, and I have taken it to 80 meters to take pictures of the marine life there:

Cowry at 80 meters.

The metal enclosure and the design of the locks, including the placement of the o-rings is well done in this housing. It looks good, too.

But the issue I am having is that the camera’s interior was not designed with long-term stability in use. It has a vacuum-system which can detect a leak before the camera gets submerged, and a leak detector which detects humidity inside the housing. The manufacturer suggests not opening the housing outside of air-conditioned rooms; Now, I don’t have AC at home or in most hotel rooms when I travel. In fact, most of the time when I am with this housing is when I am near the ocean – where the air is obviously humid. It’s not a surprise that both of these systems stopped functioning after a few months. Not good.

What’s worse is that the circuit board in the camera doesn’t only contain the electronics for these sensors and a TTL system (which I never used), but they also wire the strobes to the camera in direct mode, when desiring nothing more than a camera-strobe connection. Once the board started to corrode, this simple connection didn’t work either. The strobes didn’t fire anymore, while all that was needed was a direct connection. It’s not a good idea to bundle complex, failure-prone electronics with a simple connection which would otherwise be much hardier.

Fortunately, I have champion underwater photo gear tweaker Gaetano Gargiulo among my friends and colleagues.

IMAG0901

Gaetano took out all the unnecessary electronics, and simply connected the cables coming from the strobe-connecting bulkheads to the connector going onto the camera’s strobe-output hot-shoe.

Here is the housing with its new interior. It works just as fine as the old one, without relying on a circuit board for what is a simple connection between 2 sets of cables (the leak detection mechanisms didn’t work before anymore, either). Slim and failure proof should be the guiding principle for designing gear which gets exposed to corrosive seawater, not “what new fancy feature can we add now”.

IMAG0904

Nice Gear

There are a few pieces of underwater photo gear I’d love to get my hands on. It’s always fun to try out new tools. They force you to recalibrate your photo techniques, and consider new approaches to shooting things you thought you knew how to capture.

The Macromate Mini for the GoPro pocket-sized video camera seems like a nice tool to use this camera for high quality macro videography. Check out the sample videos they have on their page.

And, Olympus released the TG-3, the next in their line of environmental-proof compact cameras. I used, and reviewed, the TG-2, the precursor model, this one supposedly has a really exceptional ultramacro mode. Without a housing you can take this camera to 15 m, with a housing you can take it on any recreational dive, and it won’t die in the case of a leak. A 16 MP sensor should give you a nice resolution, and the small compact camera sensors have improved heaps in the last decade.

 

Egypt Makes Peeing in Wetsuits a Punishable Offense

The military dictatorship of Egypt is turning the thumbscrews: First came the massacring of nearly a thousand protesters and the sentencing 683 political opponents to death in what can only be described as a kangaroo court when trying to insult the Australian coat of arms’ animal. Now it seems that not even tourists will be safe from the oppressive policies of general Sisi’s regime. Peeing in wetsuits will become a punishable offense with October 1st . The effect of this new draconian law on Red Sea dive tourism has yet to be assessed.

“It’s not to be expected that scuba tourists can travel to a repressive dictatorship and be completely unaffected by the political conditions in the country” said Dr. John Kuskovizc from the Australian Institute of Common Sense in Canberra. According to Dr. Kuskovizc, the enforcement of this unusual law is what observers of the country speculate most about. “If it’s enforced like the remainder of the Egyptian ‘laws’ by its current judiciary, we have to assume that hearsay and anonymous reporting of peeing-in-wetsuit incidents will suffice to get a diver into trouble.”. The Australian Institute of Common Sense’s August newsletter warns of dive travel to Egypt and of the pre-dive consumption of caffeinated beverages for divers who make the trip regardless.

What does an unfair court of law – a kangaroo court – have to do with this lovely animal?