Posted by: glennandert | 21-August-2008

Emperor Angelfish

This is one of my all time favorite fish. Stunning beauty. Fiesty. Wants to play hide and seek, so I’ve taken tons of photos that turned out terrible. But on this day, I won the lottery and captured this guy while he played with me.

That’s a typical first move on his part, aggression to let you know that you are in his territory – never mind the fact that I’m 10 times bigger than he is! But a split second later, and …

But not gone, here he comes again …

Around and around we go, and finally … GOT HIM

Apparently Emperor Angelfish eat sponges and algae are related stuff. I have normally seen them in pairs, but obviously they must be found singly as well. The juvenile coloring and markings are so radically different than the adult coloring that you would never guess they are the same fish. I’ve seen juveniles, but have yet to get any good photos. As with most salt-water fish, these are not bred in captivity, yet are popular aquarium specimens – so somebody is catching them in the wild.

These shots were taken on the ocean side of Namotu Island which a tiny little spot in the outermost reef system of the Mamanucas Fiji.

Malolo Island is in the NE corner, which is where I would keep ‘Learjet’ overnight. In the morning, I would sail ‘Learjet’ down to Namotu Island which is not quite the southernmost island in that photo. I’d anchor ‘Learjet’ on the NE side of Namotu in a rolly surgy little patch of sand, and take the dinghy around to the opposite side of the island on the ocean side, and dive there off the steep dropoff.

Posted by: glennandert | 20-August-2008

Hermit Crab

Check this guy out. Yep, that’s a hermit crab – about the size of your fist! I found this guy out wandering around the reef during a solo night dive off the outer reef at Mana Island, Fiji.

I would be interested if anybody can ID this crab. I’ve looked around and have not been able to find a match, even at 🙂

Here is “lookin at ya”:

Here is a satellite photo of Mana Island where I found this critter. The dive site is on the outer reef just west of the SE corner of the reef system surrounding the island. ‘Learjet’ as anchored inside the lagoon. On the east side you can see the narrow pass to get ‘Learjet’ in and out of the lagoon. It’s narrow enough that you cannot turn around once you enter! This dive was at night. During the day, I set up a float outside the reef, and GPS coordinates, and took the inflatable dinghy over the reef at high tide. Even though there is a about a meter of depth at high tide, it is still a bit unnerving doing this at night!

Posted by: glennandert | 20-August-2008

Coral Hind Grouper

I love the colors in this guy. He is called a “Coral Hind Grouper”.

The fact that it’s a grouper I find rather amazing, considering that other groupers are often ugly and this guy is gorgeous. Given it’s coloration, I would have thought it would be deadly to eat, but according to Wikipedia, it is in fact a favorite target of the fishing industry because they are a good eating fish and command high market prices.

This shot was taken near Namena Island, Fiji (subject of an earlier post). This is its typical habitat, trying to stay hidden under rocks or large coral.

There is a splendid article that claims the fish is intelligent and personable. I wouldn’t know, I’ve never talked to one. 🙂

This species and related species are apparently hardy aquarium fish. The ones I’ve seen are often a good 300mm long (more than a foot). Seems rather sad to have a fish that wants to grow to that size trapped in a 50 gallon hobbyist acquarium – that would be like spending your life rattling around in your closet. At least the article referenced above recommends at least a 180 gallon tank to house this fish. Every reference I’ve read seems to indicate that these are caught in the wild and shipped to stores where they recover quickly and are sold to hobbyists. Ouch.

Like most fish, these eat smaller fish.

Here is a close up, taken at Moala Island, Fiji.

I’ve read that Coral groupers are a fairly territorial species, with harems defending areas of reef of around 400 square metres. Each harem consists of one dominant male and 2-12 females. Within the harem’s area, territory may be sub-divided and defended by individual females from the harem. I’ve never seen that behavior. I’ve always see solitary individuals. Coral trout are protogynous hermaphrodites. That is, they start their lives as females and change sex to become males later in life.

Here is a satellite photo of Malolo Island, where this photo was taken:

Posted by: glennandert | 20-August-2008

New Warrior Training Adventure

Posted by: glennandert | 17-August-2008

Where does money come from?

Tim de Jardine and I were having a chat recently about the monetary system. He sent me this link. This is an amazingly good video explaining how the banks create money out of nothing, how the whole system is completely dependent on an ever increasing pile of debt, and how we are all slaves to this debt. It shows how the present monetary system will collapse without ever increasing growth and debt. And it points out that we all know that this is completely incompatible with reaching a sustainable world where we don’t cut down trees faster than they grow, and where the human population is not increasing. This is a great “read”.

Posted by: glennandert | 14-August-2008

Leaving your boat in Fiji for the cyclone season

A reader asked, so here is my take …

Location 1: You can leave your boat on a storm mooring in Savusavu. The harbor is well protected. There are plenty of friendly people around to look after your boat. And Savusavu is just a really nice place. If you plan ahead, you can book a mooring.

Location 2: You can leave your boat at Vuda Point Marina. This is the most common option. And they have a lot more capacity. You can leave it in the water. Or you can leave it on the hard with the boat sitting on tires with the keel resting on the bottom of a trench. There is capacity here for many more boats. Since this is the common choice, you’ll need to book early.

Location 3: Some smaller cats have been left in a variety of places. One is past the bridge inside the tiny lagoon at Musket Cove.

Location 4: The Fiji guide to marine facilities says that Denarau has wonderful new facilities.

Safe from a cyclone: There isn’t much in the way of anecdotal data because neither location has been subject to a direct hit. At Savusavu, your boat is connected to the bottom by just its mooring. You can put in a new mooring and all that – but it’s still just one string. For that reason alone, I would not leave ‘Learjet’ there. The other reason is that at 56 feet I don’t think there would be enough swinging room for ‘Learjet’, in my opinion. Neither the holding in the lagoon at Denarau, nor the dock facilities are up to the job of keeping your boat there during cyclone season.

You can leave your boat in the water at Vuda Point. The marina is a circle, the boats are moored with the bows of all the boats connected to a central point, and the sterns connected via individual strong points in the circular quay. No dock fingers to get involved during the cyclone fun, which is probably good. Personally, I would not leave ‘Learjet’ in the water here. It will only take one boat getting lose in the confines of that small circle to wreak havoc on lots of other boats.

Or leave it on the hard at Vuda Point, with the boat sitting on tires with the keel resting on the bottom of a trench. There is a lot more distance between boats this way. And it seems a lot more secure to me. They could accommodate ‘Learjet’ “in a hole”, though they would have to dig one about a meter deeper to get her bottom sitting on the tires. With the boat on the shock absorbing tires and the keel stuck in the trench, I think the odds of a boat getting knocked over are pretty slim. But, what about the trees all around? The stuff on all those other boats that is not properly lashed? The wood laying around? The rickety out buildings that would explode into fragments in a real blow? Etc. The boat might remain standing, but it could also also have many tens of thousands of dollars of damage from flying debris. I would not leave ‘Learjet’ here either, unless extenuating dire circumstances left me no other option.

Theft: Savusavu has a good reputation. There is significant security at Vuda Point. After having spent a couple months there, I would lose a little, but not too much, sleep over theft.

Aging: Your boat will take an incredible beating on the hard for months during the tropical summer. Sails delaminating. Seals going bad on engines, pumps, etc. There is a long list here.

Contamination: Being on the hard at Vuda Point means: Your boat is in and surrounded by dirt blown around by wind which can be pretty fierce sometimes. Your boat will be covered by the debris from the surrounding trees. Some have nice purple berries that will stain just about any painted surface. Let’s face it, your boat will be a bloody mess when you come back. Your keel sits in a trench which will typically have standing water, and the tires all have standing water, all of which support a few billion mosquitoes. An army of insects is just waiting to crawl up. I can almost guarantee that you’ll have all kinds of interesting critters living inside your boat when you get back.

Collateral damage: They control the weeds in the boat yard with “weed wackers”. Cheap and efficient. But your boat is also at risk from flying rocks. Some friends of mine had to repaint their boat (which had just been painted the year before) as a result. I was there after this event, and had other friends getting rocks on their boats while in the water! As far as I know, they haven’t stopped the weed wacker business. I certainly would not leave ‘Learjet’ there unattended now that she has a new paint job.

Hot, dusty and buggy: If you leave your boat on the hard, you’ll spend significant time out of the water at both ends of your stay. It is going to be very hot, dusty and buggy. I found that if I was not covered head to foot with repellent, I’d be eaten alive by the mozzies. They don’t control them, and there is a lot of standing water. And while there is not a big history of mozzy born disease there, getting lots of mozzy bites is just not safe. So be prepared for some “this is not fun” time.

Customer service: I made a special effort to keep good relations with the management and the staff. As a result I generally felt well taken care of and welcome. However, there is a serious mismatch between between expectations and reality. I had quite a few friends that felt pretty “unwelcome” at times. And there were a few times I felt that way as well. Funny thing is that Vuda Point and the major marina at Savusavu are owned by the same guy, but the “feel” at Savusavu is very friendly, and the “feel” at Vuda Point is sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Government regs: Honestly, I don’t know what the situation is now. 6 months ago it sounded like you would have to pay an import duty to keep your boat in the country for more than 3 months. Recently I heard they backed away from that. Better check with customs first.

Insurance: If you insure your boat, don’t forget to investigate this very very carefully. I’ve had plenty of discussions with people that had already committed to leaving their boats only to discover after it was too late to back out just how much trouble their insurance company was going to create with last minute surprises.

Caretaking: At Vuda Point, you can hire Baobab Marine to watch after your boat. They are quite diligent.

My own personal take is that I would not leave ‘Learjet’ in Fiji because I wouldn’t trust that she would be safe from a cyclone. And if were not for that issue, I would struggle getting past the 2nd level of issues because I am certainly on the “fussy” side. I can do the passage (to New Zealand) in less than a week, with 4 adults aboard, and with regular contact with an onshore weather router. I’ve done 6 now, and have yet to be “pasted”. So, for me, the passage is preferable to leaving her.

On the other side: lots of people have left lots of boats there for lots of years now, and still do, and generally with good success. So, as in all things having to do with boats ….

Posted by: glennandert | 5-August-2008

Vodafone customer service is BAD, real BAD

Vodafone customer service is … well … what’s the opposite of world class? Here is my story.

Bought a world class phone (used but in mint condition), that works only on a GSM cellular network. So, I needed to port my number from New Zealand Telecom to New Zealand Vodafone so I could use my new phone.

On Friday 25-July at about 4pm I went to the Vodafone store on Manners Mall in Wellington to do the deal. There appeared to be some confusion on their part as one agent would ask other agents how to about doing a pre-pay number port. Eventually I succeeded, purchasing a pre-pay SIM card, and requesting that they port over my Telecom mobile number. I was told to put the new SIM card in my phone and call 777 to activate it. And the number would be ported by 930 am Monday 28-July.

When I got home, I called 777 from the new phone with the new SIM. I was greeted by the rather rude recorded message “You are not a valid Vodafone pre-pay customer” and it hangs up. Now it’s after 5 and the store is closed.

The new phone is not working Monday morning. I called the store, talked to the “boss” and was told it would be ready before lunch and that he would call me. He did not. I called again, and was assured it would be done before end of day.

I went back Tuesday morning. The “boss” was now working at another store. So I was helped by another guy. I’ve lost the details now. But over several days I invested a good two hours standing in the store while I waited for the message that it was stuck in IT and would be done soon.

Then I travelled to Wanganui for the rest of the week. While there, I tried the Wanganui store. They called the Wellington store and was informed again that it was stuck but should be fixed soon.

I returned to Wellington in time to visit the store on Monday 4-Aug, more than a week after purchasing the SIM card. After more time in the store, I was informed that the SIM card was in the PreActivated state and they didn’t know what to do about it. They were again told by IT that it was stuck and to just keep waiting. After repeated requests to talk to a supervisor, I was given a phone number for IBM (who does the porting for Vodafone?). It did not work.

I returned home, and called the mobile support number from Vodafone’s web page. I was quickly helped by a very nice lady. But, my phone number is not in the computer, so they cannot help me. I informed her that this is exactly why I was calling, and gave her the details. Eventually I convinced her to ask her supervisor. She returned to tell me that her supervisor said they cannot help me. No, I cannot talk to her supervisor. It is against Vodafone policy to do live escalation on the support line. I was told to file a complaint using the page on the Vodafone web site. Over and over I asked to talk to her supervisor, and was told no. I felt like screaming. But rather than crucify what appeared to be an innocent cog in a square wheel, I just hung up.

Vodafone, why are you paying all these people to ruin your business?

OK, so I tried to find the complaint page on Vodafone’s web site. I could not find a link to such a page. Finally I Google’d it and found the page. No email address there. But there is a different number to call. I called it and was informed that “this number is overloaded, please call back later”. Gee, I wonder why it’s overloaded.

Here is another irony: Vodafone runs a paid ad (with Google AdWords) advertising their complaints page. Hello, why don’t you fix your company instead of advertising your complaints page? And, duh, doesn’t this just highlight the uselessness of your own website, when you have to run an ad so that people can find your complaints page?

On Tuesday, a friend of mine suggested that I try the “real” Vodafone store on Lampton Quay, instead of the franchise store on Manners Mall (where I bought the SIM card). That was a good move. The guy there actually knew what he was doing. He was not thrilled about spending his time to clean up a mess made by another store, but he put his shoulder to it anyway. Immediately he determined that the Manners Mall store had not properly activated the SIM card. He fixed that. This must be done before the number is ported. Because it was not, the port did now have a problem that he could not fix. He made another call. There are apparently plenty of other numbers also stuck in the porting process. Apparently all the ports that were started on 24-July had been fixed today. So, I might be lucky and mine might be fixed tomorrow (since my port was started on 25-July).

I told him of my inability to file a complaint. He gave me his business card and said to write him an email, and he promised to make sure that it got to the desks of the people inside the Vodafone company that needed to hear this.

My conclusions, so far:

The customer service at the Manners Mall store really is pathetic. I’m sure these guys are trying to do their best. But here are some of the problems: They don’t know how to do their job. The SIM was not activated. And they did not know how to activate it after the port got stuck in the PreActivated state. There is never a smile. One does not feel like a paying customer, but instead more like a sheep awaiting a good shearing. In fact, half the guys behave like they’ve been abused by their managers and/or customers.

There is clearly little or no competition among telco companies here. If there was any competition, this company would be out of business.

Hopefully the number is ported before the technology I just purchased is obsolete.

[Late breaking news: My port finished – yeah!]

Posted by: glennandert | 5-August-2008

Sea Snake

Here is another of my favorites, the Yellow Lipped Sea Snake.

Wikipedia has a great article on sea snakes.

One of the interesting facts there is that the lung in the sea snake is very large and extends almost the entire length of the body, although it seems likely that the rear portion developed to aid buoyancy, rather than to exchange gas. The extended lung may serve as a means of storing air for dives.

Sea snakes in general are able to respire through their skin. This is unusual for reptiles, because their skin is thick and scaly, but experiments with have shown that some species can satisfy about 20% of their oxygen requirements in this manner, which allows for prolonged dives.

When I have seen them scuba diving, I rarely see them surface for air. So they can indeed stay down for a very long time.

They are generally mild tempered. I’ve never seen any aggressive tendencies.

Wikipedia says that most species of sea snake prey on fish. I’ve never seen this species actually catch anything, but I have watched them for eons foraging which they do by a never ending process of sticking their heads inside holes and crevices.

All sea snakes are ovoviviparous – the young are born alive in the water where they live out their entire life cycle.

And I believe that this species is venemous.

Posted by: glennandert | 5-August-2008

End of the iPhone

Is this The End of the iPhone?

There is tremendous potential for the iPhone, or a knock off, to become THE platform in the future.

Why do you need a laptop (or desktop) computer when you have such a powerful phone? The phone can obviously do calls, txts, store your contacts. It’s now not unusual to have 5 megapixel camera in the phone (not that the iPhone does). The new iPhone 3G has an internal GPS making it a wonderful navigation device. It has WiFi which means you can connect to the internet for free in zillions of places such as cafes (well, in the US, but not NZ yet). The browser on the phone works pretty well. The google mobile apps work great giving you excellent access to email, maps, routes, shared documents, shared calendar, etc. The iPhone 3G also has broadband over the cellular network, giving you internet access just about anywhere. Etc etc etc.

So why do you need a “computer”? After all, its just another bloody computer to purchase, maintain etc. And its the existance of both your “computer” and your phone that creates the syncronization nightmare for contacts, calendar, email, etc.

For a lot of work you need a nice big LCD screen, keyboard, mouse, speakers, game controls, etc. The iPhone of the future might easily plug into a docking station that will contain those peripherals. This does not appear to be all that hard from a technology perspective.

So, it’s pretty clear that the phone is the platform of the future, not the PC. This is not news to Microsoft – they have been worried about this for years. Hence their efforts with the MobilePC.

Remember when the Macintosh was king? And the PC was crap? And the PC won? Why is that? Because Apple kept the Mac platform proprietary. Well, history repeats. The iPhone is king. Apple – what are you going to do this time?

Posted by: glennandert | 4-August-2008

Yadua Island in Fiji

This story goes back to June 2007 when Pamela and I were on board ‘Learjet’ at the island of Yandua. We were taking ‘Learjet’ from Savusavu on the island of Vanue Levu, to the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu. The wee island of Yadua is on the way.

See the map below.

The navigation chart for the area is below. We stayed first at Navi Laca Bay on the east side of the island. The red line on the chart is our GPS track. No, we did not run over the reef. This is yet another place where the official marine charts have adequate local accuracy, but are poorly registered with respect to GPS positions. You need good light and eyes open to get into Navi Laca Bay!

After a few days at Navi Laca, we moved over to the west side of the island and stayed in Cukuvoa Bay. This is where we saw the pod of manta rays as we entered the bay. I did 4 scuba dives in this bay, some solo and some with a friend aboard sailing yacht ‘Artic Fox’.

There are a lot of great reefs for diving, both at the mouth of the bay were we were anchored as well as further along the west side of the island. There is the usual difficulty of finding just the right spot for the dink where it is near the dive site, safe, and without putting the anchor on the reef itself.

The visibility was not very good, so I had a lot of trouble with backscatter (light from the strobe bouncing back off of small particles in the water and making hundreds of little white spots in the photo). Nevertheless, the diving was lovely.

I had been hoping to see those manta rays that we saw from ‘Learjet’ when we entered the bay. No luck there. But I did see lots of other cool stuff. The highlight of my first dive was the following photo of a white tip reef shark. As I recall, he was a pretty good size, and bigger than me. Notice the ramora underneath. We had a bunch of those visit us at the end of the season in Isle de Pins in New Caledonia. The ramoras in New Cal make this one look like a midget.

Wikipedia has a nice article on the whitetip reef shark.

I really enjoy these little black and white striped guys. They are about 25mm high. I often see large schools of them among certain kinds of hard coral. It is very difficult to get a photo of the large schools, because they shrink back into the coral as soon as you bring the camera to bear.

Now this little guy is very cool. He is about 75mm long and lies in the sandy rubble. To get a photograph I also lie in the rubble and very slowly inch my way closer and closer, taking shots at each step along the way.

I never tire of fan coral. The white fuzzy bits are the live polyps that filter feed from the water.

This green colored coral in the foreground is rather fascinating. See how it has round stacks with holes in the end? The polyps that are hidden during the day are in bloom at night, and absolutely stunning. Can’t find a photo of one of these right now.

Here is a close up of the fan coral. You can see white polyps quite clearly.

This guy is a pink anemone fish. He is one of my favorite fish. Rather hard to get a good closeup shot of this guy, because he retreats back into the anemone for protection every time you try to get close, and he likes to dart in and out of the anemone, making it tough to keep him in focus.

This is actually quite a small little fish, about 25mm high. He is called a Reticulate Dascalas. This particular one was being so cooperative I managed to get a very close shot.

This guy is called a Regal Angelfish. It is such an awesome angel fish, and is one of my favorite. This specimen is about 150mm long. These are not that common, and quite camera shy, so getting a great shot is a bit tricky, especially in these conditions with all the backscatter.

The Regal Angelfish is a popular salt-water aquarium fish. That’s unfortunate, because they are not capable of being bred in captivity, which means that somebody is snatching them from reefs, and given what I’ve heard about the techniques, it’s ugly. This site has some fascinating information about the breeding behavior of angelfish.  They appear to behave like the Scale Fin Anthias with harems containing a single dominant male and one to four females. The harems exhibit a pecking-order hierarchical system of dominance. If the male is removed from the harem, the top ranking female will change to the male sex over a period of only two to three weeks, and now its her harem!

The following photo is from my 3rd day of diving at Yadua. You have seen these creatures in some of my earlier posts. But this black crinoid specimen is in a rather unusual pose, and hence the posting.

I’ll close with a shot of one of my most favorite angelfish, the Semicircle Angelfish. These guys are really gorgeous. To get a shot of one of these requires a lot of persistence. They tend to hide in holes and crevices and are quite camera shy.

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