Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Extremely Depressing

I've been doing an awful lot of diving lately, yes even more than usual. I've been booked pretty much solid with Axe Murderer Tours, and most of the people who've been coming have stayed for several days, so it means multiple dives. I've already got 23 dives in for the month of July, that's a pretty ambitious pace for me, especially considering I've got a real job. This week, I've had a friend of mine from Hawaii here to attend some meetings, so we've been going out night diving. Of course as is always the case with me these days, I never hit the water without my camera, that's what the whole dive is about, capturing some cool pictures and bringing them back for you. Monday night we dove at the Grotto and had a great dive. Afterwards I set my camera in the back of the truck as I was getting my gear off. I think I must have forgotten to put it in the back seat of the truck when we took off, but it was still safely tucked in with all the dive gear in the back.

Don always likes going to Godfather's for a drink and some tacos or pansit after a dive, and of course being the good Axe Murderer Tour guide that I am, I join him so he has someone to talk to. After dropping Don off at his hotel and then getting home myself, I went to get my camera and it was gone. Someone stole it, they left my dive gear but took my camera. That's like stealing my left arm. I just bought this new camera recently and got a new Ikelite housing and strobe for it. I've been loving it, I was getting so much better quality pictures. And then some punk walks by and steals my $1,000 camera set up. Yes, I was forgetful, but does that give someone the right to take what isn't theirs just because they can? It's the punks and thieves like that one that are going to totally destroy this place. The few of us who are left who are willing to put up with all the political garbage and the constant power outages won't stick around very long if people are going to steal the things from us that make this place tolerable.

I've got some pictures from some of my recent dives, so I'll do a few more posts with them, but then that will most likely be the end of my blog for a while until I can save up to buy another camera. To say that I'm bummed and depressed about the whole thing wouldn't even begin to cover it. So I'll be hitting all the pawn shops that I can find seeing if someone has sold it to them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Interviewer Becomes The Interviewee!

The lovely young lady next to me is Tikla Brown, and I had the privilege of meeting her last year when I awarded her one of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce scholarships. I was very impressed with not only how intelligent she was, but with her level of self confidence and with her focus on her goals in life. She was quite a bit ahead of where most graduating high school seniors are at that point in their lives. As I had lunch with her and her parents at that Chamber of Commerce meeting, she asked if she could come in to the radio station sometime and interview me. She said that everyone always heard me asking all the questions, but no one really knew that much about me personally. She thought it would be great fun to come in and turn the tables on me and make me answer a bunch of questions, let people get to know who the real person behind the microphone was. I somewhat reluctantly agreed for a couple of reasons, #1 - I had never been interviewed before, at least not formally like this. Sure I've done job interviews and have spoken at schools where they asked me questions, but I've never done a one on one radio interview where I wasn't the one asking the questions. And #2 - I figured if anyone was capable of sticking me with some tough questions, it would be Tikla.

So I figured if we were going to do this, we might as well do it right, I even gave up my chair, and had Tikla sit at my microphone with all the controls at her fingertips. When she sat down she opened a notebook and had a page with a few questions written on it, I figured if that's all the questions she had I'd be fine. Unfortunately those were just the warm up questions, she had some real zingers coming up. She started off by asking some total strangers on the street if they could find anything out about Harry Blalock, what they would want to know? I was kind of surprised the strangers on the street had heard of me. Then she asked a few easy personal preferrence kind of questions. And then she finally got down to the heart of the interview after giving me a false sense of security. She was good, I had to admit. She said some people thought I was for contract workers getting permanent residency and some thought I was against it, she wanted to know what I really thought. She also asked what one thing that I have done I have really been happy with the results on. She made me prioritize the following things in my life: God, church, family and my job. And no that is not the way I listed them as priorities. I think it probably more of myself than I have personally exposed on the air in a very long time. I have to say it feels very strange being on the other side of the counter and having to come up with the answers to somebody elses questions. She also asked what the hardest part of my job was. I said it was mornings like that one, having to come in and do a show even though I was sicker than a dog and just felt like laying in bed and dying. But in radio we usually don't have that luxury, we have to come in and try to sound up and happy. Thanks Tikla, that definitely made for one of my more memorable experiences on radio.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Play With Pirate's At Your Own Risk!

No, this is not a scene from the Tinian Dynasty Casino, nor is it from Pirates of the Pacific, although there may be some who claim that I robbed them blind last Saturday night. It was the Rotary Club of Saipan's Las Vegas Night and as usual, I was dealing blackjack all night. My daughter Sarah was my cashier for the first half of the night and dutifully raked in all the chips that I took from my unwitting victims. The last couple years luck was simply not with me and everyone who sat at my table walked away richer taking quite a few of the banks chips with them. But not this year, my old blackjack luck was back and I was on a real tear. It would go back and forth with some people for a while, and some of them even appeared to be getting the best of me for a while. But instead of walking away and being happy with their modest winnings, they would try turning a small fortune into a big one, and I wound up taking all their chips before they unhappily wandered away. I was the top blackjack table once again netting $700 for the night, and I even managed to beat the craps and roulette tables. All of this was pretty amazing considering I was sicker than a dog and only had one good eye that night. I think a lot of people thought it was part of my costume since I had an Axe Murderer Tours polo shirt on, but no, my eye was in agony that night and couldn't take any light whatsoever. The Rotary Club managed to net just under $19,000 for our Las Vegas night, making it one of the most successful in years. Thanks to all who helped make it such a roaring success.

So I guess the moral to this story is that when you come to a charity event like the Rotary Club's Las Vegas night, you've got to expect the odds to be heavily stacked in the houses favor, it is for charity after all. But if you sit at a sarcastic pirate's table, you'd better expect to have your wallet or purse pilfered as you sit there all smug with your 20's, only to watch me flip up a 7 when I'm sitting there with 14 for 21. I had a great time that night, and I think most of the people who played at my table had fun too! AAARRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Still Sick

In case you've been wondering what's going on with me, have I stopped diving? Stopped taking pictures? Stopped having any interesting things happen to me? I've been sick for over a week now, and it doesn't seem to be getting much better. Before you start to lecture me on the need of going to a doctor, I did talk to a doctor on the phone last week, and she called in some prescriptions for me. Yes, I did pick them up and have been faithfully taking them. So it's not like I don't want to get better and haven't been trying to get my rest, I even stayed at home most of last week just trying to get over this, without much success.

I did manage to go for one dive Saturday morning, even though I was going through cold sweats and still felt awful. I had some people here who could only go diving Saturday and really wanted to dive the Grotto, and I didn't want to disappoint them. My theory is that salt water is good for what ails you, so I figured it might actually help my situation. So I managed to get down and let them have a good dive, but the stuff I coughed up out of my lungs after the dive wasn't pretty at all. I stayed down for about another 45 minutes after I got them up and out, and when I got out of the water, there were 2 busloads of Chinese tourists all at the bottom of the Grotto, about half of them on the rock. So after I got done with my ugly coughing session, I climbed up on the rock in my dive gear, wearing my Scap, only to have them want to start taking pictures with me. So then I had to proceed to stand there and get my picture taken with about 100 Chinese tourists. If I had a dollar for every picture I've had taken with a tourist I could easily retire today.

Then I had to deal blackjack from 7 pm to midnight for the Rotary Club's Las Vegas night. The last couple of years, I've gotten beat badly on the blackjack tables when I've been dealing, but Saturday night I redeemed myself and managed to net $600 on my table. Not bad considering I had to wear an eye patch, couldn't see worth squat, and was enduring hot and cold chills. Sunday I was so sick I couldn't even think about diving, so you know I had to really be sick. And here I am back at work Monday morning, feeling awful, but getting ready to start a new week again. If I don't see drastic improvement in the next day or two, I'm afraid I may have to go in to the hospital and see what's going on. So say a prayer or two for me, we all know that hospitals and I just don't get along.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I did manage to get in 4 dives this past weekend, so my goal of 200 for the year is getting closer all the time. Then I have several new Axe Murderer Tour victims lined up already this month, and one crazy victim who just keeps coming back for more. He's very much like me in many respects, can't get enough diving, and loves taking pictures down there. DJ returns next week with some new strobes for his underwater camera, so we just may have to have a little picture taking contest when he comes. I've had a lot of people talking to me about my pictures lately, some strongly encouraging me to take it to the next level and get serious about marketing them. All in good time, I feel like I'm still learning so much right now that I don't really want to push my pictures too much until I'm happier with the outcomes. I've had several people tell me that photography isn't nearly as much about the equipment as it is the person behind the lens. If you have "the eye" you will capture things that will grab people's attention and make them want to see more of your shots. I've been told I have "the eye". I don't know, but I do know I have a lot of fun looking for different picture subjects down there. I think a big part of the equation is just being in the right place at the right time and being ready to take the shot. In the shot above, when I first saw the little alligator fish laying on the bottom, I thought he had his gills flared out trying to attract a mate or something. Then I got a closer look, and discovered that he was in the process of eating a little butterfly fish, you can see the tail end of the fish sticking out of its mouth, the head of the butterfly fish is in the mouth of the other. Like I said, being in the right place at the right time.I did have a great nudibranch diving weekend! We are heading into the nudibranch mating season right now and they are all coming out to play. The last few weeks at Lau Lau you may have seen dozens and dozens of this particular nudibranch if you were swimming over the sand fingers that run down through the coral. This is a Philinopsis gardineri, they are usually a couple inches long, and when you see one, keep looking, there are usually a bunch more all within a fairly close vicinity. After mating, you will see this nudibranch start covering itself with sand until it completely buries itself. It then begins the process of weaving an egg string into a cacoon around its body, which it then shoves back up through the sand. You will see hundreds of this little cacoons floating up just above the sand. If you look very closely, you might be able to see the individual little egg sacks on the strings that are wound round and round.

I'm not really sure which this nudibranch is as there are several of them that all look very similar, and I haven't figured out what they use to tell them apart yet. So I've submitted it to, and when they put an ID with it, then I'll know what I've got. I found this guy in about 35' of water on a rock right next to the pipeline at Lau Lau. It's one of those places that you just have to look very carefully. But the nudibranch that I got the most excited about from this past weekend was this one. This is a Phyllidiopsis sphingis, and this is only the 2nd one I've ever seen. In Neville Coleman's Nudibranch Encyclopedia, he identifies it as Phyllidiidae - Sphinx Phyllidiopsis. This is a fairly rare nudibranch, and there just aren't that many known photographs of them. I've seen both of them in the same vicinity in the Grotto. When your light hits them, the blue fringe seems like it glows in the dark. The rocks I have found them on seem to have some sort of phosphorescent material on them. I'm guessing they feed on that material, which is what gives them the same quality. This one was a very exciting find for me though, as I was told when I first submitted a picture of it that most underwater photographers who have gotten a picture of them, have only seen them once. Now I believe I have their habitat identified and should be able to find them more often if I just watch those rocks very carefully.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some Cool Discoveries

I was doing a dive last week that I had never done before on Saipan. I know that probably seems very hard to believe that there could be anywhere around this island that I hadn't already been exploring many times, but there are quite a few areas actually that I still have yet to explore. The thing that grabbed my immediate attention about this place was the way that there was a wall on the other side of the reefline that dropped off to about 30-35' and went down to a sandy bottom. One minute you are within inches of the surface and the next, you're in 35' of bright blue water looking down on a sandy bottom. The wall was honeycombed with all kinds of holes and little caves, so I was having a blast squeezing in and out of those. Then all the sudden I came across this very old rusted chain draped across this rock. I gave it a tug, but it was attached, so I started following it to see where it would lead. After about 30' of chain, it led me to this.Can you make it out? I had to swim around it a couple times and then do a double take. It was badly rusted and had obviously been in that exact same spot for many, many years. Here's another look at it from another angle.It's an old anchor, from the looks of it, a very old anchor. A friend of mine looked up the anchor design online and found a fisherman's anchor from the 1800's that looks very much like it. There were a few other metal odds and ends close to the anchor, and there were some things that looked like petrified wood timbers that were now mostly surrounded by coral. From the placement of the anchor, it is quite obvious that whatever kind of boat or ship it was sailed straight into the sheer wall of the reef and sank right on the spot. Because there is a fairly deep sandy bottom there, who knows what might be buried under the sand. I do know that it has me asking a lot of questions and very curious as to what type of ship it might have been. So have you seen this anchor in any of your dives? Do you know where it is? If you ask really nice, I might be willing to take you out with me on my next exploratory dive of this area to do some more investigation.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You Won't Believe This One!

So I think we've all heard about reality TV and some of the shows that have been running for a few years now. I've watched a few of them, but I have to say I'm not really a fan of many of them, so I was quite surprised when I got to work this morning and checked my e-mail only to find an e-mail from a Casting Assistant for one of the shows on American network television. Evidently they were looking for a certain type of person who had some very specific hobbies, and they somehow managed to come across me. I'm guessing this is the picture they saw since it is the one that was up on my blog when they found it. So what kind of crazy TV show would actually consider putting me on it? And this brings a couple questions to mind immediately, am I ready for prime time, and is prime time TV ready for me? No, it wasn't Survivor or The Biggest Loser, and it wasn't Deal or No Deal. The e-mail was from one of the Casting Assistants for ABC TV's Wife Swap. Evidently they are looking for a scuba diving family to do one of their episodes. She said they ran across information about me online and wondered if we would consider being on the show.

I immediately told a friend of mine about it who happened to be online at the time, and he said, that's awesome, you two would be hilarious on that show. So I spent the morning giving it some thought, and thinking about all the different twists that we would wind up bringing to the show. It would definitely be one of their more exotic shows as they would be sending a camera crew to Saipan, and no doubt they would be doing some underwater filming as well, since they are looking for a scuba diving family. Kelli said she felt sorry for the wife who had to come here and endure the power black outs, pick ticks off the dog every night and rescue the poor, helpless geckos from our ruthless cats. A friend of hers, not mine, said that would be nothing compared to having to put up with me all week. But can you imagine someone walking around this island saying that they were my new wife for a week? The reactions they would get would be hilarious. But the publicity for Saipan could be huge. This could be something that would finally show America where Saipan is, and that we are indeed a part of America too!

And where would Kelli wind up, in the Florida Keys? She would love that! But no, they would probably ship her to Iowa or some other place without any decent divable water anywhere near. And what kind of psycho diver would she have to put up with? Could he possibly be as crazy as I am? Would they have young kids that would drive her insane? Would they try to make her eat red meat or chicken?

I have to admit, this show would have huge potential to be absolutely hilarious. But the real question is whether the Producers and Casting Assistants are really willing to expose America to this face or not. Stay tuned, I'll let you know what happens!

Monday, July 7, 2008

128 Dives For The Year And Counting

I know it may seem like I've been sidetracked lately and haven't been diving, nothing could be further from the truth though. Yes, I have started an Axe Murderer Tours online store, and have made 3 sales so far. Not exactly taking off with a roar, but at least it's out there, so when people want one, they know where to go for it now. The long weekend helped push me closer to my goal of 200 dives for the year, as I managed to get in another 7 dives over the weekend. And yes, even though my eye was acting up on one of the days, I still had people that wanted to go diving, so I grabbed my patch and headed out anyway. Let it not be said that Axe Murderer Tours doesn't go above and beyond when trying to deliver the most amazing dives possible. There were so many cool things from the dives this past weekend, I almost don't know where to start. But I guess we'll start with this dive from Thursday afternoon.Maricar & Barry went along with me to Wing Beach to take advantage of a -0.8 low tide, it makes the walk out to the cut sooooooooooooo much easier. Maricar is feeling pretty confident about not only her diving skills these days, but also her navigation as she has been setting out to explore on her own more and more. The good thing is that she's gotten pretty good at spotting things for me and pointing them out so that I go over and take pictures.This big Titan triggerfish wasn't in any hurry to leave whatever it was he was snacking on, so it gave me a chance to get a pretty good shot of him. I'm always wary of these guys though, you just never know when one of them is going to go nuts and come after you, and if you've ever seen the teeth in their mouth, you realize you don't want to have to fight one off or risk being bitten. They are quite impressive to see when you're out there in the water with them though, as they are very big, and command quite a presence in the water.As I was swimming out toward the crevasse, I spotted this little flatworm just swimming along in front of me. I've seen them swimming a couple times before, but it's pretty unusual to spot them swimming like this, you usually find them crawling along the rocks. Trying to get the camera to lock in and focus on a moving target like this is a real challenge, but I did manage to get a couple shots I was happy with.This little brown spotted grouper was just sitting under some coral watching everything around him. I know just how he feels when he's sitting there pretty much invisible to everything else, just observing and taking everything in around him. I enjoy doing that down there as well, just watching and looking for things that I might have overlooked previously. You can learn an awful lot if you take the time to just stay still and watch for a while. A good lesson from this little grouper.I love stopping by this particular coral head and visiting all the baby blue tangs on my way to the crevasse. They are just so bright and vibrant, they certainly add a dash of color and spice to their spot on the bottom. When you get too close they all swim down inside the coral head, so you have to give them a little bit of space to get a picture of them.But the thing I got the most excited about on this dive was this nudibranch that Barry spotted and called me over to see. It is a Phyllidia ocellata, and one I've seen in the books, but have never seen one on Saipan in person. This guy was pretty big, a good 2" long and pretty wide. I shot a couple dozen shots of him wanting to make sure that I got at least a few good ones of him, since it was my first sighting of one on Saipan. This was once again proof to me that you have to go really slow and look carefully at everything on the bottom or you'll miss them entirely.These double banded anemone fish always grab my attention when I see them. They also have striking coloring that really stands out in the blue water or against the anemone itself. They can be a bit of a challenge though, because they never sit still and it's tough to snap the camera at the precise moment they are in the pose you want them in. But once in a while you luck out and get just the shot you were hoping for. This was just another routine Wing Beach dive, but as you can see, even a routine Wing Beach dive is extraordinary!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Axe Murderer Tours Official Online Store

Now I'm not saying that there won't be further modifications to the logo down the road, but this is the first official Axe Murderer Tours logo. I'm hoping to come up with further designs to put on the back of shirts, but right now I finally have some shirts, hats, stickers, magnets and a few assorted other goodies available for sale online. Thanks to Cafepress, there is now an official Axe Murderer Tours store up and running. You can click here and it will take you to the store, or you can click on the logo on the sidebar to go to the store anytime. Now remember, this is just the beginning. But for those who have been chomping at the bit to brand themselves as an official victim of Axe Murderer Tours, here you go! When you click on an item in the store, be sure to read the description carefully, there are a lot of valuable tips included there.

I'm currently in the process of trying to educate Cafepress that the Northern Mariana Islands are indeed a part of the United States and as such U.S. postal rates do apply here. Right now if you live in the CNMI and try placing an order, choosing Northern Mariana Islands in the drop down menu for country, it will automatically calculate the shipping at their international rate, which is by far the most expensive. So I've suggested that they either still offer domestic shipping rates if you list Northern Mariana Islands for your country choice, or that they include it as a state choice if you choose United States as your country. I'm still waiting to hear back from them on whether they will be willing to make that change for me or not. I'll let you know as soon as I get any official notification from them.

And many thanks to Barry Wonenberg for coming up with both a round and a square logo for me to use for Axe Murderer Tours. If we were left to Kelli & I to come up with something, it wouldn't be pretty. Also many thanks to my dive buddy Doug Brennan for coming up with the original designs and ideas, I just couldn't sell Kelli on that real skull Doug, sorry.
Have fun shopping!