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MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef Day Four

Perhaps more as a byproduct of the movie Jaws and the frequent summertime, sensationalist news stories featuring surfboards with the shape of a shark bite missing, non-divers frequently ask whether I'm afraid when I dive.  The almost universal answer from all divers is, "No," and for me especially so since I used to volunteer to get into an aquarium tank with sharks at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

The aquarists always fed the sharks before we got in to feed the remaining fish and then unceremoniously clean the tank, so they were not hungry by the time we got in.  Not so when you're in the open water of the ocean, however.  It's au natural.

Even so, after logging almost 1,000 dives, I have yet to be overly worried about sharks, despite bumping into one while diving.  Frankly, The Bump appeared to frighten both of us equally.  The shark went as fast one direction as I perceived I did in the other, but I guess I'll never know since I didn't stick around to ask.

The North Horn of Osprey Reef, where the big ocean swirls around to the inner reef, proved quite an interesting shark dive, unlike any I've ever been on.  Sometimes, sharks are "known to be prevalent" in an area, but nothing like the area around the Horn.  Prevalent would be an understatement.  Convention would be more like it - estimates ranged to two dozen sharks in what can only be described as an intimately small underwater amphitheater.

Picture an equal number of divers staggered in a semi-circle about thirty-five feet deep, with our backs to a graduated, but steep wall, and a pinnacle outcropping about 15 feet away in the center of the semi-circle.

Grey sharks, white-, silver- and black-tipped reef sharks abounded in expectation of the shark feed about to begin.  Like Pavlov's dog, the arrival of a dive boat dropping divers into the water followed by the whine of the outboard motor of the boat's tender together signaled to the sharks that frozen tuna was on its way. 

Eager with anticipation, the divers sat and leaned against the wall, bubbles excitedly streaming from their regulators, hands held in tight for fear of being part of the feed since we were not in cages or otherwise protected.  The metal garbage can full of the tuna dropped from the surface tender, the top popped off the can and a single line of seven or eight very large bait fish rose upward, each tied by brown hemp rope to a thick grey and clanking metal chain. 

Immediately, the sharks' pectoral fins went from the flat, cruising-around mode to the downward angled plane-of-attack mode.  Backs arched and the sharks turned for the bait. 

Frenzied, twisting bodies darted in from all directions and the feed had begun.  As the sharks opened their jaws to swallow basket-ball size chunks of meat, their sharp teeth immediately sliced through scales and bone like a hot knife through butter.  It was an incredibly humbling experience to watch the ocean's highest predator show exactly why it earned that moniker, and convincingly demonstrate why I needed to keep my hands close to my body. 

Almost as fast as it started, it was over.  The sharks had completely consumed the bait, and smaller fish rushed in to pick up the table scraps.  Our divemaster signaled the end of the shark feed, and we were free to swim among the remaining sharks, which were not the least bit interested in us since we were obviously neither sick nor dying, the two staples of a shark's diet.

It was unnerving even so to imagine which of the remaining sharks we swam among had not gotten any of the bait.  I just couldn't get the musical theme to Jaws out of my head.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, March 30, 2007 at 19:56 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef Day Three

Orion, one of the most recognizable star clusters in the night sky because of his three-starred belt, is far north of its typically mid- to southern position where I usually spot it, despite living in Southern California.  Here in Down Under, Orion looks out of place, but I quickly realize that I'm the one out of place. 

Given my new-found location in the Earth's rotation, that old Christopher Cross song, Sailing Away, plays in my head, reminding me to look for the Southern Cross, a mythically beautiful set of stars for someone who's never been South of the Equator.  We'll likely have one of the best places to see it.  Out in the middle of Osprey Reef, a ten-hour boat ride from the Northeast side of Australia, there's no land in site, and there hasn't been for the last eight hours.

We're truly in the middle of nowhere, looking for a coral reef a mile or so long and perhaps half a mile at its widest in order to find an anchorage point for tomorrow.  Our skipper tells us that when Captain Cook first explored Australia in the early 1700's in a tall ship, he managed to find his way into one of the slots in the Great Barrier Reef, but it took him months to find a way out.  Then again, he had only square sails and a sextant.  We have GPS.

At 2:00 a.m., it's deep into the night, and all traces of light have disappeared except the twinklers above.  The dark blue ocean pulls light into it like a black hole, and the sky is otherwise inky black, offering no hope of spotting the horizon, given the blend of blue to black.  Even so, you can spot the entire lateral circle of the horizon:  the sky encompasses 180 degrees edge to edge in all directions -- and the stars end where the ocean begins.

Despite the innumerable white dots, there it is, in all its glory, Southeast in the celestial globe and a much larger constellation than I could have imagined.  The Southern Cross.  The five stars of the Cross symbolically positioned on the Australian flag do an injustice to its size, which seems to stretch a good one-fourth of the night sky from the constellation's top to its bottom. 

They glow a very hot white compared to the other stars, almost planet-like in their brilliance.  Or perhaps its just my imagination.  No matter; they're glorious, in a word, despite a full moon competing for attention. 

The sky is a prelude to our upcoming night dive on the reef.  We drop in to the dark blue, primordially pulled into the warmth of the water to spot fish and other nocturnal critters.  Our torches (that's Australian for flashlights, mate) illuminate the depths and highlight those fish who  would otherwise hide, a dangerous result for some of the smaller fish:  the Trevally fish has learned to use diver's spotlights on the small fry almost as a "for sale" sign.  You shine your light on a small fish, and a big, two-foot long Trevally swoops past you into the beam of your light and whoosh, there's no small fish at the end of the beam anymore. 

At the end of the night dive, we pop back up to the surface with no doubt where the horizon exists since we're on it; experience is a pretty good teacher.  Above, the stars still twinkle and shine their flashlights down on us as we ironically bob in the waves. 

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 19:54 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef Day Two

Australians are full of wonderfully descriptive words to more colorfully communicate The Things We Already Understand.  While on the last leg of my flight from Auckland New Zealand to Cairns, Australia, the stewardess addressed the plane's turbulence on the intercom by advising us to please check that our "lap belts are favorably fastened." 

When our  Divemaster apologized after the newly-retrofitted-for-the-last-four-weeks dive boat was eight hours late leaving the dock, and even then under only one diesel engine instead of two, we knew exactly what he meant when he said things had "just gotten all higgledy-piggledy." 

They don't need to sell a book on how to translate Australian into English, but if they did, I'm sure it would be both hilarious and colorful.

But once you're underwater in the Great Barrier Reef, no translation book, dictionary or words can do it justice.  Given our late start last night, we hobbled up to Undine Reef from Cairns, where the old lighthouse stands no longer, leaving only a small spit of sand to govern the surrounding Sergeant Majors, Fusiliers, Bombardiers, and other schools of important-sounding fish. 

The boat may have hobbled, but underwater was nonpareil.  The colors astound, and the multitude of species of hard and soft corals, clams, turtles, nudibranchs and just about everything else burst from everywhere.  It's hard to absorb from behind a scuba mask diving here for the first time.  

Perhaps the best way to draw the comparison is between land snails and nudibranchs.  Land snails are brown, covered in a brown shell.  Boring, in a word.  Underwater it's quite different, however.  Nudibranchs are perhaps cousins of snails, yes, but color-wise, they are the Carmen Miranda of the ocean, and even that comparison doesn't do them justice. 

One nudibranch, called a Spanish dancer, is brilliant, two-inch-long elongated dark-neon blue shell-less body, surrounded by a wavy and equally neon orange frill that dances as the edges of its half-inch wide body undulates in a sine wave, propelling itself through the water, adorned with a similarly-bright, neon orange headdress of soft spikes, quite akin to a crown. 

As the Australians would say, "Brilliant."  There's no other word to describe it.

Tomorrow, MIPTC catches a glimpse of the Southern Cross after a sumptuous, champagne sunset over the coastline.  And yes, we found Nemo today, right there in his anemone home.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 19:46 Comments (0) |

MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Travel to Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Getting to the Great Barrier Reef is half* the story:  I left Orange County yesterday and got here the day after tomorrow.  Now hold on there a moment and give that last phrase it's due.  It's my first time crossing the International Date Line, which runs a straight-with-a-jog line from the North Pole to the South Pole, somewhere far out there in the Pacific Ocean.  Just think of the consequences of the juxtaposition of those words. 

It's degrees of magnitude that are hard to imagine.

And hard to travel.  You leave from California one day and get to Australia two days later - after traveling 11,000 miles over the course of two continents and three countries and in my case, two sunsets and two breakfasts.  I don't remember the sunrises, though.  Your sleep clock becomes a foreign language.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner simply turn into unnamed meals served when you're not hungry, like it or not.

It's equally difficult to call and converse with those back home.  The "easy-to-use" formula to figure out the time differential goes something like this:  subtract six hours (seven if they're on daylight savings time) from the current time and then convert a.m. to p.m.  Or so it's supposed to work.  I just gave up and started sending emails because every one was asleep when I called in the middle of my day.

But once you're here, it's more than worth it.  The people speak the same language that, thanks to Crocodile Dundee and his several movies, I somewhat understand, mate.  The food is for the most part the same as back home, with the added attractions of innumerable variations on lamb, kangaroo meat, and for the uninitiated, Vegemite, the national food, er, I mean, pastime.  Sort of.

Vegemite is a black, tar-like, supposedly vegetable-based concoction they call a "yeast extract cracker spread" that I think was actually dreamed up by Exxon to sell more oil.  And salt.  The stuff never goes bad, but one Australian native gave away its real purpose:  the Australian Army uses it for a torture device:  as in, "Tell me everything, or I'll make you eat Vegemite."  The black goop has the consistency of almost-dried glue and worse yet, sticks to just about everything it touches.  Trust me on this one, though, even glue tastes better. 

Aside from Vegemite and the occasional oddity like fighting kangaroos and comprehending a land mass the same geographic size as the US with the population of Los Angeles, Australia is a wonderfully warm and welcoming country, and the Fall season temps on land and underwater are quite moderate and comfortable.  Even when things get all higgledy-piggledy (which I'll explain tomorrow) Australians remain unflappable and friendly in just about every regard. 


*  MIPTC has been out of electronic reach of the Internet for the last week, on a dive boat in the Coral Sea, South of Papua New Guinea and North of Australia.  Here's the catch-up of what's been going on, with several more travel posts to follow.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at 19:39 Comments (0) |

Network Digital Video Recorders Suffer Setback From Movie Studio Lawsuit

Ya gotta love cable companies.  They'll try any way to make a buck.  Unfortunately for you and me, this one didn't work.  The movie studios say it's fortunate it didn't work, but you can be the judge.  Here's the skinny:  New York's Cablevision System Corp., a cable company with just over three million subscribers, rented Network Digital Video Recorders to its customers.

Sure, you say, that's nothing new, and you'd be right.  But only partly right.

Cablevision's NDVR had a unique feature that no other DVR has.  It connects to the servers at the cable company.  Imagine a virtually unlimited library of videos.  All television shows.  All movies.  All documentaries.  OK, forget the documentaries.  I was sold when they said movies.  You pay Cablevision for access to their video library, and when Cablevision bought the movie, it had already paid the movie studio royalties, and presumably the movie studios then paid the actors. 

At least that was the way it was supposed to work.

Until the movie studios (Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, NBC Studios, CNN and Turner Broadcasting System) sued Cablevision.  Apparently Cablevision didn't pay the movie studio for each time one of its subscribers downloaded one of its movies to one of its NDVRs.  Now think about how creative this solution is.  Cablevision bought and paid for the movie.  Cablevision put the movie on its network servers.  Cablevision then rented its NDVRs to you and me. 

In other words, the movie was always on a Cablevision-owned piece of equipment.   It argued, therefore, that it didn't have to pay another royalty to the movie studios each time the movie was moved from one piece of its equipment to another piece of its equipment.

Not surprising, the movie studios didn't see it that way.  They argued that they were due a royalty each time the movie was viewed, much like Netflix or a movie rental store does.

In a ruling last Thursday, the judge ruled in favor of the movie studios, and said the setup violated copyright laws.

Cablevision is considering an appeal.  Someday, someone will figure out a way to create a Library of Congress-style video library. 

Until then, hope springs eternal.

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, March 26, 2007 at 09:35 Comments (0) |

Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Gets Technical

On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we will give a preview of what's new in the world of tech by taking you to the 2007 ABA Tech Show, taking place this week, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.  We discuss the latest in tech gadgets, the education and training sessions offered at the ABA Tech Show and looking ahead to technology and how law firms are dealing with the ever-changing tech world. Join me and my fellow blogger and Lawyer to Lawyer co-host Bob Ambrogi as we welcome the tech experts:  Adriana Linares, legal technology trainer for LawTech Partners and blogger for I ♥ Tech and Dan Pinnington, Director of practicePRO and Chair of the 2007 ABA TechShow. Check it out!


Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 11:39 Comments (0) |

Blawg Review Turns 100 Today, And It's A Carnival Roundup!

If you're looking for something to read today, try Blawg Review 100, which recounts all 100 of the previous blawg reviews, and details what's going on this week for those blawggers.  It's a milestone in the blawgosphere you won't want to miss!

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, March 18, 2007 at 13:24 Comments (0) |

Leprechauns Banned From School By Principal For Green Hair

Self-expression is one of the keys to individuality.  Consider leprechauns, for example.  Two of them, Jaclyn Timmering and Kurisa Suhr, put on some Irish outfits (what else?), dyed their hair green and went to John H. Eader Elementary school in Huntington Beach yesterday.  The two, eight-year-old third graders had planned their St. Patrick's Day celebration for weeks, wearin' plenty o' green and even T-shirts that read:  "Be Lucky" and "Good Luck Girl."

Unfortunately, the St. Patrick's Day celebration turned into a dud. 

Their Principal, Cynthia Guerrero, was none too happy with their temporarily-sprayed green hair, applied willingly by Jaclyn's mother.  When the green-clad and green-maned girls arrived at school, the Principal gave the girls three choices:  wash the dye out, spend the day in the Principal's office or go home.  The girls were crestfallen.  What had planned to be "the best day" of their lives turned into the worst.  The girls' school district in Huntington Beach has a policy that discourages dyed hair. 

The problem with the policy, however, is that it can only be unevenly applied.  Many Irish folks that I know, including their children, have red hair.  As a Welshman, I have brown hair (yes, I know it's got more grey in it, but stay with me here).  In the summertime, my hair starts to turn red from the sun.  When I was younger, say for example eight years old, my hair could easily go from brown to substantially red, pretty much on its own.  My daughter's hair is blonde, and she can turn it more blonde overnight.  Perhaps surprising to us all, many blondes are not true blondes, and many other hair colors may not be completely natural.

If you're a Principal who likes purple - not a hairdresser - how do you know for sure?

Green hair, and perhaps a few others like blue or magenta are easy to spot and punish.  But I'm willing to go out on a limb here and bet that the Huntington Beach School District does not evenly enforce this policy among its students, and especially among its high school students. 

Beyond the unequal treatment (we lawyers would call it arbitrary and capricious), it's a celebration for God's sake.  Let the kids have some fun for a day.

What  should we expect from a Principal whose choice of a "historical figure to have dinner with" is Oprah Winfrey (see her response to Question #9 in the "purple" link above)?  MIPTC suggests we send the Principal to a day of sensitivity training, and let the little leprechauns dress up and have a good time.  

Printer friendly page Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 10:44 Comments (2) |

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