Monday, December 31, 2007

Fun New Monday's Eve Party

For whatever reason New Year's Day wasn't actually given as a holiday down here this year, so we had to settle for having a big bash on Sunday night to serve in its stead. The gymnasium was all decorated up nicely, with the main decoration being a giant parachute under which most large social functions at Pole are held. All the windows were necessarily blacked out to give it that sufficiently dim atmosphere necessary for a dance. Nobody wants to be seen gyrating in the full light of day, or maybe that's just me. I stuck around to the very end at around 3:30 AM, and was back up at work by 8:00 AM.

Cleaning up that following morning reminded me of all the mornings after the Halloween parties my family used to throw when I was a kid. Gathering the empty bottles and cans, and finding them stashed in all manner of places besides in the trash bins took a while. I also washed up all the glasses and cups that had been taken from the galley so there would be some available for people to use during brunch in the galley.

I got to spend most of the afternoon then doing a multi-hour calibration of an instrument of mine out in the Atmospheric Research Observatory. After dinner I spent a while in the band room playing (well, attempting to play) guitar with Tim, who wowed everybody with his mean licks during the (Near) New Year's Eve Party. I'm going to try and practice the instrument again, which I've done on and off again since high school. I'm pretty rusty right now, but I've still ten months here to keep at it. My first homework assignment is "Horse with No Name" by America, which should be pretty simple as it pretty much has only three chords throughout the entire song.

In the desert, no one remembers your name...

Friday, December 28, 2007

AGAP deep field progress

Between going through a lot of our scientific cargo we have to install at AGAP, and a late night meeting with one of the mountaineers supporting the camp, we got a relatively large amount of information and confidence yesterday about this Low-Power Magnetometer installation that will be happening in the relatively near future.

The meeting served mostly to let us know what to expect when we get to the camp. There is not a whole lot of infrastructure there yet. The main buildings are reinforced tents and yurts, and we'll be sleeping in our own mountain tents. The altitude can be really nasty there, and we'll have to take it easy the first few days to avoid getting pulmonary and/or cerebral edema. It's considerably colder there, and is currently in the -30s Fahrenheit. This is essentially the highest region of the Antarctic Plateau, and while there are peaks that are higher this is as gnarly as the Flat White can get.

It's going to be a challenge, but I think we're up to it. Last year I often felt like I was having the real Antarctic experience hidden from me by the relatively luxurious conditions at McMurdo. I wanted to get out and have a real field camp experience, and that's definitely what this is going to be.

It's definitely going on my resume.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Progress on the arch renovation into the logistics facility continues apace. The construction crews have shifted the old arch sections up onto the footer walls, and there is no direct path between the elevated station and the Dome any longer.

Here is also a picture from the galley during the Christmas dinner we had Monday night. It's amazing how just making a normally (during the summer) brightly lit room dark by covering the windows can so totally change the ambiance. That, and filling it with people nicely dressed up, instead of a bunch of folks in work clothes.

Last night I was down in the gym doing a practice drill that we're going to run the fire brigade through sometime soon, and I overheard one of the bands in the practice room doing a cover of a Radiohead song. I have to say I was very impressed, and am really looking forward to their set during the big New Year's party this Sunday night.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Chilly lungs

Well, despite not having trained for it at all, I was fairly satisfied with my 22:08 time to finish the Race Around the World's roughly two miles. There were plenty of costumes to be had. I wore an old fleece ski had that sort of looks like dreadlocks to spice up my attire. Outside the track for the runners and walkers was another track for people riding on vehicles to lend encouragement to the pedestrians. It was a lot of fun, and the only bad thing was breathing so much cold air. I did the first lap with my neck gaiter pulled up, but it froze over so that my airway was restricted enough to be uncomfortable with the exertion. Everybody got a t-shirt, and they have a really cool, almost Soviet propaganda-like, design on the back.

After finishing my day's work and helping out in in the dish room after dinner, I worked out with my regular lifting partner doing a shoulders/triceps workout that left me unable to even do a push-up while on my knees by the end. We improvised a new means of doing dips using two stationary bikes side by side, so I'm pretty stoked about trying to work back up to anywhere near my high school record 69 dips. It's a long-term project, for sure.

From there it was off to pub trivia in the galley, which was a lot of fun as always. Most of us sat around chatting for quite a while after that concluded, and it was a great way to finish off a really enjoyable holiday.

Monday, December 24, 2007

rugs not cut...shredded

Well, on Christmas Eve I put in my day's work 6am-6pm, and then had to rush to get cleaned up for our fancy dinner. I managed to get myself seated with a bunch of people I didn't know, so it wasn't as much fun as it could have been. Beef Wellington and lobster tails were the main entrees for the evening. After dessert, I opted for the sweet potato pie, the dining room was gradually cleared out and converted to a dance floor.

It took a little while, but eventually the place was really jumping. I stood on the sidelines watching and wishing I were a bit more comfortable joining the fray. It's like a switch that goes off inside me at events like this, and has been ever since my first middle school dance in the Presby Church way back in the day. To say that I get really reticent to hit the dance floor is an understatement on the order of declaring that there are a few people in China or that Bill Gates has a decent income. Anyway, a bunch of girls solved that problem for me when I was just trying to walk out to go change into some more comfortable shoes. I was dragged onto the dance floor, surrounded by some of the aforementioned lovely ladies of SP, and-to put it mildly-initiated into the arcana of the socially extroverted. I am dubious whether my flailing constituted decent dancing as such, but it was fun none the less. I really have no idea how to dance with a partner, and would like to learn how to swing dance or even do some of the country steps. It would make it a lot easier for me to get out there if I didn't feel like I was going to look like a fool. I stuck around to the very end of the gathering, and helped reconstruct the dance floor after the last song.

This morning it's back to work. I'll probably take time out to participate in the Race Around the World, but won't be a contender for finishing anywhere near the front of the pack.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A very white Christmas

Well, there are no worries about that little aesthetic attribute of the holiday environs when you have two miles of the white stuff on the ground...

I attended a fun little wine and cheese party last night here in the science lab. It was generally set up by the Meteorology Dept. folks, but some of us Science Support guys chipped in to help buy the wine. I had to abstain from all but the cheese as I was on-call for the fire brigade, as always.

Most of the station has the next two days off for the holidays, but I'm still here doing the same old, same old for science. I guess I'm just getting more adapted to that fact, and have worked plenty of holidays in my time. We will be getting some visitors this evening from one of the traverses that will be rolling into Pole after a long drive on the Flat White. It should be interesting to see how they meld with the rest of the crowd down here.

I've almost finished reading William Gibson's "Spook Country", and am very much looking forward to taking a gander at my parents' Christmas gift of the graphic novel "The Gunslinger Born", which is based upon the books in "The Dark Tower" series written by a favorite author of mine: Stephen King. Speaking of whom, I want to find his contact information and send him a "thank you" postcard for all the enjoyment his works have brought me.

A "thank you" to all of you as well that have taken the time to read all that I've had to say on this blog thus far. I hope it hasn't proved to be too much of a waste of time. I've enjoyed doing this far more than I ever imagined, and will do my best to keep the posts interesting and regularly updated as much as the crunch time of summer permits.

Please travel safely if you're headed anywhere for the holidays.

Friday, December 21, 2007

MCI complete, whew!

Well, the MCI drill happened yesterday morning. It simulated a bulldozer running into the Summer Camp head unit and causing a fire and chlorine gas release. Team 2 did a good job with all 8 patient extractions, and while we could have done things better (when isn't that the case, regardless of any team's experience) it went off quite well. We managed not to get any of our responders hurt or killed, which I guess has been a problem in MCI drills in the past. I was very glad to have spent so many hours working extra on the fire brigade, and it was a marked difference in comfort and confidence in my position as lead even compared to just our previous drills in the last couple weeks. I think I understand what skills and topics our training will need to cover in the coming weeks, and hopefully we can address them and become an even more solid and competent team than we are already. It's amazing how quickly people are picking up on a lot of this, despite having a good number of us having such little firefighting experience before coming down here. I'll see if I can get any body's permission to use any pictures from the drill, since I was a little too busy and encumbered to be taking any of my own.

Today is thankfully much less hectic, and I'm all geared up to go eat chicken fried steak for lunch. La vita e bella!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fast Times at SP

We've had a lot going on down here as of late.

Last weekend I got to drive one of these Pisten Bully vehicles to take overnight campers out to their campsite.

A couple nights ago we had a C-17 airdrop cargo into SP. It's much too heavy to land on our runway, but they can still open up the old cargo doors and let fly from 1,500 feet:

Yesterday I finally got to head out on snowmobiles with three other folks to do our snow accumulation monitoring run along a 20-kilometer line of stakes away from the station. It was overcast the whole time, so the light was very flat and there was little definition visible to the terrain even right in front of you. This made for a really rough ride, because you never could really see what the terrain was doing. We made it about half-way back along the line, measuring the snow stakes, but the visibility really shut down to less than 500 meters, which was the spacing of the stakes, so when we radioed back in to the station they ordered us to stop measuring and return directly home. It was a bit hairy at times, trying to pick out the stakes from the soft-white glow that became our surreal world for those 10 kilometers, but we eventually could discern a shadow on the horizon that eventually resolved itself into the South Pole Station. All in all, it wasn't a whole lot of fun, but it definitely was a reminder of how many ways this environment can make you dead or dying very quickly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New link

I just added a link to my old mission, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (a.k.a. SOHO). I worked there for three years, and it just tied in with my work here recently. I have been noticing increased auroral activity on some of our monitors just as reports start to come out-citing SOHO observations-that the new build-up to the solar maximum maybe is in its initial stages. The auroras are driven by solar activity, so it's cool seeing that link from both sides at two radically different jobs. They have loads of awesome images and movies on the web page, and it's definitely worth taking a gander.



Sometimes with an average of 85-90 hours on your time card per week, things can get a little jam-packed, hence the dearth of posts on this digital sounding board for my state of affairs. Sorry about that!

We finished hacking the last components of the Low-Power Magnetomoeter out of the ice beyond ARO two days past, and are now waiting to to receive an installation manual from the project so we will know how to put it all back together again. As far as I know the first week of January is still the tentative time when we will be heading out to the lofty climes of the Gamburtsev Province to do the installation.

We have some more emergency responder excitement coming up fairly soon. Sometime in the next week or so we will hold our Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) drill. Last year they had a real MCI in the power plant at SP on the day the drill was set to occur, and there were people who were unsure whether it was for real or not. There will be a lot more for the Fire Brigade to take care of during this drill, but I'm sure our firefighters are up to the challenge.

I also found out a couple nights ago that not only did McMurdo Station get to have a screening of the documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon", but the director of the movie also came along to the station! Hopefully, since they're obviously thinking about the parallels between the space and Antarctic programs, Pole won't get left out in the cold (pardon the pun, it was just too easy). I just hope that McMurdo doesn't end up getting the new Indiana Jones movie next year instead of us at Pole, because that might cause some irreparable psychological trauma inside my already over-taxed noggin.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's on, baby!

The deployment to AGAP is now virtually assured, and will likely be during the first week of January for 3-5 days. Exciting stuff!

Yesterday evening I drove a Pisten Bully full of campers out a few miles from the station to their campsite. It's amazing that the PB I was driving had to have a glycol leak. Either it's just that those vehicles aren't very reliable, or I'm somehow being cursed every time I drive one.

I took a sauna here for the first time, but it didn't seem hot enough. I didn't bother to look for the thermostat. It was still enough to leave me steaming when I stepped outside. We finally went off water rationing, and I got my first shower in a week. It is amazing how much better even just a 2-minute shower can make you feel.

It was bingo night in the galley, and that was as rowdy as usual. I stayed up talking with friends far later than I should have, given the early hour the LPM work was set to begin Sunday morning.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Gettin' the heck outta Pole!

Don't worry, it's in a good, no, a GREAT way! Due to some organizational and logistical difficulties (to put things diplomatically), my compatriot the Cryo Tech (on the left) and I will be heading off for the higher, colder Antarctic Gamburtsev Province (AGAP) to install an autonomous magnetometer experiment that is currently located here at Pole. We just spent a couple hours digging down to access the electronics boxes and the sensor itself. The project personnel will arrive here today, and we'll begin to uninstall and package the equipment for transport to AGAP. Then the two of us will be trained on how to install and calibrate the instrument. We're going to be flying 100s of kilometers (I'm not sure exactly how far it is to the camp) and about 4,000 feet higher to the AGAP camp where we will install the Low-Power Magnetometer (LPM). I'm not sure if we'll fly on a Twin Otter, LC-130, or Basler. Anyhow, it's definitely a pretty rare experience, and we're both pretty pumped about getting to go. I guess we might be out there a tentative 5 days, weather permitting of course.

The only downside is that we might miss the New Year's celebration here. But, I wouldn't be getting any kisses at midnight, so I might as well be somewhere digging big holes in the ice, lugging lots of gear, assembling electronics, and breathing even less oxygen than here.

Sounds like my kind of party!

Photo credit: The one and only Mr. Baker

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lovely weather, NOT!

Even though the temperatures here are now in the minus-teens, there is a 25-knot wind that nobody appreciates. I was supposed to take three other people out on a trip 20 km from the station to measure snow accumulation along a line of stakes today, but the visibility is just too poor for us to be able to navigate between the stakes. Oh well, it will get rescheduled for some hopefully nicer day.

My weight lifting partner and I did a leg workout last night that left me unsteady and hobbling down stairs, but this morning I'm a lot better. We finished the workout off with some lunges and wall-sits in the gym that were real killers. It's amazing how quickly you can find yourself very out of breath and panting when doing exercises that you always took for granted as being more anaerobic down at reasonable altitudes.

So, sorry, no cool pictures from out in the Flat White today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let's get physical (& frigid)

It seems like the last few days have been some of the more physical ones so far on the Ice. I've been lifting weights again, and have been pretty sore from that. We also had a large group of folks working on the AGAP project arrive and set up shop out in the cryogenics facility (because that's the only place with enough warm space to accommodate them). They have brought down a whole bunch of equipment that will be assembled into 10 autonomous seismic stations that will be deployed in the deep field in East Antarctica to study the very high altitude Gamburtsev Province that is characterized by a range of mountains that are totally covered by the ice sheet. The medical staff AGAP brought along is being extremely tentative about letting the project members do much physical exercise before they start heading off to altitudes of ~13,000 feet, so the science support staff got to do most of the heavy lifting for them yesterday.

I stayed and helped the "Cryo Boy" (my job sadly doesn't have a nickname) do a fill of liquid helium into a smaller dewar-an insulated vessel-to transport out to the Dark Sector for the BICEP telescope. Filled, the dewar weighed about 435 lbs. While filling it our ventilation wasn't quite right in the cryo facility and we set off one of the low-oxygen alarms in the cryo facility. We had to shut down and ventilate, and let the right people know we were OK so they didn't activate the emergency response teams to come to our rescue. In the afternoon we transported the dewar to MAPO on a snow mobile sled, and I then started in on the daily checks for my Cusp Tech position.

In the evening I watched "Cool Hand Luke", which is a great flick. Everybody was joking around afterwards about how we should harass our supervisors with the lingo that the prisoners had to use to the guards, and how if you did anything wrong you got a "night in the box".

Publishing this post, boss!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

tours, talks, & trivia

In addition to my regular daily work, I got most of the fire brigade to tour the main power plant and elevated station facilities yesterday. We only have one more tour to go and we will have pretty much gotten everybody to the major locations on station where we might have to perform an emergency response. Tim, who works in the power plant and is also on the fire brigade, did a really great job thoroughly explaining what was in each room and what hazards there are. I think the 4,000-Volt conduit areas really got every body's attention. It sure did mine.

In the evening I attended a two-part science lecture that covered outreach to kids about science with a polar spin and also ultraviolet radiation monitoring here at SP. Afterwards we had what seemed like the most sedate gathering for pub trivia yet. I think everybody was just pretty tired by that time of day. This is starting to get far enough into the season that fatigue can start to build up, and people start to slow down.

This weekend I finally got two postcards sent off in the mail. One is to George Lucas, and the other is to Steven Spielberg. I wrote to thank them for their great movies that have been so much fun for most of my life, and also to see if it would be possible for us at South Pole to maybe get a copy of the new "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" sent down before the station closes for the winter. It'd be a fun social event to have a "Hollywood premiere" down here early in the winter. I'm sure the odds are against it happening, but I had to try. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was released on my third birthday, and I've been a fan of Dr. Henry "we named the dog Indiana" Jones, Jr. as long as I can remember.

I'm also attempting to get us a copy of the Apollo space program documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon", which would be appropriate given this is the fiftieth anniversary of the International Geophysical Year in 1957. That year not only saw the first manned satellite launched into orbit (Sputnik), but the first permanent research base at the South Pole was constructed then as well as part of the IGY. We are currently supporting the activities of the International Polar Year, and the new station's dedication ceremony will be held here next month, so there is an overlap of current events and history that is really interesting. I feel very lucky to be here at this point in history.

Cross your fingers for us!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Weekend shenanigans

Well, the big fun last night was a viewing of the documentary filmed here (I believe by National Geographic) about the new station's construction during the last season or two. It was fun seeing familiar faces and taking part in all the cat-calling, cheering, and (a few times) booing the screen. Everybody got a kick out of how the program tried to dramatize routine things like vehicles not starting right away due to the cold. It was neat to see the station how it was not too long ago, and to see folks a little bit younger.

I also went and hit the weights for the first time last night, and taking my shower it felt great to be so sore again that I could barely raise my arms to shampoo my hair. Stuff like that always reminds me of high school, and how much time I used to spend lifting to keep in shape for football and track.

The first of two chances to go out and camp happened this weekend. There were going to be three weekends of it, but weather last week was bad and they couldn't go out. It was probably a pretty cold night for folks, as we had ~14 knots of wind and the windchill was down in the -50sF. I may try to go next weekend, but don't know exactly how my science tech stuff and firefighting responsibilities will be covered.

Today, Sunday, we're having another facilities tour of the main power plant and elevated station for the fire brigade. They're both really critical facilities, so I hope everybody shows up to learn about what obstacles face us should we have any major responses in either building.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Yesterday we had the first of our non-government activity (NGA) visitors show up at Pole for their 3-hour tour. They came through the science lab, and we talked to them some about what science is going on here. I think the biggest hit with my stuff was showing them the Very Low Frequency receiver and turning on the speaker so they could hear all the pops and hisses as we monitor what are essentially all the static discharges (i.e. lightning, mostly) on the planet from this one location.

I found myself glad that I came down here the way I did: as an employee that gets to stay for 13 months and thoroughly get to experience the place for what it is. It seems like such a short visit after such a long trip would have left me wanting more. It would have been like me arriving at Easter Island after spending all that time sailing there this past year, and then just hopping on a plane as soon as I got ashore. Sure, you'd get to see the few moai right by the port, but there's so much more the place has to offer.

Ditto for Pole.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Weeks like water

It's starting to get kind of scary how fast the weeks are flowing into the past. I haven't had too much "Groundhog Day" Syndrome yet, since things are still pretty new. It's amazing how quickly the season jumps up to the end-of-year holidays on the Ice, and then January and February are gone in a snap too. Summer is fleeting, but winter will definitely endure.

I held a little volunteer firefighting practice session last night, and had a couple guys show up. We donned bunker gear as fast we could, both setting up for immediate use of SCBA to enter a scene and also with our SCBA mask and regulator tucked inside our coats to protect them should we have to travel very far outside in the cold. We just use standard firefighting gear down here, and it's not really designed to operate in temperatures down to and exceeding -100F. There is not much of a market for that capability, so we make due with what we have. Next, we did some patient carries and drags for both firefighters and non-firefighters. When you have a downed firefighter you can use their SCBA backpack and straps as good handholds to pick them up or drag them. Extracting unconscious patients that aren't wearing this type of gear can be tricky since they get all floppy and hard to hold onto, but with a little insight and a few tricks it can be done without too much frustration. It also helps to be in decent physical shape, especially here where our physiological altitude is regularly over 10,000 feet above sea level.

Work on the arches for the new logistics facility continues to remake the face of South Pole. The entrance to the Dome is now gone, which in a way is a little sad. I haven't heard whether progress on the project is meeting scheduled goals, but it has drastically changed in the nearly two months since I arrived.

One of the guys who works out at ARO for NOAA has had a little art project he's been working on over the last couple weeks. It was fun to see it gradually emerge from the leeward drift of ARO. It's too bad that nobody else was out at ARO to stand by the carving to give it scale, but believe me it's big.

When I was down here last year they had carvings from blocks of snow that had been cut and placed out near the ceremonial pole marker. It's amazing what snow this dense and dry can be shaped into, and how walking on it usually sounds exactly like you're walking on Styrofoam.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Donnie Darko

So, yesterday was fairly unremarkable. I did my work. I ate a few meals. The London Broil for dinner was excellent. But, then I watched a little movie titled "Donnie Darko" with a couple friends, and totally had my mind blown. I don't know if it's because I haven't been watching many movie or TV DVDs and am getting overly sensitized to external media stimuli, but this flick absolutely blew my socks off. The whole film did a great job of building tension, and it all culminated in a really haunting ending sequence. The musical score did a terrific job of dovetailing with the images and dialogue to heighten the feelings that the film makers intended you to feel. I had heard for a long time that this was a really good movie, but was not at all prepared for my viewing experience last night!

One interesting thing I did do yesterday was get the training session to serve as a tour guide for NGA (Non-Government Activity) groups that show up at Pole. This could be anybody from people that have skied here from the coast to folks that have paid upwards of $30k for a 3-hour fly-in visit to 90 south. That's right, I can brag that I've given tours that cost $10,000 per hour! There are all sorts of rules and guidelines that must be observed when people outside the U.S. Antarctic Program show up here, but it still should be interesting to meet some of these folks that have either gone through great physical and/or financial exertions to get here. It's a nice feeling to know that I get paid to be here, and that my stay is "significantly longer".

Later this week the fire brigade will likely be getting tours of the main and emergency power plants, so I'll probably get some pictures posted from those facilities.

Monday, December 3, 2007

fire drills & warming planets

Well, after many delays and much preemption, I finally got to run through my communications drill with Team 2 last night. It went pretty well, but like always we had issues keeping our radio channel open. Some people's radios didn't work correctly, so it seems to be a perpetual struggle against our infrastructure is something we have to accept. I guess I was expecting more enthusiasm after the drill completed, but suppose people might have just been still processing all the information that had been thrown at them pretty quickly.

After the drill was over there was a presentation put on by a visiting scientist from McMurdo. He was one of the folks trained by Al Gore's organization to give the "An Inconvenient Truth" presentation about global climate change that won Gore the Nobel Prize. It was all interesting, but not too much of it was new to me: a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fun Sunday

Well, despite having to work for the 49th consecutive day, I had a really great time on Sunday. I finally bought a couple postcards to send to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Yeah, those two guys, because they're making a new Indiana Jones movie, and I want to see it sooner than when I get off the Ice. Hopefully dropping the A-bomb (i.e. mentioning Antarctica) will get some attention.

In the afternoon a group of uninhibited folks gathered out at the Pole, marked out their spots in the snow, and took turns donning a Jedi robe and wielding a light saber. The individual pictures are all going to be stitched together into a group shot in Photo Shop, so that should be a lot of fun to finally get to see. I think the woman, Mary, who orchestrated the whole thing is going to submit it to Star Wars Insider magazine to beat the previous "southernmost" claim for a Star Wars costume picture at another non-U.S. base. It'll be interesting to see if it gets published. I have naturally requested my light saber to be green. Anything else would be uncivilized.

The highlight of the evening was hosting the trivia contest last night. We had three teams, and it was a raucous good time. The categories I had for the main part of the competition were: Rock & Roll History, World War II, Geography, and (a video category) Star Wars Weapons. I also put together a fifth category on Rocket Science, since last week when I'd volunteered people made a semi-joking big stink about me not making the questions too hard in all the categories. The questions turned out to be just about the right mix of fairly easy to real stumpers. I'd definitely host again, but figure I better let other folks take a turn.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Back in the dish room

I got to do a stint yesterday in the dish room here at Pole. The food services folks got a day off, since they'd worked (extra) hard on the Thanksgiving holiday. I kept myself away from the food preparation end of things and just focused on my old digs in the dish room. I could have taken care of the workload solo, I've done it before, but we had more than enough people to make it really a breeze. Thanks to Carla Appel for the picture of me being reunited with my erstwhile stomping grounds.

I had a really low-key evening hanging out with several friends that were playing the "Axis and Allies" board game, or about as low-key as you can make world domination. I didn't get done with work in time to actually play, but it was fun to just watch, and there was plenty of colorful conversation. We discussed some of our ideas for making a pared down version of "The Empire Strikes Back" as an entry into the South Pole International Film Festival (SPIFF), and have some pretty funny ideas, at least funny for people that are both Star Wars fans and have lived/worked at Pole.

I'm working today, of course, but hope to still have a few chances for fun. I'll fill you in on them later.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fun with cryogen

Well, I escaped the usual daily activities by helping our Cryogenics Tech Chris do a liquid nitrogen fill for one of the telescopes over in the Dark Sector. We collected the four dewars from the Dark Sector Lab (insulated flasks in which cryogens are stored and transported), hoisted them down from the second floor, and took them over to MAPO on a snow mobile sled to where the N2 plant is located. We filled the dewars up with more liquid nitrogen, and then returned them all to DSL so the telescope grantee could use it to cool his instrument. It was a nice change of scene and pace.

In the evening I joined some friends out in ARO to watch the truly atrocious movie "Ladyhawke". We blocked off all the windows to shut out the omnipresent sunshine, and had a nice relaxing time despite the movie's shortcomings.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Loads of emergency respondin'

This week has been a huge one for the emergency responders here at Pole. Tuesday we had our first large drill of the season. One patient was simulated having experience electrical shock, which also set off a (false) carbon monoxide alarm in the IceCube Lab. The fire brigade (Team 2, of which I'm the lead) had an extremely rapid response time. It was pretty chilly on the sleds being towed by snow mobiles, but we pretty much all took necessary precautions to protect our gear from the frigid temperatures. We mustered well, and got the building search done quickly, despite some communications problems. The ICL is encased in a copper mesh cage to prevent radio transmission in and out of the building, due to sensitive equipment that they have inside. We're working on some redundant comms plans to address this issue at ICL and in other radio-unfriendly facilities. There was a second patient (a fall victim) out at the IceCube drilling camp, but Team 2 was not required to assist with that scene.

Wednesday night Team 2 had our own debriefing about how the drill went. It was good to hear everybody's spin on how things transpired. We had another false fire alarm here in the Elevated Station. Somebody's nebulizer set off the alarm in their dorm room, and we had to scramble to address the issue. There are stainless steel fire doors that swing shut out in the hall, and as I was coming from the far end of the station I glimpsed this grey color further down and thought for a bit that it was a wall of smoke pouring out of the far end of the station. Luckily, it wasn't, but that sure got my attention. Responding inside the station is pretty difficult compared to remote buildings outside. For lack of a better comparison, I'd liken it to urban warfare versus battle out in the open field. The quarters are cramped, there is potential for lots of people to get cut off by fire very quickly, and communications are made extremely difficult. It was a good learning experience, and again was thankfully just a false alarm.

Thursday night we had a big meeting of the emergency responder team leads. There was a lot of good discussion, and we will hopefully be able to make some adjustments to how things are organized that will really help us out for the next drill or (hopefully not) real emergency. I definitely feel like of the team leads that Team 2 gets the most attention or scrutiny. I guess it's appropriate due to the more complex nature of our gear, and the higher danger we encounter by entering hazardous atmospheres and attacking combustion events. The meeting was a good 1.5 hours well spent.

So, I mentioned trouble on the road out to the SPRESSO vault on Tuesday. Well, what it was was a leak in our cooling system, which left a trail of glycol along our path until it started billowing smoke and we knew something was wrong.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Road trip!

Yesterday I actually left the station proper. The Science Support staff loaded up in an LMC (an ancient tracked vehicle) and headed off for the SPRESSO Vault several miles from Pole Station. There was no groomed road, so we just drove across the sastrugi, which made for quite a bumpy ride. We had weather come through while dealing with some technical difficulties on the road, and it was interesting to feel the temperature drop as the breeze picked up and the sun got obscured by clouds.

Once we got out to the SPRESSO vault, 8 kilometers from the station, We had to dig down about three feet to find the hatch covering the entrance to the vault itself. I'm a total Indiana Jones nerd, so of course it was like uncovering the Well of Souls in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in my mind.

The other guys went down and worked on the seismometers while I stayed up top to continue clearing snow from around the entrance and act as radio relay to somebody we were working with back at the station.

The view from that far out was pretty neat. The station was just a blip on the horizon, and once the really bad visibility hit it was totally obscured.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Manic week ahead

Well, the agenda for this week keeps getting more chock-a-block with new activities. I'll save writing about them as they happen to avoid repeating myself.

The weather here has been extremely comfortable, with the ambient temperatures hovering in the mid-minus-30s. On my walks to/from ARO I haven't been wearing more than my light jacket (unzipped) and glove liners in addition to my insulated Carhartt overalls. It's amazing how much warmth the sun provides, especially when you get all that energy (well, 90% of it) reflected back up off the snow/ice surface. I'd better enjoy it while I can, because in not too long a time it'll be back to bitter cold.

In a couple hours the science support group, myself included, will be heading out to the SPRESSO Vault. This is an isolated facility that houses a lot of seismic sensors. We'll drive the several miles out there away from the station, which will still be in sight, and then dig out the entrance hatch to get access down into the vault. It should be a lot of fun, and I hope the big emergency response drill set for sometime this weeks doesn't get initiated while I'm away from the station.

Speaking of seismic issues, we're looking into whether some sort of ice quake or vibrations transmitted all the way from some earthquakes off the coast of Indonesia might have caused some settling of the station yesterday. It'd be pretty wild if it turns out to be the case. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rough turkey day

Well, work was work yesterday, except far few others on station were doing so as well. I finally got to quit around 6:00 p.m., changed clothes, and joined the growing crowd of folks for my third seating of Thanksgiving dinner in the hallway for hors d'oeuvres. The fresh veggies tasted great, but the baked brie stole the show. When we went into the galley for the meal the windows were all blocked out, so it was actually dark in there. Christmas lights had been hung overhead, and all the tables had been rearranged. The food was great, and I barely had room enough left for a piece of pumpkin pie when it was all said and done with. Most people were dressed very nicely, especially the ladies. I just wore an old turtleneck of mine, but got a few compliments on how I looked in something other than Carhartt overalls. One person said I looked like Spock, but his girlfriend nearly bit his head off when she heard that.

A dance party tried to get started in the galley after the meal, but the stereo kept having technical difficulties, so many left to cut a rug out at the Summer Camp Lounge. I'd only gotten 2 hours of sleep the night before, so was feeling pretty knackered. This didn't do very good things for my social demeanor, which (as it has been since way back when I started going to dances/parties in middle school) usually involves me standing on the sidelines of the party or in some dark corner just watching others doing all that party stuff. I finally called it quits and walked back to the station. I started putting the dining room back together and cleaning it up, and got help from a few other folks.

After that I hit the sack, but it was only for an hour as the fire alarm went off, and I had to get out to my locker and start donning my bunker gear and SCBA. Given how tired and disoriented I was, it's amazing how quickly the gear was out of the locker and onto my body. We got a call that it was a false alarm, and then had several other false alarms as the tech reset the inadvertently engaged system out at Summer Camp. So, with all that adrenaline coursing through my system it took another two hours to get to sleep after the hour spent getting into my gear over and over again.

Consequentially, this morning (as I've started yet another full day at work whilst others slumber peacefully in their beds) I'm again pretty much limping into the knackers' yard. Who needs controlled substances to wake up feeling like a truck has run you over when sleep deprivation is so much more cost effective?

Friday, November 23, 2007

No rest for the weary

Well, it's a holiday weekend here at Pole, but the science doesn't stop. Like the rest of the year, I don't get any days off for holidays, but will hopefully manage not to put in a full 13-hour day "at the office". I worked plenty of holidays far from home during my three years at NASA, so this won't be too traumatic.

Last night I finally broke down and watched a movie, "Casino Royale", the latest James Bond flick with some friends. I have been opting for other forms of entertainment besides movie watching, since so many winter-overs said they were sick of watching movies after nine months of doing too much of that. I also have my Russian lessons to work through, a gym and weight room to utilize, and plenty of books, so I don't anticipate tiring of movies anytime soon.

Two nights ago the fire brigade took a tour of the IceCube Drilling Camp and Lab. This is a huge project down here installing arrays of sensors that detect the radiation emitted when neutrinos collide with ice atom nuclei. They have about three more seasons of drilling to install the rest of the sensors. Their lab, shown below, lends at least aesthetic credence to my belief that being down here is good experience for somebody that wants to work in the manned space flight business. It looks a bit other-worldly...

The big columns off to each side of the lab are where the cables from the detector array enter the structure.

Next week we have some Distinguished Visitors from the National Science Board coming to Pole. One of them, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, was the first U.S. female astronaut to perform a space walk. It'd be nice if I get a chance to mention I'm an aspiring astronaut. I don't know what interaction, if any, I'll have with the DV groups, but my Research Associate job description includes giving facilities tours.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Life's been good

Things have been hopping here. On top of the usual antics have been enhanced by the installation and training for a new all-sky camera from the University of Nagoya, Japan. It's now installed in the mezzanine area of the B2 science lab in the elevated station, and I'll get to be the tech to support it through this winter. It's too sensitive to use during the summer (pictures are just saturated white), but on April 10th or so we will turn it of for the duration of the winter. It has some nifty fish-eye optics that let it take pictures covering the whole sky, from horizon to horizon in all directions. The researchers will use it to study the aurora australis.

The infrastructure is changing here a lot this summer. The old Dome entrance is in the process of being removed, and the arches are being raised to accommodate a new logistics facility. I've heard lots of folks say it's the end of an era, and I tend to agree.

I've mentioned the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) plenty of times, so thought I should show it to you. It's about a quarter-mile from the station in the generally upwind direction from the rest of the station. My projects are located on the second story, and the sensors are on the leftmost part of the roof in this picture. My UV spectroradiometer's rack of electronics is shown in the other picture.

The elevated station is also changing its skin, or receiving more of its skin for the first time. There is a big crew of workers here installing Tyvek membrane and this black sheathing on the new station's exterior. It'll look a lot different once that's all in place. I don't know if it will be completely clad by the end of the summer, but they are making good progress as far as I can discern.

Life has been good, but the name of this post is actually due to the fact that I've had Joe Walsh's song "Life's Been Good" stuck in my head for the last THREE DAYS. It must be something about that Maserati that does 185...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

She's dead, Jim.

Well, our emergency responder tours in the Dark Sector and RF facilities rapidly took a turn for the irksome yesterday. After I got a Pisten Bully (think: a pretty sweet tracked vehicle with lots of bells and whistles) from the heavy shop, fueled it, picked up my folks, and just barely drove to the far side of the ski-way, it started making nasty cyclical noises, smelled of burning oil, and died. The oil light came on, but when I got out to inspect the vehicle there was no fluid leaking out the bottom and the dipstick was, as far as I could discern, dry. I don't know exactly what happened, but my guess is it didn't have enough-or any-oil in it. I had to call the already over-taxed ops manager to get another vehicle and continue the tour. Speaking of the tour, my seven passengers all just wandered off to the first science building on the itinerary, some snapping pictures along the way like good little tourists, and didn't make any overtures of assistance whatsoever.

It's a harsh continent...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My mutant power

Well, yesterday was pretty productive. After a busy morning revamping that much-discussed fire brigade communications drill, I headed to lunch and said to my boss (Al) that I was really craving a chicken fried steak. It turned out that that was what was on the menu, much to my surprise. So, instead of being able to do something cool like fly or envelop myself in flame, I have the mutant power of being able to remotely detect chicken fried (country fried, if you will) steak. Stupendous...

We did our second measurement of a meter stick's shadow at the pole at noon, which we'll continue to do until the solstice for the kids in New Mexico. It's amazing how quickly time roars by here. I guess that's probably a product of working almost 100 hours per week.

Last night there was a showing of this year's Banff Mountain Film Festival in the galley. It was the first time I'd watched any motion picture since arriving at the Pole. I'm trying to save most of that for winter, since so many people said that's a default activity that gets very old by the time the station opens for summer. The films were all quite good. I really liked one part of a mountain biking documentary that took us to Prague to watch some guys do ridiculous trials biking stunts. The festival winner flick was awesome. It was the story of a Canadian couple that rode their bikes from Ulan Bator, Mongolia through western China, Tibet, Nepal, and down through India to somewhere near Calcutta. It was great to see so much of the world vicariously via the experiences of others, but is a dangerous thing for a rolling stone like me, especially given how long I have until travel is even remotely an option.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fire, Ice, and Space

We had our first meeting-plus-drill yesterday evening for Team 2, and I think it was a good experience for all involved. After the usual agenda topics like introductions (lots of new faces), needs (training, equipment, etc.), scheduling the next training/meeting, I said the alarm is going off, go get ready to respond. Unfortunately only a fraction of the fire fighters had gear in the station, so we didn't have too many people doing the drill, but I think even the new folks learned a lot by watching those that could participate.

We ran the drill twice, once for a response that would travel outdoors and once for an alarm inside the station. The big difference between those two scenarios is how you stow your gear on your body. When outside for very long at South Pole temperatures, even in the balmy summer, the rubber parts on your SCBA mask and regulator can freeze solid or catastrophically crack. This isn't great for equipment that is supposed to keep you from breathing toxic smoke and vapors while working inside a fire or hazardous materials spill area. Our team is still learning, and I think we have great promise. I, normally a very low talker (both in tone and volume), am going to have to cultivate a more Type-A, aggressive voice to serve in my position as fire brigade leader.

Yesterday also was a landmark for me professionally. I started the application process to NASA to become an astronaut. It felt really weird to know that another direct step had been taken along my path toward that lofty goal that started way back when I was in the 6th grade in Kansas. They are taking applications through July 1, 2008, so it will be a while before I potentially hear anything back from NASA. But, it would certainly be heartening that if in the depths of my first Antarctic winter I got to even just have a phone interview with the selection board.

Ad Astra Per Aspera

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

House Mouse Day

There's not a whole lot going on today that's out of the ordinary. I do have to do both of my "house mouse" cleaning duties, though. Residents of Pole contribute to cleaning most of the common spaces in the station, including bathrooms, lounges, quiet reading room, etc.

I spent a good chunk of my evening yesterday unpacking the three boxes (of four) that I mailed to myself, so now I definitely have plenty of gear to last me through the year. I really hope that the fourth box, which is full of books, arrives sometime soon though. It has my copies of "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings", and even though there are some copies down here (except "Fellowship of the Ring"; I don't think I've seen that one yet), I'd prefer to read my much-used, much-traveled volumes. I'm also looking forward to reading three new books I splurged on including "Spook Country" by William Gibson and "Devil in the White City" and "Thunderstruck" by Erik Larson. It could just be that the media mail rate I used to post that to the Pole APO is simply slower (because it's so much cheaper) than the other mailing rate I used for my mixed-contents packages.

I saw a weird thing last night. The wind totally stopped: 0.0 knots. That seems to be a pretty rare occurrence here. Pole doesn't get the huge winds like at McMurdo, because the winds are born here. Catabatic winds are caused by cold air descending and picking up speed the air drops. Here at Pole, on the high interior plateau of the continent, the air gets super chilled, and slides down from this altitude (9,300 ft ASL) to McMurdo, accelerating as it goes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Summer's here in earnest

Well, it's safe to say that the frenetic summer season has arrived this week. Flights have been coming in as scheduled, and lots of them. I think we've had at least 7 flights each day this week. With those flights we have pretty much got most of our core summer staff, and have already started the high cyclic rate of short-timers passing in and out of the Pole. I guess there are between 120 and about 180 summer staff at Pole, and we'll easily have 800 total people cycle through over the season. That's a lot of new faces that are here one day and (literally) gone tomorrow.

So, where have I been spending most of my time? Right here at my desk in the B2 science lab in the new elevated station:

My other "office" is my locker for my fire fighting gear, including all my bunker gear and SCBA rig. Even though I don't nominally go into the fire/HAZMAT/trauma scene, I still have to don my gear in case it became necessary for me to leave my role directing the actions of the fire brigade and coordinating them with the other emergency response teams to do search and attack inside the scene during an incident. This is a pretty gnarly place to learn how to fight fires, with little things like your gear freezing solid if you wear it outside too long to make things even more interesting than your average run of the mill fire fighting back in more reasonable climes.

As something fun, and good for PR, the science support department (all three of us right now) picked up a request from some middle schoolers in New Mexico that are studying the length of shadows of a meter stick at noon in the run up to the solstice. We opted to do the measurements out at the Pole itself, but the sun was behind the white sign with the quotes from Amundsen and Scott about their arrival at the Pole, so we had to take that down for the real measurement (but put it back up for this photo we staged afterwards. We kept the tape measure the same length, though!

You might notice I'm wearing a new brown coat in that picture. I've doffed Big Red for the time being. It was just too hot for the warmer temperatures we've been having (-39F right now, which is almost the same as -39C). Earlier in the season, when my predecessor Jason and I went out on safari into the antenna fields, it was colder and I did need Big Red's warmth. We got about a mile from the station, and the vista was unobstructed by any human development.

You really gain an appreciation for the humble neck gaiter down here. That unglamorous tube of fleece is instrumental in keeping your nasal capillaries from quickly freezing in the cold. It's also a great way to keep off the solar radiation, which is pretty intense with all that snow reflecting 90% of the sun's energy back up at you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11.5-hour weekend

Well, yesterday ended up being long, but productive. We got the antenna installed atop the new station for the meteor radar guys, and they are actually receiving the calibration with their equipment. The emergency response building tours went pretty well, and we actually managed to hit a few more places on station than originally intended. The turn-out was pretty decent, and was just about right for the number of places we had on the two snow machines towing sleds to get around. I highly recommend the sleds with the hand bars so you can stand up and not eat a bunch of two-cycle engine exhaust. I got to knock off work for the week at about 6:30 pm, and am back here in the office on Monday morning at 6:00 am. After dinner yesterday an NSF representative gave a good talk about the International Polar Year (IPY) that is currently underway, the geologic history of Antarctica, and some of the major scientific projects to come in the next few years. I spent a lot of the talk thinking "How can I get a job doing that?".

This week I should have another team of beakers arrive. These guys are from Japan, and will be installing a new all-sky camera on the roof of the science lab here in the new station. I think they are manifested to get to Pole on Wednesday, but who knows whether the weather will cooperate. The other science tech could also potentially get here this week. I definitely won't mind getting back down to working just two jobs instead of three, not that the Aurora Tech position took all that much time to complete.

During our satellite window I've also started updating my resume and getting the initial information ready to send in to NASA for my first application for astronaut. The application deadline isn't until July 1, 2008, but I figure there's no reason to delay. It's exciting to think I might get the opportunity to have a job interview for astronaut while working a winter a the South Pole. That has a certain ring to it.

How can I get a job doing that?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pretty tired today

Well, here it is Sunday, and in three days it will be my one month anniversary since my last day off (way back on 10/14 when we had our trip to Cape Evans from McMurdo). I really pushed myself hard this week, and it would have been nice to have a calm, quiet Sunday. However, I've got to help out our Meteor Radar guys install a calibration antenna on top of the station, do a bunch of building tours with emergency responder folks, and then also do all my normal daily science checks.

I didn't stay up very late last night, and I certainly didn't whoop it up like most people on station. The initial James Brown Bingo was held in the galley, and I think folks had a great time. I watched, sober, from the sidelines and didn't play, since I'd been taking care of a bit of work in the lab as the bingo cards were being sold.

After bingo concluded I tried to do a little reading in my room, but kept nodding off. I took one little stroll around the station to see what was happening, but didn't feel up to joining in the antics. So, party animal me, I went back to my room and crashed.

I don't have any new pictures of my own to share right now, but here is the link to one of the webcams on the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) that I work in every day:

To right of center, just in front of the station, is a group of flags of the signatory nations of the Antarctic Treaty. They are placed around the actual geographical (as of January 1, 2007) pole marker, as well as the barbershop ceremonial pole marker. The ice drifts about 10 meters per year, so if you take about nine big strides to the left of the geographical pole marker you are much closer to where the actual pole is (roughly) this late in the year.

Well, it's time to make the donuts.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Shovels in the morning, perspective in the evening

Two of our beakers (a.k.a. science project staff) got here on one of the late flights two nights ago, and yesterday morning we got to start helping them out with the project they are here to work on. The little shack their radar is installed in is way out on the far edge of town from the station. Nobody had been out there for quite a while, and when we arrived in our Pisten Bully tracked vehicle, the downwind snowdrift was almost as tall as the door. We set to with shovels and made an entrance of sorts in not too much time. The two newly-arrived guys wanted to jump right in and work hard, and we did our best to make them take it easy so as not to accelerate any altitude-related illnesses they might be unfortunate to develop.

My ECW and personal gear I'd brought down as far as McMurdo finally caught up to me three weeks after flying to the Pole. It feels like I've way too much stuff now, and I shudder to think what it will be like once my boxes I mailed to myself from home arrive. It was nice to be able to opt for my lighter Carhartt work jacket, so I wasn't quite so bulky and overheated on my hikes to and from ARO.

I spent a good portion of the afternoon either developing radio training procedures for our fire brigade (Team 2) or getting trained on the intricacies of using the radios. Hopefully this will be time well spent to get all our teammates more accustomed with how to communicate in the event of an emergency.

In the evening I finished "The Kite Runner", and it's amazing how quickly something can put other events into perspective. In this case, reading about atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban in Afghanistan compared to the relatively benign (if expensive) boondoggle all those DVs got a couple nights ago. Perspective is sometimes hard to find here on the Ice, in both physical and philosophical realms. In the former, there aren't many landmarks to lend perspective of scale to what you are seeing, so something that looks fairly close could be miles away, or vice versa. In the latter, less tangible case, when one does the same things over and over with little external stimulus, it is easy for trivialities to grow into massive irritating beasts that threaten to take on far too much importance in your limited world view while working down here. I'm sure this isn't a phenomenon solely found on the Ice, but rather one native to any living conditions where one's touchstones with the rest of the world number few and far between.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Again they take wing

Well, the winterovers finally got their wish to leave Pole late in the evening yesterday. In the past three weeks I did most of my socializing with the "recently departed", so I guess I will have to now spend what free time I have getting to know the folks that are here this summer. It was kind of weird how that worked out.

Three flights came and went yesterday evening, the last staying on the ground for over an hour so the Today Show crew and a large entourage of various folks could have a whirlwind tour of our fair station. They got off the plane and spent quite a while out by the flight line, I guess doing an Iridium sat-phone call live to their daily broadcast, then were chauffeured over to the Pole markers for an extended photo shoot. It was funny coming into the galley, which overlooks the Pole, and seeing all the people lined up along the windows watching the antics outside. The whole circus then moved over to the Dome entrance, I think, and then came inside the new elevated station as a last stop. All the while their LC-130 Hercules was sitting on the ground with all engines turning, fuel burning, and a good number of support staff in place since there was a skier on the deck. I was in the hall talking to somebody about how surreal this whole media-plus-entourage event was, when the reporter (Anne Curry, sp?), B.K. Grant (Pole area director), cameraman, sound man, and a train of other people came rumbling past us. They had enough time to look into the science lab, a lounge, the dining room and kitchen before they were shuttled back towards their plane and McMurdo. It'll be interesting to see what turns up on their broadcast. For what it's worth, I'm the guy in the red hooded sweatshirt...

I seem to do this quite often, but I definitely over-analyzed this situation instead of just enjoying it. I started thinking about privileged societal classes, and how easy it is for some to acquire what it takes most people long labor and much sacrifice to achieve. I know that good PR can do a lot for this program, but it just seemed bizarre how much effort and how many resources went into ensuring a few folks got to have such an abbreviated trip of a lifetime. I guess this is a phenomenon I'll just have to adjust to working/living here at Pole during the summer, especially as there are going to be so many DVs and extra people here throughout the season and on the day of the new station's dedication ceremony in January. My own personal difficulties to even get down here at all last year as a dishwasher just kept running through my head, and I thought also of all the other folks that sacrifice a lot just to get the chance to come.

Putting all the mental baggage to the side, it was a fairly exciting and different way to spend an evening. And, as people who've been down here know, anything different is usually quite welcome. I'm proud to have gotten here, and even more proud to have earned the opportunity to return with a chance to really challenge myself and contribute to the program.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The beat goes on

Same story to tell about flights in and out of Pole. Nobody is going anywhere. Our weather here is gorgeous today, a bit cooler at -54F, but I guess they're getting slammed with Condition 1 weather in McMurdo. In memory of the good old days when aircraft could successfully fly between McMurdo and Pole, here's a pic of the Basler on which I winged my way south.

When I was at Snow School in McMurdo the instructor had us do a search and rescue drill with simulated conditions approximating the visual and audio limitations one undergoes when out in that sort of high wind/low visibility. The simulation involved us putting 5-gallon buckets over our heads and trying to move around and communicate in order to find the "victim" out in the field. I never got to see actual Condition 1 weather, but I'm sure people in McMurdo have had their fill by now.

The word on the street is that the Today Show folks are still in McMurdo and planning to come to Pole, but I'll believe it when I see it.

I had a great day at work yesterday. I don't know exactly why I was so pumped up about what I was doing, but I did make considerable progress on troubleshooting and resolving some of the ongoing problems with a number my projects. I even had time to draw up a proposal to improve the routing and protection of some of the cables connected to my electronics rack in the B2 lab (see my last posted picture).

We had our first fire brigade (a.k.a. Team 2) meeting last night, which went reasonably well. The projector decided it didn't want to display my PowerPoint presentation correctly, but other than that I was pretty much satisfied with how it transpired. I've got a lot of work to do to get our people to the various training sessions they need here before our first major drill the third week of this month.

Today, being Thursday, I get to do my weekly duty as a "house mouse". Here at Pole we all pitch in to clean the bathrooms and common spaces of the station. There are janitors (a.k.a. stewards this year) on station too, but I think they mostly clean the halls that run the length of the station.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The plight of winterovers

It's been pretty rough on a lot of the folks that just finished wintering here. Today, yet again, flights were cancelled coming to/from the Pole. A good number of people are starting to miss out on their vacation plans, and that's not necessarily making them the happiest they could be.

In a way, totally devoid of Schadenfreude, it's pretty interesting to observe how people handled the winter and these flight delays, and to imagine in just what psychological shape I'll be in a year's time. I think boredom is a main culprit for why people are having such a hard time with the flight delays. Most of them aren't working anymore, having handed their jobs off to summer staff, and they are finding it very hard to pass the hours in the day without much to do. It probably gives them plenty of time to dwell on their plight, instead of keeping busy and passing the time whilst engaged in some activity. I'm sure in a similar situation I'd be pretty antsy, too.

Today has been pretty quiet thus far, and I've just been taking care of various little tasks and projects in the B2 science lab. Much of my work as the Cusp Tech centers around the electronics here in B2 mounted in the Cusp Rack (shown in picture below). Most of this equipment interfaces with sensors that are placed way out in the Clean Air Sector from one quarter to a full mile from station.

Outside of work, I just finished reading the excellent book "Jarhead" by Anthony Swofford. It definitely pulled no punches in describing the author's experiences as a Marine before, during, and after serving in the first Gulf War. I also started reading "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, which has been pretty good thus far. I'm really looking forward to the rest of my gear arriving, whenever planes can manage to fly here regularly, so I can get my Rosetta Stone Russian software and start learning that new language.

All quiet on the southern front for now.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

No rest for the weary

Well, contrary to my intentions of taking it relatively easy on Sunday, I ended up putting in a full day's work, complete with two new problems for two different projects that I'm still in the process of attempting to resolve. One is an optical sensor that is hitting a high temperature limit intermittently, and the other is a programming glitch in a Matlab script. I think I have the latter issue figured out, and just have to wait and see what the project staff have to say about my proposed fix before I run with it. This waiting game for communications from people in the U.S. is probably going to be one of the more difficult issues for me. When I was working flight ops on the SOHO satellite most of the time troubleshooting was something that got jumped on immediately and with all the resources necessary, regardless of the time of day. Here, it's a lot more lax.

Last night I did get to listen to the Mayo Clinic altitude sickness researchers' presentation on their research. It sounds like this is one of the few places where they can get the numbers of people being rapidly exposed to high altitude from sea level. I wonder if they've ever considered working with people on flights from Lima to Cusco, Peru. That's sea level to 12,000 feet in about as long as the flight from McMurdo to Pole. We've had pretty depressed barometric pressure this last week, and it has regularly been at an equivalent altitude of 11,000 feet and higher.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Belated Halloween

Well, this week seemed to absolutely fly by. I had no trouble staying busy, and keeping that up doesn't seem like it will a problem anytime soon. The whole group of emergency response teams is really scaling up for a lot of training and drilling here in the next few weeks. Hopefully we'll be able to settle down into a bit more placid rhythm of activity once we get our feet under us.

The winterovers are still stuck here due to a combination of weather and flight rules for the Air National Guard crews. They seemed to manage to have a good time last night at the Halloween party out in the Summer Camp lounge. It's been good to get to know some of those folks that will be returning in a few months to spend another winter here. I feel like I've gotten a lot of good information, advice, and forewarning about many of the issues inherent in spending nine months here physically severed from the rest of the world, with five of those months being bathed in perpetual night.

I went out to the party with a group of folks after getting shown how to do the hourly checks for the equipment down in the power plant. The community volunteers to cover time slots so that the power plant guys can have a night or day off, depending upon their shift. Part of the game everybody working for Uncle Ray-Ray down here has to play is to be involved in lots of activities outside their job if they want to be even considered for the highest level of bonus at the end of the season. So, other than being an engineer and a technophile, getting acquainted with the power plant also has potential monetary benefits. I know, I'm a feckless mercenary, but aren't we all?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Inside the ping pong ball

We've been having some high winds that have really lowered the visibility here, so much so that I couldn't see ARO when I set out to do my daily checks there yesterday. The temperatures aren't as cold, but the wind chill makes up for that. I think this is a common phenomenon, that the temperature is higher during a storm. I recall reading that in a lot of the books on the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration. The bad weather has delayed flights, so there are still some winterovers stuck here.

The weather has also delayed The Today Show crew in MacTown. I guess they are coming down here for a day trip, and it's not exactly concrete what they want to look at. We, in the B2 science lab, have been warned that they may stop by for a tour. But, I hear that they may be changing their emphasis from exploring what science is going on here to looking at the women of the South Pole. You should check your local listings. I think the word on the street is that the piece might be on next Monday or Tuesday.

So, other than that things are just getting underway here. I'm doing the checks for the Cusp and Aurora Tech positions, and trying to get our training figured out for the fire brigade. Other than that, I'm just taking it easy the few waking hours I'm not working, and doing a lot of reading. It will be nice when I get the rest of my gear and can start working out in the gym and studying Russian in earnest.

My boss, Al, and I went down and had a look in the Dome yesterday. It's now devoid of interior buildings, and only used for food storage. It's quite an impressive space (shown below).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Flying solo

Well, Monday the first major bunch of winterovers finally departed, and with them was my predecessor, Jason. The week working solo has been just fine, but I'm definitely still getting myself up to speed and acquainted with the ins and outs of the Cusp Tech position. I think probably the best tool I have here is the calendar in MS Outlook, because without it I think keeping track of every little report, email, and sundry duty would be a lot harder.

The Team 2 fire brigade work is also consuming a lot of my time, as I try to get myself in a position to have constructive training sessions/meetings for other T2 members that have just as much training as I do. I foresee this position probably taking up as much time as my science work, particularly here in the early stages when our team (and the other 3 emergency response teams) has to do the bulk of its learning about how to do its job safely and in coordination with all the other teams and groups on station. It's quite a time investment for a volunteer position.

Last week I did two calibrations for one of our instruments, which is on top of the ARO. It's definitely a bit different doing that job in -90F wind chill than in the warmer climes of Southern California (pic 1 below). Sunday we had our science support "family photo", with the outgoing and incoming science techs and Al (pic 2 below). One of the last Cusp Techy things Jason and I did was to change out a tube in one of the photometers mounted on the roof of the station. It was actually a lot of fun getting to do some hands-on work, and the view from on top of the station was pretty sweet (pic 3 below).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Juggling act

Well, the last few days have had me taking over most of the responsibility for the Cusp Tech position. I'm feeling more confident about the daily activities, but am still apprehensive about troubleshooting when something major breaks. Weather allowing, Jason will be out of here tomorrow, and I'll be on my own until this time next year. The daily checks for the Aurora Tech position are straightforward, so I'm not worried about that either.

There was a lot of activity in the last several days for the Fire Brigade (a.k.a. Team 2), of which I'm now the designated lead. We had the gear turn-in for most of the outgoing fire fighters, and got gear for those new Team 2 people that have already arrived. Yesterday we had our turnover drill, which was intended to be a chance for the new team to do their thing responding to a fire alarm while the experienced folks from the previous season are there to observe and critique. I was really worried about how it would go, and pretty much didn't sleep Friday night. But, when the time came, our team and the others came together and did a pretty good job for as inexperienced as we are. As we were sitting in the galley sharing comments about how the drill had gone the fire alarm went off again for real. We geared back up and once the location of the problem was found, responded once again. It turned out to be nothing major, but was actually a great opportunity to immediately put into effect lessons we'd just learned from the drill.

The weather has been relatively cold here the past few days. Yesterday I was doing my checks out on the roof of ARO in -90F and below wind chill. I think a lot of the winterovers are worried their flights tomorrow may be delayed due to the cold. I'm going to help man the aircraft fire fighting rig for the two flights of the day that are carrying passengers, so that should be interesting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Many hats, and not because of the cold

Well, the training frenzy continues unabated. Jason and I did get to do a cool walk out into the Clean Air Sector to inspect some of our projects' antennae and electronics vaults, which are mostly buried at varying depths down in the snow. It was a lot of fun to get out there away from the noise of the station and have nothing but sastrugi (low, wind-carved snowdrifts) stretch off as far as the eye could see. We took along a GPS receiver and got coordinates for some of the equipment. Even though the plateau is drifting 10 meters or so per year, it should still help us to locate some of the projects should they need servicing.

Outside of work... Well, there's not been much outside of work the last few days. The winterovers are ready to leave, and flights bringing in new people keep getting cancelled for one reason or another. Transition periods between seasons are always stressful on all involved. Jason told me yesterday that he didn't feel like he had a handle on the CUSP Tech job until a month after the station closed for winter, after he'd worked here all summer. Zoinks!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reins now in my hands

Well, the learning continues unabated here at Pole. I've been granted the reins of the position by my predecessor, Jason, and am thoroughly going through the pangs of performance anxiety. I wish I could have gotten more training in while still in the U.S., at the very least so project personnel would have met me and perhaps have more confidence in me. It's got to be hard for every new person that comes into this job, because they're always going to be compared to their predecessor's performance at the end of the season when they knew the most and had the most experience. On top of this I still have a lot to learn about being a fire brigade leader, which is daunting as well.

The third Basler flight finally arrived here yesterday, and the station population is up to 99. Rumor has it that the Polies that got to go out to Cape Evans this past week got to see a bunch of wildlife, which definitely wasn't the case when my group took the trip.

I've started studying some Russian while away from work, and am having a pretty successful time picking up the pronunciation of the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet. I'll be happy when the rest of my gear arrives and I can start using my Rosetta Stone software to learn more. That, and my workout clothes so I can finally start making use of the gymnasium.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Climbing the learning curve

Yesterday was most people's day of, but the science techs have something to do every day of the year here. Jason and I walked out to the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO), and the weather felt absolutely boiling compared to the day before. It was still -49 deg. F, but there was no wind. Later, I ran through the checks of the electronics in the CUSP rack in the elevated station's lab, which went (already) a lot smoother than the day previous. I think the daily stuff will be easier to get a handle on, but the things done weekly, every two weeks, monthly, etc. that I don't get as much practice at will necessarily take longer to reach a comfortable level of familiarity.

The food has been great, and I am definitely enjoying getting to know folks around the station. We should be getting another couple flights of people in today, so the station's population will continue to swell from its current number of 83. It will be really nice when the LC-130s start flying, and I can get the rest of my gear. I had to raid the second-hand clothes in the skua boxes outside to augment my wardrobe a couple days ago. I was very happy to find some running shoes, so I didn't have to continue wearing my big insulated FDX boots all the time.

Friday, October 19, 2007

At the Pole, at last

Our flight on the Basler went off without a hitch. We did end up flying through some clouds over the mountains (sometimes not very much above those mountains...), so views were obscured for a fair portion of the flight before we hit the Flat White of the plateau.

Upon arrival, it really was nice to have been here before. I didn't have to ask where to go or try to digest this new environment all at once. Pretty quickly I was intercepted by the current science techs, and we hung out in the lab catching up and talking with our supervisor, Al. Jason, the tech I'm taking over for, gave me a quick introduction to the daily checks of the equipment we have in the elevated station.

Part of the reason we flew in early was to give the new people on station some time to get up to speed without pushing themselves too hard. With no chance of medevac, that's even more important. I felt pretty tired yesterday, and had a fairly gnarly headache by the time I went to bed at 1900. But, I'd slept very poorly the night before, and figured this was probably the culprit. I managed to sleep about 12 hours, with trips to the bathroom about every 90 minutes. The altitude medicine I'm taking has the unfortunate side-effect of making you have to urinate quite copiously and frequently. I woke up this morning feeling much better, still a bit tired, but very much more comfortable.

Training will continue today, and I'm looking forward to getting up to speed on my new job/identity as a science tech.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Flight (hopefully) & pictures at last

Well, I had a nice day working at the BFC again. I set up, inspected, sorted, and disassembled 57 cots today, which was a great mind-numbing way to pass the day. The weather was beautiful again, but the wind really put an edge to the coolness. I can't get in the mindset that this is cold, per se, given what I will be subjected to in short order.

The first Basler flight to Pole got off the ground and successfully deposited the new season's cargo of Polies today. I'm slated for the flight tomorrow, weather permitting. Word filtering back from those on the first flight said that the views were beautiful, but we'll need some sort of scraper to keep our windows cleared of frost. We'll have to wear oxygen masks since the plane isn't pressurized, and the bathroom facilities are in a word, limited. Flight time is about 4 hours from here to the Pole.

This evening I walked over to Scott Base, New Zealand's base a bit over a mile from McMurdo, which was a first for me. Thursday night is "American Night" at their bar, and lots of people also pay visits to their store. Personally, I wasn't interested in alcohol or more junk to lug around in my computer's courier bag (my only baggage due to flight weight restrictions), but I successfully got yet another stamp in my passport. The wind was really strong on the way over, particularly in the valley between Ob Hill and Crater Hill. It acts sort of like a venturi and accelerates any wind blowing through it. It was neat to see the insides of Scott Base, but I didn't stay too long.

After many promises and much fanfare, here are pictures from the flight down from Christchurch, last weekend's trip to Cape Evans and Scott's hut, and McMurdo. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Flight delays again

The Basler flights to Pole were delayed due to bad weather at the Pole, so we're standing by to standby. I kept busy today doing another round up to the lab at Arrival Heights with the McMurdo RA. I also did a good amount of work at the Berg Field Center. The BFC, as it's usually referred to, is sort of like a camping goods store for expeditions out into the field. They stock and maintain a bunch of different types of equipment and clothing, and here at the beginning of the season they needed more helping hands to get things squared away and ready to go. I helped with assembling cooking sets, stuffing sleeping bags in compression sacks, and verifying the soundness of a bunch of collapsible cots. I think I'll be doing a lot more work there tomorrow, as my flight is now not scheduled to go until Friday.

The weather has been beautiful and warm here in McMurdo, so now Pole just needs to get with the game, and we need the aircraft to stay mechanically healthy as well.

This evening I got to hang out and play dominoes with one of my roommates from last summer that stayed over the winter as a chef here in McMurdo. He's been on the Ice since August 2006, and is going to finally escape on Friday. It was a lot of fun to catch up and get his perspectives on how it was to spend the winter here. Walking back from his dorm with another ex-DA friend the sunset over Mt. Discovery was gorgeous once again, but we didn't stay out long as the weather had turned windy and neither of us had a parka.