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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

First science work, albeit brief

Things are kind of backing up here at McMurdo. We've just had the flights on our venerable Basler (DC-3 with turbo engines) delayed yet another day. I'm on the second flight, and now will be leaving on Friday if the weather at McMurdo and at Pole will cooperate.

I got to make the daily science round with the McMurdo Research Associate yesterday. We went out to the CosRay shack, which houses the oldest on-going science project here. The workspace still had the teletype that they would enter their manually collected data with, and still had a big trashcan full of the paper "bits" that had been punched out during data entry. So, that was pretty neat. Things have been upgraded since then, and the whole facility will be removed in the next couple years. We also went up to Arrival Heights, where a lot of instruments are located, including the UV project that I got trained on in San Diego and will be working on at Pole. It was a bit intimidating seeing all the equipment, but I'm sure I'll be fine once I get up to speed during our handover period at Pole.

The Polies had a Hut 10 party last night, which wasn't too rowdy since people still thought they might be flying today. There were plenty of snacks, and it was a good chance to get to talk to some of the people I'll be living in such close proximity with over the next summer and winter.

Sorry about not getting any pictures up in the last couple days, but computers are in high demand here and finding the right time of day when there aren't loads of people lining up behind you is a bit difficult. I'll get around to it eventually, but it may have to wait until I hit 90 south.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Quite a Sunday

The brunch at McMurdo this Sunday was as gigantic as ever. I find it amazing that this gets pulled off every week.

The Pole crew got to take a trip out north to Scott's hut at Cape Evans. We weren't sure if we were going to get to do it today, since the weather was extremely windy and the visibility was quite poor at times. We managed to get out there and it was quite an impressive display of Antarctic weather. On top of Weathervane Hill above the hut we could lean far over into the wind's blast (about 35 mph sustained with 50 mph gusts). Even with all that wind it wasn't that cold: only -35F or so. I took some video, and will try to post it on here if it isn't too big.

We got back in time for dinner, and four of us ex-DAs rocked it out in the pot room. Dave, Evan, Katie, and yours truly took over from the new crew of blue shirts, and had a pretty good time at it. Some of us met and had a good time in the coffeehouse, which seems to be my new hang out back here in MacTown.

Well, I'm feeling the need for a bit of shut-eye, so will close for today. Like I said, I'll try to get some video on here and definitely some pictures from Cape Evans.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

First day on the job, sort of.

Had a nice chat with some folks I'd worked with last year over breakfast. After all I'd gone on about my Soren Larsen trip plans, people seem quite interested to hear more about them.

The day got started with me retrieving my boomerang bag after the genius that took it finally caught on that it wasn't their stuff in the duffel. I then had a catch-up meeting with my supervisor, Al, and we discussed some of what to expect with this last TDY at McMurdo, the flight to Pole, and the arrival and hand-over at Pole. It really will be nice to get there and get settled in at last. I got a flu shot at the clinic, which was highly recommended due to some nasty strains making the rounds of the station. I got in a bit of correspondence, which I've been necessarily neglecting due to a large amount of migration and other associated activities in the last week. In anticipation of my R&R in January, I got to attend the Outdoor Safety Lecture that one must have under their belt before being allowed to go out on some of the longer hikes around McMurdo. I went to what was only my second ever McMurdo "all hands" meeting in the afternoon. As a DA last year we usually opted to eat our dinner before everybody descended upon the galley like a swarm of pasty locusts after the meeting adjourned.

Like usual, dinner was Italian on a Saturday night. Feeling somewhat self-masochistic, I volunteered for about two hours back in the pot room in the kitchen. It was uncanny how it felt like I'd never left, and things hadn't changed a bit. The major difference, again, was the utter lack of DAs with whom I'd passed through the gauntlet of last summer's challenges in the galley. I love you guys!

After that I went to Gallagher's pub in the evening since there were a bunch of different bands playing, and stayed for quite a while. It was really strange not having acquaintances in the crowd that I hung out with last year. I guess the feeling I've been having lately has been like visiting my scholarship hall at KU after I returned for grad school. The physical place was the same, but without the people I'd experienced it with it just was a wholly different place. The relative peace and quiet of the coffee house beckoned me, so I went over there and found some Polies I'll be spending the summer and/or winter with, and we hung out talking for quite a while.

The twilight view of the mountains across the sound was absolutely gorgeous. It's nice to see this beautiful vista once again, but I still feel like I need to get to that big empty plain at the Pole.

Sleep beckons now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Safe 'n sound in MacTown

Well, I got here just fine. Unfortunately I'm still waiting for my "boomerang bag" that has all my street clothes and toiletries in it to turn up. I just have my computer bag and two big duffel bags of ECW gear.

Christchurch was cold and rainy the whole time we were there. It would have been nice to have gotten to roll around in some grass one last time, but it wasn't in the cards. The weather here at McMurdo is gorgeous, and it's surreal to be back in a place I really thought I'd never be returning to when I left. Interesting how life's path can fold back on itself.

Anyhow, if I can get the rest of my gear I'll be rockin' it out in the dish room tonight. We've got a few orientations and meetings scheduled while here in McMurdo, but I may have down time (while still on the clock) during which I may get tasked to help out in other departments and, if all else fails, the kitchen.

I'm rooming in Building 155, which was my old home last season. It's weird knowing it's not home, but just yet another hotel room while in transit to my new pad.

I'll get some pictures up later.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Deja vu

Well, they haven't changed the orientation spiel in Denver much since last year. It's amazing how a little experience changes one's perspective from the shiny and new to the routine and banal. Still, seeing a few familiar faces from last year has been fun. Evan Brost, Rachel Edie, Isaac her ex-boyfriend and I went out to a great Thai place just down the road for dinner, which was a good time. It was the first chance after New Zealand for me to see any of my friends from the Ice. Anyhow, I need to go pack my bags, hydrate, and hit the sack for the long travel day that starts tomorrow.

Friday, October 5, 2007


The past several days have been quite productive, and now I am pretty much set to, as Tom Petty sang, “leave this world for a while”. I managed to get my packages containing the bulk of my gear mailed off, which was nice because I could then stop second-guessing my packing plan. Out of sight, out of mind. I also got to go talk to a couple classes of kids at the elementary school here in Marion, and will be corresponding with them starting sometime in January when their studies about Antarctica begin.

My trip down to New Zealand will have stops in Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Auckland (where we will go through New Zealand’s very strict customs), and on to Christchurch. All told those flights cover about 8,800 miles in 20 hours, layovers excluded. Unlike last year I’m going to be seeing familiar faces along the way, so it should be fun to get to catch up with those folks.

Today I’ll be putting El Civ, my car, into storage in my grandmother’s garage. Below you can see us both a couple years ago with a bit less mileage:

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Deployment update

Travel came through this morning, and I'll actually start the trip south on Saturday 10/6. Provided flights all happen on time and the weather is decent between Christchurch and McMurdo, I should hit the Ice on 10/12.

I've spent way too much time packing today, but should be getting my boxes posted to the APO tomorrow. Hopefully my gear will not take too long to catch up with me at Pole.