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).