Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Bangkok

OK, folks, I've been here in Bangkok for a few days and have a few photos to share. It's Christmas Day here, but sure doesn't feel or look anything like any of mine previous. On Saturday morning I'll be heading over to Cambodia, hopefully making it through the border without too much difficulty, to spend a few days at Angkor. On the penultimate day of 2008 I'll start a huge marathon of flights and layovers, and will hopefully get back home with a few hours to spare before the new year rolls into town. I'll try to get in at least one or two more postings before I get back to the States, but will make no promises. Enjoy the photos!

The Bridge on the River Kwai:

Yours truly with a 20-something-pound jackfruit near the River Kwai in Thailand:

A floating market in Thailand:

A fighter warming up for a kickboxing match in Lumphini Stadium:

The chedi (bell-shaped tower) of Wat Saket, a.k.a. "The Golden Mount" in Bangkok:

Wat Theptidaram in Bankok:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Leaving the beach today

Well, I finally have a chance to catch up online from Ao Nang, Thailand. I've been here the last few days, and it has been nice to put down roots for a little bit longer than just two nights at a time. Our first full day here we did a motor boat cruise out to some of the islands, including the Ma Ya Beach used for the movie "The Beach". It was a little more crowded than as portrayed in the movie. We stopped and snorkeled at a few other islands, and had lunch at Phi Phi Don. It was interesting there, since they are still rebuilding from the Boxing Day Tsunami that hit this part of the world so hard several years ago. The next day I went on a short elephant "trek", which was still interesting, despite the short duration. I think the last time I might have ridden on elephant might have been way back in my childhood when a circus came to my hometown. I remember a great picture with me and a few other boys all lined up along the elephant's back.

Anyhow, today we're just waiting until 2 o'clock to catch our ride to the train station a few hours away in Surat Thani. There we'll get on a night train, which will carry us up to Bangkok by morning. Bangkok's my penultimate place of temporary residence until I get home in less than two weeks. I think my body will thank me greatly for finally bringing an end to my travels.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Catching up in Penang

OK, so I'm now up in Penang after spending 2 days in Melaka, Malaysia. It rained most of the time, and we happened to be there on a holiday, so a lot of things were closed. We then went up to Kuala Lumpur, and had a jam-packed couple of days. The Petronas Towers were lovely outside and in, though the queue started awfully early to visit the sky bridge between them. We then moved on to the Cameron Highlands, which were a nice break from the horrible air quality in KL. We visited a tea plantation and got a little time in green space after being in big, dirty Asian cities for so long.

Unfortunately, my body seems to be fighting off some sort of cold/flu bug, and I've been feeling a bit lousy for a few days. I feel somewhat better today, though there are some lingering symptoms. I guess that's to be expected after living for a year in an essentially sterile environment.

We made it up to Penang (still in Malaysia) today, though the bus we expected to take us all the way out to the island didn't actually go further than the ferry terminal in Butterworth on the mainland. So, we caught a ferry and a taxi and made it to the hotel early in the afternoon. We're here tomorrow, and then that's all for Malaysia as we head up to Ao Nang in the Krabi province of Thailand.

Merlion mascot of Singpore:

Some little pedi-cabs at night in Melaka (sorry, it's not the best picture):

The Petronas Towers at night (from the KL telecom tower):

Tea plants on the BOH (Best of Highlands) Tea Plantation in the Cameron Highlands:

A pitcher plant in the jungles of the Cameron Highlands (about 6 inches long):

Friday, December 5, 2008

exploring a bit o' Asia

Sorry, no pictures are possible from these free computers.

The Battle Box was indeed a worthwhile stop yesterday morning, if only for the slightly creepy animatronic British officers they had to convey the story of the ultimate decision to cede Singapore to the Japanese without continuing to fight. I then walked down to the not-so-clean Singapore River and spent quite a while in the Asian Civilizations Museum. It was pretty interesting, but didn't seem to spend much time on the Japanese or cultures in Mongolia and points northward. The former I can understand, given events of the last century. I then strolled over and looked at the waterfront from Merlion Park at the mouth of the river. The Merlion is some weird city mascot (think lion's head on a fish body) that gets about 5 billion pictures taken of it every year with tourists posing on its pediment. It was pretty hot, so I decided to cool off at the Raffles Hotel. Unfortunately, I don't think my wallet was fat enough to be welcome inside the lobby of the hotel. So, for a slightly less snooty alternative, I bought some snacks and ate on the rooftop terrace of my hostel. It has a good view over the downtown skyline, which I would have tried to photograph last night, if not for another thunderstorm. Pesky things.

Tonight at 6pm the tour group is meeting, and I'm interested to see just what sort of demographics are represented. Odds are I'll be the sole American, which won't be a surprise. Anyhow, I need to go get out of my current room so I can check back in this afternoon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

33 on 6

Countries on continents I've visited, that is. I'm in Singapore OK, and managed to make it from the airport to my hotel intact. I'm hot and sweaty and tired, but here. We were delayed by a thunderstorm in Darwin for about 30 minutes, but I still haven't gotten to actually see lightning since returning from the Ice. I'm not entirely sure what I'll see tomorrow, but I might go see the bunker complex the Brits had here circa WWII. It has the nifty name of "Battle Box", which naturally would catch my attention. I'm also going to eat 3 meals tomorrow, which will be nice. I'm right on the edge of Little India, so there should be plenty of curry and samosa with my name on it just down the hill a way.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In Darwin, heading to Singapore

Oy! Well, I emerged from the Outback last night to the bustling city of Darwin. Talk about humidity! I don't have very ambitious plans for my single day here, and will be winging off tomorrow afternoon to Asia of all places.

My drive up from Alice Springs was long, hot, and very nice. It reminded me a lot of the US, and road tripping out west. We stopped and saw a lot of great little wide spots in the road with various gimmicks to attract travelers off the road. Highlights were paddling a kayak in the Alice River canyon yesterday morning, and seeing thousands of flying foxes at the thermal pools in Mataranka. I also attached pictures of a few acrobatics at Devil's Marbles and a roadside stop to inspect some termite mounds (they're super hard).

I'm feeling pretty healthy, though am probably a little under-hydrated. I've gotten some color back in parts of my skin, but am still transparently pale from my time at Pole. Hopefully I can manage not to get scalded up closer to the Equator. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn just about 30 km after leaving Alice Springs, which was interesting. Anyhow, there's another installment from your man (currently) in Darwin.

Fair winds, happy trails, and all that jazz.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Break from the vacation

Well, I'm just attending to all the fun stuff like email, blogging, journal writing, and laundry (a rank lot, that) today in Alice Springs before heading out on a 3-day drive to Darwin. I had a great few days on the trip out to Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta, and Kings Canyon. It was a little weird being on a tour, but there were some very cool folks that I got to know along the way. Anyhow, here are a couple pictures AR before sunrise and the Gardens of Eden in Kings Canyon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

rainy day in Sydney

Well, today we have some pretty hard rain here in Sydney, so I'm taking care o' business under shelter for the time being. My flight was fine yesterday, and I spent the day wandering around town, mostly around Darling Harbour. I also finally got to see "The Dark Knight", which was groovy. Not only did I finally get to see it, but it was on an IMAX screen, no less. Town was hopping last night with all the hipsters and clubbers flouncing about in their dresses and remarkably effeminate menswear. I so drastically don't fit into that scene, whatsoever!

Anyhow, I plan to go out and see the opera house and the Bay Bridge today if the rain relents. Signing off from Sydney...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Off to see the Wizard of Aus (tomorrow)

Buenos dias amigos!

Well, tomorrow I catch a ridiculously early flight to Sydney, Australia, where I'll actually be able to leave the airport and finally get to experience the country. I'll be there for 3 nights then wing off for the Red Center and Alice Springs. Over the course of about a week I'll make my way up to Darwin and then on to Singapore and subsequent destinations.

I arrived back in Christchurch last night and am just running some errands here in Cheech today. Since leaving Queenstown I have been to the ludicrously beautiful Milford Sound (it's actually a fjord, but who's counting) and then back across the island to Dunedin on my way to Cheech. I don't have the capacity to share any pictures from this computer, so sorry about that.

It's a strange process, this returning to the World. Farewells from friends can be a bit stressful, and you always hope that they aren't final. The Ice already seems a long way away, after just 1.5 weeks, but its effects run deeply. I think there is already some changes in me that are operating at very fundamental levels in my personality/values system. Maybe that's just me realizing I'm an idiot for leaping out of a perfectly good gondola...

I WILL see you later!

Monday, November 17, 2008

So far unemployment is a gas

Here are a few pictures to show what I've been up to thus far:

A pretty self-explanatory picture up on the side of the road while going over the Haast Pass. My sentiments exactly:

Me wearing some gear from Lord of the Rings on a tour in and around Queenstown. The cloak was insured for $10,000 because it is (allegedly) a prop actually used by Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee) in the movies.

Me launcing myself from the 134-meter tall Nevis bungy jump outside Queenstown:

Tomorrow it's off to Milford Sound and the wonderful drive between Queenstown and that particularly scenic body of water and its surroundings. I'll be flying to Sydney, Australia on Nov. 22nd and be on the poisonous continent until the first week of December. More from the road as I can manage the internet access.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chores done...commence relaxation

OK, so here in the lovely climes of Christchurch, NZ I have now got:

1) air tickets all the way home
2) passport-style photos for my Cambodian visa
3) all my gear shipped away that I don't need
4) anti-malarial and anti-bacterial medications for the less dulcet climes of SE Asia

With the "work" now finished, it is now time to begin this vacation in earnest. Tomorrow I'll head southwest towards Queenstown where I'll hopefully fling myself into a 400+ tall bungee jump and go on a Lord of the Rings tour. OH, SHUT UP! You'd go on one as well if it were your favorite book that you associate with your father and travel and all things good.

There are still some folks gradually coming off the Ice tonight, and other folks that have already headed to the four corners of the compass. I'm sure no small number of them will cross paths with me in the future; some definitely will for certain. It's always interesting to see just who and where you'll run into familiar faces here around town. My most intense experience upon returning to the World was smelling the plants and water as I crossed a bridge over the Avon River here in Christchurch the first night. It was like perfume, it smelled so good.

So, to quote "Closing Time", the last song that the Picardis played last Friday night at our final concert:

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end..."

Monday, November 10, 2008

waiting on transport

OK, so in about 2 hours we'll hop on some sort of transport out to Pegasus Field to catch a C-17 to Cheech. There are all of 14 passengers on a flight on a plane that can have two lanes of traffic drive through it. I'm sure there will be mountains of cargo to keep us company, though. McMurdo is surprisingly not all that busy, but I guess it's still relatively early in the season. It's interesting observing how people won't say "hi" to you in the halls, and how the DAs (I feel their pain) won't make eye contact with diners. I guess it's the same difference leaving my small, rural home and going to the big city where folks don't wave to each other as they pass in their cars. Anyhow, we should be to New Zealand and processing through customs and all that by like 8 or 9 o'clock this evening, and this chapter in my life will be closed.

Well, I'm going to go read a book for a while and not work. This is strange, but not unwelcome, after 13 months on the clock.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

purgatory or McMurdo-same diff

Well, we're gone from Pole, but still on the "Ice". The Ice sure looks like a lot of dirty, muddy roads here, though. I guess that's part of being back in the World, though. The flight was nice, and we went over some different stretch of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains that didn't look familiar from the other 4 times I've flown between Pole and McMurdo. It's nice and warm here, and ECW seems pretty superfluous. I can only imagine what warming up another 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit will feel like tomorrow when we arrive in Cheech. Our "bag drag" is at 8pm, and it will be loads of fun packing back up and getting weighed in for the C-17 flight on the morrow. There actually was a C-17 on the ground out at Pegasus Field when we arrived at Williams "Willy" Field, but they didn't try to put us on it. So, I took a nice shower and ate a nice dinner in the back room of the galley, and now I'm enjoying the luxury of 24/7 Internet for a while. I can't actually think of anything to read about right now, though. I'd rather be reading a book in the grass in the Botanic Gardens in New Zealand. But, I'm not on call for a fire brigade and I'm not on permanent call for any science, so (I guess) life is good.

The end draws nigh

Well, I have finished my turnover and am set to depart the South Pole for an interim night in McMurdo before flying on to Christchurch, New Zealand on Tuesday. There has been so much to do ere I could actually walk away from the job that it really has not yet sunk in that I will not be here as of mid-day today.

I started this trip back in early October 2007, and I am still here. I've been through the frenetic rush of summer, and long slog of winter, and people that have been out in the World have now returned and it is time for me to go. The station is seemingly packed full of new faces (some familiar, some not), and the galley seems to be a madhouse at meal times. Leaving is not going to be an easy thing.

I've had a lot of time to discover new things about myself that I didn't know even existed. I'm lucky that they are on the whole positive and welcome discoveries. I've found new friends, and hopefully most won't be simple acquaintances that will fade with time. I've seen and done things I never would have dreamed possible before actually living them down here at Pole.

Walking across the flight line and crossing the threshold of the LC-130 today is going to be a really difficult challenge. I want to hold onto this experience as long as possible, and a return to a bit more normal life in the World seems to be a proposition that does not shine as brightly as this has. I doubt many of you readers will be much interested in reading about me being unemployed and living out of my parents' barn come New Year's Day.

That being said, my favorite book says essentially what I'm feeling right now at the conclusion to one of the most remarkable years of my life thus far:

"For the Third Age was over, and the Days of the Rings were passed, and an end was come of the story and song of those times."
~J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Saturday, November 8, 2008

on the bubble

Well, I still don't know exactly when I will be leaving what once was South Pole to me for over 9 months. I say "what once was", because we've been inundated with folks for the summer, and there are only just under 20 of the 60 winterovers left on station. I am supposed to find out at 3pm whether or not my boss and replacement feel comfortable letting me leave after these few days of turnover training. The next day I might be able to leave is Wednesday, based upon the flight schedule. I have a feeling that the decision will be made to keep me here until then. It stands to reason that seeing most of my friends leave and feeling crowded out of my own home by hordes of (mostly) strangers, as well as my trepidations about not having another job lined up yet, have conspired to leave me in not the best of moods. Still, it's an interesting change of perspective from a year ago. I'm sure there were winterovers that felt exactly as I do now, and it's good to keep that in mind.

More news will be relayed when it is available (and the satellite is up)...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

flight of the bumble-tech

Well, some folks that spent the winter here got to leave yesterday. A whole mess of new folks arrived, including the 3 guys that are here to replace me. I guess that should make me feel good about myself that it takes that much manpower to cover what I did this year, but right now it's just a scheduling/training nightmare. Today is pretty much being sacrificed to turning over the emergency response teams to the newbies, so science is pretty much shot (except for the fact that I still have to get all the daily science checks done on top of all the ER stuff-typical). I'm scheduled to leave on Monday now, and hopefully that date won't slide any further.

"I have a bad feeling about this..."
~Any number of characters in Star Wars

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

taking the stage one last time

Well, whether it happens tomorrow or Saturday, this will be the last time the Scroggin' Wankers or Picardis perform together. It has been a good run this winter, and I hope these summer folks take the time to show up to the concert. I'll have to find time to help set the gear up around my much-belated turnover to 3 people allegedly arriving today. I also took my last creative spin as a poster maker, and managed a pretty decent advertisement for The Scroggin' Wankers a couple nights ago:

Despite my departure being only a few day away, it still hasn't really sunk in yet. I feel like I've been here a very long time, but the end doesn't really register as being in sight. I have nothing definite planned once the new year rolls around, and that's making leaving seem a very mixed bag of good and somewhat bad. It's going to be hard to top this place for quality of living and sense of adventure. I have been very lucky to have had this time here.

If all the flights happen today, we'll have 2 LC-130 Hercules, 1 Basler, and 1 Twin Otter arrive at Pole. There are a bunch of folks set to depart, which is fine with me, as I'm tired of watching them lounge about not working for the last few days.

Adversity is the first path to truth.
~George Gordon Byron

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

hurry up and wait

Well, we're still waiting around for planes carrying replacements for us to arrive. The last few days it has been weather forecasted for here or McMurdo that has impacted the nominal flight schedule. I'm pretty much guaranteed to be here through at least early next week, if not the middle of next week, so as of Monday I'll start losing out on travel plans already made for New Zealand. At least the three guys replacing the one of me should be well rested and ready to go after cooling their heels at McMurdo for so long. It's starting to get weird being here overlapping dates on consecutive years. Deployment to the Ice now feels like ancient history, and I've still got plenty of work left to do before I am released from this contract. Below is a picture from fire school last year; I've always like things pyrotechnic:

Hey, and I just had to run off to respond to a false fire alarm in the garage! The excitement never stops at rock-em' sock-em' South Pole.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Just guess

Yea, there's a Basler headed our direction today, but not from McMurdo full of eager beaver replacements for us at Pole. This is actually the second Basler to come down to the Ice, and is just stopping through here briefly to refuel before wining off for McMurdo. The situation would almost be comical at this point, if it weren't for all the hassle this delay will cause folks trying to readjust travel plans or transitions to new jobs off-Ice.

Speaking of travel, I'm still doing my best to make up my mind about travel plans, not that I'm going anywhere anytime soon. If I were a samurai, I'd be a failure in that regard.

"In the words of the ancients,
one should make his decision within the space of seven breaths.
It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit
to break through to the other side."

~Yamamoto Tsunetomo, The Hagakure

Thursday, October 30, 2008

So it begins...or continues to not begin

Yup, the Basler was canceled for us at Pole here today because of bad weather in McMurdo. If this lasts long enough for the good weather here to fail then get nice in McMurdo, we'll have the first volley of "weather pong" delaying redeployment. It should be noted that a lot of this situation was due to budget shortfalls. I'm sure The Powers That Be have made every possible sacrifice to ensure that the people in the field aren't carrying the lion's share of the burden that financial challenge might entail...

I've got until Monday to decide about ditching Oz/SE Asia for the Atlantic, but will probably opt not to further complicate my life by trying to cancel and readjust my travel plans. Besides, I've really been looking forward to bagging my 32nd to 36th countries and 6th continent for my travel resume.

“I know not how to defeat others; I know only how to win over myself.”
~Yaju Munenori, Sword Instructor to the Tokugawa Shogunate

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Decisions, decisions... Having pretty much just finished making all my plans for this trip to NZ, Oz, and SE Asia, why-oh why-did I have to finally get notice today of an opening on the Stad Amsterdam for a 19-day trans-Atlantic voyage from the Canary Islands to St. Martin in the Caribbean?!?!?!

I'm still here at Pole doing the work thing until any of my replacements eventually show up. Allegedly the new Aurora Tech will be in tomorrow, but the other two come in later.

I wonder if I can get a charge number in my time card for "weeping and gnashing of teeth"...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

non-optimal schedules

Well, despite having loads of people planning the station opening sequence all winter, things aren't really working out so smoothly now we're actually in the process. The Basler crews got down here and then had to take two full days off flights. Then, there's days this week where Pole isn't the primary destination for the Basler. I guess we're an alternate destination for the flights should the weather at Siple Dome or WAIS Divide be inclement. It seems strange to prioritize opening field camps, where there were no winter crews, when you've got a major station like Pole with 57 winterovers that might like to leave after 9-13 months (or longer in some cases) on the Ice. Rumors are rampant here, and you just have to let them slide off you. Flight changes seemed to be happening nearly hourly yesterday, so who knows what the next few days will pan out to be like.

Regardless, the prospect of having a delayed return to the World is turning out to be quite a bummer.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Summer folk here

Sixteen souls joined the station yesterday. I didn't meet the plane since I was doing the usual daily checks. It's going to be the same case today. I really wish I had a psychology or sociology degree to bounce all this station opening stuff off of; it'd be good at least to identify whatever phobias and neuroses are bouncing around in my own head.

We just got word that the next Basler has taken off from McMurdo, so in about 4 hours we'll have another 16 or so new folk rattling around the station. The weather is clear and gorgeous today, so they shouldn't have any problem on this end of things. I think the Met folks have a good forecast for the next couple days at least, but there's unfortunately not another Basler scheduled to come to Pole until Thursday. Oh well, I'd just like my guys to whom I have to turn over my duties to show up on time.

We (Sunday Select Cinema) showed Dr. No last night, and I keep having images off all these tropical rivers on Jamaica running through my head. I guess some of those scenes were at Ocho Rios, which would be cool to visit sometime.

How about this afternoon?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Look, boss, the plane(s)!

Well, we had some visitors fly by yesterday afternoon. Some FAA guys and whatever other important folks buzzed the ski-way here at Pole allegedly doing some sort of verification of the air transport infrastructure. They came in at less than 100 feet off the deck, and we couldn't see them until they flew through the exhaust plume of the power plant. They did about 4-5 passes of the ski-way before winging back off to McMurdo. I can't say I really see the utility of this flight to Pole, but I'm sure the folks on the plane had a fun time.

Hey, as I was writing this we had the Basler arrive at Pole. Happy coincidence, though it was actually a bit underwhelming. I'm finding it hard to get excited about the station opening back up again, particularly with all my concerns about my professional career's future looming large back in the World. Regardless of my personal baggage, here are some pics of the event:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Well, we were supposed to see the Basler (turboprop-equipped DC-3) and Twin Otter aircraft today, but weather apparently intervened. And here I was, all ready to post a picture or two of something new on the blog... Oh well, I've got loads of work still to finish before they let me get on with this trip I've got in the works.

I actually got notification that my flights had been booked yesterday, so I went ahead and made a good number of the reservations I'll need for the trip itself. I still think it's going to be really interesting to get home after all this time on New Year's Eve. I'll probably have been underway for some ridiculous length of time, and will just fall asleep in the car on the way home from Wichita, but who knows what might be shaking in my sleepy little hometown on the range?

I keep getting words of commiseration from folks that are looking or know other people who are looking for jobs. It doesn't seem to be a great time to be unemployed and trying to remedy the situation. Why did all you folks on the outside have to go and mess up the economy so badly while we were down here toiling away on the Ice? That wasn't very polite of you. I guess the upshot of the situation is that if I can't find another job straight away then I might be able to talk myself into taking another trip to bag my 7th continent: Africa!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
~Mark Twain

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Working weekend

Well, things were hopping here at Pole for me over the 2-day weekend most of the station enjoyed. While the children were still nestled all snug in their beds, I was sweeping and mopping the mezzanine and my work area in the science lab. That took about three hours of my morning, and about 1.5 hours of my afternoon were taken up by cleaning on of the janitor's closets, which was very much in need of a large amount of scrubbing. The whole station will be working on Mega House Mouse today, which will hopefully get most of the rest of the facility spruced up and ready for the new occupants to commence habitation.

Tomorrow, weather providing, we'll have the Basler pass through and a Twin Otter spend the night.

I'm in the final throes of document updates and turnover report writing, but there still is a lot of work to be done before I pull up stakes and rejoin the World for a while.

Nothing is as certain as that the vices of leisure are gotten rid of by being busy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Busy before big week

Well, once I get myself ready to go this morning I'm going to start in on the very large amount of cleaning that in my share of opening this station up for the summer. Every week we have had routine "house mouse" duties to keep the station in relatively tidy order, but spring is upon us-almost summer-and we have to get the place ready for some company.

My turnover to the 3 people replacing me in various capacities is going to be an interesting process. I don't know exactly how I'm going to juggle every body's schedules, but hopefully everything will sort itself out on its own. I'm nearing the completion of all the document updates necessary to turn the reins over to the new guys, and I'll gladly be shot of that stuff once it is indeed through.

The bands have continued to practice, and between the two of them (Picardis and the Irish band) we are adding 3 new songs to the combined set list. I believe we're at just a couple days short of 3 weeks until that concert is currently scheduled to happen.

Tuesday a Basler and Twin Otter aircraft will make appearances at Pole. The Basler will continue on to McMurdo after refueling here, but the slower Twin Otter will spend the night and continue on to McMurdo the next morning. This schedule is all naturally dependent upon the weather. Once those aircraft reach McMurodo then the personnel scheduled to come down before the main station opening with the C-130 aircraft will start flying. Again, the weather has primacy in this schedule.

Hopefully things will go fairly as well as planned, because I've started the booking process for my airfare to facilitate this great trip to Australia (Sydney, Alice Springs, Darwin) and SE Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia). I should be getting home on New Year's Eve, so that will be quite a weird time to be reinserted into my past life. I'm just waiting for confirmation about the airfare from the company travel agent to book my tours, hostels, and Cambodian visa before I drop the rest of the cash, though I may cave and go ahead and do that today if I have the time while the satellite is up.

Anyhow, things are going to get really interesting here pretty quick. I'll try to keep a better stream of updates coming as station opening and turnover gets underway.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

bright sunshiney day

Today the sky is very clear, and the light outside sure looks like it did during our summer months. We've continued to have C-17 flights to McMurod shuttle people down to the Ice for the summer season, and next week the Basler and Twin Otter aircraft should make their arrival on the Ice. Everybody, well, most folks, are hurriedly getting all that last minute work done before the people they have to turnover to show up.

I'm trying to go ahead with travel plans, and can't quite make myself stop applying for jobs. My travel agent really needs to get back to me with airfare, so that I can get on with making all the other arrangements for tours and accommodations and the like.

Our bands keep practicing and sounding better and better. The Irish band is adding another song or two to the existing set, which will be significantly different than anything we've done before. I won't spoil it for any folks that might be headed this direction. That music event at station opening is going to be one awesome way to make an exit after a year down here. It still remains a bit surreal being a part of something like this. Hopefully folks will appreciate all the hard work the band members have put in over the course of the last 9 months.

Friday, October 10, 2008

decisions, decisions

Nothing new to report work-wise or really otherwise here at South Pole. I'm just in the throes of indecision about whether to start booking airfares and such for this trip home I conceived via NZ, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia. ARRGH! Why does the economy have to tank just as I'm about to get my first day off in nearly a year?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

same ol' situation

Well, I'm still here and still working at essentially the same tasks. A C-17 flight to McMurdo got "boomeranged" (turned back to Christchurch without landing in Antarctica) this morning, so the huge crowd of people headed for the Ice sitting around in New Zealand didn't get any smaller.

Monday night we wrapped up recording the last tracks for the Irish band and Picardis recording project. It's amazing how well they turned out, and doubly amazing to find myself doing this when in February I wasn't a singer or much of a guitar player. We're now back to the normal practice schedule in preparation for a concert to be given for the opening of the station for the summer season. Considering that we'll have a bunch of new people with a bunch of energy, it will probably be the best gig in which I'll ever have a chance to play.

I'm starting to slowly develop a plan for some travel immediately following my redeployment from the Ice. Yesterday I decided that I'd probably add on a quick couple of days into Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, which has me pretty excited. I have a lot of decisions to make before I lock into any trips, though. Not getting any replies to my various job applications is somewhat stressing, but I may take it as an opportunity to be unfettered by employment and see a bit of the world for a few months following this super-ultra-mega-marathon of workdays on the Ice.

Nothing is as certain as that the vices of leisure are gotten rid of by being busy.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

WX Delay

Well, the paid vacation goes on for the folks backing up in Christchurch that are trying to deploy to the Ice. The delay today is due to the fact that there are 38-kt sustained winds with 58-kt gusts and ~100m of visibility in McMurdo. So, the folks on that first flight, ~118 or so of the 400, are on-call every morning to get to the airport and deploy. The rest are just picking up their per diem every day and enjoying the fair city of Christchurch. I think some of them have probably been paid to not work already more days than I've had in the last year. Oh well, it's not their fault.

After a few days inside the ping pong ball here, the overcast is pretty much gone and the light isn't totally flat. I actually like it when the light goes that flat, because it is almost a surreal uniformity that takes over ground (well, ice) and sky. It always reminds me of the loading program in the movie "The Matrix" where the characters are just walking around in featureless white space, until they want something like "guns, lots of guns".

I didn't have time to pack anything up for our first post office of the year, but have been sorting and packing some here and there since then. I unloaded a bunch of my WWII history books I've already read that an uncle sent down this summer. I've still got 6 to go, so some of them may come a-travelin' with me if I can't get through them all. Right now I'm reading a really good one called "Winged Victory" that chronicles the history of the Army Air Force (AAF).

The bands have almost finished our recording project, and things are sounding pretty decent. A couple nights ago we did a bunch of background vocals for the various songs that needed them. It was pretty fun singing along with 5 other guys into one microphone. After that was finished up our ringleader and I stuck around and did harmony parts for "Authority Song", which was a really educational experience. We heard the size of the song just balloon, and essentially did the musical equivalent of making hamburgers into steakburgers. How's that for a dated, bizarre metaphor?

Well, the grindstone is missing me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

South Pole: Endgame

Well, yesterday we had the first attempted flight into McMurdo Station to open the summer 2008-09 season in Antarctica. Unfortunately the flight "boomeranged", turning back to Christchurch, New Zealand without landing at MacTown. I worked some of the flight following here, which likely sounds a whole lot more exciting than it is in actuality.

Work continues apace here at Pole, and some of the station opening activities have begun already. I'm thick into document update mode, and hope to get that all polished off in relatively short order. I finally managed to get those photometers off the roof after a few days gradual thawing, in addition to a little elbow grease facilitated by a pry bar.

I'm still trying to make some plans for travel once I leave, but am increasingly leery of the economic situation. I guess if things really tank then this trip could be a last hurrah for a while. It'd be a shame to lose the opportunity to see some "far off" lands whilst on this side of the planet. Besides, I've only spent like $15 down here since the station closed for winter. I need to re-acclimate to being a good little mindless consumer if I'm going to rejoin The World for a while.

“A man knows nothing if he knows not
That wealth oft begets an ape.”

~Old Norse quote
(I originally found this a few years ago in "The Long Ships" by Frans Bengtsson)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

so much for relaxation...

Well, despite the ongoing litany of safety stand-downs, holidays, and normal days off enjoyed by most of the station, I'm still here working without respite. Sunday 9/28 was my 250th consecutive day at work, and it was a productive one, which they might as well be if you have to be at work. I guess the "highlight" of the day was trying to remove some sensors from the roof, but being unable to do so because the humidity from inside the station had worked its way up into the joints around the sensor assembly and frozen it in place. So, there's yet another thing that's going to take a lot longer than originally anticipated.

We're only a few weeks away from seeing the Basler and Twin Otter aircraft transit down to the Ice for the summer season. Once they arrive we'll begin to get folks deploying to Pole sometime (likely) in the third week of October.

We had our time change yesterday morning, springing forward one hour. The lost hour was not appreciated, particularly here where the sun won't set until a few months into the next calendar year. Who needs to save when the resource is effectively endless?

Sunday Select Cinema's showing of Jurassic Park was fun last night. I ended up watching the jungle in the background about as much as the action. The movie definitely isn't high art, but it really is a good escapist story that has special effects that stand up pretty well, considering the movie is pushing 16 years of age and was one of the first movies to really get the computer graphics done right. I consider JP and Terminator 2: Judgment Day to be major landmarks heralding the age of computer graphics in cinema.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

recording continues, as does work

The recording project continues to make progress, and we'll hopefully be done with all the drum parts soon and be on to the other instrumental and vocal parts for the various bands. Last night tracks were laid down for Triceratops: The Revenge and House Mouse Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder Blues Project. I'm not entirely sure what will be on the docket for this evening.

I'm really close to having my contribution to the end of season report complete. I just now have to look back through records for what happened with the Aurora projects while I wasn't serving as the Aurora Tech. Turnover to the new Aurora Tech will be interesting, since none of us covering those projects got any formal training on them whatsoever.

I had fun doing shooting for the Sunday Select Cinema skit yesterday evening. It's fun using the locations and stuff we have down here to make our own stab at motion pictures. I'd tell you about which movie it was a spoof on, but I'm 1) not supposed to talk about it and 2) not supposed to talk about it...

It's been a bit more clear as of late, which is pretty, but makes for some colder temperatures.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

a glimpse...then gone

Well, we had the sun in the sky, but blowing snow really obscured it not too long after that. Still, it was pretty amazing seeing the sun after all that time. I actually sat in my room late last night and read by sunlight instead of lamplight. The wind has dropped a bit today, but I haven't looked outside to see if the sky is overcast or not.

The Mother of Polestock concert went well last Saturday, though the crowd was really sedate. There was some dancing during the Picardis set, but not a bit for the Irish Band. We're now using a bunch of our equipment to try and record a few songs for each band in a semi-studio environment. Last night the drummer for the two bands laid down six solid tracks, which was good because it was anticipated that his contribution would be the hardest to capture. Hopefully it will all turn out sounding pretty good!

Well, I have another calibration to do out atop ARO today. I also plan on finishing up my end of season report today. I have to go back and add yesterday's power outage. One of our generators had a mechanical failure, but thankfully the various UPS systems that support my projects all properly kicked in and prevented anything from being messed up.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Eventful week

Well, this week has been jam-packed with all sorts of work and play thus far, and it's going to finish on up exactly the same way.

I got my big triple calibration for the UV monitoring project done this week, which took about 5 hours. It really is interesting how some projects are so much more labor intensive than others. But, at least that's behind me and the system is pretty much set for the summer.

I had my last day as dishwasher on Thursday. It wasn't too bad, despite there being a bit extra work for all the prep the cooks were doing for our sunrise dinner we had last night. It was a huge Thanksgiving dinner served family style, and was by far the most passing of food I've ever done at a meal. The machinist on station made everybody an individualized brass coin with their name and winterover number. The winterover number is determined by year and alphabetic order when people did their first winter at the South Pole. I'm number 1,203 person to spend a winter at South Pole. After dinner was over the bands had a relatively quick sound check for our concert Saturday night: Mother of Polestock. We had a bit of trouble with feedback, but eventually got things sounding pretty good.

During the day yesterday some of us got to teleconference into a meeting of the Association of Space Explorers. You, um, have to have orbited the Earth at least once to be a member. That's why conversation among this group could include phrases like, "OK, so most of us have flown on the Shuttle..." Good grief, was that cool! Our station science lead here at Pole gave a good presentation that explained what science and operations were performed here at Pole, and there was the connection made about how this is a good testing ground for a lot of topics similar to those encountered in space exploration. The ASE members definitely seemed appreciative of the challenges that working here entails, so it'd be nice if they could communicate that appreciation for high-latitude experience to the hiring folks for the new astronaut class.

Anyhow, outside of all this interesting stuff is a whole lot of report writing for the end of the season. I need to get back to that now. Later.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More pics & work

Yesterday I finally got a repair done to one project that had a recurring problem with its aperture falling out. It had been plaguing us a lot of the winter, so hopefully that's all in the past. This morning I'm working on writing my end of season report (joy), which is one of many reports (huzzah) I have to get done before too long. I guess that's a necessary part of turnover to one's replacement(s), but boy does it fall at the worst time during the season.

More pics follow with further indications that there might be a star somewhere in close proximity to this planet:

Saturday, September 13, 2008


OK, I got a few photos of the growing light on the horizon last night around 1 o'clock. The overcast had cleared up a good deal then, but now only a few hours later it looks to be back to the cloudy pall.

That's such a radically different view than we had for most of 6 months!

There isn't much to report from the last few days, though. Last night I watched the first episode of the first season of the original "Kung Fu" TV series starring David Carradine. It was surprisingly good, but I don't think a show that slow paced could make it on TV these days.

I hear the grasshopper!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Long time, no write

Sorry for the dearth of posts this week. I've been really busy with a variety of work-related activities, particularly my efforts to get the hardware for one of my projects that studies UV radiation reinstalled atop the roof of the Atmospheric Research Observatory. There are three instruments and one GPS receiver that don't stay outside during the winter, which is coincidentally when there isn't any UV here at Pole, so I had to reinstall and verify that they were all working. It seems like everything is running nominally, so that's a bit of a relief.

The big Damoclean sword hanging over my head is now all the writing that I have to do. Between end-of-season reports, turnover reports for multiple positions I hold, SOPs, and other lab documentation I have what feels like another thesis to get through in these last few months on the Ice.

We took our winterover photo this week out at Spoolhenge. That "landmark" is just a bunch of cable spools that have been stacked up out on the (grid) southeast corner of the station. I walked straight there from ARO, and pretty much the whole way got to see lots of the "yukimarimo" puffballs made of windblown snow. I even saw some interesting ones that weren't round, but were more cylindrical or hot dog-shaped.

So, other than a bunch of work and not loads of play, that's about all that has been reasonably interesting this week. I'll take some pictures as soon as it isn't so very overcast here. The colors in the sky have been brilliant when the sky has been clear, and it's really remarkable to see this place clearly again.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The shades come off

Well, yesterday we got to take the covers off the windows in the new station. It didn't really open us up to the outside world, though. The windows are so heavily tinted that they just look like black mirrors with as little light as there is outside. That will change soon enough, and we'll be cursing the low-angle sun blinding us during meals in the galley once again. It actually makes it seem more night-like with those black windows all over the place, but when you go outside it definitely is a whole lot brighter.

I've started the process of setting some equipment back up for the summer, so things are starting to come full circle. The first flight into McMurdo happened on Thursday, so the continent is once again open for business. We won't be seeing anybody (or any fresh fruit) here at Pole until the last week or so of October. It's now just under two weeks until the sun rises here, which means that the bands are going to be shifting back into overdrive to get our sets prepared for the sunrise party.

Being Sunday, I'm naturally looking forward to my weekly installment of Sunday Select Cinema. Tonight we're watching "The Third Man", which should be a good one. I think a lot of folks weren't really captivated by the preview for it last week, so we will probably have a bit smaller audience than the last few weeks. Maybe some folks will at least come to watch the trailer "reel".

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

keep on truckin'

Well, the beat goes on here at South Pole. We had a very successful art show on Sunday afternoon, and there were some pretty neat things on display and being done. A huge photo mosaic, made up of small photos, of one of the UTs was unveiled in its nice frame built by the carps. That will hopefully (and rightfully) take its place hanging out in the main second floor hallway here in the elevated station. It's fun to scrutinize the little constituent images to find photos that you recognize.

In the evening there was quite a rowdy open mic night. I donned my turtleneck and watch cap and sang the sea chanteys "Fiddler's Green" and "Radcliffe Highway" a capella, and passed out little cards with the chorus printed on them so the crowd could join in like we did when singing them aboard the Soren Larsen. Some folks were more than a little impaired, so there was a good deal of activity that I could have done without that evening.

There is generally more light in the sky, I'll try to take some photos in the next couple days, but this has been accompanied with quite a bit of overcast. I guess around the end of the week we'll be allowed to remove the window coverings and get to watch the growing glow from the comfort of our fair station.

I'm still totally in the dark on all job hunt applications I've submitted. None of the companies are getting back to me, and I need to decide how long I can put off making some concrete travel plans. I know I'll spend some time in New Zealand, and sure wouldn't mind going on another Lord of the Rings tour (it's almost that time of year for my annual read to begin). I already have a free pass to go do a really tall (440 feet) bungee jump in Queenstown, so that is definitely on the itinerary.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Busy week/weekend

Well, with some of my projects winding down for the season as the sun's light washes out the night sky it has been a pretty busy week. All three of my winter-only projects are now shut down, and I have a lot of preparation and packing to get some (or all, in one case) of their hardware ready to ship back to the World for servicing and data capture once the planes start flying again. We're also going to have a lot of reports to write here at the end of the season, so that will not be the most fun thing to do at the end of a work "week" that will have stretched ad infinitum since January 22, when I got back from R&R in McMurdo.

This is yet another long weekend for the privileged classes here at Pole. There is an art show, farmer's market, open mic night, and a bunch of other stuff being put on Sunday. Monday is the second day off for them, and we've moved the Sunday Select Cinema showing (feature presentation: "Das Experiment", which is all too appropriate for down here in the winter)to Monday night. I might do a couple sea chanteys at the open mic night, and am not sure how much of the other stuff I'll be able to attend around work.

As Vonnegut wrote, "So it goes."

Monday, August 25, 2008

In memoriam

I received a bit of sad news yesterday.

In sixth grade my teacher did some work with us kids on the topic of space. Now, I knew about astronauts and the Space Shuttle and NASA and all that before this, but it never really reached out and grabbed me like it did at that point in my life. There were some boys a year older than me that had gone to the Space Camp at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center the previous summer, and they came to our classroom to talk about their experiences at that camp. I pretty much thought this was about as cool a thing you could dream up, and was lucky enough that my folks could put together the money to send me to the camp in Hutchinson the following two summers. The second year of the camp included a several-day trip by bus down to Houston to tour the Johnson Space Center. I'd never seen anything like astronauts actually in the old neutral buoyancy tank practicing space walks or the titanic Saturn V booster that was on display. Unsurprisingly, this proved to be a majorly formative experience that has had echoing repercussions in my life to this very day as I await word on my first application to NASA to become an astronaut candidate for real.

I've been most lucky in my life to have a very supportive family, set of teachers, friends, and total strangers as regards to my long-term goal to reach this lofty goal that I set for myself in the sixth grade. My teacher played a major role in inspiring me and introducing me to this fascinating field that is now my profession, and I greatly regret that she succumbed to cancer before I managed to climb the gravity well into space. I hope to be able to repay the support and assistance I've received from her and so many people by actually making my goal a reality and letting them share in that experience vicariously.

This picture appeared in my local newspaper back then, and features me and two friends/classmates of mine that attended the camp that first year. We all ended up in quite technical careers, and I often wonder how much our experience that summer had to do with where we've gotten to at this point in our lives.

Ad Astra Per Aspera
"To the stars through difficulties..."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quiet week

Well, there hasn't been loads to report from South Pole during the latter days of this week. It has been pretty much par for the course on all accounts. People talk of their work and travel plans for after the Ice fairly often, and it's interesting to hear what options they are considering. I managed to get on the standby list for a trans-Atlantic tall ship voyage, which I will probably go ahead and do should an opening manifest itself in the next month or so. I don't want to pay through the nose extra just because I couldn't book airfare early enough.

I guess we did have a nice teleconference with the folks at the Mars Phoenix Lander operations team. The Pole and MPL delegations exchange recent photos and answer each other's questions. It's finally getting colder at night there in the Martian Arctic than we are here at Earth's southern geographic pole. Next month the idea is to get us, MPL, and the International Space Station in on the same conference call together. I'll be there with rings on my fingers and bells on my toes!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Movie gods & rock stars

Well, last night my partner in crime and I filmed a couple new little clips for the trailers to be shown the next two weeks at Sunday Select Cinema. One of them is tied into the fact that we'll be showing "Das Experiment" on 9/1, and the other is related to the fact that I found all the worst previews for new movies and am putting them all together into one monstrous, maddening ball of mediocrity. It has nothing to do with us watching "The Third Man" whatsoever.

Well, thanks to a gifted local photog, here are a couple pictures from the concert this past weekend. For some reason the event acquired a pirate theme, and I did my best to buckle some swashes.

In two weekends there is going to be another small coffeehouse-type event. I'm kicking around a few ideas for that, but they will have to be simple as I've got a lot on my plate already with the Irish band and Picardis. Oh yeah, and work too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lighten up, man!

OK, so we've got new light in the sky, as well as that of come companions we'll be bidding farewell to all too soon. The first picture is of the growing twilight on the horizon and the second is of the moon (just set below the horizon) and a streak of aurora. I'm sure going to miss auroras...

The Irish band had its meeting last night to choose our next songs to work on and watch some video from the concert Saturday. I'll be singing Drunken Dirty B@st@rd by the Mahones, which is oddly appropriate if you know that I haven't had anything to drink all winter and am getting tired of some of the social scene down here. I caution you, it is a highly catchy tune that will be stuck in your head should you listen to it! Monday night we had a practice with Picardis (our new name for the rock cover band). That's Picard like Capt. Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I got my guitar amp and effects pedal switched to something more appropriate, so hopefully that will improve our sound somewhat. Our new set list has some challenging songs, and one song I'll be singing involves what Tim calls "yodeling", and I wouldn't mind rolling around on the beach with a super model like the original singer got to in the video. Yeah, I'll let you guess the tune. It shouldn't be too difficult.

I certainly never figured on music playing such a major role in my South Pole experience.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Class acts

Well, we Polies got to live a bit of the high life last night while watching the latest James Bond movie "Casino Royale" at my little Sunday Select Cinema shindig. Our snack included salmon roe caviar, which actually was hardly touched by folks at all. I'll admit that I'm not too keen on that fishy taste myself. But, if you're going offer caviar, why not at a Bond flick?

Last night we hit -99.9 degrees Fahrenheit. People got the sauna fired up in anticipation of doing the 300 club, but it didn't come to pass. Just to reiterate, the 300 club is running from a +200F sauna to a -100F outdoors ambient temperature.

Saturday night we had the concert in the gymnasium. The Irish band did a good job, though due to some difficulties with volume settings in our monitors on stage we had to stop one song and restart it once the players could actually hear each other. I had to soldier through with some tired vocal chords, but people have been very complimentary of the performance. The falsetto song Kiss by Prince and Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana were both highlights, and the most challenging songs to get up to reasonable performance quality. I'll post pictures when other folks get them shared on the community hard drive.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

here we go again

Well, last night found a group of us musical-types setting up the PA once again in the gymnasium. We're supposed to be doing "bare bones" gig, but it seems like we're doing 95% of the work for a normal show. I'm going to do a lot of singing for the two bands I'm playing in, and I really hope my voice holds out to the end of the final set.

The temperature jumped ~40 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. It's still really quite windy out there, but at least it isn't -93F like it was when I was working outside yesterday.

I'm currently reading the classic (and critically acclaimed) graphic novel "WATCHMEN", and the action is now taking place in a lair in Antarctica. It's funny how this continent shows up in popular culture when you least expect it.

Yesterday I applied for a job as an astronaut instructor for the communications and network systems used on the Space Shuttle. It'll be interesting to see whether I get a response on this job application. No real news has been received about any other applications I have submitted.

I tried to get the new Indiana Jones movie down here by writing Spielberg and Lucas this summer, but didn't have any luck. I'm considering trying to contact folks to see if we couldn't take part in the world premiere of the 22nd James Bond film "Quantum of Solace" on October 29th. It's almost a sure bet nothing will come of it, but why not? The first date my mom and dad went on (at the tender ages of 14 and 17, respectively) was to see "Thunderball", which was also the first time my mom had been to a movie theater, so the Bond franchise figures fairly largely in my nuclear family's history.

This week's Sunday Select Cinema feature presentation is going to be the new "Casino Royale". I've been gradually watching some of the extras on the DVD, and I think I'm starting to place a lot of my daydreaming of different environs/activities into James Bond's fantasy world. I mainly keep thinking about driving very nice sports cars very fast through beautiful countryside. It might as well be a different planet for as much chance as I'll have to do that anytime soon. The only times I've even been in a vehicle all winter have been in an LMC (tracked snowcat-type thing) riding out to an emergency response false alarm or two.

Aston Martin DBS: 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, top speed ~200 mph.
LMC: 0-60 mph in, well, never (unless you drop it out of an airplane).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

failure rate rising

OK, it's weird how things work (or in this case don't work) down here. I swear that my projects sense when one of the others has a problem and decide to have problems themselves then. It's cyclical, and it seems there's no amount of prevention that can forestall it from happening.

Sailing on the Stad Amsterdam seems to be vetoed by my gender right now. I got word back that only female berths remain vacant, which is really lame. It's a bit bizarre when folks turn down your offer to give them thousands of dollars.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Putting the "N" in NPX

So, NPX is the abbreviation for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Now, before you say anything crude about my intelligence, just remember that this place was originally occupied by the U.S. Navy. Hence, NPX actually standing for Naval Pole Station, not North Pole Station.

So, why the talk about the boat folks? Well, because for SSC I showed "Master and Commander" last night. It really was a lot of fun to see a ship (The Surprise) which I got to tour way back when I was getting some training for a science project in San Diego. I had a slide show of my pictures playing before we rolled the hilarious trailer "reel" in which I got to do my best bombastic announcer voice in both English and Russian. Sunday morning a friend and I made some sea biscuits (a.k.a. hard tack) for theme snacks during the movie that evening. I mistakenly used bread flower, which had some leavening agent, so the biscuits rose a little bit while being baked. We let them sit out on the bakery rack all day, which meant that what little moisture was left in them got mostly sucked out by our lovely desert air here on the Antarctic Plateau. The weird thing was that these sea biscuits were made with an expectation that people wouldn't really want to eat something with very little taste and the consistency of some weaker forms of stone. It came as a total surprise when folks actually ate them up pretty quickly, and commented on how good they were. I guess when the kitchen has their day off folks here will appreciate most any tidbit somebody else will prepare for them!

It all combined to make me really want to sign up to go on the Stad Amsterdam when I get out of here, and spend 19 days sailing from the Canary Islands to St. Martin. Crossing the Atlantic by sail would definitely be quite an adventure, and with masts about twice as tall as those of the Soren Larsen I could definitely get my kicks up in the rigging.

Here at Pole we're sitting on our own ocean, but it's of a bit more frozen/solid state than most.

Friday, August 8, 2008

One week to go

Well, the Irish band had a good practice last night. We're down to one week remaining before our next gig, and I'm confident we'll be able to put on a good performance. I just hope my voice holds out throughout the entirety of the evening when I had to do singing for both bands. I've never tried doing it all in one night, but at least we won't be playing the songs more than once. Tonight we have practice with Re-Tardis, which should be good too.

Tonight after practice I'm going to do some voice over recording for the previews to be shown before the Sunday Select Cinema feature presentation. I'm also going to do my best baking to capture the rock-hardness of ship's biscuit/hard tack. We'll see if anybody gives it a try at SSC, let alone can actually masticate the stuff. It's too bad we don't have any weevils to put in the mix to lend that extra bit of verisimilitude.

Always choose the lesser of two weevils!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

You get the drift?

I get "the drift" going and coming these days, to ARO that is. The upwind drift of the elevated station seems to be growing at an amazing rate. It's probably at least 12 feet tall right now, and with all the wind we've been having it really has changed drastically from just a few days ago. It's pretty calm out there today, but with no clouds in the sky to help insulate us the temperature has dropped about twenty degrees from yesterday to -85F. There is a crescent moon in the sky now, which is nice to help navigate over the new sastrugi deposited on the surface of the Antarctic Plateau.

Both bands I'm playing in are making good progress. The Irish band really made some good strides towards locking down a few more songs last night. Our next gig will be in two weekends, and I'll make sure to post the link to the webcast if we have satellite coverage at that time. Odds are we won't, but I will if it's available.

I don't have any news to report on future employment or travel plans. It'd be nice if the former could get figured out, which would then let me make plans for the latter.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Well, I'm pushing pretty hard to get through all the books I brought or was sent down here. I've gotten 41 books read since the beginning of the new year, and I'm currently reading about 5 more in parallel. The main book I'm pushing on getting through is "The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East" by Robert Fisk. It's only 1,283 pages long, but he's a really accessible writer, and it's not difficult to read whatsoever-just very lengthy. The last full chapter I finished was about the Armenian Holocaust of 1915. I just now need fewer things to do to get in the way of me finishing off this and all the other books I have remaining.

I even skipped an open mic event on Saturday night so that I could get in some hours of uninterrupted reading. I had thought about doing a couple sea chanteys for the event, but just didn't feel up to it. It was probably fine that I missed the most of it, since a few folks seemed to have had a bit too good a time for their own good/my taste.

"Unforgiven" was the feature presentation for Sunday Select Cinema last night. That movie absolutely was firing on all cylinders. There's such a richness to the dialog and acting, and (of course) the scenery really pops out to those of us that haven't been anywhere but the Flat White for the better part of a year.

Schofield Kid: "Well, I guess they had it coming..."
William Munny: "We all got it coming, kid."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Walls closing in...

And the ceiling too, for that matter. On Wednesday we had a pretty cool emergency response drill here practicing the extraction of a patient from a confined space. One group went down into the ice tunnels and "rescued" a simulated patient from those chilly, sub-ice passages. I was in the other team that went into the sub-floor beneath the music room and gymnasium and pulled out another simulated patient on a back board, like he'd had some sort of spinal injury. It was neat getting to see a different bit of the station, but boy was there a lot of dust (mostly from gypsum board, I think) to inhale as all those folks scooted around.

I've still no word back from Belgium about the ISS Ops Engineer job. Hopefully something (good or not so good) will come winging down the ether into my inbox before close of business tomorrow, which will still be Friday back in European time zones.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Extraterrestrial visitor

Wow! Walking back from ARO this afternoon I saw a beautiful meteor (or piece of space junk) streak its way across the sky. It was a brilliant green color, and didn't just wink out really quickly. I actually got to watch its progress across the field of stars. It was very lucky that the wind had died down from last night/this morning and that the clouds had dissipated so that I could see this event take place.

There's no word from Belgium yet about the ISS Ops Engineer job, but it's still early in the week. It's also still Monday night in that part of the world, so that has undoubtedly got something to do with it.

I definitely am thinking a lot about this crossroads at which I find myself. I have been pretty down that it seems like there is little chance for me to be able to continue chasing my dream of becoming an astronaut as well as continue to come down to this remarkable continent at world's end. I find myself doing what Frodo did in the Shire before setting out on his quest do dispose of the One Ring. Is this the last time I shall see the aurora? Is this the last time I will stand and listen to the sound of nothing on the Antarctic Plateau? Is this the last conversation I will have with this person? Both paths have their ups and downs, but it's a shame it feels like they have to mutually exclusive.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Run for the jungle

Well, I got to see a new (as in I'd never seen it before, not illegally downloaded) movie last night. The Sunday Select Cinema showing was of Mel Gibson's gorgeous flick Apocalypto. The scenery and costumes were really top-notch. It's amazing how alien that jungle landscape looks after this much time in a nearly sterile landscape here at South Pole. Yesterday on my walk out to ARO I stopped and listened, and since the breeze was really low there was essentially not a sound to be heard, nothing alive, but beautiful nonetheless. I even recognized some of the Mayan words from a trip in 2002 to visit some friends down in Belize where they were living in a Mayan village. Somebody told somebody else to go kill that dog, and they used the word "peck", which I recalled from my time in the village. So, that was pretty cool, and a nice indicator that my memory isn't being too adversely affected by my time here in stir at the Pole.

So far this week things are pretty routine here. I just spent a couple hours sorting electronic cables of different sorts, which was different. People keep talking about travel and their next jobs, and I have one friend that bounces at least one new idea for a trip off me every day. I'm still in holding pattern, but will hopefully have some light shed on one option (in Belgium) this week if the company notifies me like they said last week. In researching Belgium I came across this Kattenfestival (Festival of the Cats) where fake cats are flung from the belfry of a church in Ypres. Now that sounds like one happenin' festival!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Weekend nigh

Well, the last few days have been pretty peaceful here at Pole. Today we actually have scalding temperatures up in the -40s Fahrenheit range, so that's nice for a change.

I've begun the process of updating procedures and documentation for the various projects on which I work, so that should hopefully be out of the way before I have to start to really think about how I'm going to facilitate turn-over to my replacement in October/November.

NASA has been potentially going to take our satellite passes on the TDRSS birds for the last couple days, but-evidenced by my posting here-that has not yet come to pass. They are doing upgrades and tests to the ground system, as I understand it, to help ensure mission success for the next and final trip the Shuttle will make to the Hubble Space Telescope here in the next few weeks.

I've been practicing music for both the bands quite a bit, and just last night one of the other guys and I had a vocals-only practice to go over the harmony parts we'll be singing in some of our set list. It's going to be a real challenge to get my hands and voice to work at different things at the same time and have it still sound good, but I think the harmony will add a lot to the overall performance.

So, all's well here at the bottom of the world. Folks are definitely thinking and talking about plans for After a lot these days, despite the months we still have to go before redeployment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rude awakening, sort of

Well, I got to do a middle-of-the-night check of all my projects equipment last night because we had a brief power outage here at Pole. All my projects were working properly, and it is nice to see that the UPS systems here actually can function properly. I generally don't trust these systems for some reason. Anyhow, it wasn't all that bad, and I was thankful that it wasn't much worse. The wind was really blowing on my way to ARO, and boy is there nothing quite like an Antarctic breeze blowing right through the vents in your goggles to wake you up.

The moon is down again, and it's like somebody turned the light switch off for the great outdoors. We don't really have all that long, just a couple weeks, until the sun starts glowing a bit on the horizon. I'll probably miss the night, as there is so much more to see in the sky without that pesky ball of fusion blotting it out with its glare.

The details of our redeployment off the Ice are plastic to the extreme. The latest dish is that we might all be delayed one extra week (weather dependent). I'm sure loads of us will take that poorly, but for me-whatever. I do want to make sure I have enough time to hang out and travel with friends in New Zealand before they and I separate paths. It will be nice to be able to put down the radio, get off-call, and just relax.

Here's to a future day without work!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Let's get pedagogical!

Well, Sunday night was a busy one for me. In addition to running my Sunday Select Cinema (showing The Last Samurai), I first had to give my much-belabored science lecture titled Three Remarkable Spacecraft: SOHO, Mercury MESSENGER, and Mars Phoenix Lander. It went pretty well, despite the video not working on one of the computers I was using with a projector, but the other computer worked and folks could see everything on the big flat-screen TVs in the galley. The length actually came out to be just right, with plenty of time left at the end for the few questions people had to pose. It's a bit of a relief having that behind me, but I'm glad I did it. It was interesting getting to research some missions I didn't know a whole lot about, as well as present information about the spacecraft I have worked on for the longest period of time (SOHO).

Last night the band practice The Doors' "L.A. Woman" in earnest for the first time, and boy is it a fun one to play. I think our sets for the band (soon to be formerly) known as Re-Tardis and the Irish band (yet to be formally named) are going to be a whole lot of fun. I'm now just a bit worried about getting all my parts memorized and polished up, as well as simply being able to carry the key in which I have to sing Prince's song "Kiss". Talk about reaching for the stars...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Saturday afternoon

Well, most of the station is off right now for "safety stand-down", but I'm still here-as always-plugging away. It's actually really nice outside right now. The temperature is in the -50s F and the wind isn't blowing all that hard. Call me crazy, but it almost felt balmy. I can only imagine what the World will feel like once I redeploy from the Ice.

I've started thinking about what sort of travel I might like to do once I leave, and sailing has been looming extremely largely in my head. It still feels like a waste of time doing this research online, since I have no idea what sort of job offer might come along and trump everything else. Still, it would be nice to catch up on the time off I've missed while being down here on-call and working ever day.

Here are a couple pics of 1) outside and 2) my rack of science electronics with the lights in the lab turned off.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

another week, another dollar

Well, I don't have much to report about work down here this week. It's pretty much the same thing every day, with little variations here and there. Yesterday was one of my days to work in the "dish pit", which was the scene of most of my SP experience last year as a substitute Dining Attendant down here. I had to take care of my other duties as Research Associate in addition to getting the dishes, pot, pans, silverware, and general cleaning taken care of.

I've also been incorporated into another band here at SP. I'm now playing guitar, harmonica, and singing for an Irish band, which has been loads of fun so far. I know The Pogues is one of the groups we're playing at least one song from, and man is it different from plain old rock 'n roll like we're playing with Re-Tardis. After hearing me sing a song by Nirvana at practice on Saturday night, I got asked if I'd like to give the Irish stuff a shot. I guess my voice is getting stronger as I sing more, because there's this totally different voice that I can turn on and sing with confidence for these more aggressive songs. I guarantee you folks that know me in person (and remember my voice, despite my lengthy absence from The World) are going to get a real kick out of it. Anyhow, music is continuing to play a huge role in my winter here at the South Pole.

I've also unveiled my "Host" character I'm going to incorporate into advertising and the preview roll we have before the Sunday Select Cinema movie showing I've orchestrated on Sunday nights here. It's amazing what two paper towels wadded up and stuffed into one's cheeks can do for your looks... Doing that reminded me of one of the costumes Peter Sellers donned for "Revenge of the Pink Panther".

"Haul away your rolling king,
Heave away, haul away!
Haul away, oh hear me sing
We're bound for South Australia!"