Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The real rocker in the family

I'm not the only good boy in a rock band right now. My brother is currently in a group called Vegetable. He's only been playing guitar/bass for most of his life, so is actually not at all a poser like me, who is just beginning to learn the instrument. Scope their band's website out at:

Worship Ra!

Training for winter: Comms and Fuels

I got to spend all morning yesterday getting trained to do the Communications Operator job, primarily focusing on following flights to and from South Pole from McMurdo. None of the Comms operators stay for the winter, so it falls on the shoulders of a few people in the winterover crew to take care of their responsibilities as long as there are still planes flying on the continent. We will work the last LC-130 flight out of Pole for the season, and then will also provide back-up support for flights to and from McMurdo from Christchurch. It was a lot like working the flight operations on SOHO, and by far the most difficult thing is sorting out all the different radio channels you are listening to at once. I had a lot of fun doing it, and look forward to getting more acquainted with the whole process (and making announcements on our PA system). Despite a strong urge to do M*A*S*H-style addresses, I'll be keeping it professional.

In the evening I also attended the first training session for the fuels operations that will have to happen over the winter. We have to take care of running the fuels for the last flight, any flights over the winter (hopefully none), and the first flight or so that come back into Pole in the spring. Over the winter our crew will also have to break down some of the fuels infrastructure and put it into storage until we set it up once again in the spring to start supporting aircraft operations.

I started to get this different vibe which totally screamed "this is winter" during the second training session. It was sinking in that we're on our own and everything that must be done to keep the station running will be done by us few folks, with no physical assistance from the rest of the planet. That's both a bit daunting, but extremely exciting at the same time. I'm definitely doing what I need to be doing in my life right now.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I've got blisters on my fingers!

Well, maybe just some pretty raw spots and one nasty crack. I just finished playing guitar for three hours and feel like I've been drinking from the fire hose. This is the beginning of what will hopefully be a successful winter's participation in a rock band here at South Pole. I'm going to be a rhythm guitarist, and-yes-even a vocalist on a few songs. It should be a great way to keep busy in my off-time, and should be a great way to meet girls...oh, wait, no. Anyhow, it should still be a blast, and I will hopefully FINALLY fulfill a wish to be part of a rock band that I've had since way back in high school when some guys a year ahead of me had their little group called Deaf Man Missing that played at a lot of school functions. It's going to take a lot of work, time, and-initially-a lot of flesh off my fingers, but it's going to be so cool to really get up on stage and let it all hang out. Just to reiterate, yes, I did say I will be singing in public, which hasn't happened since 8th grade way back in 1992.

So, in other news, we're starting the process of jockeying for rooms here in the station for winter. I'm not sure exactly how all the precedence works out other than if you have more time on the Ice that you probably have more say. I just don't want a room that's half of what can be made into a double room. They have a partition that is especially acoustically transparent, and it'd be nice to have a little more insulation and privacy from the rest of the population. Even Superman needed his Fortress of Solitude, Captain Picard his Ready Room, and Pee-wee his Playhouse.

The temperature is steadily dropping here. In the last few days it has gone from about -29F to roughly -33F to -34F, with the windchill in the mid -50Fs. If it keeps up I may have to start wearing at least long johns under my jeans for my daily trips out to ARO...

Friday, January 25, 2008

End draws nigh for some

Well, a big milestone for the summer season was reached yesterday. The IceCube drillers finished up their 18th and last string deployment, and will quite quickly start sending folks home that don't need to be here for the break-down of their camp infrastructure. They are throwing an end-of-season party tonight, but I may opt to play some guitar and get some reading done instead. I have to get back into the swing of being on-call for fire team and all that again now that my brief stint of R&R is history.

There is also the showing of the SPIFF (South Pole International Film Festival) tonight, with movies made by people down here on-station. That should be a lot of fun as well. I didn't get a chance to participate in a film this summer, but we might have a winter version of the festival.

While doing my checks out in ARO yesterday it felt remarkably empty and quiet. We currently don't have any visiting project staff out there, so the place is relatively free of extra equipment and people. I guess it will only get quieter out there as we move into winter, which is pretty nice as a change of pace from the sometimes noisy group of folks that work in the B2 science lab.

I filled out a complaint form online today with the USPS about my pilfered iPod, and felt like it was pretty much a total waste of time. Bummer...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Back in the saddle again

Well, after my first full day back here at Pole it feels pretty good to be back in the swing of things. I spent most of the day yesterday out working with a visiting project staff member (perhaps the last one of the summer for me) on the UV monitoring network equipment in the Atmospheric Research Observatory. Late in the afternoon I worked out on the ARO roof changing some hardware on a number of the sensors for the project. The temperature has dropped about 10 degrees since we left for R&R, so my hands were getting really cold. I was working with pretty small nuts and bolts, and touching those and the tools without using gloves really sucked the heat out of my hands. Regardless, it was a good day and it is good to be back here at 90 south for a very long stay.

Here's a random photo from Scott's hut, just for kicks:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

R&R Continued, and back at Pole

We had a nice flight back to Pole today. I slept pretty much the entire way, which was nice for a change. Everybody was eager to hear how things went, and I had one lady tell me that I look different compared to before I left. I wouldn't doubt it, since I'm feeling pretty much recharged and loose without nearly as much accumulated stress as I had a week ago. I eased back into the daily science project checks and put my room back together (somebody did end up using it while I was gone).

I also had a nasty little surprise. Here I was all fired to up get my first iPod. The package arrived while I was gone, and I was looking forward to getting to use it once I got back to Pole. Well, one of the seams on the box had been forced, and though the silicone case I ordered was there, the iPod had been taken by some unkind member of society. That's pretty rotten anytime, but to steal from somebody who doesn't have a chance to replace it before they're locked away in a Fortress of Solitude for most of a year is just asking for some seriously nasty bad karmic blow back for their actions. Anyhow, I'll fill you in on the remainder of my R&R experience:

Here is a cropped view of three Adelie penguins we spotted on that tour of Scott's Discovery Hut:

Two other guys and I went on a nice 7-mile hike to climb Castle Rock. CR is a prominent outcrop on the Hut Point Peninsula, but is back towards the center of Ross Island. It has great view of Erebus, when it's not overcast, as is a really nice way to get out and away from the noise and bustle of town. On our way out to the rock it was quite overcast and Erebus was nowhere to be seen:

The climb to the top isn't too strenuous, but it's probably good that they have fixed ropes there as safety devices. This year there was a lot more snow on the rock than last year at the same time, so it was interesting (and a lot easier) climbing in the different conditions.

With the bird's eye view of the surroundings it was really neat to look at all the dappled patterns the broken clouds were making on the sea ice and ice sheet:

The clouds finally disappeared while we were hiking back to town, and the view changed dramatically with Erebus looming in the background. It's amazing that this volcano is like 35 miles away:

I did get a chance to examine the new inflatable lunar habitat they have deployed out by the Science Support Center in McMurdo. It's being used there in McMurdo to see how well the design handles the wear and tear of use in the field. I can't imagine that it provides much radiation protection, which will be vital on the Moon, but perhaps for the shorter missions it will provide adequate management of the radiation dose that crew members will receive. I didn't get a chance to go inside it, but the exterior at least looks pretty cool. The white reinforcing patches for all the tie-downs reminded me of Japanese patterns you'd see people wearing in "Shogun" or other samurai movies.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Playing catch-up

Sorry for the dearth of posts while on R&R, but there has been so much else to do besides play around on the computer. I think the lack of connectivity at Pole has conditioned me to not really relying on the internet for entertainment.

Anyhow, some things we've done while in McMurdo:

A couple mornings ago a few of us got to take a tour of Scott's Discovery hut just down by the pier here in McMurdo. The building was based upon an Australian Outback bungalow, so wasn't exactly well-adapted to the cold polar environment. But, it's a neat historical structure still full of all sorts of artifacts. And, if you find yourself just pining for the smell of an old barn, this is the place to go for comfort.

The walk on the way back from the hut gives a good perspective of some of McMurdo (mostly dormitories on this side of town) with Observation Hill looming in the background.

We also encountered some wildlife as we got back to Building 155 where we're all being housed: a skua. The skua is a pretty rough character. He will hang out in wait of unwitting souls that bring food outside, and will dive bomb any person no matter how big or small in an attempt to wrest said food from their clutches. The skua operates in a morally empowered manner due to its protected status under the aegis of the Antarctic Treaty, which poses dire consequences for humans that might their place and resist the skua. In general it is best to not approach the skua, keep all valuables and edibles out of sight of the skua, and never look the skua in the eye. They can sense fear and trepidation and will have no hesitation when it comes to taking you down like the filthy, weak human you are.

Yesterday we took a walk over the hill to New Zealand's Scott Base. It's a bit over a mile, and the road climbs a few hundred feet above sea level. Scott Base was founded by the recently deceased Sir Edmund Hillary, and last year he was down here for the base's 50th anniversary. It was a nice hike, but I still found myself finding walking on dusty volcanic rock (instead of clean snow/ice) to be somewhat bizarre.

So, we've still got to get ourselves together for a trip to Castle Rock. I want to talk to somebody about the inflatable lunar habitat they have here over by the Science Support Center. I'm still trying to track down a copy of the Apollo Program documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon", which somebody in the Rec department here still has a copy of from when the director showed up in McMurdo for a screening. We will be here nominally until sometime Wednesday morning, and then it is back to Pole and the hectic work until station closing and the beginning of the long stretch of winter. In general I've just had a great time here on R&R, and have done so very much (or little) that has shed vast slabs of stress that had accumulated throughout the summer.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What, me worry?

R&R is definitely treating me well thus far. I haven't really done anything but sleep in and relax and stay up late doing nothing at all productive. It's nice to just be able to squander all sorts of time that would otherwise be spent doing science and firefighting work at Pole.

McMurdo is just a very familiar place for me after my summer here. It's nice to just know where everything is and what options there are. It hasn't been all that weird seeing land and liquid water, but I think seeing dirty floors and muddy streets has had a bit of a cringe factor to it after the cleanliness of Pole.

This afternoon we may be getting out to Castle Rock on a hike, so that should be a chance to take some nice pictures away from the urban sprawl of Mac Town.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Commence Relaxation

Well, my flight to McMurdo actually came through yesterday, and we arrived in the early afternoon. The temperature here is right around freezing, and my first thought off the plane was "what a soft environment". There was snow that could actually be molded into snowballs, so as we were waiting for our ride into town on Ivan the Terrabus we had a big snowball fight.

I have gotten in contact with most of the people I worked with last year. It's not too hard as many of them still are here in the galley. I is so weird to see the DAs working here and to think that I spent a whole season doing that job. It has been so vastly different an experience this year that it almost seems like last summer was a story I just read about somebody else's experiences. Surreal...

Anyhow, we're going to be allowed to hang out in the coffee house here some this afternoon, so that should be fun. I guess it behooves Polies on R&R to keep a low profile so as not to incur the indignation of too many folks here at McMurdo that don't have a similar opportunity for R&R. I'll keep my eyes peeled for any wildlife, and will hopefully be able to post some pictures if I'm at all lucky.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Still waiting on R & R

The flights to McMurdo yesterday were initially postponed until the evening then around dinner cancelled due to poor weather in McMurdo. I ended up working a full day like normal, including spending most of the afternoon digging out components of a project I'm in the process of decommissioning. On one hand it was good that it was one less day that the Aurora Tech had to cover for me, but on the other hand the day counts against our total days of R&R (and was 1/6 of my total days off for the duration of my 13-month contract).

In the evening I watched a couple movies. One was a documentary called "Cocaine Cowboys", which was about the insane proliferation of drugs, money, and the stuff the dealers bought with their dough in Miami starting in the 1970s. The other was an really good animated movie called "Howl's Moving Castle". Other than that, I had a pretty low-key day and turned in a bit earlier than usual.

The weather forecast for McMurdo today is much more favorable. Our flight is again scheduled to arrive here at 11AM, so we'll see if that holds. In a way this is preferable to us flying last night and arriving in Mac Town at 1 o'clock in the morning or later.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Quiet Monday

Well, things seem to be a bit more back to usual now that the dedication ceremony is over. Our weather here today is a bit overcast, and I hope the ceiling and visibility don't get low enough to cancel flights yet again. We've a lot of cargo to get delivered to Pole before the winterover crew is left to our own devices.

Yesterday the annual spelling bee was held here. I got to sit in on bits of it, but it happened right during the window when my daily checks on the projects in the B2 Science Lab had to be done. I could spell most of the words that I was there for, but didn't get to see the final showdown between the carpenters that took the top two spots.

In the evening we had a good session of pub trivia. My team did pretty well, winning the first category (after two tie-breakers) about Latin America. I've started working on another set of questions for the next time I get to play the host.

Wednesday I leave for McMurdo (weather permitting) and 6 days of R&R. I guess I'm looking forward most to seeing some of my compatriots from last year, taking showers of unmonitored length, and sleeping in beyond 5:30 in the morning. Those, and breathing the somewhat moister and more plentiful air.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New station dedication

Well, yesterday was quite a bizarre day here at Pole. We had a series of events and a big influx of 20-some distinguished visitors to commemorate the handing off of the baton from the old dome station to the new elevated station. A lot of this had to do with the transfer of the U.S. flag from atop the Dome to the flag poles at the ski-way end (Destination Alpha) of the new station. Some guys got to climb up the dome to retrieve the flag, and then it was handed from person to person to get it to first the Pole markers and then to Destination Alpha.

While still outside for the transfer of the flag there finally happened to be a halo around the sun, so I got a picture with that surrounding me.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get at that spot of dirt (or whatever) that decided to lodge in my camera's optics here right before the station closes for winter. If anybody reading this has any experience/input for remedying this sort of issue or even disassembling a Canon Powershot A620 it would be much appreciated.

The DVs had a dedication ceremony in the gym, a nice dinner by themselves, and then took tours of the station. I got to stand by and have none of them come learn anything about our humble little Cusp Lab. It was the projects with the bigger budgets and buzz words that garnered all the attention. Oh well, it just would have been nice to have gotten away from work a little sooner.

Thanks to the aircraft firefighting crew, I had the first night off-call for the fire brigade in 3 months. I definitely "made hay while the sun was shining", and had a really fun time at the party the station threw once the DVs were headed back north. If I'm not careful I might learn how to dance, or more precisely might be able to totally ignore how silly I probably look and just cut loose with no trepidations.

Friday, January 11, 2008

While you were out...

Well, after my short absence for the AGAP installation there were a few problems I had to troubleshoot with my other projects. We had one seismic station go offline because its data/power cable down in a sub-ice vault had been inadvertently disconnected when a visiting project member was working on their equipment that resides in the same insulated box. So, after some troubleshooting we finally got all that resolved, and things seem to be relatively back to normal. Murphy's Law is fully in effect down here on the Ice. You never know what sort of crazy things can manage to go wrong. There were a few other smaller things to take care of as well, but I won't bore you with the details.

Late last night we finally got in a couple Hercules flights. On one of them were the winterovers returning from their extended R&R in McMurdo. A big group of us sat up having a good time talking and laughing in the galley. It was a lot of fun, and I had to eventually tear myself away so I could get some shut-eye for today's gala event: the station dedication ceremony. There are a bunch of distinguished visitors (DVs) headed this direction all the way from Christchurch who will be taking part in the anointing of this fully armed and operational battle station...I mean science station. I'll fill you in on the shenanigans tomorrow.

A couple parting shots:

A meteorological station at AGAP that was right by the entrance to the freezer. Yes, it's cold and food could probably stay at its proper storage temperature without the use of mechanical refrigeration. But, with the heat from the sun on the boxes the food is stored it the internal temperature can put the food above its safe storage temperature. Just digging a hole in the snow and covering it can provide a means of protecting the food and keeping it out of that pesky sunlight. That angular white thing behind the met station is the freezer entrance. We had one of these storage spaces at the LDB camp last year, but it lacked the fancy upright door. Our doors were flush with the ground, which necessitated pretty regular digging as snow drifted over them. The flags were a must in both cases so people driving around would know not to go there, lest they fall in and crush all those tasty vittles. Just to the right of the rightmost flag you can barely make out the LPM tower off in the distance.

Our Twin Otter on approach to the AGAP landing strip. There's really not much of a gentle final approach when they're landing on a ski-way like this one. It seemed like we got relatively close to the snow and they dropped us straight down onto the surface. It was pretty impressive how quickly we got off the ground on the way out, despite all the friction from the deep snow the skis had to cut through.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

AGAP LPM installation

OK, so after getting all our gear together and staged for the two flights on Twin Otter aircraft, we finally winged off into the flat white expanse of the Antarctic plateau. Our destination was the Antarctic Gamburtsev Province (AGAP), which sits on the Gamburtsev mountain range that is completely submerged under the ice. It's about as high an altitude region as you can find in Antarctica, minus the peaks where the mountains actually protrude through the ice. The AGAP field camp is at about 11,500 ft above sea level, and the persistent low pressure system over the pole makes that feel like over 13,000 feet. Out on the plateau it is simply flat and white. The only terrain features are the wind-blown sastrugi, which can range from only a few inches tall to several feet. Around AGAP the sastrugi were all pretty small.

After about 2.25 hours flying time we finally hove the field camp into view, and it certainly was one of the most isolated places I've ever had the pleasure to visit.

On the ground there were only four semi-permanent structures and a number of tents in which the camp staff were living. We stowed our gear in the big yellow tent and grabbed some lunch with the locals once we got our gear off the plane. All in all we had about 2,400 pounds of gear, some of which came on the second flight later this afternoon.

The low-power magnetometer (LPM) had to be between 1/4 to 1/2-mile from the camp to prevent interference from people, vehicles, etc. We loaded up on snowmobiles and drug out most of the gear we had to install. Since it was high altitude and we had no time to acclimate the camp staff made us let them do all the digging of the vaults that our gear would be deployed into. This really sped along the installation process and let us try to figure out how to assemble all the components. The other science tech and I had only helped dig this out of the ice back at Pole, and hadn't gotten a chance to ever assemble/disassemble the LPM, so we were a bit nervous as to whether things would go together correctly. By the end of the day we had gotten all the components on the tower (solar panels, GPS antenna, Iridium communications antennae, etc.) assembled, raised the tower and stabilized it with dead men anchors, and installed the empty battery box and electronics boxes in the main vault. The trench for the sensor cable-about 60 feet long-had also been excavated, and we wired up all the connections it was possible to do at that time.

We called it quits at that point and retired to the camp to get some good dinner (salmon and halibut) and warm up a bit. The ambient temperature was right around -30F, and we were lucky not to have any wind whatsoever. It was a nice, cozy atmosphere in the galley tent, and I really enjoyed the conversation with the camp staff (about 10 folks, mostly carpenters there building the camp). Once everybody headed for bed and the generators were shut off it was the most silent place I've ever been. Seriously, with no breeze there was absolutely no sound, and walking out to the pee flag late that night it felt like my footsteps were screamingly loud and probably waking up the whole camp. Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep because I was really worried about how the complicated process of wiring the batteries and calibrating the LPM would go the next day.

We got an early start the next morning, and plowed right into getting our 800 pounds of batteries installed in the battery box down in the vault. This actually went more smoothly than I'd anticipated, and we completed it in about 90 minutes or so. Somehow I managed to do all this work without wearing gloves and not getting frost bite. Once we had the LPM totally ready to go we spent a long while talking on the Iridium phone trying to track down the right people back in the States, and eventually got the go-ahead to power up the system.

Unfortunately it didn't work the first or second times we did so. Eventually it was discovered that the 10 wires in a connector on the big cable that was what mated the magnetometer sensor to the electronics box in the vault had all been broken. This was pretty disheartening to say the least. I sat there in the snow uttering a few choice words for some time, but eventually removed the cable from the system and took it back to camp to repair. The camp mechanic proved to be a life saver, and after about an hour's work three of us managed to get the cable back together with the correct wires and pins in the connectors aligned correctly. We were still pretty cold, so grabbed some lunch and headed back out to the LPM site to put the cable back in and try once again to bring the system up. Thankfully it worked this time, and after maybe 5 minutes of calibrating the orientation of the magnetometer sensor we got the OK to seal the vaults and consider the LPM good to go for the next couple years. Feeling very much relieved, we called in to the camp and the staff came out and helped us cover everything with plywood sheets and snow.

We had postponed our flight back to Pole once the cable problem had been discovered, so once the LPM was found to be fixed we had the camp staff call back in and get the Twin Otter headed our way again. We got to chill out for about 2 hours, and eventually the drone of the plane's engines could be heard, so we headed out to the smallest airport I've ever flown in/out of (a pallet with 5 drums of fuel in the snow), loaded our gear, and headed back to the booming metropolis of South Pole Station.

So, despite the big hurdle to overcome with the broke cable we got to head home with a successful deep field experience under our belts. It was great to finally get this project taken care of after many delays and road blocks, and I have to say it is the most satisfying work experience I've had in my two seasons on the Ice. There was a lot of independence and trust given us science techs, and it was a big relief to be able to come through for all the folks that were counting on having this instrument gathering science data for the next several years.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Successful, safe return

I'm trying to get caught up with work right now, but will post my account of our challenging-but ultimately successful-trip to deploy the University of Michigan Low-Power Magnetometer at the AGAP field camp. And, yes, there will be pictures.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Winging off into the white

OK, so big news from yesterday was that a skua gull showed up here at Pole around dinner time. A guy at my table spotted it out the window out by the NOAA meteorological tower, and the whole galley was up and looking out the windows at the first critter (at least I'd seen) since early October in New Zealand. It's probably not going to survive the flight back to the coast where food can be found, but it's still an impressive feat of endurance flying in these temperatures at high altitude.

This morning, in just about 1.5 hours we'll start loading cargo onto our Twin Otter aircraft for the flight to AGAP South deep field camp. We're right at our weight limit, so (I don't know how we'll be able to do it) may have to weed out some of the gear to leave behind. It will be approximately 2.5 hours via plane to the camp from the Pole, and then we're tentatively scheduled to come back sometime tomorrow (Wednesday for us) evening. I have exactly the same feeling I always had before a big football game, exam, or the start of a trip overseas: my mind is playing through all sorts of scenarios about what could possibly go wrong that we'll have to overcome, what will probably go alright, what issues with my team we might encounter, what issues we'll face with camping there overnight, et cetera. I slept just fine last night, but woke bolt upright at 4 o'clock and started finishing off my packing.

I'm pretty sure we won't have any cyberspace connectivity while at the camp, so I'll get you updated once we return (victorious).

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Camping & Drive-In Theater

Well, like it or not, we'll be camping Tuesday night at AGAP. On an Iridium phone-call to the AGAP camp we were informed that the plan was now to have us spend Tuesday and Wednesday at the camp without returning to South Pole at the end of the first day. There's nothing we can do about it, except "remain flexible" as is so often the prescribed course of action to take down here.

I got to spend about 4 hours as a DA once again as Saturday was the galley's day off (since they had to work New Year's) and various departments picked up the baton to feed everybody in their absence. We did a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, soup, curly fries, etc.

Saturday also saw pretty much the coolest double feature drive-in movie ever. A big screen was made of sheets at one end of the gym and a laptop and projector were set up at about half-court. We brought in chairs and couches and had the windows all blocked out. When the lights went out and the projector started running, we were watching a double feature of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Star Wars Ep. 4: A New Hope". I seriously don't think you could top that pair of flicks. I'd seen "ANH" on the big screen back in 1997 when they re-released the whole original trilogy, but it had probably been since I was just a wee, blond lad that I had seen "Raiders" on the big screen. It definitely added to the experience. I was struck by how well the scene in Marion's Himalayan bar in Nepal was done. They really had a great set, lighting, and sound effects. The use of shadows as a story telling device was also remarkably effective, and I have to say it was something I'd never really picked up on just watching the movie on the small screen. I sure hope Spielberg and Lucas come through and get us a copy of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" before South Pole Station closes for winter. It'd be so much fun to put on a real movie premiere down here on May 22nd!

I had a similar revelation about the movie "Alien", when it was released back to theaters some years ago while I was still on the east coast. At the end of the film when the Nostromo (the huge refinery ship) is in self-destruct mode and there are a lot of fog and steam being released and flashing/strobing lights going off all over the place, I was amazed at how much more disorienting and anxiety inducing the effect was on the big screen than on a TV. There was just so much more light being flickered before your eyes in the dark theater that it was a whole new sensation to watch that movie. I think both are yet another case why cinemas should never go the way of the dodo and how the big screen and shared movie-going experience in a theater can transcend any sort of home theater system.

Viva la difference!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Halo & Halo

Well, as usual, when there is a halo around the sun-as there was yesterday-I don't have my camera. They only happen when the right sort of ice crystals are present in the atmosphere. The most intense one I have seen had a sun dog (i.e. a bright spot removed from the solar disk) right down on the horizon, which was really striking.

I got to go out into the antenna field in the morning with some carpenters and a project member from Dartmouth to look into raising one of their antennas up above the snow surface. They went back out and did the raise in the afternoon, but I didn't have time to attend due to other pressing responsibilities. It seems like ages since my predecessor and I did our little excursion out there in the first week of the season.

Construction continued apace on the wind deflector supports in the B2 lab. They're currently drilling holes through the steel pieces and knocking big bolts through the entire thickness of the bracket outside, the interior wall structure, as well as the steel channel columns that were just installed in the lab. It can make for a pretty loud accompaniment to the normal workday routine.

In the evening I got in a little guitar practice before attending a showing of the 59 Second Film Festival, which was comprised of 59 59-second mini-films. Some told stories, while others were highly conceptual. A good number of folks showed up, and we all filled out review forms for which films we liked/disliked in order to help the organizers of the festival decide which clips to include or submit to some other festival.

After that I had a good time learning how to play the classic Xbox game Halo with one of my friends. It has been ages since I last played any video games, but the old first-person shooter skills haven't atrophied too much.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

LUNAR May-Day Training

After another day with lots of noise and construction activity in my lab space, I spent a couple hours in the evening helping run the fire brigade members through practice should they become trapped or disabled while inside a structure. This May-Day training uses the acronym LUNAR (Location, Unit, Name, Assignment, & Resources) to help get one's thoughts in order so all the pertinent information can be relayed to back-up outside the scene to help effect the rescue. We actually had a great turn-out, given that we're missing a couple winter-over folks that are in McMurdo for R&R this week and the fact that with all the stuff going on with my alter-ego as science tech I didn't manage to get notices for the training made until yesterday afternoon.

While doing this training in the gymnasium we had to skirt around the big fabric wind deflector that all the hullabaloo and construction are attempting to install between the station's two pods. I guess it is made from the same fabric as the pseudo-mountain rooftop of the Denver International Airport, and is a beige color instead of the gun-metal blue of the rest of the station's siding. The construction folks have the fabric laid out flat to try and get all the wrinkles out before they install it.

I'm a bit tired this morning after staying up late watching the Fellowship of the Ring. It's very cool to know I'm headed back to the lush, green land where that was all filmed in only 10 or so short months. Seeing the verdant landscape, especially in the Shire and along the Anduin River, really were striking in contrast to how inhospitable my current environs are. Liquid water flowing across a landscape with rock, soil, vegetation, and critters is about as far from what is here on the Antarctic Plateau as you can get.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Construction & Congressmen

Well, the steel installation for the wind deflector began in earnest yesterday. I had a bunch of guys in my lab space for the job, and it went pretty well until somebody stepped on some of the cables leading into one of my projects' receivers. That was a bit more stress that I didn't need, but I think the component and connectors are OK. This morning they'll be doing a lot of welding, so the lab will potentially be pretty full of smoke for quite a while.

All this while we have 17 or so Congressmen coming for a visit of the station today.

Last night I managed to get some more time in the music room, and got a lot of practice in on "Slow Ride", "Fortunate Son", and "Goodbye Blue Sky". I don't know if I'll have anything good enough for an open mic night before the end of the season, but I definitely want to play in a band sometime this winter. It was a really relaxing way to unwind after the hectic afternoon.

I was very pleased and excited to see that William Gibson, one of my favorite authors, actually saw and acknowledged the pictures I took at the Pole with my copy of his latest book "Spook Country":

It's cool that being at Pole can be used somewhat as a bully pulpit to thank someone whose work you've enjoyed over the years, but to whom you have had no effective means of getting through the message!