Tuesday, April 29, 2008

slow recovery

Well, I've finally had some success getting projects back online that have been out of commission over the last week or longer. My project I worked so hard on Saturday, burning myself out before the concert, is working once again. I also just got one of the aurora cameras working after a string of three consecutive issues that rendered it inoperative. One more project-touch wood-to go and I'm back in normal operations for my science responsibilities.

We've had more auroras over the last few days, and I finally got back out to shoot a little yesterday.

Our band has begun submitting songs to expand our set list for the next party at mid-winter. It's going to be a lot of fun learning more songs, and I really can't wait to get settled into the new practice routine.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

a ringing success

Well, maybe being totally exhausted before my first gig wasn't such a bad thing. I had absolutely no energy to get all worked up and worried about my performance, so I just went out and did it. I don't know how much of my guitar playing came through, but I definitely got a lot of props for singing "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen. Again, no worries about having never sung a solo or even sung in public at all since 8th grade. Bizarre. The stage was huge, and we had projected graphics and a light show that were really cool. I didn't get any pictures of the event, but will see if I can find some I can share here or add links to. Anyhow, it was definitely a memorable night.

Friday, April 25, 2008

On with the show

Polefest 2008

The Re-Tardis*
The Quasi-Crystaline Arbitration Project
Triceratops: The Revenge
House Mouse Seasonal Affective Disorder Blues Project
and sundry solo performances

*my band

Head over to Tim's blog to download the software so you can catch the event live on streaming audio.

Most of the station also just got done running in the costumed BF5K race here inside the station. Being an abnormally tasked worker down here I didn't get to stop work to take part in that event. I just got to spend all day dragging frozen electronics out of a sub-surface vault in the ice to try and bring a science project back to life. Priorities... Somehow I guess I'll change gears for our performance, but I'm pretty much knackered already.

One of those-allegedly-about to rock salutes you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

heat wave

Wow, we've gone from -92F yesterday to -69F this afternoon. When storms come in they mess up the thermal layers of the atmosphere, and we end up having higher temperatures. Granted, the wind has picked up to 17 knots, but that's also par for the course in a storm on the Antarctic Plateau.

Things have been pretty quiet the last few days. I just keep working, and am doing my best to get the non-functioning projects back in normal operating mode. There is a bunch of activity surrounding our music gig (Polestock 2008), which is now up to 7 bands on the play list. I wonder if folks are biting off a little more than they should trying to make it as big as it is potentially going to be. Maybe we should have saved some of the ideas and enthusiasm for mid-winter and station opening. But, whatever, I'm just going to try and do my best playing and singing in my first time on stage in rock 'n roll band.

The auroras have been hit or miss the last few days. With the winds picking up there is a bit of overcast, and it obscured the view of some of the only auroras I've seen in about 3 days. Generally, the sky has been crystal clear for last few weeks.

Sunday night I showed "In the Shadow of the Moon", and have to say that it was probably the best documentary about the space program that I've ever laid eyes upon. It was amazing seeing the footage and hearing these old guys talk about their transcendent experiences setting foot on another celestial body. Talk about a serious fringe benefit...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

some success, still fine tuning though

OK, so I got out a tripod and did a bit of work this morning with manual settings on my humble camera. I had some turn out OK, but will work with the settings (and get advice from better technical photographers) to see if I can't create better images of winter exteriors here at the South Pole. There just happened to be some pretty faint auroras overhead when I went out, so I'm sure once the sky is darker and I know how to use my camera those pictures will turn out a bit better.

Other than that, it has just been yet another day at work-which should go without saying. We are going to have another band practice this evening, after which I will be showing "In the Shadow of the Moon" after much ado.

down the tubes

Well, despite having three aurora-type projects here, I'm down to zero operating as I write. The last one went down at the end of the day, and I've no feedback from the project concerning how to try pursue a fix, so...hey, it's Saturday night.

One week and counting and the band, which just got done practicing (well most of us), will be playing our first gig for the station. All the experienced players say the first one is usually the worst, but it seem like we really have a pretty good grasp of the music. So, in one week's time keep your eyes peeled for fiery ruptures in the earth's crust, strange silvery objects flying about the sky, dogs and cats living together, the general end of the world as we know it. Yours truly will have taken the stage to sing lead vocals in front of an audience. Rue the day!

Anyhow, shut up, Ethan. Seeing the auroras, of which there were some stunning examples in the sky today. {Sorry, I haven't had time to try and use my very basic camera and a tripod to attempt to capture them. It really does not do so well in dark conditions.} I could see how primitive peoples would imagine these great undulating light shows to be giant animals in the sky. I could definitely envision the right aurora as a snake, a dragon, a thunderbird, or whatever. They definitely have a presence that is different than any cloud I've ever seen, and no I've never seen a tornado in person. It will be great to get a good, strong display today without the ridiculously bright full moon that is also in the sky. It is amazing how much light that pumps out. Add in the fact that the snow surface is 90% reflective, and it's almost like somebody has a spotlight trained on you. I've never really seen such pronounced shadows created by moonlight anywhere else in my life.

Well, the evening calls.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

fire in the sky

Yup, it's aurora season. It seem like mid-day is a very active time for the aurora australis here at the South Pole. There was a great, green band of light twisting across the sky today on my walk out to ARO. I actually walked backwards most of the way to keep an eye on the light show. We've got the auroras, now we need these aurora projects to get up an running correctly. I spent quite a while today using a multi-meter probing voltages on one of them trying to figure out what might be wrong with it.

Last night my team took two of the four categories during this week's installment of Pub Trivia. We were only a point away from perfection on the "horror genre" questions, which was a nice surprise.

Tonight is a big pool tournament in the B1 lounge, but I'm not really a fan of the sport. I'll probably end up catching up on some recreational reading, which has been interrupted a lot with me having to work at night for some of the projects. Last night I spent about three hours working on yet another calibration imaging run for an all-sky camera. I think I will be putting a stop to that sort of tasking here pretty quick-diplomatically, of course.

This Saturday there is going to be bingo in the galley, which usually draws a large crowd (at least it did in the summer). But, one week after that it is the biggest rock show on the Antarctic Plateau! It is going to be a two-day weekend (for most folks), and we'll be playing along with a couple other bands that Saturday night.

Speaking of rock concerts, my bro's band Vegetable made it into the final round of the Deadwood Derby battle of the bands in Lawrence, Kansas. Congrats to him and the rest of the guys on their past and future successes!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

pickin' 'n grinnin'

Well, the as-yet-to-be-named band had a good practice tonight. Things are coming along well enough that I think we're feeling confident about playing in less than two week's time. I think our set will be somewhere around 30 minutes long, which is pretty good for this sort of party here. We're all in agreement that keeping it together and honing our product for a station opening party in October or November would be an absolute blast. I definitely feel like my playing is vastly improved, not that I'm any great virtuoso, and my singing has also gotten better with time.

We had some more aurora for a very short time here today. Unfortunately, I have to fix yet another project, as it isn't working and is supposed to be studying auroras now. I also did another calibration imaging run with my all-sky proton camera out at ARO and am feeling more confident and familiar with the hardware and software interface.

McMurdo closes for the winter Thursday, so I might be assisting with the air traffic control flight following activities if need be. I think the other folks are trying to push me away from feeling obligated to do it in addition to all the "festivities" that seem to constitute my work life these days.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Burning down the house

Well, Saturday I managed to pull off a pretty decent drill for the fire brigade. I used the smoke machine and a fireplace DVD to make a pretty good simulation of what the conditions would be like were that particular TV lounge be partially engulfed. I rearranged the furniture into a bit of a maze, and made a tunnel for the firefighters to crawl through, following a rope laid along the floor, that exited right in front of the fire. As they exited the tunnel I threw an exercise mat and pinned them down to simulate a roof collapse trapping them inside the scene. They couldn't fight their way out, and had to remember the may-day training I taught them some weeks back to radio for help and get help to come and extract them from their dangerous plight. I haven't gotten to talk to all of them, but I have heard some good reviews directly from a few and indirectly through the grapevine. It was very relieving to have something go right after a pretty hectic week that ended with some fairly stressful events.

Today there were flashes from the Iridium satellites passing overhead that were very bright in the sky. The angle of the sun and antennas was just right for there to be a rapid (15 seconds) build-up of brightness of the satellites as they passed overhead. This happened once every 9 minutes, and it was pretty interesting to see some other direct sign of man's presence on this planet besides South Pole Station. These Iridium flashes will occur every so often, but I believe that today was some of the brightest flares for the longest duration we may have this year. Cool stuff. It reminded me of only seeing a single satellite pass overhead during the entire 37 days I spent at sea on a tallship sailing from Auckland to Easter Island last year. We pretty much had the ocean to ourselves for all those weeks.

This evening was the final showing of the last two episodes of HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon". It really stirred up some very optimistic feelings, but there is no way that knowing what our history has been since 1972 that those transcendent feelings can be without a melancholy longing for what promise we let slip through our fingers. The will to see the thing through in the long run-to continue to send representatives of mankind out from our "pale blue dot" in the vast blackness of space in search of knowledge and perspective on our place in the vastness of the Universe-just was not there during those turbulent and troubled years of the 1970s. It seems surreal that any body of people could be so fickle and become so quickly jaded about to fact that their fellow beings were living and working on that silver orb up in the sky, looking back with their bare eyes and enjoying a view that encompassed all of human history, all our loves, all our pains, all our hopes, all our fears, all of us.

Every last one.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Flummoxed, positively flummoxed!

Well, things were a bit slower today at work. I had another busy day and night yesterday, with a trip back out to ARO after dinner to do an initial calibration for an all-sky camera that looks at proton light emission in the auroras. Anyhow, I was torn about whether to keep working tonight to catch up with some paperwork that I'm falling behind on, but ultimately decided for my sanity to go ahead an take a couple hours to watch a movie. Anyhow, while the flick is showing I get a radio call that we had a brownout, which meant that I grabbed the other two science guys in the room and we scrambled to go verify that all our projects were still running. I checked my gear in the B2 science lab across the hall from the lounge then headed out to ARO to check on my stuff there. My only project running was nominal, so I called the other science tech and offered to check his projects for him, as he was headed off into the Dark Sector to look at some of his gear there. So, checks complete, I got to go back to the station and send out a bunch of emails telling my projects that their baby was fine and didn't appear to have suffered from a briefly restricted flow of electrons to feed its insatiable appetite. I naturally used slightly less colorful and marginally more professional terminology, but you get the point. Thus concludes a glimpse into the swashbuckling life of a science tech at the South Pole.

Anyhow, my time card for the week, adjusted for tonight's little party comes to a total of: 109.5 hours. Raytheon contracts you to work 54 hours per week, and bases your inflexible salary on that number. A few weeks ago I already had enough overtime built up since the beginning of the summer that if I got comp time I wouldn't have had to work until the end of June/early July.

To quote B. Baggins, "I need a holiday, Gandalf."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

busy, getting busier

Well, there is now one active winter-only project as of today at the South Pole. It was pretty easy to get rolling, and the data is rolling in as we speak.

There was a whole lot less color in the sky today. It is probably the end of this period of twilight, and we'll be moving into that full darkness here in the next week and some change.

Tomorrow I have to get two more projects up and running, as well as get one broken down for the winter. It's going to be a long one for sure. I actually may have to get back to work tonight here in the lab to prepare one of them for tomorrow. I can't seem to get its sensor dome to clear the loads of frost that keep forming on the inside surface. It'll end up being over 16 hours on my time card for today if I do.

In about 20 minutes I'll be the host of the weekly Pub Trivia event. My categories tonight will be: 1) Indiana Jones 2) Kansas (congrats on the b-ball victory guys!) 3) Aviation History 4) UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I also will throw in a fifth round, which I don't expect many folks to get anything at all on. I did a bunch of questions on Middle Earth Geography from memory, so we'll see what-if anything-folks can dredge up from reading my favorite books years ago or watching the movies. It won't be pretty, to say the least. Last time I hosted my category was Rocket Science, which I toned down enough folks got a few. Anyhow, it should be pretty enjoyable.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Big day brewing

Well, it's official, I'm going to be firing up three new projects on Thursday alone. Talk about crunch time! I spent a lot of the day working on the all-sky imager from the University of Nagoya Japan, and think with a bit more work tomorrow that it will be ready to go. I haven't gotten much input from the other two projects, though.

The temperature dropped 10 degrees today, with the ambient hovering in the -80s Fahrenheit. The sky was as beautiful as always, and I wish my camera were a bit better camera to capture it. It is strange that only now, at the end of the long day of summer that all this color is infused into what had been a harsh, white landscape with either a blue or gray sky-depending on the amount of overcast.

It was kind of weird that when I was reviewing my pictures on my camera that I came to the last picture, and inadvertently clicked for the next one. Well, that took me to the first photo on my memory card, which was one I'd taken of this (now) alien landscape last summer out in one of our pastures back home. It was just such a marked contrast between two landscapes in which I'm comfortable living.

While there are marked contrasts between the Antarctica Plateau and the Flint Hills of Kansas, there are still some major similarities-common ground, if you will.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

freeze, thaw, repeat

Well, today was one of the more frigid ones I've had down here. I spent a lot of my time trying to troubleshoot and prepare just a single new project for its operational debut this week. This involved a lot of use of tools like screwdrivers to get into the dome covering the instrument. The great thing about holding chunks of metal is that its higher conductivity of thermal energy ensures that whatever hand you're holding it in will get very cold really fast. Toss in some convective cooling due to the wind and you've got an even shorter time until your hands are numb hunks of meat. We certainly aren't getting any substantial radiative heating from the sun anymore, as it is even further below the horizon. Still, there has been plenty of light in the sky. We're even starting to get some actual stars now, and the Southern Cross is visible. This weekend we'll get to see some flares as the sun flashes off of Iridium communications satellites passing overhead in orbit about the Earth.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Busy little bee

Well, as light fades from the sky, the business picks up for us science techs. Being a tech short for the winter we are redistributing the workload, and hopefully everything will turn out well. A lot of science projects lay dormant during the bright summer months, but are activated once the sky is dark and the auroras come out to play. This week saw a lot of progress for our initiation of these experiments that is drawing nigh. It includes everything from establishing whether people can use flashlights on the roof while the instruments are enabled to getting the domes that house the instrument in the roof defrosted and ready to start generating data.

But, all is not work at the South Pole, though it oft feels that way. Wednesday night we had another Pub Trivia gathering, which seems to have made a successful transition (at least this far) from the summer to winter crews. My team did pretty well, and I'll be the host next week. I usually toss in an extra, fifth category that is a real doozy. Folks best be preparing themselves by boning up on my favorite set of books, because I'm bringing the pain when next Wednesday rolls around!

The core guys doing the 300, the Spartiates if you will, continue to sweat it out every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I have been doing the full 30 reps on all the exercises save pull-ups, but today I gained back a couple pull-ups after having been unable to keep up my numbers due to so many more reps in the other nine exercises. In a week or so we'll be about half-way through the 12 weeks of this workout then will transition to the really insane final test 300 workout the actors did at the end of their intensive training session for the movie "300". I don't quite have the figure of those guys yet, but there is gradual improvement. It definitely feels good to be back in the exercise routine again, even though doing it here where the altitude (10,800 feet above sea level today) is so much higher than where most folks doing this probably are. One guy has already lost 10 pounds since we started the program, and I'm really glad to see him there consistently as one or our die-hard 300. Well, more like 6, but who's counting?