Thursday, May 29, 2008

Who turned out the lights?

Well, the moon has deserted us once again, and boy is it dark outside. It's getting increasingly difficult to walk around now with all the nascent sastrugi and drifts that are forming. These undulations wouldn't be a big deal if you could see them, but since I usually try to make due without a headlamp, they make for a pretty jarring, tripping, slow walk between the station and ARO.

The auroras have been a bit more active, and it would be great if we could get some of the big ones like there were while the moon was up (which washed them out pretty badly) to occur now that we're back to a much deeper level of twilight.

The real 300 workout is feeling pretty good, but my one compatriot and I are still pretty far from doing it in its entirety. On our off days from that we've joined the folks that do yoga in one of the lounges at the same time. It's a nice counter-exercise to all the tension and battering the 300 dishes out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


So, on a daily basis there is a certain amount of gear I keep about my person just for day-to-day stuff. The contents of my science tech utility belt...OK, overalls, are shown below.

By far the most intrusive is the radio. I'm on-call at all times for science and emergency response duties, so I have pretty much imbued it with all the mental baggage that goes along with that. Handing it off to the next person come next summer will be a relief, to say the least.

Tonight I'm showing Raiders of the Lost Ark; tomorrow night it will be The Last Crusade. I've been really wishing I had brought down my fedora for fun pictures here at Pole and traveling wherever I may roam (to quote Metallica) once I leave this icy fastness at the bottom of the world.

"It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage."
~Henry Jones, Jr.

Monday, May 26, 2008

cyclical failures

Well, it seems I've strayed into yet another period of high equipment failure rate. Both my sky cameras that study auroras have developed software problems over the "holiday weekend". That's quotes because I was working all the while folks were having a nice 2-day respite from the grind. I probably would have been fine with that if troubleshooting problem equipment hadn't ended up requiring so many hours of my day, plus even more overtime than usual. Hopefully these software issues will be solved relatively easily, but one never knows what might just be the tip of the iceberg.

I'm also having a lot of problem with the Plexiglas domes over my projects in the B2 science lab frosting on their interior surfaces. Back in the old science building they had heated outside air that was really dry ducted right into the domes to mitigate frosting. In our new, state-of-the-art station's science lab we don't have any of that. It seems like a major oversight (one of many) on the part of the designers of the building.

But, not all was work and gloom this weekend. I got to take part in the social experiment that was a toga party on Saturday night. We had exactly the same ratio of males to females as in the station population, and boy was it lopsided. Still, I think the best part of the night was when I walked in and pretty much all the guys made me do the Viking handshake with them (grab forearms instead of hands). That's something my bro and I do all the time back home.

Late Sunday night we had a false fire alarm as the guys were pulling equipment back into the garage after the BBQ that had been held there had concluded. It seemed to be much more jarring and invasive to the restful night than others have been. It took me a long time to simmer down from that one.

We've less than one month until mid-winter, and bands are practicing pretty hard now. I've got a lot to learn in terms of guitar playing, but at least the songs I'm singing are coming along really well.

Friday, May 23, 2008

emergency response

This week saw the station go through its mass casualty incident (MCI) drill for the winter. This is a situation where there are (naturally) multiple patients, and the size of the response taxes the emergency response resources we have here on station. I'm the fire chief, and I was greatly hindered by poor radio quality when trying to talk to my firefighters inside the garage building down in one of the sub-ice arches. We even had to deal with one of our own firefighters going down (simulated), and had to rescue her in addition to the 3 patients that had been working in the garage. I got really cold, and actually got some very mild frost nip/bite on my fingers. It sure burned like the dickens when it thawed out. Then, the next day, late in the afternoon we had to respond to a real glycol leak in the power plant. That definitely got everybody's attention; even our chronic MIAs from the fire team showed up in bunker gear and SCBA.

The wind has been blowing pretty stiffly, for here, and it's amazing how quickly the drifts upwind of the station are expanding and growing upward. What once was a fairly flat slope is now probably a 10-foot high cliff you have to ascend/descend on the road to and from ARO. We even had the temperatures dip down to the mid -90s F, which does in fact feel different than -60F to -70F.

I hope you all have gone and seen the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by now. I'd have been at a midnight showing on opening night if I were back in the World. We watched Temple of Doom a couple nights ago, and it is always fun to see these Lucas/Spielberg movies. It's similar to me reading "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" every year; they never get old. Speaking of which, if they're filming the new Hobbit movies in New Zealand when I get off the Ice I may just have to go and try to land a part in the flicks. I think I'd make a great Bard (the eventual lord of Dale, of course), but I'd happily settle for an extra role as a dwarf or goblin.

"Black arrow! You've never failed me, and I've always recovered you. I had you from my father, and he from of old. If ever you came from the forges of the true King under the Mountain, go now and speed well!"
~Bard, The Hobbit-J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunday, May 18, 2008

M-O-O-N: moon

That brilliant orb is back in the sky, and I managed to get a pretty wicked photo by its light yesterday. It is amazing how much light is bouncing around out there, and how defined your shadow is just from moonlight. I guess the reflective snow surface helps, but it doesn't seem like the moon is this bright back in the world.

This week begins the new advanced 300 workout for the two of us that have persisted. We're going to shift to Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday so that we can also join some other folks for yoga on MWF. I definitely am feeling the need to get in more stretching, as my legs seem to be tightening up these last couple weeks. It's probably mostly a symptom of so much desk time, but I'm sure the environment here does its best to exacerbate the issue.

Here's a bit of interesting news that was shared by our physician's assistant:

Of the 60 people wintering at SP this year, we range in age from 19 to 64.5 years. Our average age is 36.6 years. By the time November rolls around enough (35) of us will have had birthdays, so our average will increase to 37.2 years.

The ages break down into decades by:
2 in their 60s
5 in their 50s
12 in their 40s
28 in their 30s
11 in their 20s
2 in their teens

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Well, the moon came up today, and it's so easy to see outside that it feels like you're cheating walking around and working on gear outside. I actually missed the darkness somewhat in that the great sweep of the Milky Way was significantly with all that extra light bouncing around the atmosphere now.

I made a step toward a potential future option yesterday. Last year I applied for a really cool job with United Space Alliance in Houston, Texas. The position works with Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs, a.k.a. space walks) and has a whole lot of cool requirements once you get hired. You must get SCUBA certified within a year, foreign language skills are highly preferable, you get crew rated on the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU = rocket pack) used in orbit, and you also get certified to fly in the weightless simulating aircraft (the famous old one was dubbed the Vomit Comet). On top of that, the job requires 3-month stints to be spent working with international partners in Moscow, Russia. Hello...awesome! Anyhow, hopefully I'll hear something positive back from USA, because this would be pretty much as good as I envision it getting working in Houston, save as an astronaut. I updated my resume and submitted it, and I guess it's just yet another waiting game from here on out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

like buttah

Well, another week is sliding past "like buttah". It just seems like time passes so quickly here when you work all day every day. It is going to be a big adjustment to a slower pace of life if I do get the chance to travel once off the Ice. I guess that will depend a large measure upon just how little my money is worth come November. Frankly, nobody here is looking to positively at the economy given the news that filters down to the bottom of the world. My plans will definitely be driven by economics and how my astronaut application pans out.

I've got a pretty tough project going on right now. A little electronics box for the zenith photometer needs to have two components swapped out, and it's going to involve a whole lot of desoldering and resoldering of small connections (26 in fact). I will probably manage to get it done, but with no diagrams provided by the project it is disconcerting to rely upon circuit diagrams I've drawn myself. Oh well, I guess it's a good learning experience.

Last night we hopefully ensured ourselves omelets and other egg-ceptional treats by oiling many, many cases of the little nuggets of protein-filled goodness. Yes, you dip the eggs in oil and that somehow keeps them fresher longer. It probably has something to do with reducing the permeability of the shell. Anyhow, it was a pretty fun time-with only a reasonably small number of broken eggs-had to the dulcet strains of The Fresh Prince.

Yo Holmes, smell ya later!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

busy weekend

Well, what was the weekend for some folks really flew by for me. We've had some progress troubleshooting one of my on-going problem projects, and I think we're probably getting closer to figuring out exactly what ails it.

The sky has been remarkably clear, but there haven't been any auroras that really have stood out in quite some time. The last time I looked at a space weather website the sun was completely devoid of sunspots, which doesn't bode well for having active auroras. The stars have been lovely, and it is amazing to be able to see the sweep of the Milky Way across the sky once again. When I lived on the East Coast for 3 years you could only see the few brightest stars, planets, and the Moon. When I'd get away to visit my very rural home it would be a real treat to go outside on a clear night and appreciate all the sky has to offer. That, and the quiet of not being in proximity to millions of other people. That's definitely the case here at the South Pole, too.

Band practices are starting to spool up as well. Our next show will be mid-winter on June 21. I'll try to get the times up earlier so folks can plan to connect via the Internet connection with more notice. I think all THREE bands I'm playing in are going to sound really good, so don't turn that dial.

My Sunday night space movie extravaganza presented "The Right Stuff" yesterday. We had a pretty good crowd show up, and though I had advertised it as being shown in two different nights, so folks wouldn't have to stay up so late, everybody hung in there and we watched all 193 minutes of its studly goodness. I've seen that flick so many times that I can't count. I just couldn't believe that my sixth grade teacher let us watch it with all the cursing, sexual innuendo, and brief nudity. It would probably be some big to-do today, instead of just letting it be the very inspirational piece of motion picture art that helped drive me toward my main goal in life.

Thanks, Mrs. Seaman!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pitch Black

Very overcast sky today made for one extremely dark day at the South Pole. I had to spend almost 6 hours out at the Atmospheric Research Observatory fixing a project today, and had to stop for a while each time I went outside so I could even see my hand waving in front of my face. On the roof I had to work underneath a blanket so that my head lamp's light wouldn't interfere with the other instruments operating up there. It all made for a pretty tedious morning, but hopefully the problem is fixed and will stay that way.

Today begins the one-week countdown to the end of our 12 weeks of this version of the 300 club. I've been able to the full 300 for over a week now, so the mission definitely was accomplished. The very few-perhaps just 2-of us that are still performing the workout will probably be transitioning into the advanced version of the workout that the actors used as their final test when doing their conditioning for the movie.

Bands are in heavy competition for the use of the single music room here at Pole. The few weeks we have before mid-winter are absolutely flying by, and I'm supposed to be playing in 3 bands, playing perhaps over 20 songs, and singing at least 3 of them. To say the least, this is probably going to be the most prolific musical time in my life by a long shot.

Keep on rockin', and rockin', and rockin'...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Time flying

OK, I had no real conception that I'd let this go so long without posting. The days, weeks, and now months seem to be accelerating to some unheard of fast pace. Case in point, I feel like I just ran that may-day drill for the firefighters at last month's safety stand-down. Well, here we are, already one month later and the next safety stand-down is this Saturday.

There have been auroras off and on all week, with some really good ones just about 3 or 4 days ago. Today the auroras were pretty good, not quite so big, but there were small regions that just seemed to be pumping loads of green (and some red) light into a few streamers across the sky. There again was enough light being emitted by the auroras to cast a strange green pall over the landscape. It's amazing to think this phenomenon is going to be just a fact of daily light by the time our winter night is through.

The Re-Tardis has now got a tentative set list and is beginning practice for our next gig: the mid-winter party on June 21. I have yet to meet with either of the other two bands with which I'm probably going to play and/or sing. I hope there will be some time to do something besides practice music between now and the end of the winter. I do have a lot of other projects I'd like to keep making progress on. This is all good to have, as I gather it is usually the folks without enough to do that slide into a terminal boredom and have a pretty toasty, miserable time late in the winter.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A quick week

This week seemed to fly past as quickly as the humongous auroras we had yesterday afternoon. It was so dark when I initially walked out to ARO (sadly without camera or tripod), but when I stepped out the doors of the building there was this huge tendril of undulating green light right overhead. I actually got to see more than just the green light, but some reddish aurora as well. Though I didn't take any pictures I did get Calee (linked to at the right side of the page) called early enough so she could make it outside to work her photographic magic on the display.

This week was nice in that I finally got some big issues ironed out for some of my projects. The pace of troubleshooting is so much different here than when I worked spacecraft ops for SOHO at NASA GSFC that it really feels like I'm faunching at the bit (sorry, once I heard the archaic word I could never go back to "chomping") in anticipation of getting problems resolved.

Speaking of NASA, I'm really starting to think a lot about what comes next after I leave the Ice. So much of that will be driven by whether or not my astronaut candidate application is accepted or not that I don't even feel like I can make any recreational travel plans in case I get summoned to immediately return to Houston and begin training. It would be just the slightest bit exciting to leave the South Pole and return to studying for rocket launches, living on the Space Station, doing space walks (EVAs for those in the biz), etc.

Keep your fingers crossed!