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."