Monday, March 30, 2009

Well, March has been leonine throughout this year. The only aspect that was reasonably lamb-like was the fluffy white snow we got a bunch of over the weekend. It was strange dealing with such wet snow. I'm thoroughly used to the sounds-like-Styrofoam-when-you-walk-on-it, dry, dense variety one finds on the Antarctic Plateau. Anyhow, the melting process has been facilitated by the big winds that started back up last night. Three cheers for convective heat transfer! Delta-q! Delta-q! Delta-q!

I still have nothing decisive to report about my search for "what's next". In the last week there have been some doors that have closed, but others remain open. I think I have done right by myself, given the breadth and scope of inquiry I have made over the last 9 months I have been looking. In the meantime, I have started sorting through the boxes of my junk stored out in the barn, just so I can get rid of superfluous stuff I do not particularly need to hold on to. As Mr. Durden said, "The things you own end up owning you. " Whether I end up moving or keeping it in storage, it is always nice to downsize that anchor of stuff I drag around.

I recently finished reading a Robert Heinlein book titled "Tunnel in the Sky". It has to do with people adapting to a new environment into which nuclear-powered space-time portals thrust them. The themes of the end of the book were really similar to what a lot of folks felt when South Pole opened back up for summer. I won't spoil the denouement, but you should check out that little read sometime if you are at all interested in the psychological experience of living in isolation like we do/did at the bottom of the world.

“No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match."
~Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Voices from a past life

So, you may recall that in one of my past incarnations I was a happy little resident of the South Pole that also happened to play in a few bands during the winter of 2008. Well, a kind soul that also participated in said musical groups has posted the studio recordings a couple of the bands did on his website, so you can go HERE to listen to them. He recommends you save the files instead of trying to listen to them from the website directly, so go ahead and do Ye Olde Right-Click Dance and enjoy.

I hope to get my car back from the body shop after that walloping it received by the hail storm the night before I set out for Florida. My little car and I have been through a lot in the last half of my life, and I'm happy to still have such a trusty steed upon which I may rely.

Yes, I am still looking for a job/trying to figure out what next to do with my life. I'd like to thank all my friends and family for their support and patience as I go through this process. It's not easy dealing with situations where there is no singular "right" answer. As is my wont, I will let other-more eloquent-folks distill my thoughts and sentiments for me:

Always set high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate your friendship of his own accord will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you.
~Samuel Johnson

To be capable of steady friendship or lasting love, are the two greatest proofs, not only of goodness of heart, but of strength of mind.
~William Hazlitt

Long days and pleasant nights.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

STS-119 pics part 2

Sorry for the belated post of the last of these photos. I made the mistake of sitting down on the couch and was out like a light.

These three photos zoom in on the Shuttle as its Solid Rocket Boosters finish their burn and separate from the Shuttle orbiter and External Tank. It was amazing to me that this was even visible to the naked eye as it happened. The SRBs parachute back into the Atlantic and are retrieved by vessels pre-positioned to tow them back to land for refurbishing.

Pulling back, it was possible to see the path the Shuttle had taken in its early stage in flight. The higher altitude portions were still in sunshine, while the lower bit was already in the Earth's shadow of twilight. You can also see how the winds vary with altitude. Some altitudes are quite still and some are more windy, where the path remained intact versus where it had already begun to contort. If you look closely you can see a little light in the left portion of photo that is Shuttle's main engines as it continues its way to orbit.

Even long after the launch, the upper clouds of exhaust were illuminated by the sun. The colors were just bizarre.

So, yeah, that was my first-person Shuttle launch experience, minus the couple of hours it took sitting in traffic driving back to my friend's house. Waiting the couple hours after we arrived, I did a lot of reading in "Treasure Island" to pass the time. I went back and read in the very beginning of the book where Robert Louis Stevenson had put in a note that I found to be somewhat appropriate to the experience I was having. Agree or disagree, this is how my mind works:

To the Hesitating Purchaser

If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
If schooners, islands, and maroons
And Buccaneers and buried Gold,
And all the old romance, retold
Exactly in the ancient way,
Can please, as me they pleased of old,
The wiser youngsters of today:

-So be it, and fall on! If not,
If studious youth no longer crave,
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wood and wave;
So be it, also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Where these and their creations lie.

If something like this can't stir your blood then what could?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

STS-119 pics part 1

As promised, here are some photos from before and just after the Shuttle lifted off Sunday evening.

The crowd where we sat in the lawn of an assisted care high-rise building right by the water:

The view toward the launch pads before anything bright and shiny started to happen:

Now things started happening quickly. By the time the Shuttle clears the tower it is moving at ~100 miles per hour, and continues to rapidly accelerate as it climbs. The focus is off a bit on some of them, sorry:

We couldn't hear any sound of the launch until the vehicle had climbed pretty high in the sky. I think we were about 10 miles or so away from the launch pad, so it makes sense to me that the acoustic energy at launch is so great that it is deadly out to a pretty far distance. The exhaust was bright enough to be a little hard to look directly at, like a little sun had quickly risen and started a bizarre path across the sky.

I will put some more up later this evening, but have a few job hunt-related things to attend to right now, as well as take a nap. I'm fading after the short hours of sleep in a cold car last night.

I'm back

Safe and sound, but with no little trauma to my posterior, I made it home from Orlando. I'll get to the pics and posts about the launch and drive once I take care of housesitting duties.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's the final countdown!

Well, all is currently going well to facilitate the Shuttle launch this evening. We're probably going to watch from a park, since tickets for this particular launch (to see it from on-base at KSC) went on sale while I was still in SE Asia. If we get to see the launch then I'll probably get to bed fairly early and start the drive back to Kansas at a really early hour Monday morning. It has been a nice trip, but not much of a vacation. I've been working on my job hunt a lot, as some things just need to keep happening no matter where I might find myself. I should put this employment search down as full-time (albeit uncompensated) employment on my resume for as much work as it has required.

Anyhow, I'll keep updates coming this evening and from the road as I head home.

Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity. For the crowd considers anything deep if only it cannot see to the bottom: the crowd is so timid and afraid of going into the water.
~Friedrich Nietzsche

Ah, to be the superman...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Photographic evidence

OK, here are some photos from the last few days. First off is back home just after the hail storm that did its number to my car.

The Kennedy Space Center has a good number of vintage launch vehicles on display outdoors. I figure they must really take a pounding when hurricanes roll through.

That big ol' building in the distance is the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). That's where they originally put together the launch stack for the Saturn rockets in the Apollo days. For the last several decades it has been used for working with the Shuttle-External Tank-Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) combo. It's one of the largest buildings, by volume, in the world. I've read that clouds can form in its upper reaches when the right atmospheric conditions are present.

That stuff in the distant background is the launch pad that is being adapted to support the Constellation program's Ares rockets in the future. Yeah, that will be my future office or at least where I start my commute to work.

And, finally, that's yours truly with a Shuttle on the launch pad (obscured by the gantry) in the background. It definitely was thrilling to see the place so many folks have set off to do that which would make me so contented in life. Hopefully it will manage to get safely on its way this Sunday. I can't believe it took me this long, in life, to make it down here.

I am going to stay for the Sunday launch, provided the review scheduled for Saturday goes well. I'm not exactly sure what I'll do until then, but I may head out to the national seashore tomorrow. I spent a lot of time doing job hunting work online today. Call it a "working vacation".

"In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited."
~Neil Armstrong, press conference, 1999

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A good day, despite no flight

Well, the launch of STS-119 has been pushed back to at least the 15th. I did get to spend the day enjoying the facilities at Kennedy Space Center, and man was it stirring to see the launch pads and gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It was also interesting how amongst all this high technology were all sorts of birds and a good number of alligators lurking in the various canals and waterways at the Cape. I'll put up some photos eventually.

A 3D IMAX movie about the Space Station had all sorts of statements by astronauts that paralleled my experiences with going to the South Pole. One woman talked about coming to grips with leaving the world for (six) months to enter a wholly different environment. I definitely said some farewells prior to deploying in 2007. Other folks talked about supporting experiments in various scientific fields to generate data for researchers back on the ground, which sounded distinctly similar to the job description for my tech job at Pole. Astronauts just arriving on the Shuttle talked of how remarkable it was that the long-duration crew on the ISS felt so separate from the world after being in orbit for so long. I felt similarly while at Pole, which incidentally has less telecommunications with the rest of humanity. This all lends credence to my feelings about how practical polar experience, particularly over the winter, is for somebody contemplating spending time on a long-duration space mission. I now just need to bend the right ears about my experiences...

I have not decided what I will do now, whether I will stay here until Sunday to maybe see another launch attempt, but hopefully an inspired decision will present itself.
Some choices we live not only once but a thousand times over, remembering them for the rest of our lives.
~Richard Bach

Ad astra per aspera.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Safe in the Magic Kingdom

I am here in Orlando and in one piece. My drive today started off with three hours driving in fog after I left Montgomery. The scenery was nice when the fog did lift and I could enjoy all the forests along the way. Florida's panhandle was nice, and I even got to see a house (on a trailer) stuck underneath an overpass an hour or so east of Tallahassee. Tomorrow morning we're going to try and get tickets for the launch, though a lot of them are already sold out. We'll figure something out, though.

Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what he loves.
~Blaise Pascal

I hope to distinctly see something I love here oh-so soon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Leg 1-complete

I got to my cousin's place in MO just fine yesterday, with only a bit of a detour due to some vague directions obtained from the miraculous oracle that is the internet. I had a nice visit and got to talk and share a lot about my previous year-plus' exploits, as well as meet their extremely energetic dog Shemp (sp?).

Today will be the big drive, so I better get to it.

To find your own way is to follow your bliss. This involves analysis, watching yourself and seeing where real deep bliss is -- not the quick little excitement, but the real deep, life-filling bliss.
~Joseph Campbell

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On the Road

Well, I'm almost ready to strike out for points south and east of here. I'll be driving this afternoon, Monday, and Tuesday to get to Orlando. Wednesday night, all things working nominally, I'll get to see the Space Shuttle (STS-119) lift off sometime after 9:00 p.m. carrying its crew and cargo to the International Space Station. It will be my first time to see any sort of rocket launch, and with the era of the Shuttle coming to an end relatively soon it is going to be somewhat bittersweet. I'll be heading down via Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. I'm not sure what path I will take to get home.

My car's aerodynamics got slightly altered last night. We had a big storm system move through, and my venerable "94 Civic got a bit of hail damage. We had hail up to 1" in diameter, but my car was in the lee of our garage so it didn't get totally obliterated. I've never seen hail so bad here at home before. But, dimples are cute, right... Anyhow, it will be something to take care of when I get back from the trip.

There has been no positive progress on my job hunt, save that I can probably go back to Pole as a science tech again in October should I wish/need to. It's going on 9 months now since I started trying to find my next job. All the more reason to get out and away from that for a while and try to come at it anew when I return.

Here are a few words of wisdom from authors I've been reading as of late:

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
~John Steinbeck

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
~Mark Twain

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
~Robert Louis Stevenson

Not all those who wander are lost.
~J. R. R. Tolkien

The road awaits...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Doors open, conversations

Well, I know fairly definitively that I have secured an opportunity to return to the South Pole in the same role as I did this last time. It was interesting talking to my supervisor again and having yet another vastly different hiring experience with respect to going to the Ice. This time the job was the same, no great socio-economic leap from dishwasher to research associate, but the unknown of how I would do in the job and weather the environment of Pole was erased. Having "been there, done that" goes a long way towards making employers comfortable hiring anybody for this sort of experience. This isn't anything new, though:
"The personnel of an expedition of the character I proposed is a factor on which success depends to a very large extent. The men selected must be qualified for the work, and they must also have the special qualifications required to meet polar conditions. They must be able to live together in harmony for a long period without outside communication, and it must be remembered that the men whose desires lead them to the untrodden paths of the world have generally marked individuality."
~Ernest Shackleton (1874—1922)

Knowing folks that have gone through the same experience, well similar experiences actually, of such an undertaking is also a pretty good card to hold in your hand. So much of the way the experiences of a year at a station like Pole unfold has to do with the people that are there. If you know a good number of the folks you will be with, you can worry less about unknown character traits coming forth and disrupting the community. Whether you like it or not, you do get pretty well acquainted with people living this closely to them.
"In Antarctica you get to know people so well that in comparison you do not seem to know the people in civilization at all."
~Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886—1959), The Worst Journey in the World

Anyhow, the ball has started rolling to ensure this is an option for me to really consider for future employment. With all the news of the failing economy, I'm very much thinking it might be a smart move to come in from the cold and go back to the South Pole. I'll keep you updated.