Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Day, Take 1

Well, the holiday is upon us (some of us) here at Pole. So far I'm doing laundry and working just like normal. I always like using the big clothing centrifuges to get more water out before putting my things in the dryer. There's always something that seems just barely in control about the big, humming contraptions. The station is pretty quiet so far, with mostly night-shifters with time off rattling around. The science lab currently has none of its phalanx of overhead fluorescents on, and just the light from our several windows is a pleasant change from the harshness of the normal illumination scheme. I'll definitely be hitting the gym sometime today. Last night I watched "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", and I wouldn't mind emulating the title character's physique by the time I redeploy.

Well, have a great weekend wherever you are. It would be fabulous if my afternoon could include doing something like this, but I'll take what I can get.

" seemed they cared better for the weapons they wore than for the weapons they were. It seemed a strange way to behave, but of course this was a strange world."
~Roland, "The Drawing of the Three"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not a moment to lose

Things keep hopping during this pre-holiday-for-some week here at Pole. We've received a bunch of cargo in the last few days, which should enable us to get on with some work on the big 7-km VLF transmitter antenna. Emergency response training has been coming quickly, with tours of the IceCube facilities today and a Monday evening training session on the SCBA compressor that we use to refill our bottles for the fire brigade. On top of that work stuff, I've had two band practices in the last 3 days and have continued to hit the gymnasium regularly (love the rowing machine). I've also found time to do a bit of reading in "The Pillars of the Earth", which I'm enjoying ever so much. I'll probably pile right into the sequel book "World Without End" when I'm done with the first. Thanks, Bill!

I've tried to keep taking photos of new/different things from years previous. Here are a few more to look at:

A view of the Dome and Skylab, both of which are slated for demolition this summer:

Perihelia flank the accumulation of ice on a rooftop bathroom vent:

A nice, full halo around the sun, which is due to ice crystals in the atmosphere:

Though I never got to live under the dome, it still is going to bizarre to have that major landmark disappear. My first time down I got to see it with the buildings still in the interior, but they were demolished the winter of 2007. The physical hole the absence of these buildings will create is going to be impressive, to say the least. I reckon many folks that did get to live there will rue its passing, but such is the fate of all things.

"And a dear God indeed to them was the Roof of the Kindred, that their fathers had built and that they yet warded against the fire and the lightening and the wind and the snow, and the passing of the days that devour and the years that heap the dust over the work of men. They thought of how it had stood, and seen so many generations of men come and go; how often it had welcomed the new-born babe, and given farewell to the old man; how many secrets of the past it knew; how many tales which men of the present had forgotten, but which yet mayhap men of times to come should learn of it; for to them yet living it had spoken time and again, and had told them what their fathers had not told them, and it held the memories of the generations and the very life of the Wolfings and their hopes for days to be."
~Excerpt from "House of the Wolfings" by William Morris

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Breaking the Rules

So, a couple nights back I had been talking to some folks at the dinner table about my previous exploits sailing from Auckland to Easter Island/Rapa Nui aboard the Soren Larsen on my way home from Antarctica the first time. I came really close to sailing on another vessel from the Canary Islands to St. Martin in the Caribbean, crossing the Atlantic in 19 days. Well, the timing and berth availability didn't work out, so I had my other, fun trip in Australia and S.E. Asia instead. Anyhow, I looked at the website for that ship, the Stad Amsterdam, again, and they already have a similar voyage across the Atlantic posted for late November/early December 2010. So, assuming I leave here in mid-November, I could probably do this voyage. Sure, it's expensive, but how often do you get to cross an ocean under wind power?

I was not trying to overtly break one of my rules for long contracts on the Ice, by thinking about post-redeployment travel this early, but there it is. I'm not antsy to leave, by any means, but it would be awesome to have something like this all lined up for when I do finish my time at Pole and have to get myself back to the other side of the world.

"All loose things seem to drift down to the sea, and so did I."

~Louis L'Amour

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sisyphean Resignation

Well, this week, like the many to come, was filled with much work. There has been plenty to do with science, as well as the fire brigade. Yesterday we had our monthly combined-team drill for the station ERT apparatus, which went pretty well. Sure, we could do things much better, but that all will come with time and practice, neither of which we have had a whole lot of yet. Right after the drill we had a real alarm, which turned out to be nothing. That anomaly is almost always a given, the follow-up alarm after we have had a drill. There is certainly something to be said for experience of all sorts, but eliminating that particular gremlin would be nice.

This coming week brings the first holiday of the season here: American Thanksgiving. I, unfortunately, did not get signed up for the only dinner seating that would jive with my work schedule before it filled up (no holiday for me anyway), so am not sure what I will do. It would be fun to celebrate with most of my friends, but perhaps I will just make use of the gym while it is abandoned by others in favor of gluttony.

I have been working out every day, and am feeling that gratifying soreness that comes with physical exertion. I plan to start winter, and an adapted 300 workout, in much better shape than I did in 2008. Having such ready access to a gymnasium is probably one of the best perks of a contract here at Pole. That, and the free room and board. Between exercise and music, you have the two pillars for relieving stress upon which I rely heavily to make it through to the end of my perpetual work week. Once I can establish a routine, I also hope to start studying geology/glaciology some, as well as put in some quality time with my {ubiquitous brand name omitted} Russian language software .

“A fight is not won by one punch or kick. Either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard.”
~Bruce Lee

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Plugging Away

I'm still here doing this whole multi-tasking thing at Pole. Since posting last, I've also gotten to swap out 32 big batteries for the VLF transmitter and excavate an autonomous VLF receiver from the field. That latter activity took several hours of shoveling on Monday morning, and was the biggest hole I've dug here to retrieve the smallest piece of equipment to date. I've also started writing a consolidated SOP/checklist for how to do my job as science tech. It'll be the equivalent of the Grand Unification Theory (that may be hyperbole...) for the Cusp Tech position, but is mostly being done to facilitate coverage for me if I need to leave to do work in the deep field or-by Odin's beard-actually get R&R in January.

I'm also pushing forward as best I can with getting the fire brigade up and running. For some reason it is taking a LONG time just to get people onto the team, which has consumed a lot more of my time this year than previous. We have to be fitted for our respirators by the safety engineer, go through a brief physical with medical, get a properly programmed radio, and be issued bunker and SCBA gear. That's just to be allowed and equipped to respond, and doesn't even mean you have the training to really know what you're doing yet. All that process of building the team and bringing skills up to sufficient proficiency is what's on my plate for the coming summer (and then I get to do it again for winter). It's tough to schedule training when you have folks working on 3 different shifts in the same team, not to mention the fact that I have a "good deal" of work for my own primary job to do every single day. Oh well, I think it's important for the station, and it will hopefully look decent on my resume if there are any jobs to apply for when I leave here.

"Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body."
~Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Polie Errant

Well, the last two days I have gotten to go out with a visiting grantee and inspect the full 7-kilometer length of the VLF Beacon antenna. Yeah, it's 4.34 miles long. We got an early start this morning and did the northern half of the antenna. Here are a few pics:
The view back to town:

Our faithful Rocinante, Pisten Bully #309:

Again, the trusty steed:

This sort of picture, with the antenna stretching into the Flat White, reminds me what a beautiful and alien place this Antarctica can be:

Yesterday we did the southern half. Just as we were getting back to the station, I heard a fire alarm called out on the radio. So, I rushed in and helped verify that there was no problem. After a very brief lunch, and finding out our vehicle was having some mechanical issues, I only then had somebody tell me that it was in fact Friday the 13th. It made total sense. I'd felt-in the Force-that something was going to happen today, so had alerted various folks associated with emergency response that I was going to be off-station for several hours.

“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world was better for this.”
~from "Don Quixote" by Cervantes

That has to be one of my favorite quotes I've come across in a long time. If you know me, you know why.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Best Effort

The frantic pace of summer seems to be coalescing here at the bottom of the world. I’m doing my best to juggle the science work and firefighting responsibilities, along with station responsibilities like House Mouse. Today I get to clean my dorm wing’s bathrooms, as well as one of the lounges. Yesterday, at the end of 12 hours of work, I had to walk out to MAPO in the Dark Sector to move by hand 2,622 pounds of batteries for one of my projects that has a lot of its infrastructure out there. I also ended up staying awake until 2:00 A.M. to issue a new firefighter his full panoply, since he’s currently working on swing shift. So, I got a bit less than 3 hours of sleep this morning. What are you gonna do?

"I yam what I yam."
~Popeye the Sailor Man

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Billions, ya' dig?

Yesterday I got my first good work out in the field under my belt. I had to dig up the electronics case for a geophysical experiment that I support to retrieve some data off a compact flash card inside. It took a couple hours of shoveling carefully, to ensure not to cut any power or data cables, to uncover the box, but the retrieval of the data was quick and easy. It was beautiful and nearly cloudless, though cooler (~-50F), with very light wind. I've another field project that I need to do, but the winds are higher today (~20 kts), so I will postpone until a more clement day.

With all the tumult in the news about NASA and the manned space program's future, I thought I'd mark what would have been Carl Sagan's 75th birthday (11/09/1934). May I be as articulate and engaged in my life as he was in his.

"The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition."
"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."
"In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."
~Carl Sagan

Friday, November 6, 2009

What is going on here?

OK, so I happened to find this ghost-written Tom Clancy book called "Cold War" here at Pole, which I'd been interested in reading about for a few years. I probably read my first Tom Clancy book, "The Hunt for Red October" back in 7th grade. I started reading this novel a couple days ago, and it was interesting hearing somebody relate in this format about Antarctica, McMurdo, the Dry Valleys, etc. Well, I was doing laundry fairly late last night, and encountered a plot point that (for me) was as bizarrely familiar as the bits about Antarctica. So, the hired-gun author decided to include a major solar flare event as part of the plot line. Well, it just so happens that I was sitting there in the galley at the South Pole reading a Tom Clancy book that included the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and people working at Goddard Space Flight Center. I got to read brief descriptions of instruments onboard SOHO, which I used to actually work in conjunction with during my time on that mission's flight ops team (FOT). Anyhow, who would have thought that some unremarkable techno-thriller novel would encapsulate so many of the major events in the last 8 years-plus of my life. If, in the book, somebody turns up a Jayhawk and liking to sail tall ships then I'm going to really flip out...

I do have to say, though, that the summertime temperatures in McMurdo are much closer to +50F than -50F. You also have more than just a few moments wearing polypropylene glove liners at -20F before your hands start to freeze. I've been able to work for about 5 minutes at a time in glove liners at sub-negative 90F. I guess this is the difference between knowing the ground truth from personal experience versus using secondary sources. I'll see how the rest of this literary masterpiece goes.

"Just the facts, ma'am."
~Sgt. Joe Friday, Dragnet

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Taking the reins

I'm still plugging away here at Pole, and our transition between winter and summer crews is progressing. I haven't done anything much "exciting" since arriving, and am pretty much trying to lay low and get over this bug I picked up in McMurdo. Today is the first outbound flight with a whole bunch of winterovers, so the dynamics of the station will be changing rapidly. The remaining winterover crew members will-as always-get antsy and really want to leave, too. This is a case where the grass is actually greener. Anyhow, I don't have much else to share right now.

“Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson