Sunday, January 31, 2010

Once more unto the breach

Alright, it's Monday morning yet again. This week, like all weeks here, looks to be chock full of work and hopefully some play. I had a good weekend, watching "District 9" at the big "drive-in movie" in the gymnasium on Saturday night. It's definitely a great flick, for sure. On Sunday I ate a nice omelet at brunch and finished reading "Two Years Before the Mast" by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., which really got the old yen for sailing going-the relative simplicity of being at sea going somewhere via wind power.

On Saturday I saw the best show of atmospheric optics I've ever encountered. I sadly did not have a camera. We had a very strong halo around the sun, with the usual sun dogs on each side that had strikingly prismatic spectra of the rainbow. But, there was also a halo around the whole sky that had subsequent sets of sun dogs at 90° from the sun's position in the sky. It only lasted a few minutes, but was extremely beautiful. It kind of made me think of the mortality of everything, from people to cultures to stars. Time and tide wait for nobody, to borrow the phrase.

“Life for humans can consist only of climbing endless topless mountains, or eviscerating perpetually renewed dragons; there’s no safety in ease.”
~Brendan Phibbs, Our War for the World

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Still buzzing...louder now

The pace of science support work here at Pole seems to just keep ratcheting up. I've got two grantees here currently, and two more on the way next week. One grantee is installing a new instrument that I didn't know about yesterday, so I'm going to be the caretaker for 20 total instruments (22 if some wayward photometers arrive) over the next year. Toss all that together with the usual amount of support for everything else, as well as the fire brigade work I have to do, and I'm not lacking things to keep me busy.

The sun is perceptibly lower than just a few weeks ago, and our temperatures are starting to decrease. It has been in the -20s F quite a lot lately. It's still nothing like winter, but many of the outdoors activities to support these visiting scientists (who didn't come during the earlier, warmer months) will be that much more difficult because of the colder temperatures.

The station in general is making the final push to get jobs completed and people not staying for winter off on their merry way. We've lots of cargo that needs to arrive, including lots of fuel to actually sustain the station through the winter isolation, and lots of cargo that needs to get flown out to meet the resupply vessel. For some strange reason, though, in the last week we have had numerous flights where McMurdo has sent "sleigh riders" on brief little morale trips to the Pole. About a dozen come in on a plane, and go right back out with it when it leaves. Now, they don't really have enough time to be a direct burden on the station since they're he so briefly, but the fact that they are taking up space on Herc flights that could be used for incoming/outgoing cargo seems wrong to me (a Polie). We've tools and batteries and numerous things still in the logistics pipeline for the science lab here that we really could use more than somebody from McMurdo could use 20 minutes on-station at Amundsen-Scott. The fact that we're behind in the flight schedule, and consequently behind on getting enough fuel, but McMurdo is choosing to send their people on a recreational excursion seems irresponsible and ill-considered. If not having non-working people on-station at McMurdo was a contributing factor in the change of the R&R policy for wintering Polies, then why are non-working McMurdo people allowed to occupy space in the logistical pipeline for Pole and potentially displace important equipment/fuel needed for this station? Having spent the summer here at Pole working in much colder, higher-altitude, drier conditions than McMurdo, where is my morale flight going to? The Dry Valleys or the crater of Mount Erebus would be great. But, I know that is not in the cards, and would just settle for the program doing what needs to be done to ensure this station, my home for the coming 10 months, has what it needs to survive the winter. Having a warm, functioning station all the way through to November will do wonders for my morale.

"Widespread intellectual and moral docility may be convenient for leaders in the short term, but it is suicidal for nations in the long term. One of the criteria for national leadership should therefore be a talent for understanding, encouraging, and making constructive use of vigorous criticism."
~Carl Sagan

“Reason and judgment are the qualities of a leader.”

“In soft regions are born soft men.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flight of the Bumble Tech

Well, 'tis the season to be beyond busy. I'm really doing fine thus far, but once all the people I have to support start to arrive, I think things will escalate exponentially. Already this morning I've been into a vault ~20 feet down in the ice to swap out a computer for a project. Some folks are just finishing breakfast now. Anyhow, every morning I have to hit the ground running and keep it up all day while juggling my schedule between all my projects, fire brigade responsibilities, and miscellaneous station activities. The end is nigh, though. One of my good friends is already finishing his contract and redeploying today. In just a couple weeks there will be the initial waves of the general exodus before we close for winter. I gather the target closing date is probably 15 Feb.

IceCube is working on (or maybe finished last night) their last hole for the season, so that major contingent isn't long for Pole. A big deal here has been how the crew will extract two tractors that got stuck in the sector over the buried original Pole station. It's going to take a lot of doing to get that taken care of, but it has to be done-and quickly/safely. The flight schedule from McMurdo has increased dramatically, though we've still had trouble getting all our flights. Last I'd heard we needed something like 100 flights to get this place fueled and ready for the long dark of winter. A couple mornings back there was pretty heavy overcast and a fairly strong breeze. With the lessened light and general pallor of the terrain, it felt like the end of summer was near at hand (which it is). Today we've got clear skies, but yesterday at lunch I watched a fog bank come in from the horizon to swathing the station in visibility-reducing shroud within about 30 minutes.

All in all, things are going reasonably well. That doesn't mean things are perfect, but we're getting a lot of work done and the weeks keep ticking by rapidly. It's definitely good to be productive and employed (and paid) again.

“Many who seem to be struggling with adversity are happy; many, amid great affluence, are utterly miserable.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chapter closes

Last night we had a station photograph taken with the last sections of the Dome still standing. The rest of the structure had already been removed, including digging out the footings. I guess what's strange is that it isn't all that strange not having that big metal bubble here. Perhaps seeing it before and after discretely, without all the weeks of intermediate deconstruction, would be more jarring.

The BBC was back here yesterday, including Sir David Attenborough, to do more filming for Frozen Planet. They even used their nifty steady-cam mount on a Twin Otter to do overflight shots of the station. It's too bad this TV series doesn't come out forever.

More winterovers have arrived on-station, including a couple guys that were here over winter 2008 like I was. It's interesting to see them all cleaned up now, versus how shaggy/unshorn they were when I last saw them. I wish I could still do the whole long hair and beard thing, but alas... Other folks have already taken off on R&R in New Zealand, and I hope they're all having a lovely time. Given my druthers, I'd be there surfing, but I'm not. That's OK, though, I'm where I need to be.

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing."
~Robert E. Howard, The Tower of the Elephant
“Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; While others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dressed to the Nines

This little South Pole International Film Festival (SPIFF) project has been a lot of fun thus far, as shown in the following evidence:

The Dome has only a couple days, if not just tonight-I'm not sure, to remain of this world. In addition to the siding work on the station and the Dome deconstruction, there is now a big fuel line being suspended from the belly of the station. That will eliminate a lot of the length of the fuel line that has normally just been out on the open snow. I don't know whether the new fuel line will be done in the next month, though. I'd be a poor judge of that, for sure.

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
~Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech given in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1910

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Couldn't Resist

OK, so I love Frank Herbert's "Dune" series, though I haven't read all the recent additions his son and compatriots have added to the series. But, the original canon books are da' stoneburner. I'll translate that from nerd: are da' bomb. That being said, I have kept thinking of the view of the current remains of the Dome in this fashion (and couldn't resist not seeing what this would look like):

Last night we did some more filming for the SPIFF, both at the ceremonial Pole marker and at the Beer Can. The latter Polar architectural feature's official name is the Vertical Tower, which seems ludicrously redundant to me. We're hitting the crunch time to get everything shot so the director has enough time to edit the video and overlay our soundtrack.

“And that day dawned when Arrakis lay at the hub of the universe with the wheel poised to spin.”
~from "Arrakis Awakening" by the Princess Irulan, Dune

"And I beheld another beast coming up out of the sand; and he had two horns like a lamb, but his mouth was fanged and fiery as the dragon and his body shimmered and burned with great heat while it did hiss like the serpent."
~Revised Orange Catholic Bible, Children of Dune

Friday, January 8, 2010

The dome is looking decidedly less "domey" in the last few days. I'm not sure when they anticipate wrapping up the deconstruction and transition to filling in the gaping pit its absence will leave:

Last night I got stuck in the same obsessive arts and crafts mode I started slipping into late in the winter of 2008. I spent about 3 hours making a single prop for that SPIFF (South Pole International Film Festival) entry I'm involved with this summer. It was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, but I just wish I would have gotten the fit right, since the hat I made seems to dig into my forehead rather painfully when I pull it on firmly. But, when there isn't a haberdasher on the entire continent...

Redeployment meetings have started to be scheduled, so though the end isn't actually immediately pending for the summer, lots of folks will start to manifest Short-Timer's Syndrome, which will be mildly annoying to observe. I reckon the next few weeks until mid-February will simply fly by in a blur of grantee visits, DVs on vacation, fire brigade training, and the usual activities I have to do to support my smorgasbord of science projects. I'm sure it will get tiring at times, but the more sane pace of winter is not all that far away.
"To know a thing well, know its limits. Only when pushed beyond its tolerances will true nature be seen."
~The Amtal Rule, "Chapter House: Dune"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The egg continues cracking

Work on the Dome deconstruction continues. I don't know what their projected completion date is, but I'm sure they need to have it down before the station closes for winter. It will be interesting to see whether the absence of this rather large structure has a significant effect on lessening the amount of leeward drifting.

We've had a number of NGA groups arrive and depart Pole this season, though their season is swiftly drawing to a close. This group was a bunch of women that had skied in from the coast.

With another grantee on-station for the 7-km transmitter, I may have to make more trips out there. This morning I have to run a drill for the fire brigade, during which we'll hopefully get boned-up on some search skills. The weather has brought us some actual fresh-from-the-sky snow in the last 24 hours, and I guess flights have not been going in/out of McMurdo because of it. The temperature this morning was a balmy -2.5 Fahrenheit, so it definitely is summer here. Work just goes on, as it will, unchecked by holidays throughout the rest of the summer. I've started thinking about solo performance pieces I could try to put together for another open mic event this summer, which could be fun. Life is generally fairly simple here, which is nice.
“I myself have certainly never lived a more sybaritic life.”
~Fridtjof Nansen, concerning living aboard the Fram

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Way Too Much Fun

Despite a few technical difficulties, the SECURITY IN NOISE set went off really well Saturday night. There were loads of people there, and most were up and dancing, so that was a lot of fun to play to. I was really happy with how my first foray into singing lead while playing guitar fared. It seems to take a lot of energy to do it, at least for this sort of music, but perhaps I was also tired from working a full day, which included a couple hours of calibrating antennas out in the field that morning. A bonus to the experience was having a cameraman from the BBC, here shooting footage for Frozen Planet, taking footage of us while performing. I wonder if we'll ever get to see any of that film they shot. All in all, I found it to be a very rewarding way to pay off the last nearly-two-months' efforts practicing for the gig. Thanks to everybody there that was so supportive and receptive to the band's performance!

The rest of the season is going to be extremely busy with site visits by grantees, as well as all the comings and goings of winter folks headed to/from R&R in New Zealand. The fire brigade training will continue throughout the duration of the summer, and will eventually have to transition to the folks staying for winter with a turnover drill sometime in February. We don't have anymore holiday weekends, so these last few weeks can get kind of rough for short-timers that let themselves start dwelling on wanting to leave. People staying for winter generally tend to seem less inclined to going "toast", as we call it in Ice vernacular, during the summer. I think that phenomenon helps make the argument against using "toastiness" as an excuse for slacking off during any season. Anyhow, between now and our tentative winter closing date of 13 February, there will be a whole lot of work and sadly few chances to pretend I'm a musician.
“We Greeks are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness.”

Friday, January 1, 2010

Day of Wreckoning

Typographical error pointer-outers need not apply...

Verily is it the 2nd of January 2010 here at South Pole, and this evening SECURITY IN NOISE shall perform at the New Year's Party. Hopefully the crowd will be big and pumped up to celebrate the coming of the 3rd of January. I have no idea what time we'll start playing, the party starts at 8:30 PM, since we've now been bumped to the last act of the night. This afternoon, sometime still TBD, we'll have a sound check with the PA that has already been set-up in the gymnasium. I have to work outside quite a bit today, and am moderately concerned about protecting my throat/voice for this evening's Blitzkrieg upon the station.

There really wasn't lots of interest to report upon this week, as far as my work was concerned, just lots of it. I'm now helping do a South Pole International Film Festival (SPIFF) entry, which has been a lot of fun thus far. It's not really going to be for anything but mature consumption, due to language, but that should not be a problem with the age demographics we have here at Pole.
“I too shall lie in the dust when I am dead, but now let me win noble renown.”

~Homer, The Iliad