Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Closeout & Fantasy Worlds

I've actually transitioned some projects from winter to summer modes already, and am even transferring ownership (which has been a long time coming) of one project over to another set of folks to run henceforth. We have a huge printout (kind of ridiculous) of all the station opening tasking that has to get done, but I have yet had a chance to give it a hard look and see what I can sign up for. I'll likely employ myself outside shoveling, since even though I've done plenty this winter I would rather do that than scrub dirty baseboards in the bathrooms.

My body is taking a bit less of a daily beating walking around outside, what with this increasingly illuminated world in which we find ourselves. The skies have had varying overcast, which just makes the clear times seem that much brighter. It's really a gorgeous time of year, even if we were scraping down to -99°F for a few days in the past week.

This past weekend, our Sunday night movie was "The Princess Bride". I had not watched that in quite a while, but it was as good as ever. I think my brother and I must have watched that at least once per week one summer as little boys. My brother even named his hamsters Westley and Buttercup, in the protagonists honor. Moving on into Sci-Fi September this weekend, we'll be watching "Aliens". That was one of the few really scary movies my folks probably let me watch at too young an age. After seeing that, I was in horrible fear of reaching out for the light switch in our old barn (before renovations) and putting my hand in the little extenso-mouth the alien xenomorphs had in the movie. Seriously, you had to walk half-way into the barn to hit the light switch, sliding your hand along the wall along the way. I was sure something was there in the pitch blackness lurking in wait of an easy bit of prey. It will be fun to go to the movies again once out of here, especially this new mega-theater.
“Take what is offered. And that must sometimes be enough.”
~Richard K. Morgan, “Altered Carbon”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The appellation “Angry August” is quite apt. By this point in the winter, people definitely seem to fall to the extremes of really liking each others’ company (or pretending to do so) versus quite the opposite. There really is not much remarkable about the situation. Just run the thought experiment considering how you would feel if all your co-workers/bosses/employees lived and ate and slept in the same building as you. Not being able to get away from the same social scene can really wear on folks.

But, the contrasting point to that is with the brightness continuing to grow on the horizon, one’s thoughts can more realistically begin to linger upon what will come upon departure. Some folks can afford to turn their gaze thusly more often, while others (like your humble servant) still have a whole lot of work to do before station opening, and even more work to do for turnover once replacements arrive. The disparity of work expectations for the different “professions” down here is just more evident given the close proximity in which the various societal castes must exist. For some folks they just stop working when their replacements arrive, but for others they have a whole lot of teaching to do before their labors are concluded. It’s not really different than anywhere else in the world.

We got word recently about the NSF’s decision for the 3 finalist companies/bids for the continued Antarctic operations contract. This whole decision has been pending for quite some time, and I am sure the full-time staff in Denver are very much ready for some sort of decisive, ultimate finalist to be chosen so they can move past limbo and get on with concrete decisions about whether or not to make the leap to the new contractor or seek elsewhere for employment. It seems like a very inefficient process, but is not the least bit different from what I experienced with contract turnover when working at NASA GSFC. Though much will stay the same, there will hopefully be some improvements in various aspects of the company and management of the three American stations on the Ice.

I continue to gradually make plans for my trip home, and have not decided whether I will telegraph my itinerary in this forum ahead of time or will just write from the road and let those of you who consistently read be (hopefully pleasantly) surprised as I go. Right now the plan is to leave Christchurch on 18 November and get back home probably in the middle of January 2011. The year 2010 will be the first time I have been out of the States for an entire calendar year (and then some). The contrast to the homogeny of the preceding year will undoubtedly and refreshingly be quite striking.
“Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."
~Robert E. Howard (Queen of the Black Coast)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Something sunny this way comes

Well, the glow on the horizon has done some growing since we saw it last, due to higher winds yet again at South Pole. This window of calm and clear will only last a little while, so after the next storm we will likely have an even larger omen of light returning to the world. Right now the moon is not quite full, but there is a lot of light outside.

These portents of things to come also herald in the ridiculously busy late-season surge in tasking for science and station activities. It definitely is not the greatest time to have more work dumped in your lap, but it always happens. Things have to keep happening for science like they have the previous nearly-300 days. Extra work preparing for the sun to come back up starts to happen. Extra work preparing to turn the reins over to your replacement happens. End-of-season reports come due. Extra tasking to make life easier for summer-only folks starts to happen. Extra tasking for station opening starts to happen. This all starts to happen when you're the most fatigued and worn down and ready for a break, but it is the last push (like finals at the end of a hard semester of college during which you've had classes every single day) that gets you to redeployment.

A couple nights ago we had our first power outage of the winter. It was very brief, but due to having so many instruments scattered all over the station, I ended up working another 2.5 hours (and walking another 2.5 miles outside in the storm) and got done with all the project notifications around 11:30 PM. We have been lucky to have had so few power interruptions this season, but they are never fun to deal with. Of course, that is for this science position I work. Other folks, who do not have similar requirements put upon them, went back to watching movies, playing cards, etc. I wonder what it must be like to have a "normal" job down here...

“It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.”
~Theodore Roosevelt

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Malleable landscape on the move

The winds have been blowing for a while again here at Pole, but not nearly as severely as before. Still, plenty of snow is getting drifted around station in different patterns than usual, since the wind has been out of the (grid) WNW direction. It actually has evened out some of the road to ARO, but is also causing the leeward drift of that building to grow very rapidly.

I played bingo last night, but...alas...won nothing. You got an extra card if you came in costume, so I wore my fedora and a gaudy sweater and carried my lariat, and called myself Indian Huxtable in honor of Indiana Jones and Bill Cosby's avuncular character from his eponymous show. I figured I brought The Hat down, so I might as well get as much mileage from it as I can.

Early "winfly" flights into McMurdo Station were supposed to start this week. The first was supposed to go on Friday, I believe, but a mechanical problem with the C-17 (thankfully on the ground) preempted takeoff. I think there are supposed to be about 6 or 7 early flights. No such flights are possible at the South Pole at this time of year, because we inhabit a significantly less clement spot on the continent. Early predictions for flight schedules to Pole are floating around, but are as good as fiction until they actually happen.
“The sons of civilization, drawn by the fascinations of a fresher and bolder life, thronged to the western wilds in multitudes which blighted the charm that had lured them.”
~Francis Parkman, “The Oregon Trail”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

By dawn's early, early, early light...

We've got a bit of a gray region in the sky now, which is neither moonlight nor starlight, and not even close to auroral light. The most early vestiges of sunlight, though it still be many degrees below the horizon, have started to claw their way southward. Funnily, seeing that for the first time made me think mostly of all the work we have to do between now and when I leave in November.

Work continues apace, and I seem to be having quite a few problems with my science projects again. For good weeks my weekly situation report is maybe 2/3 of a page long. When you get over a page then you know you're getting the short end of the reliability stick once again...and again...and again...

I had what will hopefully be my penultimate stint in the dish room yesterday, in addition to doing all my required science, which happened to coincide with "Community Cook Day" and to-order pizza for dinner. The volunteer cooks managed to dirty every single pizza and sheet pan in the kitchen, so I got a brief reminder of what I went through when cleaning ceiling-high stacks of sheet pans in McMurdo.
“In the jungle, there was no typical day, though most of the time one day was pretty much the same as the one before and the one after.”
~Michael Lee Lanning, “The Only War We Had”