Saturday, December 31, 2011

No Dick Clark Required

Well, we rang in the New Year last night with some pretty skilled musicians playing in the gymnasium. There were 4 bands (folk, funk, classic rock, and hard rock). I played in the third. The crowd was a bit smaller than two years ago, when I played with Security in Noise, but that is to be expected with a station crew that is roughly 50-60 people smaller than the 2009-10 summer season. This year playing with “The Flakes” turned out to be quite a blast. Our set list was as follows:

White Room by Cream
Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Sweet Dreams by The Eurythmics
Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins
Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers
L.A. Woman by The Doors
Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison
Today by Smashing Pumpkins
Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd
Breathe by Pink Floyd
Authority Song by John Cougar Mellencamp
Running Down a Dream by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon
Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Everybody was firing on all cylinders, and despite some technical difficulties with an amplifier overheating in the middle of L.A. Woman, it went off without a hitch. Hopefully I will not have to wait another 2 years to get to play with another band!

We are still waiting to find out more concerning the new Lockheed contract. It seems that whole turnover will need to get started right away in early January, what with all that needs to be handed over by 1 April. I think most people are hungry for some details, particularly whether they will be extended contracts or not.

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

~Victor Hugo

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thermal Correction

Actually, the record for all-time high temperature at Pole was set on December 25, 2011, and was a whopping 9.9°F. We're back down at cooler temperatures (negative teens°F) today, with the overcast skies having cleared up and the wind swung around to the grid east.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday Happenings

So, Saturday we had the big holiday dinner (Beef Wellington, lobster tails, real mashed potatoes, etc.), which was excellent. That morning the Race Around the World was held, which was about 2.3 miles in length this year. The weather was pretty windy, and to hear some folks spin the tale it was a veritable hurricane. Not so, you could see all the outbuildings from the station. With that stormy weather that lasted into Sunday, we did have elevated temperatures. The all-time maximum temperature record, since humans have been measuring it here, used to be 7.5°F was set on December 27, 1978. Well, on December 25, 2011 it hit 8.1°F. It certainly felt warm outside, and made me want to “set the goal” of hitting the all-time coldest temperature on record during this winter.

We have not gotten any more details concerning the transition to Lockheed starting 1 April, 2012, but there is supposed to be a meeting to start the turnover process sometime during middle of this week.
“A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.”
~Catherine the Great

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And the winner is...

Lockheed was just announced as being the next Antarctic contractor to NSF. No details have been distributed yet. So, there is one answer to one question that affects a large portion of the next year of my life.
" steps get on the bus, baby steps down the aisle, baby steps..."
~Bob Wiley, "What About Bob?"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Somebody press play already!

Well, the weather has had a lot of things on pause here at Pole for quite some time. The field science groups have not been able to fly, and have been pretty much stuck here at Pole with not so much to do. The same goes for the Twin Otter crew that is supposed to fly them out to their field sites. We also have a good number of folks that were supposed to be here for just a day or so, but are now getting an extended visit to Pole, since the LC-130s are also on hold. The wind and decreased visibility at Pole do not seem that bad, but they have been just bad enough to throw a big wrench in many groups’ schedules and cargo deliveries. But, this is not really anything new on this (harsh) continent. Delays are to be expected.

The number of NGOs/tourists has gone way down since the centennial, though there was a wicked truck out by the visitors’ center yesterday that looked a lot like one of the old Stompers toys of my youth.

Band practices for New Year’s have picked back up, and our sound is getting better. We have quite a variety of songs, and it is a lot of fun now that we have mostly moved into the polishing mode for most of them. I am trying to take care of my voice, but sure wish I had some real vocal training.

Holiday decorations, including a tree (artificial, of course) have been put up in the galley. The big meal is on Saturday evening, and earlier in the day the Race Around the World will be held.
"Perseverance is more prevailing than violence; and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little." ~Plutarch

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The streak ends

Yesterday the Norwegian contingent managed to depart, despite some pretty lousy weather. The visibility has been bad the last two days, with considerable amounts of fog. It has waxed and waned, but is currently playing Old Harry with our flight schedule today. Normal skier flights from McMurdo have been cancelled, and the other fixed-wing flights to support field science have also been put on hold. Without the LC-130 cargo flights, many folks are twiddling their thumbs waiting for important cargo to be delivered. I guess we had this coming, since the weather had been so fair for so long.

With the departure of the centennial group, hopefully our still-to-be-named band will be able to get into practicing again. We are also dealing with the transition of one member from day shift to swing shift, which has not helped expedite the practice process.
"Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get."
~Mark Twain

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A nice commemoration

This afternoon some of the science staff here at Pole made ourselves available to talk to the public about the research we support. I did not get many takers to discuss space weather/science, but then again I didn't have a big, glossy poster to attract potential customers. This is the view of the ceremony gathering while walking in from the visitor center.

The speeches were pretty succinct, but quite enjoyable. It is interesting to think about the formative events in different countries' histories. Hopefully the U.S. will be following up our moon landings at some point with similarly "out there" advancements in exploration. I hope to be involved! The following are of the Prime Minister before and after the unveiling of an ice bust of Roald Amundsen.

Of course, lurking a short way away was the real pole marker for today.

"Action is the foundational key to all success."

~Pablo Picasso

The big, big show

So, the day of days has arrived. Pole was like a regular airport back home, with what seemed like an incredible number of flights arriving and departing. At one point we had 5 airplanes on the ground at the same time. I asked how many people we might have as neighbors, but could not get an answer.

Tonight there is a special dinner for very select folks, followed by a somewhat less select soiree in the gymnasium. The station crew in general is not invited to attend, but some folks are, as well as some (if not all) of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) people. I really do not know the specifics about it, as I’m not invited. It will be interesting to see what all transpires through the day, though. At 4pm (local, New Zealand time) there will be a live broadcast television event at the Pole marker with a speech from the Norwegian Prime Minister, which everybody is welcome to attend.

“For a war correspondent to miss an invasion is like refusing a date with Lana Turner.”
~Robert Capa

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gettin' this Pole party started

Yesterday the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, arrived at the South Pole. At supper, he gave a nice, brief speech thanking the station crew for all they do, and explained in short why the Amundsen Expedition (as well as some of the others, like those done by Fridtjof Nansen) was so important to their young country. After the talk at dinner, most folks on station trooped out for a group photo at the geographical pole marker.

Earlier in the day the Norwegian contingent had been out to do some filming/photographing. It was a first for me that I had to detour on my way back from ARO due to something like that, but there is always a first time for everything.

I will also point out in that photo the bit of pipe in the snow with a green flag next to it, just to the right of the group of people. That is the actual location of the Pole, as of December 14, the centennial of Amundsen's crew's arrival in 1911. So, though it is a couple weeks shy of the usual full one year from January 1 to January 1, that is essentially how far the ice cap moves in a year (~10 meters).

The weather has been really pleasant, warm, and calm here lately. I've taken to just wearing my fleece sweater on the walk to ARO, since I've been overly warm with the full jacket on (let alone wearing the Big Red parka, which I avoid like the plague). With luck the weather will cooperate here for the events the next couple days, and hopefully weather at McMurdo and Pole will remain within flyable conditions, so we can get people and cargo moved in/out on schedule.

"I don’t think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman, or child."
~Joseph Campbell

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Mobile Marker

With the upcoming centennial, a Norwegian flag has been added to the geographical South Pole marker. A new sign has also been installed there, though the content is the same; it’s just a whole lot bigger.

This is, as things work down here, actually the surface location of the geographical South Pole as of 1 January, 2011. The first day of each calendar year, the marker location is updated to its present position. The reason the marker apparently moves is because the ice sheet that constitutes the Antarctica Plateau is slowly moving at about 10 meters per year. As a result, the updated positions of the pole appear to march across the landscape in a line, but it is the landscape (or, icescape, if you prefer) that is actually moving.

The pole marker itself is actually from the 2010 crew with which I last wintered. We selected a design during the winter, and the following summer it was installed at the new/current geographic pole location on New Year’s Day. Similarly, on 1 January, 2012, we will update the pole location using the marker (kept secret from the public) selected by the 2011 winter crew. The machinist each winter is who actually fabricates the actual marker article.
"After I'm dead I'd rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Polie Express

Mail has been arriving again fairly regularly, though I have not gotten anything in a while. The last package to arrive for me was one I sent myself, with supplies for the year.

Unfortunately, it got obviously some rough treatment along the way, so I'll probably have to find something else (robust) to ship my laptop and other related things back in next year. Though, maybe I'll be hurrying back with my laptop to go interview for some out-of-this-world job, not taking the time for more globetrotting, so who knows?
“My favorite review described me as the cinematic equivalent of junk mail.”
~Steve Buscemi

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It’s a Polar Picnic

The last week has really blown by here. Last Saturday, in appreciation for the extra work the galley crew undertook to provide Thanksgiving dinner, I helped out for what is called “Managers Cook Day”. Though not a manager, I helped wash dishes, assemble grilled (ham and) cheese sandwiches, and put a mean burn on them on the grill. I think we made the better part of 400 sandwiches.

Yesterday I participated in the refresher course for the Snow Craft survival course. Though I do not anticipate getting to go out into the deep field to support any science projects, I now have the required training (refreshed) to do so. I took the full course during my first season in (mostly) McMurdo when I worked in the galley. Other folks will be doing the full up course, with a night spent out camping somewhere off-station.

Tourists continue to visit and depart. There have been a good number of flights, and the number of tents and other structures out at the designated campsite continue to increase. There was some 8-wheeled truck out by the visitor center yesterday morning. As days pass, we continue to find out more about the festivities surrounding the centennial, as well as restrictions upon general station activities as a result. It will be a little inconvenient for us residents of South Pole Station, but should still be interesting to see what all goes on during those days. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. It would be edifying to see the total numbers for how much ends up being spent by all parties involved with tourism and centennial celebrations down here this summer. Similarly, I think it would be interesting to see a census done concerning the demographics of the tourists that do have the means to recreate in this part of the world.

“Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.”
~Clark Griswold, “Vacation”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Murdered Out Space Traveling Rock ‘N Roller

I had not encountered this term until this summer when a long-time friend in the program said this year I was all “murdered out”. Upon questioning her more closely about this bit of Antarctic Argot, I was informed it referred to my attire. In particular, it pertained to my Extremely Cold Weather (ECW) gear. This year’s accoutrement included a black jacket, instead of the usual brown variety that I have been issued in the past. I am also sporting black overalls, boots, glove liners, and neck gaiters. Given the funereal palette of my garb, which has been sported by numerous fine people in the past, this has been dubbed being “murdered out”, I guess. For a visual depiction of this mode of dress, please refer to the following photograph.

In other news, regarding another occupation requiring even more exotic working garb, I submitted my astronaut application online (but still must mail off a letter about my college transcript). I feel good about my credentials! I have the type of education and some job experience it seems the selection folks would be interested in, and I certainly have gotten the remote living thing down with my years here at Pole. I am healthy, not too tall or heavy, and have good eyesight. With that ball set rolling, we now play the waiting game, at which I have definitely become adept. I certainly should have plenty to keep me busy in the meantime.

One of those things keeping me busy has been the start of practices for a yet-to-be-named band here at Pole. So far I’m just doing vocals, but we’ll see if I get to play some guitar as the set list develops. The big gig will likely be New Year’s Eve. Though my vocal chords protested some during the first practice, they seem to be getting used to performing in this high-altitude desert again. After all, this is the only place they ever get put to this sort of use. Musical selection thus far is a somewhat eclectic mix of contemporary and classic pop/rock. Fun stuff!

A little foretaste of the centennial has sprung up in the station's front yard. Carpenters from McMurdo have been brought in to start assembling the visitor center structures out beyond the ceremonial pole marker. Some folks are already starting to call it the second station. I am not sure exactly when its first visitors will arrive, but it certainly is going to be different from summers past.

“It's our destiny to explore. It's our destiny to be a space-faring nation.”
~Eugene Cernan

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Begun, the holiday season has

So, Thanksgiving here at Pole was a fairly low-key event for me. I worked Saturday like normal, and got changed for dinner as soon as my science checks were done. Dinner was the usual T-giving fare, and all tasted very nice. I especially enjoyed the REAL mashed potatoes and gravy, which is something a guy spending a year down here does not encounter all that often. The usual partying afterwards didn’t appeal, particularly with many heading out to the Summer Camp lounge, so remaining in the station and (somewhat cynically) waiting for a fire alarm was more my speed. We got to have leftovers the next evening at dinner, which tasted just as fine. All in all, with the somewhat smaller crew here so far this summer, it was as pleasant a Thanksgiving as I’ve had on the continent.

Monday we started getting flights again, having not had any since Tuesday of last week. Of course, after a couple days of flights we’ve now had all of them rerouted to different destinations today, for whatever reason. I think some of the West Antarctic field camps are getting the LC-130 action right now, for whatever reason.

Yesterday was supposed to be the big day for the NSF contract announcement for the Antarctic, but nothing has been heard yet. I suppose it will eventually happen, but each week that passes is less time the new company will have to get their act together and be ready to roll come April 1, 2012. It would be interesting to read a narrative of what all has been going on regarding this request for proposals for the Antarctic bid over the last several years. I would like to know more about the whole process. From the outside, it certainly seems arcane.
“The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

No Thanksgiving for wx delays

Well, I suppose if you were in a department/crew whose work was mostly centered around supporting aircraft/flights and weren’t the most motivated worker, perhaps you would be giving thanks for the weather that has cancelled all flights between McMurdo and Pole for the last several days. On the other side of the coin, if you are a winterover still here and waiting to get out...yeah, well, you are ready to start human sacrifices to get on a plane for destinations north. As I understand it, the weather in McMurdo has been the culprit, but every time I have checked their website’s weather page, it has been all “Condition 3”, which is normal weather. My faith in the veracity of what I read on the internet all being true is being sorely tested by this ongoing paradox. People in the know say we have a bunch of mail ready to come in from McMurdo, if we could only get a flight. That would be nice, so I’d have a little dressier pair of trousers for Thanksgiving dinner than either of the ratty pairs of jeans I have down here now.

“Bad weather always looks worse through a window.”

~Tom Lehrer

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Al Ca-Pole’s Vault

I enjoy working out in the field. It often poses some challenges, but it’s rewarding to overcome them. Sometimes it is just small things you can do to make the job easier. Sometimes you have to enlist the assistance of other, skilled folks to help renovate your infrastructure (pay attention America). In this case, the vault for our Lucent Fluxgate Magnetometer had been gradually getting buried deeper and deeper beneath the surface of the snow. It was finally agreed upon that our science carpenters would extend the vault back to/closer to the surface, so that entry did not require first digging down roughly 4 feet to the hatch. Over the couple weeks since I arrived, this construction project has been in the works, and it was put to its first use today when I did the biannual leveling of the magnetometer down in the bottom of the vault.

The exterior of the new vault lid:

Looking down the new exterior hatch to the original hatch:

Looking back up the new, upper ladder from the original hatch:

Original hatch open in the new antechamber:

The sacred relic in the Holiest of Holies (a.k.a. the magnetometer):

Of course, the drifting will eventually catch up to the entry hatch again, but for at least a few years the Research Associate supporting this project should have an easier and safer time accessing the instrument.

Sadly, Geraldo and his mustache were unable to attend the opening of the new vault.
"Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man's upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground floor."
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One down

I got the simple turnover to the returning cryogenics tech done a couple days ago, but still am covering the aurora tech's few projects in addition to my primary ones. The station population is currently at 190, which doesn't feel too crowded. I guess they are trying to keep it at or under 250 for the big periods this summer, which is nice. Hitting 300 definitely felt way too densely populated for comfort during past summers.

The temperatures have still been near negative forty Fahrenheit, but yesterday we had really light wind, and it felt warm outside. I reset some flags out to some antennas, and walking back I had to open my jacket (black this year, instead of brown) and take off my mitts to dump the extra heat. With the absence of wind or blowing snow crystals, it was a great day to hear things (like loaders or snow mobiles) at a long distance.

I think the season is getting into the routine enough now that people are starting to think about bands. I have had a couple folks contact me about playing this summer, so we'll see what comes of it. I definitely look forward to playing and singing again.

With the astronaut candidate positions now posted, I will be getting my final ducks in a row to send in my credentials. It is open until January 27, 2012, so I have plenty of time. I know it's a long shot, but my chances are zero if I don't apply.
"To be matter-of-fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy - and dull fantasy at that, as the real world is strange and wonderful."
~Robert A. Heinlein

Monday, November 14, 2011

Most useless shower ever

Well, Saturday night I took a much needed shower before dinner, ate dinner briefly, went to go watch a movie (Life of Brian), and before the show started had to respond to a fire alarm down in the Main Power Plant (MPP). So, that shower was good for about 45 minutes. There was no fire, but there was plenty of glycol vapor being sprayed out into the work area. We had to use SCBA-clad firefighters to set up ventilator fans to eject the vapor from the area, so it would be safe for mechanics to do the necessary repairs, as well as clean-up folks to deal with all the glycol on the floor, etc. After dealing with all that I had to check the science projects and the cryogenics facility to make sure they were functioning properly. It made for a short 3 hours of sleep before a busy Sunday, which included the first time I had gotten to do the hands-on work for transferring liquid helium from a large storage container (dewar, to be precise) to a small one for transport over to the Dark Sector Lab for the BICEP2 telescope.

This morning we got to deal with a false fire alarm in the galley, which was fun/brief. Somebody got a few too many cooking fumes going, and a lot of folks got a 5:30 AM wake-up call. I was in the gym, so didn't have to drag myself from sleep to respond.
I wanted to live the life, a different life. I didn't want to go to the same place every day and see the same people and do the same job. I wanted interesting challenges.
~Harrison Ford

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hanging in there

The week rolls on with me still filling the 3 science support tech roles. Hopefully the flights next week will arrive on time and with healthy replacements ready to get to work. I have had a few extra things to deal with in the last few days, beyond the normal operation of the various projects. Yesterday we began work on a project to extend the entrance to an instrument vault, which thus far has meant doing a lot of digging to clear the entire lid of the vault housing a magnetometer. The science carpenters are building the new structure, and we hope to have it installed in the next few days. The original entrance had drifted in to about 4 feet of depth from the surface of the snow, which was starting to hamper safe ingress/egress during calibration activities. I'm glad to have gotten this started early, since the science carpenters are not too busy yet.

The station still seems pretty quiet, but we are still probably the better part of 100 souls short of our full capacity for the summer. That will change all too soon, and in about a month I bet this place will be jam packed, not only with workers in the program, but with all those tourists here for the Amundsen centennial.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost legendary. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Perseverance and determination alone are omnipotent.”
~President Calvin Coolidge

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I'm at the Pole...

I arrived Thursday morning, and pretty much hit the ground running. My entry into the station upon arrival, and the walk to my berthing room took about 20 minutes. This was not because I was out of breath or anything, but was because I kept getting stopped by folks already talking business with me. I found out I will not just be taking over the reins of my normal science tech job and the fire brigade leader position, but will also serve as an interim replacement for the other science tech and the cryogenics tech. So, until those other two folks arrive, I will have my hands just a little bit more full than usual.

I have felt loads better than my early arrival days two years ago. I managed to get here healthy, which I will attribute to my unusually brief stay in McMurdo, which ended up being just a little over 12 hours. Other than the usual headache the first night, I woke up Friday morning feeling great. I have slept well each night, and seem to have left jet lag far behind.

With luck, I will be able to find some spare moments to keep posting updates as the summer season barrels on here at Pole.
"Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before."
~Franz Kafka

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Another leg complete

After 2 full days of delays, plus a 4-hour delay today (Wednesday), I finally flew to McMurdo without any problems. The schedule has me flying tomorrow morning to Pole, however the weather may turn bad at Pole and keep us here for several days (potentially). Deployment is definitely a process requiring plenty of patience. At least I'm not in Man Camp with 29 roommates, just 5 of them in Building 155.

So it is. So it goes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Safe & sound

I made all my connections, and arrived in Christchurch just fine this afternoon. The closest bit was getting to my departing gate in Dallas just as they were starting to board the aircraft. Otherwise, things went just peachy. I seem to have gotten enough sleep over the Pacific that the transition to this new time zone has not been too rough. I've stayed awake WAY longer than in the past, but am fading pretty quickly.

Tomorrow it's on the agenda to get gear in the afternoon, so I will have to figure out what to do with my morning. This hotel is pretty far from the city center, but that place has completely changed. I'll write more on that in depth later.

Now, it's time to let myself wind down.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Frequent flyer miles…Here I come

Well, we have reached the endgame stage here, as pertains to my imminent departure. I have really only a few final things to attend to before heading to the airport Thursday afternoon. I will be winging my way south via Dallas, Los Angeles, Auckland, and Christchurch. Saturday I will be issued my ECW (extreme cold weather) gear at the CDC (clothing distribution center). Then on Halloween, weather and mechanical gods being properly appeased, I will fly to McMurdo Station. The following day, ditto the satiated spirits, I would then fly to Pole. If you would like to see what that looks like, and just how many miles in the air that is, scope out this LINK to the flight itinerary on a great circle mapping website.

I also got to see the new “The Thing” movie this past weekend. While I still like the original John Carpenter remake better, this new film was plenty of fun. I find the social dynamics of the research station crews going through stressful and traumatic experiences about as interesting as the whole alien shape shifter part of the plot. It is also remarkable how little people have to bundle up when they are outside (in the movie), particularly over their faces. But, I suppose it is a bit difficult to emote through a balaclava and pair of goggles.
“To young men contemplating a voyage I would say go. The tales of rough usage are for the most part exaggerations, as also are the stories of sea danger.”
~Capt. Joshua Slocum, “Sailing Alone Around the World”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Another Kansas Road Trip

My flight from Seattle to Denver went fine, and the training was informative as usual. It was mostly a review, but it’s definitely to review things like saving peoples’ lives before having to do it for keeps!

Driving back from Colorado, a couple of stops were made along the way. The first was a major mountaineering feat: gaining the summit of Mt. Sunflower. This fearsome peak (i.e. grassy hill) is the highest point in Kansas, and was a very pleasant break from the usual I-70 homogeny. Located in a ranch’s pasture several miles from the Kansas-Colorado border, a nice little marker and fenced-in picnic area reside at the 4,039-foot summit of the 34th state to join the Union.

Carrying on from the top of Kansas, the night was spent in Oakley. The next morning the Fick Fossil Museum was visited, which was a nice surprise. The collection of minerals, frontier relics, and marine fossils was really interesting. Some of the larger marine fossils were top-notch reminders of the old days when Kansas was drowned beneath a great inland sea. Numerous pieces of artwork that incorporates fossil vertebrae, shark teeth, etc. were exhibited that had been done by Mrs. Fick throughout her very artistically productive life.

On the edge of Oakley, there was a giant statue in honor of Buffalo Bill, who never lived there, but took part in a buffalo hunt that earned him his nickname.

The final stop was the lovely Coronado Heights outside Lindsborg, with its neat structures (including a castle) from a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s. The viewpoint is postulated to be where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado called off his search for the Seven Cities of Gold, but even if that is totally bogus, it is still a great place to make a stop. It had been forever since I had been here, and was great to see it was still in good shape.

So, within the month I will be starting another, much longer trip, in both distance and time. It will be interesting to see how Christchurch has changed in the aftermath of their seismic calamities. I see that one of my favorite places to stay, Charlie B’s Backpackers, did not survive the quakes. In the meantime, I will be updating my USA Jobs resume in anticipation of submitting my second application for NASA astronaut, since another astronaut selection cycle will be beginning soon.
"Geologists have a saying - rocks remember."
~Neil Armstrong

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sweetness in Seattle

Well, I’ve been pretty busy this last week or so. I did manage to get to see a good number of attractions in Seattle during my time there.

On my way there, I got a good view of Mt. Rainier from the airplane. Though I’ve been up higher mountains, this is a much more “mountainy” mountain, with its jagged ridges and glaciers covering the volcanic cone. I would love to do a climb there sometime, but would probably need to go with a guided group to keep my precious self safe {gollum, gollum…}.

One evening we went to dinner at a waterside restaurant with our trainers from University of Washington. The mountains across the sound on the Olympic Peninsula sure looked awesome with a beautiful sunset framing them. I really enjoyed that view, and will hopefully be able to recall it in the depths of winter in the south. It would have been great to go hiking there, but alas, it was not in the cards.

I got to lay hands on some starfish in a touching pool at the Seattle Aquarium. I wish I could have petted some of the (both sea and river) otters. The definitely seem to have more fun than most creatures, when they’re not asleep. I got a healthy dose of kids running rampant there, with lots of little people buzzing about and expressing their excitement at seeing such strange life forms.

A visit to Seattle without visiting its most famous structure would have been a shame, not to mention the fact I was staying just a couple minutes walk from it. The view from atop the Space Needle was fine, and Mt. Rainier could be discerned through all the miles of haze. Seattle, being a city on the water, reminded me of Wellington, NZ, but I suppose Wellington would remind me of Seattle if I had been there first.

An excellent museum complex at the base of the Space Needle houses the Experience Music Project (EMP) and Science Fiction Museum. The big exhibit in the music area right now was a look back at the great band Nirvana, with this being the 20th anniversary of their Nevermind album. They had a gallery of historic guitars, one of the coolest being Hendrix’s one he played at Woodstock. I spent a while playing instruments and singing in the booths provided to let people get acquainted with guitars, drums, keyboards, and singing. The exhibits about Avatar and Battlestar Galactica were interesting, too. The full-size fighters and mechanical suits were cool, but so were the Na’avi-sized boots. I definitely got my money’s worth in my hours spent here.

My last night in Seattle, I attended a screening of the new documentary “Pearl Jam 20”. It continued that interesting musical trip down memory lane started at the EMP, and was doubly interesting with the opportunity to see it where a lot of the “action” took place. The Seattle Sound, of which Pearl Jam was a large player, was hitting its stride in my youth, so it was interesting to finally visit this storied (musical) land. One person sitting near me talked about how their film from early in the band’s career together was hers. The Cinerama where I saw it still had the big curved screen, but only one of the three projectors was used for this film.

I’m now in Denver doing the latter half of the emergency response training. The group of prospective winter crewmembers seems to be very nice. It is a bit strange to be on more experienced end of the spectrum, but I suppose that is what I get for continuing to go down yonder. Following the medical training, there will be orientation briefings the last two days here this week. A lot of it will be review, but I suppose there will be some interesting new tidbits. There are a lot of unknowns with this season-seemingly more than usual-so maybe some of the blanks will be filled in.
“He who travels much comes to know more than he who lives long.”
~Eastern Saying

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to the Apocryphal Past (& on to Training)

I enjoyed a nice foray with my family this weekend. We were several of many that attended the KC Renaissance Festival. It was supposed to be the Scottish Highlands day, but I really didn’t see all that many folks sporting the manly man-skirts. They did have the usual jousting, with real one-horsepower steeds of great size. I think real, full-on jousting (with accommodations to modern safety standards) could be a really popular “alternative sport”. {X-Games, listen up!}

Watching folks in their various modes of dress/undress was entertaining, as usual. Some costumes showed a great deal of imagination, while others left considerably less to the imagination. A highlight at the end of the day was taking an introductory swordsmanship lesson from the folks that are members of the Medieval Swordsman Guild of Kansas City. We learned some basic footwork, blocks, and strikes. It felt good, like doing Tae Kwon Do again, and I wish they had an instructor-level member coming to Pole this year. It is interesting how western/occidental martial arts are starting to become a little more common, to balance out the proliferation of the oriental varieties.

I depart this weekend for Seattle to get a week’s training on a new-to-me science project. I will return to Denver then for the second half of the winterover emergency response training weeks and Antarctic Program orientation. This means I will not be doing fire school this year, which is a significant letdown. But, I am very glad to be getting some training in Seattle, since I would like to be prepared for taking over the reins of this new project for a year. This will be the first time I visit for Washington State, so it should be interesting. Updates will be, naturally, forthcoming.
"My characters are more like men than these real men are, see. They're rough and rude, they got hands and they got bellies. They hate and they lust; break the skin of civilization and you find the ape, roaring and red-handed."
~Robert E. Howard

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Some wheels turn faster than others

It still amazes me how convoluted the process of beginning employment in Antarctica is. Long gone are the days of Shackleton’s laconic {and possibly apocryphal} call to likely demise, but possible glory. For several weeks now I have been working on my physical qualification (PQ), and think I am drawing near to the end of that series of poking, prodding, imaging, sampling, and patience testing. However, there seems to always be some other document to fill out, notarize, and submit. Last week I was out in Colorado for the lovely ritual of the winterover: the psychological evaluation. I drove out early and spent a few days up in the Rockies, including a successful hike to the summit of Mt. Massive (14,421 feet). I also had the nice, if brief, opportunity to catch up with some family members I had not seen since returning to the States while I was in the Denver metro area.

On the drive home I finally managed to visit one of those little names marked on my Kansas road map that I had wanted to visit for so long. Monument Rocks/Chalk Pyramids in Gove County was where I stopped off on a welcome detour from the usual 9-hour meditation on I-70. Along the way there I espied a couple prairie chickens and a lone pronghorn antelope; the first one I have ever seen in Kansas. The rocks were totally deserted, and much larger than I expected. I liked how it was just out in somebody’s pasture, with little else around. There were no gates or tickets or parking restrictions or any of the usual complications with developed tourist destinations. Given all the convolutions of the bureaucracy I’m navigating again to just go do the same job, the simplicity was a welcome change of pace.

My 1994 Civic gave a commendable performance throughout the trip. El Civ averaged about 40 mpg, with one tank of mixed mountain and flatlands driving getting a high of 45 mpg. That is not too shabby for a vehicle I’ve had over half my life.

“It's like putting on crampons and trying to walk through a room full of puppies.”
~Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Monday, August 22, 2011

Here We Go Again...Again

I heard something in the last few days about how history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it can rhyme. That makes sense to me, since the decision to return to Pole for another summer-winter combo pack has me feeling a little like Michael Corleone. However, it is nice to know income is in my immediate future, and I doubt I’ll have to make anybody an offer they can’t refuse as a result. So, I will do this again and come home and see what the world looks like, and what the job market for somebody like me might hold in store. In the meantime, there will be plenty of work and play (hopefully some music), and the journey will be what it will be. In my absence, it would be great if the economy and such could bounce back, or at least leave this teetering on the brink of collapse for the somewhat greener pastures of steady growth and expansion.

Before I get to leave, I have to finish running the gauntlet of Physical Qualification (PQ). I have most of the medical and dental portions completed already, but will have to still get out to Colorado for my third swing through the hundreds of questions on the psychological evaluation tests. The toughest part with that is usually getting the interviewer to believe I’m not pulling their leg about not drinking alcohol. Next month I will also spend more time in Denver doing some firefighting, first aid, CPR, and stress management training. At that time they will also have us sit through the usual orientation lectures at my employer’s headquarters, before sending us home for a while prior to departure. With a direct deployment from Kansas, it will be about 13,600 miles of flying to get to Pole, with what will likely be the usual layovers in Christchurch and McMurdo.

It’s going to be a busy time getting ready to start the journey once again, but everything will get done, and I’m sure I will feel like I never left when I walk back in the science lab at Pole. I had the same feeling the last time, forsooth.

“With Oy in the lead, they once more set out for the Dark Tower, walking along the Path of the Beam.”
~”Wizard and Glass” by Stephen King

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Isn’t there some saying about how the wheels that grind slowly grind finely? In any case, my employment situation’s wheels must be grinding to the consistency of glacial rock flour, as slowly as this situation continues to unfold. I know I will get there eventually, and do have plenty to keep me busy in the extended interim.

I have recently resumed studying Russian with a software suite that is much advertised in print. Picking things back up has gone well, though I have started over from lesson one instead of where I last left off. I hope to be able to make a habit of studying and get all the way through the lessons in the reasonably near future. Being fluent in Russian would serve the Cause quite well.

There are some interesting pieces of cinema headed to theaters in the next year or so. I wonder whether I’ll be able to see them, depending upon where I end up when. The prequel to a perennial favorite comes out this October: “The THING”. It looks like it might be a decent re-remake of one of those really horrifying flicks from my probably-too-early childhood. In November another remake comes out of one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. Given the great cast, I really hope this does well, and they go on to finish the trilogy by filming the other two books. Fast forward to next summer’s major blockbuster/tent pole flick: “The Dark Knight Rises” will probably do some serious box office damage, even if our economy has already been wrecked by folks elected to do quite the opposite. Hit the time warp a few more months into the future, and you will have the 23rd installment in one of the most suave, debonair, and profitable franchises: the next James Bond movie. I have seen the last two ones, by happenstance, in New Zealand and Australia on my way home from the Pole. And, to round out 2012, we will have another financial juggernaut unleashed from the land of Kiwis: the first Hobbit movie (of two). I’m sure it will be done very well, and I will have to just let it go and deal with all the departures and additions the make to the much beloved book. Anyhow, along with all the real adventures of life in the actual world, these doses of escapism should be nice distractions from whatever potential new bits of unpleasantness the global economic downturn has in store.

Our wave of hot summer temperatures lives on, though yesterday we got the better part of a much-needed inch of rain. Hitting the century mark has become no big deal, as it does when a “-“ precedes the temperature instead of a “+”. You just adapt and get accustomed to whatever the new norm is, or you waste a lot of time complaining.

“Few can foresee whither their road will lead them till they come to its end.”
~Legolas, Lord of the Rings

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Still Independent (of Employment)

Well, the last few weeks have just ticked by in a flash. I have yet to make any serious inroads into my employment situation, but can derive whatever comfort there is from the fact that there are plenty of other folks facing a similar daunting challenge. It will work itself out eventually, but hopefully I will not have to deal with anything in the meantime as unpleasant as I did the last two weeks.

I was called for jury selection, and was subsequently called to be one of the final 14 (12 primary and 2 alternate) jurors for a set of local criminal cases. It took about 1.5 weeks to go through the whole process, from selection to deliberation and verdict reading, and it was certainly a unique set of experiences in my life. It felt pretty weird really judging the guilt of someone else, and to have it not be the petty judgmental behavior so many folks (myself included) engage in frequently. This was real life, and the consequences of the decision had serious consequences on the lives of those involved. I felt pretty strange afterward, but know some of that had to be the fact that we did not finish the last day until 1:30 in the morning. It really was an eye-opening experience, and I am very glad to be immune from being called for another 2 years. That is all I’ll say about it; no further comments forthcoming.

Weather here has been suitably warm for summer here, with 5 of the last 6 days topping 100 degrees. Yesterday our thermometer registered 107 degrees here at home, which was the highest I have seen this summer. However, as I write, a nice rain is falling, which should get the grass growing at breakneck speed once the sun gets back to shining.

“For neither birth, nor wealth, nor honors, can awaken in the minds of men the principles which should guide those who from their youth aspire to an honorable and excellent life, as Love awakens them.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

Background Check…WAY Back

Though I have not written in a while, it is but the slightest blink of an eye compared to the 30,000 years that have passed since the paintings in the Chauvet cave in southern France were made. I saw them in the new Werner Herzog movie “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” yesterday as part of a small observance of another trip around the sun. It is amazing to see and consider the creations by our long-off elders in 3D; it’s really one of the best uses of 3D projection I’ve ever seen. There is still that voice in the back of my mind that harks from my early days when I wanted to be an archaeologist and teach swimming lessons when I grew up. If I were working right now, I would also fork over the bucks to the National Geographic Genographic Project to see what my own DNA could reveal about where all my constituent ancestors hailed from across the globe.

In part due to reflection upon the movie and my own past and current circumstances, particularly pertaining to employment, it really makes the stress fall off contemplating how many folks have lived their lives since the painters of Chauvet. It certainly demonstrates how finding something to do that you love is what is really important. Most things fade and disappear with enough time, so make the most of it while your time lasts. If that means changing paths somewhere along the way, then so be it. One archaeologist researching there in France said he’d originally worked in a circus, so there you go!

Apropos to both the solar voyage observance and investigation into the past, this also marked the thirtieth year since “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was first released. How many times have I watched that cinematic masterpiece?

The summer here is well underway. The temperatures and winds have been evident, and humidity has tagged along like usual. Thistle hunts out in the pastures have been held by some, though some properties (unfortunately upwind of ours) appear to have been neglected as usual. The one major thing lacking here thus far is the sound of cicadas, which is THE sound of summer, as far as I’m concerned.

You're not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indiana: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.
~Raiders of the Lost Ark

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Show Me

I had the pleasure of a little road trip to the Show Me State (and just beyond) last week, and saw some cool stuff and some family members I hadn’t caught up with since getting home. Most of the time was spent in and around St. Louis, which I had never really gotten a chance to get to know, other than on I-70 at speed. Downtown held the famous Arch and the old courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried.

Directly adjacent to the Arch is the Mississippi River, which was at a pretty elevated level. The Lewis and Clark statue was barely visible, though I think “George W. Bush Emerging from the Waters” would be a more apt name, at least with what was visible.

Off to the west a bit I visited Laumeier Sculpture Park, which had some interesting installation. One was a real eye full…

Across the river in Illinois, we visited the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. There you can see the remains of a culture that built numerous earthen mounds, including the huge Monks Mound. They did a pretty impressive job for folks without the wheel or the horse. A big city of 20,000 people here north of Mexico definitely jars with the preconceptions a lot of us probably have grown up with. National Geographic had a good article on Cahokia back in their January 2011 issue.

Going and coming, I got to drive with my lovely grandmother, which was fun. It’s quite something having a conversation with somebody who still remembers when Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic the first time.

I also saw the movie "THOR" and continued to be unemployed, neither of which are all that exciting.
“A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.”
~Mark Twain

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Well, the long overdue death of OBL has yet to wreak miraculous turnarounds on the job market (not that I expected it to). My particular field just seems to keep being whittled smaller and smaller, with fewer opportunities apparently available at all levels. Don’t believe me?

Take a look here

And here

And here

And finally here, across the pond

So, one starts to consider alternate paths that might take greater or lesser departures from previous plans. One also considers their fallback option(s) to try and wait out the situation in order to just keep money coming into the coffers. There is nobody to be angry at for the world being like this. It is just too big and impersonal a set of commingling forces, and unfortunately for some folks it is happening at an especially bad time (or, time and time again) in their brief, mortal lives. One just has to keep trying, and eventually find some happy medium. It still stinks, though.

On the up side, there have been a lot of avian arrivals in the yard here in the last couple days. I’ve seen gold finches, a brown thrasher, a Baltimore oriole, and a hummingbird. There must be several mockingbirds in the area, too, because the number of bird calls sometimes seems way beyond the variety of birds visible. Nature could not care less about the plight of any economy, which is reassuring in its own way.

Also a positive is that I didn't have to fight at Gallipoli in World War I. Here's a belated ANZAC Day remembrance from a damn Yank, for what it's worth.

“Why is a crooked letter and can’t be made straight… never mind why, just get up, pus-head! Get up! The day’s young!”
~Cort, “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ich hab nichts…

Spring is springing here, though it is a bit cool today. It has been nice getting to see a majority of my relatives in the last couple weeks, and I hope to get to see the rest at some point before I get whisked off to go work somewhere doing something. However, in the last few weeks there have really been no major progresses made in my current search for meaning in my life…I mean, gainful and engaging employment. Of course, timing plays such a huge role in life. It is a lesson that is being reinforced again and again as I go through another quest for hire.

Over the weekend my family went to see a circus. One act had “Du Hast” by Rammstein played over the PA system as accompaniment. That totally reminded me of the Polish guys that worked at Glacier NP in the same lodge that I did, and would spend lots of their time off in their room below me in the dorm getting blotto with vodka and blasting Rammstein songs on their stereo. Good times (unless you’ve got to work the early shift tomorrow morning)! The pairing of the music with a child-dense audience seemed an interesting contrast.

“They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force-nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.”
~Marlow, “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

Thursday, March 24, 2011

As if I'd need an excuse!

Well, 3/25 is Tolkien Reading Day, which should be pretty self-explanatory. A little J.R.R.T. can brighten up most any day, and honoring the man/author by reading his works seems highly appropriate.

Totally inappropriate is the design of the Dodge Caliber, which I had reason to drive as a rental car recently. I don't know if I've driven a car with worse visibility all around as that unfortunate vehicle. Not only was the rear obstructed by thick, opaque structures, but the front pillars also seemed to be perfectly placed to obscure important swaths of view. It also handled awkwardly, and the automatic transmission wasn't smooth at all at low speeds. Anyhow, I survived my brush with lackluster design, and will certainly never subject myself to such a vehicle again if I can at all help it.

I may have encountered another one of those places that I'm going to have to visit sometime in my life. I was reading back issues of a certain magazine (Backpacker), and I read an article about hiking the length of Offa's Dyke that essentially runs the length of the Wales-England border. It was built way back when during more hostile times than these. It looks like a lot of fun, like something that could likely be found in Middle Earth, and has certainly caught in my mind. When I have these sorts of ideas take up residence between my ears I end up doing things like going to Antarctica, sailing to Easter Island, endeavoring to become and astronaut, etc. Life is fun, and I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had.

I'm also thankful I'm not a resident of northern Honshu, or Japan in general right now. Talk about a trio of nastiness to deal with...

Anyhow, this is getting long. I'm still in limbo on the employment front, blah-blah-blah.
“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Carry on then, carry on.

Well, there has not been much in the way of excitement since my last post. I’m still trying to figure out where life will take me next. Nothing is happening very quickly, but that’s nothing new. In the meantime I’ve been doing the usual errands and helping out around the homestead. Today I raked a bunch of gravel on our lane road, which was quite enjoyable. No kidding! It was a beautiful day today, though our temperatures have really been on a roller coaster in the last week or two. But, there is some green out there now, with grass and wheat just beginning to grow. Spring will get here eventually, but we continental dwellers-far from the ocean’s moderation-know there could be plenty of snow and winter yet to come. In the meantime, I’ll carry on as required.

“Step by step walk the thousand-mile road.”
~Miyamoto Musashi

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Waiting Game…The Sequel

The usual process of job search, application, and rejection is in full effect here once again. Granted, that has been interrupted quite a bit in the last few days with lots of snow shoveling, since we here in central Kansas have gotten a thick blanket of the white stuff from the last big winter storm. I think this last one deposited 15-17” here, and did it quickly enough at times that the driveway and patio areas we’d started shoveling were already covered again by the time we finished the whole thing.

Anyhow, what comes next is still very much in the works, though without quite the sharpness of angst about the future that was felt 2 years ago when I was in the same position. I guess it’s a good lesson to have learned so thoroughly, given the state of the global economy. It is a good fight, so I will certainly keep fighting it.

“A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her.”
~David Brinkley

Friday, January 28, 2011

Change, hopefully with restraint

Boy did we narrowly dodge some interesting (in the way the Chinese curse someone to live in interesting times) developments in Egypt. That people are already gathering at the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo to forestall any looting or ransacking of that extremely important vessel of the human record is heartening, but a bit scary. Hopefully people will be able to get back to peaceful conditions without many being hurt, as well as many works of art and sources of understanding of those that went before being lost or damaged. With similar demonstrations of dissatisfaction and discontent happening in Tunisia and Yemen, one wonders what might be afoot in that part of the world.

Good luck to us all.

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”

~Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Backtracking: more Turkey & NYC

The circle of the trip then brought us back to Istanbul for a few more days, though the lame travel agency nearly shafted us by not booking the plane tickets it was supposed to have set up sometime earlier than 45 minutes before takeoff. Istanbul had loads to see, and we had a great time in the archaeological museum there seeing many relics from places we’d visited and other places (the Alexander Sarcophagus was indeed amazing). Hagia Sofia, which is one of those amazing buildings from antiquity still in use in the 21st century, consumed much space on memory cards with way too many photos being taken.

The Topkapi Palace, where the sultans hung out consumed nearly an entire day of the trip. The roofs on the towers shown below and the conical tops of the fireplaces inside the palace totally reminded me of gnomes and other fanciful creatures. There were also plenty of riches to be seen there, including the famous Topkapi Dagger, with its rather large emeralds on the handle.

After a long flight from Istanbul, we arrived just prior to a nor-easter storm dumping a bunch of snow on New York City. The icy wind was really blasting the next morning when the view was taken in (here, of the Flatiron Building) from the lower observation deck of the Empire State Building.

In true “Ghostbusters” fan fashion, the pilgrimage was also made to the New York Public Library, with its fabulous main reading rooms.

A considerable amount of time was spent acquiring tickets for and attending a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman, which was a fun change of pace. Seeing place that the Beatles played way back when was pretty interesting, too. It's amazing how brief the time line of events in this country is compared to other places in the world.

So, other than a marathon stint in the Greyhound bus system for just over 30 hours, I made it home in one piece, though pretty tired. This trip garnered me my 41st country and my 7th continent on my life’s travel list, and seemed to be just jam packed with cultural and historical treasures, not to mention a wide variety of landscapes.

What comes next? That's a good question, which I'm working on now, but who knows what will actually come to pass? Life keeps itself interesting in that way, for sure.

“Next to seeing land, there is no sight which makes one realize he is drawing near home, than to see the same heavens, under which he was born, shining at night over his head.”
~Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast