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.