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