Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wrinkles in need of ironing

Temperatures have moderated some here at Pole, and we’ve been in the -70s°F range for some time. Though the sun is long gone, there still lingers quite a lot of light on the horizon. Hopefully new folks will remember how long it takes between this deep a twilight and having the local star in the sky, so when we get to the end of the season there won’t be too much premature anticipation of redeployment.

We’re still working through the growing pains of the seamless turnover from old to new employers. I am currently trying to resolve time card issues, paycheck issues, benefits enrollment issues; not to mention running a bunch of science instruments and leading the local fire brigade. I just had a computer go down for my aurora cameras, which will need considerable attention. We do this all with pretty limited internet connectivity to the outside world. In fact, I think we probably have less bandwidth to this station than the International Space Station has back to Earth.

Running those aurora cameras is always a challenge, since they are here in the main station building. This means we have to get everybody on board regarding using only the right types of lights in the allowable fashion while outside. We have to enforce good light seals on window coverings. We have to keep unauthorized people off the station’s roof. We have to fight with the fact that though there is only ~1-2% relative humidity in this building that it will still get into the optical domes over the cameras and frost them up if proper precautions are not taken. That is all on top of the usual hardware and software challenges with which science projects here are faced. So, though the images and science are cool, it can be a real test of one’s patience when other folks don’t play ball.

Another topic, since I’m writing a lot about challenges currently being faced here, is that though we have been sealed from the germ-ridden outside world for a couple months now, there have been several cases of people getting sick in recent weeks. Proper sanitation in the bathroom and in the galley around the food is really the only culprit. It is pretty disheartening when we could alleviate this source of contagion by normal, sane sanitary practices, but some folks can’t be bothered. Hopefully this can get nipped in the bud ASAP, before too many other folks (especially yours truly) succumb. Given that it is not even fully past twilight in the season, it is unfortunate that complacency is making such significant inroads into some people’s behavior.

On the brighter side of things, I am still enjoying hosting movies Thursday night (“The Matrix” this week), will be co-hosting a trivia contest Saturday evening, and am thoroughly enjoying many of the books that I brought down/was sent by friends and family/found on the shelves here. I have a good workout regimen six days per week, and I hope to play some of the music I’ve been working on at some point in the season.

“When you want to know how things really work, study them when they're coming apart.”
~William Gibson, Zero History

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Darkness/temps falling

Twilight continues to deepen, with the sun now over 8° below the horizon. Similarly, the temperatures have been on the cool side for here, with forecast taking us back (we did hit -100°F last Saturday, setting a record for earliest date that has happened in a given year) below the century mark. More instruments for winter-only research are coming online as it gets darker, and I am thoroughly enmeshed in doing updates to project documentation and inventories. Nothing too exciting or new is happening in that regard, but quiet is often the preferred state of affairs. Some of the subcontractors are having regular meetings to go through all the usual new-hire rigmarole, but thus far there has been very little from my new employer.

Recreation will be big this weekend, with observances of the anniversaries of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned flight to space and the wreck of the Titanic. My Thursday night movie tonight is the original “The Terminator”, which should be fun.

More and more stars are visible, as the twilight deepens. There was a brief aurora visible yesterday, which was the first for the winter. I think some of the crewmembers here for the first time were pretty excited. I opted to listen to its hiss on the VLF radio receiver here in the lab. It sounds sort of like bacon frying, if you know what to listen for amongst the other noise.

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lights of a different variety

Though there is still a nice glow on the horizon from the recently-departed star that drives this Solar System, other lights have appeared in the sky in the last several days. There are some of the brighter stars that are already visible, including those constituting the Southern Cross constellation, which is pretty much directly overhead. The moon also popped above the horizon all orange and upside down, for those of us used to its boreal appearance, and it is rapidly climbing higher into the sky.

Temperatures are currently, as I write, are at -96.5°F and slowly creeping down. It is supposed to warm back up, but if we hit the century mark before local noon today it will be the record earliest that temperature will be hit here at Pole. Of course, folks are all abuzz at the usual prospects of what hitting -100°F (early in the season) provides with regards to recreational opportunities.

I fired up my three auroral cameras this week, but it is still too bright for some of them to operate or one of them to resolve anything but a very bright sky. As the sun and full moon wane, they will eventually begin imaging operations.

In general, things are going pretty much like usual for a winter running science projects here. Some instruments run reliably, some have problems, all of them require documentation updates from the last time I did them two years ago, etc.

“Science is a match that man has just got alight.”

~H.G. Wells

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Off to a running start

Here are a couple of pictures from around station. Things are busy here this week with extra meetings for the new contractors, transitions to winter light protocol, and initial start-up of at least 3 auroral instruments' hardware prior to the data season's kick-off.

“If you look at nothing long enough, you see something, and it is beautiful.”
~Ernst Haas, Cactus Country