Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spectrum of Opinion

Last Saturday evening we had another session of bingo.  The theme this time was superheroes, and I threw together a basic costume for Cyclops from the X-Men, though I doubt Cyclops has ever been depicted with a bad mustache and skin quite so pasty as mine currently is (I’m hitting the transparent epidermal threshold after being without sunshine for so long now).
 The moon is up now, and folks are talking of being able to see some faint sign of sunlight once it’s down again.  The cart (end of season/redeployment) has been put before the horse (the remainder of winter) so long ago that I think a lot of our newbies are going to have a bit of a tough time swallowing how long we really have to go.  Of course, with no real details or movement on our redeployment travel yet received, it’s not like we can really consider ourselves to be going anywhere yet at all, even once the station opens in Oct./Nov.  Of course, to some the winter will have seemed to flown by and they don’t want it to end, while for others it has probably dragged and seemed like an eternity.  Points of view are probably going to vary wildly for this season’s success, but that is probably the case with each and every one.
“Man is the measure.”
~”The Machine Stops”, E.M. Forster

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Old (Not So) Hot Foot

So, if you’ve been outside for a while here at Pole, your gear gets pretty cold, including the soles of your boots.  Those boot soles can get pretty stiff and stay cold for quite a while after coming back indoors.  When you initially walk back in, the scrim of snow and ice trapped on them can make walking a pretty slippery endeavor.

The weeks are just clipping by pretty quickly.  We have some updated information about station opening and redeployment, but nothing solid enough to start making plans yet.  It has been a bit windier in the last week or so, and the drifting is changing accordingly.  The moon just came up, which ends our last technically fully dark period for the winter.  We will begin to move slowly back through astronomical, nautical, and civil twilight until the sun reappears in late September.  With the return of brighter light levels, the cameras and other optical instruments will gradually be shut off for the season or be covered up to remain in calibration mode until the next winter’s night.
“Men's indignation, it seems, is more excited by legal wrong than by violent wrong; the first looks like being cheated by an equal, the second like being compelled by a superior.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Underfoot in the underworld

Improvisation and the capacity for self-entertainment are important in an isolated, remote setting such as the South Pole.  That an old can of garbanzo beans would be used as a doorstop (for years on end) is just such an example of the former.

Similarly, regarding the latter point, that someone in the past used their welding skills to illustrate the jambs of other sets of doors down in the arches speaks to the creative urge coming out when the options of passive entertainment and distraction are reduced from the level present back in the rest of the civilized world.

“I find television very educational.  The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book.”
~Groucho Marx

Monday, July 16, 2012

My kind of performance evaluation

So, the B1 wing emergency infrastructure got tested several days ago, including the stove/range that would be used to cook for the station if the regular galley were offline.  It’s a BIG step down in capability, and actually seeing this generic home appliance here (for the first time) was kind of a small nostalgic reminder of the normal world.

To test the oven the chef baked some cookies, but I guess the recipe didn’t work out great without a convection oven.  Anyhow, it was a new detail of the station I hadn’t seen before, so I thought I’d share.  And, no, I didn’t eat any of the cookies.  My resolution remains intact, despite frequent opportunities otherwise.

I should also mention the ambient temperature on Sunday reset our season low to -104.8°F, and actually stayed in the triple digits for quite a long while.  It was not the record for the day, but it was the coldest I've experienced down here.
"If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down."
~Mary Pickford

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No mutants in these tunnels

Like I mentioned in my last post, on Monday the fire brigade did a walk-through tour of the utility tunnels fairly far below the surface here at South Pole.  I’m not entirely sure what the lengths of the tunnels are, but it is a lot longer than you’d probably expect.  The top pipe (with lots of heat trace and insulation around the much smaller actual pipe) is the clean water line that runs to the power plant where the water treatment equipment that then feeds the station is located.  The bottom pipe is quite the opposite, and is the waste water outfall line that leads to the last rodwell cavity where all the gray water and human waste is disposed.  As a result of the outfall, there is a bit of an aroma down in the tunnels, but improved venting since I was here the last time years ago has made it considerably less pungent.

There are a variety of little “shrines” down in the tunnels.  Many of you that saw Werner Herzog’s movie probably remember the sturgeon.  One of the most recent additions is the ice bust of Amundsen that was made for the centennial celebration this past summer.

At the far end of the main tunnel is the newest rodwell that is being developed for future use.  That insulated line in the foreground (below) is the circulation system that pulls cool water from the rodwell and circulates warmed water back down into the cavity.  Gradually, that cavity melts out to a big bulb-shaped cavern that holds-think Dr. Evil-millions of gallons of water that can then be drawn off for station use.

Similar to the channels in the bed and body of a glacier, which the ice cap is a titanic version of, the tunnels are steadily closing in upon the original volume cut out by the mining machine used a decade or so ago.  If you look at the ceiling and the walls in that first photo, you can see some of the bowing of the once-planar surfaces.  In the ceiling you can still see some of the texture left by the mining machine’s cutting mechanism.

"All is silent in the halls of the dead…All is forgotten in the stone halls of the dead. Behold the stairways which stand in darkness; behold the rooms of ruin. These are the halls of the dead where spiders spin and the great circuits fall quiet, one by one."
~Stephen King

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Crystal Light

A fire brigade training visit down into the station's ice tunnels netted a few nice photos.  I'll post more when I have a chance later.  For now, the ice crystals on a light fixture adjacent to the new rodwell (i.e. a big cavity of ice melted out to liquid water to supply the station) will have to suffice.  I have only really seen these in cold, protected places where the wind cannot break them.  Even sound does not carry well with floor, walls, and ceiling of firn (compacted snow not yet turned to ice).

“Iced drinks are deadly...The ice is usually full of microbes, all the more spiteful for their temporary imprisonment.”
~Rev. Frank Tatchell, ”The Happy Traveller” (1923)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

(Sadly no) Chutes & Ladders

So, in addition to some of the common stairways into and out of the elevated station, we also have some escape ladders on the two sets of decks for each pod (A and B) of the station).  For instance, the A2 level 2 deck is where some of the frozen food for the galley is stored.

Amongst the potato wedges, vegetable medleys, and such is this ladder to the first floor deck at Destination Zulu (DZ for the cognoscenti).  It's not really so much a ladder, rather a companionway like on board a maritime vessel. 

If you were so inclined, you could grab food of your own accord.  Of course, that would throw off the materials folks' inventories and such.  Unfortunately, a while back we had somebody unilaterally deploy a tub of vanilla ice cream this winter, which they removed from the big food storage area down in the logistics arch and brought up to the station.  Each year there are the little scandals and such, and this was one of those tempests in a teapot for 2012.  The person remains anonymous, and hopefully we won't have any repeats.  The flavors rotate, so I gather, and all they'll have to do is suffer the indignity of eating some rocky road or cookies and cream (Oh, the humanity!) for a while until their favored flavored concoction comes back around.  I couldn't care less about ice cream, since I had my helping of my birthday cake already and am not eating any other desserts this whole year, but it certainly was an unnecessary stressor for some people.  Ah, winter...

“Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny.”
~Aeschylus, Agamemnon

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Local color

Most of the hallways and public spaces in the elevated station have an abundance of cables, conduits, pipes, and other random architectural guts strung along their ceilings.  This particularly colorful bunch is outside one of the network rooms on the first floor of B-pod.

Boy, did I ever enjoy watching BLADE RUNNER (THE FINAL CUT version) last night.  I had not viewed the movie in a couple years, and had never seen this most-recent revision and restoration.  That this motion picture, to which the term “classic” can be liberally applied, is 30 years old is just astounding.  It was great to get fully sucked into the world of Los Angeles in the not-so-distant future of 2019, despite-rather, because of-its crazy urban blight and bustle.  The themes of the nature of humanity and how to make the most out of the time we have really resonate with me.  I’m ready to let these eyes of mine see some new sights after another year down here (the Tannhauser Gate, please!).* Who ever decided to make “escapism” a pejorative term was a fool that probably never spent a year secluded at the bottom of the planet.

*Along that line of thinking, no, we have no details about travel arrangements with the new contractors to date.  I still hope to have an urgent summons to Houston, but barring that, who knows what the way home will look like?
“Cruelty and fear shake hands together”
~Honore de Balzac

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cinematic commute scenery

Well, the wind is back up again, but the moonlight is still making it oh so easy to see outside.  It’s definitely a luxury, and it’s nice to have faster transits with fewer trips and falls.  Of course, I always end up laughing when I fall outside; the bigger the fall, the harder and longer I laugh.  It just seems like something absurd, compared to normal life, where if you took a big header like some of these you would be picking pebbles out of your road rash.

I spotted this little scene a couple days ago, and knew it would look pretty cool.  Perhaps it leapt out at me more readily, since I’ve had Blade Runner on my mind with its thirtieth anniversary just last month and me showing it this Thursday night.  It looks nice in color,…

…but I think I dig the black and white even more. 

The exotic subject is simply some of the power conduits in the Beer Can, with interesting lighting coming through the slatted decking above.  It certainly reminds me of the carbonite chamber scene in “The Empire Strikes Back”.
Also, a very happy 4th of July to folks back home.  Mind those fireworks and dry landscapes…

“...it takes many thousands of years of advanced technological development for a society to reduce honor to an abstract moral truism devoid of real meaning.”
~Luke Skywalker, “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Power pills

Our last bingo was cartoon character themed, so I made this convertible Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man (just remove/add the bow) to get an extra card with which to play.  I actually won a pretty nice camera case, so it was worth the effort.  Instead of trashing my little 8-bit friend, I decided to add a little color to the old Cusp desk.

 “Remember that with her clothes a woman puts off her modesty.”