McMurdo in April

Saturday, 1 April 1995, April Fool's Day
The galley staff has gotten into the holiday spirit with a vengance. For starters, each of the doors to the galley sports a sign which says, "Please use other door". Once inside, it does not require a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that things are not in their usual places. For starters, the none of the cutlery is in the correct bin. Further, the rack of bowls is in the usual location of the rack of glasses, and vice-versa. Even the labels on the beverage dispensers have migrated. The food, however, is the usual fare; today, that happened to be burgers/vegi-burgers, chili dogs and curly fries.

In addition to the April Fools' Day surprises, I received an unexpected piece of e-mail. A group of 11th-graders in Newfoundland have solicited my assistance in studying resource management of articifial biomes. They are particularly interested in the Biosphere II project in Arizona (which I visted twice in 1993).

Sunday, 2 April 1995
After watching "Scent of a Woman in the Coffee House, I wandered by the Erebus to see what was shaking. In fact, everything was shaking. I haven't seen the Erebus that crowded since the St. Patrick's Day party. While it was still Summer here, the bars were always packed; now, with the population at 20% of what it once was, it's rarely that crowded. At 01:00, when the bar closed, a large group of us wandered next door to B-155, to a couple of rooms down the hall from where I live. There was a very active party going on there until nearly breakfast. I did notice that there are now new signs announcing what the quiet hours are, so the party must have been a success.

Tuesday, 4 April 1995
Jeff Frontz turned 30 yesterday. In honor of the occasion, Andrew Crowley (from the Help Desk) was kind enough to post a lurid green announcement on the LAN menu screen, announcing same to all and sundry. After work, a bunch of us met at the Erebus for a public celebration. I wasn't able to scrape up a cake and candles myself, so I improvised with a large bar of Cadbury's chocolate and 30 wooden matches. Jeff had quite the merry blaze to extinguish. We talked and played darts until the bar closed.

I'm signed up for dinner at Scott Base this Thursday. The twelve of us from McMurdo will have a head start over the rest of the station for the "Halfway Party". All the Scott Base residents sign one year contracts, and they are just about 6 months into them. Drinks are half-price, on the half-hour, for half of the evening. I'm expecting to have a halfway decent time.

Friday, 7 April 1995
Dinner at Scott Base was superb! While the main course was roast pork, the side dishes more than made up for it. One of the most interesting things there were the grilled vegetables, pumpkin and some kind of native New Zealand tuber. I have never had anything quite like it... it was quite exotic, as far as American tastes go. Scotty (the Scott Base chef) outdid himself at dessert; there was chocolate cake à la mode; with chocolate sauce, apple pie, and a pineapple tart with meringue. While we were dawdling over our desserts, the first bus-load showed up for the party. It was a quiet evening, given that a party was going on. There was lots of quiet conversation, a few games of darts and even a little action on the piano. I really wish I had some of my sheet music down here with me, especially some Scott Joplin. Maybe at airdrop.

Sunday, 9 April 1995, The Great Power Outage
Almost all of InfoSys and a goodly amount of other people are out on this warm, snowy night. The Power Plant is conducting its annual power outage so that it is possible to perform routine annual maintenance on portions of the system that are better left alone while powered up. The thick, fluffy snow is wonderful; it reminds me of the snows of Ohio, not the snows of Antarctica which are almost always much finer, colder and drier. I think it's the heat... +04°F (-16°C). It hasn't been this warm in a while. I'm amazed how nice it actually feels.

I've already shut down the computers in the Galley computer lab, as well as the SparcStation that monitors the IMP-8 Solar Wind satellite. My Amiga 3000 is the last to go in all of B-133. After I turn off the concentrators in B-155 at the TV Studio and the Navy accounting office, I just have to sit tight and wait for the power to go off at 23:59, and then wait for it to come back on around 03:00, Monday morning. There won't be much to do, since there won't be any power on anywhere for three hours.

Monday, 10 April 1995, The Day After
The night passed quickly and quietly. Nothing fried. Nothing died. It's still warm, but the wind has picked up a bit and the snow is small, powdery and dry again. I walked around town while the power was out; I was disappointed at how much light was still visible - some of the buildings have backup generators and most of the buildings have battery-powered emergency lights. It was never too dark to walk around safely, but the abundance of snow helped reflect the small amount of light that was already there. There was a certain eerie feeling with the high-pressure sodium street lights extinguished and the blowing snow doing it's best to blot out the remaining light sources.

Wednesday, 12 April 1995
The IMP-8 antenna went back up yesterday. Once we get the cables reconnected and the orientation set, it's back to collecting solar wind data, 5 days out of 12.

I didn't do much last night; I stayed at home, cleaned my room and watched "Blazing Saddles". Tonight, however, was a different story; Jeff Frontz, Joe Longo, Yvonne Ramage and I watched History of the World: Part I", in the B-209 lounge. Right after the movie was over, the T.V. cut out; not the signal, everything. It was then that we noticed blue sparks through the window that faces the power plant. The winds are very high and there is a lot of snow in the air. Something was causing arcing on one of the main feeders. They are going to cut power to Crary (and other parts of town, like most of the dorms) to fix it. I just happened to come up to B-133 to service the greenhouse tonight, and now, I'm running all over town, making sure that routers and servers are up. It's +14°F (-10°C), but the 40 knot winds make it feel a whole lot colder.

Sunday, 16 April 1995
I spent half of Friday cooking for the InfoSys party at the Captain's Hut, a building originally built (as I understand it) for visiting VIPs. It doesn't get much official use (none in the Winter), so when there is nobody staying there, it's used as a party house. Inside, it's not at all like the rest of McMurdo: it looks like a real home in the States - there is a real kitchen, a dining room table for 10, couches, soft lighting, etc. Al Oxton cooked Peanut Butter Soup, I made Hot & Sour Soup and Stirfried Random (a mixture of either tofu and chicken and whatever vegetables are at hand, in this case, fresh cabbage, fresh carrots, fresh onions, frozen broccoli, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts). We ate, we talked, we played CDs, and some even played guitar. The party went on 'til 2 A.M.

I got up at my leisure on Saturday (it's a two-day weekend for us), and went down to brunch. I was with Jim and Sean from Scott Base most of the afternoon; Jim was already here doing pottery and we went back to Scott Base to fetch Sean, then we all went over to Crary, where we browsed around on the Web for hours. After dinner, I went to see "Jurassic Park" at the Coffee House. I was not alone; the place was jammed... standing room only. The place cleared out rapidly at the end of the movie, with most of the people heading on over to the Erebus for the Toga Party. Since I was cooking Friday, I didn't get over to the laundry for my toga. I wasn't the only person underdressed, but some people did go to extreme lengths... Scotty dropped off the rest of the Scott Base crew and changed into a Gladiator outfit he made from some sheet aluminum and a hardhat (to which he added a foam rubber "crest"). The party was pretty lively up to the end, when it moved over to the upstairs lounge in B-155. When I hit the sack at 2, it was still going pretty strong.

This morning, I woke up with the alarm and realized what day it was and promptly went right back to sleep. I have no bigger plans for today than making homebrew and getting some reading in.

Wednesday, 19 April 1995
It's been a pretty quiet week around here. The temperatures have fallen to a pretty steady -20°F (-29°C) but there are occasionally winds, not all of them light. The IMP-8 antenna is now wired up; I ran it through some basic movements yesterday. After lunch, I'll be calibrating the azimuth to the boresight antenna on top of B-126, the old water plant.

Friday, 21 April 1995
The winds picked up a lot, so I didn't untie the antenna today. In the midst of all the fun, my hat hit me in the face inside an unlit part of B-126, and I lost a contact lens. After I got a flashlight, I managed to find the wayward fleck and return to town with it intact, none the worse for wear (easily removed fingerprints notwithstanding).

Michael Hancock and I are up at B-133, preparing for the Earthwatch '95 CuSeeMe session from around the world. I put the camera in the window facing out over McMurdo but all you can really see is snow blowing in front of a streetlight and marker flags fluttering in the 35 knot breeze. It's been a cold day here, with the high around -22°F (-30°C) and a current temperature of -32°F (-36°C). We've been in Condition 2 most of the day, due to the wind chills of up to -100°F (-73°C). I'm very glad I got new lenses for my goggles; the old ones broke a while back and I've had to do without.

Saturday, 22 April 1995, Earth Day
We've seen from all seven continents tonight. In addition to McMurdo, there are cameras in Salzburg (Austria), New York City (United States), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Adelaide (Austrialia), Natal (South Africa) and Tokyo. Rio and Salzburg seem to time out quite frequently, but we've got Geneva transmitting from Europe as well. The liveliest pictures are coming out of the Big Apple; the camera is at 56th and 10th, and we've seen shots of 10th Ave, 11th Ave as well as the Hudson River (and presumably, New Jersey beyond).

Sunday, 23 April 1995
EarthWatch '95 has wound down. We had a little wrap-up session where we turned the cameras around and talked about the weekend. People had some good questions about what it's like down here. They all got a kick when I'd leave the building and wave from outside. Andrew did that without his coat on once and people were astounded; one even said, "put a coat on, son!" It wasn't too windy just then, so it wasn't as bad out as it looked.

Monday, 24 April 1995
It went to Condition 1 at 09:30 this morning. The winds are at a steady 20 knots, but the temp has fallen to -36°F (-38°C). It's only a wee bit worse than it was this weekend, but the difference just enough to count. In Condition 1, we are supposed to stay put and not walk around outside, so it's no fun if you are in a building with no food or no bathroom. Fortunately, it's wind chill and not visibility problems today; when the visibility goes to Hell, it's dangerous outside. You can't see to the next building, even when you are standing right in front of it.

Friday, 28 April 1995
Between replacing flakey monitors, cleaning laser printers and working with the IMP-8 antenna, it's been a very busy week. I'm looking forward to relaxing a bit this weekend. The new band, BandyBoo, will be premering at the Erebus, this Saturday night; most of the town will probably turn out for it. Tonight, though, is just another work-night in Mactown.

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