June at the South Pole

Thursday, 1 June 2006
After GOES set, I went down the hall to B2 and put some stuff away. It was about the right time of night, and as expected, I found the usual Science crowd in the B1 Lounge watching the next installment in the WWII documentary. Tonight's episode covered the war in North Africa and the start of the Pacific War. When it was over, I went back to my room, checked e-mail, then went over to the galley to try and clean out the carboy. I left with it mostly clean, but with a bit of crud clinging to the glass where I couldn't reach it. It was late (or early, depending on your perspective). I crashed hard.

I woke up in time for the call and dragged my bleary self down to B2. Victoria made the call, but there wasn't lots of news from the North. Next year's winter-overs start July 1. Done with the call, Victoria, who had been up swapping a power supply, went for a nap. I went straight to lunch - Fish and Chips. It was before the arrival time for the construction crew, Tom and Safety Bill and I were the only ones there at first. I worked on the Wednesday New York Times Crossword Puzzle with contributions from other folks around the table. I paused on the way back to work only long enough to throw in my contact lenses (for better vis on the walk), then grabbed all my ECW gear and headed out to the TCH.

It wasn't as warm as it's been; it was about -60.0F° (-51.1C°) with 22 knots. The moon set several days ago, making for a dark walk. The wind kicked up a bunch of crud at ground level, and only the brightest stars showed through the haze. Only about half of the Southern Cross was visible. Sometimes, I can see the heat trace lights from at least the skiway. Not today. I took a shallow left a bit early in the walk (it wasn't possible to see one flag from the next), and did hit the flags and ropes around the SPASE Shack, but from there, I must have taken a wrong vector, because when I was tracking on dim building lights, I ended up at DSL, not the TCH. There are plenty of buildings in the area, so it's not like I was lost, but I did pick the wrong fuzzy dark shape on the horizon to walk towards. The worst part of trip, though, wasn't the navigation, it was stepping off a two foot drop-off. Fortunately, I landed square and didn't twist anything. Eventually, I did get to the TCH, but with all the wind, even though John F. graded in the area yesterday, there was a five foot snow ridge next to the TCH that I had to slide down to get to the building entrance.

The work out there went OK, but swapping a card in one of these boxes is a tedious procedure - besides the usual power and network and keyboard and video cables, the "business end" of the machine is a clot of 15 connectors with screws, all hidden behind a large squid of heavy-duty wires. It took almost 15 minutes to remove them, and nearly 30 minutes to reconnect them and screw them down. Once the card was swapped, I had to wait to hear that it was working well before I could leave. While I was waiting (and checking on e-mail, etc.), Joe stopped in on his way back in from the IceCube Lab next door. He didn't stay long, but when I got the door behind him, I noticed that it wasn't latching. A couple of phone calls later, it seemed that the solution was to carefully clean the snow out of the entire frame (by hand) and see if it would stay shut. That did seem to help a bit; taking down the snow outside the door down to the metal grate on the landing helped keep it from gumming up quickly. In the time I was there, the snow outside the door accumulated probably three to five inches. It's the downwind door, but when the winds are over 20 knots, the stuff blows everywhere.

With the card replaced and the door happier, I threw on my gear and walked back to the station. The upper-level conditions had cleared a bit while I was out there. I could see the lights on the warm buildings behind the station, and sighted off of them. I also picked a nice bright guide star to keep the same bearing as I walked. I bounced off the SPASE rope line and kept the same angle as I crossed the skiway. The snow was a bit uneven between the skiway and the station, and I found myself on my knees a couple of times, but with the wind more at my back, it was an easier walk. I was even able to hide behind my gaiter and keep my goggles off for better seeing. Bare-eyed, I could see the Greater and Lesser Magellenic Clouds, up at the top of the sky, opposite the Celestial Pole from the Southern Cross, which was now entirely visible. Eventually, I made my way back to the B3 stairs and inside.

Dinner was on by this time. I dropped my ECW at my desk and scooted on down to the galley for some Ribs. I sat with Dainella, and she offered to take me on a quick tour to go over the things I missed on the fire training I missed by being out in the Dark Sector. We dropped our dishes in the dish pit and started the tour with the ceiling hatches and sub-floor access near the entrance to the Gym in B4. I learned a lot - for example, I didn't know where folks stored the sub-floor keys, and I didn't know there were so many under-floor walls and firebreaks. We went into all the mechanical rooms, most of which I'd never seen before, especially the one with the sprinkler system water tank. We finished with a quick run through the Emergency Power Plant in B1 and the fan rooms in A1.

I stopped by the B1 Lounge to find the first night of the Nine Ball League was running about 45 minutes late. I was working at my desk on a few things when Rechelle came by to reschedule. We were the second-to-last game of the night, and it was getting late for her. I agreed, then went across the hall to watch some of the last rounds of the night before going back to my desk to wring the last few minutes out of GOES.

Friday, 2 June 2006
After GOES set, I went across the hall to the B1 Lounge for the next installment of Robert's World War II videos. It was the usual crowd (Robert, Bob, Cryo Mark, Lane, Victoria). I think I've probably missed more episodes than any one of them. This week was about the end of 1941 through the beginning of 1942, from Pearl Harbor and America entering the War to various bits of the North Africa Campaign and the battle for Air Supremacy over England. We watched the newsreels at the end of the disc, then Lane fired up Soulcaliber II and took on Victoria in bout after bout. I'd seen Lane play before and thought he was pretty good, but Victoria had him on the ropes from the start. She took him twice for every one of his victories. Victoria was also playing random characters, whatever the game picked for her. At one point, she got a character dressed up in traditional Japanese armor, down to the hooked-nose face mask (Mitsurugi?) and discovered some sort of dodging manuver that when repeated made it look like he had traded his sword for a pogo stick. She bounced around the screen until we were all howling with laughter. After a bit of that, we all headed to our respective rooms. I fiddled around on the computer, then crashed late.

I went right down to B2 when I got up, and worked on various things. Nobody else was around all afternoon. When it came time for housemouse, I headed down the beercan to the bar, but I was the only one there, too. I checked the waste bins, collected the food waste, then headed up to B4 for the all hands meeting, stopping off at my desk for my camera and tripod. Most of the station was there; the usual folks made the usual announcements (sort your trash, reload the toilet roll holders, etc.) Fat Bob made a call for suggestions for new "How-To" videos, then Liesl doled out the flags. Robert the Satcom Tech got the American flag that was at the ceremonial pole, and Bob the Science Tech got an American flag that was up for a short time, then we all clustered around the new NSF logo on the wall pads for a mid-winter group photo. Robert Schwarz set up his camera with its uber-wide 16mm lens, and I dropped my camera in the lift basket as far from the crowd as I could (my lens isn't as wide as Robert's, and I needed the extra distance). Robert was able to set up a few shots; I was only able to get one, and unfortunately, the crowd was spread too wide to get the entire frame - I was cut in half by my own camera.

Our housemouse group organized at the end of the meeting. We all went down to the bar to clean, but before we could do much more than move furniture, BFK came down and said he'd take care of things for the party. I went up to the station, grabbed some wine to have with the nice dinner and headed straight to the galley. Judy has been planning some nice Friday dinners, and this was as good as it gets - Filet Mignon and Lobster, with Twice-Baked potatoes and Grilled Asparagus on the side. I sat at one of the large tables with Victoria and a few others, but as time went on, the "couples" started to show up and crowd us out. A couple of us were asked to move down to make room for late arrivals. I wasn't particularly thrilled with having to move, but it's not like I have "my" seat or "my" table anywhere, so I just moved. I ended up across from Rechelle and found out that she'd been to Burning Man twice in the 1990s. There's a lot of folks down here who seem to have made it out there.

After dinner, I stopped by my room and got cleaned up for the evening, making me a bit late for Radio Darts. I arrived at the end of the first game to a three-way tie. We lost the second game, and the other Pole team won the third game. From darts, I went down to the bar (third trip down the beercan today - just like old times) and the beach party was in full swing. Victoria and Nate were playing music, and the place was packed - not a seat in the house. At the end of their set, BFK called folks down for Twister. Noah won the first round, I lasted about 2 spins into the second round. Folks were definitely playing competitively, not cooperatively. After several more rounds, Noah emerged on top for the guys, and Rechelle on top for the gals. Craig had us all wave for the camera and say "hi" to Jimmy Buffet. The video was going to be sent North because Buffet's current show is the "Party at the End of the World" Tour. After Twister and the video, things started quieting down; folks started leaving. By midnight, the bar was looking pretty empty.

Saturday, 3 June 2006
After the bar had mostly cleared out, I hung out with BFK for a while, swapping stories until it was time for me to climb back up the beercan and go back to my room and crash.

I woke up after breakfast and went down to the galley for a bowl of cereal or something similar. George's "Frag Fest 2006" was in full swing - most of the machines were full of guys playing "Counter Strike" or "Quake 4". After watching a bit of fragging, I decided on a warm breakfast - a Toasted English Muffin and a cup of Miso Soup. After eating, I jumped on a machine and into a Quake 4 Deathmatch against George and Brien. I needed to re-learn some of the tricks, but eventually got to the point where I wasn't just getting smeared after respawning. I did the best on the map I used to play last year. The smells from the kitchen were starting to make me hungry. A group of the Kiwis were prepping made-to-order Hamburgers featuring standard Kiwi toppings (Fried Egg, Beetroot, and Pineapple). I am not so adventuresome when it comes to burgers. I got a rather standard one and ate with George, away from the computers. The guys did make a tasty burger, but I don't think I'll ever get used to what they put on them in New Zealand. After dinner, I got a little more Quake 4 in, but then retired to my room for a bit of a nap.

I woke up a few hours later and went back down to the galley to see who was on the computers. Erik was still working through the Quake 4 single-player scenario, and that was about it. I got in some time on "Starcraft" and left Erik to work through some more levels.

Sunday, 4 June 2006
I took a Starcraft break to catch the waning minutes of the satellite, then after another level of Starcraft, went back to the galley to find Erik still at it. Having had my fill of computer games for a while, I ventured down to the B1 Lounge to see one crowd in the Game Room, finishing up the evening's poker game, and the World War II crowd in the TV Lounge, starting episode 9 of the series (1943 and 1944, up to the invasion of Italy). I hung around until the end of the show, when everyone pretty much scattered to the winds. On my way home, I stopped by the galley for an English Muffin and my last slice of Personal Pizza from the other Friday. Erik finally finished "Quake 4" and went to bed (he'd been at it for hours). I showed "Doom 3" to George, then went to bed myself.

After I got up, I wandered on down to the galley where folks were chowing down on Robert's Chili Dogs. I grabbed a dog and got on the computers that were still set up from the Frag Fest, yesterday. George was playing games; I just surfed for game tips and whatnot. Before long, it was time for "2@2", and I headed down to the B3 Lounge where Joe was talking about Infrared Fire Detectors. He handed one around for us to look at - it had 3 individual sensors with a 100° angle of coverage, tuned to the IR wavelengths of burning JP-8, among other combustibles. When Joe was done with his presentation, Dainella popped in "Supersize Me", and a few of us snuck out. I went to my room to get on the 'net for a bit, then back down to the galley in time to catch Lynnette making Quesadillas on the grill. She was nice enough to throw on one for me, and I watched George play on the computer while I waited. The quesadilla was really good; it had fresh grilled onions in it. I'm amazed we still have any freshies left this late in the Winter. Right after I finished eating, some folks pulled down the screen and put on "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". I'd never seen it, so I stayed to watch. It wasn't bad. It did make me miss Greece (I haven't been since 1989). After the movie, I retired to my room to do e-mail until GOES set.

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