May at the South Pole

Monday, 1 May 2006
I woke up right before GOES set, but didn't have enough time to do much more than check my e-mail (nothing interesting). I was too awake to go right back to sleep. I'd been hoping to be able to get some more rest in before starting the day, but I ended up staying awake until breakfast-time. I arrived at the galley just as the Monday Morning Safety Meeting was breaking up (only Raytheon employees are required to attend), and the extra traffic in the galley meant that there was little left on the breakfast line. I scraped the pans for a little Swiss and Spinach Scramble and some Bacon and American Scramble, and rounded it out with some Hash Browns and some Toast. I sat down at Galley/Met table with Michael, Judy, and Jeff. Folks were not having a happy Monday - between complaints about how long the spout was trimmed on the milk dispenser, the mess in the microwave from Sunday, and the missing microwave that turned up in the B1 lounge, I can see why. I mostly listened, didn't say much, finished my breakfast and headed down to work in B2.

Victoria was already there. We both worked on our e-mail in silence. Nothing is wrong, but at the beginning of the week, there just isn't that much to catch up on. Patrick dropped off a loaner workstation to replace the one I zapped last Saturday, and I spent most of the rest of the morning setting it up and struggling to extract some data from a failing disk. While things spun in the background, I took the opportunity to sort the trashcan at the end of the workbench that was left full of mixed paper and burnables by the summer folks. Victoria and I don't use that part of the lab, so we just hadn't gotten around to dealing with it. Now that she has her stained-glass table set up, I've had to migrate to the other bench and get it back in usable shape.

Lunch was Roast Beef Sandwiches, Stuffed Potato Skins, Baby Carrots, and Shiitake/Miso soup w/Ramen. I made a sandwich and bowl of soup and sat with Bob the Science Tech, Victoria, and Robert the Satcomm Tech. Dainella joined us as Victoria was explaining that it was "Be Nice to Bob Day". Since Dainella hadn't been around for most of the activities that necessitated being nice to Bob (writing on napkins, allowing ones food to touch on the plate, broccoli or brussel sprouts in any form, etc.), Victoria ended up reliving most of the recent things done to and around Bob as Bob good-naturedly squirmed in response. Back at my desk in B2, I donned my ECW gear and set out to collect the weekly power monitoring data. We are into astronomical twilight now, with no moon. It was so dark that even with my red LED headlamp, I couldn't see to the next flag. Eventually, I switched off my headlamp and sighted off the fuzzy stars near the horizon. The light fog diffused the starlight enough so that even a kilometer away, it was possible to see the vague dark outlines of the buildings in the Dark Sector, allowing reasonable navigation in the dark.

It was a pleasant walk, -56.2°F (-49.0°C), with winds around 7 knots. MAPO was empty when I got there. I swapped tapes, dumped the power quality monitor, then noticed that one of our retired servers wasn't doing so well. I had tried to reboot it some time ago, but it didn't want to cooperate. Turns out that one of its drives died and the controller was too confused to carry on. It was clear from a superficial examination that I would not be able to do much for it in the rack. I hauled it over to the bench and discovered that in addition to a failed disk, over half of its fans had quietly died (the main fans are attached to a monitoring board, but not these). I slipped a dead fan in my pocket to look for a spare in the station and headed out to the Temporary Counting House to get the weekly power readings there.

The flag line to the TCH is not as distinct as the one between MAPO and the station. Fortunately, I was able to see the outline of the building as soon as I got a few steps outside. After a 10 minute walk, I was happy to find no snow buildup around the door. I dumped the power monitor and headed back to the station, sighting on a couple of red "heat trace" status lamps on buildings behind the station. It's much easier to navigate in the dark when there are visible lights to use for orientation. Also, the sheer size of the new station makes it stand out on a day like today when the buildings are visibly darker than the sky behind them and the snow they sit on.

Back up at B2, things were empty and quiet. I checked my backups then headed off to dinner - Catfish. I went with the "anti-fish" alternative, Beer Brats, and headed quietly out after eating. The plan was to get out of my Carhartts and into jeans and go to Robert's Astronomy Lecture. I got about halfway through the plan and crashed for the night.

Tuesday, 2 May 2006
As early as I fell over, I woke up equally early, right before GOES set. I caught the last few minutes of the satellite, then it dropped right as I pressed "send" on my last e-mail. Not wanting to be up in the middle of the night, I read a bit, finishing "Assemblers of Infinity", then forcing myself to get a little more sleep before starting the day.

I got up, checked on things from my room, then headed to work in B2. There was a lot of e-mail traffic about how the memory swap on one of the machines in the TCH was going, but nothing for me to do except stay informed. I was hungry and went to lunch as soon as the galley opened. Today's menu was Chicken Cacciatore, Wrinkle-cut Fries, and Edamame (labelled simply "Veggie" because George didn't want to misspell 'Edamame'). The galley was almost completely empty this early; I sat at a round table with Safety Bill and Tom. Bill read the Monday New York Times Digest on his iPAQ; Tom and I worked on the crossword puzzle on paper copies. Tom and I finished eating before we finished our puzzles. One of the tricker clues referenced the honor code of one of the military academies, answered by "Lie Cheat Steal". With another completed puzzle under my belt, I made a nice lattè, and went back down to B2.

Victoria was struggling with the analysis software, "PnF", and from there we got on the topic of working in a business-environment software development shop. I told a few stories of working in the IT shop at Lucent and a couple other places. We were interrupted more than once by Joe T. working on the feedback problem when making an all call from New COMMS. Eventually, the satellite rose, I chatted a bit with Erin, then she went to bed and I went to dinner. The Lasagna was good. I think it was made fresh, but to be honest, it might have been pre-frozen and just heated up here. The table I sat down at cleared before I was finished. After a bit, Guy joined me, and we talked about Astronomy (stellar evolution, Red Giants, White Dwarves, Black Holes, etc.), then I grabbed my stuff and headed down to the B3 Lounge for Sci-Fi night.

We had more than just the regulars for "Total Recall". Holly showed up for the first time, and knitted while she watched. After the movie was over, I headed upstairs but was too tired to start any projects. I crashed early.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006
I woke up around breakfast time, grabbed a quick bite of whatever was on the line, and went right to B2 to bang out a report before our weekly call to Madison. Unfortunately, I found a bit of a mess when I got it - one of the computers that has all the interface hardware to talk to and entire string of DOMs wasn't responding. I tried to reboot the offending computer, but couldn't remember the password to get to it. Victoria reminded me of it when she came in, but it was to no avail - the computer was frozen solid. She put on her ECW and headed out to the TCH, while I made our weekly call.

There was no big news from the North, so we decided to reschedule the call for tomorrow when Victoria could join in. I worked on things around B2 until lunchtime, then headed down to the galley for Burger Day. George was grilling the buns, a nice touch. I made a nice Burger with mustard, lettuce, and onion, and sat with Safety Bill and Tom. Bill was reading the New York Times Digest (on paper, for a change), and Tom was a good way through the Tuesday crossword puzzle. Bill gave me his paper when he was done and I started in on the puzzle myself. I gave Tom a little help on a few of the more obscure clues, and we finished about the same time.

Back at my desk in B2, I worked on various things until the satellite came up. No word from Victoria out in the Dark Sector, so I figured she was still dealing with the hosed computer. The problems were noticed by folks in the North; John J called us to see what was up. I passed him the number for the TCH, then had to flee B2 from the acetone fumes coming from the other end of the room.

I went to my room to wait out the start of dinner, but nodded off for a bit. I did manage not to miss dinner - Roast Pork (yet again), Mashed Potatoes, and Green Beans. Erik made a comment about how little food I had on my plate, but, honestly, we get Roast Pork so often, I just can't get excited about it. After dinner, I made my way down the beercan and the tunnels to the Carp Shop for Dan's metalworking class. It was a bit of nippy trip, somewhat colder than -80°F (-6X°C), and I was in my usual jeans, sneakers, and fleece jacket. I used to do this trip several times each day, but now that I live and work in the new station, it's more like once or twice a week. There wasn't a large group in the shop, just Dan, Robert, Rechelle, Bob, and Doc Will. Robert was making a new funnel for the U-Barrel in MAPO; Doc Will and Rechelle appeared to be working on metal boxes; Bob put the bottom on his SETI antenna/waveguide. I brought down part of a PC power supply to trim and flatten into a suitable backplate for one of my projects, then when that was done, I read the safety sheets for the woodworking equipment before Dan and Bill's class at 19:30.

The place started to get crowded for the safety class. Four or five more people showed up to learn how to use the lathe and the planer and the various electric saws. We went from one tool to the next covering safety guards, how to avoid kickback, how to avoid getting bits of yourself caught in the blades, and so on. The class went well past 20:00, the time for the movie up in the galley. When I showed up, they were still trying to get it to play. Finally, about 45 minutes late, we were watching an old episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" from 1957, all about "Operation Deep Freeze I", the first winter season in McMurdo. I didn't see Dave Grisez in it, but it was his crew making the first ice runway for Admiral Dufek (who went on to visit the South Pole in the famous plane "Que Sera Sera". One of the more interesting visual elements of the show was heavy reliance on miniatures including a miniature Ross Ice Shelf with tiny representations of Little America V and McMurdo. I went from the movie back to my desk and caught Erin online just before she left work for the day. I hung around until she got home, chatted for a few minutes, then crashed out.

Thursday, 4 May 2006
I was up before breakfast, then headed down to the galley for a Pancake and a Sesame Bagel. I took a stab at the Wednesday crossword puzzle, but didn't get very far. It was odd to see George in the kitchen at breakfast (he just switched shifts from the Dinner hour). As I was leaving, Jon blocked off the exit past the dish pit to open the grease trap for its periodic cleaning. Not wanting to hang around for the smell, I scooted down to my desk in B2. The detector (AMANDA) was still going nuts from all the light being pumped into the ice by an IceCube flasher run. Victoria came in, and I went back down to the galley for a lattè (fortunately they were done fishing in the grease trap). I returned to B2 in time for our call to the North - no real news. I puttered around until lunch then went down to the galley for some Chicken Pot Pie and a bowl of Chili. I sat with Tom and collaborated on the Wednesday crossword puzzle before heading back to work.

There was nothing major going on in the afternoon. The day ended with our monthly Team 2 training, a Dome walkthrough. We assembled at Destination Zulu, then headed down the beercan to the Dome. The perimeter lights are still powered - we lit up the inside of the Dome and visited the one remaining live fire panel, in the transformer building next to Science. From there, we tromped through Skylab, stopping at each of the empty labs, including the old Aurora Lab on the top floor (my first time up there). From Skylab, we took the side tunnel to the emergency exit, all the way up to the surface. I would have taken a nice picture of the Dome in the moonlight, but I forgot my camera. Back downstairs, we regrouped in Comms then left the Dome for the Old Power Plant, the old Garage, including the tiny room off to the side that nobody ever remembers, and the new Garage, including the roof. We all clambored down and headed out. Dainella and I went to the Electrical Shop in the New Garage to tear the pushbutton out of a decomissioned emergency light for me to reuse in one of my many projects.

Up at dinner, it was Lamb Roast - stuffed and unstuffed, Asparagus, Mashed Potatoes, Polenta, and Salad. The food was great, but Tracy was playing continuous country music in the dish pit, that annoying, whiny cowboy stuff that really grates on my nerves. I know it's the right of the Dish Dog to pick the music, but I couldn't hold back from making a comment as I dropped off my dinner dishes. There was a few minutes until Scottish Dance Class; I chatted with Erin until Bob's all call, then headed down to the Gym.

We had seven dancers, including Bob. Liesl was stuck in a teleconference with the NSF about Winter Science at the Pole. While we waited, various people threw various balls around the Gym. John N. tossed a Rugby ball back and forth with a few of us. Apparently, it's thrown entirely unlike an American Football. One rolls the ball off of the thumb of one hand and the fingers of the others with a snap. After a while, Liesl showed up and we jumped into "Antarctica Bound", invented in the 1920s to commemorate the first Scottish Antarctic Explorer. We ran through the dance a few times until we more-or-less got it down. From the Gym, I went back to my desk and caught Erin online right before she left work. We chatted a bit right after she got home, then both of us crashed.

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