After I got back, I went over to the Southern Exposure in time to watch it fill with Babylon 5 fans, eager for new episodes. The winter-overs have been watching my old tapes since I left in February. They've been eager to see new eps. I was asked if I brought more tapes with me, by at least a dozen folks. The crowd was good: 20 people, 3/4 of them winter-overs. It may not sound like many, but getting that many people together for anything (except chow) at this time of year is an accomplishment.
The disk of the sun is finally visible from town. I had forgotten, but late in the afternoon, direct sunlight comes streaming into the windows of the spine between Phase I and Phase II.
I found a great new place to view aurorae in town: behind B-156. After the coffee house closed, I went for a little jaunt to walk off my caffeine buzz (despite the -35°F (-37°C) windchill). I ended up standing in the shadow of B-156, sheltered from most of the wind and from most of the lights of town. I could see the ice shelf lit up for hundreds of yards off shore; I could see Hut Point, dark against the snow covered sea ice; I could see the lights out at the ice runway. Most importantly, the sky was crystal-clear; I could see the Milky Way and tendrils of aurorae over Hut Point. I watched for a while, then ran off to my room to grab wamer clothing, a tripod and my camera. By the time I returned, clouds were moving in. I watched in disappointment as the stars of the Southern Cross winked out one by one in the haze.
We hung out for an hour, snaping some pictures of some fairly lame aurorae hanging over Pegasus, hoping some brighter ones would show (they didn't). On the bright side, Darin pointed out the Greater and Lesser Magellenic Clouds to me, two globular clusters I'd been wanting to see since I first got down here. They look like two wispy clouds, no bigger than a thumbnail on an outstretched hand, about a hand-span away from the Southern Cross. My picture taking was interrupted when the guys from Equipment Ops came in from Pegasus for midrats; I didn't want to have the shutter hanging open on a timed exposure with all those headlights and strobe lights driving by. Darin had already gone in at that point. I'm glad I stayed out; even though there were no more good aurorae, Bruno Nardi (also of S-131) fired up the LIDAR. I got a couple of long exposures, including one of the beam disappearing into the zenith. Finally, around 0:00, I headed in, my camera turning white with frost.
After dinner and a quick stop at the coffee house, I dropped by the chapel and finally finished a project I've been working on for the past 10 days: tuning the piano. There are three pianos on this island, one in the Southern Exposure, one at Scott Base, and one in the chapel. I brought down some sheet music, but quickly abandoned any idea of playing when I struck my first chord. It's so dry down here that the wood in the soundboard shrinks and there's not enough friction on the pegs to keep the piano in tune. Undaunted, I dug out the tools, read a turn-of-the-century essay on piano tuning I found in the toolbox, and, most importantly, borrowed a BOSS TU-12 electronic tuner from Dave Smith at the FM shop. This thing is great, it has LEDs from C to B for displaying its best guess at a note, and a needle showing how sharp or flat that note is. I've probably spent a total of 10 to 12 hours on doing this, but I can play ragtime without wincing. Several of the pegs were giving me fits, so loose in their sockets you could watch them turn as you played. I ended up using an old piano-technician's trick - removing the peg (harder than it sounds) and wrapping a single layer of thin emery cloth on it, abrasive-side out, then replacing it (much harder than it sounds). Each one took over half-an-hour, mostly due to my inexperience. I've never tuned a piano before and no one will confuse me with a professional piano tuner, but the results are passable. I had no idea going into this, but there's a lot to tuning a piano. I mean, I watched the process at home when I was a kid, but never closely enough to really figure out what they were doing. If it hadn't been for lots of good advice from Gary Teetsel, whose ex-wife is a piano tuner, I'd've give up in frustration, days ago. You've got to isolate the middle strings of the middle octave with a felt strip and rubber wedges; tune it ever so carefully; tune the other 24 strings, eliminating all wavering so that each key sounds a single note, not a wavering cacaphony; then move down and up the scale, one octave at a time; going back from time to time to correct notes that changed when you weren't looking. There are 88 keys on a standard piano, some with one string, some with two, most with three. I forget the exact number, but there are over two hundred pegs to tweak and futz with. I was going to try to tune the other piano in town, but the soundboard has 14 individual cracks in it. It's a shame; it's a piano built in the key of A - I'd never heard of any such a thing before. My first clue was that the top and bottom of the keyboard didn't have the usual pattern of white and black keys. My next clue was that there are more than 88 keys. The kicker was when I hit middle-C; the note I heard was definitely an A. No mistaking it. If the soundboard wasn't cracked, I might have tried to tune it. Now, it's a lost cause. In the States, it's just an ornament. Here, a very determined winter-over might be able to do something with it, but I shudder at the thought of removing every single string, intact, undoing and redoing the joinery and restringing each and every wire. I don't think it could be accomplished in under 200 hours. Maybe there's a better way, but I doubt it. It's a lost cause.
Besides the weather, it's been an unremarkable day. I've spent most of it setting up computers for the impending crush of scientists. It's been blissfully quiet in the lab for the past few weeks. In fifteen days, the planes start rolling in, bringing in wave after wave of fresh, eager people, ready to make the most of their brief stay. Like last year, the second and fourth flights of mainbody are C-5's, the rest, '141's.
The sky was so clear that I took the long way home, past the dorms on the Bay-side, using the buildings to block some of the light from town. I saw aurorae, long luminent slashes straight overhead. I ran back to my room, exchanged my jeans and sneakers for sturdier gear and took off for higher ground around B-133. The cresent moon hung low in the sky over the mountains, bright enough to cast shadows under the streetlights of town, bright enough to light up the slopes beneath Arrival Heights and Crater Hill. At least it was calm. I tried to take a picture or two, but between the hills around me and the twilight glow, I doubt if anything will come out. I waited around for over an hour, but the sky lightened steadily until I knew it was a lost cause. I packed it in with little to show for my efforts.
Once in the bar, I spent most of the evening talking with Jeff from the Firehouse and David Hornstein, the Scott Base science technician. I sipped on my favorite Scott Base cocktail (Stone's Green Ginger Wine and ginger ale) and David, Jeff and I talked about computers, Australia and the States until it was almost time to go. Before we took off, Jeff made a fresh pot of Hawaiian Macadamia flavored coffee and we watched a video David took of his trip to Cape Evans last week. The clarity was superb. I offered to help him transfer a few frames to video on the AV Mac in Crary. Jeff and I grabbed the last shuttle of the night and I went straight to the lab to work on my ozone hole web page.
The night was so clear that I waited until midnight for the sun to go down as far as it was going to, then I went home and got dressed up in all my gear - expedition pants, carhartts, polar fleece balaclava and, of course, my Mongolian hat. I grabbed a tripod and my 35mm camera (loaded with ASA 1600 film) and I was off. Even though the aurorae I'd spotted were identical to the ones I'd seen last night, I decided to try a different perspective. My first destination was the road below the VXE-6 transition; there aren't many lights in the lower part of town. The moon was up again, and, unfortunately, so was the wind. I found the darkest point along the road, snapped a few shots of the brightest streaks overhead and decided on another change of venue. I hiked to the opposite end of town, by the fuel pits and the road to Hut Point.
There is an annoying light on the side of the power plant; I never really noticed just how bright it is. I was easily a quarter-mile away from it, but it threw shadows on the hills above the fuel pit, brighter than the quarter moon. I had to hide in the lee of a sign post for my pictures. There was more wind here, hampering my efforts. I drew further into my parka, aimed the tripod as best I could and snapped a dozen long exposures, counting heartbeats to time the shots. From my new vantage point, the aurorae were among the best I'd seen all season. There were a handful of fingers over the ice runway, vanishing into the pre-dawn glow behind the mountains, and that same long knife-slash overhead, cutting Alpha Centauri off from the Southern Cross. That main line provided the best action before it disappeared behind Arrival Heights. At times, it was a single rent from horizon to horizon, at other times, it was joined by a group of small slashes near the ground, looking like fingernail marks in the blackboard of the sky. Every once in a while, that main streak would undulate, crossing over itself in a single curlique, whipping side to side and smearing like wet paint in the rain. I tried to keep my back to the wind, my eyelashes stinging from the weight of the ice in them, but before the spectacle was finished, I was; the weather won out and I started the slow trek home.
Weather has started moving in since lunchtime. A light snow is falling, it's not too windy yet, but I can't see the ice runway just a mile away.
Originally scheduled for 07:00, Darin's launch has been postponed 'til noon due to the weather. For days now, we've been directly under the boundary of the polar vortex - winds aloft have been as high as 200 knots (240 mph). In order for Darin's experiment to succeed, we must be inside the vortex in a region where the atmosphere measures less than 200 Dobson units of ozone (400 Dobson units is common at temperate latitudes). If we don't launch today, there will probably not be another chance.
Right at noon, the weather was flawless. Down at the helo pad, Lyle and Bruno unpacked the balloon while Darin hovered over the instrument, checking connections and verifying telemetry. There was a temporary snag when Joe Pettit couldn't get the datalogger in Crary to log. Jim and Darin had to head inside to fix it. About 20 minutes later, they returned and began to fill the envelope. Because this instrument is so heavy (100 lbs with all accessories), it requires the largest balloon they have this year - 160,000 cu ft., or as it's more commonly known, a "160k" balloon. Unlike the smaller ones, it's too heavy to hold down by hand. Bruno fastened a device around the bottom of the bubble that looked like two red portable compressed air cylinders sandwiching an extruded foam hourglass. The entire assembly was tied to a parallel metal bar that Bruno hung bags of weights from. Even with eight helium tanks on full open, filling the balloon was a half-hour job. I was dressed for a day inside - jeans, sneakers, no thermals. I snuck off to warm up in the helo pax terminal and waited for the launch.
By the time everything was prepared, a small crowd had gathered to watch and take pictures. Originally, Ann Hawthorne and I were the only photographers. At launch time, there were half-a-dozen. Andy (from Weather) and I got far enough away to take a good long shot then waited. Not everything had gone flawlessly for me, photographically speaking, the cold was affecting both cameras. The QuickTake didn't always turn on, and the mirror on my 35mm Konica was occasionally snapping shots on its own when I advanced the film. The zero hour arrived, Bruno pulled the release and a dozen shutters went off. I squeezed off a couple of 35mm shots, but the QuickTake was too cold to operate. With a rustle and a flap, the instrument took off, rising straight up into the calm air. Darin was the happiest guy on station.
Our weekly dose of Babylon 5 was imperiled today when I couldn't find the tape. When I got to the Southern Exposure, I shoved in an old tape about the making of the show and came into work to search for the missing episodes. Fortunately, a brief search turned them up on a shelf above my computer. I'm off to save the day.
New sign-up sheets for this week's crevasse trip got posted in the Galley, tonight. If the weather holds, I'm going tomorrow.
I was the last out of the back of the Delta. The windows were completely frosted over, so my first sight was a bit of a shock. I had seen some low clouds between us and the mountains, but I hadn't anticipated that we'd be driving into them, all the way on the other side of the peninsula. Visibility, per se, wasn't the problem; the lack of a horizon was. I could see the ice falls, the Delta, even Silver City, but facing the wrong way, the snow just blended up into a purplish-grey, featureless wall.
Without too much difficulty, we split up into two groups and roped up. I was on the end of the second rope; Steve, one of the Kiwi guides, clipped onto my harness on his own rope so the he could detach from the rest of us if any situations cropped up. The first line took off up the ice falls; we followed 40 feet behind. When we all got to the top, the first group headed into the crevasse while our group walked on to peer down a hole in a snow bridge over a different crevasse. When it was our turn, I got my chance to see what had changed since last July.
The approach had filled in a little and wasn't as steep. The entrance was flanked by pillars of blue ice, stalactites that probably grew last summer when it was warm enough to melt. The low crawl seemed lower. I was barely able to crouch far enough over to work my way in without dropping to my hands and knees. The most significant change was the ceiling fall in the main chamber. Last year, there was a ledge down below and a guide rope screwed to the left wall. We wore helmets and headlamps for protection and visibility. This year, the crevasse was still bridged at the top, but the loose stuff had come down in a crashing jumble all over where we had once walked. I was disappointed that we wouldn't be going down, but when I saw the condition of the floor, I wasn't too eager to try it. We lingered, took pictures, then headed back out and down to the Delta and on to home.
Furnishing LAN drops in lab 219 occupied most of my morning. Bob Palko came over with a Synoptics concentrator and we went down to Phase II to connect it. Of all the work areas in the lab, this particular lab is the problem child: it has only one fiber pair and no 10Base-T connections. Last year, we only installed a single computer in the room and used a simple 10Base-FL transceiver; this year, the requirement is for two computers. Normally, this would be a simple matter of attaching the transceiver to the concentrator and then the concentrator to all the computers, but when we plugged everything in and turned it on, nothing. The only lit indicator was for power. Bob and I trundled back and forth from one end of Phase II to the other to trace the fiber pair from the distribution panel behind the concentrator rack to the distribution panel above the ceiling in the hallway outside room 219. If everything had been clearly labeled, it would have been a straightforward job. In the end, we resorted to shining a flashlight down various sets of fibers and reporting the results to each other by phone. The problem ended up being a split pair; the blue fiber of the orange/blue pair was actually from a different orange/blue pair. It was fixed five seconds after it was discovered with a simple twist, swap, twist. The actual process of hooking up the new equipment was a five minute job. The other two hours were spent clearing away dead, unlabled cables from previous seasons and tracking down the split pair.
Even though there was a great selection of movies on channel 13 tonight (Monty Python and The Holy Grail, The Princess Bride, and Demolition Man), I went to the coffee house for Acoustic Night. When I walked in, Brian, the NSFA shrink, was behind the mike, singing excellent renditions of Paul Simon songs with a voice that sounded like Paul Simon. If I hadn't seen him on the stool at the end of the tube, I'd have sworn that a CD was playing. After his set, another couple of people took a turn with Mark Eisinger closing out the evening. One of Mark's last numbers was in honor of David Hornstein, the Scott Base winter-over science tech, a transplanted Aussie living in New Zealand - "Waltzing Mathilda". When it was over, David explained that the song is about a bum (ragman) who steals a sheep () and drowns in the creek (billabong) trying to evade the law. All these years, I had no idea. For the last songs of the night, Mark had all the guitar players and a few of the audience up to play and sing along. We finished with "Teach Your Children", by Crosby, Stills and Nash; and "Amie", by "Pure Prarie League".
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