Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Long Distance

I just called a screen printer in Christchurch about my order. (I'm ordering 30 shirts with my winterover T-shirt design.) There was a wicked delay on the call, and I talked to my coworker Antz (a former employee of Telecom New Zealand) about it. Here's what we figured out: my call went from my office here through three other buildings in McMurdo, then on a microwave link to our Black Island communications station, then up to a geostationary satellite, back down to Australia, then over a fiber optic cable to California, over fiber to Denver, then back out through Raytheon's switch to Qwest's network, then routed to my calling card's central switching place (probably in Omaha, or some place like that), then back out to California, then to Hawaii over trans-Pacific fiber, then down to Auckland, then over telecom NZ's fiber down to Christchurch via Wellington. Whew! Technology is wild, eh?


Wow, McMurdo has changed a lot in the last week. We got the first "Winfly" flight in a week ago, and the population has gone from 125 to over 300. That may not sound like a huge difference, but it is. We're used to seeing the same people every day, and knowing everyone. It's like having a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, with a population of 125, and suddenly 30 people leave and 200-some strangers show up. Yikes. I've heard stories of how rough it is on winterovers when people start showing up again, but now I'm experiencing it firsthand. I now have a roommate, too, which is a big adjustment. He's a good guy, though, and we're getting along fine. I only have a month left here, and I'm sure it'll go by fast. I'll be cruising the dog park with Conan before you know it.

(Photo by Kiwi Ken Barlow)

Monday, September 1, 2008


Well, the first flight of Winfly will be day after tomorrow. We haven't seen any new faces or imported any freshies since late April. In a way, it's exciting to have produce on the way, and looking forward to the population shifting. At the same time, there's a feeling of dread. McMurdo is a nice, comfy place with 125 people. A couple hundred people are about to decend on us, which is a little daunting.

McMurdo is like a little town in the middle of nowhere. It's amazing that we get along as well as we do, without a lot of the gossip and drama that you find in a little town. There's some of that, but I think we realize that we're stuck with each other for eight months, so we do our best to get along.

I have a theory that we are selected for this work on the basis of how well we play with others. It isn't stated anywhere in the hiring process, but we do have to pass a psychiatric test and interview before we're allowed to winter. Anybody who is really negative, or has a big chip on their shoulder would be a bad match for this work. The Antarctic program isn't for everyone.

I finally got around to putting my license plates on our van. We're not in any country here, so the vehicles don't need to have any license plates on them. Most of them have plates from around the states, donated by USAP participants. Here's mine.

Most of the vehicles here are "monster trucks". They have huge tires to keep from tearing up the ice roads going out to the runways. In order for the tires to clear, they are jacked up about a foot. I'm sure our van would feel huge on real-world roads, but it's just normal here. Part of it's not so normal, though. Free gas! No traffic! It's going to be a big adjustment coming back to the real world. Yep.