Friday, March 27, 2009


Over the hill at New Zealand's Scott Base, there is a team of workers who are taking care of artifacts down here. There are three explorers huts here on Ross Island, with a lot of cool gear and food left inside. (There are three that I've heard of and have been to-- there may be others.)

It's really cool to go into these old huts and see the laboratory equipment, reindeer-skin sleeping bags, and cool junk the explorers left behind. The big expeditions were those of Robert Scott and Earnest Shackleton. Roald Amundsen was the guy who actually made it to the pole first, but he didn't have any bases near here.

You can see the AHT's site here: The blog shows pictures of the conservators in action, as well as some other activities taking place over there.
(Picture from the AHT's site)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Crater Hill

I got to check out a PistenBully on Saturday and go up to the top of Crater Hill. PistenBullys are tracked vehicles normally used to groom ski trails. They are not really designed to drive on bumpy, rocky roads, so they beat you to death.

Crater hill overlooks McMurdo, so it's a natural place to put radio repeaters-- the kind of stuff I work on. It's a killer hike to walk up there, especially carrying tools. The PB works pretty well for that. A coworker had to go up and look at some network equipment, ASAP. He hadn't been to PB training yet, so I agreed to drive. It's actually a LOT more fun to drive a PB than ride in one. The driver's seat is on shocks, and the passenger's are solidly mounted. A PB will rattle your fillings out if you're not in the driver's seat. One good thing about them, though-- they'll climb up a wall. In the picture here where I'm outside the PB, there is a hill right behind me. If it were a ski slope, it would be a double black diamond. The PB drove up it like it was nothing.

It was fun!


We had a skua-sorting party at the Elephant Barn this week. A little background: in the Antarctic program, all waste gets sorted into different bins. There really isn't a category for "trash"; everything is either food waste, plastic, aluminum cans, etc. The USAP is very good about hauling everything out of here, and getting the most good out of it. If something cannot be recycled, it goes in non-recyclables. A good example would be some paper or plastic that is covered in duct tape. A waste category that only exists here is skua.

A skua is a big, scary grey seagull. They hang around all summer, trying to scrounge food or dead pengies. They are all gone now, but were here till about a week ago. I made the mistake of walking out of the back of the galley with a galley bowl of chow as a "doggie bag" for eating later in my room. The skuas know this drill, and are ready. Twice I was dive bombed by a hungry skua. They know if they fly straight at you, there's a chance that they'll drop your chow, and they can pig out. I don't know the reason the waste category was named after the bird-- maybe the opportunistic nature of the birds.

Skua is the big Antarctic Salvation Army. If I don't want my funky old bathrobe any more, I don't throw it in the trash, I put it in skua. The skua bins are full of clothes, books, room decorations, etc. The waste department collects all the skua and puts it in huge cardboard boxes, called triwalls. They pile up all summer, waiting for bored winter folks to sort the stuff out.

We had the skua sorting party to sift the trash out of the valuable stuff. We threw away tons of rags and funky opened food-- stuff like that. The bonus for attending the skua sorting party is that we get to claim any cool stuff we find. I got a wild shirt, a couple nice towels, and a bunch of fake plants for my room. I'll take some pictures when I get it more decorated.

For those of you that are into words (like me), the skua term is an interesting one. It can be a noun, an adjective, or a verb. "I went down to skua to see if I could skua some tupperware." "I left the back of the galley, carrying my skua tupperware, and was accosted by a skua, right next to the skua bin." "I'm going up to skua central to see if I can skua some previously skua'd plaster skuas." "This isn't a new bathrobe, it's skua."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cold, Hot, Trivia, Radio Darts

It's been a crazy last couple of weeks. We had a system come through that gave us some insane winds for a few days. One day last week it was -15F and blowing up a storm-- wind chill of -54F. That's just nippy, any way you slice it. I hate that kind of weather, but you pretty much have to get used to it in the winter.

I have a longer "commute" than many in Mac Town. I have to walk from my dorm to building 155 for breakfast, then down to my office in B159. See earlier posts for references to the "Crairmaster" between meals and work. I broke my previous record and got twenty laps in one day! The Heavy Shop took away the antenna riggers' truck that I had, so I was a complete pedestrian. I had a lot of errands to do around town yesterday that took me around/through the Crary lab, hence the high count of stairs climbed.

This may all seem very strange and pedantic to someone in the real world, but it all makes sense down here. If I didn't include a regimen of doing the stairs on a regular basis, I'd be even more of a couch potato than I would ordinarily be. Face it: twisting screws on radio casings is not a workout.

After our frigid week, the wind stopped blowing. The wind almost NEVER stops blowing around here. My workplace is an old Navy building, poorly insulated. The amount of heat produced by the boilers is usually about right for the ambient conditions.

If the wind dies completely, there is no feedback loop to tell the boilers to take it easy. We experienced some -2F days lately with no wind-- it got hotter'n hell in my building! The summer Comms boss's office is the worst then. It was 92.7F in there when I got to work on Wednesday. I opened the front door and all the windows to try to get it down to a tolerable level.

The town needed some volunteers to move some furniture around. As a fool, I signed up. I helped move extra wardrobes and dressers out of the dorms into a Milvan (cargo container, like you see on ships.). I got so hot from moving all the heavy furniture that I was all sweaty. It was still fairly cold outside (by Real World standards, about 0F) that my hair froze in a crazy array of crispy crinkles. Whenever I went inside, I'd have to doff my rabbit fur hat to keep from passing out from the heat.

I've never gone from so hot to so cold, so many times. I thought my skull would crack!

I have a theory (unsubstantiated by science, so far as I know...) that going from a cold environment to a warm one is the root of our crazy spaciness, as we all experience it in the throes of winter. ( Our bodies are saying "Oh, it's really, really cold out here!", "Oh, you know what? It's really, really warm in here!" several times a day, which seriously jacks with our endocrine system.

So far, it hasn't been that bad. The days are days, the nights are looking more like nights, and the sun is definitely going down.

If I could only figure out a way to shoot darts!...

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Today is three years off of caffeine! I found myself incredibly burned out on drinking too much coffee three years ago and gave it up. I had the headache from hell for two weeks, but have never looked back. More energy, sleep better, and don't have that Wednesday afternoon crash and burn.

Woo Hoo!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I'm officially a month into my winter season now. 31 days. It seems like it's been, oh, about a month. Later on in the winter, the phenomenon of time compression will kick in, but it hasn't done so yet. I found last year that my days were so similar to each other that they would run together. I've heard others comment on that, too. They'll say things like "Last thing I remember it was Tuesday. Now it's August!".

It is definitely starting to get a little dark now. It's pretty normal daylight during the day, but twilight in the middle of the night. We'll have sunlight clear into May-- I'm enjoying it while I can.

To help with the darkness, I mailed a desktop tanning lamp down to myself before I left the states. I was very stoked that I wouldn't have to turn that horrible translucent pale color this winter. Those lights aren't cheap-- this one was over $200. Last night I was moving it, and I noticed that it was ruined in shipping. ARGH! All the stuff I shipped down looked like it had been tossed down two flights of stairs. Not a big fan of the USPS right now!

Monday, March 2, 2009


I've had some inquiries from friends back in the real world about a Jello wrestling incident we had down here. It was over the summer (way before I got here). I understand there was indeed a jello wrestling match that was awkwardly discovered by some Fed types on a tour of the station (after the fact-- they saw the rubber mats and bins of used Jello).

Here's an article about it in the Denver press:

We have, ahem, no such silliness here in the winter...