26/4/2015: After a week of flight
delays from the NZ Air Force C-130, the cargo flight
was cancelled on Tuesday. The delays were partly due to
unfavourable weather at this end, but mostly due to
"mechanical issues" with the aircraft, so we were informed.
This got many people upset as they'd been waiting on
important cargo, including cable ties and data cable for the
Field Centre remodelling project. As a result, there were
many not very nice things to be said about the NZ Air Force by
certain Scott Base staff and some of the Americans from over
the hill at McMurdo Station. However, it didn't affect me
at all; while I'm waiting on some small parts to complete a
few repair jobs, there's nothing critical. Besides, everyone
knew it was an experimental flight, it was never guaranteed.
If you're familliar with winter here, waiting for months for
important and urgent cargo is just a fact of life. If you
can't pre-plan, then you just have to suck it up and wait.
It's not like there's any assured deliveries, nor can you
just pop down to the hardware store.
Also this week has been the last sunset. After rising at 12PM
on Friday and setting at 1:40PM, it's now below the horizon
until the 19th of August. We've still got reasonable light
levels outside for a few hours in the middle of the day, but
this will rapidly draw to a close over the coming few weeks
after which time it'll be dark all day. I'm already getting
depressed about it even though I've done the winter thing
twice before, so know exactly what to expect.
The ANZAC commemoration yesterday morning was nice too.
We did the usual thing of the 10AM dawn service at the
flagpole, accompanied by around 30 American visitors;
followed by morning tea with fresh ANZAC biscuits.
The ANZAC dawn service at the Scott Base flagpole at 10AM
It's unusual to have any military personnel here over winter,
but we happen to have Corporal Ben Armstrong who is with us
this winter. So as the sole NZ Defence Force representative,
he was on flag lowering duty.
A nice mid-day shot of Mt Erebus from Becky, taken late
The same thing as above, taken a week earlier by Steve
Perry. He's part of the McMurdo Photography Club, along
with a few other Scott Base members and this photo was
a part of one of their photography assignments.
Unfortunately I hate photography, but I do enjoy many
of their photos.
Folks back home are often asking what projects I have in
the works. Those who know me know that I usually have
something interesting in the pipeline. For the last few
weeks I've been working on embedded software and
designing/building the associated hardware for a multiple tone
encoder-decoder, which is just finished this week. Should
have the technical documentation finished tomorrow.
signalling decoder in operation in a Tait T800 radio module
rack. The decoder identifies which site is transmitting
into the linked radio network and only lets received audio
through after it's deemed to be from a valid radio site.
This will help to track down some of the ongoing interference
problems which cause a few headaches each summer.
Unfortunately with a combined network of radio channels
spread over a very large area, it's almost impossible to
find the source of the interference, so this newly completed
project will help immensely with interference location.
19/4/2015: The bad news is that the single
April freight supply flight on the C-130 Hercules operated by
the NZ Air Force has been delayed for five days in a row now
due to a "mechanical fault". There seems to be a lot of
important cargo riding on this flight for both the Americans
and for the Field Centre construction work here at Scott Base,
so needless to say, there's not a lot of nice things being
said about the reliability of the NZ Air Force. It's now
scheduled for tomorrow, but no-one is holding their breath.
The good news is that the separate passenger flight on the
Australian operated Airbus went like clockwork yesterday.
Perhaps because it wasn't run by the NZ Air Force. It left
Hobart and touched down at the Pegasus Airfield here on
schedule at 12:17PM, then even left half an hour ahead of
schedule at 1:30PM, destined for Christchurch. It was fairly
busy going out with 48 passengers, which included nine from
Scott Base. We didn't receive any new people from this
flight, through the Americans had a dozen or so.
So the departures yesterday have bought us from 28 to 19 on
station, now it's feeling a lot more like winter. We're
already missing some of the people who left, though everyone
has breathed a collective sigh of relief that the onesie
wearing NZ Defence Force crew have departed. Apparently the
motivation and productivity of some of the Defence Force
engineering team members on the Field Centre build project
has been rapidly declining in recent weeks. One of the
project staff members said yesterday that it was the most
productive day they've had yet. For a start all his tools
didn't keep disappearing throughout the day.
In the Scott Base locker room yesterday at 11AM everyone was
there to wish farewell to the nine people leaving for
This was the sight at Pegasus Airfield yesterday afternoon not
long after the Australian Airbus landed just after 12PM. For
some reason this photo make it appear darker than it actually
is. We still have sun above the horizon between 10:30AM and
The Airbus taking off from the Pegasus ice runway at 1:30PM
yesterday with 48 passengers on board, 9 of them from Scott
A couple of my work photos from the week; we have some
long term storage containers outside, a few minutes walk
up the hill behind Scott Base. On walking back from the
containers I saw the nice sunset just after 3PM and
remembered I had the camera in my pocket.
Facing 180 degrees from the above photo is the view of
the wind farm and Crater Hill.
While I managed to avoid the Scott Base annual mini golf
last Sunday, here are some photos of some of the holes
that were set up around the place. Above, Kate gives the
Hatherton Lab fake volcano and astro turf course a whirl.
Personally I think it would have been much more fun with
a real volcano; Mt Erebus is just out the back door.
Kate seems to be done with the fake volcano now. She's now
unleashing her frustrations on the Q-Hut ramp obstacle
course. Which would probably be easier with much less crap
deliberately piled in the way.
This is the Observation Hill Cross with the new protective
cover that was fitted to it last month. The memorial cross
is in need of some tender loving care after being weather
beaten for just over 100 years. More comments on this on
last month's page.
12/4/2015: The uncommon event of April
flights is less than a week away, with a cargo C130 flight
next Wednesday and the Australian Airbus scheduled for
passenger movement on Saturday; all weather dependant of
course. Fortunately the weather has been settled, but
bitterly cold. No, really; who would have expected that from
being in Antarctica?! Though working outside yesterday in
20 knots of wind and an ambient temperature of -33C was
certainly less than pleasant.
But the idea of winter flights every six weeks certainly makes
my job easier. Instead of having to wait five months for any
urgent parts you might happen to need, delivery is possible in
a third of that time. Around 12 people from Scott Base are
leaving next week, reducing our numbers to 19-ish. Most of the
people departing are the NZ Army Light Engineering Team, who
were tasked with the hangar floor replacement and helping out
with the field centre remodelling work. Some of them are
excellent workers. And some of them like to wear onesies (the
single-piece jump-suits you'd expect small children to
wear), silly wigs and hats, and play these weird push-up games
all day, much to the annoyance of the construction staff.
Though apparently "it's the Army way". Oh dear.
After observing this, one thing is certain - if New Zealand
does actually ever go to war, we're boned. Enemy forces would
surely make short work of these onesie wearing weirdoes.
Today happens to be the annual Scott Base mini-golf day. And
unfortunately I don't like golf unless the balls were to be
replaced by either kangaroos or penguins, though apparently
we're not allowed to do that. Plus it's almost a certainly
that everyone is going to dress up stupidly and look stupid.
Instead, a trip to McMurdo's lounge bar might be in order to
help preserve what little remains of my sanity.
The field centre remodelling work is making surprisingly good
progress. Work over the last few weeks has included the
installation of new windows to let ambient light into the new
work spaces which are being constructed at present.
Other work in the field centre has included expanding the
existing fire sprinklers into the new work areas and converting
the system from an air-pressurised dry system to a wet system.
Originally it was dry because no-one really knew how the building
would get used and water in the sprinkler pipes would freeze if
the inside of the building got cold. As it turns out, it's warm
all of the time, so the system is being turned into water on
demand sprinklers, the same as the rest of Scott Base. During
the filling of the pipes with water, someone had accidentally
left a drain valve open, which just happened to be in the potato
store. Around 60 litres of water drained over the potatoes, which
had to be spread out to dry to prevent our year's supply of
potatoes from spoiling.
The JASART (Joint Antarctic Search And Rescue Team) run regular
training sessions to develop new skills. The team is made up of
people in 'regular' jobs from both Scott Base and McMurdo, and
most of them have little or no previous experience of such things,
hence the regular training sessions. Unfortunately these means of
'developing experience' has in the past resulted in these guys
needing to be rescued when a training exercise goes pear shaped.
Thanks to Becky for this photo and the one below.
Allen at work in the McMurdo Station fresh water plant. They
use reverse osmosis to produce fresh water from sea water, the
same as Scott Base does. They just do it on a much bigger
On a weekly visit to the McMurdo Station Store, we often buy a
case of decent American beer. US$32 for a box of 24 bottles of
Fat Tyre amber ale
or Sierra Nevada pale ale.
They also carry a general range of souvenirs, clothing, snack
food and bathroom supplies.
Craig and Pat from McMurdo volunteering to cook at the
Gallagher's pub burger bar on Wednesday night. They make
delicious burgers to order, for the price of a few tipping
Our temporary water engineer, Graeme, is leaving next week.
He's saved a few of his favourite beers, Old Chub,
for some special occasions. They don't have any more of this
strong 8% beer at McMurdo this year, so any remaining cans
are in short supply.
A few people back at home have been asking what projects I've been
working on lately. At present I'm working on a multiple tone CTCSS
decoder-encoder which will identify which radio site is
transmitting into the linked VHF network in order to help find and
fix interference problems in summer, plus prevent the Communications
Operators from hearing unwanted noise. The project is a combination
of analogue audio filters, zero crossing detectors and a
microcontroller to perform measurement and timing of the sub-audible
tone signalling. At present it just looks like a messy bunch of
wires and things, which is a typical early stage of any electronics
YAGPA - Yet Another Group Photo Attempt. "It wasn't as good as the
hangar group photo because everyone's faces are shaded because the
sunlight is coming from behind!" Hmmm... three available options:
1. Take it in a different place, 2. Take it at a different time,
3. Shift the earth or sun. Just whatever happens to be easiest.
We've still got plenty of sunlight over the day, sunrise today at
9:30AM and setting at 4:20PM.
5/4/2015: Easter Sunday and being the
first weekend of the month, it's a long (2-day) weekend.
Unlike the rest of New Zealand, Easter Friday and Monday are
just regular work days at Scott Base. We usually get
Christmas Day and New Year's Day off and that's about it. But
I think public holidays worked are paid at time and a half,
so at least there's some financial gain to be had.
The 2-day weekend couldn't have come at a better time. Despite
there still being plenty of daylight left (sunrise at 9:30AM,
set at 6:30PM), a lot of people are on station are feeling
tired and over-worked.
McMurdo Station has done a great job on the recreation front
yet again with a range of activities over Easter. Including
the Carpenters' Workshop party on Friday night, Horse Shoe
Competition on Saturday, plus Burrito bar this afternoon in
the pub which sounds like an interesting thing for a Sunday
lunch - I think I'll head over shortly.
Lovely sunrises and sunsets at this time of the year - though
I don't have photos of them. But here's an evening shot of
Mt Erebus with the setting sun giving the volcano and steam
plume a nice shade of colour.
Wednesday after work was the "hangar floor finished celebration
barbeque". The unheated building is normally cold and miserable
at the best of times, but the beers and BBQ exceeded all my
expectations. A pity that the bingo night in the bar afterwards
didn't meet any of my expectations, other than my suspicions that
bingo should be exclusively reserved for old ladies.
Kate and Becky walking up the main street of McMurdo yesterday.
Walking into the head-on strong wind at -30C was actually
painful despite being well wrapped up. You get an instant
"ice cream headache" and it feels as though you're getting
knifed in the face.
Being unsure exactly what a horse shoe throwing tournament
involved, I went along with Graeme and Lex to check it out.
Of course the free beers provided by the crew of the McMurdo
VMF (Vehicle Maintenance Facility) was an added incentive.
The VMF workshop floor was transformed into the horse shoe
pitch with the addition of four purpose built and obviously
well used steel bunkers containing a central post/stake and
filled with a base of gravel. The game is relatively simple:
a team of two play against an opposing team by throwing two
horse shoes at a time - if the shoe goes around the post it's
three points, if the shoe lands within one shoe width of the
post, it's one point. The first team to 15 points wins that
round and the winning team goes on towards the final knockout
An associated hazard of the game is that if the throw is not
accurate, then the horse shoe can ricochet off the edge of the
steel bunker and fly into people and objects, or if the thrower
is a little bit liquored, the throws can often miss the bunker
completely. Hence you need to keep a sharp eye out, ready to
dodge incoming horse shoe projectiles. The windows of Ivan the
Terra Bus, in the workshop for maintenance, have been covered
with plywood and cardboard to prevent damage from rouge flying
If two opponent's horse shoes are a similar distance to the post,
sometimes they need to be measured to decide who gets the point.
The VMF crew also showed off their new charcoal barbeque, built
over summer out of an old propane tank. Truly a marvel to behold;
if it's one thing Americans excel at, it's barbequing. Some
delicious cheese burgers and sausages on the grill.
Moose, the McMurdo (power) linesman, gives thumbs-up approval
of his double decker Mooseburger.
Hooper, what are you doing with that ale can, Hooper?