30/8/2015: Finally, the end of an expectedly
hectic week. The constant stormy weather over this week resulted
in no aircraft movements until today. This was a mixed blessing for
some of the nine people visiting Scott Base for a number of different
jobs. Some people had all of their work finished in two days so
would have been happy to get home on time. Others welcomed the
unplanned extended stay in order to get more work done than
In summary, it's gone well enough. The four flooring specialists
completed all of their vinyl laying work in just a few days, so
spent the remainder of this week doing extra tidy-up jobs which
never get done unless you have a bunch of specialists with excess
time on their hands. The NIWA chaps performed repairs to their
faulty instrument and were finished in a day.
And after a week of forecasted storms and daily flight cancellations,
this morning we've been rewarded with the first beautiful day in
quite some time. The sky was clear and the temperature a near
tropical -14C as we farewelled the nine visitors and four departing
project staff at 8:30 this morning. A bittersweet moment, it'll
be great for the place to revert to a quieter and calmer state
with less people about, but I'll certainly miss a couple of the
Now the four week countdown to main body begins. There's much work to
get done in a relatively short time before the new people arrive.
This was the scene in the Scott Base locker room at 8:30 this morning
as we farewelled the 13 people leaving.
And there they go on the way to Pegasus airfield, hitching a ride in
one of the American passenger vans.
The exterior of the carpenter's workshop following the week of
stormy weather. Everything is covered in snow, which will all be
gone in a few months when summer arrives.
There are more vehicles than there is indoor space to store them,
so nearly everything has to bear the brunt of the winter weather.
The snow piles into every available nook and cranny, filling up
engine compartments and blowing into the vehicle interior though
every available gap in the door seals.
Though the sun officially rose over a week ago, we've not seen any
of it due to constant heavy cloud and snow. The view out the window
this morning suggests we may be lucky enough to see that unfamiliar
bright ball of light in the sky that has been eluding us since
And since I've been waiting all week for freight to arrive for the
next major project in changing satellite equipment to a different
type, I've been tackling a few other minor jobs I didn't expect to
have time to complete; such as the design and build of this audio
combining unit. It filters and sums audio from different radio
channels so that emergency signalling from users in the field will
be received and presented to the emergency signalling decoder. So
that when the Comms Operators are more concerned with watching
Faceb**k videos all day instead of responding to emergency calls
on the radio, the people in the field now have a chance of actually
getting a response when needed.
23/8/2015: We've arrived at the annual 'Winfly'
period; this word is a contraction of winter and flights. For years
this period in August has been the only scheduled flights over winter,
though this year has been the first of the six weekly scheduled
flights, which has not been completely without a few issues along the
Weather wise, August and September are challenging times of the year.
Ironically enough, while the mid-winter months of June and July have
the coldest average temperatures of around -30C, the weather seems
more settled and predictable. August and September are renowned
for surprise storms. This week has been no exception. The first of
the Winfly flights were supposed to be on Thursday, though it was as
if they'd somehow scheduled the flights to coincide perfectly with
an approaching storm. As such, the flights have been delayed every
day from Thursday until today, presenting constant challenges to the
logistics coordinators, plus the people who need to reorganise hotel
rooms for a couple of hundred Americans staying in Christchurch.
Plus the people who need to clear the snow drifts from the Pegasus
airfield and smoothly groom the 3-mile ice runway.
As of now, one of the two first flights is in the air on the five
hour flight from Christchurch to Pegasus airfield. We're expecting
nine temporary people to arrive on the second flight today, who are
all expecting to return on the final flight sometime next week after
they've completed a number of jobs. They were expecting to be
spending a week here at Scott Base; however the arrival date has crept
forward in time, while the final return flight date to Christchurch
seems to have gone unchanged. It's going to be a busy week ahead.
The first sunrise was technically this week as well, not that we saw
much through the near constant cloud. The days are quickly becoming
brighter, as shown by the sun behind Mt Terra Nova yesterday at
One of my more significant jobs this week was commissioning the new
Zetron M4010 dispatcher console. Actually, this unit is identical
to the original unit that has been in service since the mid 1990s,
only the labelling now looks one step up from the minimalist attempts
of a gorilla mashing on the keyboard of a label tape machine. The
other issue was that some of the keys were becoming a little worn and
hard to press on the original unit, plus there was an ongoing risk
that the communications operators would blow up the console by
touching the unit before discharging static electricity build-up from
themselves first, and there was nothing onsite to replace it and
get the radio communications dispatch working again at short notice.
Static electricity and sensitive electronics is an ongoing issue
here. The low humidity means that static electricity build-up is
much more than you'd experience back home. Meaning that people
frequently forget to discharge themselves by touching nearby
metalwork before touching electronics. After blowing up several
of their own personal electronic items in this way, some people
gradually learn. Others don't.
The Caterpillar 924K loader being defrosted in the vehicle workshop
so that it's ready to unload some of the pallets of cargo that will
be arriving on the flights over the next few days.
Keith the power/fuel engineer has been busy with the 6-month
maintenance on the boilers this week. This involves cleaning
the fire box, checking fuel pressure and calibrating the fuel/air
mix for optimum combustion of the AN8 low temperature diesel.
Looking east over the Ross Ice shelf yesterday at 11AM, the vehicle
hitching rail and the 'Koru Lounge' helicopter departure terminal
in the foreground.
16/8/2015: Despite our isolated location,
we're generally well in touch with folks back home in New Zealand.
Telephone and Email makes it fast and easy to communicate, unlike
25 years ago where there was one or two telephone lines provided
by HF radio back to NZ, which you had to book several weeks in
advance if you wanted to call someone back home.
One downside of this ease of communications is that you're well
aware of the many fun things that you're missing out on back in
the real world. Just simple things such as going to a craft beer
tasting, or Beervana which is
on this weekend in Wellington, with 276 delicious beers on offer.
It would be fair to conclude that I'd rather be there,
as opposed to being stuck here dealing with someone else's yet
another minimal effort in any task at hand.
I'm often asking myself if it's really worth it. While the
financial remuneration for the job is certainly nothing to
rave home about, it's offset by the fact you have minimal
expenses while here. For example, food, transport, accommodation
and clothing are all provided, which amounts to something like
NZ$12,000 per year; which then brings remuneration similar to
what you'd expect back in NZ. But then factor in that you work
10 hour days for 6 days a week, plus being on call for 24 hours
per day for 365 day a year without a break, plus many evenings
of afterhours base chores that you're expected to do on top of
the 60+ hour work week. Plus you're effectively imprisoned here
and unable to enjoy any of the fun activities you'd take for
granted back home. Would you consider working like this
continuously for a year with what translates to a fairly average
hourly rate at best? Am I simply insane for doing this? Well,
Each Saturday at 3:15PM we all group together in the dining
room to discuss planning, coming events and safety topics such
as it being cold outside and that the ice on the ground can
be slippery. I'm not making any of this up! I can actually
feel the life draining from me during these mundane meetings,
which are followed by activities of getting everyone else to
do a part of someone else's job that they don't want to do.
Kate and a bunch of helpers changing the batteries in the K131
sea ice probe data logger. How many people does it take to go
out and change a battery? For reasons unknown, a lot.
The sea ice probe consists of a 2 metre long temperature sensor
protruding into the sea ice with a data logger in a box. The
antenna on the left side sends the collected data to a radio on
Crater Hill, which is then sent to a computer at Scott Base.
Replacing the battery only needs to occur once every few months
and involves opening the lid of the box and moving the crocodile
clips from the existing battery to the freshly charged one. For
some reason this takes a great number of people and happens at
surprisingly regular intervals. Meanwhile back at Scott Base,
a small number of us actually have stuff to get done in order to
avoid working 16 hour days.
On Friday a group of the Field Centre project staff who are
leaving next week (and some of the staff who aren't leaving) took
the day off for a trip to visit Captain Scott's old hut at
Cape Evans. The route along the sea ice crosses various
cracks, which need to be drilled in order to assess if it's
thick enough for the Hagglund tracked vehicle to cross without
the need to lay down the bridging platforms.
Scott's hut at Cape Evans at mid-day last Friday. We're only a
few days away from the first sunrise. As these photos show,
they nearly have full daylight out there already for an hour or
two in the afternoon.
And the never-ending quest for group photos continues. This one
taken yesterday in the new meeting room in the Field Centre that
used to be the gymnasium. I'm the one on the far right, looking
Followed immediately afterwards by a group photo in the new
gymnasium area in the Field Centre, which used to be the field
food store. I'm the one on the far right, looking even more
9/8/2015: At the end of every month I
write a summary report of various activities, jobs and projects
over the month. As you've got no hope of remembering what you
did yesterday, let alone a month ago; every day I keep a list
containing a short description of what I did for that day, such
as writing reports. Looking at my list for this past week, it's
been as busy as usual, but mind-numbingly boring, so I'm doing
you a favour by sparing you the details.
It's under two weeks until the WinFly (Winter Flight) period,
which happens annually around the 20th of August. This
year there are around five flights in total, which are
delivering over 150 people to McMurdo Station as they're
beginning a lot of science early this season. Scott Base will
see a temporary influx of contractors to finish some of the
more specialised Field Centre work, plus a few science folks,
all of who will depart on the last WinFly flight, leaving us
with around 15 people on station until the beginning of main
body at the start of October.
We have a weekly base meeting each Saturday, and I had to
laugh when yesterday it was revealed (unsurprisingly) that the
new wireless access points were used by several people, nearly
exclusively, for looking at 'very naughty' websites. The IT
department have set up this software which is supposed to prevent
this sort of dodgy behaviour, but in reality, it prevents you from
viewing things such as equipment manuals, component datasheets,
telephone lists and other necessary work related information,
but apparently it's no problem to browse the dodgy stuff. Great,
sounds like an excellent use of money expanding the data circuit
bandwidth to cater for the browsing of highly objectionable
material. As leased data circuits over satellite are hideously
expensive, you'd expect the IT department to more actively
monitor and manage traffic, but as it's a no-blame culture,
this kind of thing seems perfectly acceptable.
"Open up the furnace door Bob, we got another tub of hundred
dollar bills to throw in!"
I was touched (in a pleasant sort of non-Rolf Harris way) by
this picture made by 5 year old Luke Hill. Hopefully the actual
plane isn't made out of newspaper, but even if it was, it would
still be significantly more reliable than anything owned/managed
by the NZ Air Force. In fact I'm thinking of a military job that
Luke would be better at than the existing people who do it....
Actually, make that jobs, I can't think of any military
jobs that Luke wouldn't be better at. Except maybe surfing
Facebook all day and wearing onesies, which are apparently key
military activities. Yet more worthy use of taxpayers' money.
The mid-day almost daylight continues to brighten slightly
each day. At 1PM there's enough light to see out over the
sea ice pressure ridges.
Here's Steve, Pip and Dave performing the final edits on their
Antarctic 48-hour film festival last Sunday. Yes, apparently
it's compulsory to have some weird 'n' nasty beard if you're
part of an Antarctic film making group. Their entry turned out
better than I expected, perhaps a possible finalist in the
competition. We saw a few of the other films entered from
Japan and Russia last night. They ranged from not too bad
to utterly dreadful. I had to stop watching and go do something
less painful, such as counting all of the snowflakes on the Ross
Aside from more work as part of the Field Centre renovation
project, I've spent nearly half the week developing software to
automatically generate telephone toll call reports from the raw
network data in order to help resolve ongoing issues with the
billing system in Auckland. In case you're wondering, the
software is written in the common powerful scripting language,
Rexx. My development is
done using the Cubic
text editor under AmigaOS. I don't get provided with any
development tools, so practically everything is done using
tools I own personally.
2/8/2015: Thankfully this is a 'long' 2-day
weekend, marked by the first Saturday of the month. This has
provided a much needed break from the monotony of work and
sleepless nights over the past couple of weeks. Actually, the
work has been going OK, it's just that six day weeks of 10-hour
work days without breaks, including the fact that half of most
evenings are spent washing dishes then working behind the bar,
really grinds you down.
Needless to say, it's been great to unwind for a couple of days.
Though some of the others have opted to put a lot of time and effort
into both organising and participating in the Antarctic 48-hour
film festival. The short explanation of this is that there are
around 20 different Antarctic winter-over bases participating in
the film competition, which began on Saturday. So that filming
didn't start ahead of schedule, the criteria are that the films
must contain each of the four surprise elements, which have come
from different bases. These are; a toilet, some peas (the food),
a 'boinging' sound and the phrase "it's a very complicated
algorithm". So they spent all of yesterday filming clips
for this and are spending today editing it all together, I have
no idea what the plot of this 5-minute movie is, though I've seen
a few props about the place, including a snow woman, which I
spotted in the drying room inside last night, slowly melting in
front of a time lapse camera. One can only imagine....
Damon pictured above with the snow woman created as a prop or
character for the Antarctic 48-hour film festival. They've used
fruit to make the facial features.
Towing the snow woman inside to the drying room yesterday to
gradually melt in front of the time lapse camera.
Meanwhile, the transcontinental darts games continue. Scott Base
played the French station, Dumont d'Urville, last weekend via video
conference. They also played against one of the German bases last
night by telephone. This is the Scott Base team pictured above; from
left to right is Damon, Darryn, Dave, Steve, Tim and Andy.
The administration area linkway is getting a repaint of the feature
wall. It turns out that the dark green paint that was applied last
year gets marked very easily. For some reason, some people like to
drag their hands along the wall when walking by, which leaves
long, annoying, wavy horizontal streaks. Personally I'd find it
easier simply to solve the root cause of the problem and just shoot
the people who do this, but they've instead decided to repaint the
wall with a different type of paint in the same dark green colour.
And look who I met walking down the hallway; hello, it's Keith the
power/fuels engineer. He has a high-rolling $5 bet going with his
wife back in NZ that he can go the entire season without a haircut
and only minor trimming of his very out of control whiskers. Just
don't let this high staking gambler into the horse races!
Work wise, I've been up to my all-time favourite activity of
re-doing previous jobs that have been done with the least amount
of effort possible to the lowest possible standard. This telephone
distribution frame in the Field Centre used to be a giant tangle of
wires that was impossible to work with. I pulled it all out and
installed this type-110 distribution frame, which for the first time
ever, even includes state of the art features, such as labelling.
I'd post a photo of what it looked like before, but I don't want
to be responsible for viewers experiencing ongoing night terrors
and the natural urge to gouge out one's own eyes in self-preservation.
Another of my jobs during the week was completing the termination
of the new float charging system on the battery storage benches.
The batteries in the bottom level are from our remote radio sites,
which are only deployed in summer when there is sunlight to provide
solar power. Prior to winter, the radio equipment and batteries
are stored in the warm at Scott Base. The batteries now plug into
this new float charging bench which maintains their level of charge
over winter, also meaning they're immediately ready to go when
summer rolls on.
Darryn the carpenter gives me the big thumbs up on seeing the new
float charging system in the battery room all working perfectly
first time. Darryn did the re-fit of the entire room, including
building the new benches.
A couple of photos here from Josh Swanson; one of the two McMurdo
power line maintenance men. He's right into photography and
especially loves long exposure shots which exaggerate the stars in
the dark daytime sky. This shot is of one of the various art
sculptures around McMurdo Station, The Tin Man.
Another of Josh Swanson's arty photos, turns out that I'm the photo
exhibit in this case. Photo taken at the 4th of July horse shoes
tournament, which involved me throwing horse shoes across the American
Vehicle Maintenance Facilty while everyone else screams and dives for cover.