28/7/2013: Perhaps the main highlight
of the week is finally completing the mammoth task of updating
the copper cable records. This involved validating what
circuit runs on any given copper cable pair, of which there are
over 2000, then correcting the details accordingly in a giant
spread sheet. Fortunately most of isn't too tricky, but then
you'll find a certain pair connected to something unusual to
which the records bear no resemblance. So then you spend hours
crawling under floors and through ceiling spaces trying to find
where the circuit runs and what it connects to. This sometimes
opens another can of worms which you spend another day or two
figuring out and correcting. So checks on each of the 2000+
copper pairs can take anywhere between a few seconds to several
days each to check and record. Yes, it is indeed as boring as
it is time consuming. One of those tasks you know you are
inevitably going to have to do at some stage, but you end up
procrastinating like crazy in the futile efforts to avoid it.
Fortunately that's done now and it's on to slightly less
I was surprised that many of the Americans seem to have a
birthday about now-ish, there are around five of them
celebrating birthdays this week or next. There's always a small
number of Americans who become regular visitors to Scott Base,
so of these people, they like to come over here to Scott Base for
a bit of a party. There was one such event last night which
seemed to go well enough. By now you'll be thinking that all
we do in the weekends is party. Yep, that'd be right.
Though I had to have an early night, as did a few others. It's
that time in the season you're often feeling very tired during
the day, even after a good night of sleep. The constant
darkness and mundane list of work doesn't help matters.
Speaking of parties each weekend, here's a photo from the South
Pole Traverse Party at McMurdo on Saturday last week. Our band
here is Horace (left) on bass, Zac (out of view) on drums,
myself (centre) on guitar and vocals, Harry on harmonica and
Jason (right) on guitar and vocals. I'm not entirely sure why
they had the chain link fence in front of the stage but it added
character while reminding me of that Rawhide scene in Blues
Brothers. Horace said to me "Darn, I ain't played behind a fence
since the 70s, and we sure did need it in those days!" You'll
see the sign on the fence that reads "No throwing beer at band",
which of course actually means to throw as much as possible. I
was doused in spray from ricocheting cans on numerous occasions.
I'm often asked if this season is more enjoyable than the
2010-2011 season. Each season is certainly different due to the
different projects you have on and the different mix of people
you're living with. For example, in 2011 we had a number of
musicians at Scott Base, so we played a lot of music here over
that winter. There's very few this season, so instead I've
ended up playing a lot of music with the Americans instead,
which isn't a bad thing. Another difference is significantly
less snow accumulation. Practically every couple of weeks in
2011 we'd be spending hours digging 3-metre drifts of snow
out of doorways. The photo from above is from this time two
years ago; the result of an hours digging snow away from the
main power house fire exit.
This year in comparison to winter 2011, we've had much less
snow accumulation in general and fewer storms. There's always
blowing snow which quickly covers things as soon as you shovel
it clear. But generally the snow accumulation outside doorways
isn't much more than 10cm or so.
As mentioned, with the tedious and laborious job of the copper
cable records now out of the way, I'm finally onto more
interesting things; though not much more interesting.
Yesterday's effort was designing and building a DC power filter
for the Mt Erebus repeater. Probably more annoying than it is
interesting, but I guess that's part of the job.
21/7/2013: Only three weeks to go until
the first of the winter flights in mid-August where some of the
Antarctic Heritage Trust staff have a bit of a swap out and we
hopefully receive some fresh food.
We're at that inevitable time in the season where everyone is more
forgetful than normal, tempers are shorter than usual and people
seem somewhat less sociable. After dinner time at 7PM I'm
almost always wandering around Scott Base by myself in search
of anyone. Presumably a lot of people retreat to their bedrooms
to read or see movies, I'm not really sure. Not that the bedrooms
are a great place to hang out, they're very small - enough area
to sleep and that's about it.
I suspect they're going through the same thing at McMurdo Station
over the hill, though the Americans have a fantastic large pool
of resources available so are able to host some kind of fun large
social event every couple of weeks or so to keep people interested
and provide the opportunity to let your hair down and have a good
time. Last night featured the South Pole Traverse Party, hosted
in the McMurdo Traverse Workshop. As always, the Americans made
a good job of supplying party food, refreshment and beers. There
were some good sets of live music performed, including my band
which included one of the American ladies as a guest vocalist in
a Joan Jett song. I'd post a few photos of the event, but as
usual when you're creating the action as opposed to observing it,
taking photos is always an issue.
Actually I've been slack all week as far as photos go, so today
I've resorted to pilfering some of Molly's photos - which is
probably a good thing since he actually cares about photography
and goes to some effort to take nice pictures, unlike myself.
For me, the week has been filled with more documentation work,
which included updating records of thousands of copper cable
pairs that have been neglected badly in recent years. These
records detail what cable pairs carry what data, telephone or
public address circuit to what location and how it connects to
other circuits. Without good records, you're just dealing with
a nightmarish spaghetti juntion of cables; which unfortunately
is an all too regular part of this job at times.
This is the MDF or Main Distribution Frame in the back corner of
my workshop. It uses a combination of Krone punch-down blocks
from the Nortel telephone exchange (left) and AT&T type 110
punch-down blocks (right) for distribution. From this central
point there are dozens of 50-pair cables that branch out out to
secondary distribution frames throughout Scott Base and many of
the remote sites and buildings. Most of my week, and probably
all of next, is being consumed by updating records of these
thousands of copper circuits. These carry all telephone
circuits around Scott Base and abroad, public address system,
data circuits and more, including interconnections with McMurdo
So this photo and the ones below this week are all from our
electrician Molly, pictured above. It looks as though he's been
doing more outside work. It has been a little nippy this week
with temperatures hovering around -30C.
I'd almost forgotten we had to endure yet another annoying
winter staff photo because a few people didn't like any of the
many others that had been taken over the season. Anyway,
it turned out that this one, virtually identical to another
that was taken a few weeks back, wasn't any good for some reason
either. I really am at snapping point with the winter photo,
you've got to draw the line or you're spending every waking
moment trying to do photos. Give me a crayon and a piece of
scrap paper and I'll scribble a winter-over photo, I don't care.
And here's another photo of the new Scott Base sign which was
put up to replace the old one in January.
Despite the fact we're still about a month away from seeing the
first sunrise since April, the sky is slowly getting lighter
at mid-day. In the sky above Scott Base, you can easily make
out the ice shelf and the cloudless horizon (on an angle).
Mike celebrated his 30th birthday recently. So in Scott Base
tradition, Damian the chef made him a special cake. Since Mike
works in field support, this cake is in the shape of a polar
OK, I'm thinking of a word beginning with 'f' and ending in
'uck'. That's right; this is a flash new firetruck at McMurdo
Station. They bought two of these last summer to replace their
older trucks. They cost a lot of money and came with a
variety of teething issues, such as the inability to put the
thing into reverse gear!
13/7/2013: It's been fairly quiet on the
social event front this week, though as usual, everyone has been
battling on throughout the working week. It's the monthly two-day
weekend just now, which comes at a good time. Things have been
fairly busy recently and most people have been noticeably more
tired than usual. Except for Tim the sleepy Hobbit who is always
tired anyway. I was fortunate enough to see him in a very rare
wide-awake state this morning, running around with a camera and
tripod as there was reportedly a large aurora outside. Hmm, I
should tell him there's an aurora in the network documentation
cabinet and see if I can catch a glimpse of motivation. Fortunately
I'm not a fan of auroras at all. For so much hype and promise, they
deliver so little in the form of a pitiful green glow in the sky.
The first and last time I saw one in winter 2011 I was so
infuriatingly disappointed that I decided that it was far better
to remain focused on productive stuff; after all, it's what I'm
paid to do. As opposed to sprinting out the door with a cluster
of photography equipment as nearly everyone else seems intent on
doing on an all too often basis.
Weather wise it was a stormy start to the week with winds nearing
40 knots and ambient temperatures below -40C. On Tuesday evening
we were having a quiet drink at the bar before bed time, then at
10:45PM we were suddenly plunged into darkness. It turned out
overhead power lines at McMurdo Station were damaged in the storm
which caused our AC power supply to fail. For these occasions we
have various battery backed up systems in place and it only took a
few minutes to get one of our 200kW generators running to restore
power. Meanwhile, the McMurdo lines people worked hard in the
freezing stormy conditions to fix the power line faults. I admire
their efforts, it's not easy working outside even in good weather
at this time of the year.
The vehicle workshop is filled with Skidoos and other vehicles
which are receiving their annual winter service.
Graeme is fixing a failure of one of the blowers from the waste
water treatment plant. These high volume air pumps push oxygen
rich air through the waste water to help the good bacteria break
down solid waste particles.
The waste water plant blower is a vane pump which has carbon vanes
(blades) that fit into the slots of the circular rotor shown above.
The problem was that the front bearing had become worn and so the
front face of the rotor above was grinding into the end housing.
Circular scratch marks can be seen on the end of the rotor. It
didn't take Graeme long to replace the bearings and get everything
working normally again.
In the electrical workshop, Molly is repairing a damaged terminal
block from a three phase motor. There's always something in
need of attention.
It's also that time in the season where the kitchen gets its
annual deep clean, which Damian the chef is not enjoying. One of
the problems is that most industrial cleaning products cause
damage to the good bacteria in the waste water treatment plant, so
they are trialling a range of new organic and "treatment plant
friendly" cleaning products. Damian is frustrated that many
of these products don't shift a year's worth of built-up grease
as well as the more aggressive "treatment plant un-friendly"
cleaning products do.
Meanwhile, I'm correcting design problems with the HF receiver
speech detector modules made by Hayden, who was doing my job
last winter. Unfortunately he 'ran out of time' and didn't
generate any documentation. And his replication of an existing
design had a number of problems which meant the modules didn't
work so well. So I've spent the week figuring out what he'd
done and then correcting the modules, which detect the
presence of human speech in audio from the receiver, then
activate a UHF FM transmitter that sends the received audio
to Scott Base. The receiver above is a Codan model 7004,
designed in 1972. These single side-band receivers are
still working well after 35 years.
7/7/2013: What a fun week. Genuinely
fun as opposed to sarcastic 'fun' as is usually the case.
Rex and Ray from NASA gave a quick tour of their ground station
which included seeing the 9 metre antenna in action while
automatically tracking a polar orbiting satellite.
The Americans celebrated their annual 4th of July Independence
Day festivities on Friday with a large party that included a
variety of activities including a chili cook-off, pie eating
contest, Human Jenga, beer tasting contest, mini-golf and a
fund raising auction followed by some live music performances.
Our water engineer, Graeme, won the judge's vote for the chili
competition. He'd also won the chili contest at Ice Stock on the
31st of December six months ago. Scott Base had donated
several items for the auction, including a 2 litre tub of ice
cream that sold for US$25, a lettuce plant from our hydroponics
that sold for US$100 and a bottle of Jagermeister from the bar
which cost NZ$42 and sold for US$600. Some of those Americans
would appear to have too much disposable income.
I'd been trying hard to get tickets to the Fleetwood Mac concert
in Auckland NZ in December as a number of us were very keen to
see them, but unfortunately tickets to the two shows had sold out
within minutes of going on sale and we missed out. Unless you
had one of the fastest internet connections in New Zealand (ours
is probably among the slowest, unless there are any cave dwellers
using 1200 baud modems) then you had no hope of buying a ticket.
Fortunately a third show was announced, and Graeme's wife,
Lorraine had a friend with a decent internet connection and the
right kind of credit card, so I was ecstatic to hear that we now
Visiting NASA's ground station on Friday afternoon. The Kevlar
radome houses the 9M diameter antenna which automatically
downloads data from polar orbiting satellites passing overhead
then sends it off over the internet to the satellite's owner.
Tim, our science technician/Hobbit took a decent aurora photo
from Arrival Heights during the week with a fish eye camera lens.
Click on the image for a larger view.
While on the subject, Ben, one of the Americans from McMurdo
Station also took a fantastic panoramic photo from the top of
Observation Hill. Click on the photo to see the full thing.
McMurdo Station on the left side of the cross, our 1MW wind
farm is the two red lights on Crater Hill just to the right of
the cross, Scott Base is the lights to the right and below the
wind farm. Aurora just visible in the clouds at the far right.
To add a bit of perspective via a crappy photo tour from photos
I took in early summer, this is the centre of the enlarged view
from above with Crater Hill in the centre and the wind farm
visible. Mt Erebus far left.
This shows the spot where Ben would have taken the photo (2nd
above) from, the sea ice runway visible centre left on the ocean.
Black Island in the distance where our HF radio receiver site is.
In case you were still wondering what the "Human Jenga" element
of the American's Independence Day party was, a picture tells
a thousand words. Essentially you stack wooden boxes under your
feet in an effort to get as high as possible before the stack
topples from beneath you. The guy below throws up boxes one at
a time as you need them. There's a safety rope so you don't end
up diving face first into the concrete.
Another view of the Human Jenga in action. The party was held
in the McMurdo VMF (Vehicle Maintenance Facility). Thanks to Sue
from AHT for this photo and the one above.
We were the second set of the two bands that night. Our
performance included a collection of music from CCR, Tom Petty,
ELO and more. I wasn't booed off stage so my vocals can't have
been as bad as I thought. My band has adopted the name of
The Johnny 5 Five and consists of Horace just visible on
the far left on bass, Harry on harmonica, myself on vocals and
lead guitar, Zac on drums, Jason (right) on vocals and second