31/7/2016: The ambient light at mid-day is becoming significantly
less subtle with each passing day, a pleasant reminder that sunrise on the 19th of August
is less than three weeks away.
The many people on station who are experiencing an Antarctic winter for the first time
are handing the season in a variety of ways. For most, about now is the deepest
'low-point' in the year due to the temperature being always below -30C, the isolation,
the monotony of work, and the fact it's been over three months since we've seen any
hint of sunlight until now. As a result, it's common for individuals to become short
tempered, moody, forgetful, argumentative and depressed. Being my fourth winter, none
of this comes as a surprise any more, though each season still springs something
different. We have three women on station who seem to be coping much worse than the
guys at the moment. I've seen more tense situations and awkward moments in the past
few weeks than I'd say was normal. Not sure what it is, but some of these chicks seem
to be on the brink of nuclear meltdown at times.
Whatever it is, I hope the return of the sunlight in a few weeks helps to pacify the
frequent tension in the air.
The Christchurch office designed and posted some bright new signs to help clear up
confusion at the many waste sorting and recycling stations around Scott Base.
Despite the fact most of us go to extreme lengths to reduce and sort waste as much
as possible, it's somewhat demoralising to know that much of the carefully sorted
waste streams all just go together into landfill back in NZ at the end of the day.
One of the two diesel engine driven fire pumps on hot standby and ready to run at
a moment's notice. Installed eight years ago, they've only ever been run as part
of weekly maintenance checks and in fire drills.
Steve spending Sunday catching up on a personal job in the light engineering
I went for a stroll outside before, though the camera batteries were having a hard time
at -40C. Despite the limited battery life, I captured a few shots to make the most of
the mid-day ambient light. The photo above shows the Scott Base main power house and
Someone's made a smooth job of clearing the snow from behind the staff accommodation
block. My bedroom is at one of the left windows.
The Field Centre with Mt Terror in the background.
24/7/2016: Aside from the usual chores of helping people in
Christchurch to try and plan and prepare for things this coming summer, it's been yet
another week of paging controller software development work. While software
development can be an interesting job in itself, sadly it's not a very interesting
subject to talk about. Because it's one of those unknown black magic things that
few people either understand or care about, people generally have as much regard for
it as I do for penguins, seals and other Antarctic junk. So I'll save you the
boredom of reading about it. Which leaves me with not much to write about. It is
mid-winter, everyone is irritable and moody as is the norm for this time of the
To help brighten the mood for one of our colleagues who had $700 premium tickets to
see The Cure play live in Auckland on Thursday, but found out three days after
he'd bought them that he was coming here instead, I made a feature of The Cure
music for Thursday's radio show which was particularly well received.
The paging transmitter hardware that I completed a few weeks ago. It's not changed form
at all in the past couple of weeks because I've been writing the software that drives
it all. And it's hard to take an interesting photo of software development. Email me
if you have a fetish for screen grabs of C source code and I'll make your day.
Another one of those jobs that's never finished is shovelling snow from fire exits.
A day after you think you're done, there's another snowfall and it looks as though
you've not shovelled anything. How particularly unrewarding.
Some people are still even finding the occasional thrill of getting that perfect
aurora photo. This isn't one of them. The perfect aurora photo would be of someone
getting something productive done instead. Snow shovelling anyone?
17/7/2016: The scheduled July flight on Friday arrived after
several days weather delay, bringing us one new person and increasing the number on
station to 12 people. The new arrival, Steve, was with us winter last year for some
project engineering work and he's back for more of the same thing for five weeks.
He's most insistent on this short stay. Many of us think there's a lot more than
five weeks of work for him, and for some reason things take significantly longer than
you'd expect here. We think he'll end up staying until the start of main body in
October, while Steve says there's no way his wife will allow that. I guess time will
As expected, the flight bought a spirit-lifting supply of fresh fruit and vegetables
and yet more parts for waiting jobs.
Here's a belated photo of the Americans' mid-day 4th of July parade held a couple of
weeks ago. What more can you say, you've got to admire their dedicated patriotism.
We recently had a cheese fondue evening. For many of us, it was a fondue first. I
didn't know what to expect, but in short you dip lumps of bread into a cheese sauce
then eat it. I was unsure at first, the sauce smelled like sweaty socks and didn't
taste that much better. Apparently it's one of those flavours that grows on you,
though my final conclusion was that it's not to my taste.
I performed a mid-winter inspection of the three phase power cable and fibre optic cable
that runs nearly 5km from Scott Base to the Satellite Earth Station. Certain areas are
known for snow accumulation which buries the cable, then the downhill snow movement pulls
the cable and can cause significant damage. The work completed this summer to elevate the
cable clear of these deep snow drifts appears to be working well; while the cable is under
a small amount of snow in places, there's no problems with sideways pressure trying to pull
the cable in half.
Robbo called into the McMurdo Station Skua Central, he's found himself a half-used
tub of protein powder. This small building is essentially a community recycling centre.
People who are leaving can donate reusable clothing, board games, books, snacks and other
supplies to Skua Central and anyone can come and help themselves to anything. Almost
everyone on Ross Island at some point ends up with some items of clothing from here. While
it's rarely fashionable, at least it's free and certainly better than nothing.
10/7/2016: As usual for this time of the year, I've got few in
the way of interesting photos to display. Not only the -30C temperatures and constant
darkness not make for any decent outdoor photography, there's just the regular routine
of work happening inside which rarely presents a great deal of interest.
Fortunately we're having an easier time than the Americans are with another round of
issues with their remote satellite earth station at Black Island. A number of recently
developed faults have required a day's traverse by a maintenance team to repair the
facility which is unmanned in winter. Fortunately their 40-something kilometre trip by
Pisten Bully appeared to go without too many of the usual hassles and they arrived on
site last night to begin several days of work. Fingers crossed the good weather holds
out for them. The McMurdo weather forecaster, John, loves to liven up his
weather reports with a
bit of rap music.
A major portion of my week has involved the development of the control software to
operate the recently developed store and forward paging repeater hardware. It's around
half way complete; the photo above of the setup I'm using for software development.
The Otago University's annual sea ice monitoring probe has also been installed to monitor
the growth rate of the sea ice. I designed the radio telemetry system for it last year, which
provides near real time ice growth data to their website
in New Zealand.
An age long 'tradition' between Scott Base and McMurdo Station is the acquisition of the
other station's property in jest. The latest event was an Email we received this week
with a ransom photo from a fake address that read:
Obviously they want four of the Macs Green Beret beers we have in limited supply in
exchange for the trophy, which was once used for the annual mid-summer rugby
competition. But the rugby is no-more because management figured it wasn't safe, making
the trophy somewhat redundant. As far as we're concerned, they've done us a favour by
getting rid of our trash. And those Green Berets sure do taste good!
From: dan carter [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, 4 July 2016 8:12 a.m.
Subject: Ross Island Cup
You may recognize the trophy. It's ours now.
We have *your* trophy. You have *our* soldiers.
Give us 4 Green Berets and we'll give you your trophy back. Even swap.
3/7/2016: Just as all of the mid-winter celebrations have come to
an end, the Americans at McMurdo Station are in the process of celebrating their 4th of
July celebrations, which is a big event for these guys. Friday night consisted of a
rare treat of a charcoal barbeque followed by a chili cook-off, a talent show and
various carnival type attractions and activities.
You might be thinking that it sounds like all play and no work much of the time. On the
contrary I've been busy with various work projects, including a paging transmitter to
resolve the 20 year old issue of the lack of indoor radio paging coverage due to the
radio signal shielding effect of the Scott Base buildings.
Radio paging transmitter work in progress with my own design of optical input isolation
and RS232 to RS422 data interface for sending data long distance over copper cable.
One of the 4th of July carnival events at the McMurdo social event on Friday (the 1st of
July). A lot of creative and interesting ideas, people make these things in their spare
time outside of work, mostly using recycled materials.
Gracie operating the Freedom Cuts booth. The sign stated "Mullets and Mohawks
only". Many people were in desperate need of a haircut anyway and this was convenient
and free. Unsurprisingly, many people on station are now sporting a very punky Mohawk
or very redneck Mullet. Or a combination of both.
The Human Jenga event is always popular with those who like climbing and have excellent
balance. The photo says it all; someone throws boxes up to you which you stack under
your feet to get as high as possible before you inevitably loose balance and take a