30/6/2013: Aside from the usual bustle
of activity during the working week, I was fortunate enough to
receive a personal invitation from NASA to watch the
solar research satellite launch on Thursday. The NASA ground
station at McMurdo was the first ground station to track the
new satellite launched from California as it entered orbit,
racing across the sky at over 20,000km/hr. It was a pleasure
to watch such a calm and professionally executed launch which
involved control centres all over the world each linked with
live video and audio.
On the social events calendar, the Americans at McMurdo Station
are preparing for their Independence Day/4th of July celebrations
this coming Friday. This features a range of carnival activities
ranging from human Jenga to a dunk-tank to candy floss making.
Money raised goes to a needy charity. My Scott Base band is
performing a set of music for the event as well, which is
chewing up most of my spare time at present with various
practice sessions. The band now consists of myself and four
Americans and has since adopted the name of "The Johnny 5 Five".
We've even found a bass player from somewhere. I turned up for
a rehearsal session at McMurdo last Thursday and there was a
67-year old guy by the name of Horace there with a bass guitar.
No-one seems to know how he got to be there, but I'm not
complaining, he's a needy addition.
Mid-winter on 21/22nd of June is also when the moon is the
closest to the Earth, known as the 'Super Moon'. We were
fortunate enough to have a break in the cloud to see this
spectacular event. During the day there was so much light
from the moon that even Mt Erebus in the distance was visible.
Thanks to Molly for the photo.
As promised from last week, a photo of our mid-winter dinner
celebrations which included our 15 Scott Base staff and about 25
Someone requested more photos of me. I'm not sure why, I'm
anything but photogenic. But here I am at the mid-winter dinner.
The last of our fresh fruit ran out during the week. The
delicious NZ Royal Gala apples had been lasting surprisingly
well. We'll have to wait until the mid-winter flights in
August before we see any more fruit that isn't canned or
frozen. Meanwhile our trusty hydroponics unit continues to
produce fresh rocket and lettuce.
Here's Rex and Ray hard at work at the McMurdo NASA ground station
during the launch of the IRIS
research satellite from California on Thursday. Rex on the left is
looking after telemetry control of the satellite while Ray monitors
the antenna tracking systems.
They have a monitor that shows internet fed video from various
sources throughout the mission. This is live video filmed from
the F18 chase jet following the Orbital L-1011 carrier aircraft
which carried the Pegasus launch vehicle (a type of mini-rocket) to
39,000 feet where the Pegasus vehicle was released and ignited.
The photo above is the Pegasus just after ignition.
There are control centres over the world which are involved
in the launch, most of them can see each other via internet video
as seen in the photo above.
After the Pegasus launch vehicle is out of camera view of the
F18 chase jet, a NASA produced animation shows the progress of
the vehicle into orbit. When destination orbit is reached, the
satellite at the tip of the vehicle is released. Its folded
solar arrays are visible in the animation.
23/6/2013: What a week, filled with both
celebration and tragedy. On Monday morning I received the
unfortunate news that my co-worker, Steve Locke, from Downer
Engineering had passed away following a battle with aggressive
brain cancer. The news did not come as a surprise as it was
common knowledge that Steve's health had been deteriorating
rapidly in recent weeks. He first noticed problems when
working here at Scott Base with me for a couple of weeks last
October. He was often drooling unexpectedly and during
conversation he would occasionally reply with a nonsensical string
of random words. He got it checked out after returning home to
Christchurch and they found a series of brain tumours. While the
following chemotherapy seemed to slow the cancer for a while, it
soon became apparent that he was fighting a losing battle.
Farewell Steve, he was a fantastic person who will be sadly missed
On a more positive note, Friday was the official mid-winter day
which is celebrated as usual with a delicious dinner feast
together with many guests from McMurdo Station. Our chef Damian
had been working for weeks on the elaborate 10-course meal which
featured everything from home-made hams to home-made chocolates.
My particular favourite was the pork belly which had been
marinated in duck fat. Simply delicious! As Molly our electrician
frequently reminds me "A moment on the lips is a lifetime on the
hips". Of course he's right, I was about 90kg when I weighed
myself the other day and I'm usually around 82-85kg.
I'm rapidly turning into some kind of chunky Oompa-Loompa with
all of this delicious food.
All of the stations in Antarctica send each other mid-winter
greeting notices at this time of the year. Here's the photo
that was used in our greeting.
Here's a photo of Steve Locke during his final trip to Scott Base
in October 2012 which truly reflects Steve's awesome character
and fun personality. Thanks to Iain Miller, the ex-Antarctica NZ
manager of Scott Base for sending this photo and the one below
earlier this week in memory of Steve.
One of Steve's many favourite activities was 'snow graffiti' though
few people actually knew it was him. Much to the annoyance of the
environmental people, "someone" (Steve) would use a squirt-bottle
of blackcurrant juice to decorate large mounds of snow. He'd be
eyeing up specific patches of snow that you could easily see from
inside when passing certain windows, then carefully select a moment
when no-one was watching to go paint on his "blank canvas".
These were usually amusing pictures of faces with huge cheesy grins.
The photo above, taken by Iain Miller, the ex-Antarctica NZ manager
of Scott Base prior to his departure in October 2012, reads: "97FM
Rules O.K Luv Iain Millar". It was well known that one of Steve's
greatest passions was our radio station, Scott Base 97FM. During
Iain's final days at Scott Base, this message appeared "from him",
though a few people noticed the accidental spelling error of
'Millar' when it should have read 'Miller'.
Mike, our field support guy, has been profiling the sea ice out the
front of Scott Base, this photo taken by Mike on Thursday at 11:30AM.
The profiling involves drilling holes though the ice using a long
thin drill to see how it's developing and if it's safe for vehicle
travel. It's around 90cm thick at present and a Hagglund or Skidoo
needs a minimum of 75cm of ice thickness for safe travel.
Meanwhile, another project I'm just completing now is a unit to
perform an automatic announcement of a fire alarm condition at Scott
Base over specific radio channels during summer. This used to be
done by the NZ Defence Force supplied communications operators,
though in the heat of an emergency situation the operator could
accidentally forget to do specific actions, which left the people
in the field without any communications. So now when the fire alarm
activates, this unit will make a voice announcement over multiple radio
channels, plus links radio channels together to relay speech between
them. It's mostly made from recycled bits and pieces I found around
Scott Base. The 19" rack case used to be an old cooling fan tray,
you'll see I had to stick pieces of tape to the top corners as the
sharp metalwork kept shredding my arms. The Zetron SentriVoice
unit (left side) was left over from a much earlier attempt to
announce power failures several years ago. I designed the module on
the right hand side which performs a series of timing, control and
16/6/2013: Another one of those long dark
weeks where all of the days tend to blur into one big 54-hour
working day. The constant darkness is gradually starting to
affect some people as some seem to be tired all of the time
while others seem to be more irritable than usual. It's always
the silly little things that result in people getting all
worked up. Individuals not cleaning up after themselves in
the dining room is commonly one of the biggest sources of
frustrations. Though in saying that, there appears to be
relatively low levels of tension between everyone, we are all
getting along nicely which isn't always easy to achieve with
the same group of people living and working together for so
long. The 5-month summer season is by far the most stressful
as there frequent personality clashes between the 30+ summer
Can't remember the details of the week as it was all fairly
mundane, but the real highlight of my week was when our chef
made the fabulous Bacon Explosion.
Refer to the mouth-watering photos below.
Yesterday we organised another group photo for reasons unknown.
I'm at the far left in the back row if anyone is interested.
This may be to add to the ever growing pool of "possible winter
over photos" to hang on the wall of the main corridor. One of
many Scott Base traditions since the base opened in 1957 has
been the group photo mounted on the wall from each winter. But
like many things where differences of opinions clash, not
everyone is able to agree on one photo. There's always comments
such as "Oh no, we can't use that one as Dave is glaring down on
us like an evil overlord" or "The faces are slightly too shaded".
Personally I hate doing group photos and the more poorly planned
and badly executed attempts of these I have to endure, the more
annoyed I become. Couldn't care less about the winter photo
myself, just put a collection of roughly scribbled stick figures
on the wall and that would be more than adequate. Last time I
checked my employment contract, it said something about radio
communications work as opposed to being involved in as many lame
photo shoots as Justin Bieber.
Now I recall what I was doing this week apart from being forced
into annoying group photos. I'm currently working on a series
of system enhancements to overcome some of the human errors of the
Communications Operators over summer. When the fire alarm sounds
at Scott Base in summer, the operator is supposed to carry out a
predefined series of tasks, including a broadcast over working
radio channels that there is a fire alarm condition. But in the
heat of the moment, some of the NZ Defence Force supplied comms
operators tend to forget certain actions, which can leave the
many people in the field without any communications. So some
of this week's work has been to automate this so that when a
fire alarm occurs, an automatic voice announcement will be made
over all working radio channels, thus eliminating the frequent
human error. The photo above is the Zetron 4010 communications
console in the Communications Operators' office which provides
simultaneous access to all of our working VHF and HF radio
Let me introduce the fabulous Bacon Explosion.
This is a recipe we discovered in the 2011 season and had been
trying to convince our chef at the time to make for us, though
unfortunately he was never able to for various reasons. This
week our chef Damian produced two of these bacon-themed
meatloaves. Start by weaving a lattice mat of streaky bacon.
Coat the back lattice with American BBQ seasoning, add a layer
of pork mince with a sprinkling of freshly grilled bacon pieces
then drizzle with spicy home-made BBQ sauce.
Roll up the inner layer while leaving the lattice outer layer
Roll the woven bacon around the inner layer. The official
recipe is to slow-smoke the entire thing, though we have no
provision to do this here. Damian improvised by wrapping it
in aluminium foil and slow baking over a tray of water.
The final result! Every bit as delicious as it looks. While
it may not carry the Heart Foundation tick of approval (pending
a generous donation/bribe), I figure it's tasty enough to turn
the most hardened vegan to the meaty side.
9/6/2013: It's been a chilly start to June
with near record low monthly temperatures over the past few days.
Yesterday's maximum ambient temperature was -40 degrees C with a
low of -45C. On the plus side, it doesn't take long for the warm
beer to cool down when you stick it out the door. Any more than
15 minutes and you're drinking chunks of ice.
The past week also held a few milestones for the
Antarctic Heritage Trust
who are ahead of their conservation schedule at 1000 artefacts
completed this winter. Jamie the AHT carpenter has at long last
completed the mammoth task of solid pine wood box conservation
(he's now onto less enjoyable plywood box conservation). And on
the 6th of June it was the Captain's (Robert Falcon Scott) 145th
birthday. He's dead just now however; in 1912 he died during a
failed journey to the South Pole. It's Scott's artefacts that
AHT have their conservation focus set on at present.
Anyway, there's this kind of tradition at Scott Base where the
chef makes a cake for whoever on station has a birthday. Often
they don't like doing it because ultimately it's just more work
to do. Earlier in the week I was joking with our chef, Damian
that he'd have to make a big elaborate cake for Captain Scott.
Then on the Captain's birthday, one of the conservators actually
asked him to do just that. Given the fact that it was only a
few hours' notice, Damian was convinced I was playing a prank
on him (which I wasn't) and thought I'd asked the conservators
to ask him to make a big elaborate cake for the Captain. But
they were quite serious, so he eventually made a Tiramisu cake
in the shape of Scott's hut at Cape Evans in record time.
First up, here are a couple of photos from Molly who has a nice
camera, plus way more time and patience than I do. This road
sign is just outside Scott Base, an Aurora visible in the clear
day time sky in the background.
The new Hagglund tracked vehicle parked outside. Everything is
always either covered in snow or about to be covered in snow
following the next storm.
Here's our water engineer, Graeme, in the secondary power house
who is trying to convince me that he's tightening his Frankenstein
neck bolts or something crazy. A big hello to Graeme's wife,
Lorraine; currently on a trip to Aussie. I should pass on that
when you were trying to phone Graeme on Thursday night, he was
over at McMurdo somewhere and he said to say that he was a bit
later than expected getting back.
Meanwhile in the power house, we were giving Dave a hand to
remove the damaged heat dump coil. I've lost count, but nearly
every year for the last few years, one of these copper coils
has accidentally become frozen which causes a lot of damage,
see below. No-one seems to be able to figure out why this keeps
happening. The coil vents excess heat into the outside air
when the generators are running and no more heat can be
dissipated inside Scott Base. A big fan blows outside air at
-40C through the copper coil, so if the hot water inside the
coil isn't flowing correctly, it freezes very quickly.
As mentioned above, this is what happens to copper tubes when
the water inside freezes. These 12mm diameter tubes have
expanded with pressure from the ice inside, causing multiple
tubes to split and then gush water out when the ice melts.
Dave made a speedy job of braising all of the damaged pipes.
The coil went back into service yesterday and shows no signs
of leaking, fingers crossed.
The broadcast FM radio transmitter had drifted off frequency
which requires some attention. Looks like more than a 5-minute
job as there appears to be something funky going on with the
crude home-made frequency synthesizer circuit. It was designed
and built at Scott Base in 1994 and has been operating 24 hours
a day ever since, so I guess it hasn't done too badly. Someone
has even gone to the trouble of producing some reasonable
technical documentation for it.
1/6/2013: The start of another month and the
official start of winter in NZ. We're about three weeks away from
the annual mid-winter celebration which usually consists of some
kind of fancy dinner.
Speaking of parties, the Queen-themed party on Saturday night in
light of the Queen's Birthday celebration went fairly well despite
a slightly lower turnout than expected from McMurdo. There had been
an unfortunate series of events which began during the weekly
"American Night" where a few visitors began getting a little ruder
and louder than usual. Our station manager complained to the McMurdo
Station Manager who sent a station-wide memo to remind people of
'acceptable behaviour'. This had the side-effect of discouraging
some of the Americans from attending the open-invitation party we'd
organised for everyone.
Though the event panned out well otherwise, everyone remained
surprisingly in control all night despite the large supply of 'free'
beer that most of us Scott Base residents had individually
purchased to share with our American visitors.
The live music we performed was also a success, despite the fact that
we'd picked up a new band member a day before hand and had minimal
practice. And some of my band members had never performed on stage
before, so needed a bit of encouragement from me to kick things off.
Meanwhile, I should have the bulk of my documentation work complete
in a week or two. Just as well; although I quite enjoy documentation,
my levels of motivation are beginning to seriously dwindle due to
doing so much of it recently. The days of 24-hour darkness probably
don't help matters much.
Temperatures generally vary between -20C and -30C and it's always
dark. So doing any work outside always involves lots of dressing
up in outside clothing. Here's me working in one of the American
And here's me re-routing copper signalling and telephone pairs
in an outside junction box. At least someone was thoughtful enough
to label all of the 200+ terminations so you can see what's going
where. Oh yes, that would have been me two years ago after getting
angry that nothing was labelled.
Molly recording some routine inspection results at the power store,
which is a flywheel based energy storage system which can quickly
absorb or supply short bursts of electrical energy from/to the Ross
Island power grid.
The AHT girls have been surprisingly active with promoting my
campaign as the McMurdo Area Manager. There are dozens of these
sorts of promotional posters all over McMurdo Station, plus
promotional badges and other propaganda. I have no idea what this job
is, or if it's even a real job or not, but the Americans are all very
worked up about it. Apparently I have such a large following that
they named a new bacon burger at their burger bar after me: the
Johnny 5 Burger. These AHT girls should instead be working in a
marketing position; I'm convinced they'd be able to sell snow to
Saturday saw the vehicle workshop decked out with many decorations
plus lighting and sound equipment borrowed from McMurdo. There
was an interesting range of Queen themed party costumes, I saw
dairy queens, a queen bee, a queen 'B', a chess queen plus too
many drag queens to speak of.
Here's a shot of our group during a pre-party sound check.
Featuring myself (front left on lead guitar and vocals) and Tim
the Hobbit (drums) from Scott Base. Plus Jason (backing
guitar) and Harry (harmonica) from McMurdo.