27/9/2015: And that's about it; with the weather
dependant arrival of the first flight of the summer season tomorrow,
our season is all but over. Just a couple of weeks left for handover
to the new arrivals; 18 tomorrow and 19 arriving on Tuesday.
In my previous seasons it's been a bitter-sweet moment in time, but
for whatever reasons this year; everyone is itching to get back home.
Some of our American friends from McMurdo Station over the hill are
due to depart as early as tomorrow. We had a final catch-up with them
last night at the nearly traditional Carpenters' Workshop Party, which
is often held in the last weekend of winter. It was a great night
out with live music provided by some of the local American talent.
Although perhaps the old guy trying to sing Black Sabbath's
War Pigs could have done with a dozen or two less beers
beforehand. Of course it was all free and there was a great turnout,
so I can hardly complain.
And speaking of pigs, the McMurdo Galley are rumoured to be having an
extra special Sunday brunch with suckling roast pigs. I'm there!
Just waiting on my laundry to finish then a quick 40 minute walk over
the hill to the land of porky goodness.
The view out the window this week, looking north-west towards Crater
Hill. The three 330kW turbines of the wind farm visible, upper left.
Darryn and Andy working on some way overdue repairs to a linkway floor
and carpet replacement. Most of the floors feature access hatches in
order to provide access to pipes and wiring in the floor space below.
The floor hatches in this heavily used section of linkway have been
on their last legs for more years than I can remember.
One of my many brief projects this week, some PA speaker mute relays for
the Field Centre. We have a system where you can dial a specific number
from any telephone on base and have your voice piped all over the place,
which is frequently used for general announcements and to locate people.
Unfortunately if a PA speaker is too close to a telephone, you get
audio feedback, so these relays decrease the volume of specific speakers
when certain telephones are in use to prevent this.
It's also that time of the year where the vehicles that have been
cold parked outside for winter need to be towed into the vehicle workshop
for thawing, service and grooming. As you can see, the vehicles are
completely unusable when they're full of snow like this.
They borrowed this large roller from the Americans for something,
presumably to break up hard ice on the road, or for the coming
earth works this summer as part of the continued Field Centre project
work. Unfortunately the roller seems to have had a bit of a hard life;
it needed a number of repairs which Steve the engineer saw to
during the week.
20/9/2015: A week left of the winter season.
Today we're being kicked out of the staff accommodation block and
into the visitor accommodation block so that the staff accommodation
can be cleaned and prepared for the new people arriving next week.
It's also that point in the season where some people snap out of
their six month long daydream and suddenly realise all of the work
they were supposed to do over winter instead of goofing off for
much of the season. Suddenly they play the sob card and put it into
the "it's someone else's problem next week" basket, or in some cases
ask others to drop their workload to do the jobs they've been
neglecting all season. Sorry, but your lack of effort doesn't make
it my emergency. Unfortunately the winter work here is not well
suited to those lacking self-motivation. I guess it varies each
year based on the people involved, though I can't say this this year
has been one of my favourites.
Regardless of what does or doesn't get done, the end result is usually
the same; soon after arrival at Scott Base from Christchurch, the
management team like to do a big praise speech with words to the
effect of "we're so happy on how well everyone has gotten along,
the place is looking absolutely fabulous, clearly one of the best
winters yet!". In reality there are a few people on the verge of
killing each other, half the place is like a tip and aside from the
separate Field Centre rebuild project, there's been little more
than minimal maintenance completed. So what do you say at a time
like this? Do you be an outright liar and agree on how great
everything has gone, or do the morally correct thing of saying it
like it really is? Or is it best to simply say nothing at all?
Though in that case the people at the top can't recognise any room
for improvment. In all fairness, they can't be expected to correct
what they don't know about. Either way, I'm well overdue for a
This is where I'll be moving in a few hours once people get out of
bed mid-afternoon; one of the rooms in the visitor accommodation
block known as "Q-Hut".
It's been a windier than normal week with strong winds most days,
peaking at around 80kts (150km/hr). Temperatures ranging from
around -30C to a surprisingly mild -16C. This is the view out my
workshop window just now, the wind blown snow forms holes and
ridges around solid objects.
The weather isn't always a write-off, there's the odd nice day as
well. Mt Erebus pictured above between the clouds.
2 megabit per second balanced E1 termination frames which
transport multiplexed voice and data circuits. The frame allows
you to manually cross-connect different circuits and monitor
transmit and receive PCM (pulse coded modulation) streams.
One of yesterday's jobs was dusting off and getting the store
and forward repeater operational for a science group who've decided
they need wide area communications around their work site this
summer at Cape Adare,
which is approximately 800km north of Scott Base. The repeater
consists of an Icom portable radio mounted in a box with a 20AHr
sealed lead acid battery. The radio is connected to a 16-second
speech recorder module. When the repeater receives a remote
transmission, up to 16 seconds of speech is recorded. When the
remote party stops transmitting the repeater radio automatically
switches to transmit mode and re-plays what was recorded. This
principle is also known as a simplex repeater. It didn't have a
solar regulator either, so I fitted one to ensure the battery is
correctly charged and maintained from the solar array.
13/9/2015: Just a day over a month until we're
due to be back home in New Zealand and I'm already thinking about
hot barbeques and cold beers. Everyone else here is as equally
excited to be thinking of seeing friends and family again and daily
discussions are around what food they're most looking forward to.
Two weeks until the first flights of main body arrive, and as usual
there's still much work to be done. People back home often ask what
I do in my spare time. The reality is that there's never spare time.
There's always something that needs fixed, rebuilt, maintained,
cleaned, labelled, redone from scratch or designed and built. Plus
an endless stream of documentation to write and maintain, and much,
Practically all of my work this week has been installing and
commissioning the new satellite bearer equipment, which essentially
allows a wider data bandwidth. Surprisingly enough, there have been
very few issues so far and it's ready for testing to begin on Monday.
I've even managed to catch up on the two weeks of lost time due to
a week of weather delays and McMurdo cargo losing a pallet of urgent
freight for a week.
We're still gaining around 20 minutes of daylight each day. It really
is a nice time of the season with the brilliant sunrises and sunsets
daily. Sunrise today at 7:50AM; setting at 5:50PM. The photo
above is of the sun rising above the western shoulder of Mt Erebus.
This is the sun setting on Mt Discovery to the south of us, the Scott
Base sea ice pressure ridges in the foreground. Thanks to Andy for
The Mogas (petrol for cold temperatures) is stored in a double walled
aluminium trailer on a concrete bund to contain any potential fuel
spills. There's a lot of work that goes into preventing even minor
drips of fuel from contaminating the Antarctic environment.
The new Comtech CDM-760 satellite modems and redundancy switch that
I installed this week. There is one working modem and one spare which
is automatically switched into service if a failure is detected with
the primary modem.
Another part of the satellite modem redundancy switch system is
change-over of the intermediate frequency paths (140MHz) and the
data paths. 140MHz radio energy from the modem transmit port is
up-converted to around 6000MHz (C-band) for transport to New Zealand
More satellite infrastructure, the new equipment lower left. One
of the blue boxes replaces both the DCME (speech compressor) and echo
canceller equipment above it. When the new equipment is operational,
the older equipment will be returned to New Zealand to be re-used
elsewhere such as the Chatham Islands.
6/9/2015: It's no surprise that many readers
have picked up that things are getting a little cabin-feverish here.
And of course they're right. Each week is mostly a copy of the previous
week, with subtle differences thrown in for a bit of a laugh.
You too can now experience a first-hand Scott Base winter using the
handy guide to daily activites below:
Every morning between 7:00 and 7:30 get woken up by someone
slamming doors/drawers and stamping down the corridor.
Shower, cup of coffee, start work at 8AM.
See which science event has Emailed overnight to request stuff
that we don't have, or asking me to do something which I
won't be here for.
Answer phone call from someone complaining that a certain phone
no longer works (because someone has damaged again it with static
electricity despite there being a large sign beside the phone
to discharge yourself before touching the phone).
Deal with winter jobs of checking/fixing stuff.
Get annoyed with the company computer system again due to a
repeat of the same problems you've logged many months/years
ago which still aren't fixed.
Morning tea at 10AM, time for tasty treats.
Go and fix next round of problems with the wind farm
data network, which is usually a repeat of some previous
problem that can't easily be fixed because there is basically
no support for any of it and no documentation on anything.
Work through lunch because so far you've achieved practically
nothing useful all morning.
Re-do someone's previous job from scratch because it was
originally done several years ago to the minimal possible
standard with the minimum amount of effort and as a result
it's a total mess and has never worked properly.
Write lots of technical documentation which no-one is ever
likely to read.
Go to dinner between 6:00 and 6:30, bump into the gym grunters
looking all hot and sweaty who ask why I've not spent the past
three hours with them in the gym; explain that this is the
middle of the work day and that if they put a tenth of their
gym effort into their jobs then they might actually get
See if the chef's dinner efforts exceed that of a large pan
filled with tomato sauce with four small chunks of meat
floating in it and decide whether to skip dinner or not.
Wash chef's kitchen dishes and clean the kitchen.
Watch music videos while getting drunk to the point that you
have a fighting chance of being able to sleep through the
constant door/drawer slamming and stamping down the
corridor, else you'll get no sleep and end up becoming an
unproductive zombie the following day.
Repeat the above from Monday through to Saturday, with the
inclusion on Saturday that you attend the base meeting at
3:15PM for an hour, followed by the remainder of the
afternoon doing jobs that other people get paid for but
don't want to do.
On Sunday, expect to have a day off but instead be
regularly interrupted with people wanting you to do stuff for
them. Consider getting out for a walk somewhere to escape this
but remember that you're stuck on fire crew again so can't
Reading between the lines, this is essentially the same as most
people's daily lives back home. The exception here is that you're
working six day weeks and there are no holidays other than New Year's
Day and Christmas, so it becomes awfully relentless. If you could have
the odd break away from it all, it would make the day-to-day dealing
with the same crap each day not quite as bad.
And it's not just me. This late in the season everyone is feeling the
same relentless pressure. It's only three weeks to go until the new
arrivals at main body arrive at the start of the summer season, and
hopefully around five weeks until I'm back in Christchurch enjoying a
barbeque in the back yard while sitting in the sun and actually feeling
warm for a rare change.
At least I have been working on something semi-interesting this week.
This is the start of the new satellite infrastructure which I started
installing this week. The satellite bearer change to IP project is
likely to run throughout September.
The Field Centre rebuild project is quickly nearing completion. With
the flooring complete and the new furniture being installed now, it's
looking surprisingly good. Pictured above is the Lab 1, the largest of
the three new science labs with new furniture being fitted.
Lab 2 is for chemical handling as it contains an emergency eye wash
station and decontamination shower.
I've got no idea what the intended use of Lab 3 will be. Presumably
something that doesn't require any water or basins. This lab is dry
aside from a hand washing station.
This is the completed Field Centre lobby, or corridor, or whatever
it's called. Lab 1 on the right side with the 'Pee Lab' left of
centre and the sewer holding and pumping room to the right of
While some of us were busy shovelling snow on Friday afternoon, some
of the others took the easier option of taking photos of Discovery
Hut at Hut Point beside McMurdo Station.