Saturday December 1, 2001
Getting ten hours of sleep made me feel like a new person, I didn't even the need the alarm clock as I was up and about at something to five.
The communications system was coming down for repairs at 9 AM. This would deprive us of all access to the outside world for 24 hours: no internet, outside email, phones, or cable TV, so I called Ella just after I got to work and to inform her that I couldn't be reached until tomorrow in the event of an emergency.
With no internet, the job would have been slow. But since I had pictures of my recent trip out to Barne Glacier to post, I spent a large part of the day making site updates in preparation for upload once web access is returned tomorrow.
I also looked over the journal and polished it up a bit. Since I don't go back and reread it after I post, I couldn't believe how disjunctured and fragmented it seemed. Aside from the mention of working, there seems to be little continuity from one day to the next. But I suppose that is the way life is. Perhaps we try to rise above the mundane day to day actions and thoughts by dwelling on other matters.
Another thing that struck me is how mundane my life is starting to seem. Sure I'm in Antarctica, but the novelty is starting to wear off. I'm just doing regular things in an irregular setting. Substitute this life for one, say, on a military base and I think that the parallels would soon become obvious.
I didn't do much after work except drop by the bar for a beer (my first one in a while, if memory serves) and play a few games of pool on a quality table. It's not good to spend a Saturday night cooped up in my room, so I needed to get out. Other than that, I spent some quality time with my laptop sampling my MP3 collection.
Three days off. I think that I might actually take them all instead of helping out in the power plant.
Sunday December 2, 2001
Physically exhausting day today. I took advantage of the weather and did a lot of wondering about. It was the nicest day that we've had so far and must have been at least in the mid 30s and there was absolutely no wind.
Around 1:00 I walked the 2 miles or so to Scott Base to buy some gifts. I stopped at various points to take some pictures and just take in the scenery instead of just hurrying from one place to the next, as I usually do when I try to avoid the cold. It took about 30 minutes to get there. Once in the Kiwi gift shop, I couldn't help but to treat myself to $5 worth of candy in addition to a few ball caps.
There were regular shuttles there and back, but I opted to walk the return trip as well. Days like this don't come along too often and I wanted to enjoy every minute outside that I could, even though my ears were starting to sting from the cold. There was also some chocolate motivation. The longer it took me to walk back to base, the more time I had to indulge my chocolate craving.
When I made it back at McMurdo, I climbed Observation Hill. "Hill" is a bit of a misnomer. In reality, it's an extinct volcanic dome (so I'm told) that rises some 500 feet above town and is extremely steep. I would be willing to bet that mountain goats would give pause before climbing all the way to the small plateau at the top. The entire slope was covered with small lava pebbles making it difficult to get confident footing. And often, I had to use my hands to assist in climbing. But 25 minutes or so after I started the ascent, I made it...although I had to make several stops along the way to catch my breath. I got some really good pictures of McMurdo, including a helicopter landing at the helipad.
There is a cross at the top to honor Robert Scott and the members of the Terra Nova expedition who perished in March of 1912 on their return from the Pole. Alongside the names of those to perished are the some lines from Tennyson: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield..."
Climbing down was perhaps the most dangerous part of the trip. I'm not yet used to the prescription of my glasses and was deprived for much need depth perception. It was difficult to tell if I had solid footing or not as each step down looked quite precarious. But I made my way down in 30 minutes without incident.
John was going to start working the night shift this evening and was sleeping back in the room. So, I didn't want to disturb him and spent the rest of the day in MMI surfing the web.
Monday December 3, 2001
Beginning to wonder if I'm wasting my time by updating the site.
I'm not getting many hits. What few I do get are for the web cam with the majority of IP addresses belonging to my mom's and sister's ISP. The journal and photos are mostly ignored and I only get a few emails from visitors, for which I am grateful. But I could use the extra 12-15 hours a week trying to build a social life instead.
It also seems to be the case that the IT group doesn't want to open up the NetMeeting port so that I can use my web cam to chat with Ella when she returns. They currently have it blocked at the firewall to conserve bandwidth. I can bet with almost 100% certainty that I am the only person here with a web cam. And I'm further willing to bet that no more than a dozen people brought computers with them, for I've only seen 3 other laptops and those belonging to fellow winterovers. This was a big selling point for me. I was told to bring both so that I could stay in touch with my wife over the year in order to make the separation easier to bare. I can't imagine going through this winter without seeing her.
Name calling and gossiping among the other operators is getting worse. It seems to be the case that the "if you're not with us you're against us" mentality is taking root. But what happens on the ice stays here. No additional details about that.
My expectations aren't being met. I have until this Friday to make up mind as to whether or not I should terminate my contract in February or continue on through winter. I'll have to do some soul searching.
Not having a good day. Perhaps I should take up a bottle like so many others.
Tuesday December 4, 2001
It seems as though I get carried away with my stream of consciousness.
Perhaps I should have taken the inscription on Scott's memorial to heart before I vent in my journal.
One check moved to the plus column: IT emailed to inform me that the Netmeet port would be opened come winter. With only 200 souls around, there's not as much need to conserve bandwidth.
Wednesday December 5, 2001
I spoke with Ella, my mom, sister, and Jordan today.
Ella is well enough to travel, thus alleviating some concerns. She, like my mother and sister, wouldn't too terribly mind if I left with the summer contractors come February.
Jordan offered as much insight as he could without steering me one way over the other. Most managers would have tried to convince me to stay. But he was honest enough to admit that only I can make the decision. There is nothing in the world that he can say or do to help me to reach a decision regarding what's best for me.
It occurred to me that my "bad" days occur when I sit around and do absolutely nothing. When I'm working, I have a daily routine. I wake up at 5:00, brush my teeth, eat breakfast, go to work for 12 hours, eat dinner, take a shower, watch TV, update my journal, and go to bed at around 10:00.
There is no routine on my days off, however. I sleep in and do whatever whim strikes my fancy. Before too long, though, I run out of whims to follow. Then I have too much time in which to do nothing. And it's difficult to fill those gaps with anything other than to get bored and ponder my predicament.
I am certain that others fall into the same category. These are the type who take advantage of what social life they have here. Since that usually involves alcohol, they find themselves needing to have a few drinks in order to be entertained. That's not the path that I won't to get started down. I suppose that I could find a group to hang around that doesn't need alcohol to facilitate a good time, but social graces aren't my strongest suite.
Those who don't get bored are the sort who are "self contained." They are the autonomous ilk who are perfectly content with quality time to themselves and can be entertained with a book or a CD. I would like to think that I number among these kind, but I believe less and less that this is the case. Although I can be amused for a short while with a game or by surfing the internet, I have move on to new things sooner rather than later. My attention span is just too short. And when the list of things to do gets exhausted, well, I'm sort of lost.
I think that I need to be either more creative with my "to do" list or get into more of a routine on my days off. As long as I preoccupy myself with some activity, I'm fairly sure that I can get by just fine. If the gym wasn't so crowded, perhaps I should spend more time there. Exercise does wonders for the psyche.
It would also help immensely if Ella and I could chat everyday. The fact she's been gone for 3 weeks may have played a factor in my recent melancholy. Unfortunately, she won't be back and have an internet connection established before Friday's deadline. So I'll have to reach a decision without the benefit of being able to test this hypothesis.
But I suppose the biggest factor to take into account is being able to live with the fact that I gave up and reneged on my obligation to stay for the entire year. I would be quitting, pure and simple. I would also be missing one of the most unique opportunities available to anyone on the face of the Earth.
The pendulum is passing through perpendicular at this point. I'm not entirely sure that I want to leave but I'm not quite ready to commit to remaining either.
Thursday December 6, 2001
I learned a new phrase today: "illegitimati non carborundum", or "don't let the bastards get you down." I'll have to include it in my Latin lexicon alongside fait accompli and quid pro quo. It was incorporated in an email from a well wisher and was much appreciated.
It's amazing what being productive can do for one's psyche. After returning to work and having a decent meal I gave Ella a call at home to see if she had returned from Poland. She had, but I woke her up. So, I didn't keep her on the phone for too long. Now that she's safely returned, I can hardly remember the blahs from last weekend.
Friday December 7, 2001
I informed Jordan that I would stay the remainder of my original contract. The soul searching led me to conclude that I'd be better off staying where I am and learning to deal with anything that comes my way.
I've spent a great deal of time in stressful and isolated environments. On the sub, I once did a 90 day deployment of which 69 consecutive days were spent submerged in a cramped steel tube without fresh air or sunlight. Neither did I get to make phone calls nor receive email. I have an entire continent of elbow room and the freshest air imaginable. I also have the internet, telephones and a loving wife to call upon for support.
So, I've had it worse. I just need to keep that in mind.
Saturday December 8, 2001
I found a new internet activity: Scrabble at playsite.com. But after 5 games, my rating has sank so low that I'll soon need to create a new username and start over. I've been soundly beaten by all comers. Although I'm quite sure that they have the benefit of a dictionary beside them, it's also likely that my brain has succumbed to a lack of exercise.
Anyway, I played Scrabble until lunch time. Then it was time to take the written portion of my psychological evaluation. All winter overs must be screened by psychologists to ensure that they are sane and stable enough to handle the stresses associated with wintering here. Although the timing may be a bit off given my recent "blues", I think that all went well. I answered the the 700 odd questions as accurately and honestly as I could save 2. Those questions being too personal and I felt my answers were irrelevant to my ability to stay here for another 10 months. I'm sure that I'll have to explain myself during the psych interviews (which happens tomorrow), but I'll stick to my guns and let them know that the topics raised by those specific questions were no one else's business.
Jimmie and I had a good laugh over some of the questions. One asked if we wished to be a race car driver. I suppose that this is one of the "throw out" questions they ask. I can imagine that there are only 20-30 questions that they were interested in knowing the answers to. The other 650 were just filler. Anyway, Jimmie is a semi-pro drag racer back home. It would be quite odd for him not to be allowed to stay because of his mainland hobbies.
After the test it was back to the dorm to shoot some pool. If I must say so, I think that I'm getting better as I had a run of 7 consecutive balls that I sunk. Now if I can only get some practice games in on a table without a noticeable slant I can get a true gauge of how well I'm coming along.
I dropped at 8:30 to have a few beers with Jimmie. I also bought myself one of the $1 microwavable pizzas that they sell. Up to this point I wasn't aware that they had them. They aren't so bad. I might even buy a bunch and put them in the small refrigerator that's in my room just so that I'll have an emergency cache of edible food in the event that I find nothing edible in the galley.
One hour psychiatric interview tomorrow. Maybe I picked the right time to be getting over the blahs.
Sunday December 9, 2001
I passed my eval with flying colors, or so I was led to believe. The interviewer and I had a pleasant discussion about why I wanted to be here and what not. There were some personal questions, but nothing that put me on the defensive.
At the end of the discussion she went over the results of the written exam that I had taken the previous day and concluded that I was an honest person and that the bulk of that exam could be trusted to clear me for the winter. So, she had only asked a few questions along the same lines as the written ones for verification. If they concurred, then I the written results would be good enough to clear me for the winter. Since the first test was essentially a personality test I would assume that each interview is conducted differently. If you were ambiguous in certain areas, then I'm sure that the interview would go in a different direction with the questions geared toward exposing what you were trying to hide. For example, if the score indicated that you were too introverted, then there would be questions about you social skills and how you handled depression. So on and so on covering about a dozen areas of personality that they were gauging. Or at least this is how I understood it to be.
I spent a lot of the day playing internet Scrabble in the Coffee House. The environment seems too much like a college town coffee shop for my tastes, though. In stark contrast to the largely blue collar work force, it caters to the younger latte drinking crowd that comes to McMurdo. I had enough of that atmosphere at Cornell and would prefer socializing in the bar. However, its one redeeming feature is that it has a couple of open network connections. It is also much closer to my dorm than MMI.
At 5:30 I went to the bar with the Power and Water crew to celebrate Jordan's birthday. I allowed myself one beer just to be social and thereafter it was nothing but flat Canada Drys. We spent the better part of 90 minutes socializing, which was nice. I think that this was the first time that we had sat down as a group to talk about things other than work.
I returned to my room and spent the rest of the room preparing images for uploading. I hadn't posted any new ones in over a week and was getting behind. One of the problems that I'm having, though, is trying to guess what visitors would like to see. Things are becoming commonplace for me and I'm only interested in posting something that I haven't seen before. However, since everything is new and different for the folks back home, they may want to see more of everyday life. I'll post a notice in the forum and fish for ideas.
Monday December 10, 2001
Juicy Mcrumor that I overheard today...The Air National Guard and the cargo handlers are having a tussle.
Raytheon hires civilians to load and unload the cargo that the C-130s (Hercs hereafter) haul to the Pole and to the various field camps around the continent. The maximum payload for a Herc is 28,000 pounds, if I heard correctly. Anyway, the cargo handlers overloaded a Herc by 4 tons some time ago and caused some serious take off and landing problems for the pilot. Since there are all sorts of procedures and check-off sheets that are supposed to be followed in order to prevent such things, the Air NG call into question the process as well as the people loading their planes.
The last I heard, they are 18 flights behind in getting the Pole resupplied before winter. Yet every time I look out onto the ice, I see no fewer than 3 Hercs on the runway at any given time. Planes not flying with the frequency that they could be...the Pole may not get enough supplies...soap opera in the making.
Could this be why? If so, this issue will need to be escalated to the highest levels of the NSF and the DoD in order to be resolved. But then I'm only a peon who overhears little details and then tries to piece it all together, so what do I know?
But on to more pressing matters...
I spoke on the phone with Ella for 37 minutes today. And I feel no guilt about the price of this month's phone bill. All is well and I even mentioned the xBox...and the fact that I ordered another game for it (F1 2001, a Grand Prix racing game). She took it well. I think that the gift certificate from Victoria's Secret that I sent her last week may have had something to do with that.
My main reason for calling, though, was to see how she was coming along in getting either a cable modem or DSL installed.
I'm a bit disappointed by the fact that a.) our condo doesn't have cable installed and b.) the only obvious phone jack is in the kitchen. Nice. More money to be spent getting things done. Who would have thought that homeowning is a matter of writing one check after another? Worse yet, I can't believe that I didn't check those things before we bought it. I had assumed that such things amenities were foregone conclusions and didn't bother. I assumed wrong.
Ella has her first meeting with the homeowners association for tomorrow. Timely enough, the topic is cable television updates. So aside from her getting to know her neighbors, she'll have a very relevant conversation to take part in.
It seems that I won a trip at a limited seating "launch party" sometime soon. There is a huge balloon (sky scraper sized?) that is launched yearly to conduct science. It can carry several tons of scientific gear from what I understand, and circles the continent several times and then brought down and the data analyzed. For whatever reason (transportation limitations?) they can't allow everyone who wants to go out and see it and so the bus seats are awarded. Since the weather is the deciding factor in when the balloon is launched, it could happen as soon as tomorrow or in a month. Anyway, I'm on standby to go. If I happen to be on watch when the call comes, Jordan will relieve me. Since I'm kind of ignorant about the whole thing, I really don't have much to report just yet. But if it's important enough to restrict the number of observers, then it may well be a big deal.
Getting tired of hearing Jimmie's laptop drone out MS Pinball each time I walked by his room, I dropped my copy of Max Payne off for him to play it. We tried to install it but didn't have any luck. His laptop doesn't meet the minimum system specs and wouldn't load. It is a pretty new game and even slowed down my 1 Ghz machine. So even if he could get it up and running I seriously doubt that he would have any decent frame rates. With that failing, I let him borrow my copy of Half Life: Blue Shift. With the arrival of my xBox, I won't be playing too many games on my PC and probably won't need it anytime soon.
Tuesday December 11, 2001
Doesn't it seem that sometimes luck comes in waves?
Today, Jordan informed me that I would be going to Cape Royds via snowmobile this Saturday. It is the site of a penguin rookery and one of Ernest Shackleton's early huts. Not many people get to travel out there due to the distance involved as well as the limitation on the annual number of visitors allowed to visit Antarctica's historic sites. So that's two limited seat engagements for which I've gotten tickets in as many days. I'm really looking forward to getting out there and getting close to wildlife. Besides, some people are just begging for pictures of penguins.
Just when I thought that things couldn't possibly get better, the mail fairy saw to it that I receive two packages on the mail plane that arrived from Christchurch yesterday evening. I got some DVDs and Civilization 3 from Amazon and my snacks from Ella. It only took a month for both to arrive, but it certainly was a coincidence that they arrived on a day that was pretty much peaked as far as excitement goes.
Ella saw to it to pack lots of licorice, an entire box of Mars bars, 2 boxes of maple and brown sugar flavored oatmeal, and 6 cans of Pringle's. It was so heavy that it cost nearly $20 to send it. If only she had packed herself in there as well, life would be perfect. Anyway, it's hard not to save it all for a rainy day. I'm tempted to tear into it and gorge myself now and beg for more in a month or so. Even though they sell candy in the store, it's old and hard. I overheard that one guy chipped a tooth on a candy bar that he took onto the ice with him. I don't know whether the age of the candy was a factor or if it was the frozen chocolate that did it but it's something to pass on, nonetheless.
To complicate matters, my mom told me that both she and one of my aunts had sent more of the pecan "Turtles" that I love so much. Which gives me an idea:
My life isn't complete without a 2001 Lotus Esprit. But I'll settle for a Lexus ES300 if that proves too expensive...
Since people actually read my journal and go out their way to make me more comfortable, I'll try to take as much advantage of the situation as possible. It's sort of like being a sick kid whose mother allows him to get a toy or two to help make them feel better.
It's days like today that make you wonder how there could ever be sadness and sorrow in the world.
Wednesday December 12, 2001
Got a call from Jordan at 8:00 this morning asking me to come to the plant and help put the engine and generator back on the mounts. OK, small price to pay for getting the trips. But I had planned on going anyway, as it was no big deal to spend my day off there.
As soon as I arrived, he spoke with me about taking on some collateral duties. He wanted me to assume responsibility for the emergency generators scattered throughout the station. Essentially, I would be performing their monthly preventative maintenance. I accepted it without question. I'll actually have more things to keep me occupied as well as learn a few new skills. I'm also a bit flattered that I'm worthy of being asked. There might even be a larger year end bonus in it for me.
We worked on the gen-set off and on today and eventually got the block and generator bolted into place by 4:00. We took a few breaks while waiting for Jordan to work on some of his managerial stuff and I was able to answer a few emails from Ella.
She informed me that our high rise does not have any cable whatsoever and that it wouldn't for another 6 months. Again, I have to ask myself why we missed that. But it's just such a forgone conclusion that one doesn't have to ask. We learned the hard way, I suppose.
Anyway, she wants to get DSL and I looked into it. I recommended that we go with the local phone company because they have been providing the service for a few years and should have most of the bugs worked out. They also offer free dial-up service for use when we are traveling or in the event of a service outage. Although I'm sure that I won't have the same broadband speeds that I enjoyed with Excite@home, it'll still beat nothing. Besides, the sooner she's wired the sooner we can start communicating on a more informal and intimate basis.
From what I gather from cnn.com and the NY Times online, the war in Afghanistan seems to be winding down. The Northern Alliance claims to have the last few strongholds and mountain cave complexes surrounded with Al-Qaida on the verge of surrender. But I feel so removed from it that I think about it as I would which flavor of juice to grab in the morning. Events in the outside world just don't resonate with me as they would if I were back at home. As a matter of fact, this is the first time that I can recall thinking much of current affairs in recent weeks.
It's a separate, self contained world here. I'm excited to get a package every few weeks when a mail plane arrives because it brings something that connects me to life that I once had. If not for that, it would be easy to get caught up in my day to day existence and forget about things. If I weren't married and my mom and sister not on the internet, I'd probably lose contact with the world all together. I suppose that it has something to do with the irrelevance of things that don't affect me directly.
We've been having reasonably good weather lately. It had been hovering at just above freezing and sunny with no wind (amazing that I would consider this to be a nice summer day compared to home). That changed today, though. The winds picked up, the temperature dropped to around 10 degrees, and it snowed some. At one point we were in condition two, one stage away from whiteout conditions being declared. This was only about the 10th time or so that I recall that condition being set in the two months that I've been here.
I hope that the weather improves before Saturday so that the trip won't be cancelled.
Thursday December 13, 2001
Weather the same as yesterday.
I spent most of the day at the power plant in anticipation of learning how to perform the preventative maintenance on the auxiliary generators. Jordan attempted to borrow a truck since several of them are driving distance away, but no luck. So, I surfed around the web, helped Jimmie clean up around then new engine, and dig an extension chord out of several inches of ice.
Our plumbing will be shut off shortly while the piping is rerouted. This means that we will be without running water and a toilet for about 2 weeks. Anticipating this, a portable toilet was installed outside the power plant. However, it needs electricity before it can be heated. Last year's electrician, Kirk, had wired it up before he left a month ago,. At some point, though, the wire had come unplugged and buried under about 5" of ice. Since I was around, Jordan asked me to dig it out and try to get it connected. It took about 3 hours with frequent breaks, but I managed to get it freed up. Unfortunately, I had pulled the wire free from the connector as well as chip large sections of insulation away from the wire. But we put on a new connection and snip the wire and were able to get heat and light to the toilet for whenever the plumbers come down and shut off our water. Judging from the smell of the toilet, however, we'd probably been better off to let the waste stay frozen. It smells foul enough that I won't be using it except in cases of extreme distress.
It looks like the extra hours at the plant will pay dividends in the future. A little bird told me to keep it up and I'll see a bigger bonus at the end of the season. I'm also learning a few things about engines and electrical work that I hadn't known before. Sure it's been a loss of free time, but I've been looking for stuff to keep me occupied anyway.
I managed to get a 15 minute call into Ella to find out how things were at home. She's trying to order DSL and finalized which service to get. She's a little concerned about installing it herself, but I think that she'll be amazed at how simple it should be provided that she gets the equipment listed on SNET's website.
On another computer related note, I'm having problems getting Civilization 3 to run on my laptop. It loads to the intro screen, the CD spins up, but then it's back to the Windows desktop. My hunch is that it doesn't like my DVD/burner combo drive. There is probably some sort of software copy protection that doesn't play well with the drive. I sent an email to the game company to see what I could do. With any luck they'll get back to me soon. I'll be incredibly annoyed to be stuck with a $50 game that I can't play. And returning it is probably out of the question.
Other things that I did today: played pool, caught some movies on TV, and had Tacos for lunch. Taco bar day at the galley must be everyone's favorite meal. The place was packed.
Friday December 14, 2001
I woke up to several inches of wet snow and the limited visibility, being restricted to about 150 feet at best and 50 on occasion. Whiteout conditions on the ice and Condition 2 set around town. The winds are blowing from between 25 to 40 knots. Not gusting, my you, but blowing continuously. It's not really that cold, being about 24 degrees or so.
I don't believe that I've seen wet snow falling here before. Whenever it snowed before, it was a dry spin drift type that just blows around. This type of weather that one would normally see a few times during a New England winter. By dinner time there were several drifts already over a foot deep. The storm is expected to stay for another day or two with conditions worsening overnight and visibility restricted tomorrow as well. By Antarctic standards though, this is probably nothing. I can only imagine what will happen come winter.
Since the storm will stay with us for a while, the "boondoggle", or morale trip, to Cape Royds will probably be put on hold. Even though the route is flagged, there's no sense in going into harms way. Oh well, it's something to look forward to for that much longer, if that makes sense. Instead of having it over and done with tomorrow, I can maintain my level of excitement for a few more days until it comes to fruition.
I heard from the makers of Civilization. The basically told me to do what had already been done: update my video driver, XP, etc. etc. So I emailed them back for more ideas. I'll probably end up going to some fan site and getting tech support there. I can't be the only person who's a victim of overzealous copyright protection. I think that I might install Baldur's Gate and play one of my saved games until my xBox arrives.
What I do when I get off the ice is starting to become less hazy. Since I have so much experience generating power and wiring stuff up, I think that I might pursue a career as an electrician. If I can test as a 3rd year apprentice, I would only be a year or two away from getting my journeyman's license. With that, I could earn a decent wage and have an open ended job. It wouldn't be too difficult, say, to even uproot and move to New Zealand or Poland and start over.
But before my dreams get the best of me, I have to find someone to take me on as an apprentice. I might even approach the CT chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) about their program. Although I'm sort of ideologically opposed to labor unions, trade unions do offer good training. I'll have to give it some thought. However, if I can't convince someone to take me on as a more experience apprentice, then I'll probably reconsider. I have too much experience and training to start over again on the ground floor and spend 2 or 3 years digging ditches or being someone's gaffer. But let's stay optimistic. All I have to do is ask for the test, a little brushing up will take care of the rest.
$30,000 a year for an Ivy League education and I'm throwing it away. I don't know what's come over me but I'm starting to like it. The future is clearer now than it ever has been.
Saturday December 15, 2001
Snow, driving winds, and whiteout conditions. I waded to work through mid-thigh deep snow drifts. It was hard to tell exactly how much it snowed. In some places the wind have swept the snow clean yet in others it was piled 5 feet deep, so it is difficult to even get an average. But it came down hard until noon. Then the skies cleared and the wind calmed like nothing had happened. Obviously, the trip to the Cape was cancelled. The next attempt will be on Thursday.
I finally figured out the problem with my laptop that prevented it from playing games. The driver that I had downloaded and tried to install was not meant for my computer. All nVidia cards except for the GeForce 2 were included in the download. Their rationale, I suppose, is to avoid mishaps by letting laptop manufacturers tweak the drivers to their specifications. But in a nutshell, it would run the executable, but there was nothing to install. I suppose that I'll have to wait for Toshiba to release on. Before I leave the ice would be nice...
The default XP driver must not be up to the task, which is what was running. So with Windows XP's "driver rollback" feature, I was able to get it to install a pre-release driver. The older driver works better than the most recent. Go figure. Anyhoo, all my games work now. Taking advantage of being able to play once again, I dove head first into Civilization 3. As I anticipated, there's a lot to learn. But the games last a long time and will hopefully keep me busy for a long time to come.
Sunday December 16, 2001
Called Ella first thing this morning. Lots going on in her world. She went to a circus in NYC last week, has tickets to "The Nutcracker", but perhaps most importantly she ordered DSL. So in a few weeks we'll be up and chatting.
We also discussed home improvements. She took the liberty of having a "shell" shaped bathroom sink installed. Oh brother. If I don't reign her in I'll come home to pink walls and fuzzy stuff hanging around the place. Women...why can't the bare essentials suffice?
On a serious note though, I'm preparing myself for another huge bill. I don't want to even contemplate what it will cost to have an electrician re-wire the place. I had begun to think that installing new 3 pronged outlets and replacing the fuse box with a circuit breaker were within my experience level. But given that the wiring is over 40 years old, the walls will most likely have to be taken apart to replace it. I'd have to have a ground wire ran anyway, so I might as well get ready to drop another chunk of change. So instead of waiting until I get off the ice and take care of it myself, I'll wait until tax time (to make sure we don't owe) and then see what the estimates run. Crystal ball says $2500-$3000. Only 15% of whatever the total is will be in supplies. The rest will be labor. Word to the wise: don't buy a fixer upper in a seller's market. It's no bargain to begin with and you're still stuck with making it livable.
No ice stuff to relate other than no planes have been in or out since Thursday. The snow has kept them on the ground both here and Chch. That puts the logistics situation even more flights behind both at the Pole and getting stuff here...including my xBox.
Working on an xmas photo. I hope to email it to all of my Outlook contacts and all the "Nublets" in the forum.
Monday December 17, 2001
The storm that blew through accomplished two things:
1. The runways were put out of commission through Tuesday evening at the earliest. This goes for Williams Field on the ice shelf and the newer Pegasus runway that has been under construction for the past few years. What has taken several months of work to get to perfection has to be re-done by one storm. If they were behind by 20 flights to the Pole, now they are trailing by another week's worth of flights. There also haven't been any goodies for us, either. And there may not be more package mail until after Xmas. When the runways are opened back up, the only thing coming in and out for a while is personnel. The Air Guard has to turn over to their replacements and all of the NSF personnel, scientists, and even the psych team need to get off the ice.
The NY Air Guard, although vital to operations here, are a source of irritation to some of the workers. Primarily, it's because they only come down for their 2-3 week rotation but have a better quality of life than anyone else. One dorm is assigned specifically for their use and although there are only about 50 or so down in an average rotation, each Guardsman is assigned their own room. Given that even the most senior contractors are sleeping two to a room, it's hard for them to rationalize why all the space is wasted on "visitors".
Another thing that upsets people is the Guard also gets seats on the morale trips. Even though there are only a limited number of seats to participate in some of the extracurricular activities, they always have a few allocated to them. This means that even people with several seasons under their belt can't get to Cape Evans, for example, and see the penguin rookeries.
Since I've been in the military, I'm still sitting on the fence. But if they get my xBox down before Christmas I could care less how few there are in that dorm of theirs'.
2. Because of the B-15 iceberg, there was 80 miles of ice separating McMurdo from the open ocean. The winds blew half of that away. This is only a rumor and I have yet been unable to verify it by satellite maps, but it is highly possible. Shackleton and crew, who spent a winter adrift on an ice floe in the Weddell Sea, would float 50 miles per day during bad weather. That would mean that the icebreakers that are supposed to arrive in a few weeks will have a good chance of making it into McMurdo Sound. If that happens, then the resupply vessel will be able to pull up and offload another year's worth of stores. There are a lot of things in short supply around town (vehicle parts, cleaning supplies, and most importantly grape juice and chocolate chip cookies). So it is vital that the ship make it. If it doesn't then the entire Deep Freeze operation would have problems not only this season, but the ripple effect would be felt for many years to come.
Even though I may complain about a lot of stuff, I have to admire the logistical efforts put into maintaining a year round American presence in Antarctica. I've that the NSF devotes over $200 million annually to keep this place running. The Pole, from what I hear, costs $12/pound to fly cargo to. And that is only the cost from McMurdo. Who knows the total cost for getting supplies Stateside to here. And there are several stockyards full of supplies waiting to be flown to the Pole and lots more on the ship headed this way.
At times, I seriously wonder what the true mission is here. Are we here to support science or are we here to keep an American presence? All of this effort to allow a few dozen scientists to come down and launch weather balloons, collect meteorites, and tag a few seals. I know that I'm just small fry and only get glimpses of the larger picture, but you have to keep in mind that this was a military operation at one point. The year after we established bases around the continent, the Russians did likewise. It was the cold war on ice, literally. It was prestigious for both countries to tout their ability to keep bases open in the most remote and inhospitable place on the globe. I suppose that now folks are trying to justify the presence under the guise of science. And it may well be that there is some legitimate research being conducted here. But at the same time the Italians, Aussies, Poles, and Argentinians are getting things done with only summer camps and at only a fraction of the environmental impact, personnel, and cost.
I'll need to go to the Crary Lab and get a different perspective of things.
As a follow up thought on the state of Russian's Antarctic endeavors: I believe that they only have one year round base now. It's called Vostock and sits on the Antarctic plateau deep in the interior. They are entirely dependant upon the US for transportation to and from there as well as making emergency resupply runs from time to time. Their equipment is old and failing, no women are allowed, and they serve 18 months rotations in a building that could fit into our galley. That must be one miserable existence. I once found some pictures of it on a network folder. If possible, I need to relocate them and put them on the site.
Tuesday December 18, 2001
Hotdogs! We had hotdogs for lunch today. Tres bonne. This is the first time I've had them since I left home. With some chili beans and mustard, you could almost overlook the fact that the buns were hard as a brick.
Speaking of the galley, I heard that several more people have quit in the past few weeks. That would mean that they have almost lost half of their staff. I've seen a lot of new faces washing the dishes and bringing out the food, so Raytheon must have rounded up some replacements to finish off the season.
I can see why there is so much turnover. It's a miserable job for very little money. If it were not for the location, no one would even take it. For the people who do come down, though, the romanticism dies in a few weeks. Then they realize that it's just like a crappy job back home, but made worse because of the loss of freedom and lack of contact with the outside world.
I started working on the generator PMs around town and at various points just outside Mactown limits. It was good to be able to ride around in a truck for a change and get a chance to drive up onto a hilltop and overlook both Scott Base and McMurdo. Looking down upon the ice sheet with Mt. Erebus smoking in the distance, it wasn't too hard to feel like the lord of all creation even if only for a few minutes.
The task itself seems simple enough: each month I need to start up the gen-sets to check for normal operation, add water to the emergency starting batteries, clean out the room their in, and make note of any maintenance that's needed. I may have to load test the batteries to ensure that they can discharge a constant amperage for a sustained period of time, but that will only be twice a year. If I do it now, I won't have to do it again for a while.
I'm getting waxed by Civilization's AI. It will take quite a while to get the hang of it. Perhaps if I actually read the instruction book, though, I could make some headway. But where's the fun in that?
Wednesday December 19, 2001
I started working on the generator PMs today. I was able to drive out of town to the antenna farm (known as T site) in a borrowed truck and check specific gravities and discharge capacities of the generator batteries. I also did the same to another emergency generator on the road to Scott Base.
I ran into some snags when I checked the ones in town, though. 3 of the batteries failed to discharge at 400 amps while maintaining 12 volts. They dropped to around 7 volts, meaning that about half of the cells were either dead or reversing. When I popped the lid off the cells to check specific gravities, I found each of those batteries to have depleted their water. They were so far gone as to have "cannibalized" themselves in their quest for electrons and will need to be replaced. Emergency back up generators with failing batteries...not good. I still have two more generators to test and will probably get to them this Saturday, my next day off.
Ella and I exchanged several emails today. She found out from the condo manager that satellite dishes are allowed as long as they are mounted on a temporary setting (say a wooden post mounted in a bucket full of concrete). Since the Dish Network is offering free installation, two receivers, and a digital video recorder as a special promotion, now seems like a good time to give them a call. Now if I can convince her to let me buy an HDTV when I get back, I'll be living large.
Thursday December 20, 2001
Cape Royds day. Got to go out and see the penguins and Ernest Shackleton's Nimrod hut.
Jordan relieved me just before nine so that I could get bundled up and make it to the origination point on time. I was a bit overdressed as it was unusually warm, but I figured that the wind would make it cooler. It always had each time that I had been on the ice in the past.
The group consisted of about 12 people and 5 snowmobiles. Since there were more people than rides, it meant that two of would ride in a sleigh towed behind one of the Ski-Doos. Who would ride back there for the 30 mile trip? I did. Otherwise I wouldn't be mentioning it. But although it was cramped, it actually turned out to be the best seat on the trip and allowed me to stretch out and try to nap for most of the ride. The driver stopped occasionally and allowed us to rotate to the snowmobile as well as drive for some time, but I thought it best if I stayed in the sleigh the entire trip. My reasoning was that if I rode the sleigh the entire way out, then I ride/drive the snowmobile on the way back (more on that later).
About 3 miles from the Cape, we saw two Adelie penguins in the distance. Or rather, it would be safer to say that they spotted us. No sooner than we came to a stop, they came dashing up to us with an irresistibly cute trademark waddle. I've heard that they were incredibly curious, but I didn't expect them to cover several hundred yards in a manner of a few seconds just to scope us out. But they weren't fool hardy, either. They came to a screeching halt about 30 feet away and got no closer. They spent 5 minutes looking us over, craning their necks and cocking their heads much as a dog would. Then, ala Laurel and Hardy, they promptly sped away (right click and select "save as") as if nothing ever happened. It was quite the impressionable first encounter with wild penguins. And it was much more enjoyable than the hour or so that we spent watching them at the rookery up ahead.
We reloaded on the Ski-Doos and made it to Cape Royds not long after. The rock formations were rather Martian (more Martian than even the average landscape) and we had to cross over a small hill to get to the hut and the rookery. When we reached the crest, the first thing that we could see was another rise across a small valley that was nothing but barren ground . This was obviously the rookery that we had came to see.
But it seemed so sparsely populated. While there were normally over 4,000 pairs of penguins nesting at this site, the ice dam created by the B-15 iceberg made for an incredibly long trip from the Ross Sea to the rookery. In years past, Cape Royds marked the boundary of the winter ice sheet and the open water. This year, though, the ice edge is now thirty miles distant. There is grave concern on the part of the biologists as to the survivability of the colony.
We weren't allowed to get too close to the rookery and there were signs posted to that effect. But there was a cliff overlooking the rookery on one of the flanks where we could climb up on and look down on one end. Although it probably wasn't the best view on the Cape, we were certainly close enough to get a better idea of their behavior.
Although we like to think of them as adorable, they also have a very matter of fact way of interacting with each other. Firstly, they posture a great deal over their turf. Even though it looked cute, the chest forward fin flipping action probably served to inform other penguins to stay away. Secondly, they have no sense of shame with regard to their thievery. They are not at all ashamed to steal pebbles from each others' nests if they can get away with it. And I can see why they resort to stealing. There are simply not enough pebbles to go around. They have picked the rookery bare in their search for nesting material. And it's not as it smooth rocks grow on trees here to begin with. But after about 15 minutes of watching the the Adelies, I went back to the hut for a look around.
In contrast to Scott's Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans, the Nimrod hut was more functional. Even the furniture was made from broken down shipping crates. Ernest Shackleton built it in 1908 as winter quarters for his crew in anticipation of reaching the Pole the following summer. There are boxes and boxes of unopened supplies stacked neatly into every recess inside as well as along the walls of the exterior. There is even an old car rim from the car that his team brought with them to test out in Antarctic conditions (it failed miserably as it kept getting stuck in the snow).
Unfortunately, Shackleton did not reach the Pole the next year. But he did make it to within 97 miles at which point his last pony fell into a crevasse taking the majority for their supplies with them (both he and Scott were dependant upon horses. Admundsen primarily used dogs). He and his Pole team of 3 others barely made it back to this hut alive, surviving most of the way on emergency rations. Had it not been for the logistics team laying caches of supplies for this return leg, he wouldn't have survived at all.
Shackelton returned to Antarctica at the onset of WWI in an attempt to be the first to cross the continent, having been beaten to the Pole by Admundsen in 1913. This is the Endurance expedition for which he is most famous. His ship became stranded in the Weddell Sea and was crushed. As a result, he and his crew were stranded on ice floes and rocky islands for 18 months before they were rescued. Another contingent of that expedition, aboard the Aurora, was tasked with coming to Ross Island and laying a cache of supply depots from the Pole to the Ross Sea, which they were able to do although with the loss of life, including the ship's captain. Shackleton, on the other hand, never experienced any loss of life directly under his command even while being stranded for over 18 months.
We started making our way back to the snowmobiles at about 1:30 and found that a curious Adelie had got to them first. He was a bit startled at first, but he quickly become accustomed to our presence and started doing a "pose down" when he realized that he was the center of attention. He spent a couple of minutes giving us all of the patented penguin looks so that we could get good pictures. After 5 minutes or so, we thought it best to let him waddle away. We gave him a wide berth to provide him the opportunity to leave if he so desired. It did so reluctantly, hanging around for another 10 minutes before it got bored and ambled off.
As I expected, the group leader offered to let me drive the snowmobile back to a group of seals that we had spotted on the way up. After a 30 second tour of the controls, we pulled out with me leading the group. Although it wasn't difficult to drive the Ski-Doo, it was incredibly tough to see the bumps and divots in the ice sheet to ensure a smooth ride for the folks in tow. The matter was made even more difficult because of the dark goggles that I was wearing. But I was really sad to give up control of the snowmobile when we got near the seals.
This was a rather large herd of seals that had appeared on the ice, with perhaps as many as 20 lounging around in various stages of cat naps. One or two give a concerned eye as we neared, but the rest weren't too preoccupied with us. So, we were able to get much closer to this group than I had been able to any on my previous trips on the ice. There was also the corpse of a rather large seal near the face of the glacier. Although it's cause of death wasn't obvious, it was apparent from the number of holes in it that the skua birds had been well fed.
We remounted the Ski-Doos and rode a few minutes to Cape Evans where I had been twice before. Since the guide didn't have they key to the Terra Nova hut with him, we wondered around the premises for a few minutes and stretched our legs before the long ride back to McMurdo. When it was time to saddle back up, the guide again offered me the chance to drive. So, my strategy had paid off, or so it seemed.
I was initially delighted to get the opportunity to drive the snowmobile the 25 miles back to McMurdo. But about 5 minutes of driving, I understood why the group leader was anxious to pawn the duty off. You see, one doesn't drive a snowmobile as much as manhandle it. The front ski has a mind of it's own and you must continuously wrestle the handlebars to keep it straight. Although it was fun scooting around on the smoother sections of ice at 40 kilometers/hour, I had to keep in mind that I was towing a sled with two people and I didn't want them to bounce out. So, most of the trip I drove at only half that speed as it was too bumpy to risk going too fast. It was a memorable experience, though. But unless newer Ski-Doos offer improved steering and an upgraded suspension, I'll be in no rush to buy one anytime soon.
My battle with the snowmobile made me too tired to do any more typing. I'll have no problems sleeping tonight.
Friday December 21, 2001
My work day came and went thanks in no small part to sending out Christmas emails and chatting with some folks on a message board. Thank goodness for the Internet or my 12 hour shifts would be unbearable.
I have one major thing to look forward to. Mail is coming in. Lots of it. Literally tons of it. There was a package list that was 3 pages long today. Even though I wasn't on it, I'm not feeling too bad. Another Herc leaves Chch tonight with a light load of passengers. Fewer passengers means more room for cargo. Le fragerance du xBox is in the air...
There was another pleasant surprise in store for the town today. An Italian chef bound for the Italian station at Terra Nova will be spending the next few days with us and preparing dinner. Since I didn't get to leave the power plant until dinner was most of the way over, I missed out on the good stuff and was forced to pick from 3 versions of shell pasta. I took the one that look like it had meat flavoring and wasn't disappointed. But as I had wanted to head over the bar for a burger and Guiness (been dry for two weeks by my reckoning), I didn't eat too much of it. Once I was done, I headed over to the bar and spent my last ten dollars on double bacon cheeseburger, greasy tater tots, and a two year old bottle of Guiness.
Jimmie has come up with the idea of the Power and Water crew fixing Xmas dinner together and eating at the power plant. Since we have a small kitchen, a freezer full of steak, and shelves lined with canned food it won't be any difficulty to pull off. I think that it would be a good thing since we haven't done anything meaningful together as a group. And since we will be a family for the next year, the holiday is as good a time as any to form a bond.
Something that I haven't been good about doing is sharing more info about my co-workers at the plant. I've been a little self center and need to at least give some mention to the people that I interact with on a daily basis. So without further ado, here's a little bio of everyone that I work with:
Jordan: the boss. Too many seasons on the ice to even count. Has wintered at every station (Pole, Palmer, and McMurdo) and probably not a country in the world through which he hasn't traveled. During his off time he lives in southern Utah on a 400 acre mountain getaway.
Jimmie: power plant mechanic extraordinaire and semi-professional drag racer. He hails from Minnesota and lives for building engines. Especially ones that make upwards of 1,000 horsepower. He travels the drag racing circuit on the left coast each season running 8 second quarter mile times in the pro street class, I believe. He wants to get his top fuel license some day and turn pro. This is his first season down.
Karen: hails from Oregon and this is her second season at McMurdo and first year at the plant. I believe that she is semi-retired from her 20 plus year career at a manufacturing plant and is looking for something else to do. Since she has spent most of the year on the day shift opposite my rotation, I haven't gotten to spend a lot of time with her. But she strikes me as motherly and caring. The kind of person the group needs to have around.
Diane: I don't quite know exactly where Diane calls home. She's like the wind and travels where ever. Her years off the ice are spent roaming the corners of the globe until it's time to come back to the ice. This is her twelfth year (not season) down. So she has lot's of ice time. So much so that she refers to herself as "The Goddess of Power and Light in the Longest Night."
Pat: Like me, Pat is the victim of the dotcom shakeout. He's from Seattle and plans on getting back and starting a career in Radiology. He is quite an accomplished guitar player and spends his time on the night shift hammering out riffs. He is on my rotation and I will be assuming the night shift from him at the end of January.
There is also the water plant crew which Jordan also oversees. Working there are Allen, Tammy, Wendy, and Dan. But since I see no more than 5 minutes of them a day, I really can tell you a whole lot about them except that Wendy is from Minnesota and that Dan and his wife are both working here this year.
One last thing about today. I missed out on the balloon launch. It happened at midnight last "night" when I was in the rack. There was no way out to the launching facility, anyway. The snow was still blocking the road to all but the largest of vehicles and the heavy equipment was yet being used to repair the runways. So even though I was invited to see it, the scientists took advantage of the good weather and launched it without spectators. My understanding is that it will circle Antarctica twice and touch down not too far from here. With luck, I might get to see it on it's decent. There will be more information on the project's website and I'll try to pass it on as I get it.
Saturday December 22, 2001
Finished up the generators and even changed the glycol antifreeze in one of them.
The anticipated mail plane didn't make it as it was forced to turn around due to mechanical problems. No xBox today.
Spent most of the day surfing the web and making a few updates. Nothing really noteworthy.
Sunday December 23, 2001
No package again today. The plane was delayed but got off to a later start. The manifest indicated over 7,000 pounds of mail. That'll be too much to sort tonight after it arrives, so maybe the postal crew will open tomorrow long enough to hand out packages to those who just received them.
Today was normal working day for rest of the base. Usually Sundays are days off. But since most of the base will be off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (I won't) they're working through the weekend.
Spent most of the day in MMI on the internet and watching movies with the ol' crew. K2, Jacob's Ladder, and a few football games.
There were two Coast Guard helicopters on the station today. That could only mean that the icebreakers are nearing the ice edge. Word is mixed about when they'll get here. Some say the 28th of this month and others say the first week of January. The McRumour mill is running full steam.
I also tried working on the web site, including this journal. Too many distractions.
Monday December 24, 2001
Christmas Eve and South Pole Santa came through. My xBox and two packages of "turtles" found their way to the mail room last night. The xBox really looked the worse for wear, though. The shipping box had gotten wet at some point and was crumpled and torn. So much so that it had caved into the xBox package itself. But nothing seemed to be broken and everything worked when I brought it to the power plant and plugged it in.
I spent about 2 hours playing Halo and completely agree with the reviewers. This is the best game currently offered on any platform, PCs included. I had to drag myself away from it, though. I still have another 10 and 1/2 months to go. I can't get jaded of my latest toy just yet.
After a nice dinner (not as elaborate as Thanksgiving dinner) I took a shower andI spent 3 hours making site updates. Xmas seems like another day in the life without all of the commercialization. Without decorations and television specials to remind me, I'm hard pressed to feel any special significance.
Tuesday December 25, 2001
Had to work today, making today seem even less like Christmas. But that's the nature of the rotation. Although I get a great deal of time off, it happens that I have an even chance of working any given holiday. But I'll have New Year's Day off, so maybe I'll be able to get to catch the tail end of the season.
I played several rounds of Scrabble online and chatted with a few folks. Mostly, though, I ended up irate. I just know that the people on the other end of the screen have official Scrabble dictionaries and are illegally using them throughout the game. So, I started using dictionary.com. Well, that's not a reliable source for this purpose because it contains many valid words that the Scrabble dictionary doesn't. So invariable I find a word out of my hodge podge of letters that dictionary.com says is valid, yet when I play it and get challenged, I lose more often than not. So I end up even more annoyed. Which is odd, since it's only a game.
I've also noticed that I obsess about things that I really shouldn't. For instance, I'm pressuring Ella to get the best satellite plan available to new subscribers (free install, 150 channels, 2 receivers, and a digital video recorder) although it costs $50/month. On the other hand, she wants only the bare minimum plan in order to save money. At the end of the day, it shouldn't really matter to me as I'm not the one watching. But I suppose that we as humans must invent concerns even when they don't exist.
Still getting my butt handed to me in Civilization 3 by the AI. There is just too much stuff to keep track of. But I'm too lazy to read the manual, so there you go.
Someone left a copy of December's National Geographic laying around the power plant. It has several articles about Antarctica and mentions Mactown. It's recommended reading, and if I can link to it on National Geographic's site, then I'll do so.
Wednesday December 26, 2001
Christmas day at home. I tried like crazy to give both my sister and Ella a call. It seemed that most everyone at McMurdo was trying to get a call out to family back home. Since we only have 4 publicly usable phone lines to the outside world, that's a lot of demand. After fifteen minutes of trying I was able to able to get through to my sister. It took another 15 minutes to get through to Ella. Although she was lonely this holiday, she and one of her friends got together for tea and to exchange presents. It's good that she has some support this time of year.
Talk around town was that the ice breaker was to arrive today, so I poked my head out the door occasionally in hopes of seeing it round Hut Point. Which it never did. People said that they could see it on the horizon if they climbed to the top of Observation Hill, but I wasn't interested in going up there just to catch a glimpse of a bridge or some small dot in distance.
Before my shift ended I gave Ella another call. I wanted to tell her one more time how much I missed her and that I was sorry that I was gone this Christmas. We'll make up for it next year, though.
After work I had to go over to MMI and help some folks over there with their laptops and getting a digital camera to download onto one of them. What should have been an idiot proof installation didn't go so well. The bonus software and utilities went well enough, but the driver didn't want to install. Chalk another one up to Windows Me. Fortunately someone had a floppy drive adapter for a SmartMedia card and we got that to work.
I was able to make it back to my dorm by 8:30 and found the lounge unoccupied. I took advantage of the situation and connected my XBox to the large screen TV. The sound and image quality were much better than on the cheesey 19" mono TV in the power plant. Not wanting to seem as if I was hogging the TV, I let anyone who happened to take a turn at playing Dead on Arrival 3. The game is so incredibly realistic that it was enjoyable for me to watch, anyway. I put it away by 10 and went to bed soon thereafter.
Thursday December 27, 2001
Had a hard time getting up this morning. I guess that I'm not as excited to get to work as I once was and my feet aren't as eager to hit the floor. So far I've not been in danger of sleeping late, though. I sense that there's a bad stigma associated with relieving the watch late here, just as there was on the sub. All it takes is one time and the whole department will think of you as a slacker. It's not fair for the other person for them to spend any more than their 12 hours on duty while you're catching some zees.
The ice breaker was not in sight yet, so I made a commitment to walking down to Hut Point after work to get a better look without the hills obscuring my view. I climbed a ridge that offered clear views of the sea and saw something that I think is the ice breaker on the horizon. It was clear enough to see that it had some width to it and that it was emitting a smoke plume, but I couldn't tell the actual distance. If I had to guess, though, I would say that it is in the vicinity of Capy Evans, about 20 miles up the coast. But distances here are misleading. The Royal Society Mountains look much closer than they actually are, so who knows. It was too far away for my camera to make out anything worth seeing, so I didn't grab any pictures of it.
Dinner was the blandest that I've ever seen. It was mostly veggies and some really indescribable, fatty beef and something pawned off as chicken. But like everyone else, I had some potatoes and ice cream. I suppose that they are trying to balance the food budget and making up for the expenses of Xmas dinner by serving several days worth of the cheaper fare. But before I delve too deeply into conspiracy theories, it may be as simple as the chef's taste in food wasn't in line with everyone else's.
Worked on the site and updated my journal. After that it was another humbling attempt at Civilization 3.
Friday December 28, 2001
I was up and out of bed by 8:00 and at the power plant to get some emailing done.
Received an interesting one from the folks in the post office. There was a package of DVDs for someone named "Dave" here at McMurdo. Since there are about 30 Davids on station this summer, they are a bit confused. On the off hand chance that one of my visitors was kind enough to send them to me, I put a notice on the message board. Although it's unlikely that I was the intended recipient, it's still worth looking into as you just never know.
I thought that I would take advantage of the fact that we still have a truck and start changing out the dead batteries for the emergency generators. Jimmie got them out of supply and loaded them into the truck and I took them up to the heavy shop to fill them with battery acid and to put them on trickle charge. Although they would have been ready to install by early afternoon, I just wasn't in the mood. It was my day off and I wanted to veg and do as little as possible. It's not as if the generators won't start with the current batteries, because they will. I'm just replacing them before the batteries get any worse. So waiting another day or 30 probably won't hurt that much. Besides, it would probably be a good idea to let the batteries trickle charge overnight, anyway.
I went back to the dorm and played my XBox on the big screen TV for a half hour or so. Since everyone was working, I'd have it to myself. But I just couldn't get into it. I keep feeling as it I'm going to beat my games now and not have anything for the dead of winter. So I didn't play for too long.
After dinner I walked back to Hut Point to get another look at the icebreaker. It was larger and a little below the horizon now. So it must be getting closer. It was also laying down a large cloud of black smoke meaning that it was having a problem getting through the ice. I hear that it's burning 30,000 gallons of fuel an hour and may have as many as 3 engines on line to develop enough power to get here. Since the progress is so slow, I would have no doubts about that at all.
Saturday December 29, 2001
The base is celebrating New Years Eve and Day this weekend so that a normal, uninterrupted work week can be held next week. Productivity can't be sacrificed at any cost.
But it's not totally bad. Sunday will be a festive day featuring chili cook-offs and a music festival known as "Icestock." Icestock is a bunch of concerts put on by several bands that form over the season. It should prove to be an interesting experience, provided that Jordan relieves me for a few minutes so that I can go up and sample what's going on.
The day started off at 8:00 as I made it to the power plant early once again. I was determined to get the batteries done and over with. Jimmie had went up the heavy shop on a parts run and was kind enough to bring the batteries back down for me. But as I was putting them in the truck I knew that installing them would be a two person task. They each weighed 90 pounds and it would be no easy task manhandling them up stairs, over ice, and between pipes to get them installed. Jordan anticipated such and was willing to help me out. They were installed by noon and I took the rest of the day off to play Civilization 3 (learning more, but still getting beat), pool, and even a few online games of Scrabble (rating improved with two victories).
I took a stroll down to Hut Point again to check on the icebreaker. It's still a good distance away, but there's a noticeable difference in the size and shape of the profile over yesterday.
Openings in the ice are starting to appear all over McMurdo Sound as the warmer sun starts to melt it away. One of which had several seals basking in the sun nearby. By and large, all traffic has been suspended onto the ice sheet and it's probably not even a good idea to walk on it, either. All of the huts and snowmobiles that were parked out there have been moved ashore in anticipation of the icebreaker, whenever it arrives.
The daily highs are starting to reach the low 40s. It's so warm in this dry air that I don't even wear a coat anymore. At least around town. But I still bundle up to walk out to Hut Point. As soon as you leave the sheltered grotto that surrounds McMurdo, you feel the Antarctic winds full force. Even on nice days like today, 30 mile winds really make it numbingly cold.
One final note. CNN.com posted an AP article today about the B-15 iceberg and it's effect upon the penguin colonies at Cape Royds and Cape Crozier further up the coast. It can be found here.
Sunday December 30, 2001
Icestock day! Although I only got to take in about 15 minutes of our annual New Years festivity, it was an interesting event which featured about 6 bands of various playing ability and music style, lots of chili cooks giving out samples of their fixin's, and a mob of people having a big snowball fight.
Jordan relieved me at 2:30 so that I could grab some chili and hear some live music. I didn't want him to cover for me any longer than necessary so I meandered around for only a few minutes taking pictures and tasting chili, which was surprisingly good: the efforts of the our backyard chefs really paid off.
After work I headed down to Hut Point once again to check the progress of the Polar Star. It was getting closer but was clearly not going to be here in time for the crew to celebrate New Years on dry land.
Last week, a C141 lost a wing while on the ground and the entire fleet of 99 planes has been grounded. It was simply refueling and the stresses from the added weight of the fuel in the wing tanks caused it to simply break off. It didn't come as a surprise that a C141 had a failure of this magnitude. They are all approaching 40 years old. And given our experiences with them on the flight down, it's amazing that it didn't happen sooner. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured from what I understood.
No one knows when the fleet will be given the thumbs up to resume operations which could serious affect operations here. We need the 141s to fly last minute supplies in and the people out before the base closes. The Hercs can do the task but it will take more flights. And they are still needed to fly supplies to the Pole. Retasking them would adversely affect that mission.
Came back to my room and played Civilization 3 until midnight. Regretted it in the morning as I had a difficult time getting up.
Monday December 31, 2001
Looking back at my journal it all seems that the past few days have been pretty cut and dry, like I have just been doing the mechanics of writing and not putting any effort in conveying any emotion. I've been distracted, though. It's kind of tough to stay motivated to maintain good journal habits when I've got so many toys that I could be playing with. At least I've become aware of the problem, though.
I called Ella the very first thing this morning. We spent almost a half hour on the phone catching up on this and that. She's doing good and I'm starting to miss her terribly once again.
Everyone is back at work today and all this week, except for me. I'll be off Tuesday through Thursday so I could conceivably celebrate the official New Years without having to wake up early. The Kiwi's made matters worse by having a New Year's party of their own and invited us Yanks over. Although it was a BYOB affair, it still would have been nice to go over. But I didn't. Instead, I opted to have a burger and beer at the bar and return to my room for quality time with Civilization (been working on the same game for over 15 hours real time). I did make it down to Hut Point though, just to get outside for a while.
I'm not sure how to feel about not being being interested in going out and celebrating the New Year. Meaning, am I getting blasť about activities that don't center around my laptop or the internet? I'd prefer being by myself than going out and about. I'm also losing my ability to concentrate for extended periods of time (although some would argue that I had the attention span of a gnat to begin with). But other than missing Ella, I don't really feel blue. I'm just maintaining an even strain or staying in an emotional neutral zone. Is this what being toasted means?
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