Friday, February 1
Stayed up until 5:30 this morning playing XBox in an attempt to make the transition to night shift. I was dragging toward the end, but a good effort for my first attempt.
I slept until about noon and then my stomach reminded me that it was time to eat, so I meandered to the galley to have something or other. The food all seems the same these days, so I don't even bother remembering what it was that I eat on any given day. The only exceptions are when we have hamburgers or steaks that don't look like Grade A rejects.
There is almost absolutely nothing to do in the middle of the night. McMurdo is a virtual ghost town. Aside from the few people working nights, you'd think that everyone just up and left. There will only be 4 or 5 people working nights this winter. The other 243 odd winter overs will be working during the day. Of the handful up in the middle of the night, 2 will be in the power plant and 2 in the firehouse. But since both crews work alternating shifts there will be but one other soul to interact with. Also, the midnight meal (midrats) will no longer be served. So, about the only thing to eat for "lunch" will be cold cereal.
After lunch I headed to Mammoth Mountain Inn (MMI) to see who was left from the crew that I flew down with. Non essential personnel are starting to head out by the plane load. So far, only 2 or 3 people that I knew by name have left. But as folks are leaving, people are also coming in to handle the ship offload. The cargo vessel Greenwave is due in tomorrow or the next day with milvan after milvan of supplies to keep McMurdo and the Pole going for another year. The Navy has sent a group of Seabees down to handle the actual offload while the Cargo and Supply departments anticipate 2 weeks of round the clock transportation of the stuff from the pier to the various warehouses around town. And in order to stave off any alcohol related problems, all bars are closed until further notice. Once ship offload is over, the remaining people will be flown out and the base will shut down to the outside world.
Saturday, February 2
Slacked off and crawled into bed at 4:45 this morning. Not good. I need to be able to stay up until 6:30 without any difficulties. But today I slept until 12:30 and then had a nap from 3 to 5. So hopefully the extra sleep will help with the coming night.
Working night shift will be an entirely different set of dynamics. In order to still get anything decent to eat I'll have to wake up in the middle of the day in order to have lunch. Since I'll feel groggy, I'll need to take a nap before dinner time. Then, I'll need to get up early enough to have dinner yet still relieve the watch at 6. And unless I skip the afternoon nap, I can pretty much give up the notion of chatting with my wife as this the time after she gets home from work but before she goes to bed. I suppose that I can always give her a call while she's at work and that we can chat in the mornings, her time, on the weekends, but I've so gotten used to talking to her over the past week. It'll be tough doing without once again.
It was a perfectly calm evening and I went to the plant after dinner to practice the midnight paperwork on last time. I couldn't help but notice the reflection of the sun on the ripple free water just outside. It was a true "Kodak moment" and I just couldn't help but return to my room to get my camera to capture it.
Some sort of resolution is approaching at the plant with regard to the personnel problems that I've alluded to in the past. I don't know quite how things are playing out but I'll be affected in some way. That's the nature of working in such a small department.
Sunday, February 3
Made it to 5:30 and conceded defeat. I figured that if I could stay awake that long I could find things to do at work to stay awake the extra half hour. But since I'm having difficulty preoccupying myself for the time being, I'll have start exploring the base sooner than I'd hoped. I've intentionally not seen 2/3's of McMurdo in the 4 months that I've been here just so that I'd have something to do once winter sets in. I may have to bump the schedule up a few weeks unless something else presents itself.
The Greenwave pulled in while I was sleeping. It's a rather massive vessel that contains 85% of the supplies that we will need for the next year. When I got to work in the evening, they had started offloading the cargo onto the flatbed trailers which then hauled them to various pre-staged areas around base. These milvans (shipping containers) are stacked everywhere. At the rate they are going they should have the boat offloaded in no time.
Surprisingly, the entire ship offload process is proceeding rather smoothly. A truck pulls up to the pier and an aboard ship crane removes a milvan and places it on the truck which hauls it away. So far I've seen a line of at most three trucks waiting their turn. I suppose that one thing that Americans are accomplished at is moving massive amounts of supplies in an organized and orderly fashion. Sure, the process may be a bureaucratic nightmare, but once the work starts it's a machine that runs itself.
I was reading in the Sun that Princess Anne is to arrive next weekend and spend a few days on Ross Island exploring the historic huts. She will be lodging at Scott Base which is appropriate, I suppose, as New Zealand still recognizes the symbolic reign of Queen Elizabeth. But she is expected to attend several events here at Mactown, including a monument dedication to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Scott's first attempt on the Pole. And even though most of the activities are scheduled during the day, I will try to attend those that I can.
The first half of my shift went well. Jordan was around until late in the evening to chat with and then my midnight power and fuel usage summaries kept me occupied for a while.
Monday, February 4
I had problems towards the end of my first shift but I handled it better than I expected. But the time stretched out more that I would have liked. It was an incredibly slow shift. For entertainment I poked my head out the door from time to time to watch the ship offload evolution. All sorts of nifty vehicles were being offloaded and then just driven off, including some new pick-up trucks and a bulldozer. I hear that there are some new tracked vehicles to replace the antiquated Sprites that we have, but I've yet to see them. I also gave Ella a call and chatted with her for a few minutes. My mom also signed in for a few minutes towards the end of my shift. But since I was to be relieved shortly I couldn't talk to her for very long.
Jordan's replacement, Al, will not be able to make it down this winter. I understand that there was a problem with his medical qualification that prevented him from wintering over. So there is a mad effort underway to find a winter over manager for the power and water department. The first two people who were offered the position declined and the list is now growing thin. With time running out, they may have to give the position to a first time manager. But most of the summer only crowd is out of the running because it's too late for them to be physically qualified to stay over. The process takes too long and it would not likely be concluded before the station closes.
There is also the issue of the other operator. There will be some resolution soon, I hear. Things are definitely going to be interesting over the next few days. But since they are all management related issues, I'm better off just pretending not to hear any rumors and concentrate on my job.
I've heard rumors of a CNN crew floating around town filming various aspects of life here. I saw what I thought to be a camera crew on one of the ice breakers last week but assumed that a training film was being filmed and gave it no more thought. Anyway, they have been here for quite a while and am surprised that they have been so low key. With this much time on down here, they aren't working or a 30 second spot but I suspect an hour long documentary of some sort. I'll have to keep my ear to the ground and find out more about it. But since the powers that be try to keep some things under wraps, I don't expect to hear much more than mere rumors.
After work, I skipped breakfast and went directly to bed. But the sounds of the trucks passing by my window robbed me of a lot of sleep. So I was out of bed and in the shower at noon, which was good timing if I wanted to catch the Super Bowl. I went to the galley and caught the opening quarter over lunch and then headed to MMI and chatted with Ella once more while watching the rest of the game. Even though it was a work day, there was little work being done aside from the the ship offload. It seemed as though everyone took a 4 hour break and tuned into a TV. I'm not normally a football fan, but a lineman for the Patriots, Mike Compton, and I attended high school together. So I had to root for them.
Once the game was over I headed back to try and catch a nap, but to no avail. Perhaps I'll be more adjusted to the work hours now and not need it.
One last thought: I'm trying to figure out how to best divide my journal entries now that I'm working nights. Do I stop at midnight for each "day" or do I carry it over and end the "day" when I get off work. But I like the finality of stopping at midnight and will do that for now. That may change if I grow tired of it, though. Also briefly flirted with the idea of titling each day's entry in an index and then hyperlinking to that day in the journal. That thought lasted for about 2 seconds at which point I realized that too much work would be required.
Tuesday, February 5
I'm finding it easier to stay awake until I get relieved. I didn't even need to get in bed just after work, but I did anyway. And I slept until 1:30 without any difficulty, aside from the phone waking me up at 8:00 or so. I would start adjusting my schedule to sleep from 10:00 until 5, but then I would lose out on the afternoon chat with my family and Ella. So I'll stick with the current routine for a while yet.
The day shift operator on my rotation was dismissed today. He sat down with me at dinner to let me know. There's been some discontent and a degree of infighting for several months now and it ultimately ended with someone being sent home. I don't think that he's a bad guy, but rather caught up in something that kept snowballing. He didn't back off and say "mea culpa" until it was too late. Since the powers that be wanted to cleanse the atmosphere before winter set in, they opted to discharge him now and find a replacement rather than give him another chance. Although there is a list of people waiting to come to the plant and work, I suspect that very few of them have the necessary qualifications for the job. But maybe it's more important to get someone in here who is more affable in order to restore some harmony. It's another management decision that I'd best steer clear of. In the meantime, Jimmie is standing the watch until a new hire is selected and brought up to speed.
I suppose that I should reflect more upon what's happened and why, but it's best just to get over it and move on. We have another 9 months to search for whatever it was the lot of us came here to find.
Wednesday, February 6
Too many things to talk about today, and not enough energy to write about them all in detail.
The Princess Royal was supposed to arrive today but was boomeranged. The weather forced the Kiwi Herc to turn around 6 hours into the flight. No preferential treatment for anyone here. They will attempt to bring her down tomorrow on a 141 if the weather clears up, I hear. But if she fails to make it down then her trip will be cancelled as she has engagements elsewhere.
Fat, lazy snowflakes fell for most of the day, but didn't lead to a lot of accumulation. The black, rocky ground was warm enough to melt it away almost as quickly as it landed. The wind picked up some in the evening and caused it to feel like a typical New England winter day. The weather always worsens each year about this time. The disappearance of summer always coincides with ship offload.
I received a nice care package from a reader today. Lots of candy, books, and some scented candles and incense. The latter probably being the most useful thing anyone has ever given me. Since I haven't been exposed to anything with an odor in 4 months, it's a pleasant reminder that I actually have a sense of smell. I also got a DVD, but when I went to play it my DVD software had inconveniently expired. Even though I downloaded and purchased the software back in November, it informs me that my trial period is up and that I need to buy the full version. I downloaded and installed the product key at least a half-dozen times to no avail. I emailed tech support, but I probably won't get a response for a couple of days. Since there doesn't seem to be any other way of contacting them I'm without a DVD player for a while.
My mom informed me that my step-sister gave birth late last night. I spent a lot of the day looking at baby stuff, but in the end simply bought a gift certificate for her. Since I didn't know what she had already bought or received at the shower, this seemed like the best thing.
The problems associated with the dismissed operator won't go away. Really wish that everyone just talked their problems out early in the season instead of letting them fester and reach the stage that they did.
Thursday, February 7
My winter room opened up today and I started moving in after dinner. With Jimmie's help (who is moving next door), I was able to rearrange the furniture and clean the place up. I light off some of the incense that I recently received to cover up the antiseptic odor of the 20,000 odd cleaning solutions that I used to get it squared away. But after several hours of tidying, I brought some bed linens and toiletries down to settle in.
The rooms are a lot better than my summer quarters. Not only is it bigger, but the furniture is better. There is also a shared bathroom between my room and Jimmie's, so no more common shower stalls for me.
Once I had things squared away, I meandered to and fro for while and wound up at the power plant until mid-rats.
A nephew of one of the operators dropped by. He's a new arrival in town and is an semi-pro videographer, bringing with him some $50,000 in computers, cameras, and editing equipment. He'll be working on a few projects this winter trying to capture the day to day life of people in McMurdo throughout the winter. But it won't be his full time job, as he is officially here to work as a painter. But during his off hours, he will be capturing the various aspects of life. I'm not certain what angle he'll approach it from, but I'd be more than willing to help in any capacity that I'm able. We're both trying to accomplish the same thing: promoting awareness of how people live and work here.
Last note, the Princess Royal made it in today. I think that the itinerary calls for her to unveil the commemorative plaque on Saturday morning. I'll have to stay up late, but it would certainly be worth my while to stop by and hear any speech that she may deliver.
Also, DVD player seems to be working now. Downloaded the software again and then ran the trail version "unlocker." That did the trick and even opened up some functionality that I didn't have before. Hopefully it's fixed for good this time.
Friday, February 8
Went back to the plant after midnight and chatted with Karen, the other night time operator, for a few hours. I wrote some emails and surfed the web some, but I'm finding this to be getting so old as to jade me in the worst way. So, I drifted throughout town trying to find gatherings of people where ever I could in search of conversation.
I went back to my new room at about 3:00 and connected my XBox to an old 21", mono TV that I'd skuaed earlier. It had been sitting in the MMI lounge for over a month. And since MMI would soon be locked up for the winter I thought that I could put it to good use. If the housing department wants it back, I'll have no qualms handing it over. But I don't think it likely considering that it's so old as to not be of practical use to anyone. Besides, MMI had a new large screen TV added to the lounge a few months ago and the rooms aren't individually wired up for cable...such cable TV we have, anyway.
Anyway, 3 hours of Halo later and it was off to bed. When I turned out the lights, my room was completely black. The previous occupant had fashioned a foam edged cardboard to fit over the window. They did an outstanding job as not the first hint of sunlight filters through. At first, I didn't know how to react as my eyes haven't had to adjust to darkness in 4 months. But I managed to stumble across the room and into bed without breaking any toes.
I woke up at 2:30, logged into chat with Ella for an hour and then moved some more stuff to my new room. A few more hauls should about do it. After dinner, it was time to go to work for a 2 day on cycle.
Jimmie is covering the day shift on my rotation until a new operator can be found. Word is that there will be someone available next week, but who knows. They've went through a half dozen so far who couldn't or didn't take the job for whatever reason.
Saturday, February 9
Made it through the night with no difficulties, but opted for a broken sleep during the day so that I could see the memorial dedication. I crawled into bed at 6:30 and set my alarm clock for 9. An hour was enough time to clean up, dress for the weather, and walk to Hut Point with a few minutes to spare.
The crowd wasn't as large as I thought it would be, only about 100 people or so. And I had a nice spot front row and center until a Reuters cameraman set up in front of me. I suppose that I could have moved in front of him in turn, but doing so would have placed me on the monument and thus prominently in the middle of the ceremony. Anyway, I found a spot to the side and awaited the Princess Royal's arrival.
Promptly at 10:00 two US shuttle buses arrived and she and her entourage disembarked and proceeded to the Discovery Hut, where the ceremony promptly got underway.
She was introduced by the director of the Kiwi based Antarctic Heritage Trust, an organization that is trying to restore the historic huts on Ross Island. His speech was only about 5 minutes in length and called upon other countries to do their part to help restore the huts. Reading between the lines, he was pointing at the US as we have the largest presence here. And I suppose that it's only fair that we foot the largest part of the $14 million effort to both repair them now and create a trust to handle their maintenance into the future. In addition to the permanent Antarctic presence here, we also have the largest number of tourists who visit Ross Island.
Princess Anne spoke next and also gave a very short talk. I had a very difficult time in hearing her. I don't know if it was because of the wind or because she wasn't talking loudly, but it was hard to make out what she said. From what I could gather she didn't plead for money directly, but stressed the historic significance of the huts of Ross Island. I couldn't help but be struck by the crisp, proper language she used and the demeanor in which behaved. It was obvious that she was very British, but she also acted distant. There were no hand shakes, no natural, unforced smiles, and a je ne sais quois to the way she carried herself. I don't recall ever seeing those behavioral cues in anyone before, including US politicians and celebrities. I don't won't to call in snobbery or indifference, I simply can't put a label on it.
Anyway, after the ceremony she presented a check to the Heritage Trust for $100,000 dollars to help jump start the restoration campaign. I followed the photographers in closer to get a better picture of the presentation. Shortly after I took it though, she walked toward me in a brisk fashion. Given that she was upon me in no time, I could only manage pivoting 90 degrees to get out of her way. She missed me by a foot or so and made no effort to avoid overlapping our "personal spaces", that 2ft comfort zone surrounding people that we like to keep "stranger free." It wasn't as if she couldn't have avoided me as I was the only person in 5 or 6 ft of her. Instead, I got the impression that she wanted me to move as that is the expected mode of behavior for people in her presence. I suppose that the polite thing to do was to make more of an effort to get out of the way. But I was putting my camera away and caught off guard. Anyway, I really don't know why I'm preoccupied with this as I don't have any conscious thoughts, either positive or negative, on the matter. I think that I'm just trying to pen down my impressions before they get lost in a clutter of other experiences. After all, it's not every day that you get you to meet someone of her stature. There's more coverage of her visit here.
Interesting footnote: there was no cover for the plaque so someone in a blue Kiwi parka (could have been a Kiwi, could have been one of her entourage) offered up theirs' to place on top of it to be ceremoniously yanked at the proper time. Of course, the poor bloke was without a coat for 10 minutes or so. After the ceremony he ran up to retrieve it and the Princess, I assume, saw what a state he was in and met him half way to hand it back.
After she had went into the hut, I took my leave and went back to my room to sleep. I woke up at 4:30 and went back to my old room for another suitcase full of stuff. It was then off to dinner and then to work for my last shift before 3 days off.
I was surfing the new sites during the late evening and read the headlines that Princess Margaret, the Princess Royal's aunt, had passed away a few hours before. In all likelihood, the Princess will have to forego her Olympic obligations in Salt Lake City and will have to return to London. She is on the manifest to leave tomorrow, but that was already pre-arranged. It will be interesting to see if they will move the flight up to accommodate her family emergency or whether they will proceed as per the plan.
Sunday, February 10
Did much of nothing today. Go off work and slept until about 2:30 and then loaded up my laptop and headed to the plant to connect to the network. Ella was already waiting for me and we chatted until 4:00 or so, at which time she had to go to bed.
Dinner was nothing memorable. I'm grateful for the ice cream machine. I really filled my bowl with soft served and heaped the chocolate on top. Given that ice cream is becoming an increasingly larger part of my diet, I'm surprised that my weight is holding steady at 178. Maybe the weather causes me to burn more calories or something.
The XBox got some playtime after that, almost half way through Halo. Good game. Not too hard and not a breeze...about the right difficulty level. And the storyline is quite involving as well. If this was a first generation XBox game, I can't wait to see what'll be on the market when I get off the ice.
Speaking of leaving, the galley is starting to look a lot less crowded than it did a few days ago. About 20 left on the Princess's flight north today. Another 130 are slated to leave tomorrow and another 137 on Tuesday. I think that there are an additional 2 flights out before week's end as well. So, we will have cut our population in half by this time next week. But as I've said before, as far as I'm concerned, there are only about 6-7 people in town at present. Working the night shift means that I don't get to interact with a whole lot of people.
It's about time for me to once again wonder what my readers get out of this journal. I suspect that they tune in to experience something exciting and different. But I'm afraid that there's nothing interesting going on...at least not in an adventurous sense. For all intents and purposes, this is a town. A town with most of the features that any town or hamlet will have. The only difference is that the sun doesn't set and it's colder and whiter than most other places. And as far as any interest in me goes, well...I'm just a guy at the bottom of the world who does anything to stave off boredom. Including rehashing the same arguments with himself time and again.
Monday, February 11
Slept in, woke up, chatted with Ella. Almost sounds like a mantra. But instead of chanting it, I'm living it. I now have dial-up internet access in my room, so at least I don't have to get bundled up and go in search of an empty network connection.
Before dinner, I went to the power plant and happened to bump into the new winter foreman. Seemed like a nice guy and I regret that I didn't hang around long enough to speak with him some more. But I needed to eat dinner and move a few more boxes out of my old room. BTW, I'm really milking this move out. I could have been done in 90 minutes, but I've stretched it out to almost 5 days now.
Caught up with Sherry in the evening and one of her friends that she met while at the Pole. Those polies are tight, even cliquish. They are certainly a breed apart. Kind of like the Montanans that I've hung around with. You're either one of them or your not, in more ways than one.
Anyway, while we talking in the galley, "Big" John Penney joined in, the guy who had a supporting part in Dr. Jerri Neilsen's non-fiction book Icebound. He was finished with his time at the Pole and was in Mactown waiting to go north. If you remember, she was the doctor stranded at the South Pole during the winter of 1999 after she developed breast cancer. Anyway, "Big" featured prominently in the story and even helped her put the book together once everyone was back stateside. He is an incredibly jolly fellow and I can understand why he comes across larger than life in the book. That would be because he truly is. A walking Antarctic legend, this guy is.
We had a long discussion about the Pole and life in general. I mentioned that my wife admired Dr. Neilsen for her courage and found it inspiring. But I tried not to dwell on it because he probably is getting tired of his "celebrity" status. But he was a nice guy and I can see why people like being around him. I also know that he was being considered from my boss's position this winter. Had it not been for "Big" needing to get home, then he would have been the power and water supervisor. Kind of a shame that he couldn't stay. I wouldn't have minded working for him.
Went to the weight room in the early morning hours. It was my second visit there, but the first was only to tour the place when I first arrived. But I actually used it last night. I did a few minutes on a stair climber and then did a leg, glut, and abdomen workout. I think that I'll work on lower body and upper body on alternating days in an effort to keep myself occupied and to get in shape. I haven't exercised in over 4 months, and I'm surprised that I haven't ballooned in the meantime.
Tuesday, February 12
Went to the gym again. All upper body stuff. Just a few more work outs and I'll be totally ripped. The gym is fairly well equipped and the beauty of going there at 3:00 AM is that I have it all to myself. Did I ever mention that I'm selfish?
138 people left the ice today. I happened to be walking back from dinner when the C141 took off. So, I could both see it and hear it from several miles away. The fact that I could hear it speaks something of the air temperature now. If the air is dense enough to transmit sound waves that far, then it is getting cold. I think that we are down in the teens now. But since I didn't check a thermometer I have no way to be sure.
The Polar Star has left and is replaced by the Sea. The Star pulled in a few days ago to take on fuel and make repairs. Now that's done, they are on their way home. The Polar Sea is undergoing some sort of repairs as I saw a diver in a dry suit being lowered over the side. They will be gone shortly, I hear. I also hear that they are anxious to leave. They don't even consider this a liberty port any longer and just want to get out of here. I wonder why they aren't so anxious to stay? Could it be that there's nothing to do? Nah.
Sherry is leaving tomorrow, so I took her to the as of today reopened Coffee House for coffee while I had a glass of Merlot. We didn't really have a goodbye talk as she's coming back in mid-August for WinFly. But I'll miss her conversation. She was the only woman that I'd made friends with and it was good to have a motherly figure to take the edge off of the testosterone saturated existence that we have here.
Wednesday, February 13
Went to the weight room after midrats. I was pretty sore from my previous workouts, so I skipped the crunches and ab stuff. No need to abuse myself anymore than I absolutely have to. With a 3 day rotation coming up, it will be tough to find time to get to the gym. I'll probably end up staying away from the gym until Saturday or Sunday.
I got a call in to the guy rebuilding my Land Cruiser to see if he'd had any luck tracking down an engine builder for that used engine I picked up last month. No luck. If I don't find a private party to work on it, I'll have to shell out big bucks to have professionals look at it. That's not something that I'm keen on doing. I'd have little say in how little work got down (it should only need honing, new rings, and then new gaskets added at reassembly. It might also need new valve seals....) as they'd want to replace everything and then the kitchen sink and they would charge me a king's ransom in the process. I'd also risk breaking the budget that Ell and I discussed. Not a good thing. I'll probably hit the Land Cruiser message boards asking for charity.
Went to bed after running some 2 minute drills on Madden 2002. Nifty little feature. I basically get the hang of the game without running through 4 quarters of getting my butt stomped by the computer.
I woke up just before 3 and tried to dial up to the server before my wife went to bed, but no luck. My account username and password were invalid. Come to find out that there was a person of the same name at the Pole who had left. The IT people had mistakenly deleted my account instead of his. It was fixed after a quick phone call, but Ella had already signed off before I could get logged in.
Anyhoo, the new operator started working today. Alejandro is a rather nice guy. He's sharp, energetic, and easy to get along with. Like me, he is a dot com outcast. He designed web pages for a living before the fallout and found his way here for the summer doing admin work. When the spot opened up here, he jumped on it. It should be a good winter with him around. And who knows, maybe I get some site redesign work out of him?
The weather has been miserable all day. Visibility was so poor that no flights made it out. It's a shame that I'm working because I'd otherwise have a chance to say goodbye to people that I didn't get to before. But the blowing snow means that I have to keep a closer eye on the engines while I work. Snow can accumulate on the radiators and eventually cause the fans to quit operating. When that happens, the engines overheat and will trip offline. Not a good thing.
Thursday, February 14
Both Ella and my mom chatted with me before they went off to work. Apparently the weather hasn't been too warm their either. My mom has to let her car run for 15 minutes to allow the windows to get defrosted.
I spent about an hour past my schedule time with Alejandro to make sure that he had a good feel for what's going on at the plant. He only had one day to get up to speed as they needed to find a replacement in a big hurry. But I'm confident that he'll get up to speed in short order.
I woke up at 2:30 and tried to dial-up to the server again, but still had problems. This time I could log in and get access to the intranet, but all ports to the internet seemed blocked. No ftp, no http, no mail, and no MS Messenger. It was almost like the servers were down. But when I called IT, everything was fine on their end. Weird. But it's starting to annoy me that I can't chat with my wife but for 10 minutes before she goes to work.
Had steak for dinner. But it was nothing to write home about. After trimming away 8 oz of fat, I had about 5 bites of real meat remaining. Blah. Ice cream again for dinner.
Alejandro had a busy first day on the job. Lots of alarms were going off around town that we have to monitor. As a lot of the buildings are being winterized, various equipment is being shut down causing alarms to sound. Thankfully these evolutions stopped just as I took over. It's one of the good things about working an opposite schedule than the rest of the town. Their work won't affect mine.
Friday, February 15
My secret order of flowers were delivered to Ella at work this morning, her time, while I was still on duty. I got a pleasant email from her telling me how much she enjoyed them. After I got off work and slept until the afternoon, we were able to chat some more because my dial-up account had been re-established.
The weather these past few days had prevented any planes from landing, creating a backlog of passenger flights. But three planes made it in today to carry some 300 lucky souls north. Two of the planes were C-141s, like I had flown down in. The third, though, was a new C-17. It came loaded with 100,000 pounds of cargo for especially for us winter overs, including 3,500 pounds of mail and 54,408 pounds of beer and wine. If I were the drinking type, I'd say that they had their priorities straight. And if "genno" is a misspelling of the pizza manufacturer, there were 31,025 pounds of frozen pizzas aboard. A quick calculation would yield about one half pound of pizza per day per person throughout the winter. That's a bit unrealistic, of course, but a guy can dream.
Anyway, we're down to about 600 people in town. The galley seems barren compared to this time last week and the internet bandwidth has increased quite a bit. It almost even approached cable modem speed when I downloaded a patch for my laptop. The remaining 350 will be leaving next week.
There are only 3 north bound passenger flights left. I keep wondering what it would be like to be on one of them, but I can't dwell on it for too long. Doing so would only get me depressed and then I'd have to put a dent in all the booze that was just brought down.
Saturday, February 16
Found an email from the new boss, Don Brogan, in my inbox when I woke up this afternoon. He was informing people in the department that we can no longer hook our laptops up to the network in the power plant. Although it was sent to the entire department it was meant for me exclusively, as I'm the only one who does it. Jimmie and Alejandro both have laptops, but neither of them have brought them into work to the extent that I have.
The IT department had gotten wind of what I was doing and said "no mas". The reason given was that unplugging NSF computers causes network problems. Shallow excuse, as I know better. I'm turning off the other computer before using it's network cable and since the entire network is DHCP, or dynamically served IP addresses, the other computer is dead to the network.
Although it's hard to separate truth from rumor at times, I'm hearing that several people have been fired as of late. The powers that be are looking for opportunities to dismiss anyone who could potentially be a problem over the winter. One case in particular involves the videographer that I mentioned earlier in the month. It seems that he encountered an out of calibration breathalizing machine that indicated that we was overly drunk when he came into work one day last week (coming into work drunk=bad). His foreman must have heard about his bar hopping and suggested that he get checked out. Anyway, the machine gave inconsistent readings several times. Eve when he came back a few hours later he blew similar results. However, this was enough for him to be sent home after being on the ice for only two weeks despite his roommate's testimony that he was in bed by 11:00. There may well be more to the story than that, but I'm not in the loop. However, it seems like they are being overly totalitarian about eliminating people who could be potential problems this winter. At the very least they should have conceded that there may have been a problem with the machine. But once Denver was informed and they issue verdict I'm left to assume that it's pretty much final. There is also the matter that we will be going into the winter almost 30 people short. Some contracted employees didn't bother to report for the job, others didn't pass their psych evals once they arrived, and then there's also this "weeding out" process that's been undertaken. Again, I don't have any hard evidence. I'm just the gossip columnist that reports the Macrumors that I hear from more than one person.
This recent totalitarian trend has me concerned. The winter season only crew is arriving and rewriting the rules that we had become adjusted to over the summer. Being allowed to use my laptop at the plant is one of them. The summer IT crew had no problem with it. As a matter of fact, I've demonstrated Windows XP to some of them who came down to the plant from time to time. So they obviously knew what was going on. Anyway, it could be that I'm overreacting to today's events. There was certainly a lot of upheaval today, perhaps too much to rationally digest. And maybe I'll come to terms with it in the upcoming days. However, it certainly doesn't serve to create a good first impression of the new people that I'll be wintering with.
Sunday, February 17
Just when I was getting frustrated with, and even a bit concerned by, the recent crackdowns, a miracle.
The IT group opened the NetMeeting port. While chatting with Ella this afternoon, I suggested that we try it on a whim. Sure enough, after a bit of fiddling with the setup options we were able to get it to work. It was so indescribably uplifting to be able to see my wife after 4 and 1/2 months. Sure the pictures were grainy and her lack of a microphone meant that she couldn't talk to me. But it is certainly much better than chatting and much more satisfying than a phone call. We will try again in the morning after she has time to find a mic. Anyway, I'm incredibly excited. I might be able to temporarily live without my laptop at work provided that I can see my wife every day.
The people that I had dinner with were discussing the "clean up" effort and said that they were avoiding the bar until the last plane left. They'd rather drink beer in their rooms rather than take a chance on someone saying that they were disorderly in public. This is a major behavioral shift from the summer.
Now that I've had time to reflect on it some, I can see where the company is coming from. They are taking a zero tolerance approach to alcohol abuse. Any person suspected of being an alcoholic will be sent home. They'd rather risk the dismissed person taking legal action than have them bring harm to themselves or others this winter. Any drunken misconduct here could also endanger their contract with the NSF. From their perspective, it's better to take action now and create a temporary atmosphere of mistrust than to let the situation get out of hand before the winter season sets in.
But before I get carried away with this whole situation, I must iterate that only a few people have been affected. It's not as if there is a base wide manhunt to identify everyone who's a potential problem. I suspect that these people have had alcohol related run-ins before and their last brush was the proverbial straw that broke the donkey's back. But the whole thing illustrates two things: 1.) the program has a zero tolerance policy against alcohol abuse and 2.) there are people who want to test it. Anyway you look at it, though, this isn't your normal work place. The only other job that I'm aware of where the company has say in both your work and home life is the military.
Monday, February 18
I had to wake up early to ship some packages to back to the States. Tomorrow is the last day that the post office will be open, and I'd rather not wait until the last minute. Anyway, there were about 100 people lounging about waiting for the ride to the plane. They were the most rowdy bunch of people I think that I have ever seen. Each of them was excited about getting off the ice and returning to civilization. I wonder what I'll feel the same way come October?
Ella was waiting to chat when I got back to my room. Thank the stars for internet access down here. I can't imagine how people survived without it. Especially the married ones.
Two things to look forward to this week: the sun will be setting for the first time since October at 12:36 AM on Wednesday and the last plane will be leaving Friday afternoon. I should be able to see both. I'm not quite sure how I'll react to watching the plane fly out. On the one hand I want to be on it and on the other I'm glad to see the "tourists" go away.
Tuesday, February 19
Only two more flights until the it's just us against the continent. Over half the tables in the galley were unoccupied, and still about 150 people have yet to leave. McMurdo will be a virtual ghost town soon.
The electrical load has been diminishing with each flight out so far. I've already noticed loads as low as 1400 KW. This is down from a peak of 2200 KW during the summer. We can probably survive by running 2 engines, but the powers that be would like to have 3 running throughout the winter as a precaution. And speaking of engines...the #4 engine, the one that I helped build, was finally light off today. It had been sitting for the past month and one-half waiting for the electrical wiring to be reconnected. This couldn't happen until the electrician arrived, and who checked in late last week. He finished working on it today. Tomorrow will be its first real test as it will be brought online to see how it handles being loaded. If all goes well, we'll be running it for quite a while to put it through its paces.
I'm starting to get a little antsy about the lack of mail. I wasn't on the package list for the shipment that came down of the C-17 and I know that I had things sent to me. I hope that they are waiting until the last plane comes down this Friday. I'm expecting some letters from a 3rd grade class from my hometown. Even though it will be too late for me to reply to them via postal mail, I can hopefully answer some of their questions in an email to their teacher... who was also a teacher of mine when I was in elementary school.
The new boss, Don, held a short meeting this evening to introduce himself and establish some expectations for the winter. Nothing unmanageable.
Wednesday, February 20
The sun set for the first time in almost 4 months just after midnight. According to the United States Naval Observatory, it set at 12:36 AM and rose again at 1:40 AM. As far as I'm concerned, though, not much happened. It was still dusk. Although the sun may have dipped below the horizon, it didn't fall far enough to bring total darkness. It did create some nice sky colors. And, fortunately for me, it dipped behind the Trans Antarctics and I was able to get a picture of it without the sun's light saturating my camera. The days will gradually get shorter now through until mid-April, when the sun no longer rises at all.
Another plane took off today with about 80 passengers on it. There's only one more flight to go and it has 94 souls manifested for a ride back to the world.
And my world has noticeably shrank. Aside from the occasional person using a public computer, I don't bump into anyone at night. So, I've pretty much resigned myself to staying in my room playing with my various toys. The only problem is that I don't think that I have enough to last for another 3 and 1/2 months, at which time Alejandro and I switch shifts.
Thursday, February 21
Had problems getting to sleep this morning, making me sleep until almost 4:00. I barely made it online to chat with Ella before she went to bed. I'm getting too adjusted to night shift, I think. My body now wants me to stay up until 10-11 o'clock now, 12 hours removed from the routine I had before. Of course, it could have been the case that I was too involved with a game to quite playing at my 6:00 bedtime.
I checked out some movies from the video library later in the day: The Razor's Edge, with Bill Murray and a 2 hour documentary on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. I'm not quite sure why I picked those two, but I think that the documentary involves the outside world. The Razor's Edge deals with a disillusioned person who travels the world trying to find meaning, and perhaps at a subconscious level I can identify with him. I have seen it several times before, but hope to pick up on something new this time around.
I received a late email telling me that I had mail this afternoon. Of course, the mail room hours are from 12-2, during the middle of my "night." I'll just wait until the plane comes tomorrow and see what, if anything, else I get. I'm no longer in any hurry to get what mail I have coming to me. I've got another 8 months to sort through it.
Friday, February 22
The last plane of the season left at 4:00 today (right click and select "save target as". 1.2 MB download). I'm not sure what to make of that, but the atmosphere at the galley during dinner was one of excitement and relief. I suspect that people will be happy with the small group scene for a while but after the euphoria dies down will wish that there were more people around. Self included.
I thought that I would have more to say about it, but I don't. There were no horns to announce it's departure, no tickertape parades, no banners...nothing. It simply deviated from it's normal flight plan and flew toward Mactown. The pilot wiggled the wings a few times, flew over Hut Point, and then continued on his way north.
I suppose that I could have taken some time to reflect on the moment as it was happening. But I was too caught up in keeping my camera focused on the plane. So, I didn't even get to take it in first hand, instead looking at it through my viewfinder. I've noticed the same before when I've been a camcorder wielding tourist. I spent so much time looking for the right camera angle getting that perfect shot that I actually forgot to just enjoy the moment. That's the problem with being a chronicler.
More mail arrived today, but I was unable to see if I had any. I'll have to wait until someone is at the mail room during hours that will accommodate my schedule.
Surfed the web after dinner and played a few games. I wondered over to MMI to try to get on the network for a quicker internet connection, but found that the IT group had already removed the hubs. It appears as though they are getting ready to shut it down for the winter. It only I could get that big screen TV out of the lounge and back to my room unnoticed...It would be a shame to leave such a fine piece of technology sitting in a cold building through the winter.
Saturday, February 23
I spent the great part of the early morning searching the internet for job contacts for when I get off the ice in October. When offices started opening up at 3:00 my time, I placed a call to the local electrician's union in CT (IBEW). It seems that they accept apprentices every other year and this was the year that they hired. If I wanted to go through the union, then, to become an electrician I'll have to wait until 2004. But since I'm keeping my options open, I also cold called a couple of private contractors. I quickly found out that in order to get past secretaries and through to the owners or the hiring managers one needs an angle. It didn't take me long to figure out that mentioning Antarctica was enough to do just that.
Once I explained my situation they were happy to take a few minutes of their time to tell me about the job market and how the process worked. Two contractors wanted to know when I would be available and wanted me to send a resume. They told me that there was a lot of work to be done right now, but they didn't plan 10-12 months ahead, so they didn't want to make hiring predictions that far down the road. But that's fine. I'm glad to know that there seems to be an avenue open to me when I get off the ice.
I also called the CT Department of Consumer Affairs about the requirements for obtaining a journeyman electrician's permit. I will need to do 8,000 hours as an apprentice before I can take the test. Since I have 5 years of experience in the electrical field from both here and while serving in the Navy, I asked them to take a look at my Navy paperwork to make a determination as to how much credit they can award me. I hope to have Ella dig that up over the weekend and have her fax it on Monday. With any luck I'll have an answer soon. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be worth quite a bit. If its not then I'll have to seriously reconsider my next career. I'd rather not spend 5 years in a low paying apprenticeship. But if I start as say, a 3rd year apprentice, then it might be worthwhile.
Ella wasn't logged in when I woke up at 3:00, so I went back to bed for another few minute's sleep. As I've been having difficulty failing asleep once I go to bed, it's difficult to keep waking up as early as even 3:00. I'm just not tired at 6:30 AM anymore.
Anyway, Jimmie did me the courtesy of picking up my mail today...the one package that I had. The letters from the 3rd grade class arrived but nothing else. What's ironic was these were sent less than two weeks ago. The package that my wife mailed was sent over a month ago, yet didn't make it. Jimmie was short 3 boxes and Don was missing one of his as well. So just in our department there are 3 unhappy campers. Not getting that last bit of mail to do us through the winter certainly didn't set the tone that I wanted to start on.
We are running 4 engines at the plant now, at a time when we should be scaling back to two. The IT folks reported that their UPS system is broken and they want the extra security of an additional engine online until they get it repaired. One of the engines is #4, the one that I helped rebuilt earlier in the summer. And, aside from a slight leak from the front seal it's holding up well.
Sunday, February 24
One of those days that I can't recall anything of interest to jot down. Worked, ate, and slept.
Monday, February 25
Ella and I hooked up via web cam this morning before I got relieved. She's looking beautiful as always.
I wasn't able to go to bed right away because of a departmental safety meeting in the galley at 7:30. So even though I'd lose some sleep it did afford me the opportunity to actually have breakfast for a change. For the first time since I've been on the ice I had the cook make me an omelet. Since I hadn't eaten eggs in so long, it was weird eating it. But I managed.
The meeting involved about 50 people in the operations department and was essentially an opportunity to meet the winter over operations manager and hear his thoughts and concerns for the upcoming season. He's a Navy vet and seems like a nice bloke. I'll have to chat with him when I get the time.
Dinner consisted of a salad sans dressing. It seems like dinner the past 3 days has been the same thing: some sort of chicken and pasta derivative. I'm beginning to think that I'm experiencing one long deja vu episode. I wake up, come to the galley for dinner and see the same courses, work a 12 hour shift, grab some frosted flakes, get some sleep, and repeat. I used to look forward to dinner because it was about the only variable in my life. Not so, recently.
A Kiwi wandered into the plant early in the evening. He and a compatriot were hired at the last possible minute to replace the American lineman who didn't qualify to work this winter. They were so pressed to find someone to get down here that he had about 3 hours to make his decision and then only several days to get his affairs in order. He wasn't given the official word that he'd be hired until last Thursday. He was then on the plane Friday morning. That's what I'd call hectic. But he really wanted to come. So much so that he quit his job in Christchurch just to be here. And that, is what I call desire. Anyway, he seemed like another cool bloke that I'll have to share a beer with sometime. Anyway, it would have taken too long to find another qualified American, get them physically and psychologically screened, get their personal matters squared away, and then fly them here in time for the last plane down. So, they had to go through the unusual process of hiring in New Zealand. And although he conceded that the circuitry was a bit different than what he was used to, he's a reasonably intelligent sort and will do just fine once he gets up to speed.
Tuesday, February 26
Spent the evening watch flicks and I even *read* a book, something that I haven't done in years.
A copy of "Tess", Roman Polanksi's adaptation of Hardy's "Tess D'Uberville" was in the video library and I felt the need to "enlighten" myself by getting exposure to an "artistic" film. Sad story, and I can remember now why I despised Naturalist literature so much when I had to read it at university. No matter how hard the protagonists struggle, they're going to lose in the end. Yeah...that's uplifting.
But that was light compared to what I picked up in a pile of paperbacks. I was looking for something to read, and found a copy of "1984". I had seen the film almost 20 years ago, but had never read the book. As a matter of fact, I've only read a handful of books cover to cover in the past 5 years. Anyway, I spent the rest of the night just reading. That's it.
Wednesday, February 27
Finished reading "1984" just after breakfast. And aside from chatting with Ella at 1:00 AM and grabbing breakfast, I spent the entire early morning reading it. I am very impressed with myself. Not only did I have the dedication to stick with the whole thing but I actually was able to be stimulated by it and "get it" in a scholarly sense.
Were I not a literary romantic, I'd be tempted to draw parallels between Oceania and McMurdo. But this is an exile of my choosing, and thought is not a crime. There are also heroes who triumph at the end of the story
I got a haircut after a few hours in the rack. My initial whim was to get a flat top. Since I've got 8 months before I have to be concerned with fashion, I wanted to be a bit outlandish with my haircut. But the beautician didn't think that I had enough hair for that so I opted for a "high and tight" instead. Since my hair line already seems to be receding by the day, I thought that I might as well get a glimpse of the future. It'll take some getting used to, I guess. Fortunately, I have enough baklavas and hoods to keep my noggin warm without hair on my head. The same can't be said about my face. So, I didn't get a shave this time around. I did get some of the longer hairs around my mouth trimmed, though. I was getting tired of biting a mouthful of beard each time I opened of my lips. I've even gotten hair caught between my teeth on occasion. Painful, that.
Thursday, February 28
Wow! The last day of my fifth month here. Only 7 and 1/2 more months until I get back to the world.
And to commemorate the occasion, there is a new love in my life: orange passionfruit guava. The folks in the galley unveiled a new juice fountain (well, as close real juice as we're going to get) and three new flavors : Grape, Cranberry, and the passionfruit that I mentioned. There is actually something worthwhile in the galley again.
Other than that, nothing to note except that I watched two movies in the early morning: The Mission with Robert DeNiro and an odd little British movie called Another Country. I'd much rather have people to interact with, but I've another 3 and 1/2 months of night shift before I'll be in synch with everyone else.
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