Antarctica

Week 13 More of the same - Aussie DV visits

9th January - 16th January 2000

So what was special about watching a video last week? Well it takes about two hours to watch a movie, and that is a lot of time out of my work schedule at present. Well I'm sick of working so hard, and it's hard to get out of the habit. But watching that movie last week was so easy. This week has been more of the same work wise - even worse. People were telling me how to look after my computers. I was having to do work to cover for these same people that hadn't finished programming and other stuff that should have been completed before they arrived. They were also responsible for the mess the computers were in when I arrived. This resulted in some heated discussions. I decided the only way all of us were going to get through this without them loosing an eye was for me to avoid them until they leave. Once amateur hour is over I'll be able to get these computers into shape without having to listen to people telling me the bleeding obvious each time I start a job. And I found the easiest way to avoid working too hard and aggravating people was to watch movies. So this week I must have watched almost 10 movies - and I've felt much better for it.

Of course there was still work to do. The cables for the string that did not go all the way down had to be dragged. Cable drag is worse than bag drag. After the string is deployed the remaining cable has to taken off the spool and dragged to Mapo. With string 17 there was almost 500 meters of cable still on each spool. It was decided to try and cut the electrical cable, but this wasn't an option with the optical cables. It was a fairly big job.

It's strange how I'm starting to feel a bit isolated from the AMANDA community. There are quite a few people arriving and going that I don't even meet. There are many who I know by sight are AMANDA, but don't know their names or what they are doing. I missed the last year winter-overs when they left. But they have been replaced by Robert (Bert) and Gary. They are ex-winterers, and are very sympathetic to my situation. Gary is another Aussie who wintered in 1998, and Bert is famous for wintering both 1997 and 1998. Bert's aurora photography is also very well known. I've also been hanging out with a summer trio Till, Dave, and Katherine. They work very hard, but have the redeeming quality of enjoying their time here also. This trio left this week, leaving mainly very serious people. Their serious nature means I do so little with them that I know almost nothing about them. This is probably a less than optimal situation. But so many things would have to change for this to be different.

Bert's home page has some very interesting stuff from his two winters. Especially his aurora photos.

For Till and Dave's going away we went out to the ski hut, a couple miles away from the station. Unfortunately Dave had to work! Four of us went out and just relaxed and had a few drinks well away from the station. The weather was very nice that night with very interesting wind on the horizon making unusual clouds, as thought we were in a huge wind tunnel. The ski hut has a stove and some stuff for making hot drinks. Its intended purpose is for people going for a ski to have a break and warm up.

Before Katherine left she wanted to make a small movie. She wanted to do a parody on the Blair Witch Project at the South Pole. Till and I were recruited as the two idiot blokes. Because Till was very tired and wanted to get some sleep, he became the one that was killed off early. Katherine had put more effort thinking about what she wanted to than I expected. This resulted in it almost feeling organised, and as though the finished product could be very amusing (well, to us maybe). Just mucking around doing it was great fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing the edited end result - in December 2000?

A group of Aussies from UNSW arrived this week. By some not obvious methods the director of the Australian Antarctic Division came down as part of their project for a couple of days at the end of the week. I'd heard that he had never been to an Australian station (I believe he has very good reasons), so decided to put on a slide show on Saturday night - so he'd be able to compare. I normally put a bit of preparation into my slide shows, but was so busy I put the slides together an hour before hand. I often get teased for making comments about how nice Casey is compared to the crowded, old South Pole. So it was very pleasing to hear the stunned silence, and then the ohs and ahs when I put up a photo of the Casey mess and kitchen. I had many people tell me later that I was right, Casey is much much nicer. The other thing that made a huge impression was my series of photos showing a year in the life of Adelie penguins. For many people seeing a penguin at McMurdo is a major goal of their trip, and often never manage it.

It was very interesting being able to talk to Tony Press (Ant Div director). He replaced Rex about a year ago, so I had never met him. There had recently been a report about providing direct air support from Australia to our stations. I feel very uneasy about this for many reasons. I believe it will cost far more than the bean counters are saying. This will then eat into the science budgets. It will also change the dynamics on station dramatically. Having worked under both systems I think the present Aussie one is far far better. Another argument for air support is to get the high flyer academics to Antarctica. But as I see it they aren't the ones that do the work. If someone is not willing to commit to some time on the ship, I don't see how they are making much of a commitment to the science, but are only after a jolly south. What I am very sure about is that the main hindrance for scientist wanting to work in Antarctica is the funding model for research in Australia. Consider my old group which does not have access to ARC money, or slave labour in the form of graduate students. They are at the mercy of the internal politics of Ant Div, and the whim of the government. Of course any argument I come up with can be dismissed with, "conservative, siding with the old timers".

Once major changes are made to the way Australia works in Antarctica they will be irreversible. A huge amount of damage could easily be done because someone had an idea. I don't think arguments for maitaining the present general system should be dismissed purely on the grounds of greater fiscal efficiency. Especially when the money that will be saved is so small in the scheme of things. I believe at present working for Ant Div provides a very satisfying Antarcitc work experience. But I bleieve this could easily not be the case if many of these changes are adopted.

The week ended on a high note, with the arrival of some very distinguished visitors. They did arrive by private means, but when they are astronauts they get a special welcome and treatment despite this. They were Jim Lovell (Apollo 13 fame), and Owen Garriott (Spacelab and Skylab II). They were given a tour of the station in the morning, and all the other privileges of ultra DV. In the afternoon they were each presented with a flag that was flown at the pole, and other mementos. They then gave a couple of short talks about their lives and experiences. The talks they gave were very interesting and quite funny. I expect they have given them many times. Their answers to questions were also very good, and they really knew how to play an audience, pointing out how great we were etc. They finished up by signing a million autographs, and chatting to people.

I'm so tired that the idea of packing and going on R\&R isn't all that appealing right now. But I'm well and truely due for a break. Even if I wanted to relax at the pole, I wouldn't be able to get away from work. I'm becoming a bit inefficient (i.e. not doing 60+ hours of productive work a week), and I doubt one week is going to completely fix that. So I suppose I am ready to leave for awhile. Once the winter arrives I'll be able to settle into a routine and start living a normal life again. I'm very much looking forward to it.

To be continued .......

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