Antarctica

Week 9 and 10 December 19 - January 2, 2004 "Merry Christmas" and "The Day the Pole Moved"

The past 2 weeks have been extremely busy with work. We have installed the computing equipment into the Temporary Counting House. This involved moving a large amount of cargo from it's temporary storage home, the IceCube Jamesway, to the TCH. The actual moving of these large crates weighting between 300 and 500 pounds was done by fork lift driven by Eric. It would take him about 20 minutes between each crate in which time we had to unpack the first to make room for the next. It was busy work.

There seems to be no end to organising stuff. The TCH is small and the room has to be used efficiently. There is very little storage and if we are to ever find anything we have to be methodical. I've spent a lot of time unpacking to minimise bulky packaging and putting in logical spots and putting labels everywhere.

The actual putting of computers into racks was fairly straight forward as we had left all the mounting rails in from when we had set up the system in Madison. All the cables were also still in the computer racks. But even so connecting up all the cables has been tedious and time consuming. Some cables hadn't even been manufactured when we sent the system south. I spent quite a bit of time today labeling them and starting the installation.

One tricky job was installing a large insulated box on the roof of the TCH for antennas for the GPS receivers. The housing of antennas always seems to be a problem. They have enough electronics in them that they can't be frozen. But are very sensitive to having metal around them. We have tried a few things and this time we decided to do a good job of it. SR, one of the Winter Overs, organised to have a large insulated box made in Madison and shipped down. It was bigger than I expected even though I did specify the size. As it turns out it is convenient to be able to crawl inside it to mount things.

Once it was located on station (it had gone missing for awhile) the next trick was how to get it onto the roof as it weighted about 200 pounds. Luckily the fork lift was able to lift it high enough to get it on the roof. This was done very carefully as the roof was not set up for work. It isn't the best looking box, being made of treated plywood, but it is doing the job. MP, the network bloke, came over to do some work and said, "it's never going to work having the outhouse up there".

In the evenings leading up to Christmas there were numerous preparation nights in the galley, making pies, peeling potatoes, and other kitchen duties. I was either busy catching up on computer work or too tired to join in. Plus I had one last chore before the weekend.

Each year there is a gift exchange. When I first came to Pole this was very popular with many people participating. Its less of a frenzy these days but still a lot of fun. The idea is you bring a gift, put it under the tree, and get a number. Numbers are then drawn out of a hat, or in this case chosen using bingo balls, and when your number comes up you either choose a gift from under the tree or steal a gift someone else has already got from the tree. After being stolen 3 times a gift is frozen, to be kept by the last person to steal it. I was unoriginal and made the same gift I did a few years back. I got one of the marker flags used all over the place here, and a piece of the bamboo they are flown on, and stitched 4 of the cloth patches representing the Pole Markers on the flag. It was mounted on a nice wooden base the carps made for me. The gift I ended up with was a nice scarf. Though I was very tempted by the Albert Einstein action figure.

It's a Christmas tradition at Pole to sing carols over the HF radio to other stations. So on Christmas day about a dozen people gathered in comms to sing. Unfortunately there was only Pole and McMurdo on the radio. But I had invited the Ozzie bases to join in and hopefully they were able to hear us even if we didn't hear them. McMurdo sounded great and had obviously practiced. We sounded very good considering we had absolutely no practice.

Christmas dinner was a fancy affair as usual. Dinner is seated in 3 seatings as this is all the galley will hold at one time. The third seating is reserved for the night crew. The first seating is too early to eat for me, and most other. So there is always a rush on singing up for the second seating.

As on Thanks Giving I helped serve wine at the bar. I've taken a shine to this job and Paddy was pleased for the help as she was eating at the first seating (she normally doesn't sit in on a meal and snacks instead). At first it may sound unsocial, but working behind the bar is the most social place as you get to chat with everyone. For the third seating Dave P and I had signed up to be wine waiters, along with another 4 people. This involves wandering around making sure everyone has wine and anything else they need. We dressed up for the occasion as best we could and tried to be formal. As well as wine we server desert, carrying heaping pecan, apple, and pumpkin pies around. There was a treat of fruit cake and hand made chocolates. It was tiring work and towards the end I retreated to safety of behind the bar.

The day after Christmas the big event was Race Around the World. A path is groomed around the South Pole and for the serious runners 3 laps are run. Some ski, some ride snow mobiles, and some wear very silly outfits. And some do a combination of these things. I watched and drank one of the VBs I was sent as a present. Everyone that participates gets a shirt to remember the day they ran around the world.

Getting more popular each year is the snow sculpture contest. This year a field of huge snow blocks were placed out near the Poles. Easter Island men were popular again. The outstanding sculpture was an intricate Gothic inspired monolith. Hard to describe, so I will include pictures.

A smaller event later in the day was the pool tournament. I have played a lot of pool in Antarctica, though consider darts my game. But I have played neither a lot in the last few years. I bring my pool cue down just the same, and it normally sits around unused. I played one game earlier this year against Rick and lost. I'm a sore looser at pool. At the last moment I decided to put in my $5. When I bought my own cue I decided I needed to improve my game by working on a closed bridge. My game went to hell and I lost a lot. Probably why I've stopped playing. This day I decided to forget the closed bridge and play my normal game. Except for a stupid scratch on the 8 ball on an early game I played fairly well and came in third. The best part was I enjoyed playing, and maybe will start playing more often.

The week between Christmas and New Years was a blur of work. Thus why there was no week 9 letter. It was announced that there was going to be 2 long (2 day) weekends in a row. This meant New Years could be celebrated on New Years. On Friday night a number of bands played in a highly decorated heavy shop. I wandered in and out. The bands after midnight were very good. Some friends I've known for years showed hidden talent. Travis does a very good David Burns cover, looking like him more than sounding.

The South Pole is moved on New Years day. The South Pole is on about 2 miles of ice. This ice is slowly sliding towards the sea. Thus when the South Pole marker is placed over the point which is the Geographic South Pole, over the next year the ice slowly (or quickly, depending on how you look at it) slides away moving the marker away from the correct location. It moves about 10 metres a year. The markers are made on station usually by the machinists at Mapo. All the old markers used to be left out until a few were stolen. Then the poles were left out so you could still clearly see the passage of time. But then some time over the last year even the poles were removed. Now it's just the present pole, last years, and the Australian flag at the 2000 location. The Pole moving ceremony was last night, and Brian Stone, the acting NSF representative, made a nice speech.

Today we had an open house to give everyone on station the opportunity to see close up the details of IceCube. Without the support of everyone on station we wouldn't be able to do this experiment. Hopefully this made people feel like they are part of the project. Myself and CM and PW stayed at the TCH to show of the computing system. I guess by the time they had seen the IceCube Jamesway where the modules are test, and the Drill Camp, people had had enough. I hear about 60 people came out, but only about a dozen made the trek to see us. I got some work done, so I was happy.

It's hard to believe it's 2005. A new crew is arriving to start drilling and deploying strings. As I walked back from the Dark Sector today I was thinking of the crews that have been and gone. How the priorities change so dramatically and the work still to be done. The pace that work has reached will probably get worse. At two thirds of the way through the season if all goes well I will be out of here before the end of the month, or very very soon after.

To be continued....

p.s. The ice breaker has made it into McMurdo. They need to work on the channel to make it safe for the fuel tanker. But it went easier than anyone expected.

Christmas dinner toast (photo by Nick)

Snow sculpture 1

Snow sculpture 2

Gift I made for the gift exchange

Brian Stone (NSF Representative) making a speach at the Pole moving

IceCube group photo in front of the main hose spool

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