Coasting shouldn't be this much work

Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2001

Well we pretty much coasted through the holidays - New Years is easier than Christmas here, less of the pull towards family and less pressure on our limited phone time. We had mostly a nonevent Christmas: a two-day weekend which was nice, and a drunken party in the bar which I avoided. Most package mail from home didn't make it in until the next week which also spread out the emotional feel of the holiday. New Years Eve, on the other hand, was just fun. Everybody pitched in and cleared out the garage, which is the best large party space we have (although the drainage grids in the floor meant no high heels). A band spontaneously erupted and played all night with hardly any breaks, just a shifting lineup. At midnight our tunneler, John Wright, played his traditional bagpipe solo. Outside the USGS folks moved the pole marker (to keep up with the shifting ice cap) but I got chilled enough earlier during the Pole Women photo session so I decided to stay inside and keep dancing. Strictly for my health and wellbeing of course.

Since then we're in the big work stretch leading to end of season, plenty to get done before winter. We're still behind on flights so summer construction continues on schedule, but winter construction will be curtailed. This also means a smaller winter crew, maybe in the 30s instead of the 57 planned for. Not enough flights means not only not enough construction materials, but also not enough fuel, food, etc. Fortunately the full winter crew wasn't all hired, so they just stop recruiting; nobody got laid off.

Our new satellite ground station is up and almost running, this is a big deal for our department. MARISAT won't fill in all the gaps in our shifting satellite connection picture, but it'll replace some of our low-bandwidth time with high-bandwidth time and enlarge our overall connection period. It' s also a big addition to the station skyline! I got in on a couple evenings of satellite training: since our primary satellite people will be on R&R in McMurdo at the same time, they wanted someone else on station to be familiar with the consoles and software. This was a great experience with the drawback that the training was conducted on the satellite schedule, not my schedule. Having more trouble this year switching shifts gracefully.ouch. On the plus side, it's pretty neat to hit a few buttons and go outside and watch the dish swing slowly into position. Also neat to watch the spectrum analyzer as the equipment picks up the signal. We've got some interesting professional satellite systems people in for the project: last night they were trading "my first coup experience" stories.

My work is treating me well: as everybody's dealing with the busiest time of year demand has gone down for computer classes, so I've gotten to do a few different things. We pulled a whole bunch of data and phone cable for the new power plant, and data/phone/power for a small science outbuilding. That happened to be a gorgeous day - maybe -15F, no clouds, no wind - so I stuck around and helped fill in the trench. Not used to shoveling snow at altitude! Phew.

I've got a date for McMurdo now: Jan 31, with some margin for delay if we're busy here. I'll get to town in time to do inventory work during vessel offload, the busiest time of year in McMurdo. That'll be a culture shift.

Got a couple New Years photos up on the net at and

In other news, I saw a skua! These are big voracious gulls common on the coast, guard your sandwich if you're walking outside. We see one or two extremely lost birds here every summer. I just saw it coasting downwind for a few seconds before it was out of sight, but it emphasized how alone we are here. A little bit of rubbish in the middle of nothing, we're even 2 miles up from the nearest dirt.

Hello and best wishes from the middle of nowhere -


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