I awoke, as usual, feeling like I had just eaten a whole packet of sao biscuits and then brushed my teeth with sand. This is a common malady - known as Antarctic desert mouth, brought on by the extremely dry air, suffered mostly by those who drink too many double expressos and smoke too many cigarettes. As usual, i just missed breakfast (it finishes at 8 am sharp) so had to make do with a double expresso and a smoke.
I then walked out to the AASTINO, and found myself alone. Tony left for Dumont D'ville on the 4am Twin Otter flight this morning. He has to forgive me for not getting up (or staying up) and sending him off - he made me eat a snail last night - so I think we are even.
First thing this morning I sat down and wrote a list of everything I need to do in the last two days here. I stopped at about 34 things, some of them simple (like wash my sheets - which is compulsory before leaving) some of them not so simple (like install and debug Paolos' 17 pages of perl script to analyse the sub-milimetre tipper data). Its now 3 am and I have crossed off 5 things (which don't include either of the above). I still think I can get it all done, as long as I don't sleep tomorrow night, can find someone to wash my sheets, and don't install and debug Paolos' 17 pages of perl script to analyse the sub-milimetre tipper data.
Half of the remaining tasks are software related - writing and debugging scripts that will remotely control (and log data from) the two instruments and the two Stirling engines. The engine control is a particularly interesting and difficult problem. We have to give the engines enough intelligence that they will run without any intervention (because the iridium satellite communications link is very slow and it would be impossible to solve engine problems in real time), and decide what to do if a problem arises (ie one of them stops, develops a fault, or needs its oxygen sensor recalibrated). The software also needs to be robust enough that is wont crash or tell the engines to do stupid things. Another week or so of testing the program would be ideal but then I would have to winter alone in the AASTINO, as the station closes on Saturday. Saverio, the station electrician (and saviour of the SODAR) tells me that there is actually enough food here for four people to survive until next summer. I am convinced that the food supply is nothing but boxes and boxes of canned mushrooms and snails, and so I think I'll make sure to finish working on the engine software tomorrow.
Let's see. Today I am writing yesterday's diary a bit later than usual and with my short attention span, I had to ask Jon: "What happened yesterday?" After 5 seconds of reflection, Jon gave me the summary of the day: "Frog legs, the party, midnight pasta" Now I will try to expand these concepts and for once try to avoid putting our readers to sleep with our usual work related problems or with details about Dallas switches.
So let's follow Jon menu, starting with entrée: "The frog legs" For once the special meal was not for dinner but for lunch. This is because Jean-Louis takes Sunday evening to Monday evening off. Before lunch nothing too exciting happened. Jon was on the engines and I was on the resurrected SODAR as you can imagine. At 12:00 we got back to the summer camp. As usual, took off our shoes, walked in the restaurant. I checked the day's menu which is always posted at the entry. When I saw written "grenouille" I immediately turned to Jon and saw the most worried look on his face as he was staring at the hundreds of pairs of legs lying in the dish. It was however surprisingly easy to convince him to try some, mentioning that it taste exactly like chicken. They were cooked with garlic and parsley and I think he liked them. I can't wait to see him in front of a plate of snails (I hope there is some before we leave).
In the afternoon, nothing too exciting or at least "heroic-sounding" event. We are still very focused on what we are doing. The time is running out and we still have a few crucial details to get working. Something worth mentioning however was the last weather balloon launch of the season. I might be gone on the 4th so I prefer to give myself tomorrow to pack the whole equipment. My colleagues in Nice (who are reading this diary with a lot of interest, right Karim?) will be glad to know that all the launches went well and that the data is on its way via the internet. Right! Now I have talked enough about work. Let's go back to the menu with the main
course: "the party"
The Sunday night party was this time courtesy of the two Swiss of the station, Patrick and Patrice. They are part of the Science team of EPICA and in fact, the last two remaining members left at this stage of the competition. They had planed their party well since they got some quality Whisky shipped on the traverse that left DDU a couple of weeks ago. They had the music ready in the free-time tent and even made some cocktails with pineapples and orange (fresh ones). As usual, most of the station showed up, even if some, with larger responsibilities could only make a short appearance. The baby-foot was, of course, extensively used (It's amazing how good you get after a few drinks) but most people just chatted about their life back home or about their previous Antarctic adventures. With smaller
amount of people left, it feels like the bonds between us all are getting stronger and stronger. I am sad I won't be there when the station closes (the 8th). I seems confirmed on the other hand that Jon will be able to stay until the 7th to do further testing on the system.
At midnight, we moved on to the dessert of the day: "midnight pasta". The cook was Fabrizio, one of EPICA's driller. The pasta cooked with a lot of spices was served to everyone still up (most of the station). It was quite popular since he had to go back and do more twice. We even found some Norwegian omelet left in the freezer. The meal went on until very late. Everybody was talking louder than their neighbor. It felt like one of those big Italian family meeting except I am not sure who the padrino of the station is. The day was a lot of fun and it makes me a bit sad to leave it so soon.