Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Thursday, November 20, 2003

The tent

Today was over-shadowed by the sad news I received last night that one of my close relatives has fallen gravely ill. It's not that I could do anything about it anyway, but being isolated in Antarctica somehow makes one feel even more helpless. I hope my readers will forgive me if the next few diaries lack the usual levity. Yesterday's entry was written after I received the news, and on re-reading it I detect a note of bitterness that was perhaps unfairly directed at the manufacturer of our Iridium phone.

Partly as a result, today we had a rather slow day. We spent a lot of time reading emails, as messages are finally starting to get through from UNSW.

Today's weather is still extremely cold, but the wind has dropped considerably. Cue the tent. The tent is needed over summer to store things we need in the AASTINO but not right now. It will heat to perhaps -10 C in the sunshine, which doesn't sound very warm but which in fact will be a perfectly usable workspace.

The tent is already a legend within the UNSW Antarctic Group, as it took over three hours to put it up last summer. It's your basic camping tent with a sleeping area and a living area, and long flexible poles that hoop over the top and hold the whole thing upright. The instructions make it sound really simple, but then so does the Redhat Linux manual.

The first problem is that the elastic things that keep the folding rods properly together get frozen and stop being elastic, so the rods go everywhere like a chain of paperclips and stay that way. This can be overcome by assembling the poles inside the warm AASTINO and then rushing outside with them - a task rendered only slightly impossible by the fact that the poles are considerably longer than the AASTINO.

The second problem is that as soon as the tent starts to look like a tent it starts heading off across the plateau no matter how low the wind speed. (I'm not sure why it's necessary to assemble the tent before bolting it down, but that's what the instructions say. Failure to read the instructions properly last summer cost us dearly, so we're taking them very seriously this time.)

Finally the little pin things won't go into the end of the little rod-end things because the latter are all full of ice, largely as a result of the fact that you've been chasing the semi-assembled tent up and down across the snow for the past 30 minutes.

Anyway, we finally did get the tent assembled, and now it stands as a very useful and much admired structure alongside the AASTINO.

The sodar is continuing to chirp away merrily. Lying in my bed at night I can hear it quite clearly - it's reassuring to hear it working away collecting data that might someday make us all famous while I nod off to sleep.

We've decided to send the sodar electronics back to France to get it fixed properly and re-calibrated. It's going to be tough to get this done quickly enough for us to re-install it before the end of summer, and will require a pretty smooth air-freight operation.

After lunch I sought out the logistics manager and asked if I could borrow a set of weighing scales so that we could work out the best way ship the sodar electronics back to France. Unfortunately my French is pretty hopeless and my Italian non-existent so, despite lots of hand waving I remained unsure that he understood what I needed. So, although he enthusiastically agreed to find what was needed and bring it out to the AASTINO for us, I wasn't convinced that "it" might not turn out to be a statue of the Virgin Mary or a tin of jellied eels. Fortunately we met up later in the day in the workshop, and I was able to better describe what was needed. We ended up raiding the EPICA machine shop and coming away with the perfect instrument.

The sodar is now weighed, along with at least two putative shipping crates, and we leave it to the folks back at UNSW to decide what to do next.

At dinnertime Jean Louis brought the entire Station to a complete halt with his millefoglie, an exquisite pastry and vanilla desert. Normally dainty eaters were seen taking third helpings, while less restrained folk were practically having to be carried from the dining room on stretchers.

After dinner we did our usual email thing, and burned all of the year's data from the AASTINO onto a CD. This gives us a back-up in case we accidentally trash the Supervisor computer which, if I end up doing anything with it, is almost inevitable. In this context it is worth noting that my beloved Ding-dong crashed twice during the simple operation of burning the CD. Have I mentioned recently how much computers in general dislike me, and Windows in particular?

John

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