Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A day in the life

Today was a more normal day: email, breakfast, email, work, lunch, email, work, dinner, email, bed.

Soon after breakfast the Twin Otter arrived, which was a good excuse to wander around taking lots of photos. Gerhard left on the plane an hour or so later, leaving us with his precipitation monitor and computer happily collecting data in the AASTINO, and his Fortran script happily analysing our Summit data.

Anna once again took on the Supervisor computer, while I did engines and got ready to quickly unplug the computer if it looked like it might be getting the upper hand.

Sid the Stirling engine is starting easily and running well, except for not producing much power. Unfortunately this defeats the main purpose of being a Stirling engine, which is to power our instruments. I replaced the evaporator (the bit that turns the Jet-A1 kerosene into a gas, so it burns with a nice hot flame) and the oxygen sensor (which sits in the exhaust pipe and tells the fuel pump how much fuel to supply in order to keep the air/fuel ratio exactly right) but neither had much effect.

Nancy, on the other hand, is producing an abundant amount of power and appears to be unstoppable. She has now accumulated almost twice the run-time of Sid, who dropped out earlier in the year with a burnt-out glow plug.

A third Stirling engine will soon be on its way, via Hobart, the little icebreaker l'Astrolabe to the French coastal station of Dumont d'Urville, and an 11-day traverse across the plateau to Dome C. Suggestions for names so far include Johnny (as in Johnny Rotten, although he hasn't yet killed himself or anyone else) and Kurt (I assume as in Kurt Cobain, although I'm not sure he was degenerate enough to qualify). Either Sid or Nancy will then be shipped out for refurbishment, depending on which is underperforming most badly at the time.

I'm starting to worry about whether we'll be able to put together an engine from the remaining parts that will work reliably for another 12 months without maintenance. We want to start the winter with two good engines, the new one plus either Sid or Nancy.

Lunch was a German-style sauerkraut, potatoes and sausage. It was exceptionally yummy and a great pity that Gerhard - the only German on the Station - missed it by just a couple of hours.

Straight after lunch a cry went out for people to rush to the new Concordia Station to pose for photographs. This sounded a whole lot better than wrestling with engines and software, so we piled onto a snowmobile and headed out. One might have assumed that this was some kind of official construction progress photograph, but no, this was the birthday of the wife of one of Italian guys, so he needed a photo of a banner with her name on it hanging from the new station, and lots of people celebrating, so he could send a happy birthday email to her back in Italy. Needless to say it was a lot of fun, totally shambolic, and the world record for the number of people riding on a single snowmobile plus sled was comprehensively smashed.

We then returned to our work in the AASTINO. I decided to tackle the Dallas bus, which is one of the cleverest parts of what is a very clever AASTINO (if we may be permitted). The Dallas bus is a single, rather attractive green cable that runs around the AASTINO. Along its length are situated "Dallas devices" which are little electronic circuits that can measure things, turn things on and off, and generally be useful. Each Dallas device has a unique digital code (rather like a micro-chipped poodle), so all the computer has to do is call out the code, followed by the instruction, and the Dallas device does the rest. The beauty of this is that we can have just the single green cable previous previously alluded to, rather than festooning the AASTINO with a rat's nest of separate wires.


Unfortunately my excursion into the Supervisor software that controls the Dallases was less than satisfying. It turns out the computer has multiple personalities, which as far as I can see are called Root, Aastino, and 5255. Let's think of them as Bill, Henry and Alice. When you want something done, you have to ask the right person (even though it's really just one person). It reminds me of asking a young child, say Bill, to tidy his room, and he replies "I'm not Bill, I'm Henry today", and so you ask Henry to tidy his room and he says, "No, that's not fair, it's Alice's room" and you end up having to lock the little brat in the toilet to prevent yourself from knocking his block off.

Two hours of this and I was ready to not only lock the Supervisor computer in the toilet but to flush it down the bowl as well. Fortunately, Anna is made of sterner stuff and by the end of the day had the computer pretty well beaten into submission.

John

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