Wind Chill: -20F
Yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of carnage this year; last week the smurf shack burned down. The smurf shack is a small blue building, not much bigger than a shed. It sits on large skids along with a generator, tool shed, prewave heater, and two fuel tanks (one for the generator, one for the heater). The smurf shack was originally used as a warming hut and break room out at Pegasus airfield. It has since been replaced by a trailer, but because it is on skids and is easily transported, the heavy equipment operators use it while maintaining the Black Island road.
A queue of folks formed at the spotting scope in Crary to get a closer look at the orange dot, about ten miles distant out on the ice:
On-site pictures were quickly quashed by Uncle Ray-Ray, unlike the fire, which resisted suppression and burned through all the fuel over the next hour. I don't understand the secrecy on Raytheon's part, I can only assume that they're paranoid of appearing incompetent. They can't keep the Kiwi's from leaking, though, which they invariably do. I believe it was this picture that made the New Zealand newspaper:
There was no one on site when the fire began, and electric wall heaters are the primary suspect. The fire came immediately after a station-wide safety meeting focusing on fire danger. It came before the station-wide fire extinguisher trainings:
These trainings were given to provide everyone the experience of using a fire extinguisher. It was a lot of fun to don fire gear and put out a fair-sized diesel blaze. We worked in pairs, and the fire department offered me a job when I extinguished the fire before my partner had even squeezed the trigger.
On the predictive power of safety meetings:
Interestingly, the Hagglund incident several weeks back occurred on the same day as a station-wide meeting that focused on vehicle safety. The smurf shack fire was reported only hours after a meeting in which the station manager showed video of past fires in McMurdo. He has been asked that the next meeting cover the odds of everyone on station winning the lottery and that he steer well clear of the topic of volcanic eruptions!
Over the past couple years, there has been a big corporate push to increase safety awareness on the station. I'm not sure who started the idea, but many folks here would like to give him/her a hearty pat on the back from the top of an icy, railingless stairwell. There are biweekly station-wide safety meetings and weekly departmental safety meetings, in addition to the daily safety-grams. Then there is the occasional "safety stand-down", which is basically an hour off that is meant to be spent thinking about some given safety topic.
An ingenious friend wrote the following memo in response to a rescheduled departmental safety meeting. I've removed the names because it is actually possible for this friend to be reprimanded should the wrong person find and read this blog. The truth of this possibility speaks to the very paranoia that generates such satirism:
Dear [Department Head],
Will this be a 'sit-down' meeting? Or can I stand-up, as I did during the stand down?
Though I felt it appropriate to stand-up during the stand-down, I am now uncertain as to the proper seating expectation during an ordinary safety meeting.
As you may recall, I was not here... when the PSMBP; Proper Safety Meeting Body Posture was apparently defined. Thus is the reason for my apparent ignorance as regards to the conundrum concerning the process of "Standing-Down". In my understanding of ergonomics, general anatomy, colloquial English, and corporate protocol, if not physically impossible, the concept of "standing-down" is at the very least oxymoronical.
My difficulty is daily exemplified in the morning safety meetings conducted in my current work center. During these meetings, we do yoga and quite often sit-down, stand- up, and even lay down when appropriate. I once even stood upon one leg, folded the other in my lap, grabbed my toe around the back, and bent over touching the floor with the palm of my hand. Alternatively, during the construction of SCC we daily formed a circle and when finished with the led stretching session recited in unison, "I'm a little Teapot." Great fun watching a bunch of burly carpenters and steel workers, clad in carhearts and ECW, prancing around in a circle like schoolkids; but I digress.
So [Department Head], you can, no doubt, understand my confusion as pertains to appropriate body posture during a safety meeting. May I suggest that we collectively sit on a galley table, perform a deep forward bend, place both feet behind our necks, and in the spirit of corporate double-speak, gently but passionately kiss our own asses.
Your timely response will be greatly appreciated.
PS: [Employee's Supervisor]: Please let me know how to allocate this memo on my time card.
The abuse continues in this follow up memo about missing a seminar on the safe usage of GPS while travelling on the sea ice (this is an actual concern due to the inaccuracy of GPS devices and the narrowness of roads that you do NOT want to accidentally drive off of):
Dear [Department Head],
Far be it for me to complain about missing a safety meeting, but I have DA duty Friday the 23rd.
The use of a GPS is however a useful skill and I would like to attend that class at another time; perhaps on a day otherwise free of safety-safety-safety meetings and possibly on a day completely bereft of incessant safety reminders.
The intension of this request may at first appear arbitrary and counter-intuitive but I find that I retain more information when not obsessed with my physical safety. It also partially assuages the crippling anxiety I experience when imagining the impact that the ever-imminent maiming of friends, colleagues, and myself could have on the profitability of RPSC. [Raytheon Polar Services Company]
I recognize that it takes a village to raise a family yet only one careless, incompetent, selfish individual to undermine a multi-billion dollar company. The unique nervous condition from which I suffer is further exacerbated when considering the impact my loss of limb might have on RTSC [Raytheon Technical Services Company] and subsequently Mother Raytheon; for as a defense contractor, it is obvious that an inefficient cash flow of our defense providers impacts national security. For instance, if the productivity of say, the patriot missile, TOW Bunker Buster, cruise missiles and surveillance equipment is diminished; so will be our capability of leveling the towns and neighborhoods from which the next Saddam or Bin Ladin may one day spring. If this is not frightening enough, consider that, without sufficient town-leveling capacity, we may never destroy the location of the WMD's [You can figure this one out!] that, may I remind you, have remained hidden somewhere in Iraq to this day.
Finally, in light of the genesis of this unique, modern neurosis and the occurrence of the latest fire at the Smurf Shack, an obvious omen occurring on the very day we spoke of fire danger, I have a suggestion I think will solve all injury related problems thus bringing our safety numbers in line with the engineers and computer scientists in other profit units throughout the company.
I suggest that to avoid another fire, injury, or mass casualty, we as a community, attempt to go an entire day without uttering the S- word. Of course we will conduct a corresponding study to compare the incident rate of days spent with and without the mention of S-----.
As final test of my theory relating S----- meetings to accidents rates (tentatively named, Disingenuous Corporate Jinx Theory; DCJT); I further suggest that; concurrent with an S-Free day (SFD); we conduct GPS practice with buckets on our heads along a course that winds through town on top of the cargo lines (designated an S- Free Zone, as it were) and, as our skills progress (both GPS and non-utterance skills), we do so during condition 1 & 2. A prompt response will be greatly appreciated.
If you're wondering about the strange use of acronyms, it is solely to satirize the ridiculous amount of them that are used here. The "buckets on our heads" refers to an exercise performed during Happy Camper class, where several people put white buckets on their heads to simulate a Condition 1 storm and try to find a missing person using only a rope.
On another note, I found this blog belonging to Tom: http://bigblueglobe.blogspot.com. He has links to many others, several of whom are here now. The stories and pictures often overlap, so it's probably not worth the time to read all of them, but if you can handle some crude humor, I highly recommend the siren song of the anti-bears at http://mcpenguin.livejournal.com. It belongs to firefighter Andre, who always amuses me, but I wasn't quite expecting all the great random humor on his blog.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Wind Chill: -39F
I had a dream the other night that I saw a spider. I was so excited. I have no real fear of spiders, but I don't generally enjoy one crawling all over my hand and arm like I did in the dream. I was just so amazed to see it that intrigue shadowed discomfort. It's something I've been aware of during my time here, but the point hadn't yet been driven home like this. Aside from people, THERE IS NOT A LIVING THING ON THIS ISLAND!! Sure, there was the occasional skua, and for some, penguins and seals. But those intelligent creatures have left this forsaken place in its dark wintertime, leaving only us that hope a plane will eventually come to take us away. There are no budding trees, no squawking jays, no whistling grasses, no purring pets, not even a single buzzing bug. I've been to arid deserts without trees, concrete jungles without jays, cobblestone beaches without grasses, homes without pets, but no bugs? NO BUGS??!! It seems absurd.
Katie found a beetle in the produce that came down on the last flight. It was fascinating, for no other reason than I hadn't seen one in six months. She tried to keep it alive on lettuce and water, but it only lasted a week or two. Perhaps it preferred aphids. Sorry, none of those here.
Another thing I miss that you folks in the northern hemisphere are probably taking for granted this time of year is rain, or even just the natural sound of flowing water. Shouldn't every mountainous island have a babbling brook and an ocean break? I guess the reality of it is, nearly everything I see here is water: the sea ice, the snow covered hillsides, the frost on the railings, even the clouds in the sky. But as much as I mumble incoherently to the snow and ice, it never makes a sound in return.
Here's what makes it all worth it. When the temperature drops suddenly, the moisture in the air collects everywhere as hoar frost. For a place where the humidity is generally under 10%, the frost gets surprisingly thick. On several occasions I've seen beautifully crystallized hoar frost over an inch thick. Check out the layer on this bamboo flagpole:
The frost is all on the windward side of this flag, but on a calm day it would collect uniformly, like it did on this bicycle:
One of the most amazing things I've seen here is invisible snow falling from invisible clouds. Thats right, invisible snow, and I could see it. The temperature was dropping and hoar frost was forming on railings, doorknobs, flagpoles, bicycles. The air was clear and still and the sky cloudless. But the frost was also forming out of thin air into weightless microscopic flakes. The full moon shone down and reflected off of floating ice crystals too small to be seen by the naked eye. The air around me was literally sparkling, like a shower of moonlight pixie dust in some cold, demented fairy land. Tiny specs appearing for an instant and disappearing immediately into a void of perfectly clear air. I can only imagine that to an indoor observer I looked like an escaped mental patient seeing visions in the empty space around me! It was really amazing, and I just stood there in the severe cold staring into nothing for several minutes.
Something else I stare at on every clear day is the last vestige of sunlight on the northern horizon. I mentioned this in my last post, so here's the visual:
The full moon is up right now, which is a blessing and a curse. I hiked up to second crater again yesterday under the brilliant light of the moon. I had forgotten how much I like to play outside under the moon. I was reminded of moonlight mountain bike rides on the Syncline. With the total lack of sun, the moon is a definite source of warmth and beauty. I took this picture at about the same time of day as the orange horizon above, but in the opposite direction:
It is a long exposure, so don't be fooled by the blue appearance of the sky. Later in the day, I saw a faint aurora that once again stretched the length of the sky in a long stripe. It had to be a strong one to be seen over the light of the moon. So the downside of the moon is that it tends to blot out what could be a great auroral display. There is still plenty of time for that, though.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Wind Chill: -41F
It is now dark all day. From about noon to three there is still some ambient light. I'd say just enough to obscure many of the dimmer stars. During that time, the horizon is an eerie blood red in the direction of the sun. That's on a clear day. We've had more cloudy than clear, though, and my issued night vision goggles have certainly come in handy on several drives to and from Arrival Heights, where I can't use headlights.
Today, however, I didn't even make it to Arrival Heights. Driving in Condition 2 from post to post, I suddenly felt the truck drop out from under me about a foot. The road cone I had just passed was 10 feet off the edge of the road, and so was I. I was on a crust that suddenly gave and dropped me into about 3 feet of snow. Just like that, I was high-centered. What can I say, I have a knack.
Here's my ridiculously oversized Ford on a "road" I occasionally get to drive:
Won't be driving that in Condition 2! Though, in this case there's more drifting on the road than off it.
Continuing the driving theme; during a drive to Windless Bight back in January, I came across this:
At the site, next to the outhouse, was another sign. At one point in time, it had read "SPEED LIMIT 25", but the "S" and the "D" were cleverly removed, and a small "ml" was written in after "25".
Abandoning the driving theme...
On my website, in addition to the time lapse videos, I added three videos of "The Improvs" playing at an open mic in late March: http://www.surlyjam.com/html/video.html.
"The Improvs" were an impromptu band I fell in with before half of it split for warmer climes. We generally made the music up as we went, usually starting with a riff from Kish. Russell provided a great singing voice and lyrics from a notebook set to whatever melody came into his head. Shawntel played the violin. Giving her a key to play in didn't mean anything to her, she just played whatever felt right. Very cool, too bad you can't hear her well in the mix. Kish and I form an interesting rhythm section. He has a degree in music and I have no formal training whatsoever. Our styles are very different, but they somehow compliment each other excellently. It was so exhilarating to play in such a free form setting with these three, never knowing where a song might go; louder, softer, faster, slower. We might go from ska to flamenco to psychedelic to funk in a single jam, just taking a tangent whenever a good melody popped into the mix.
Kish is here for the winter, and I look forward to more jams with him. Hopefully I'll cross Russell and Shawntel's paths again before I leave.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Wind Chill: -6F
Since I got a lot of good feedback on the last post, I decided to put up the full resolution time lapse videos on my website. You can find them here: http://www.surlyjam.com/html/pictures.html.
Also, there's a very talented fellow here who does time lapse on a more professional scale. His name is Antz, and you can find his pictures, videos and blog here: http://www.antarcticimages.com.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Wind Chill: -10F
This weekend, I stepped out from a hall party to get some fresh air. Across the sky, nearly overhead, was a faint wisp of cloud in a long stripe. It fizzled down to a point at one horizon, and at the other, wait a minute... it's moving! That's not a cloud! Then I noticed the slightly greenish hue and a few dancing stripes that were unmistakable. Aurora Australis! I was reminded of my first and only Aurora Borealis sighting in Alaska this summer. That one became much more bright and active, but it fooled me initially, just the same. Soon there were thirty people outside, some of which had never seen an aurora.
I also learned to snowboard over the weekend. Five of us took a Pisten Bully out to the hill on Castle Rock trail and did shuttle runs for several hours. Unfortunately, this is not the best place to learn because you're confined to a narrow band of glacier so as not to find any surprises (crevasses) in uncharted territory. Turning is essential to keeping your speed in check, but I only had two Pisten Bully widths to work with, maybe 25 feet. And to make matters worse, there is a line of flags down one side and a couple very large jumps on the other. Sound difficult yet? No? OK, now turn off the daylight and ride about 20 feet behind a Pisten Bully so you can see where you're going. Oh, and don't fall down because you might not catch up. Yeehaw!
Getting ready to follow the Bully:
Actually, there was dusk light for the first hour or so, when I did most of my learning curve falling. It was enough to see the terrain and avoid the jumps. Just as I got comfortable though, the light disappeared and I started falling more due to its absence than my lack of ability. Still, I managed to avoid the now invisible jumps and only ran over one flag. Once we started following the Bully, I was only falling once or twice per run. But the couple times I let it get away were tough going in the overcast, new moon night. I'm still a little sore, three days later, but I can't wait to do it again on a clear, full moon night!
We still have a couple hours of dusk during the day, but it is definitely dark when I go to work and when I leave. For the first week after the sunset, because the sun was still just below the horizon, the skies would sometimes light up with all the colors of sunrise and sunset.
Wednesday, April 23
I made my first attempt at time lapse photography the day before the final sunset:
The sun slides right along the western slope of Ross Island and disappears behind Inaccessible Island. This would be the last time I saw a slice of direct sunlight.
Thursday, April 24
During the final sunset, only the top third of the sun would rise above the horizon, but from my viewpoint it was obscured by the westernmost flank of Ross Island. Some folks found excuses to travel out to Pegasus airfield, where they would have an unobstructed view.
Friday, April 25
The day after the sunset, I tried the timelapse again and got lucky when clouds rolled in unexpectedly and colored the scene brilliantly:
This video takes place over a full three hours! I took a picture every 90 seconds.