Monday, February 01, 2010

My Last Days at McMurdo

I've left the Ice.

I left on February 5th, 2010 and am going to play catch up on a few posts before talking about the transition back.

Scott Base Sign
Miles To
South Pole 841
Wellington 2535
Santiago 4399
Cape Town 4603
Washington 9214
Moscow 16899
London 10587
Christchruch 2381
Canberra 2986
Buenos Aires 4449
Tokyo 7929
Paris 10381
Brussels 10519
Oslo 11085

My last few days on the Ice were challenging and wonderful. I went on a ton of hikes, said goodbye to friends, and prepared for the first step of the journey home. By sheer miles (read the table above), it should take a while. However, my biggest hurdle is myself. I ran myself ragged trying to do squeeze every last drop out of Antarctica and my friends there. Now, I have to reintegrate myself back into civilization, but I don't want to give up so much of what the Ice has given me. It is balancing act that I'll dance through, just as we all do when we leave. For the first week or two, I suspect I'll be reading in the Botanical Gardens or biking more often than not. They are probably my favorite simple pleasures. Okay, maybe not. Those might be my favorites in Christchurch. My true favorite list would have to include something with forests, ice cream, fruit, and so many other treats, but those will come.

Castle Rock on my final Sunday ski

On my final Sunday, I had a brilliant brunch followed my an amazing skate ski. I hadn't been out since the marathon. I wasn't sure how I'd do. My legs were tired which gave me a few more chances to practice my dance moves. I was even able to practice my skiing a bit. The Sunday ski group is a brilliant one. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it out with them as much as I would have liked. They are some of my favorite people and a few of them also happen to be ridiculously good skiers and teachers.

Candy and I got much better as skate skiers this year. We were even able to make it a mile or two before our muscles told us it was time to take a rest. We always got restarted though. I love the feeling that comes with being terrible at something and slowly improving. Next time that I come down, I'm hoping to learn kite skiing.

Fata morgana

Royal Society Mountains

Hut Point skua

During my last week, I made a number of covert op trips down to Hut Point. You were allowed to be down there, you just couldn't take the road. It was a treat because no one wanted to walk the extra distance to get down there which meant we were alone. The weather wasn't the warmest or clearest, but it didn't matter. In any state, Antarctica is going to capture my imagination. On one hike, it grabbed it with a huge fata morgana. I don't think I've ever seen the distance islands look like mushrooms before. That was pretty cool.

Creating Tears of Erebus

When I wasn't hiking, cleaning, and packing, I was trying to say goodbye to everyone. Instead of just chatting up in the Coffeehouse, William and I set out to work on a special project creating Tears of Erebus. They are one of the most beautiful items I've seen created on the Ice. They might only be second to the natural wonders around us. The ice chopper (think of a converted snow mobile to a snow motorcycle) still wins the coolest category. The plywood armor might be in the running though.

Pressure ridges, Armitage loop, and Hut Point (click to enlarge).

For the first time in my Antarctic experience, there were three major holes in the sea ice, one near the pressure ridges, one near the Armitage loop, and one at Hut Point. During my last summer, there were only two. While open water didn't reach town, enough water was accessible to bring in the penguins, whales, and seals in an abundance that hasn't been seen in three years. I think the panorama above is one of my favorite Antarctic pictures, just because when you enlarge it, there is so much detail and so many memories. I'm walking away from this season with so many good lessons and great memories.

Minke Whales coming up for air at the pressure ridges (photo by Ian H.).


The source of smoothie goodness.

This year has been a great year for food at McMurdo. They have been trying to improve morale and they scored a big hit with me by bringing in more fresh fruit and vegetables. Some meals are good, some are bad, but my morning smoothies are always good, so are the evening salads.

At the beginning of the season, I was excited to have access to a blender, but scared to take too much fruit. I didn't want to take more than my fair share. I started out just taking extra of the fruit that was about to go bad. I was able to make one or two a week for Meg, a friend, and me. However, after a few chats with the galley where they told me that they were having trouble getting rid of it all, we started taking a lot. We were able to make smoothies four or five days a week and loving it.

I only get to make three more smoothies down here. Unfortunately for some, they'll all be banana based because that is what we are getting more than anything else. Tomorrow will be banana-mango. Thursday, perhaps it will be banana kiwi. Friday, we'll just have to see what the galley goodness offers up. Hmm, hmm, good.

On the topic of smoothies, if you don't know about the secret menu at Jamba Juice, you are missing out on candy flavored smoothie goodness.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My job - Computer Technician

While the reason I came to Antarctica was for beauty and adventure, the reason I was brought here was to work. We work Monday through Saturday 7:30-5:30 with a one hour lunch. Two or three times a season we receive a two day weekend instead of a one day weekend. I am employed as a computer technician for science support. We have a myriad of jobs available including tradesman, janitors, dishwashers, cooks, satellite engineers, laborers, carpenters, riggers, waste management, safety, mechanics, fleet ops, managers, and even shuttle drivers. There are over 30,000 applications each year for the 700-1,000 jobs we have available. Each year, we have an average of 30% turnover (all numbers are estimates).

Christmas at Crary.

My normal day involves me waking up around 6am, making a morning smoothie at 6:30am, and getting to work at the Crary lab around 7am. After that, I work on any longstanding projects, leftover projects from the day before, or just wait until a scientist walks in the door asking for help. They could need help on Windows, Mac, or Linux machines. It could be a problem involving printing, Internet connectivity, connecting to an instrument, hardware failures, or anything else you can think of that is even remotely computer related. Our job is to basically bend over backwards to make sure they don't have any down time when they could be doing their science.

By the numbers, Holly, Deke, and I serviced 78 science groups which include anywhere from 1-36 people, 521 total grantees, 34 NSF distinguished visitors, and various transients on their way to field camps or Pole. We touched approximately 620 laptops (Windows XP - 294, Windows 7 - 25, Vista - 80, Linux - 18, Mac - 203).

Our door says we offer Computers, Coffee, Counseling & More. I believe this goes under counseling.

A lot of people have asked which job I preferred, my current one as a computer technician for the scientists or my old one as a computer technician for the town. I think there are five major differences (attitude, work location, customer base, challenge, and travel). My current shop's attitude is a yes shop where we work hard to give our customers what they need. My old shop was a no shop where we usually gave our customers what headquarters wanted. At my old job, I was able to get into every building on base. Now, I sit in a single office all day. Since I was in almost every building at my old job, I met tons of people except for scientists. At my current job, I only meet the scientists. Being closer to the science is great though. It has given me a much better feel for what we are supporting. At my old job, we almost exclusively supported PCs. At my new one, I've learned more because I receive more exposure to other technologies. Perhaps the biggest difference is that I have gone into the field three times with my current job. My old job, I didn't get to travel at all. Which do I prefer? It is close enough that I've applied for both next year, but I'd prefer to come back as a member of the Crary Lab IT group as opposed to the Town IT group.

A tour of my building (my shop is featured from 6:15-6:45). Video by by H. Kaiser.