Saturday, October 25, 2014

10 things I learned after my first night of Bartending

There are two bars here, plus a coffee house/wine bar.  And for some inexplicable reason I found myself as a bartender at one of them (Gallagher's) on Saturday night.

In no particular order, some random thoughts from someone who doesn't drink:

- Why the hell do people tip so much? This stuff isn't hard (yet), and it's not like I'm trying to survive on it. They should be tipping me WAY more for sorting out the reason our Wireless LAN Controller wasn't properly authenticating Active Directory accounts, that was much harder and has a far more impact on your lives than putting whiskey and coke into a plastic cup.  And no one slipped me $5 after I had to moosh up a softball sized wad of poop and used tampons last season at Palmer.

- There's some really weird people here.

- Seriously, what's with guys who sit at the bar, order a beer . . . and then proceed to just sit there for  an hour and stare at the wall while they slowly drink it, never looking at or talking to anyone else?


- People like the little things. Remembering what the guy listening to his iPod had and making him another based off his little wave from across the room got me a $10 tip (Seriously, what the hell? It's only an $8 drink).

- Ohmigawd do your hands dry out fast. After washing and drying them like ten thousand times by halfway through my shift, I would have tipped someone 10bux to bring me some lotion.

- Bars are disgusting places. Everything is sticky despite your best efforts to keep it clean.

- People don't like having to look at each other. The number of requests I got to turn the lights down even lower was bizarre, especially on the dance floor.  You might not want to look at each other, but I've still got to be able to see what I'm doing (unless you want your next Jack and Coke to accidentally be made with Windex).

- People don't like being able to hear each other. I'm bringing earplugs next time, spending a night listening to cranked uncha-uncha music still has my ears ringing.

- Stepping out of the bar at the end of your shift at 1:30am to be greeted by sunlight is seriously weird.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not exactly a desk job

Current McMurdo weather at the time of writing: 8F ambient, -36F wind chill.  Blowing snow and 1/8th mile visibility.

The weather has been uncooperative for the last couple weeks; not necessarily worse than normal, but it's been bad for much longer periods of time. This has lead to a lot of logistical problems, primarily that we've still got people stuck in Christchurch waiting for the weather to clear long enough to fly them down.  But it's also caused problems in our department, because we can't get to any of the places we need to work on our equipment.

So two days ago the weather FINALLY broke for long enough that we could get up the hill to the "Beach Ball" to troubleshoot one of our long-range wireless links.

We're heading over to the other side of the far hill, where you can just see the wind turbines peaking over the ridge

Even on clear days, this is still a hostile and intense environment that can change quickly.  Always pack your ECW gear when heading off station, for any length of time.

The best vehicle we could get at the time was a standard pickup, not even one of the lifted big-wheel trucks or even better, a Mattrack.  This was going to limit how far we could drive, so a good chunk of this was going to be on foot.

Passing the various mix of heavy equipment and other Antarctic machinery on the road.

On the other side and heading up the hills, the wind turbines start to come into view.  The Kiwis built them a while ago and they mostly supply electricity to the nearby Scott Base, and we get whatever is left over.

That white and orange striped dome, the "Beach Ball" is our destination

T-site, the big antenna array on the top of the hill, is as far as we can go in the truck.  From here on, the snow drifts are too deep and treacherous for a normal wheeled vehicle; someone had actually gotten stuck here earlier in the day and a tractor had to pull them out. 

So here on out, we're on foot.

Where someone had gotten stuck earlier.  Snow like this can be extremely deceptive.
The station is mostly down in the wind shadow of this hill, but up here it's almost always brutal.  While it looks nice and sunny, the air was barely above 0F and the wind was nudging over 40mph. Hence, all the wind turbines.

A bit over a mile of hiking gets us to the beach ball, the main long-range link to the Black Island satellite unlink and mounting points for many other shorter-range wireless connections. 


Up to where the doohicky is that we need to work on!

Hrm, looks like it's pointing in the right direction...

We're shooting out to the one of the airfields, barely viewable as a disturbance way out there on the ice sheet.  But it was in the same place as last year, as is the antenna.  So let's go inside and see if we can figure out what's broken.

Ah ha, there's the problem!  The wrong blinky lights were blinking.  So a few keystrokes made the proper blinky lights blink, and everything was good again.  A long walk back to the truck (which we had left running) got us home by dinner.

If you are looking for an IT job where you get to sit in an office all day, I would suggest avoiding this continent.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


"Well it's not as much of a dump as I expected" - Some guy behind me on the bus

Going to Palmer Station sends you down through Chile for a week-long ride on the LMG, but going to McMurdo sends you through Christchurch in New Zealand, where you stay until the weather clears enough to fly down.  For my group this took the better part of a week, as the station was socked in with weather that prevented the planes from being able to land.

But it gave us plenty of time get all of our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear issued and sorted.  Due to the massively colder climate of McMurdo, they issue you far heavier duty gear than for traveling to the peninsula, including the infamous "Bunny Boots".

Nearly a week after getting to Christchurch (Chc, or "Cheech), we were finally loaded into a C-17 for the five-hour flight down.

First class luxury!
It's a massive head trip; you don't get the week of LMG ride to slowly acclimate yourself to the odd ice world, you just get off the C-17 after being in a modern city six hours ago, and it's big and white and cold and what the hell am I doing here?

The plane lands on a runway of compacted snow a few miles south of station, on the sea ice.  It's incredibly thick and strong, but I've heard from people on station that a C-17 is so heavy that on warmer days, they can't leave them parked in one spot for more than a few hours or they can start to bow the ice under them.

No time to waste, off to get into Ivan the Terra Bus for the 45-minute ride to station.

Ross Island with McMurdo station on the southern tip, way off in the distance

So here I am, oddly at the station that I initially dreamed about back in 2006 when I first started applying for the USAP.  But then Palmer happened, which was a strange and wonderful turn that was amazing. But now I'm here at McMurdo, the big city, doing a big-boy job (for big-boy money).  It's big and it's cold; there's ~600 people here now and at peak, we'll probably have around 900.  And while nighttime is long gone (it's light 24 hours and will be until March), the cold is still here in force and ambient air tempertures are barely poking above 0F, wind chills are deep into the -20s. 

Which is exactly what we all signed up for. :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

And now for something completely different

And here we go again!

It's that time of year, time for us to stay making our ways through various airports to begin the journey south. And for me a very different experience than prior seasons. 

This year I've passed up the homey comforts of Palmer Station for a job in the big city; I'm heading to McMurdo this year, along with about a thousand other people. And I've traded my wrenches and hammers for a keyboard; while I've spent three seasons as a mechanic, my actual career is in IT and that's where I'm working now. I'll be spending the '14-'15 summer season as a Network Administrator; it's only metaphorical tubes I'm unclogging now, instead of literal ones. (And strangely, despite a vastly lower likelyhood of dealing with poop, they're paying me a lot more). 

So it all begins again; already I can spot other ice people in the airport, identifiable not just by our USAP luggage tags but by the unique style of dress that I've heard described as a cross between a hobo and construction worker. It's a few more days of airports for us, and then we'll get crammed into the back of a C-130 for a flight from Christchurch down to McMurdo. Down to a very different world, a very different lifestyle. Down to the ice.