Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice

December 21st marks the middle of the season, where the sun is the highest above the horizon for the longest period of time.  I haven't seen proper night since I got here, but from here on the sun will start getting lower until it finally start dipping below the horizon in early March.

But life mostly continues as whatever passes for normal down here.  The majority of the snow has melted out, leaving behind pockets on the shaded hills around station. 


The climate here is so dry that it's mostly just dirt and dust, but on particularly warm days the runoff turns all the roads into mud that require re-grading every couple days.



"Warm" is very relitive.  While the dark dirt absorbs the sunlight and melts out much of the snow on bright days, the ambient air temperatures are only into the upper 20s, at best.  And some days are still what you'd expect of this continent, cold and blowing.

But that's not going to stop people from having fun in creative ways.  Near Thanksgiving was the "Turkey Trot", a 5k race around station that's traditionally done in the most inappropriate and silly clothing you can find.


Including Hot Dog Man, observing on the left

If running around outside in mud and snow doesn't sound like your cup of tea, there's plenty going on indoors on any given day.


But really, it's all just people trying to entertain themselves in whatever ways they can.  There have been numerous psychological and neurological studies done that have found when the brain is completely deprived of stimulation, it's need for input is so great that it will create it's own..  Supposedly, that's the point of the new-age-hippy practice of sensory deprivation tanks, to remove outside stimulation to see what your mind comes up with on it's own.

We don't have that here, but we do have the Stewards/Janitors writing helpful messages on the urinal filters and cafeteria trays.  Hey, anything to stay amused.


Instructions for the officially discouraged practice of using the cafeteria trays as impromptu sleds

From my perspective, work continues as normal.  We're in the middle of the high season where the bulk of science happens, and the station is a perpetual hive of activity.  Many departments are running 24 hours a day with two or three shifts, as there is so much to do and a tiny sliver of time in which to get it done.  Trucks, forklifts and loaders are perpetually carrying stuff all over the place, and helicoptors are slinging cargo out to remote field stations at all hours of the day.


And digging things out from under snowbanks

Many science projects are fully set up and underway by now, streaming large volumes of data to the outside world.  And I'm (one of) the people ensuring that the data gets where it needs to go.

Inside one of the Long Duration Balloon hangers, one of the more visually impressive projects going on down here.

 I'm still making sure all the blinky lights keep blinking, and the boxes are plugged in to the other boxes.


All joking aside, the job is awesome.  Intimidating and at times overwhelming, but awesome.  It's a completely different work experience than my seasons at Palmer; working on plumbing and buildings, you're dealing with things you can physically see, tactile things that give immediate results.  Networking is the polar (heh) opposite; it's almost purely conceptual and Cisco's cryptic command structure doesn't make it any easier.  You'll find yourself typing in a string of commands that if translated into English, seem to have no relevance to each other. 

The upside is that networking actually DOES look as impressive as Hollywood always makes "hacking" and anything technical on computers out to be.  While most Sysadmin and PC Tech work these days is done with mouse clicks and very bland-looking windows, much network configuration is still done at command line, leaving me pounding away at a keyboard while gibberish scrolls quickly past my screen.  Or screens.

Two of the monitors are actually TVs that were going to be junked as the actual TV connectors had been broken off, but  the connectors I need still worked fine.

 I could have six monitors and probably still want more. When you're troubleshooting or configuring equipment remotely, you're coordinating seven or eight different tasks at the same time.  Having the screen real estate is a godsend, although I'll usually also have at least one or two laptops also running on my desk as well, for various technical reasons that I assure you are very boring.

But the job is exactly what I wanted it to be.  It's fully a trial by fire and I've learned more about networking in the last three months than I have in the entirety of my prior IT career.  Like most of IT, a properly set up network is totally transparent to the users and most people can get by with a knowledge of "I plug the cable from the wall into my computer and then the internet happens!".  But the reality of how it all works is complicated that I'm surprised it works at all.

There are literally thousands of individual things that need to happen in perfect harmony, in between your computer and another computer often on the other side of the planet, for you to successfully watch a video on Youtube of a kitten falling into a box. Tens of thousands, millions even, of individual packets of data leave a web server somewhere else, are broken up and sent through many different paths around the world, then all miraculously re-converge in the right order in your computer's network card.  I'm quite sure that if you'd described the internet on a technical level to even the most forward-thinking electrical engineer in the 1950s, they would have written the whole idea off as preposterous and unworkable. 

And on some days, I'm inclined to agree with them.