Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day BBQ

Once again, the Heavy Shop (garage) hosted a huge BBQ for the station.

This past weekend we had our monthly 2 day weekend but this time, we got Sunday and Monday off so that we could pretend that we were also getting Memorial Day off. And like many others celebrating the holiday, we held a barbeque, although it was far from the summertime activity most people know.

The mechanics, Jack and Jason (above), cleared out the garage bay of the heavy equipment usually parked there, except for the LMC behind the beverage cooler.

The BBQ grill was moved outside instead of having it inside the garage like last year. It got so smokey inside last year, the bay doors had to be opened to ventilate and people turned into icicles as they munched on their burgers. The heat from the grill kept Jack and Jason warm enough even though it was about -80 degrees F outside.

And like last year, the horseshoe pits were brought in from the berms and a tournament went on into the wee hours of the night. Here's UT James showing his excellent follow-through.

Station manager Katie also had some good tosses after putting some dents on the heavy shop floor.

A new feature for this year's BBQ was a station in the adjacent UT shop making frozen martinis with liquid nitrogen, the same stuff that I used to make ice cream and another procedure that I won't mention in the same sentence.
Here's construction manager Kevin mixing away, complete with his safety goggles. He carefully poured the liquid nitrogen into the martini and stirred until a nice slush formed. It was very smooth going down.

This is Chris our cryo tech. He maintains the plant that makes the liquid nitrogen and he made it all possible by supplying plenty of the super cold nitrogen.

Of course we don't have flamethrowers down here but if we did...

And of course this is the South Pole and things freeze a little faster than anywhere else. Even the beer cooler (a sled filled with snow) did too good of a job on Nate's Corona. Another fun-filled weekend has passed and now we get the added bonus that this week will be short...only 5 days long.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Our boy is back

Frosty Boy is back!

Comms tech Shaun and Galley Materials extraordinaire Leah serving up some vanilla ice cream.

With great sorrow, I wrote about the health problems of our ice cream machine, which we generically call "Frosty Boy" in a previous post "Save Our Frosty Boy". After many frustrating days, our UTs were able to resurrect it to life.

Now we can have our ice cream bar on Saturday nights once again! To the Frosty Boy CEO in Brisbane who left a comment, thanks for your sympathy and I'm sorry that we don't have real Frosty Boy ice cream in our machine but it's truly a well-intentioned compliment that we call our machine "Frosty Boy" and not just the ice cream machine.

And while the boy was down, I made some ice cream the old fashioned way. Well, it's more like an old-fashioned science-aided way of using liquid nitrogen for the freezing. Our cryogenics tech Chris maintains a liquid nitrogen plant out at MAPO and the nitrogen is used to cool down the telescopes optics. He brought over a dewar of LN2 that I used to freeze a plantar wart on a patient and with the leftover nitrogen, I whipped up a batch of ice cream.

Add a little chocolate ice cream mix, add a lot of Kahlua, add a little bit of liquid nitrogen and watch the show. It's a fun and quick way to make it and the nitrogen completely evaporates after doing its freezing business. The Kahlua chocolate ice cream pies turned out really well even though I did a very inelegant job of decorating the tops with whipped cream. Even though Frosty Boy is in good health these days, I might keep making special batches of nitrogen ice cream...mmmm...cookies and cream...or maybe mint chocolate chip...or pecan praline or...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Solar minimum?

We've been told that this year should be a bust for auroras. The sun goes through a solar cycle with usually predictable variations in activity of solar flares and sunspots. The cycle is about 11 years but can vary give or take a couple of years. At the low point of activity or the solar minimum, there are far fewer sun spots spewing out charged particles towards Earth. These particles collide with oxygen, nitrogen and other atoms in the upper atmosphere, causing the atoms to emit light as they release their briefly borrowed energy. And this is what we see as wonderful, magical aurora shows.

I don't know. So far this winter, the auroras have been really spectacular with some of the largest and most dynamic displays I've seen in the years that I've been spending the night down here. It's a daily occurance and you can usually count on the southern lights getting fired up around 1-2pm or so.

On of the projects here at South Pole is the All-Sky Imager run primarily by Nagoya University. The camera used to be mounted on top of Sky Lab, the orange tower next to the Dome, that used to have the nicest, comfiest lounge on station. Now the camera is operational on top of the Elevated Station and once again showing images of our night sky.

You can see them for yourself at the All-Sky Imager website. It's not updated in real time but you can still see the most recent still images of our auroras and some movie clips as well.

And we received an email from Ethan, one of the science techs running the aurora projects, that provided this news alert:

ERUPTING PROMINENCE: Today, astronomers are monitoring an unusually active prominence on the sun's eastern limb. Even veteran observers are impressed, using words like "amazing" and "jaw-dropping" to describe the activity they have seen. One onlooker described the fountain-like eruptions as "volcanic in appearance." This beautiful activity may herald the approach of a new sunspot--or it may be just a temporary upheaval, here today and gone tomorrow.

I've not attempted to take photos of auroras because that would require me to do something with my point and shoot camera that is more complicated than leaving it on the automatic setting and pointing and shooting. Calee however is a photographic genius who doesn't seem to mind sacrificing her fingertips to the -70 degree F temps and has posted some nice shots on her blog.

So I'm not complaining if this is a solar minimum year because we've had some really incredible light shows so far this winter. I just need to find more excuses to go outside to my ringside seat to the show.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Polestock 2008

It was almost as psychedelic as the 60s and surely the music was just as good.
Polestock 2008 was the crowing touch to our two day weekend last week following the BF5K in the afternoon. It was a huge event that took weeks of planning, practicing, organizing and constructing.
No detail was guards Detroit Andy and Josiah frisked everyone at the door with a metal detector, including BFK.
The souvenir stand offered one of a kind hand-made commemorative concert t-shirts made from salvaged clothing from "Skua", or our second-hand exchange named after a carniverous scavenger Antarctic bird.

An open bar was tended by the bottom of the world's finest bar tenders Jason and Kiwi Paul in a mullet wig.
Shaun was in charge of the sound system and lighting.

And the musicians really put on a show. There were five bands and two solo performers playing genres that ranged from original compositions to the iconic 60's tune "Wipeout" to David Bowie to Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan and beyond.
The Retardis in action.

"Dish" and JT3 jamming.
House Mouse Seasonal Affective Disorder Blues Project

There was lots of dancing and jiving going on including a between-set interlude featuring Jonny O and Kiwi Paul gettin' down to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
I really never could have imagined that we would have so much impressive talent down here, not only musical but technical production and artistic design. The organizer of the event, Kevin Torphy, has plans for more shows including a Mid-Winter performance and he's looking for ways to top last weekend's music festival. If it gets any better than this, they'll all have to take the show on the road post-ice.