South Pole Diaries 1997/98



Tuesday 25th November 1997 - presprespresprespres....

From John Storey........

This morning was spent cleaning the AASTO. By lunchtime it was inhabitable again, with hardly a trace of rockwool or brown slime. The bad news for our wives and partners is that we've spent so much time cleaning over the past two weeks that neither of us will want to pick up a vacuum cleaner or duster again for months.

The AASTO seems pretty healthy, although it's running too hot. It seems that there's enough heat coming directly off the TEG and exhaust pipe that even with the freon valves wide open it maintains about 30C inside. This isn't actually such a bad thing, as it it means we can work with the window open and minimise the risk of asphixiation. I'm told that if the oxygen levels in the room drop too low then the burners will simply shut down - whether they will do so before or after I do is not something I want to experiment with.

What we need is a canary - maybe a budgerigar would do at a pinch.

Sadly, the AASTO no longer makes whale sounds. It's probably because the thermostat is wide open and not throttling the freon flow. The only sound is the gentle roar of the burners, and the liquid freon trickling back into the storage tank. This has none of the charm of the whale noise, and instead sounds a lot like a faulty toilet cistern.

This afternoon we hooked up the ELGIPS battery chargers to run off the AASTO bus, so we're now completely self sufficient. It's a great feeling to sit in the AASTO and realise that you could just as easily be almost anywhere on the entire antarctic continent. Come dinner time, though, and you're glad your're at the South Pole (fresh asparagus, crab and prawn creole, fresh grapefruit...)

The sapphire window arrived with Al Fowler. Ant keeps unwrapping it and looking at it and then putting it away again. A 5" diameter disc of sapphire is a mighty fine thing. Sooner or later we're going to have to summon up the courage to bolt it onto something.

Mcba - important question: is it possible to make the ACER 386 boot up as a normal MSDOS machine? For that matter, can the super be persuaded to do same?

It turns out that the you-beaut fibre-optic ethernet thingies that Ant charmed out of the communications people belong to someone else, so we're back to square one on that score.

Another important question for mcba: is "rotma" a move to an absolute position in steps or degrees?

This morning the AGO service crew left on a Twin Otter to AGO-2. It's an awfully flimsy looking plane after the Hercs. This afternoon they called back on HF SSB radio to say that they'd arrived at the site to find there weren't any lifting pulleys (needed to jack the AGO up above the accumulating snow drifts), and could they borrow ours. Naturally we were pleased to be able to help out, particularly after they'd put such an effort into restoring the AASTO. The pulleys will be flown to AGO-2 in another Twin Otter tomorrow.

It's amazing how well the various computers, electronics, motors etc have survived one of the coldest South Pole winters in history. It seems possible now to make a list of things that survive freezing and those that don't:

1. Don't survive:

Sonnenschein batteries
Some computer disks

2. Do survive:

Everything else

Did I mention that we experimented a bit with the stepper motor rates and came up with the following that work pretty well: min 200, cal 400, ham 200, max 500, accel 25.

Abu is pumping down well, and Ant and Al have been rushing around orgainising things. A potentially serious hitch is that the fibre link from MAPO to SPIREX is the wrong type, and incompatible with Abu. At best we'll have to chop the ends off the fibres and repolish them for the new termination; at worst we'll have to wait until the right fibres are flown in. Fred is making the "dog-house" that protects the elevation motors from the snow. Mark and Mike are hitting each other with large, heavy things to determine who will have the privilege of making up more of our cables.

We've lugged the ACER 386 across to the AASTO, where it taks up 90% of the remaining space. It works, and can be telnetted to. We'll start incorporating it into the system in a more permanent manner once we've debugged a few things. It has an AWFULLY LOUD FAN, which is about to meet with an accident.

This afternoon one of the Hercs got the pitch control of a propellor jammed. Their first approach to solving the problem was to open the throttles and hit "coarse". The resulting blast of wind nicely cleared the area behind them of people, bulldozers and other objects not tied down, and sent a snow flurry rolling across the plateau that could be seen for minutes later. Their second approach was to taxi aound a bit, *without* first turning on the flashing red lights that warn you of approaching aircraft. As I crossed the skiway I looked over my shoulder to find I was being pursued by a gazillion horsepower of pure grunt, with four ten-foot diameter people mincers whirrling menacingly in front of it. This is one situation where you do not necessarily insist on your right of way. They must have got it fixed eventually, because it later took off (though it took most of the 14,000 foot runway to do so).

If you were a computer and one of your Dallases had ceased to dangle, you would probably be moved to utter 4-letter words. However, it's unlikely that "pres" would be one of them. Nevertheless, when I type "DS INIT" into the super, it responds with "presprespresprespres...", and then refuses to tell me the temperature of any of them. The problem can be fixed by disconnecting the Dallas on the NISM mounting flange. I assume it's somehow shorting out the whole chain. We'll look into it - this is the Dallas that would have copped the full wrath of the brown slime when the NISM went into brown-slime cryopumping mode.

The "round the world" race is a Christmas Eve tradition in which people race around the skiway, taking in all 24 time-zones as they do so. I'm told it has always been won by runners, although skiers and mountain bikers have also competed. This year Matt Newcombe has arrived with a very fine Cannondale V-500 with Gortex cables and 2.5" wide snow tyres. I'd say he's in with a real chance.

We still don't have any alligator clips!!! This is awful. Before we come down again in January I'm going to buy $400 worth of alligator clips, and ship them down with "URGENT" in big letters on the crate. It is impossible to measure stuff using multimeter probes unless you've got four hands. The Fluke is so smart it refuses to let you plug anything in unless it's a safety-approved probe, just in case you electrocute yourself. (On the "ohms" range???) The result is that you end up attaching those stupid little clips that someone send down last year instead of alligator clips to the end of the probes and dangling the whole thing in space in such a way that you either blow up whatever it was you were trying to measure or electrocute yourself anyway.

We could also use a thermal wire stripper down here.

Other things we need to buy are:

1. A labeller - like the one we used last year. Andre - could you check out the "Brother" catalog please.

2. A spare Australian flag (Aust. Geog.)

3. A budgerigar (and perhaps a backup one)

Cheers, John




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