South Pole Diaries



Wednesday 26th November 1997 - Sonnenschein noch einmal

From John Storey......

There was an exciting start to the day when at 4:30 am lone figure was spotted heading out from the station towing a sled and pulled along by a large parasail. He went for several miles before setting up camp, just visible with the naked eye from the MAPO building. At about 8am the station leader sent out 4 people on Skidoos to retrieve him. He was carrying 150lbs of food (enough for 60 days), a GPS and maps. As it turned out, he was just testing gear for a future trans-Greenland expedition, and had forgotten to tell comms. of his experiment. (That's the official story, anyway.)

Watching this drama unfold blew most of the morning, but we still managed to get a fair bit done today. The electronics rack is now firmly mounted on the structurally-challenged piece of plywood, and Al has installed the Abu electronics in it. Abu itself continues to sit on the turbo pump.

Nigel is busying himself getting the Suns up and running. We've cut a hole through the floor of the MAPO building to bring the rather short length of available optical fibre through, so that tests can be done before it's all installed on the telescope.

Ant worked hard to organise a satisfactory mount for the sapphire window, and then we measured the diameters of the T-tube and the hole in SPIREX it has to pass through. The depressing result was 5.06 and 4.99 inches, respectively. Worse, the heads of the bolts that hold the window onto the tube exceed the flange diameter by a handsome margin. It's basically impossible to decrease the diameter of the T-tube, so we looked next at enlarging the hole in SPIREX.

This turns out *not* to be a straightforward task. The hole is in a one-inch steel plate that has been flame hardened (because it also serves as the friction-drive disc) and weighs around 300lbs. For a while it looked as if the whole project was about to suffer a major setback, but when we mentioned to Fred the possibility of some heavy engineering he got so enthusiastic about removing the disc and flame-cutting a bigger hole in it that we almost had to restrain him from doing so on the spot. We were at first concerned that cutting such a hole might distort the disc - it turns out however that it's bolted to a *two-inch* thick plate by 12 humungous bolts that will certainly pull it flat again. There's always been half an idea to instal a small crane on SPIREX to make such jobs easier, and indeed we have been contemplating how on earth we're going to get Abu and its electronics racks installed. The need to remove the friction disk (if I'm going to use inches, I might as well call it a "disk") was the final straw that persuaded us that we needed a crane.

Now even at 10,000 feet Ant and I both vividly remembered that a crane ideal for the purpose was currently sitting atop the G-tower. We remembered that because it was such a hassle putting it there. It turned out that bringing it down from the G-tower was a lot easier, as we carefully lowered it with a precisely controlled acceleration of 9.8m/s-2. The snow drift that had accumulated in front of the crane crate made for a (reasonably) gentle decceleration.

We then sledded the crane across to MAPO, and craned it to the roof, where Fred is now cheerfully drilling mounting holes for it in the baseplate using an electric drill the size of a cement mixer.

This season is the start of the New South Pole Station construction, and lots of people are running around with walkie-talkies. At lunch, when everyone hangs their coats up in the foyer, all the walkie-talkies in the coat pockets talk to each other. It can be more than a little disconcerting.

Speaking of walkie-talkies, Mark and Mike found one on the roof of MAPO when they were shovelling the snow off. It had been buried there for months, but when it was brought inside and warmed up it worked just fine.

The wakey-wakey boards are now powered up, and working just fine too.

I've noticed that the milk this year is a lot better, and is devoid of that dreadful "silicone-heatsink compound" taste that makes UHT milk so vile (NB: please add UHT milk to the list of the world's most revolting substances, in between rockwool and 2-part foam). Anyway, it turns out they're using *powdered* milk. It's a vast technological leap forward, and I must find out what brand it is so I can take it on plane trips etc.

There's some good news and bad news vis-a-vis Sonnenschein batteries. The good news is that our replacements turned up today; the bad news is that the cargoids *froze* them. Ok, so they didn't have a Do Not Freeze label on them, but they were clearly marked "hazardous" in terrifyingly large letters.

Cargoid #1: "Hey, these things look really dangerous; what'll we do with them?" Cargoid #2: "I know, let's give'em a really big thermal shock."

Please can we have last year's cargoids back. We're even prepared to overlook the fact that they were mostly young, female, and seriously cute. They were also highly efficient and didn't *freeze* things.

Given that Sonneschein batteries are one of only three things known to man that are damaged by freezing, we should get our hands on some PowerSonic gel-cells and ship them down in January. The Soddingschweins will do over summer.

I've replaced the hard drive on the PC104 super; the old one appears to be irrevocably stuffed. By the way, this is am awful job! To get to the screws (phillips head), you have to remove the floppy drive (flat head screws). To get at them you need to disassemble the card stack. To do that you need first to remove the whole shebang from the box (phillips head screws again). Because it's all mounted on a U-bracket instead of two "L" brackets, it's impossible to put back together without first taking the front panel off the rack. GRRRR! It reminds me forcibly of the first car I owned, which was a British-made Wolseley. Anyway, it's all back together except it's not screwed into the box, but held there with residual brown slime.

The 386 ACER is now fired up and playing the role of "super". The serial cables all join together in the sense of having the correct "gender", but fail miserably to mate in a satisfactory manner. This is because the cable-to-cable joins both have screws, while the cable-to-chassis joins have screws but no nuts. Connectors need to have an additional description as well as just male or female - something like "persuasion" or "preference" or "perversion", depending on how they like to be coupled to other connectors. I'm devising an identification scheme based on little ear rings that the connectors can wear, and will submit it to the IEEE for ratification when I get back.

Various software issues have come up which may not be interesting or even comprehensible to most people, but which mcba will instantly solve:

On the original PC104 supervisor, I swapped in the new Seagate ST9810A. Works fine, except that it comes up with:

AASTO version 2.0 Error table mis-sequenced or duplicated, code 117 Error table mis-sequenced or duplicated, code 125 Error table mis-sequenced or duplicated, code 140 Error table mis-sequenced or duplicated, code 235 Error table mis-sequenced or duplicated, code 10065

Error #117 - unsupported error

The 386 supervisor is up and running, with the nism on port 2 and the mism on port 3. We're running the version of the program which is on the hard disk. There's a couple of funnies: 1. With nism and mism both on, and a telnet session from poodle to each of super, nism and mism, typing "DS INIT" into the super keyboard gave:

RTKernel Error: Internal SSP: Kernel level greater 5 Int handler: IRQ 1 Error location: RTKernel exit function

followed by an irrecoverable crash.

On another occasion, neither nism nor mism was on, but a single telnet with poodle was on. This time it gave:

RTKernel Error: Internal SSP: Kernel level greater 5 Current task: K Error location: 12821

followed by an irecoverable crash.

Typing "DS INIT" when there's no telnet session in progress works fine; it seems like a case of the computer not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

2. The Nism is running mism version 2.3, Eric 2.2, April 4, while the Mism is running nism version 2.3, Eric 2.2, April 28! 3. The Mism gives "illegal response" to commands like "adc amps", but correctly responds to the command "adc", CR, "amps". Actually, I fixed this one! The clue came when I typed "analog" and found that the echo came back as "analo", or worse still, "anal". Figuring it was a timing problem (aren't they all?), I set the "delay loops" to 5000 on the super, and now it works fine. Strangely, the Nism works fine even without this tweak. (Have I earned myself a "PC Guru" badge for this one?)

At tonight's CARA Science meeting we showed up with a couple of bottles of Californian champagne and a six-pack to celebrate the renewal of our ARC grant. Perhaps because of this the meeting was a little more animated than usual, and a good time was had by all.

I tried to run the Nism today, but found it had no power. The MAX471 on the battery charger board had blown, along with the 3/8 amp fuse in that line from the DCU power bus. Very odd. We're currently running with the AFOS battery charger.

After a rocky start, the Tektronics 2440 digital oscilloscope and I are now getting along just fine. It's been excellent for trouble-shooting the Dallas temperature sensors, and has even asked me to sit next to it at the Thanksgiving dinner.





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