South Pole Diaries 1997/98    


Monday 17 November 1997 - AASTO completely stuffed

Greetings from the Pole! It's not good news, I'm afraid. Mcba - could you please ensure that this message gets to Jack - I'm not sure of his address.

There is *no* freon in the sight tube. The freon pressure guage reads zero. There is massive corrosion of the area around the exhaust stack (inside the AASTO). I don't know what corodes stainless-steel braided hose, but this stuff has had a real good go. Remember the aluminium can the Brownell valve came in? Coroded right through. A lot of stuff is completely ok. However, it seems that anything that was *cold* has condensed out something extraordinarilly viscious onto it, which has then proceeded to chomp it to death. The top of the TEG unit is coroded, and covered in white powder and yellow stuff. The aluminium tape on Ethan's experiment near the port hole is coroded. (Did I mention that Ethan's experiment is fully installed, complete with computer, electronics, blackbody source and scanning head?).

Also badly hit are the tools, screws etc that were on the bunk near the window that Paul had propped open. Some of the tools are beyond recovery. The perspex cover at the base of the nism has been removed, and the inside of the nism support box, bull gear etc are covered in white corosion which is *gooey* - ie I can scrape it off with a screwdriver and frighten Ant with it.

There are white crystals of something in little pools on the bunk. Parts of the rack are coroded, but mostly the electronics looks ok. Only the things that were exposed to cold seem to have been attacked.

Another thing - all the paper in the AASTO is totally brittle - just like the Dead Sea scrolls. If you pick up a sheet of A4 paper (a circuit diagram, for example), it just breaks in half.

This seems to fit a theory of the freon leaking into the burner, being catalytically converted into HCl and HF, then when Paul opened the place up and let some things get cold these acids condensed onto them and chewed them out. If this theory is correct, Ant and I would *urgently* like answers to the following:

1) Is this stuff dangerous? (ie - aluminium fluoride, copper fluoride (yes, the black body heatsink copped it), iron fluoride, stainless steel fluoride, paper fluoride, etc.)

2) How do we clean up the mess in a safe way?

3) Are there other dangers we should know about?

Once we're sure, we should inform Paul.

I'll send this message in two parts. Ev Paschal is in for a bit of a shock when he arrives! Things may actually not be too bad once we clean the mess up, but we won't know till we have.

Cheers, john

Part 2......

Well guys, I thought that was enough bad news for one message, so here's the rest. The whole program at Pole is about 2~3 weeks behind schedule now. Fred Mrozek arrived on the same flight we did. None of the stuff we shipped has arrived. It would be nice to think it was going to arrive real soon now (along with Ev Paschal - we could reaaly use that guy right now). However, as I type there are two Hercs parked outside the dome with all 8 engines *off*.

The Hercs flew in at mid-afternoon (we were on one), and they set off full of hope and end-of-season winteroverers, but then the weather at McMurdo closed in so they returned to Pole. They sat for about 4 hours with the engines running, then decided it was silly and turned them off. Rumour has it they will try to restart them tomorrow, then fly out with no passengers. I've also heard (from Pernic) that they've just stuffed a C141 at McMurdo when the doors of the front landing gear got ripped of in the snow and damaged the airframe. The C141 is on its way back to the States. (Actually I always thought those doors were in a silly place...)

Hey, it's not all bad, there's good news too:

The AASTO is in great shape (externally). There's a huge snow drift behind it and a bow wave in front of it, but it's still clear. There's almost no snow *on* it, or the nism, mism, or Ethan's thing. (Actually, there's a nice snow drift behind each of the instruments, but not troubling them. There's snow packed around the freon heat exchanger. There's *no* ice on any of the windows (nism/mism). The G-tower is free of snow, as is the AFOS. Ant climbed the tower and said there's a few individual particles on the AFOS window. The supervisor computer is up and running.

The L-shaped box is alive and well and sitting in the AASTO (Only mcba knows what this means - I haven't been game to open it). The only other bit of damage is that one side of the fibreglass nism box has separated from the foam and peeled off - very wierd.

Mcba - I've asked for an IP number etc for the Mac, but knowing how slow they can be here (and there are already 175 people here, plus two Herc crews), I plan to use the one we used for Andre's PC last year. Can you tell me the secret numbers for gateway, domain, blood group, nationality etc.?

At least two of the Sonnenscheins have split cases, but no electrolyte appears to have leaked out - or maybe that's what's eaten all the other stuff in the AASTO? Hmmm. Interesting theory. If it leaked on the carpet and then Paul put the heater on the carpet... I'll check that out tommorrow. All of the DCU batteries are ok, imcluding the spares. Looks like Jack's Powersonics cope with the cold better than our German batteries.

Reading this again I see that it was supposed to contain mostly good news. Well we're not in McMurdo anymore, the food's great, Ethan left a Mac 5300 in the AASTO, we finally got a change of clothes after 4 days in ChCh with our checked bags firmly crated for the C141, the first Herc we tried to fly to Mactown in actually *discovered* that there was a gaping hole in one fuel tank before we ran out of fuel, we didn't catch fire when we landed again at ChCh (much to the disgust of the 4 fire engines), New Zealand's crops should recover in a year or two from the 20,000 gallons of JP8 we sprayed over them, there's a great bunch of videos to watch while we wait for our stuff to come (including a beaut one called "Head Cleaning Tape")...

Cheers, John

Part 3.....

Well, things went a bit slowly today. Mainly we ran around getting IP numbers, trying to find out why the phone doesn't work, who stole our Aussie flag, wondering whether we really *did* take the Phillips cro back to UNSW (can't find a trace of it here, and it's supposed to be *dual* trace), and trying to tink of excuses for not cleaning out the AASTO.

Eventually we ran out of excuses, raided the Janitor store, and towed a bunch of cleaning things across on a sled. We also borrowed the R2D2 vacuum cleaner from MAPO and have started the ugly task.

Meanwhile we borrowed a 1500W thermostatted heater, so life is about to get easier.

I can talk to the Supervisor computer with the keyboard, but can't get it to do anything interesting because I've forgotten what to say to it. When I type "test" it admits to having 14 Dallases a-dangling, but only condescends to tell me the temperature of two.

I can't telnet to the Supervisor from pharlap.

There is now only one Herc parked forlornly on the forecourt. The other left this afternoon after they spent four hours getting it started. The process involved four Herman Nelsons, which were used to heat the donks and the APU. Apparently once one engine is running, they can circulate oil from it to the other 3 and warm them up too. I'm not sure if it arrived at McMurdo; if the weather was bad it was going to divert to Siple Dome.

Actually, we *did* find a clue to the Phillips cro disappearance - a broken knob on the carpet. It seems there was a violent struggle, probably injuries sustained by both parties, but so far no further trace...

The 386 computer and monitor both have brown goo running out of them. We put them in plastic garbage bags and sledded them across to MAPO.

Ant went off joyfully to talk to Cargo but came back a bit depressed. Either it was the ugly-looking blokes masquerading as cargoids, or the fact that the only boxes of our stuff that have arrived are the ones we don't need yet.

My driving lesson in the Sprite went a bit flat when the instructor couldn't get it started. We'll try again tomorrow. The vans and shuttles aren't running yet. So, with one Sprite un-startable and the other one missing its key, we ended with no option but to lug a sled across from the MAPO building. When we got there we knew exactly how Scott felt - there was a bloody Sprite sitting there with its engine idling!

Wind is forecast to drop tomorrow. Does anyone remeber where they put the G-tower crane at the end of last season? If not, we're happy to hurl the T-mount off the top, but would prefer to handle the AFOS more gently.

Andre's Lindblad is still sitting happily near the G-tower, with very little snow around it. No doubt it's cheerfully receiving signals from the LEOs, bouncing them off the end of its transmission line, and sending them back again.

Ant reckons we need a whiteboard in the AASTO. Good idea, Ant. Andre...?

Ok, back to the cleaning. The spray-on clean everything detergent (unsuitable for food preparation surfaces) should have thawed out by now.

Cheers, John

Part 4......

Thanks Andre and Mcba for your emails. We're making progress, as will be seen in a moment.

Today began with the stranded Herc still sitting outside the dome. Apparently they got it started, but had the usual problem of the oil seals on the propellor pitch unit leaking, so they turned if off again. They'd better move it soon or the local yobbos will strip it. Already the radio aerial has been bent and someone has souvenired the hubcaps...

As I type a second Herc has arrived to rescue it. They've unloaded a dirty great generator, plus a bunch of Herman Nelson heaters. There's now a Herman Nelson hooked up to each propellor hub with a big tube. They're keeping the engines running on the second Herc; a clear sign of learning behaviour.

We've located the box with the G-mount crane, and unpacked the box of useless odd and ends.

Today we finished cleaning. We soaked all the tools, then scrubbed them with scouring pads, dried them and put light oil on them. We now have a usable set of tools, although some look like they've been salvaged from a marine wreck. I don't know what it was that attacked all the steel work in the AASTO, but we've taked some samples which I want to get back to UNSW to be analysed. Then we should patent it.

We also cleaned up the electronics rack, which has brown goo on it that eats through your skin if you touch it. A bit more vacuuming, and now the AASTO is like a civilised place again. We got a 1500W thermostatted heater in, and after a bit of experimenting and a lot of arguing found that if the knob is vertical the temperature of the AASTO oscillates stably between 16 and 21C.

We now have accounts on both pharlap and magnolia. Please send email here, as we're not necessarily up when the satellites are.

Something very bad has happened on the nism power supply board. It seems to involve the over-voltage protected, short-circuit proof, over-temperature protected, guaranteed indestructable Siemens highside switch setting fire to itself. It's also had a go at the cicuit board and a few other things around it.

This next bit is mainly interesting to Michael Ashley: namely a potted history of attempts to talk to the supervisor computer follows. First we tried a ctrl-alt-s in order to check the disk drive settings. No response. Then I remember that only some keyboards can do that (sort of like how only some people can smell garlic). I therefore swapped it for the one in the L-shaped box. That didn't work at all. This suggested two possibilities: 1. someone sent down a dead keyboard as a kind of pratical joke, or 2. I hadn't plugged it in properly.

It turned out to be the latter (as a result of trying not to get eaten by the brown goo). Once that was fixed I checked the settings: all were ok: Type 48, 1572, 16, none, 1572, 63, 773. Whatever I do, I get: "Fixed Disk Controller Error".

So I gave up on the hard disk.

Turning to the floppy, the one in the slot is AASTO disk backup 2, RS 10/1/97, which someone has written "old IP numbers" on. So I downloaded the latest version of the software (aasto-97aaa6.exe) using an old M*c*nt*sh we found lying around the AASTO, overwrote the file on the floppy and rebooted aasto.

Then followed pages of happy little starting messages from aasto - all about how much fun it was being a computer, how much it was looking forward to doing calculations for me, finishing up with: "invalid directory" "This RTK version contains debug code" (Hey-a Michael! How coma we don't getta da version without de bug??) "SUPER version 3.0 etc. "Nov 16... hey, how come it knows the date? "can't open file <cosole.ini> "Error 128 CAN'T_OPEN_FILE.. hey, now it's shouting at me! "Nov 16 08:04:10 SUPER>

Now that's what I call a good start. It not only reads all 14 dallases, but says where they are. There'll all working, by the way.

But we still can't telnet to it!! When it's powered up the green light on the ethernet hub next to that port comes on, so at least the hub can see the ethernet card in the aasto. I even tried a different cable, risking death by brown goo, but no joy. Also, when the aasto is booting, one of its happy little "I like being a computer" messages is: Found NE2000 V11 packet driver at INT 0x61 00 40 60 2B 00 FF TTCP kernel successfully installed which I take to mean that it *thinks* it can talk to the outside world.

In the absence of any other ideas, should we dismantle the aasto and put in a new ethernet card? If so, would a new hard disk be in order? If so, which one? Most of the brown goo has gone now, by the way.

End of bit that's only interesting to mcba. Start of bit that mcba won't be so interested in. We decided to fire up Ethan's Mac, partly to see if it had survived a few months of temperatures down to -79C (not to mention the attack of the brown slime). I should mention that there was a Compaq 386 PC sitting next to it (which I would have *much* preferred to use), but there was a stream of slimy liquid coming out of the monitor, and the PC itself had cleverly glued itself to the bench with its own bodily secretions. We prised it off (with difficulty), put both in plastic bags (the ones they line the dunny with), and sledded it across to MAPO.

Anyway, back to the Powerbook 5300. Works fine. Remembers all its ethernet addresses. Just switch on, click and point. Oh rapture! (my Mac is still in my bedroom, by the way, on account of the brown slime).

That's about enough for one message. Cheers, John

Part 5.....

Good news at last! Network contact was restored to "super" today at 3:30pm, via telnet from We'll leave it up and running, so mcba you can have a go at contacting it when next a friendly satellite is up.

Actually, quite a lot has happened in the past 24 hours. Last night about 10pm they finally got the stranded Herc running, and it set of for McMurdo closely followed by the one that came to rescue it. Unfortunately they chose to leave just as Ant and I were walking back from the AASTO in a 20 knot wind, so we had to stand and wait at the edge of the skiway for yonks. Neither of them came back, so either they made it back to McMurdo or they crashed and burned.

Today a couple of CMU students showed up and spent the morning dismantling their gear and taking it all away (including the Mac). Bother. That meant I had to take my little Powerbook out and spend a good 15 seconds setting it up with all the IP numbers and stuff. I'm using one of our "spare" addresses: - now formally on the name-server as When the PC comes down it will use the old address of Andre's "penguin":

(Actually, I'm more than a little surprised the Powerbook still works. I planned to take it as carry-on, but at Christchurch I was told it had to go as hold luggage. I packed it up as best I could, but then watched as they throw the bags into a 8-foot cubed crate and a bloke stands on top them all and *jumps* on the ones that stick up so it all fits. At any moment I expected to see the whole pallet go into a wool press, or one of those big machines that crunch cars up until they look like bricks).

What else happened today? Mainly good stuff. "Crunch" came in the night and took away our leaking Sonnenscheins, plus all the lead- contaminated stuff we could find. The solar dunny is now working, although the liquid soap dispenser is still frozen solid.

And.... Ant and I are now fully-qualified Sprite drivers. A Sprite is a bright yellow thing on caterpillar tracks, that you steer by pulling back on either of two levers. Pulling back on both levers makes it stop, with the result that the instructor goes through the windscreen. Sadly, pushing the levers forward does not make it go faster. It also has all kinds of beaut gauges and switches, but the instructor didn't what they were for so we couldn't play with them. Ant was last seen trying to perfect a Scandinavian flick, but I have my sights set on the D9.

More good stuff. A cargoid brought our crates over, and we unpacked the Abu electronics rack and the mount. A different cargoid brought the crate containing the G-mount crane over, plus the crate to ship the AFOS back. The cargoids are entirely male and hairy, by the way. (I think I've mentioned this before. This is not good news.)

Oh yes, the Siemens high-side switch. Totally protected against everything (including acts of god) *except* for... not having its ground pin connected to anything. Nasty. I guess it's hard to do good switching-type stuff if your feet aren't on the ground (although I'm reminded of the old saying: "If you've got your two feet firmly on the ground, how are you going to put your trousers on?) Anyway, it's a favourite trick of our otherwise excellent electronics workshop to forget to solder the odd pin on a PC board. My job is to carefully check they hadn't. I did. They had. But I obviously hadn't checked well enough until my attention was drawn to that particular pin by the spectacular burn marks radiating from that part of the rack. Amazingly, the board had worked perfectly all last season.

The nism batteries are now fully charged - the ELGIPS has backed off to 0.02A, as well it should.

I climbed up the G-tower to move the AFOS - it was pointing about 20 degrees above the horizon, and sooner or later the sun is going to shine into it. There was a steady 20 knot (about 40 km/hr) wind blowing, according to the SPIREX wind monitor. Leaning against the rails, there's a strong vibration. Even the aluminum lattice flooring shakes. However, bravely standing on the G-mount itself, with arms wrapped around the AFOS (it's kind of cuddly), vibration is close to nil. It's very hard to be quantitative, but I'd say sub-millimetre and about 10Hz. It's difficult to be certain it's vibrating at all when your parka is trying to tear itself off your body in the wind. Interestingly, standing on the flooring and holding on to the hand rail (as any rational person would do in the conditions), there's a strong vibration. Even then, the actual amplitude is probably pretty small.

Talking of weather, it's *awful*. The wind hasn't dropped below 15 knots for days, and is usually around 20. Last night it was gusting up to 25 knots (about 50 km/hr). There's a huge amount of blowing snow; visibilty is sometimes down to 100 meters or less. It's nothing like the conditions we had in January, when we were sunbaking on the AASTO front porch.

Poor old Fred is a pale green colour and wishing he'd never been born. It will probably be a day or two before he can do much. However, we're expecting Ev Pascall in on tonight's flight, and he should be able to tell us what went wrong with the AASTO TEG.

How on earth did the Phillips cro get back to Sydney? I suggest we bring it back down again.

Now, the "super". Thanks for those emails, Michael A. I had wrongly assumed that updating SUPER.EXE would update the IP numbers. I tried "ne \aasto\telnet.cfg" (maybe they were forward slashes), but got "unrecognised command". Maybe "ne" doesn't work at the SUPER prompt? Anyway, next I tried to download the file from pharlap, but couldn't find it. Eventually I took the floppy into MAPO and editted the numbers directly, and that did the trick.

The hard disk on super makes a noise like wasps mating for about two seconds when you start it up. (ok, two wasps in a big hurry). Then it reports that there's a disk controller error, throws in the towel, and boots off the floppy instead. We'll have a look at putting one of the other HDs in. There's one that says it's guaranteed against shocks of up to 150g (but it doesn't say anything about -79C or brown slime).

I'd better go and check if Ant has rolled the Sprite.

Cheers, John

Tuesday 18th November - Nism up

The last 24 hours have been particularly eventful. (These missives are written directly after dinner, when it's impossible to move for an hour or so until dinner settles.)

Yesterday evening began with a bang when we fired up the MISM. (Regular readers will recall that the power supply card in the NISM had previously been deemed unsuitable for up-firing, on account of the self-incineration of the high-side switch). Anyway, we plugged in the MISM and were immediately greeted by the cheery little red led on the front panel, and the nice bright green one on the power supply card itself.

It took a few seconds before I remembered we don't *have* a green led on the power supply card, a recollection that was reinfiorced by the clouds of acrid smoke cominng from the vicicnity of the high-side switch. Things were not looking good for a) getting anything to work at all b) high-side switches in general c) Siemens nuclear-bomb-proof high-side switches in particular c) the reputation of quality German engineering (the only other German things in the AASTO are the Sonnenscheins).

When the smoke cleared it became apparent that all that had happened was that the brown slime had bridged across from the case of the high-side switch to ground, and was enjoying its last moments of glory. A quick squirt with general purpose detergent (unsuitable for food-preparation surfaces), and a bit of a scrub and everything was right as rain.

The mism power supply voltages all came up fine, so we tried to telnet to it but got no response. Then we plugged the mism power supply board into the nism and fired that up - it looked happy but we couldn't telnet to it either.

We measured lots of voltages, peered at the PC104 stack and reminded each other of how awful it was taking it apart, typed in random commands to poodle, wiggled connectors, briefly tried to visualise how beautiful life could be if computers had never been invented, and packed it in for the night.

This year we're lodged in the "Elevated Dorm", the blue building with the satellite dish on top. It is actually very comfortable - much more room than the Jamesways, *quiet*, and with the shower and the Head all in the same building. It's a comfortable temperature (sort of), and even has cupboards and drawers. The only downside is having to share a room with Ant...

Also they got the phone in the AASTO fixed, so now it's a bit safer working in there. We still haven't got our fire extinguisher back, despite asking for it at least twice a day since we arrived. If it does catch fire we can try throwing snow on it, but 4,000lbs of liquid propane will probably require quite a bit of snow.

Ev Paschal was out at the AASTO bright and early this morning, and got straight to work trying to figure out what had gone wrong with the TEG. Ev is great. Not only is he a good bloke, but he had no hesitation in immediately getting out the sponge and the general purpose detergent and scrubbing down all the grunge that we'd deliberately not cleaned from TEG so Ev could look at it. A PhD engineer who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty is a valuable asset in Antarctica.

Unfortunately it quickly became clear that the AASTO is totally and utterly stuffed. The stainless-steel exhaust pipe is corroded through completely where it goes through the ceiling, and is completely blocked with green and yellow indescribable lumps of crud. Ev took photos of it. We could tell things were bad because Ev kept saying things like "Oh boy". It seems unlikely the TEG can be fixed this season, but we'll see what ASA can do. It's amazing that something as inert as freon can be converted into an unstoppable stainless-steel-munching fibreglass-dissolving brown-goo-creating circuit-board-illuminating monster chemical simply by passing it over platinum beads at a few hundred degrees. Any of the 50lbs of freon that didn't decompose has by now wandered off to the stratosphere to munch holes in the ozone layer.

At about the time we had the AASTO covered in yet another pile of yellow and white grunge, and were picking up pieces of what used to be stainless steel and/or fibreglass, in walks the station manager, station science manager, and health and safety officer. They stood around for a bit shaking their heads and saying things like "smells bad" and "might be mercaptan" and "oh boy", and than left before anything bad happened to their health. I reminded them about the fire extinguisher as they left.

We then pulled the TEG apart, and it's kind of ugly and corroded inside. Worse, it's full of rockwool insulation, which is now over everything. Ev says it's not carcinogenic. I believe it's made out of basalt, but have no idea how. It may involve soaking rocks in the brown slime they get out of AASTOs.

Now for the good news. While we were sleeping Michael Ashley crept out of his bed, telnetted to the "super", and fixed up the software!! Apparently we'd been using the wrong version.

With that fixed, instant success! We lit up the nism and immediately poodle was able to engage it in animated converstation. The only problem was that all the nism would send back was rows of little square boxes. To a geek that means only one thing - baud rate. Being geeks we changed the baud rate of the super to 19,200 (a figure we chose at random), and sure enough it sprung into life.

A quick check out shows: adc bb = -17.8C adc volts = 25.51 adc amps = 202.6 mA The rotator works, and calibrates. The cooler works - 96K after a few minutes. Choptest doesn't work. First, if you ask for 20 seconds it only takes data for two. Secondly, it gives the numbers you want, even if they're wrong. I think it's being overly polite. For example, if I set the chop frequency to something impossible, "choptest" runs and tells me everything is just fine.

To attack this problem further we grabbed a Tektronics digital cro from MAPO (the Phillips having mysteriously re-appeared, minus knob, back at UNSW), and probed the chopper driver card. I *hate* oscilloscopes that are more intelligent than I am. This one is so smart that took me a good half hour just to figure out that in fact the chopper is working perfectly, and generating all the right reference signals. The phase- locked loop works between about 50Hz and 82Hz.

Now that dinner has settled (home-made bread, spatchcocks, cous-cous, fresh lettuce, carrot, plus freshly-ground coffee and lemon-raisin pie), we'll go out and actually see if the detector works. If so, we'll have scored one out three working instruments already.

Cheers, John

Wednesday 19th November 1997 - NISM & MISM alive!

Things are moving right along. Rodney Marks arrived last night, ready to begin 12 months at the Pole. He'll be looking after Abu, and already we've pressed him into service lugging things around. Ev has been busy in the AASTO, and has been sending messages back and forth to the AGO service crew.

Last night we got *both* the nism and mism working. The mism was easily able to detect Ant's hand when he leaned out the door and waved at it. This not only proves that Ant is alive, but also that he's warm-blooded. It also gives us great encouragement that we will be able to leave two working instruments here when we depart in a couple of weeks.

Firing up the nism first, we were delighted to find that the Stirling- cycle cooler switched on immediately, and everything just worked the way it should. Scanning across the sky gives a large variation in the amplitude of the signal we see (as it should). The only problem is that the stepper motor doesn't have enough grunt to consistently move the instrument - boy do we have a surprise in store for it.

When we last talked to the mism (in May), the chopper was refusing to run above 500Hz. Naturally this was one of the first items for discussion with it when we re-established contact last night. Sure enough, 500 Hz. Tops. Maximum. This wouldn't matter a whole lot except that the entire signal chain is tuned to 1kHz. Figuring that if the mism refused to be phase-locked then we would refuse to be fazed, we plugged in the spare chopper-driver board and the chopper immediately locked up at a kHz, no argument.

This delighted both Ant and me, as neither of us has any wish to rip the optics box apart and mess with the chopper motor. However I do take any electronics failure as a personal affront, and the chopper driver board must have realised it was well and truly for it.

The "super" refuses to talk to the mism on the mism port, so we're using the nism port instead. This might be a software problem, or could be related to the fact that the mism rs232 port is on a different board to the nism. Given that the AFOS will not be running this year, a very simple fix is to reassign port 1 to the mism.

The next step was find out what when wrong with the original chopper- driver board. (I am dismayed to find that not only is the oscilloscope smarter than I am, but that the multimeter is also ahead on points. It's a bright yellow you-beaut Fluke meter, that Ant insisted I buy because it cost a lot of money. When I tried to measure a voltage with the probes plugged into the current socket, it beeped plaintively at me. I'm not sure if this intelligence, or just instinct for self preservation. Tomorrow I plan to hold it up in front of the mism and see if it is alive, too.)

Anyway, what was wrong with the chopper-driver board was that there was a tiny little bit of grunge on the board, bridging between two of the copper tracks. It was sufficiently conductive to reduce the reference signal below the CMOS threshold, with the result that the PLL simply ran at a random frequency close to the middle of its range. We will need to talk to our normally excellent electronics workshop about the hazards of leaving grunge on the circuit board.

Actually, we *had* intended to have all the boards made commercially once the workshop had done the prototypes. I think I'm going to vote for doing exactly that during 1998, especially in view of the brown slime.

Speaking of which, we ripped the nism off the roof of the AASTO and sledded it across to the MAPO building. The inside of the support bracket is covered in the last remnants of brown slime (actually white slime, being aluminium). Because the nism was exposed it acted as a big cryo-pump and is now covered in more than its share of grunge. We'll clean it up tonight and then fit the *new monster stepper motors* which Andre tested in the lab and found to be all torque (*and* all action).

By now we're fairly convinced that what hit the AASTO was a combination of HF and HCl from the decomposing freon, plus H2SO4 from the batteries. (Michelle thinks it was aliens, but she's wrong. The aliens live at Old South Pole Station, and don't cause any trouble as long as we invite them to Thanksgiving each year, which we do. I've already been enlisted as a wine waiter for the occasion). But I digress. The only really nasty in the above list is HF, which gobbles up human flesh like an offended alien. Paradoxically, it's *so* reactive that it's very unlikely for any of it to be left in the AASTO - whatever it landed on it will already have eaten and been thereby rendered harmless (or so I believe).

Weather is still very cold; still windy. They're scheduling 6 flights a day to try to get the program back on schedule, but only about half actually get here.

While I'm typing this, Amnt is cleaning up the nism. That's why this message is so long. When I finish I'm going to translate it into French, then type it backwards in morse code, and then go out and give Ant a hand.

Cheers, John

Thursday 20th November 1997 - Calm

It is recommended that, when in Antarctica, you try to learn something new. I'm sitting here learning "Pine". Mcba says is better than "mail" and he's right. Antony showed me how to switch it on. It doesn't use the mouse but you can move the cursor round with the arrow keys, just like in the good old days. If you get 4,000 copies of this message, or if it turns out to be one long line of 1,728 characters - sorry.

How wonderful it is to have the wind down to 10 knots - for the first time since we arrived. Suddenly it's quiet and peaceful, and it's possible to potter around outside without being instantly frozen stiff.

After I'd dashed off my message last night, I of course rushed out to help Ant clean the NISM. He had been so keen to get started on it that he'd gone and got a Sprite, and in fact I met him on the way out to the MAPO building. I guess he must have driven via Dome C as he was only just arriving when I got to MAPO; Ant assures me that it was by far the quickest way. Anyway, together we cleaned the NISM - a truly disgusting task not for the faint-hearted. By the time we'd finished we didn't have much enthusiasm left for anything, so we went and wrote postcards. (Actually we took the Sprite for a quick fang first.)

Ev has a nice little digital camera, and has taken shots of all the damage caused to the AASTO by the propane leak. He intended to put them on the net so that y'all could see it with your own eyes. Unfortunately, there seems to be an incompatibility between his Windows 95 compatible camera and his Windows 95 compatible computer, and the images won't transfer. I don't know much about PCs, but I suspect he's just used the wrong font when he set up the C:> system/cam/bios.$ram.config files. Or it might be just that his PC has the wrong serial number.

Additional entertainment here comes from the fact that they've started digging out the cargo arches in preparation for rebuilding South Pole Station. This has consisted mainly of using the bulldozers to carve great gouges in the landscape (snowscape?). However, they've discovered that the snow is compacted into ice on the side where the aircraft are, and is too hard for the biulldozers to penetrate. We offered them a jar of Brown Slime #1, but this was politely declined. Instead, they're using *dynamite*. There's a muffled bang and then snow all over the place. Over the next few weeks the station will come to resemble something like it was in 1973, before 25 of years of snow-fall buried it. Should be interesting.

This morning we busied oursleves installing the heavy-duty stepper motors in the NISM and MISM. We did the NISM first since, it was indoors and in bits. This was a moderately straightforward exercise, once we recalled the bizarre attributes of the stepper motor code. Our first problem was to be absolutely sure of the stepper motor rotation direction, since even the Tektronics oscilloscope was unable to calculate it from first principles. (The Fluke multimeter took a punt, but got it wrong.) Characteristics of the code that made this exercise unusually difficult include:

  1. Calibrate rotation direction CW or CCW? Goes CCW regardless of what you type.
  2. The limit switches only work if you hit the one the computer thinks the motor is travelling towards. This is actually very nasty, as if the motor is going the other way it won't stop until it tears the cables out. Things that can make the motor go the wrong direction include:

    a). Me, especially if taking advice from the Fluke.
    b) Running the motor at a step rate close to the fundamental resonance
    c) Having one phase fall off.

I suspect we're running an old version of the stepper motor code, as I'm sure these things were fixed a while back.

As expected the rotator works beautifully, and the stepper motor couldn't care less if the thing is balanced or not. Calculation shows that if the rotator stalls (eg if it hits a limit switch that the software ignores), it will exert a lateral force of 2,000 N on the gearbox and on the teeth of the aluminium ring gear. I've put my money on the ring gear stripping; the Tektronics has backed the gearbox shattering at 3 to 1. No one is prepared to put any money at all on a non-destructive stall.

We're running the motor at the minimum current that I'm confident will overcome the detent torque (oh, how I loathe stepper motors), namely the same current that we ran the old motors at. (This also saves us having to change the circuit boards.)

Today all the rest of the boxes came; ie Abu, the 386 super replacement, the AASTO manual, and various goodies. All we await now are the replacement Sonnenschweins, coming as hazardous cargo (and they don't know the half of it!)

The Good Will power supply (seriously) that powers the super and charges the instrument batteries when the TEG is down appears to have gone belly-up. The left-hand 30V supply won't go above 15V and the right hand supply has "bad" written across the meter and in any case doesn't work at all. Only the 5V section seems to still work. However, today the super started spontaneously booting itself every few minutes for no good reason, just like it was doing last January. There are times when good will on its own is not enough, and the super is now powered up from a Lambda 20V, 3.3A supply. it will be interesting to see if the super continues to work.

I'm not inclined to bring the 386 in at this stage, as there's very little space in the AASTO. The existing super reliably boots off its floppy, and we'll have a go at the hard disk in a day or two. We'll bring the 386 in when there's a bit more room.

On a triumphant note, it's clear that there's *no* ice inside the instruments, the blackbody is completely free of ice, everything moves and rotates like it should, and there's only a teensy bit of snow that's got inside the yellow cover of the MISM. One side of the NISM cover split off; Ant has glued it back together and has it sitting in the MAPO shop weighed down with a rotary pump, a lathe chuck, and a few hundred pounds of odds and ends (the side is badly warped - it's not clear it's going to stick back successfully).

Andre; thanks for talking to Nick Roberts about the chemicals. We're bringing back samples - do you think he'd be prepared to look at them and tell us if its fluoride, chloride or sulphate? The possibility of sulphate from the batteries is an interesting one - Ev says the racks look "blacker" than you get from a standard TEG melt-down.

Thanks(?) also for the advice that we use the Stromlo MoS2 spray-on lubricant for the bearings. We fished the tin out and it was *stuffed*. We've placed it under the ANU poster... Ant found some teflon-based spray-on stuff in MAPO; seems to work a treat.

As a final task we installed the new stepper in the MISM. It's always a hard decision whether to work outside in the cold (with all those tiny screws, all different sizes), or go to the trouble of disassembling everything and bringing it indoors. We opted for the former - it took hours. Finally, when rotating the MISM by hand to check the balance there's something "rattling" inside. Quel horeur! If it's a washer, that's ok. If it's a lens, that's not so good. Ant says that since the MISM can see him, that's about as good as it gets. I guess it could be a piece of CVF. I'm happy to run with the existing CVF, at least until January.

Ant put all his clothes on to wash, only to have the water to the Elevated Dorm fail. He now has a whole collection of wet clothes. He's taking it well, but seems reluctant to go out and pull the AFOS off the tower in his pajamas.

Now, to send this I just do ctrl-alt-delete....

Friday 21st November 1997 - Going backwards

Since we're clearly getting on top of things in the AASTO, we decided to start the day by hoisting the Australian flag high above the green and gold structure. And very splendid it looks, too.

Today should have been a good day in which we finished assembling the stepper motors on the NISM and MISM, boxed them up, and spent the afternoon doing rallycross in the Sprite. Alas, it was not to be.

Things started badly when we fired up the NISM one more time to set the stepper motor rates. There was a fizzing sound and smoke started rising from the power supply card. We switched off in a hurry and pulled the card out, but none of the components I touched was hot (that's the problem with surface-mount chips - no thermal mass!) Nothing for it but to plug it in again and watch carefully. Sure enough, little red sparks and wisps of smoke, not from the main board (built by our normally excellent electronics workshop), but from the exquisitely made Maxim card. The board was still working just fine, and it turned out once again to be a surface track of black crud. I scraped it of with a scalpel, and it's good as new. (Ev Pascal, professional electronics engineer, says it sounds like scraping toast when we're fixing our boards. It seems he hasn't struck anything like this previously in his career.)

MORAL: make sure all the boards have all the grunge cleaned off them.

We took the moral to heart and carefully cleaned the connector that couples the stepper motor drive signal to the MISM (all of the mil-spec coating came off in the process, leaving bare aluminium). All we did was dunk it in water, then rinse thoroughly in a trichlor/isopropyl alcohol mixture out of a spray can.

Then we plugged it all together and... horrors! The clockwise limit switch ceased functioning. With the stepper motor developing more torque than a D9 and heading relentlessly for the limit, we quickly pulled the plug. (Andre: the Fluke takes up your offer of 10:1 on a non-catastrophic stall, and wants to take odds on Ant rolling the Sprite.)

To cut a long story short, it turned out that the plug was still wet and this was shorting out the limit switch.

MORAL: After you've washed things, dry them.

It would be handy if the software command "rotstat" told you what the limit switch readings were, to aid diagnosis.

Clearly we need to think carefully about how to clean up the electronics boards (and connectors) before we can turn our backs on this thing.

The good news is that the stepper motors really do have huge amounts of torque, even at the 114mA "normal power" of the old motors.

At the CARA meeting on Wednesday I asked again for a fire extinguisher. The reponse was that this did not seem to be a very urgent request, and when did we think we'd really need it by? I suggested that we'd like it just before the fire started, please. This scored us a laugh, but no fire extinguisher. Yesterday we tried a different tactic: we *didn't* ask for a fire extinguisher. This morning there were *two*, sitting either side of the AASTO entrance door.

We now have in our possession "AASTO #1", the first JAZ disk of housekeeping data. Does anyone in Sydney think they know how to read it?

Nothing really funny happened today. I washed my clothes, had a shower (this is a major event at the Pole), and read my "newt" email. Ev Paschal fixed the noise problems in the DCU by putting little capacitors and ferrite beads here and there, and never once made a sound like scraping toast. The AGO service crew arrived, looked around and said "Oh boy", and will come back tomorrow and try to fix the TEG. Ant and I will work somewhere else, as we alreay know the TEG is full of rockwool - one of the worst substances in the known universe after brown slime.

Tonight the crane is coming to lift GRIM off SPIREX. This marks the beginning of the Abu project - something that should have happened three weeks ago. Al Fowler and Nigel Sharpe arrive tomorrow.

The "super" hasn't made its "mating wasps" rebooting noise since we replaced the GoodWill supply with the Lambda.

The wind has dropped to below 10 knots, so we hope to get on with the other tasks like pulling the AFOS down in the next day or two (thereby avoiding the rockwool).


Saturday 22nd November 1997 - Taking things apart

We, and others, have mainly been taking things apart. Things are much less assembled than they were, say, 24 hours ago. Nevertheless, this is mainly a good thing.

A couple of emails ago, a few lines got deleted from the middle my message for reasons known only to the computer. I was saying that I thought it worthwhile to completely rebuild the electronics during 1998, as it has taked a real beating. We could take the opportunity to add a few refinements in order to make trouble-shooting easier.

Then for no apparent reason, the computer decided you'd had enough of that and cut straight to the middle of a story about how Ant had galantly climbed the G-tower and attached a pulley so we could haul the crane up. My musings about how cranes are wonderful apart from the fact that you have to get the crane up the tower in the first place got truncated.

Great big cranes need less big cranes,
Their altitude to heighten.

These little cranes need smaller ones,
And so ad infinitum.

(With apologies to the person who wrote something similar to explain microthermal turbulence and astronomical seeing, having ripped the idea off from someone who was talking about fleas.)

Anyway, to get the AFOS off the G-tower we need a crane, and the crane is no longer at the top of the tower because it was removed at the end of last summer (using gravity assist). So, we rigged up a rope and pulley and proceeded to the haul the crane up to the tower. About six inches. After a lot of aerobics we came to the conclusion that the task was physically impossible, and set off to find - yes, you've guessed it - a Sprite which is a good thing, so we could tie the rope onto the bumper bar (or equivalent) and haul it up. Fortunately we couldn't find a Sprite, because the pulley was only tied to the hand rail and, as the Fluke pointed out, we would have simply pulled the handrail off the tower had we tried.

So that left us with the AFOS at the top of the tower and the crane at the bottom, when really we wanted it the other way round. We contemplated tying the rope aroung the AFOS, passing it through the pulley and using the crane as a counterweight, but only briefly.

It turns out there are two ways to get a big crane up a tower. One is to use a little crane, and the other is to use a REALLY BIG CRANE. It turned out that the station crane was going out to the dark sector yesterday evening to assemble an AMANDA drilling rig. It was therefore arranged that it would not only take GRIM down from SPIREX, put the Abu platform up on SPIREX, and put the G-tower crane on top.

It was supposed to come at 10pm but eventually started around 3am. By then I'd fallen asleep and took no part in the proceedings, but I don't think anyone noticed. Ant and the SPIREX crew worked till 4 and got the whole thing done.

This morning the AGO service crew arrived and started pulling the TEG apart. They are serious about getting it going, and have replaced the platinum beads and the thermoelectric modules. The TEG is spread over the entire floor of the AASTO. Ant and I have made a strategic retreat to the MAPO building until the atmospheric rockwool levels subside.

Now that the weather is a little better, Hercules flights have resumed. This makes life seem little more normal, as we're no longer isolated from the rest of the world. The South Pole program is weeks behind schedule, so they're scheduling 6 or 7 flights per day. However, typically only two are successful.

Because the Air National Guard are now flying the planes instead of VXE-6, the option of using JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) is now available again. Ev says they plan to use it on one of the upcoming AGO service missions. This is important to us as eventually we want to put the AASTO on the moon ^H^H^H^H Dome A.

Walter Tape is spending a few weeks here. He is the world expert on ice halos, and is continuing his studies this season. Maybe I already mentioned that.

Today the wind was down to 8 knots, so with the crane mounted atop the G-Tower we tackled the task of bringing the AFOS down. This was reasonably straightforward, but slow, cold and painful because the wind decided to pick up again as soon as we started. The AFOS is now sitting on a sled at the base of the tower, until such time as we can get some space in MAPO to disassemble it and pack it into a crate. I hope it doesn't rain tonight. For future reference, the nut that turns the crane is 1 1/8 inches. I mention this to save future generations of Antarctic astronomers the frustration of carrying half a workshop's worth of ring spanners up the tower, only to find that none of them fit.

Today we also discovered that the cable we need to instal to run Abu, and which was ordered weeks ago, is sitting in Yerkes. It is probably not very useful to them there. However, we've found a roll down here that will probably do instead.

The VIPER (Cosmic Microwave Experiment) was unpacked and it was discovered that the waveguide has sheared off the inputs to the preamplifiers, no doubt increasing their noise figure a tad. It's increasing unlikely that VIPER will run this year.

Another thing that's unlikely to run is the hard disk of the "super" computer. I plugged in the other 800MB drive and it made happy little disk humming noises. (This despite the fact that Ev Paschal who shall remain nameless *dropped* it off the shelf. Its fall was broken by the fact that it landed on the keyboard of my Mac. Note to mcba: Macs *do* have their uses) The super still wouldn't boot from it, but I didn't investigate further becaue the monitor wasn't plugged in. (It's in a plastic bag to keep the rockwool out of it). The noise it makes is quite unlike the mating-wasp noise the original one makes.

Ant volunteered for "house-mouse" duties today, and spent a couple of hours washing dishes. His skills were greatly admired by the cooks, with the result that I believe he will receive the runner-up award of house-mouse of the week. The cooks have given us a packet of bi-carb soda to fix our electronics with. They seemd to think this was perfectly normal, but then, we are at 10,000 feet.

Al Fowler and Nigel Sharpe didn't arrive today, which is just as well becasue we still have about a week's work to do before we're ready for them.

Micahel Ashley sent a sample of the stepper motor software to us, in reponse to our various unsubtle hints that it would be nice if a few little changes were made to it. This code, you'll recall was written by a professional programmer. I've come to the conclusion that professional house painters and professional programmers belong to the same union. Certainly the code looked like it had been written by a house painter, probably the one who painted our carport brown when we wanted it left white.

The section of stepper-motor code that worried me most was

If (someone is in the AASTO watching)

{ work properly};


{ stuff up really badly }

Al Harper has asked to be kept informed of what we're doing here, so I will add him to this mailing list until such time as he screams for mercy.


Sunday 23rd November 1997 - Good will restored

Yeah, it turned out all the screws were loose inside, including the ones that convey electrons from one part of the circuit to another. When I tightened them up, everything worked again including the meter with "bad" written on it. This hardly rates as the major headline event of the day, but it made a catchy "subject" line.

Actually, we're finding a lot of loose screws. For example, the screws holding the ring-gear onto the NISM were finger tight, and there was considerable slippage. I can't believe we left most of the screws on our gear so loose, and wonder if the thermal cycling is to blame.

Last night I made the mistake of going out to MAPO while Ant was shovelling snow. I couldn't resist reciting the appropriate verse from "The Good Ship Venus", which instantly incurred me the punishment of having to spend the next couple of hours, shovel in hand, clearing all the remaining snow away from SPIREX. Meanwhile, Ant and Fred were attaching the new platform to SPIREX (a job which was completed today). Fred is from the "locomotive" school of heavy engineering (the SPIREX azimuth table being made out of 2-inch steel plate, for example), and there is no doubt that this is one of the heaviest instrument support platform ever installed on a telescope smaller than Parkes.

This morning we sledded the AFOS across to the MAPO building and spent an amusing hour with the crane (yes, MAPO already has a crane), lifting things up and down. Eventually we ended up with both the AFOS and its crate "up" (in the sense of being inside the building), and some useless piece of VIPER junk (oops, for a minute there I forgot I'm sending these messages to Al Harper) down (in the sense of being outside on the snow). Actually we did ask the VIPER people first. This made enough space inside MAPO for us to unpack the AFOS crate, and start putting things in it to ship back to Sydney.

We began by making a short list of the most revolting substances known to man:

1. The brown slime we found in the AASTO
2. Rockwool
3. VXE-6 brown-bag lunches
4. That awful 2-part foam that mcba put in the AFOS crate.

It is left to the reader to place these in some sort of order.

We took the primary mirror out of the AFOS and packaged it in its original cardboard box. It's in great shape. Then we simply bolted the AFOS back together again, leaving the window in place. We have great confidence in the ability of the window cover to provide the necessary protection, but padded everything well anyway.

We included the Oriel and CCD, the electronics from the AFOS (in a sealed plastic bag because its covered in brown slime), a triangular block of wood that looks terribly important but we've no idea what it's for, and a plastic bag containing chemical samples from what used to be valuable pieces of scientific equipment in the AASTO. I worried a bit about how to get these through customs, but in the end decided just to put mcba's name on the box and leave it at that (this is in retaliation for the 2-part foam).

One item of some concern is that when we opened the AFOS a little piece of broken glass fell out. It was very small - maybe 2mm - and at first I thought it was a piece of ice except it didn't melt. There's no apparent damage to the primary, secondary or tertiary, so I assume Max just put it in there as a joke.

We're really low on fuel here, and they've taken the extraordinary step of scheduling flights for today even though it's Sunday. In fact, they've sent 8 of them, all tankers. They've been arriving all day, but it's very windy and overcast, at times approaching a complete whiteout. The planes typically have to do a couple of low passes before they can land, and sometimes just wander off for half an hour or so while the weather clears. Six have made it so far today, with the other two still en route.

Don't worry about the fibre optic cable ends, Max. We made little boxes to put them in, then wrapped everything securely in place.

Andre: we don't seem to have any male IEC plugs. Did you put them in, or did you just intend that we steal them from VIPER?

Mcba: it turns out there are two unused fibres going out to SPIREX. This will be perfect for the ethernet, and we won't need the drum of cable that somehow is still at Yerkes. Can you buy a plug-in ethernet card for the PC with a fibre connector instead of 10BT? We *think* there is a spare fibre ethernet port in MAPO for the other end of it; otherwise we need a 10BT - fibre converter box thingy. We'll get back to you on that.

After more gear-stress caclculations we've reached the conclusion that the most likely failure mode of the NISM stepper-motor drive is that it will crash through the limit switch, wind the cable up around the elevation axes, drag the elactronics rack across the floor until the whole AASTO unbalances and falls over, filling the air intake with snow and shutting everything down. Should be a minor problem to fix after this year's disaster!

We just had a Sunday Night Science Presentation by Jerry Marty and John Rand (NSF heavies) on the new South Pole Station. It's a $115m project. (It did occur to me that maybe we could just flog them Mawson, cheap.) Anyway, it was mainly pretty dull, *except* for a brilliant synthetic aperture radar image of the existing station, taken from a satellite in October this year. It shows all of the subterranean structure, including the Old Pole Station (where the aliens live), the old runway, and Pomerantz's old experimental station>.

The AGO service team have been working hard all today. They've replaced the platinum beads, the exhaust manifold, the exhaust shroud, the freon lines, and various things I couldn't identify but which looked important. They fired the TEG up this afternoon, but only 4 of the 6 burners came up. They have to leave for AGO 2 on Tuesday, but are optimistic of getting it all running tomorrow. As soon as they do, we'll put both the NISM and MISM on line, and mcba and Max can flog them to death.

Dinner tomight was steak and giant crab legs, with fresh brocolli and home made bread.

After dinner we installed most of the heaters in the Abu box. Every so often we stick our heads back in the AASTO, but it's still full of Rockwool and unidentifiable bits of the TEG.


Monday 24th November 1997 - AASTO fixed

An exciting day today with lots of things happening. The AGO service crew got everything back together again and got all six burners running. They've repaired the internal chimney and replaced almost everything else. It was very heartening to walk past the AASTO at lunchtime and see smoke (or steam) rising from the chimney. It looked like a friendly country cottage. The TEG is producing 55 watts, well within spec. At the moment it's actually uncomfortably warm inside (about 30C). It's likely that the temporary repair to the inside chimney is insufficiently insulated, and is radiating heat into the room like a pot-belly stove. We've turned the thermostat down; in addition added some more lagging. We're very grateful to Ron Raimbow and the AGO service crew for their heroic efforts.

Ev Paschal has also put in an outstanding effort, not only with his help with the initial clean-up and diagnosis, but also fixing the noise problems in the DCU and calibrating the various sensor channels. The ARGOS transmitter is back on the air, and it should be possible to see our signal on the AGO website (although I haven't checked yet).

The weather today is fantastic, in complete contrast to yesterday. Yesterday was windy and overcast, with a lot of blowing snow. Visibility was only a few hundred metres, and it felt strangely claustrophobic. It felt like we were wrapped up in a little ball of cotton wool (or worse still, Rockwool). Today the sky is crystal clear, a blue hemisphere over a sparkling white landscape.

The replacement SoddingSchwein batteries still have not arrived, so we have taken the spare 20 Ahr PowerSonics from the AASTO. In addition, the AGO service crew had some other spares flown up from McMurdo. All of these batteries have been removed from AGOs that have failed during the winter. (In the case of the AASTO batteries, they were first frozen in AGO 2, then again this year in the AASTO!) All are a few years old. I tested all six batteries, and all six have a capacity of better than 14 Ahr @ C10 - in other words - almost as good as new! We will use four of them (don't panic - they're 6 volt units!) to power up the NISM, while running the NISM off the only two Soddingschweins to survive the winter.

The leak in the freon system was found to be in the drain valve of the freon tank. They tightened the shaft seal, and reckon it's ok now. I wouldn't trust it as far as I could throw it - I hope they replace it in January.

I started wiring up the remaining bits of the Abu heater box this morning, but Mike Masterman brought me down with a below-the-knee tackle and sat on my head until I agreed to let him do the wiring. He and Mark Thoma have been very helpful all day, and we're quickly making up for the late start to the project down here.

Fred has expertly machined the excess length off the dummy T-tube, and built a very handsome eyepiece holder. It is a reasonably lightweight flange fabricated out of aluminium. This comes as a surprise after seeing SPIREX, as we thought he might insist on having it drop-forged out of a solid tungsten billet.

The problem of running an ethernet out to SPIREX seems to be solved now. There are two spare fibres which Mark Thoma says he can terminate, and Ant used his charm and good looks to score a couple of fibre-to-10BT boxes.

The morning concluded with Ant and I rip-sawing large sheets of plywood to make a base for the Abu electronics rack. We think we're going to lift the rack onto the roof via eye-bolts in the plywood base, though the structural integrity of the plywood is a bit sus. We've found a few pieces of two-by-four, which we can either use to reinforce the structure or to beat up innocent bystanders with if the plywood breaks and Abu falls into the snow.

I swung past the doctor's surgery and was interested to see he keeps his implements in the same "Snap-on" brand tool chest that we use in MAPO for our wrenches and screwdrivers etc. There's also a large cylinder of "aviators oxygen", and the radio is powered from an enormous Caterpillar tractor battery. There's a certian "outback" feel to the South Pole...

All eight flights got in yesterday, so the fuel crisis has been successfully averted. But now an even worse disaster has occurred - we're out of beer! This doesn't worry me too much because I don't drink when I'm on field trips, but it's certainly shaken the Station to the core. As I type there is a group of people in the kitchen with large vats stirring up some strange liquid that they probably hope is going to turn into beer.

Al Fowler and Nigel Sharp arrived in time for lunch, and have quickly settled into the routine. Already Abu is unpacked and is being pumped on the turbo pump. NIgel is a woolly character who did a postdoc at Stromlo and is going to have to get used to our Stromlo jokes. Al has grown a beard in the hope that we wouldn't recognise him, which we didn't.

Does anyone know why "newt" always waits until I'm in Antarctica and then crashes? Is it trying to tell me something? Speaking of computers, and out of fairness to the PC world, I should mention that the ancient Toshiba T1000 that Jack left in the AASTO has survived intact. The DCUMON programs etc are running on it just fine. I spent an hour or two with Ev while he explained to me how the system works. As soon as we've lugged the 386 over we'll run DCUMON on it, hook up some cereal cables (sorry, that should be "serial") and see if we can talk to it. Ev was able to show me how to set up the power allocation for the instruments, and how to limit the data they can store. I think a few milliwatts and half a dozen bytes per week should be enough for Stromlo. I can also send 3-line messages (each of 29 characters) out via the ARGOS satellite, to where they will be received by a waiting world hungry for data. I can feel some Haikus coming on.

Tomorrow we'll vacuum out the AASTO (thereby getting rid of the Rockwool), have the carpet professionally shampood and maybe get an interior decorator to give the place the once over. Then we'll be ready to move back in and *take data*.


Tuesday 25th November 1997 - presprespresprespres....

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

Wednesday 26th November 1997 - Sonnenschein noch einmal

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.


Thursday 27th November 1997 - Disaster!

Today probably would have been a good a day if we hadn't tried to take some data with the Mism. It quickly became clear that there was a large signal no matter where in the sky we looked, and that although the signal varied with postion it was not in the way it was supposed to. A little investigation, with Ant waving first his hand and then a soldering iron around in front of the window, showed that only one beam was present. That gave two possibilities, both ugly: either something was blocking one of the beams, or one of the mirrors had fallen off. Given the glass-rattling-about noises we heard the other night when adjusting the rotator, the latter and uglier possibility seemed the more likely.

We removed the optics plate - a nasty operation to perform in the cold because the plate has to be lowered an inch or two and then held while the D-connector is unplugged and the window heater wires unscrewed from the terminal block. We put the optics plate in a plastic bag and allowed it to warm up inside the AASTO for a few hours.

It turns out that one of the little rectangular beam-steering mirrors has fallen off. Of the three dabs of epoxy holding it in place, one has simply dropped off both the glass and the aluminium (it appears not to haave properly adhered in the first placce), one has remained attached to the aluminium plate and the glass but has pulled a big (5mm) chip of glass out of the back of the mirror, and the other has come off the aluminium *and* also pulled a chip of glass off the mirror.

The possibilities now seem to be:

1. Bring the optical boxes back to Sydney and make proper optical mounts, returning the boxes in January. This is probably not practical as we would need complete new sets of mirrors. It's something we certainly should do before the end of next year, though.

2. Re-glue the mirror, using cryogenically rated epoxy. If we take the second option, we need to realign the optical system with a laser. This will be time-consuming, but possible. What we would do is position a piece of paper above the optics plate at the same height as the outer surface of the window. Then, set up a laser so that its beam passed through the "intact" channel and comes out through the centre of the window. Finally, align the repaired mirror so that its beam crosses the first one at the paper. Sound ok?

Some questions for Max:

1. What is the f number and diameter of the beam as it passes through the window? 2. What epoxy was used the first time? 3. How critical is the alignment (we've found all the little shims - we think)

We'd like to think about it for a day before we proceed - advice welcome!

Some other software issues came up with the Mism:

1. "cvfma" throws the cvf into continuous rotation. Is cvfma in steps or degrees? Only "steps" is meaningful, of course. 2. The figures given to convert rotator steps into degrees appear to be correct. A quick "eyeball" calibration gives:

ccw beam on horizon ~5,000 steps cw beam at zenith ~15,000 steps box horizontal ~23,000 ccw beam at zenith 30,000 cw beam at BB 37,000 (assuming of course that there is a ccw beam, which there isn't)

Can I stop being depressed now?

It's possible to cheer yourself up a bit by looking at:

where you'll see the AASTO data from the ARGOS transmissions (listed as AGO-A2). All the numbers are complete nonesense until we send Augsburg the correct calibration file. (Actually, the wind speed and air pressure are correct, and the TEG volages are nearly right).

With mcba's help we got the 386 super set up so that people not at the South pole can talk to it. It turns out that the gateway and domain addresses on the hard disc had not been configured for this location. The 386 super still crashes (or hangs) if a telnet command has an unsatisfactory result - eg if it tries to talk to an instrument that's not there.

Before firing up the Nism again we tracked down the faulty Dallas problem and checked the limit switches again. I was worried that whatever had killed the Dallas (assuming it wasn't Larry Hagman) might be the same thing that caused the limit switch to go non-functional a few days back. Anyway, the limit switches are fine (heaps of megohms, says the Fluke) and the Nism fired up without any problems.

Here's a rough calibration of where things are in absolute degrees (ie, using "rotma")

ccw beam peaks at BB ~175 deg (abs) box horizontal ~390 cw beam hits snow ~670

There's a good strong signal that does all the right things. However, looking at the adc readings it's very noisy. Even when the signal has a s/n ratio of 100:1, the output from "det" and "detx" is all over the place. I hope the data acquiistion software is making multiple samples.

"adc amps" also gives a very noisy result, although this cleans up when the Stirling cooler is off. It's likely that the current *is* in fact noisy.

"adc volts, bb, cooler all give very stable output with fluctuations of between 2 and 5 ADU.

The faulty Dallas turned out to be just that. It was the one on the Nism mounting bracket. Even after I cleaned it in bicarb soda, washed it, dried it and brushed it, there's still no response. It's been replaced with another one, which the software correctly identifies as "no name found". (The Dallas whose name can not be spoken.)

Occasionally we get "sbit" as a response when we do a DS INIT, but we're not losing any sleep over it.

When I was wrestling with the Dallas I kicked the bucket of sodium bicarbonate over, and now it's all over the AASTO. (But it's a hell of an improvement on either brown slime or rockwool, believe me.) There's an outside chance that when we come back to the AASTO this time next year it will have grown stalagtites and stalagmites, and be really quite attractive.

The evening picked up considerably when we helped Fred unbolt the 300lb friction disc from SPIREX. Yes, Fred had lifted the crane into position single-handedly last night, while we were asleep. Once we got the disk down, Fred lifted it onto the trolley and wheeled it across the roof of MAPO. (It's not clear now why we went to the trouble of installing a crane. It would have been much simpler just to bolt Fred to the platform.)

Preparations for Thanksgiving are now in full swing (It's celebrated on Saturday at the South Pole - I'm not sure what time zone that corresponds to!) The Dome was full of smoke this evening and no-one was worried - the cooks had just built a turkey smoker and fired it up (actually, given the beer situation, I suspect that home-brew bourbon might also be part of the plan).

Abu is still on the pump; the pressure is slowly going down, as well it should. Ant leak-checked the T-tube and found it leak-tight, which is a worry because everyone knows that fluorosilicone O-rings are slightly permeable to helium. Ant is going to try a different kind of leak checker, and possibly a different kind of helium. Actually, Ant just came in very pleased and said yes, he *had* got the O-rings to diffuse helium. Good work, Ant. He's also replaced the "warm" O-rings on the T-tube with Viton ones. They be fine as long as the heaters don't fail - in which case Abu will leak anyway because it contains most of the entire Parker O-ring inventory.

I visited the ham shack in pursuit of someone who could make up a 25-foot length of 10-base T cable for me, and found the operator in the midst of a series of 30-second conversations with a bunch of anonymous people. He seemed to be enjoying himself, though I'm not sure why. If I get a chance I'll fire the rig up and see what's out there.

Nothing else good happened today.


Friday 28th November - Feng Shui inthe AASTO

Today began early for the welder, who used an oxy torch to cut a bigger hole in the friction-drive disc of SPIREX. I wasn't around to see this, but I never cease to be amazed at the precision with which a skilled welder can cut through 1-inch plate steel. The 300lb disc is now mounted back on SPIREX (I'm not sure if the crane was used, or if Fred just carried it up the stairs under one arm), and the holes have been drilled and tapped ready to mount Abu on it.

We now have a second ethernet cable made up inside the AASTO, so we can run both the "old super" (PC104 + brown slime) and the "new super" (ACER 386 + excruciatingly loud fan) simultaneously. The ethernet cable is a lurid shocking pink colour, and completely ruins the interior decor of the AASTO. We need a Feng Shui consultant to come in and re-balance the Ying and Yang of the structure. Maybe I'll be able to successfully telnet into the DCU once that's done.

Speaking of telnetting to the DCU, I wasted about half a day on that today. If we try to do it via port 4 of the super, the super simply hangs and has to be restarted. I supect it's a handshaking problem. I might try the "start mism" command, which sends out a character on the RS232 line willy-nilly. One doesn't like to hassle inanimate objects, but I'm going to have assert a CTS if the situation doesn't improve. RS232 is without doubt the most stupid, complicated, arbitrary, ambiguous, brain-dead, non-standard means of communication ever invented. Horowitz and Hill have tried to make the whole thing sound amusing, but in reality they should just line up averyone responsible for the RS232 mess and shoot them (including the morons who designed the original PC, and saved 25 cents per computer by going to a 9-pin D instead of a 25-pin).

The Toshiba is connected to the DCU via a cable, a gender-bender, a null modem and a 9-to-25 pin adaptor.

I also tried running Kermit on the 386 super, but with equally blank results. It's not clear, however, whether the original serial ports of that machine still work.

Ok, problem solved. Serial port four from the Moxan (alias the octopus) isn't connected to anything. The situation improves markedly if we pretend the DAU is an AFOS, and connect it to the #1 port. I can now telnet in and get the same display as is on the Toshiba. There's still a funny, though: the screen will toggle into a mode where the *lower case* letters become Egyptian hierogyphics, and I can't send any command that requires a lower case letter or a numeral. Thinking that his might be a misunderstanding between poddle and the DCU over how many bits there are in an 8-bit word, I tried telnetting in from pharlap - but got the same result. (Note: a null modem is required.)

Now, by connecting to one of the serial data IO ports on the DAU (no null modem is required), and telnetting in, one gets (in about 5 seconds):

*3524470233*4524470233*5524470233*6524470233*7524470233*8524470233*9524470233 *0624470233*1624470233*2624470233*3624470233*4624470233*5624470233*6624470233 *7624470233*8624470233*9624470233*0724470233*1724470233*2724470233*3724470233 *4724470233*5724470233*6724470233*7724470233*8724470233*9724470233*0824470233 *1824470233*2824470233*3824470233*4824470233*5824470233*6824470233*7824470233 *8824470233*9824470233*0924470233*1924470233*2924470233*3924470233*4924470233 *5924470233*6924470233*7924470233*8924470233*9924470233*0034470233*1034470233 *2034470233*3034470233*4034470233*5034470233*6034470233*7034470233*

which is just what we expect. It's the time stamp, every 0.1 seconds, in the format: 0.1s s s m m h h d d d, and seeing as how it's coming from the GPS, now's a good time to adjust my watch.

On a continuing cheerful note, it turns out that the mirror that fell off the MISM was the only one in all of our instruments that was attached with epoxy, rather than RTV. It's clear that in fact the epoxy held pretty well, but that differential thermal expansion simply tore chunks of glass out of the back of the mirror. Ant has glued a new (large rectangular) mirror back on (with RTV), and we'll leave it until tomorrow before we start the alignment. The mirror is sitting with a spool of solder on top of it to ensure it properly conacts the alignment pads. Thanks for all those tips, Max.

There's a water shortage in the Beaker Box (or Elevated Dorm, as it's sometimes referred to. Apparently the day crew only fill the snow melter up once per day, and the beakers (scientists) are using more than a tankful. A confrontation is looming. The beakers claim that non-residents of the Beaker Box are coming in and using the washing machines (because they're better than the others) and that's where the water's going. The snow-melter fillers claim the beakers are taking long showers, and foolishly suggested that the beakers should learn to drive bulldozers so they can fill the melter themselves. They were nearly knocked down by the rush of volunteers. Today, a Sprite; tomorrow a D9!

I spent the morning caefully checking the NISM, and as far as I can see it is performing faultlessly. There was a worrying moment when I found the signal varying wildly for no apparent reason, but then looked out the windows and saw clouds scudding by. ("Scudding" is an activity induldged in only by clouds and by Ant when driving the Sprite.)

Actually there is one "funny" in the nism, and that is that the noise on det and detx, as read by the ADC, is higher than it is on the cro.

Mcba: does the software just take a single sample, or does it take a burst at the peak of the waveform, or does it average over several cycles, or what?

Another software feature: when I type in "10 (adc det dlys 2)", it works most of the time but once I got:

Error #238 Can't decode loop count after the first loop. I take this to mean that the computer was incapable of counting up to 2, which, given the altitude, is entirely understandable.

The two beams of the Nism (and yes, there are two!) are particularly well balanced: with the window covered we get 2.8mV rms from the "det" output of the signal board.

I spoke over breakfast to the station doctor about the problems of dry and cracking skin. He claims that when he goes walking at high altitude he finds the best thing to take care of cracking skin is ... superglue! I'l take his word for it.

Only a couple of Herc flights today, and in fact only a few in total over the last few days. Fog at McMurdo seems to be the main culprit. They did manage to get some beer here for Thanksgiving, for which there will no doubt be many thanks given.

However, I'm told that they're very short of turkeys at McMurdo, and the environmental protection people are standing guard over the local penguins.

We had a couple of visitors to the AASTO today: a reporter and the NSF science representative. We may have to instal a visitors' gallery on the mezzanine level.

When the AASTO ceiling is +26C and the outside ambient -30C, the NISM housing is -12C. In other words, the NISM housing is only 18C above ambient but 38C below room temperature. I think we need it a lot closer to the room temperature than that. Looking at the RS cattle dog, a heatsink something like RS 271-864 represents good value in terms of watts/K/$, so how about a couple of these bolted to either face of the aluminium door to the NISM?

A few other things we need are some MAX 471 current-sense ICs (these are doing a fantastic job of protecting the fuse in series wth them), some MAX796-EV power supplies (say two), and some more of the "big" rectangular mirrors from Edmund (Ant asks - can we get them without that stupid Ed. Sci. sticker on the back that is a cow to clean off). By the way, Maxim will send you up to 5 MAX 471's for nothing if you ask them nicely via their web page. They are indeed cheaper than fuses!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and most people on the station will take a holiday Sat. and Sunday. Probably there won't be any flights. I've volunteered to front up at 3pm to be trained as a drinks waiter. Ant is serving at the tables. Woe betide anyone who looks like they were instrumental in the development of the RS232 standard.


Saturday 29th November 1997 - Wine waiter

When I accepted the position of wine waiter for the Thanksgiving dinner I had no idea of the enormous responsibilites involved. The five of us, Prof. Jim Jackson (Boston University), Dr. Leonard Johnson (NSF Science Representative at South Pole), a couple of Daves, and me, were inducted into the Exclusive Order of Wine Waiters and instructed in the finer arts, which go as follows:

Each bottle has to be sampled upon opening, when halfway depleted, and when nearly empty, in order to ensure that only consistently high quality wine is delivered to the customer. For this the wine waiters were issued with a standard NSF "taste-vin", with a capacity of no more than half a litre. As it turns out, the customers were enthusiastic consumers, and we had to open and apply proper quality-control measures to a large number of bottles. We had on offer:

    • A sauvignon blanc from some miserable vineyard in California
    • A chardonnay from the same vineyard
    • A zinfandel from the same vineyard
    • A red Montana "Salyut", consisting of debris left over from vineyards in Australia, New Zealand and Chile
    • The same red Montana wine (at least as far as I could tell, given its temperature of +0.1C), but labelled "Timara"

None of these wines was actually drinkable, with the possible exception of the Montanas. We kept the whites in a big bowl of snow, but there seemed to be no convenient way to bring the reds to room temperature except to drink them. They seemed to improve with age.

I lost a bet with Jim that he couldn't tell the difference between the California white wines - I think he cheated, because the Zinfandel was clearly pink.

Anyway, this will be a fairly short report because all the computer keys have gone a bit fuzzy and seem to all have the same characters printed on them. Beakers are staggering out of the Dome and demanding access to a GPS so thay can find their way back to their experiments.

Actually, we did do enormously good stuff today. Ant and Al convinced each other that the T-tube wasn't leaking, put Abu + T-tube + mount together, convinced each other again (while still sober) that it still wasn't leaking, and now it's on the pump for the next couple of days. By the time they wake up there should be quite a good vacuum in the dewar.

Meanwhile, the MISM optics were being re-aligned according to the following procedure: a laser was set up at a height of 80 mm above the work surface (ie the height of the chopper hub), and directed down the centre line of the baseplate. In the absence of an optical bench, this required use of the #3 bunk in the AASTO, plus a pile of floppy disks (formatted for PC, of course) to sit the laser on.

The lid of someone's perspex electronics components box was set up on two labjacks at the same height as the window of the optics box. After carefully measuring where the beam from the "intact" side of the optics should emerge, I was shocked and amazed to see it come within 3mm of the expected position. The "repaired" beam was then adjusted to also be within 3mm of the nominal center of the window.

Lines were drawn on the ceiling of the AASTO, from which was measured the angle from which the beams were emerging from the window (or electronics box lid, as fate would have it). Eventually I was satisfied that the new beam passed through the window, at 45 degrees to the other beam as required. It wasn't terribly accurate, but it's as good as we can do given that the #3 sleeping bunk in the AASTO appears not to be optically flat. (This oversight must have slipped past our purchasing people at UNSW.)

I hope future generations of AASTO users will forgive me for the pencil marks on the ceiling, and the perpendiculars that have been dropped and seemed to have rolled under the bunk somewhere.

Ant and I put the MISM back together, under completely windless coditions. It would actually have been impossible if the wind had been blowing more than a few knots, given the difficulty of doing the wiring outside. Fortunately, today was a beautifully still day, with virtually no wind. It's possible to wander around in normal "Sydney" clothes, even though the temperature has dropped to -35C.

Michael Ashley kindly pointed out that the problem with the NISM signal-to- noise is that I was using "adc" instead of "sample". "Adc" takes the instantaneous value of the waveform, and thus one expects the "noise" to be the full peak-to-peak value of the waveform. "Sample" is needed to actually measure the rms value of the signal. The beaut thing about being at the Pole is that I can blame all my mistakes on the altitude, yet still ascribe other people's mistakes to stupidity.

Speaking of mistakes, in the last email I should have said the null modem is *not* needed for the DSE but *is* needed for serial data port. (Note: this error is a result of altitude, not stupidity).

One more brain-teaser: if you do a "ds read" without first "ds init", the computer reads non-existent sensors and reports their last known readings.

Normal service will returned after the next sunrise (whenever that is).


Sunday 30th November 1997 - Alice's Restaurant

On the day after Thanksgiving the cooks take the day off, so this year CARA and JACARA stepped into the breech to provide brunch for the station. This consisted mainly of omlettes expertly cooked by Jim, while the rest of us ran around cutting up leftovers and opening tins of things that go in omlettes. Vegemite on crackers was provided for those feeling a bit delicate after the previous night, and the whole event rocked along to a CD of The Sixties Down-under: the quintessential sampling of the best rock music a young nation could deliver 30 years ago. The brunch patrons seemed equally divided on the what was worse - the Vegemite or the music.

Brunch concluded with a full volume performance of Alice's Restaurant - to the delight of all those over 40 and the bemused wonderment of all those under.

Dinner was provided by the "ASTRO" team. "Ten-metre Tony's" beef-in-beer stew (option for vegetarians: leave out the beef) was, frankly, a bit ordinary, but serves well to prepare me for the horrors of the McMurdo canteen next week. Ant and Al did a great job of washing dishes etc. - well beyond the call of duty.

Last night I attempted to run the MISM for the first time since we'd reassembled it. Nothing would work and I was unable to telnet in. A quick investigation showed that one of the inductors in the power supply was getting very hot - which is surprising because, as every physicist knows, an ideal inductor cannot dissipate energy. Either this inductor had decided to choose this moment to become seriously non-ideal, or it was being forced to deal with a much higher current than it liked. The latter theory was soon confirmed by the observation that the 5V supply was being dragged down to 3.5V, which was why nothing was working. I considered this to be such an unsatisfactory state of affairs that I went to bed.

Today we took another look at it, and it quickly became clear that the 5V line out to the optics box was shorted to ground. Now, who has been fiddling with the optics box recently?, I hear you ask. Sure enough, we'd succeeded in bolting the lid down in such a way that it crushed the wires - a suprisingly easy thing to do once your fingers are frozen stiff and given that you can't see the stupid wires anyway. Nothing for it but to put the optics plate off again, warm it up inside in a plastic bag, and make yet another repair. This time we made the wires *really* short - for two reasons: one, so they wouldn't get caught in the lid again, and two, that was all that was left of them.

The fact that the Maxim power supply was able to merrily thump 3 amps into the short, while at the same time raising the magnetic flux in the inductor to dizzy heights way beyond its wildest dreams, confirms what a fabulous piece of technology it is. Tip for today: buy shares in Maxim.

Anyway, with everything back together again, the Mism *appears* to be 100% up and running. Ant even stood on a ladder and waved a soldering iron around to confirm that both beams were there.

There's still a couple of idiosyncracies of the software that make it difficult to go much further. For example, "choptest" reports the correct frequency (nearly - I've no idea how it can be off by 5% when the same computer is generating *and* measuring the frequency) for the *first* sample only. Then, either the chopper decides to spontaneously drop its frequency by 10Hz, or the software is off with the faries:

choptest Jan 01 03:18:35 CHOPPER_TEST Jan 01 03:18:35 allowable percentage error? > .1 .1 Jan 01 03:18:37 total length of test? (seconds) > 10 10 making 5 iterations of 2000 samples; each iteration takes 2 seconds, each sample takes 1.00 milliseconds hit a key to abort 1, ref = 1000.000, actual = 995.243, delta = -4.757, stdev = 2020.704 2, ref = 1000.000, actual = 986.054, delta = -13.946, stdev = 2054.730 3, ref = 1000.000, actual = 986.385, delta = -13.615, stdev = 2056.661 4, ref = 1000.000, actual = 985.540, delta = -14.460, stdev = 2057.502 5, ref = 1000.000, actual = 985.613, delta = -14.387, stdev = 2055.884

Next, attempting to use "sample" generates the following output: sample 100 Jan 01 03:24:19 TAKE_DATA_SAMPLES value = 0.000; stdev = 0.000; count = 2; channel = 0 Error #2195 - STS_HWF_PHASELOCK_2 (3)

I take this to mean that the computer is not seeing the 2xfrequency interrupts. But does "choptest" use these interrupts, or the 1xfrequency square wave? I'll check tomorrow to make sure that all the correct waveforms are actually going into the computer. Note that all the above is with the chopper well and truly phase locked.

The vaccuum in Abu is great (3 E-6 in whatever units these things are measured in - problably pounds per square inch), and Al and Ant are preparing to fire up the closed-cycle cooler and do the first South-pole cooldown. They've got as far as determining that they need to change a plug or two, or call in an electrician. Unfortunately, electricians are a bit thin on the ground at the moment as two of them were booted off the station last weekend after they had a punch-up. This is a misdemeanour that results in automatic expulsion. By all acoounts it was just a bloke thing. For reasons I've never understood, some blokes, after they'd had a skinfull, instead of becoming warm and fuzzy and at peace with the world prefer to belt the tripe out of each other as a mark of affection. Something to do with testosterone, I think.

Al Fowler claims you can freeze cockroaches in liquid nitrogen, and when they thaw out they just get up and walk around. He says they're good for at least three cooldown cycles before they start to get a bit wobbly. Can anyone corroborate this? If not, it sounds like a good honours project - with maybe expanding the range of experimental animals up to and including cats (and possibly first-year students).

Michael A. has been running the nism, and found that the chopper was very slow to phase-lock. This is a bit odd, as it was doing fine the other day. When I tried it today, sure enough it was very marginal. A small tweak on the centre-frequency pot brought it up to par, but why it should have changed since the other day I do not know. I'll keep an eye on it. I also had trouble today getting the "start nism" command to work, but as soon as my friend the Tektronics Digital Sampling CRO stepped in to take a look, the problem instantly vanished.

Today was a little bit more windy, but the station is still totally peaceful. With no aircraft, no bulldozers, and almost no people outside, for the first time one gets to feel how isolated it is here. A few people came out to jog around the skiway (in preparation for the "Round-the World race), while others took a stroll along the skiway - an activity best reserved for days on which there are no flights. Occasionally a beaker would go scudding past in the Sprite, but apart from the muffled sound of the diesel power generator all was still.

Tomorrow the station will spring back to life again. We're hoping Dave Pernic will arrive - he's one of those thoroughly useful people who can do anything, including make the mounts for the SPIREX secondary mirror.

Our plan is to have Abu on the telescope by Friday. Everyone says that this is completely unrealistic, but no-one is sure why.


Tuesday 2nd December 1997 - The superposition principle

The day got off to a bad start with the return of the bad weather: 20 knot winds, blowing snow, low visibility etc. Once we got out to the MAPO building we wished we hadn't: the nitrogen liquifier had decided to dump a few litres of ethylene glycol onto the floor, making an unwelcome mess and soaking the boxes that Abu was sitting on. We wasted a while cleaning it up, then called the environmental folk over to complete the job.

The nitrogen liquifier is in any case a useless piece of junk and should be thrown away. There is a large box labelled "construction debris" just outside the MAPO building into which it would fit quite nicely.

In the foolish belief that everything was more or less working ok in the AASTO, I decided to move the "super" so that it and its monitor were no longer occupying the only flat bit of bench space in the entire AASTO. This required turning it on its side, disconnecting the Dallases, and hooking it up to the lurid piece of ethernet cable it had taken me three days to extract fron the station comms. people. As will be seen, each of these actions was to have unfortunate side effects.

1. Turning the AASTO on its side results in dreadful grinding and scraping sounds every time it reboots. It's completely unlike the "mating wasps" noise of the late lamented PC104 super - more of a mating Galapagos tortoise noise.

2. The lurid pink ethernet cable didn't work. Naturally we didn't discover this until it had been carefully threaded into position and all the cable ties neatly snipped off.

3. When the super is devoid of Dallases, it hangs for about 30 seconds while it mourns their absence and considers how to cope with a future life of loneliness. Each time it did this we thought it had crashed and tried to restart it, which meant we got nowhere fast.

It's hard to believe that just moving the super to a new postion would have so many ramifications. It's just another example of that important piece of physics: the super position principle.

Michael logged on from UNSW and was able to download new software and spend a very consrtuctive few hours debugging things. The MISM chopper timing problem is apparently fixed by changing the priority of the interrupt that services the chopper pulse. Michael also tested the elevation drive motors and found them to be essentially perfect.

More worrying, though, was the discovery that the nism cooler would no longer turn on. This was particularly worrying becausue it was working just fine yesterday. Once the satellite went down I turned my attention to fixing this.

It was easy to establish that everything was fine, but that the 5V control signal was not being generated by the PC104 computer. In fact, none of the functions controlled by the Diamond Systems card were working. So, hardware or software? Careful measurement showed that in fact the outputs were changing by about 5 mV in response to computer commands, which seemed to exonerate the software. It was therefore time to disassemble the PC104 stack.

For anyone unfamiliar with PC104, it is a compact system of stacking computer cards that resulted from an April Fools Day competition run by the IEEE for the design of the most irritating and fiddly little computer cards possible. By the time you're decked out with the necessary wrist straps, nipple clamps etc to control static electricity, and have waded through the brown slime to get at the connectors, it's a very uninviting task.

Anyway, the replacement A/D card was installed, found to generate the right voltages, and... still didn't work.

Finally, it turned out that the highside switch, although working, had decided to convert its input from "CMOS compatible" to "40 ohms". Presumably this is what blew the A/D card, since the clown that designed the power supply card hadn't put any resistors in series with the CMOS outputs to protect them (4.7k resistors have duly been added). When a device with a peak current rating of 74 amps decides to lose it, it's best for other components to keep their distance.

I washed the old Diamond Systems A/D card in bicarb soda (it looked pretty bad) and tried it again, but it's clearly taken a mortal blow.

Later in the evening I found that the new Diamond systems card was also dead. As it turned out, we'd been doing all our previous tests with the original Nism card, the one with the big hole blown in it by the departing highside switch. Late last night I put in the "spare" power supply card that had been sitting on the bench all winter. I'd checked it to the extent that it was making the right voltages, but no more. It turned out all three highside switches had their inputs shorted to ground. Highside switches may have to be added to that short list of things that don't survive freezing. Andre: let's grab some highside switches and some cockroaches and do a back-to-back comparison in our big freezer.

So two A/D cards were destroyed, and we had no more spares. Then, Ant had a brainwave and remembered that we'd packed the AFOS into a crate for shipping back to Sydney but that it was still sitting in the snow (thank heavens this year's cargoids aren't too efficient!), and that there was an A/D card sitting in it.

Ant grabbed a Sprite, but it wouldn't start. Time out to repair the Sprite (battery terminals). Then off for a late night raid on the cargo berm before carrying off the A/D card triumphantly. The AFOS electronics box was rather crudely repacked into the crate - removing PC104 cards at -30C is no fun.

Everything worked fine after that. However the new versions of the software have a few problems: rotmis no longer works (I nearly tore the stepper driver apart looking for that one), worse still cvfmis doesn't work so there's no way to move the CVF.

When restarting the "unsafe" version it often crashes during the countdown. It always stops on the number 14.

The "start nism" and "start mism" commands appear not to work the first time the super has been powered up, until the nism and mism have been manually started and telnetted into. This is a serious problem.

Tomorrow some Distinguished Visitors are arriving for a station tour, including Vera Rubin. We will probably have to make the AASTO look spick and span, and vacuum the carpet one last time.

Now, the problem of trying to talk to the DCU via port 4. Recall that it works fine on port 1 - ie pretend the DCU is an AFOS, set the baud rate to 9600, and no worries. An attempt to use port 4 results in no response, the telnet session with the super hanging (permanently), and the keyboard hanging for about a minute. Once this has occurred, you cannot communicate with any instrument until the super has been restarted.

Now, according to Chinese mythology, four is an unlucky number - the symbol is the same as the symbol for death. Could this be at the root of this problem? Well, it may well be, because port 5 works just fine. Rather than solve the problem, I propose that we use port 5 for the DCU from now on.

I was so pleased by this that I completely overlooked it later in the evening. The nism suddenly developed an inability to communicate, and no amount of resetting it and the super would give any improvement. It would respond to a telnet by giving an "AASTO" prompt, then respond no more. It seemed clear that the CPU card in the nism had died, and I spent about two hours exploring all other possibilities before tearing down the PC104 stack and removing the card. It was then that the light dawned - unplugging the DCU from the super restored communication immediately.

Be warned, however, that if you're sitting with a window open to the DCU it will beep at you every 95 seconds as it sends off another ARGOS transmission, and scare the willy out of you.

Andre - could you please grab a 5m mains extension cord to bring down.

The Mism seems to work fine but has a large signal at all elevations. This is very puzzling. If you block the window completely the signal goes to zero, regardless of the temperature of the thing you're blocking the beam with. It's got me beat....

The AASTO is running with the super, nism and mism powered up. The DCU is not connected to the super until the communication problem can be solved. Ther are a couple of dallases only connected, to stop the super from complaining.

I hope to leave it that way now...


Wednesday 3rd December - The end

Today was as excellent as yesterday was dreadful. Not only was it beautifully sunny, but I didn't blow anything up and we even fixed a few things. We turned everything on in the morning and, apart from the usual computer crashes, it is still working this evening as I type. The smell of charred circuit board and cremated high-side switch has abated to the point where none of the DVs felt moved to comment on it when they visited later in the afternoon.

Michael is making rapid progress on the software and has fixed the infamous "start nism" command.

At considerable effort the 386 computer was moved to a horizontal position again and all the cables re-arranged for the third time. Michael thought that being vertical might be the cause of the grinding noises from the disk. It wasn't. However, it's more convenient to kick it in its new location, and a swift boot to the side of the case seems to shut it up.

Meanwhile, major progress has been happening with Abu. The instrument is now hooked up to the cryocooler - via temporary helium lines in the lab. It's cooling down well and no problems are anticipated.

Fred has removed the SPIREX secondary mirror, and is working on replacing it with the new lightweight honeycomb mirror.

Dave Pernic has turned up, and been chained to the milling machine.

The comms. people (they of the faulty ethernet cable) spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out why the two Abu Sun workstations refused to print on "Thing", the SPIREX laser printer. I tried not to disturb them too much as I wandered past from time to time to collect output from poodle. Rodney has acquired all the necessary skills to run SPIREX, and has been educated in the art of AASTO maintainence. I haven't said much about Rodney so far, but increasingly he will become the key person on both the Abu and AASTO projects as all the rest of us go home and Rodney stays the winter here to keep things alive.

Ant has fired up the heaters for Abu, plus the PID controllers that will stabilise their temperature to something close to a balmy Tucson day. A couple of minor problems have surfaced, but nothing that won't be solved by reading the manual. Andre had taped the manual to the inside of the controller box in the hope that the controllers would read it and save us the trouble. Alas, they didn't.

The Dallas temperature sensors continue to be more trouble than they're worth, but they're sort of fun to have around when nothing else is working. There's still a couple of infelicities:

The dallas "Mism optics box" is wrongly labelled. It should be "Nism housing (above heat pipe)" or something.

The dallases in the Mism optics box, when connected, cause the super to say:

buscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbuscbusc 0

which is a nice change from "preprespres..." but equally unenlightening. Chances are we accidentally did them a mischief when we were repairing the fallen-off mirror. As an interim measure they have been removed from the circuit.

The dallas labelled "Nism box battery" is actually "top of battery chargers", as the wire is too short to reach the batteries now. It's actually measuring the temperaure of the super keyboard, which should be fascinating.

Michael: the PC104 super is fired up (from the floppy disk) with IP number The DCU is connected to port 1. Enjoy! I'd be interested to know what's with the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and why the "numeric" commands don't work. I put it on the PC104 super so it wouldn't interact with the instruments, and so you can work on it independently. Note that the PC104 has a functioning 800 MB hard drive, but is not currently booting from it (for no good reason).

Here's a short list of things to bring down in January, just in case we forget:

A decent cro - something like the 2440 would be ace Six Powersonic batteries Proper documentation (yes, seriously!) New power supply cards without big holes blown in them Two power switches for back panels of nism and mism DB25/9 standoff posts for decent rs232 connection MAX 471 current-sense ICs A couple of A/D cards Two formatted Jaz discs (did I mention this one?) A bunch of replacement high side switches, or cockroaches (depending on which works better) This will be the last missive from me, as I'm flying out to McMurdo at midnight. There's nothing funny to write about in McMurdo anyway except the looks on people's faces when confronted with the canteen food.

Ant will stay on for another ten days or so, by which time Abu should be on the telescope and taking data.

The patient reader who has got this far might have surmised that the trip so far has been pretty successful, and by and large immensely good fun. Helping to make it so have been Ant Schinckel, Fred Mrozek, Bob Pernic, Joe Rottman, Al Fowler, Nigel Sharpe, Mark Thoma, Mike Masterman and Rodney Marks, plus the whole crew at the South Pole station (especially the cooks). Special thanks, too, to the guys at home: the Michaels, Andre, Max and Mick, for keeping us on the straight and narrow.

******** THE END ********

Thursday 4th December 1997 - New author !

Hi all,

I will endeavour to uphold the standard JWVS has maintained on action down here at the Pole, but doubt I will attain his level of wit .....

Today was an almost AASTO-less day for me. Michael was beavering away on s/w, with little involvement from me. I spent the day working on Abu related issues.

Firstly, Dave Pernic finished the new flexible cryogenic lines, so we (Mike Masterman and myself) installed those. Then we started pumping on the complete length - around 125 feet. After finding a few finger tight connections, and tightening the requisite amount ("strip it, back it off half a turn"), we found the Alcatel could bring a 125 foot line down to 1x10**-3 Torr in less than 30 minutes - but then just plateaued there for hours without budging a nano-Torr.

After some thought (see below) we decided that it was due to something outgassing - the most likely substance being water, which at 0 deg C has a vapour pressure of around 4 Torr - but at -30 it is down to 9 milliTorr. This evening, after pumping for around 10-12 hours, the pressure was down to 2.8x**-6, which I think is excellent. We have started on the second line, and tomorrow morning we will start the fill/purge sequence with ultra-pure Helium.

(Note: the Cal 2200 temperature controllers we use for controlling the temperature of the environmental enclosures is WAY WAY smarter than the Tektronix scope John was intimidated by - it may even be smarter than the Fluke. It suggested we check difference substances for outgassing qualities ..... and it was right ! Sadly it does not have the Flukes self-effacing manner ....)

Tonight we started to align Abu. This consists of using a laser to determine the center of the geometric axis of the T-tube, and to compare this to where the IR beam is exiting the T-tube. Ideally you would like these to be the same ......

After much fiddling, we finally achieved the desired result. This required the use of a number of ancient units of measure, not used for many years, but which proved ideal for the precision adjustments required in this procedure due to everyones initmate familiarity with such such natural units.

For me, the day was slightly broken up by a much needed shower - 5 days without is enough, or so I'm told by everyone around me ..... JWVS couldn't wait, and deserted the base last night, arriving at MCM at 3 this morning, when they are probably putting the vegys on to boil for tonights dinner ...... and the smell was probably worse.

In addition, we had another 5:00 pm CARA meeting - at which nobody was "cased" (not that anyone has paid their fines yet but .....). The excuses this time were considered adequate, as several members were involved in a practice disaster, to see how the fire crew responded. I think most "victims" have now been found......

The meeting (as was Mondays) was much the poorer for the absence of Finn, alias Dave Barnaby. Rodney made his best effort to fill the shoes of our recently departed colleague, and it is clear he may yet be able to fill Finns role in these meetings ...... though the lack of a personal electronic assistant is clearly a handicap (I suggest using a PC104 system, or possibly a Cal 220 controller).

Fred has removed the tertiary mirror and support tower and we spent some time this evening working out how to mount our new tertiary mirror. It is a fiddly, but quite tractable problem.

OK, well, I'm sure I did something else today, but can't remember what, and as it is now midnight, I shall retire. Oh yes, I have a JWVS replacement - he is a visiting Japanese scientist examining logistics, base support etc. He is very interested in the wind generator here, but a little perplexed as to why that particular style was chosen. He sleeps more soundly, and does not mutter abuse at the Tektronix, Fluke, and even the Weller soldering iron in his sleep, unlike my previous room-mate, who was convinced most electrically operated items were more intelligent than him, and was last seen backing away from a kitchen garbage disposal and up the ramp towards the Hercules with a fearful and suspicious look in his eye.



Friday 5th December 1997 - Weather ?

Well, a most unusual day. The only tine I have seen a complete reversal of direction on the wind. It is blowing a wimpy 0 - 2 knots from around 160 - 200 azimuth. It has brought with it a most unusual foggy substance which has cut visibility dramatically - probably 200 yards max - and is leaving nice little ice crystals on everything. (But no drifting)

One of the upshots of this was that the 6 Hercules flights scheduled today have been thrown into complete disaarray (for a change). The first flight which tried to find the runway missed nicely - gave the AASTO quite a nice little shake as it did a low pass hunting for the flags and came directly over us. Never actually felt the AASTO shake, rattle and roll before ...... he did a couple more passes before heading back to MCM.

The next flight did a pass, couldn't find us, and announced it was heading back in 20 minutes if it didn't clear. There was a short pause - after which it was announced that MCM had overridden the pilot, and told them to stay orbiting the pole for 90 minutes, in the hope it would clear. It didn't.

However just after they left, a Twin Otter announced it was landing. Runway lights went on, everyone waited .... and waited. ..... and waited... and finally it called in to say it had landed 2 miles grid east from the Pole, and was slowly taxiing across the sastrugi (bumpy snow to the uninitiated) to get to the base. Apparently he had found a clear spot in the fog (!) and put it down. He is rumoured to have a GPS in his brain - he has quite a reputation here ......

Well, the rest of the afternoon went along the same lines - I think we have had 4 flights go back, and the 5th just did its first pass - no chance. The 6th is about 90 minutes out, so .....

On a work note, the second Helium compressor line was pumped all night and came down nicely. So Al and I assembled the various pieces, and started purging with ultra-high purity NO2 - sorry Helium. This process went quite well untill there was a rather large and sudden failure in one of the solder joints. Dave Pernic has taken it away, and spoken to it sternly (this may be more effective than a talking to from any of the of the Tek, Fluke, Cal or in-sinkerators ....) and it is now being pumped again for another trial. Fred finished the design of the new tertiary mount, which is quite trickey as the 3 holes in the back bear little relationship to the requested dimensions. Dave Pernic will start machining that first thing in the morning - he may be somewhat delayed by having to recover from the work I did tonight on these parts.......

I took great joy in witnessing the MISM and NISM taking data in a nicely automated manner. In fact, at first I thought the propane burners were about to go into one of their little undocumented modes (Note to propane burner: do NOT eat Freon.....). I quickly realised that it was way too smooth and rhythmic, so I climbed out of the hole I made in the snow when I landed, refitted the door - and looked up to see a wondrous sight: the MISM happily doing cute little steps, pausing to examine the sky above us, then in desperation at the appalling conditions, taking a few more steps in an attempt to find a patch of sky which had better characteristics than the bottom of Sydney Harbour, and which would justify it freezing its (insert favourite anatomical part here) off. I even had the joy of seeing this sequence repeated, and to watch almost simultaneous data taking by both the NISM and MISM. Thank you Michael for all your work on the s/w (and John for destruction testing so much of the electronics so we could find the most reliable boards.....) (Now, I must also point out that there is a strong correlation between MCBA taking data so smoothly, and the worst weather we have seen since I arrived here ......)

I also started the search for/assembly of a turbo pumping system for Rodney to use during winter. It needs to be: a) portable; b) suckey (in the sense of capability); c) portable; d) easy to build a box to keep it warm; e) portable.

I have located a few items which are now undergoing JWVS-1287450123-A (one of the little known US NASA and Military Standards which relates to destruction testing of components utilising unusual techniques: eg not connecting some pins, pooring a variety of acids frequently encountered in space over them, that sort of thing). I'll test for several days to find a good unit for next year.

The platform for the Helium lines to coil on has also been constructed, and we will start fitting it either later tonight or early tomorrow morning, in conjunction with He line purging. In this process we will attempt to liberate enough He gas to lift the planet a significant amount ..... This will take a fair chunk of time, as all existing cables must also pass through this new azimuth wrap.

Hmmmm odd ..... I seem to have spent much of the day playing with Helium lines, gas fittings (there is an unusual metal-to-metal system being used to join the lines in several places) and turbo pumps. The euphoria of watching MISM/NISM collect data automatically rounded the day out nicely.



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