South Pole Diaries 1998/99



Friday 15th January - Sodar Problem

From John Storey.....

Today we fiddled around with the sodar, and discovered a major problem. It appears that when the flags (the big US and Australian ones) are flying the range is dramatically reduced. We tried tying the flags up, and the sodar once again worked properly. We'll do a couple more flags on - flags off trials, but it does look as if the flags will have to go. For some reason a square metre of fabric flapping around 2 metres from the sodar appears to create a larger acoustic reflection than a millikelvin turbulent air cell at 600 metres.

Removing the two flags will devastate our webcam audience, who average around 500 per day. Typical emails we get are: "Please send me information on penguins", "Your thermometer is too hard to read", "Why don't I ever see anyone working outside". We are bracing ourselves for some strident email criticism, but science must come first. I'm working on an explanation that involves Richard Butler, US air raids on Iraq and the need for all Australian/US endeavours to become less conspicuous. Mind you, we could see the first Iraqi ski-team to cross Antarctica towing a belt-fed mortar or similar AASTO-destroying device. It would make a change from bare-foot skiffle-boarding Antarctic-crossing adventurers.

It turns out that the Toshiba was not actually dead but merely in a coma. The battery was too flat to allow it to work, but by leaving it plugged in to the charger overnight it was able to recover. Unfortunately the DCU is not operating at present, leaving the Toshiba with little to talk to.

I'd put myself down to give a Sunday night science talk, but since I'm leaving tomorrow the task will fall to mgb. I trust he will resist the temptation to do Elvis impersonations - the South Pole does strange things to people.

Tonight's CARA meeting featured *real data* from the Sodar that Daniel passed around to critical acclaim. To my enormous relief no-one seems to be irritated by the noise. In fact, the winter-over crew feel it will be very useful to help them find their way out to the dark sector at night.

Today we had a major tidy up and vacuum clean of the AASTO.

We've packed up everything instrument-specific in the AASTO and will "retro" it to UNSW. We'll leave the big general purpose PC down here until Daniel leaves - my inclination is to then return it to UNSW as it simply takes up too much space in the AASTO.

Peter G. has left on this evening's flight, having done a wonderful job of reconstructing the tip-tilt mirror stage. Al Harper has arrived, and is acclimatising. I am disappointed to learn that helicopters are no longer being used to ferry passengers to the McMurdo airfield. While I am normally a strong supporter of the use of seatbelts, fitting them to the van to make it safe enough to render the helicopter unneccesary seems to me a cheap-skate, short-sighted solution and completely inappropriate.

Webcam devotees will have noticed a gold ribbon tied just below the thermometer, and no doubt have been wondering what it's doing there. There may even be an discussion group for all I know. Well, today I found out how it got there. On New year's Day, two South Pole folk got married at the Ceremonial Pole and tied the ribbon from their wedding cake onto the webcam for the world to see. Isn't that sweet?

I'll hand carry the broken PZTs back to Sydney so they can be rebuilt.

As I suspected, the PC in the AASTO had been set up especially with a trick version of Windows 95 as part of a fiendish psychological experiment (which I clearly failed). My suspicions were confirmed when Daniel walked in and was immediately able to log into other computers, print files and actually do useful stuff. I don't know what the psychologists will do with the data they have collected on me, but I fear it may not be to my advantage. In future, computers will probably choose the people they wish to work with (instead of vice versa), and I may end up simply being left on the shelf.

The shrinks finally caught up with us at dinner, where Joe was doing his "two corks" trick and Peter G. was challenging all comers to his "row of toothpicks" game. After half an hour or so the two shrinks were so perplexed they proceeded to certify each other.

CBS have completed their filming, and headed off to other parts of Antarctica. I will forward to you the message we received about screening times.




Further Information