South Pole Diaries 2000/01



Tuesday 5th December 2000

From John Storey.....

Today I saw my first 22 degree ice halo (with sun dogs) since arriving at Dome C. Now I feel at home.

We got the day off to a good start by borrowing a cordless drill, unpacking all the boxes, and setting the instrument up. By lunch we were able to communicate remotely with it using the HP800 Omnibook and we were looking unstoppable.

The highlight of a superb lunch was the asparagus soup. I will do a proper write-up later of "Chez Jean Louis", the only 5-star restaurant in Antarctica, but suffice to say this chef is extraordinary.

Nemesis overtook us in the early afternoon when we realised that the static shocks we had been getting all morning had also fried one of our PC/104 computer boards. Grounding (earthing) things in Antarctica is always a problem (the nearest decent ground to Dome C is 3250 metres below us), and working in a plastic building doesn't help. Nevertheless, I should have been more careful. We've now tied everything together with heavy copper wire that Paolo stripped out of a mains lead, but this is too late to save our ADC card. Not to worry---we have a spare.

Speaking of mains cables, we were so mindful of the fact that European plugs are different to Oz ones that we brought no fewer than 24 Australian outlets. What makes this amusing is that we have only about three things to plug into them, having left behind all but one of our Australian IEC leads! What's more, the station is liberally sprinked with Australian outlets anyway, for reasons that presently escape me.

By late afternoon Summit was performing all of its functions and we were thinking of where to set it up outside. The lab we are in couldn't be better---it is just a short walk from the other buildings of the station, is large, warm and comfortable, with good bench space etc. We think we will leave the Omnibook there all season, and simply pop Summit out the door. There's even a cable duct to run our wires through!

We hooked up an RS232 link between Summit and the Omnibook because it may be easier to operate in an automatic mode that way. Andre had thoughtfully supplied a cable with two connectors on each end, but it was still in its original plastic bag---giving me little confidence it would work. In preparation for the impending struggle with this most recalcitrant of all computer protocols, I ratted through the boxes looking for various things I thought might be helpful. One looked like a null modem but turned out to be an Autocad dongle. Things weren't looking good.

Anyway, for the first time in my life I was able to see an RS232 link work first time. Probably this was because Paolo did it.

Dinner included a champagne toast to the departing traverse team, who will spend the next 11 days getting back to Dumont d'Urville.

All that remained to do prior to the final assembly was to tame the stepper motor that drives the scanning mirror. This works, but vibrates and jumps around in a horrible fashion. Such is my irrational dislike of stepper motors that one part of me would have been perfectly happy to leave it to vibrate itself to death, scattering across the snow the springs and magnets and ratchets and whatever other pieces of junk its misguided designers had thought to build it out of. Paolo, however, took a more sympathetic approach and by the time I arrived back in the lab he had adjusted the various drive parameters and had it humming like a bird.

Getting Summit out the door will be an interesting challenging because it weighs 250 kg or so. We were hoping there'd be a forklift lying around but there isn't. There is however a sort of ride-on elevated platform thing that we might be able to use as a crane. The ride-on controls are broken so you have to walk along beside it using the external controls, giving the impression of someone taking a giraffe for a walk.

We shall see.