Saturday, January 15, 2005

The New Year

G'day all,
well, hasn't it been a while. A whole month in fact, though hopefully (famous last words) things will settle down somewhat from now on. We have had a crazy few weeks, where did I leave you? Just before Christmas?

Well, on fun things to start, Christmas and New Years Eve were both a hoot down here. Christmas dinner involved three sittings, as we had a station record of 250 people. The food was so good I even photographed it (photo coming soon, I promise). Not that it is exciting at all to you lot, but having so much salad on one's plate is a rare thing here, so it was very fabulous. I had a quiet evening that night, mainly because the night before I performed for the first time with "Squeaky Meat" (no, i didn't name it,what do you think?), one of the bands down here. This is a great bunch of guys and gals, all extremely talented, so it was an absolute pleasure to stuff around with them. Again, some photos of the 'diva', hah, are coming soon. The folks down here know how to party almost as well as a bunch ofaussies, so it was a great night.

Christmas day is also a special one, as we have the annual "Race Around TheWorld". Seeing we are at one of only two places in the world where a circumnavigation of the earth on foot will take less than twenty months, or one minute, if you want to really cheat, every year a roughly three km race around the polar marker is held at Chrissy. There are no rules as to what form of transport you use, there were skidoos, skis, bikes, and a couple ofyears ago, a tractor with a couch on it, but the prestige goes to the male and female runner who come first. They earn a flight to McMurdo on the coast to take part in the McMurdo Scott Hut race - a 7 mile race that goes nearhalf way up the side of bloody Mt Erebus (my bitterness comes from my boss,John Storey, beating me in it by twenty minutes a few years ago...sigh.) Anyhoo, a chef and one of the DA girls won, and when shipped to Mactown last week, they won in both categories. Patriotism at Pole was very sickly that day :)

New Years went to a whole new level, to coin a terrible phrase. The 'heavyshop' where most mechanical, greasy work is done, was transformed into an amazing venue complete with stage and go-go cage. Again, I sang a few tunes with a couple of the bands, though as you'll see from the photos, I was channelling a grandmother on acid when I got dressed that evening. Don't ask me, I nearly passed out when I saw the photos. Ye gods. Anyhoo, a great time was had by all, and by New Years I officially declared myself over the crud,which was a great relief.
New Year has an official ceremony also, which is the repositioning of the'official' geographic South Pole marker. The icecap - the size of Australia and up to three miles thick, forms in the Transantarctic mountains andextends over the Pole to the far East coast of Antarctica. This icecap MOVES, at a rate of about 10 metres per year. Consequently, the original South Pole base, built in the fifties, is about a mile away now. There is a ceremonial pole - the candy cane one, where people get their 'hero' shots taken, but this is the 'correct' pole, and each year on New Years someone gets out a gps, and recalculates where the new marker should go. This is actually quite a cool thing, standing somewhere and putting a bit of metal in the ground *exactly* where the "made in taiwan" sticker is on most globes, and lots of people turn out to watch. Again, photos coming.

New Years was also a work milestone as we finally got the dewar onto the telescope. The horror of the broken fridge was behind us, and a bright, shiny new one had been installed, and four people, a lot of groaning,swearing and cold feet later, and the 200kg dewar was in place on VIPER. This meant we were ready to observe. By Monday we were all grins - we flipped a few switches and prepared for a lengthy day of pointing by hand to find our first source - after all, it was the first time since August last year that the telescope had been used. Surprisingly, nay, amazingly, ping,we press a button, and the source is right there! Astronomers really are quite easy to please, and it was very obvious that something had gone right to everyone at dinner by the three beaming geeks in the corner...

So now we are another two weeks on and most of the basic calibration is done. Bill and Christian spent many late nights working on lots of miscellaneous hardware and software problems, primarily, bless their littlehearts, to make my job this winter a lot easier. Today, however, Bill abandoned me (Christian left yesterday). I think I want to put this in a movie: Bill shook my hand, said "Take care of my baby" and walked away without a backward glance. Hmm. No pressure, or anything. So now I am on my lonesome - Justus, last years winterover was meant to come in tomorrow and ease me into the job, but weather and plane problems mean he is stuck in Christchurch so I am flying solo. It is actually pretty exhilarating. About six hours in and I haven't broken anything. That has to be a good start...

Oh, in other minor news, UNSW updated my Academic Transcript after the NewYear (though they didn't notify me, I just randomly checked yesterday), andmy PhD is "Approved" for graduation. So I guess thats final! Stick a fork in me, I'm done. Unfortunately I can't make it in April to wear the silly hat -if anyone wants to do it for me, you are welcome...

More photos - a gallery, will hopefully be joining this blog soon, so stay tuned. Hope you all had a merry festive season and are enjoying toasty warm weather. I will hopefully update this more frequently in the coming weeks. Feel free to drop me a line anytime,

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