New Camera!!

Yay!

Got my new digital SLR today. Now all I have to do is learn how to use it!

Bought myself a Nikon D5100 as part of a kit with lenses and other assorted goodies, though the only thing that makes sense to me at the moment is the tripod!

I got me one of these bad boys

I got me one of these bad boys!

I’ve downloaded umpteen hours of video tutorials and e-books on photography and I’ll have plenty of time to learn down south, I’ll also have the luxury of being somewhere where even the dodgy pictures will probably look good – can you really take a horrible picture of a penguin?

Even so, I’m keen to get cracking – I’ve got a flight over the length of Africa and a month-long sea voyage in the South Seas that might well turn up some good shots. Right now I’ve not really figured out much but hopefully I’ll be ready for any appearance of Dolphins, Whales and Ice Bergs on the way down, even if it’s on the basic settings – though I’m pretty much a run before I can walk sort of person so I’ll be wanting to get the auto off quick and start at least pretending I know what I’m doing!

I think I’ll be out buggering about with it before I go. Firstly to get some practice in and secondly to get plenty of pictures to take down with me. Pictures of my Neice and Nephews and pictures of Green stuff like the gorgeous Yorkshire Country side. So expect to see some amateurish photography fairly soon.

Oh yeah, I’ve got less than two weeks to go!!

More Training…..

So, still on with the training before I head south.  Nothing too exciting this week – for most people, for me though, I’m loving it. I’m working for an organisation that is doing great things. I’m off to do what is for me a dream job in one of the coolest places on the planet and before I go there I’m learning how to do things that, as well as getting me prepared for the actual job I’ll be doing, also mean the number of qualifications and skills on my CV have massively increased. On top of that, I just chuffing love learning stuff, whether it’s useful, essential or even useless! Lets put it this way- I think I’ll soon be a pretty good person to have with you come the zombie apocalypse. Not that I’m not already mind.

This week I’ve been learning the basics of refrigeration.  Making stuff cold is a fairly ordinary thing until you think of how recent it is that we have been able to do it, the technology required, and, particularly relevent to some of the work BAS does, the impact it has on our environment. Everyone has heard of the hole in the ozone layer and we all remember becoming a bit more careful with aerosols in the eighties and nineties. Refrigeration is a subject linked with both the depletion of the ozone layer and also, more recently, with global warming. Refrigeration gases used to cause big problems for those working with them until a clever bloke called Thomas Midgley invented a new type called chlorofluorocarbons, more commonly known as CFC’s. Until then, the gases used in keeping things cold could be toxic, corrosive, explosive and not particularly efficient. CFC’s were none of these and did a great job of refrigeration.  Not until the hole in the ozone layer was discovered at Halley (the place I will soon call home) in the eighties did it become apparent just how harmful they really were. Poor Thomas Midgley also came up with the idea of putting lead into petrol, something else which, at the time, was considered a stroke of genius but turned out much later  to be a fairly bad thing! It has to be said that Mr Midgley was a good and brilliant man trying to make the world a better place. But he was certainly unfortunate with the two things he was most known for!

CFC’s and other ozone depleting gases have been phased out and we now no longer use them, though some of them will continue to remain in our atmosphere for hundreds of years. The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is still there too and we are just beginning to learn about its impact on the world-much more than just giving us a nasty sunburn, the increased amount of UV radiation getting through the hole has changed weather patterns around the Antarctic continent. The Gases that replaced CFC’s, whilst not depleting the ozone layer, are extremely potent greenhouse gases, some thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.  Although technology is improving and different gases are beginning to be used most of the gases in refrigeration are still very strong greenhouse gases. Therefore it is hugely important that the cooling equipment using them is as efficient as possible and, crucially, does not leak. A kilogram of refrigerant gas released into the atmosphere can have the same effect as the carbon dioxide from a car driven for a year!

Other than the harmful effects of the gases used in cooling I also learned the theory behind refrigeration itself. I won’t bore you with the technical stuff but it’s a brilliantly simple process using the exchange of heat with gases at different states, temperatures and pressures. This technology is used in all the things we use to keep things cool, from fridges and freezers, air conditioning units and scientific experiments. Proper interesting stuff, though I am a bit of a geek.

The practical side of things involved the maintenance and repair of refrigeration units. How to test the equipment and check for leaks in the system and what to do when you find one.

Other stuff I’ve been up to this week included getting up to date with my scaffolding qualifications, learning the basics about the IT system used by BAS and I learned how to braze copper with an oxy-acetylene torch.

I was also staying in a hotel that was creepily reminiscent of the place in Twin Peaks, though the bed was comfy!

Breathing Apparatus Training.

This week I have mostly been playing with air tanks and masks.  Take all the bits and bobs apart, put all the bits and bobs together and then use the bits and bobs to breath like Darth Vader. So, another good week!

Breathing apparatus training

Luke, I am your father

Yeah, I do look a little wild-eyed in there but it was air I was breathing honestly.

Apart from breathing heavily and pretending I was on my way to a disaster zone I also spent some time learning how to look after the emergency breathing kits out on base. So, dismantling  and then putting back together all the components of the breathing sets, right down to the tiniest of pins and o-rings, identifying any problems, replacing broken bits and general maintenance. Like a lot of things that might one day prove a bit useful- ie, save you life, it’s good to look after it.

I’ve been eating loads of the stuff that  I’m gonna miss too, so much so I’m getting a nice old belly coming on. So the gym at Halley will be getting some stick once I’m down there.

Things to do Before you Leave Civilisation

Before you set sail for Antarctic there are quite a few things you’ll need to sort out. Health is important. You’ll need to have a full medical and make sure that your firing on all cylinders before you head south, we have a Doctor on the base at Halley but it’s still not a good idea to be out on the ice with health problems that you could have sorted out whilst in the UK. The same is true for your teeth, in fact dental problems can be one of the most common, not to mention painful, health problems for the people in Antarctica. So for the past few months I’ve been getting any issues with my teeth sorted out. Problems that may not cause too much of an issue but on the off chance that they did could turn into a real nightmare thousands of miles away from a dentist, all have to be sorted out. I’ve had two extractions at the moment and I have a few more appointments to go. To be honest I’ve not really been keeping up with my dental visits for the past few years so I was a bit hesitant before getting my dental MOT. However, Charlotte, my Dentist is brilliant. She has been nice enough to not call me an idiot for not visiting the dentist for so long and although one of the teeth took quite a bit of tugging to get it out none of it has been too unpleasant.

Buying stuff to take with you is something to think about quite a bit, there are no shops and only two deliveries a year- so not much shopping can be done once you’ve left. There are things you definitely want to have with you. I think the most expensive thing I’ll be taking with me will be an SLR camera. I’ve not really any experience of photography and although you can take some nice shots with a compact, if there is anywhere on the planet you want to use and learn something a bit better, then Antarctica is it. I really want get some of those long exposure shots of the Milky way and amazing auroras I’ve seen on other blogs.
Clothes need buying, lots of warm stuff obviously, but just planning what you’ll need for eighteen months is a task, let alone eighteen months where I’m going. Lots and lots of sock seems to be the main advice I’ve been given.

My Mum kindly bought me some undies. They’re proper nice.

Nasty

Nasty

Things to entertain you whilst away. I like to read a lot so I’ve been cramming as many ebooks onto my Ipad as possible, there’s plenty of free books available that are out of copyright (good job I like classics) and I’ve been asking friends for recommendations of more contemporary stuff. I’ve also been stuffing as many films and box-sets as I can onto a hard drive. I always like to listen to music or an audiobook whilst I’m working so plenty of that too. Downloading stuff is not really do-able whilst on base due to the low bandwith so I’m grabbing as much as I can.

I’m also trying to get in as much of the stuff that I wont be able to get whilst down there so I’ve been scoffing loads of butties from Sulivans, the sandwich shop at the top of my street. I’ll be making good use of the gym down there, as well as being outside hiking and climbing so I’m not too bothered about putting on a bit of weight before I ship out (it’s insulation anyway). which is good because I’m eating for England at the moment. I’m sure an Antarctic marathon will have me fit again…

I have made sure to take some essentials from home. Top of the list were these:

Proper tea!

Proper tea!

I know they won’t last long so I’ll have to ration them.

Tips and recommendations of books or other Antarctic essentials are more than welcome!

More Training: Driving Snow Stuff!

With all due respect to the fire alarm maintenance and generator control training courses that I’ve been doing over the past month, last week was a touch more interesting with me and some of the Halley Winterers (plus Dan the Diver from Rothera)  learning how to drive and operate British Antarctic Survey Vehicles. Learning how to operate a loader crane mounted on the back of a tracked snow cat is not something you do everyday.

telehandler and snow-cat mounted crane

Tracked Tele-handler and Snow-Cat Mounted Crane

We got to drive up and down the yard (whilst trying not to destroy the concrete with the tracks) and practice using the crane, touching the hook on cones placed around the BAS yard and hoisting and repositioning various items of different weights and sizes.

3 Halleys and a Rothera Stuart the Plumber, Soph the Doc, Dan the Diver and Me

3 Halleys and a Rothera
Stuart the Plumber, Soph the Doc, Dan the Diver and Me

Although we didn’t get to drive them – what with them not having peak performance on concrete, we did get to have a look at the awesome looking Skidoos that I’m looking forward to riding down South.

New Skidoos in the BAS Garage

New Skidoos in the BAS Garage

Actually they don’t look as good as in real life but I’ll be soon getting a decent Camera – so be prepared to be dazzled and amazed by my photography skills!

Anyway, all  in all we had a great week!