Thursday, July 07, 2005

Chapter 12 - Winter Over Report for 1989



This report is written to give the reader information concerning the performance of various systems at Palmer Station and to provide an overview of the tasks accomplished during the winter-over period from 04 June 1989 until 14 October 1989.

With the current continuity of personnel in the Comms Department this season, this report will not give a status on every piece of equipment or every responsibility of the communications position. It will give a concise review of the problems that arose during the winter months and provide an explanation of the solutions. This report will also contain an account of other activities that required attention during the season.

Software and hardware changes made during the summer season of 1988-1989 made a significant difference in the operations of the communications at Palmer. During the winter period few changes were necessary to maintain the flow of traffic. The Comms Inventory has on the other hand, received a major facelift this season to create a constructive and useful document that reflects the available resources.


As noted in the introduction, few changes were necessary to maintain the flow of traffic during the winter months.

During late June, a Users Reference Guide was written in preparation for the incoming Wincruise III scientists. This guide consists of answers to common questions asked by the scientists concerning message handling, E-mail addresses, facsimile and telex transmission, as well as INMAR$AT use. A Marsgram Reference Guide was also written to assist the large number of people incoming who are unfamiliar with the Mars network. Similar to the Users Reference Guide, this guide answers common questions of "how to" write a marsgram.

The Black Box arrived in late June. Phone connectors for the clean air building, T-5, the phone patch, the fax machine and the modem that were previously lying loose behind the computer are now interfaced into a switching center type box. The Black Box allows the INMAR$AT line to be switched from Comms to various users as required. The DR and WHEREIS tool programs and Word Perfect were installed on the Compaq computer in lab 5 to prepare for WINCRUISE III users.

Mid-August after receiving the Blast books, we began to send UV files in an archived format. After reading through the manuals and speaking with South Pole, we discovered what was necessary for us to transmit files in an archived format that would not be corrupted. Upon confirmation of the files being received uncorrupted and without error by Rocky Booth, the required script changes were implemented to allow the script to send the files automatically.

During late August, McMurdo began sending VAR message traffic through the Telemail system. This was in part due to a lengthy communications blackout at McMurdo Station. To date McMurdo is sending VAR traffic over the Telemail system concurrent with their RTTY transmissions.

The end of August brought many problems sending through the ATS-3 system due to problems with the transmitter at University of Miami. Traffic during this time fell up to four days behind, but according to the station manager did not warrant using the INMAR$AT for sending Telemail traffic. Malabar made the switch back to 1200 baud during the early part of September relieving the ATS-3 transmission problems and requiring minor changes to the scripts. An adjustment was necessary to decrease the deviation of our SAM-08 modem, which was accomplished with Malabar's assistance.

Normal radio schedules were kept with the R/V Polar Duke and Faraday Station as required. In addition to these, impromptu schedules were occasionally arranged for communications with Marambio Station and Jubany per request of the Argentines regarding updates on the state of the Bahia Paraiso. Regular contact was maintained as required on the aircraft frequency during pass overs and landings made by Kenn-Borek Twin Otters and Argentine air traffic during the winter months.


Meteorological information was collected and passed to Faraday Station without problems this winter season. The fan in the shelter was removed in June to avoid being exposed to winter weather. The dew point cell was mounted vertically in the shelter to keep it from sitting in snow inside the bottom of the shelter. In September, a hinge to the shelter broke loose under the weight of the snow and ice built up on it. Rich Skane replaced the hinges and repaired the damage to the door. At the end of September the wind indicator stopped operating. The indicator was repaired after the start of the '89-'90 summer season and is operational at this time.


The only major problems to occur during the winter months requiring repair were with antennas. The Yagi antenna on top of the Biolab building started working sporadically in July. The connector had pulled out of the casing and was replaced. The antenna worked well for one week and stopped working again. The cable, connectors and baluns were then replaced. It appears that the baluns were corroded and were not sufficiently protected from the weather and salt spray. Upon replacement the baluns were covered with a sealant to protect them. The Yagi has been operational since that time.

During a severe windstorm at the end of July, the VHF antenna on the Biolab roof broke loose from its bracket causing the antenna to lean over. A missing/broken bolt and nut were replaced with no other damage to the antenna. An antenna check was made at this point to make sure no other antennas were damaged during the windstorm.


The communications inventory system has, during the winter season, evolved into a useable document that represents the shop's available resources. The inventory file now reflects the actual locations and amounts of supplies and equipment on hand. Along with these changes, the inventory once divided into three different files is now combined into one file. This allows the user in Comms to page through only one document when looking for a particular piece of equipment instead of three or more. Files now in one document may be arranged in any order (i.e. by description or alphanumerically) with dBase III to find the desired part without searching through many files.

By far, the most difficult task was reorganizing the semiconductor parts by generic or ECG part numbers. This task required researching every part number and cross referencing that number with an ECG number. Two sections of the inventory required cross referencing and reorganizing. The inventory now reflects this reorganization.

Changes in the inventory were made to reflect the packing of the FRT-39 transmitter and associated equipment and Model 40 teletype equipment scheduled to go to McMurdo in December. Over the winter season this equipment was packed in boxes and an inventory for each box was prepared.


After spending so much time working with the inventory this winter, my first recommendation would be to keep the Communications Department inventory current. This should be accomplished by regular entries into the inventory of incoming supplies as well as documenting with some regularity the parts usage over a given period of time or whenever a new shipment is brought in.

With communications becoming increasingly dependent upon computers and programs, it is necessary to have some type of continuity folder. This folder should contain a breakdown of the responsibilities, explanations concerning the handling of both data traffic and voice traffic, and provide general guidelines for using the equipment and programs available in the communications center.

I cannot stress strongly enough the necessity of allowing more turnover time than the ten days I was given, to train the incoming Comms Coordinator and Comms Technician. A one month turnover would be considered adequate to provide the required time for training new and returning personnel without jeopardizing the communications support to the science community at Palmer Station.

The training of incoming personnel to handle ATS-3 traffic should begin with the use of manual commands. This will stress understanding of the scripts and macro keys by demonstrating how each interacts with the VAX to accomplish the mail process. Scripts accomplish their job nicely in the summer, but are easily corrupted and may require manual commands during the noisy periods on the satellite in the winter months. Without knowledge of how the scripts and macro keys operate, it will be very difficult and confusing to send or receive mail. It must be pointed out that different processes are used by Palmer than South Pole. Attempts to train Palmer people at the corporate office by South Pole communications people tends only to confuse and frustrate the learning process at Palmer.

If a time constraint in hiring is any problem in filling these positions, it is considered by me to be far more important to deploy the Comms people to Palmer one month early in lieu of sending them to schools for two or three weeks prior to departure. Certainly schools are rewarding in their opportunity to provide knowledge of the operation and the repair of equipment, however, the on-the-job training being less structured than the schools but broader in scope takes more time than is presently allowed to insure continuous and unimpeded support to the scientists at the station.


The summer installation of BLAST in place of Crosstalk and ProComm cut down to almost nothing our traffic backlog during "blackout" times in the winter months. Previous Comms Coordinators have in past winters spent many hours trying to catch up on a backlog due to poor satellite conditions. The longest period of downtime experienced over this last season was four days. This software has helped the Comms Department to continue business as usual under conditions of frequent noise and periods of dropouts in the satellite operations. BLAST has more than proven itself reliable software for the conditions of satellite communications on ATS-3.

The accomplishment of a piece by piece inventory this winter now reflects the inventory on hand and the equipments' current location. The inventory previously was divided into so many files, it was frustrating and futile to try and locate any equipment using the printouts. With the combined inventory file, locating equipment is as easy as indexing your inventory by fields to find what you need. As with the old inventory, equipment may still be crossed referenced by the "equipment supported" field.

Although the reorganization of the semiconductor parts was a tedious job, the result is an arrangement of like parts filed by a generic part number. It is not necessary to have like parts in different drawers throughout the shop. This arrangement combines the inventory location of similar parts and indicates the true availability under a generic name.

I feel that this winter has been a rewarding experience for me. I expect the changes made to the inventory system are going to make locating items easier for the Comms people yet to come. The information sheets made over the winter season steps users through the process of how to use the editor and how to copy message headers for their outgoing traffic. These sheets are being actively used by the scientists and changes are made whenever necessary to clarify points as they have been brought to my attention. I believe that I have given my all to support the science effort here at Palmer and have enjoyed working with and learning from the scientists this winter.

David D. Gallas
1989 Winter-over
Communications Coordinator
Palmer Station

(insert Palmer Wx here)