Thursday, September 06, 2007

Public Service Announcement: Free stuff, food, refreshments, this Saturday

My computer just crashed (don't worry, it will recover), leaving me without easy access to everyone's email addresses, so I'm posting this here:

I just bought a house "as is", with a basement crammed to the brim with junk^H^H^H^H treasures. If you help me clean it out, you can grab the best of it! I get first dibs, but don't need any more junk in my life, so will only use it in the case of fist-sized diamonds and the like. Otherwise, you touch it first, it's yours. I have no idea what's in there, but there are rumors of "geology equipment" (the previous previous owner was a surveyor) and "paddling stuff". There are also major appliances (oven, fridge, etc) but I can't attest to their condition. You need to be able to haul away anything you want. I'll provide food and refreshments.

Hope to see you there!


Monday, August 27, 2007

Some things I didn't need to spend four months in simulation in the Arctic to learn:

1. Indoor flush toilets are amongst the peak achievements of civilization.
2. Butter is delicious, as are fresh vegetables and nicely-cooked meat.
3. A comfortable bed in a dark, quiet, private room is more conducive to a good night's sleep than half of a hard bunk in a tiny hab without any soundproofing in 24-hour sunlight.
4. A change of scenery and company is nice every once in a while.
5. A long hot shower is an extraordinarily pleasant thing.

Something I did learn:

With sufficient motivation, training and luck, a crew can do without all of the above and do just fine, thank you very much.

Not that that first shower wasn't pretty amazing. We were using 10L of water per person per day at the hab (including cooking, cleaning, and drinking water), and I must have poured a crew-week's worth of water over my head (30min shower at 10L/min = 300L, so not far off). Worth every drop.

In Resolute now and heading south tomorrow - home soon!

Monday, August 20, 2007


As of midnight (about 30 mins ago), we are done with sim. Done, I tell you. We immediately went outside, and toasted the sunset with some of James' fine Countdown Lager. Outside without a spacesuit for the first time in 100 days. The world is big and beautiful, and we have the island to ourselves. Breathtaking.

This would be better with ground lamb, but it really wasn't bad. Honest.

'meat'balls: Mix reconstituted taco TVP, dried spinach, dried onion, garlic salt, lard and herbes de provence with enough powdered egg to make it all stick together. Roll the mixture into balls, and fry until brown and firm on the outside. They end up tasting a lot like falafel.

yogurt sauce: Make yogurt. Mix about a cup of it with garlic salt, lots of dill, and olive oil. Spoon over the TVPballs.

salad: Harvest the last of the lettuce from the Aerogardens. Top with chopped artichoke hearts, and dress with olive oil, lemon juice and herbs.

rosemary potatoes: Get instant scalloped potatoes, and save the sauce packet for some other dish. Reconstitute the potatoes by nuking them in water. Drain on paper towels. Put in a baking pan, coat with olive oil and season with rosemary and garlic salt. Roast at 400F or so until yummy.

I'll post a picture tomorrow, but really, I swear, it really wasn't bad at all.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The sun finally set yesterday, dipping briefly below the horizon for a few minutes, before dawning bright and new just after midnight. As nights go, it wasn't much to speak of, but we celebrated it anyway. It has been a long day. Our last sunrise was in late April, in Resolute. It was -30 degC, the world was white, and we were just setting off on our great adventure. Now it's a balmy 7 degrees, the landscape is Mars red, and we're nervously contemplating reintegration into society. Will we smell funny? Hopefully not, after copious showers in Res. Will we flinch at social contact? Mmm, maybe. Will we remember to behave ourselves? Will we want to? I'll admit that I spent precious air miles on an upgrade for my flight to LA, to reduce the odds of being stuck next to a crying baby or some other challenging neighbor. Still, I'm not too worried - a salad bar, a hot tub, and a glass of wine, and I'll be right as rain.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

And then there was one

Twice a day, we do the "sked", a radio check-in with the Polar Continental Shelf Project back in Resolute. They keep track of all the science teams in the field in this part of Nunavut, and send in the cavalry if anything goes wrong. When we first got here, it was just us and a team way out on the ice cap at the east end of Devon. For most of May and June, we got the personal attention of the Polar Shelf guy, at least for the time it took to say "read you five by five, weather's fine, no traffic". Then, in July, at the peak of the field season, the sked exploded from an intimate affair into a mass conference call, with more than fifteen camps calling in to schedule flights, discuss problems, and announce polar bear visits. OK, the camps were spread out over thousands of miles of the Arctic, but it still felt a bit crowded.

Now, we're back down to five, and one of those is finishing its pullout tomorrow. If we're not the last in the field, we'll be close (damn you, ice cap guys!). Although no snow has settled yet, there's a reasonable chance that they will have to put the skis back on the Twin Otters for our pullout flights. Winter is coming, the sked is getting quiet, and soon Devon will reclaim its title as the world's largest uninhabited island.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Would anyone else like to go to Nobu when I get back? And does anyone else see a grinning triceratops in the Nobu logo?

I remember being bemused by this at the Tokyo restaurant many years ago, so it's not perceptual dysfunction brought on by isolation. At least, not just that.
News from the North

I own a house! Thanks to Jen, who has been bullying lawyers, scheduling inspectors, and signing things for me all summer, I am now the proud owner of #34 Kauhale Beach Cove, five units and a few hundred feet from #29, where I lived a few months and many thousands of dollars ago. Small steps, people. Small steps.

In other news, we went with a fiery theme for the Phoenix launch, and had creme brulee. OK, it was an eggy custard with some burnt sugar on top, but isn't that what creme brulee really is, when it's not putting on airs? Here's an action shot. fyi, the blowtorch is normally used for sterilizing the permafrost drill.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Welcome back, Winter

Believe it or not, mid-July was actually pretty warm here, peaking at about 18 degrees Celsius outside, and downright muggy in the hab. It has also been sunny and dry for weeks. Then, a couple of days ago, we woke up to a heavy wall of fog and a chill in the air. This morning, the snow started. None of it stuck, but it definitely feels like we're through the summer and sliding back into winter. There are still a few patches of white here and there, and I'm rooting for them to make it to the first real fall of new snow.

In cuter news, we had an outreach event with the Iqaluit Science Summer Camp a couple of days ago. We gave a presentation online, then video-chatted with the kids using Skype. Then, they had a space suit fashion show (image from the Nunatsiaq News):

How adorable is that??

Friday, July 27, 2007

Much to the disappointment, I suspect, of some of the human factors researchers tracking our mission, our crew has gotten along astonishingly well. I put this down in part to luck, but also in part to some common values, including the stereotypical Canadian ‘niceness’, which a lot of Americans (at least, the ones on our crew) obviously share. Matt is our poster boy for this trait: he’d make you breakfast in bed, then apologize for undermining your diet.

Even with all this harmony, however, sometimes a girl just gets up on the wrong side of the bunk. I had already snarked at both James and Ryan today for no good reason, when an issue came up that actually causes me some real stress: how to make sure that we get all the data we need before we leave (there’ll be no popping back for one more sample once we’re gone). Problem was, I was too irritable to deal with it in an even-tempered, rational way. So, what to do?

One of the human factors studies is looking at coping strategies, which seem to fall into a few broad categories: actively working towards a solution; seeking advice and support; emoting; denial; booze and/or prayer; and so on. Here, many of our habitual strategies just aren’t available: no pets to cuddle or oceans to swim in, for example. In this case, I just wanted to go somewhere else, and do something else for a while – but there’s nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. So, instead, I stopped working, went to my bunk, put in my earplugs, and played stupid computer games for a couple of hours. As coping strategies go, it may not be the healthiest, but when I came out I was able to discuss the EVA schedule without biting anyone’s head off. Mission accomplished.
Tragic News

The Weekly World News is ceasing publication. Not only did they introduce the world to my fave celebrity, Bat Boy, but they have been publishing insightful science stories on Mars for many years. It's a sad day for journalism.

Would someone mind grabbing a copy of that last issue for me?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

C'mon, people. I need comments. It would be too sad if I were to crack up a mere month away from the end!

One more LOST parallel: webcams all over the hatch/hab...

Friday, July 20, 2007

LOST vs. FMARS: a side-by-side comparison

We've become more than a bit obsessed with LOST, partly because it's a great show that we have watched through, as a crew, from the first season; but mostly because we have a sneaking suspicion that we're on that island. Yes, I know, the human factors researchers will be delighted to take this as evidence that we've finally gone irredeemably nutso, but check the evidence (I don't know why the software's putting a big space here, but live with it):

the hatchthe hab
polar bearspolar bears
Dharma-brand canned foodSafeway-brand canned food
Button must be pressed regularly; may be part of cruel experimentButton must be pressed regularly; definitely part of cruel experiment
The Others, mysterious researchers who live on the other side of the islandThe Others, mysterious researchers who live on the other side of the stream
Bulky suits must be worn outside; may or may not serve useful purposeBulky suits must be worn outside; may or may not serve useful purpose
Little bottles of booze from the plane, last way longer than expectedLittle bottles of booze from the plane, run out almost instantly
Guys at polar station receive signal from island, send helpGuys at Polar Shelf receive signal from island, know help is not needed

...and so on. We even have photographic evidence.



Our hatch:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mars Clock

If you'd like to know whether I'm up or not and can't be bothered to check the webcam, have a look at the FMars Time Clock. I particularly like that the 24th hour has 99 minutes.

Oddly, my circadian rhythm seem to be naturally on Mars time. On a 24hr day, I always want to stay up just that little bit later, and sleep in that little bit later, than a normal schedule allows. The extra 39 minutes in a Martian sol allows me to do just that, without throwing the whole day off. Kinda neat.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Recent hab food: chicken pot pie, a really good beef stew made with jerky (the first one didn't simmer for long enough, and the meat was still chewy), and Matt's chocolate tofu pudding (delicious). Just so's you know.
Kim vs. Mud Part II

I got my boot back! And Simon's! The mud dried out just enough to be diggable, so we dug. Here are the triumphant boot hunters:

For the sticklers out there, I'm not wearing my EVA pack and helmet because I'm just about to get on an ATV, so I've switched to a motorcycle helmet for safety. Ryan was our polar bear monitor for this jaunt, so is au naturale-ish.
Sedimentally Yours

One way in which the Arctic is not very Mars-like is that there is surface water, and several small lakes and ponds dot the landscape near the hab. One of our studies is looking at the sediment at the bottom of these ponds. The story goes something like this: there are little wormy critters called chironomidae that live in lakes and ponds. In warm years, there are more of them; cold years, fewer. When they die, their little skulls settle on the bottom with the rest of the sediment for that year. So, you can find out about climate change by taking a core of pond gunk, and meticulously counting every chironomid head in each layer using a microscope. It's a bit like tree rings, but with worm skulls.

Here's me gathering a core of pond sediment. Our regular EVA suits don't function well in water, so I'm working the nautical look:

Dog Days of Summer

For those of you who haven't met her, this is my dog Leia:

She's sweet and I love her, but she chose to welcome the new house-sitters by barfing and crapping all over the carpets. So, the poor folks came from the airport to find, not the lovely tropical getaway they had been expecting, but a place that looks and smells like a discount vet's dumpster. Thanks, Leia.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mud, mud, gloooooorious mud

Before I show the picture, I would like to point out that I'm not a complete idiot. The ground looked OK, I swear. Besides, what's a little mud? You get dirty, it dries, you brush it off. A nuisance at worst, and a featured attraction at some bars.

I was stuck for one hour. Simon rushed in after me, and got stuck too. Matt then had to build a bridge out of tarp and rocks to get to Simon and haul him out, sans one boot. Digging away the mud didn't help at all - it just shlurped back in. I waited patiently, not that I had much choice, contemplating the fate of the dinosaurs and experiencing the first step of becoming a fossil. The guys extended the bridge to reach me, and started pulling. It took both of them - two big strong guys, hauling away with all their strength - 20 minutes to drag me out, and I too left a boot tribute. In the photo, you'll notice I'm not wearing my pack and helmet, which had to be removed before I could be extricated. This makes me 'sim dead'. Luckily, I will be reincarnated tomorrow, with a lesson learned: Mud sucks.

Friday, June 29, 2007

House/pet sitting in Hawaii??

I'm in sudden and urgent need of someone to house and dog sit for me, in Hawaii, from July 6th. Please let me know if you're interested!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Life is just like hair...

...nasty, reddish and short.

Way back in March at MDRS, Kathy enthusiastically volunteered to cut my hair this summer. I said it wouldn't happen until the words "Get this f******* thing off my head" passed my lips.

Well, that day came today.



OK, the first picture is cuter, but that's my attitude, not Kathy's handiwork. Thanks, Kathy!

Monday, June 25, 2007

There has been some clamoring for Mars Ho specific goodies. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Buy our stuff. You know you want to. There's even a cute little logo-wearing polar teddy bear. Who can resist that??

Friday, June 22, 2007


Yesterday was summer solstice which, below the Arctic Circle, is the longest day of the year. Here, we're in the middle of a four-month long day, so let's just call it "noon". We celebrated by leaving the window-shades off all night long, so that we could feel the full effect of the bright, bright midnight sun.

It's a transition period in many ways. Although there are still patches and occasional deep drifts of snow, there is now more brown than white in the landscape, and starting Monday, we're taking ATVs rather than snowmobiles to our sites. Our science is changing, too, from projects that were focussed on the snow and the permafrost to those that are interested in the now-uncovered rocks and the crater itself.

We're also embarking on a unique experiment: Mars time. The Martian day (or 'sol') is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. For the month of July, we'll be working on Mars time, so will gradually drift out of synch with all you Earthlings. Each sol, we will take several cognitive tests and keep a sleep diary, so that any physiological or psychological disruption can be detected. Because we have fairly constant daylight (clouds passing over the sun cause more light variation than the time of day), we don't have any natural cues to tell us what time it is, so any discombobulation we feel will be due to the shift itself. I expect we will feel better, if anything, thanks to the 'extra' 40 minutes in our daily schedule, but it's an important question to answer before we send astronauts to Mars to cope with it for real.

Here's the view from the hab at 10pm on the night of June 21st:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Food News

Simon got all nostalgic for the Quebec sugar shack experience, and made maple syrup taffy in the snow:

Damn yummy. We've also figured out how to make beef stew from beef jerky, and decent scrambled eggs from dehydrated egg powder (the trick is to add enough veggies and cheese that the eggs themselves are only about 50% of the resulting mix). Last night: cheese fondue. Next up: a turkey feast for our halfway point. Mashed potatoes and gravy are no problem, stuffing and pumpkin pie should be fine, but the turkey itself... molded canned turkey? Turkey loaf? Any ideas??

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In any endeavor like ours, there will be attention from the press. Hell, we seek it. A major part of our mission is to get people to imagine, vividly, the exploration of Mars by human beings, and we’re eager to put up webcams, post blogs, and invite reporters into our lives, in the hopes that the exposure will turn minds towards that vision.

With this attention comes criticism – fair enough. How much do analog missions contribute to the goal of exploring Mars? To what extent do simulation conditions mirror those of a long term space mission? Aren’t unmanned missions to other planets just as productive as proposed manned missions, and much less risky? If not, why not? We’re asked these questions every day, and the answers are the subjects of intensive investigations, both here and at research institutions around the world.

What’s more difficult to deal with is ridicule. We’re wearing fake spacesuits and pretending to be on another planet – it’s not hard for a hack to make fun of that. Luckily, most of the journalists who spend time with us understand that we simply can’t answer the important questions about long duration space missions – what is tolerable? what isn’t? what works? what doesn’t? – without some of us looking like fools some of the time. I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of personal dignity to find the answers, but that does means laughing it off every now and then.

Oh, and my friends? You can mock me as much as you want - I'd feel neglected if you didn't!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Polar bear prints. 'nuff said.

Monday, June 11, 2007

News from the North

Since you asked... my efforts to buy a house while living at the North Pole have taken a step forward. My offer was accepted! There are still a lot of hoops to jump through (or rather, for Jen to jump through in my stead), but it's progress. It also looks like Paul, one of the advance engineering team who made the hab livable before we arrived, might help me fix up my new place, when he stops in Hawaii for a couple of weeks en route to Antarctica. Yep, he's going to both poles in one year. Nutjob.

Exciting food this week: thai 'chicken' curry with pumpkin and coconut milk, maple syrup snow taffy, and an omelet made entirely of dried or powdered ingredients, including the eggs, butter and cheese. Just add water! The only problem was that the bottom was cooked long before the top, and the oven wasn't behaving, so I finished it off with the blowtorch:

Finally, the ongoing thaw means that some of our drilling sites are becoming pretty damn muddy. For the record, mud and spacesuits don't play well together:

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I'm mmmeeeellltinnnnnngggg....

It was a sweltering eight degrees Celsius (that's 46 degrees Fahrenheit) outside yesterday morning, well above freezing. Two of the five lakes we visit regularly have melted, and there are brown patches all over the landscape. We even saw a flock of ducks flying over the crater rim - the only animal life I've seen on Devon Island, aside from the odd speck of a bird in the distance. Spring has most definitely sprung.

This isn't entirely good news. Several of our science projects are about observing changes in the permafrost during the seasonal transition, and the seasons have gotten a bit ahead of us here. We have been in a mad rush to get pre-thaw samples, and will be very busy for the next few weeks, now that the thaw is well under way. To make matters worse, the snowmobiles will be useless when the brown patches outnumber the white - but the ATVs won't be able to replace them as long as there are deep snow areas between the hab and our sample sites. We're hoping the vehicular transition period will be short.

Here's a snapshot of the temperatures so far. These are 16cm and 32cm deep in the ground, so generally colder than the air temperature. Note the very regular daily fluctuation, up until a few days ago - then everything gets messy, as the upper layers start to thaw. If you're wondering about the jump in the Trinity Lake data, we had to move the sensors there a couple of times.

It's getting toasty!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

FMARS, the movie

Several of you have pointed out that a group of seven people in enforced isolation is the standard set-up for a thriller - the kind in which the cast members get picked off, one by one, by a mysterious and terrifying menace. So, my challenge to you, friends, is to determine the order in which we will be killed, how, and why. To help you, a cast list and rough character descriptions are given below. Bonus question: who or what is the sympathy animal (i.e. the innocent creature that is threatened about a third of the way through the film to show that the danger is serious), and does he/she/it survive?

The Cast, in alphabetical order
Simon Auclair, Geologist. Unofficial titles: Water Boy, Junior. Strengths: Can handle a permafrost coring drill with aplomb, speaks French (albeit Quebecois) fluently. Weaknesses: Puppies, peanut butter, sleeping in.

Melissa Battler, Commander. Unofficial title: Skipper. Strengths: Steely gaze, looks cute in hats, can climb anything. Weaknesses: Technology tends to crash in her presence.

Matt Bamsey, Executive Officer (2nd in command). Unofficial titles: Captain Safety, Bam-Bam, Clark Kent. Strengths: Strength. Weaknesses: Too polite by half, has to burn the poo.

Kim Binsted, Chief Scientist. Unofficial titles: Chef, Simmy Kimmy. Strengths: Can make wine, cheese, bread, wireless environmental sensors. Weaknesses: LOST spoilers, Humboldt Fog (a lovely Californian ashed chevre - you should try it).

Kathryn Bywaters, Biologist. Unofficial title: Nunavut's Sweetheart. Strengths: Is actually a machine. Weaknesses: Inability to tell any of her suitors to get lost.

Ryan Kobrick, Engineer and Human Factors Researcher. Unofficial title: Comic Relief. Strengths: MacGuyver skills. Weaknesses: Never has any chewing gum.

James Harris, Chief Engineer. Unofficial title: Space Janitor. Strengths: Computers like him. Can make beer. Enjoys blowing things up. Weaknesses: Computers, beer and blowing things up don't always mix well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Food Update

Now that the vast blocks of orange cheddar have run out, all of our dairy must be produced by hand. Luckily, some of the easiest recipes are the most satisfying: mozzarella, yogurt, queso blanco, etc.

TVP is a challenging raw ingredient, but at least it's malleable. My most successful meal last week was a Chinese dinner with fried rice, spicy stir fried noodles and sprouts, and sweet-and-sour 'meat' balls with pineapple bits. Not bad, if I may say so myself.

We have now have an oven! It's small, so baking large batches is impossible, but I made a perfectly edible apple pie yesterday, as well as pizza:

I've also figured out ice cream - fresh snow mixed with sweetened condensed milk works very well as a base, to which you can add all sorts of flavors.

Finally, and most excitingly, the Aerogardens are now producing wonderful lettuce. The lettuce is delicious, and when combined with sprouts and sundried tomatoes, makes a fantastic salad. We really should have half a dozen Aerogardens, because a group this size could eat a lot more lettuce than two can possibly produce, but even so, some salad is much better than none!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I've been bullied by my crewmates to finally join Facebook. So, now you all need to join, too. 'Cos that's how it works. So off you go.

Go on.

You know you want to.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Factoring Humans

A large part of why we're here is to be subjects in a number of human factors experiments. The experiments are designed both to find out how humans adapt to isolation, crowding and other conditions relevant to long-term space exploration, and to explore remedies for known problems. So, we're measuring, tracking, introspecting, and filling in questionnaires all the time. It's a pain, but worth it (we hope).

Last night, I started my turn as a subject in the CASPER sleep study, which involves sticking electrodes on your chest, plugging them into the LifeShirt you're wearing, plugging the LifeShirt into a PDA, filling out a questionnaire, then having a relaxing night's sleep. Here's me getting wired before bed:

The gear was actually quite comfortable, but the idea that someone is going to be analyzing your vital signs to determine how good you are at losing consciousness can induce a bit of, well, performance anxiety. I didn't lose any sleep over it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A quick tour of the hab

For those of you who aren't webcam stalkers, here's what the hab looks like from the inside:

My room, as decorated by Kathy. Thanks, Kathy! My bed is on the left. Each room is L-shaped, so that your bed is really either the top or bottom half of a bunk. Mine's the top, which is slightly quieter (poor Kathy hears the squeaks and groans of my air mattress every time I roll over), but there is no graceful way to shimmy up the wall.

The kitchen, in all its glory. Note the excellent Aerogardens on top of the cupboard. Recent cooking successes: TVP burgers, 'beef' curry and tabouli, spaghetti and 'meat' balls, pea soup, crockpot chocolate pudding cake, and coconut/oatmeal/chocolate-chip cookies.

The lettuce is almost ready for harvest!

The view from the kitchen, back across the upstairs work area. The staterooms are on the left. Matt and Ryan are hard at work, posing.

We also have a full shelf of sprouts going (mung beans on the left, broccoli sprouts in the middle, and red clover soaking on the right). Anything for fresh veggies.

Heading downladder:

Facing south, downstairs. Mel is having a Zen moment behind the drying socks, doing yoga after her exercise session on the bike. We're subjects in a human factors study which is looking at how regular exercise affects crew psychological well-being, so we're on a pretty strict exercise program.

The EVA prep room, with suits.

The airlock. Before and after each EVA we spend five minutes in here, 'pressurizing' and 'depressurizing'.

The lab area.

En route to the shower and toilet (described, in graphic detail, in an earlier post).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

News from the North
In no particular order:

- The wind outside is 30 knots. It's eerie, because it's a beautiful sunny day, and there are no trees to bend in the wind. The only clues are the the snow flowing over the ground (the edge of the crater is a snow Niagara), the howling hab, and, of course, the -32C wind chill. Check out the movie.

- It's official: I have tenure! Wish I had some champagne...

- We have now have webcams! THRILL at the sight of me sitting at my computer!! GASP as I pause to make tea!!! WONDER as my hair gets slightly dirtier each day, then clean again on Tuesdays!!!!

- I went on my first Devon EVA yesterday, to a spot a few kilometres south of the hab, called Trinity Creek. The creek itself is frozen and invisible under the snow, but there were patches on the southern bank where we could see the yellowish sediments of the Haughton Formation, where we'll be drilling into the permafrost. The EVA went pretty well. I was nice and warm in my many layers of fleece under the suit, and kept my fingers and toes working with chemical heating pads (thanks, Dad!). The only annoyance was that my helmet kept fogging up then freezing, despite the conscientious application of defogger before heading out, making visibility really poor. The only remedy was to blow on it:

'Future' Shop Rant
So, we arrived at FMARS with $100 of printer ink (i.e. two cartridges), only to find that that both the printers are broken. Not surprising, given that printers these days are given away free with a pack of gum, and designed to last as long as the gum's minty fresh flavor.

Not to worry, there's the Internet! As long as we can get a printer to Resolute by June 1, we can get it on our next resupply flight. I found a $45 printer at the Future Shop's online store, which they were willing to ship to Res for a mere $58, and happily ordered it. Then I got the email saying that the credit card holder (i.e. me) has to call their customer service center from my billing number (i.e. my cell phone, which obviously doesn't have reception here) within three days to confirm the order.

I sent an email explaining that I'm at a remote field station, and do not have a phone. I got a friendly form saying they'd be delighted to assist me with my problem, and that I should just call their customer service center for help. I explained again, in simpler terms, and got the same response. I then sent an email that repeated "I HAVE NO PHONE. I NEED A PRINTER." five times, and got a customized (oooh) email saying sorry, but the phone is the only way to do business with the very poorly named 'Future' Shop (have any of you had to confirm an online order on the phone this millenium? I thought not).

So, we'll get the printer somewhere else. Pain in the butt. In the meantime, if any of you feel like tilting at windmills, the Future Shop's customer service number is 1-800-663-2275. Someone really should explain this Internet thing to them, for their own good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mars ho ho ho

According to a comment from my sister-in-law, Gill, my niece Mila has concerns:

"Mila is still wanting more explanation on the Santa angle. She gets that you're not really in space, just pretending, but can't comprehend why you would be so close to Santa and not at least have gone to see him (or his reindeer, or elves..)."

I can't confirm or deny the identity of the people in the photo below, but they certainly look like Santa and one of his elves. They're not in their traditional Christmas outfits, and the beard is a bit too brown (Maybe Santa's fur changes color, like an arctic hare's does), but the similarity is striking:

Gill, if Mila asks about the rifle, you might want to make something up. She's a little young to find out where all those stuffed animals come from...

[Note: the above is a pre-sim image, from a week or so ago.]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sim Day 1

Although we have been working under most of the sim constraints since May 1, today was our first day of full sim. Some of the crew spent last night phoning (on Skype) and chatting with with friends and family (sychronous communications aren't allowed under sim rules); others (including myself) decided it was exactly the wrong time to be thinking about the joys of home, and focussed instead on getting mentally ready for an unusual summer. At 11pm, we went out in what felt like a very cold (-16C) overcast afternoon, to sit on the edge of the crater and feel the air on our skin for the last time in a long while. We passed around a bottle of, um, freeze-resistant distilled water and contemplated the future. Then the sledding and snow-wrestling started.

Having got that out of our systems, we set about sim with gusto this morning. Kathy spent a lot of time setting up her lab, the engineering team tidied the rest of downstairs, and we started to plan out the EVAs. We also had a thorough look at the suits, and found a bit of a mold problem in the packs - nothing that bleach and boiling water can't cure!

I also started some more friendly organisms culturing in the yogotherm, which will hopefully give us some lovely sour cream for tomorrow.

Our crew photo, taken yesterday. Yes, it really was that cold. Guess which one is me!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My new favorite TLA: TVP, for "Textured Vegetable Protein". There is a lot of debate about what foods are sim-kosher (Are canned foods too heavy? Would we be able to bring tilapia, chickens or even miniature goats? etc.), but TVP is as sim as sim gets. It's basically dry processed soy which, when cooked in water, turns into something vaguely meatish, kind of like a cross between shredded wheat and dog food. Today I tackled TVP for the first time, and the crew said the results were not quite as bad as expected.

TVP Curry (serves 7)
4 tbsp duck fat (vegetarians should use something less gorgeously yummy)
1 onion, chopped (this was one of the last of our fresh onions, but I think dried would work almost as well)
2 c beef flavored TVP
1 tbsp beef Bovril
1 c dried broccoli
2 cans whole baby carrots
2 cans mixed vegetables (big chunks if possible)
3 tbsp green curry paste
1/2 c dried coconut
1 can chili (this was leftovers, you could also just add some beans and tomato paste)

Prep the dry stuff: mix the dry ingredients (TVP, broccoli, and coconut) separately with equal amounts of water, and nuke each for five minutes. Meanwhile, saute the onions in the duck fat until translucent. Add the green curry paste and saute for a minute more. Add everything else. Cook until the flavors have blended. Serve with rice, salad and a nice rare steak.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Today is my birthday, so I had a shower! It was a simple process:

1. Gather snow.
2. Fill and light the large propane heater.
3. Melt the snow on the heater.
4. Carry the water up two sets of ladders to the water reservoir.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 until the reservoir is full enough to support the water needs of the hab plus your shower.
6. Turn on the propane tank in the shower room.
7. Turn on the heater that warms the pipes under the shower, so that the drain doesn't get blocked by ice.
8. Turn on the valves on the pipes.
9. Turn on the hot tap in the shower just a little. If you don't, step 10 might cause a steam explosion.
10. Light the propane torch.
11. Light the inline heater.
12. Turn off the propane torch.
13. Get naked, fast.
14. Turn on the shower.
15. Get wet.
16. Turn off the shower, except for that explosion-avoiding trickle.
17. Suds up.
18. Turn on shower.
19. Rinse off.
20. Turn off the inline heater.
21. Turn off the shower.
22. Dry off, fast.
23. Turn off the pipe heater.
24. Turn off the valves.
25. Put on your dirty clothes.

OK, I'll admit that Simon did the bulk of steps 1-5, but it's still quite a process.

Here's me making my share of 'snow soup':

Sunday, May 06, 2007

This intriguing item is the recently constructed 'feminine urinal':

If that doesn't hurt your imagination sufficiently, consider that it is a significant improvement over the previous system, which involved a bucket, a funnel, and a device called a 'Lady Jane'.

All this is in support of our goal of keeping our impact on the Arctic environment to a minimum. Any waste we can't burn, we must collect and take out with us. Hence, the feminine urinal. So now you know.
First injury on Mars! And yes, it was mine.

So, we love the breadmaker. Twice-daily fresh bread goes a long way towards compensating for our culinary deprivations. The only problem is, it is a breadmaker with a one track mind, and if it gets derailed by, say, a power down so that we can change the oil in the generator, we end up with a ball of dough and no oven to cook it in. I've made pan bread with this dough in the past, but today, I decided to try to turn raisin bread dough into jam rolls.

It was all going very well - I had rolled out the dough, spread it with jam, rolled it, cut it, put it in the pan and let it rise again. Problem is, the pan is a plug-in electric skillet, which isn't really ideal for this kind of thing. I did my best, but the bottom of the buns still ended up getting burnt. The tops still tasted fine, so I took a sharp knife and set about cutting of the burnt bits.

And cut off a bit of my finger instead. Sigh.

OK, I'll do my best to stop obsessing about food now. Next topic: toilets!
Check out Ryan's video of the fetching of the snow for the margaritas. Note that there was already a barrel full of snow inside, ready to be melted for fresh water, but the guys felt that that wasn't a manly enough source.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

For Cinco de Mayo, The Devon Island Margarita:

Lime Juice
Fresh snow
No tequila whatsoever, oh no, because we definitely weren't allowed to bring that

The past few days have been sunny and cold, but today was windy and bloody cold: -20 degrees celsius and 20 knot winds, adding up to -35C with wind chill. I decided it was a nice day to think about science indoors. Paul went outside in his utilikilt, because he is certifiable (Matt is sensibly dressed in a fur-lined parka):

Friday, May 04, 2007

I've added some more pictures to earlier posts, so please do scroll down and have a look!
We're still working hard to get everything ready for the start of the simulation, although really, we're mostly 'in sim' already: we're in a small hab in a remote location, dealing with the challenges of living in a hostile environment. We're not wearing the EVA suits yet, but the many layers of insulation necessary in the cold are almost as bulky and restrictive!

I've taken over the kitchen, whether anyone wants me to or not. The meals have been good so far, although our remaining non-sim ingredients (potatoes and onions) have played an important role. Last night, we did our best to make Simon feel at home with a Quebecois meal: pseudo-poutine (fried potatoes with gravy and cheese), Montreal smoked meat, and fried onions with mushrooms. Not exactly low fat, but hey, we need the blubber for insulation.

A challenge for my foodie friends: Potato latkes made with instant mashed potatoes. Recipes please!
May 2nd

Our last night in Resolute, April 30th, was far from restful. In addition to packing and other last-minute scurrying, I had to prepare a presentation for Computer Human Interaction (CHI) 2007, one of the biggest conferences in my field. The original plan had been to stream live video from FMARS, but the advance team says that the bandwidth is currently way too low (4200 baud) to even consider it. They hope to have the higher-speed connection up soon, but I couldn’t count on it being ready in time, so I was up until 4:30am preparing a powerpoint with voiceover, which I sent off before hitting the sack for a brief sleep.

At 7:30am, we were at the Polar Continental Shelf Project facility at the airport, loading up the Twin Otter with as much of our gear as the plane could take. There have already been several flights out to the island carrying supplies and the advance team, and there will be several more, but it’s important to make every flight count.

The flight was only about one hour, over a landscape of nothing but white. The first sight of the hab was very exciting! We buzzed it once, so that Paul and James knew to take the snowmobiles out to meet us, then came in to land. When the skis hit the airstrip, the snow splashed up like water, and we quickly slid to a stop. Here we're unloading 600lbs of boxes onto sleds pulled by snowmobiles:

The rest of the day was spent lugging boxes. The advance team has done a wonderful job getting everything ship-shape, but there was a LOT to move in and set up. By the time hit the sack in the bright light of midnight, we were exhausted. I slept for 13 hours, and wasn’t the last one up by far!

The next day was a bit more relaxed, largely because no one but the advance team was up before noon. I ‘presented’ at CHI, and answered questions via the sat phone – seemed to go well. I also set up the Aerogardens with their lettuce kits, started the sprouts and got the breadmaker working – all essentials for the gastronomic happiness of the crew. I’m particularly excited about the Aerogardens. With any luck, we’ll have lovely fresh salad greens in a few weeks!

Some shots of the area around the hab: