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Saturday, August 6th, 2016
11:16 pm - Half-way through...
Today marks the halfway point of another HMP field season, my 18th. It feels familiar... yet continues to change, both in the climate and facility here and the group I'm with. Weather has improved today, clear and a bit warmer. Last week's bad weather left us stranded for 4 days in Resolute, so even though this is the midpoint travel-wise it is just 1/4 through the time on Devon. I hit my "wall" on Friday and am feeling better now.

Wed. evening we arrived and put up our tents in the drizzle... Friday we put up the tents and generator in the crater at Drill Hill, with snow flurries. And began drilling tests. Today the drill misbehaved, first with a bad motor controller and then what sounds like a broken hammer camshaft.

There are ten people here, up from the past few summers but still fewer than the 25-30 we had back in the 2000s. Well-fed, since my project bought most of the supplies. And online since my project likewise provides the satcom and local safety radios.

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Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
8:55 pm - setting up on Devon Island
Well... After a 4 day delay in Resolute, we made it over to Devon Island. Bit of a bumpy landing, but ok. We ate a meal, newbies were oriented, and then as the mist rolled in we pitched our tents. Now we can dry off and get going... No email yet, this is via satphone.

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Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
11:04 am - Still waiting in Resolute...
After being in Resolute since Saturday evening... one planeload
got in to HMP on Sunday morning. Then the weather worsened, and we were
stuck here for the rest of Sunday and Monday. Today the weather is
better, but we are now considered standby in favor of the groups with
today's charter bookings, basically a backlogged flight. So, no planes
available to us, while we continue to sit. Possibly we will get a chance
late this afternoon. Tonight… the weather is predicted to worsen again.

Meanwhile, I've shown the newbies Resolute, we've gone to the post
office and the Coop store, taken short hikes. As well as work on papers
and proposals. But this will likely deepen the us-them psychology
between the "Pascal group" that made it in Sunday, vs the "Brian team"
still here.

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Monday, June 20th, 2016
2:05 pm - State of being...
Annual physical completed... eyesight 20/30 or 20/40. hearing at 1995 levels, bloodwork results show cholesterol in the 180s, ratios excellent, glucose fine, STIs clear, weight stable, blood pressure still a bit elevated but not enough to flag me. Cleared for another year of extreme environments as well as FAA 3rd class.

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Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
5:03 pm - ARADS project releases - NASA
http://www.nasa.gov/feature/ames/nasa-tests-life-detection-drill-in-earth-s-driest-place
http://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/ames/atacama-rover-astrobiology-drilling-studies-sampling-pit
http://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/ames/atacama-rover-astrobiology-drilling-studies-pseudo-rover
https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/ames/atacama-rover-astrobiology-drilling-studies-night-falls

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Sunday, February 28th, 2016
8:54 pm - Atacama notes...
Adapt to local work patterns and conditions. Regular meal times were good for coordination. But given the heat (and desiccating wind, starting in the afternoon) we should follow the local examples, work 9-2pm then a 3 hour break before picking up again 5-8pm until dinner. Put most of the effort into the mornings, when the conditions are more tolerable.

Tie down and anchor the portapotties, so they aren't blown over again by dust devils. Euw.

Get a base station with a VHF/UHF antenna on a mast, so we can get more than 8km range on our handheld radios.

Auto-updates when on wifi by phones and laptops causes massive data usage overnight, wiping out every block of data purchased. If we don't have Ka-band, then severely restrict net access.

Chilean customs is fastidious and expensive and in no hurry. Expect 2-4 weeks just to clear basic items on a carnet or as a temporary import. Expect lots of nit-picking about how to exactly format where weights and values go (top, bottom, besides) on any given listing.

Don't put on a carnet anything that can be easily broken, lost, or kept in country afterwards.

Ask for bulk shipments to be dropped at the field site.

Need better chairs, not flimsy plastic shells that collapse.

More fans? a refrigerator, 110V 2kW generator, large nitrile exam gloves?

Staggering the science team with the instrument team worked very well, both in building cohesion and morale among the subgroups and the whole team, without overwhelming the logistics for more than a few days. It fostered spontaneous investigations and ideas.

Next year, maybe the rover team gets staggered as a third group?

Having running (non potable) water and mains power was really, really helpful. Maybe get a water tanker or large delivery next year -- running back and forth to Antofagasta for 6x 5gal carboys every evening was a distraction.

Having a fixed, shaded structure in the hot afternoons was valuable for both crew health and workspace.

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Friday, February 26th, 2016
8:19 pm - Wrapup of field season...
Just released this afternoon...

NASA Tests Life-Detection Drill in Earth's Driest Place:
http://www.nasa.gov/feature/ames/nasa-tests-life-detection-drill-in-earth-s-driest-place

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Saturday, February 6th, 2016
11:03 pm - Away to South America for a month...
After a few years of reproposing it, last March I received notice that my combined field science/drill/rover tech demo project had won funding. We will deploy and test to the Atacama Desert in Chile, the driest place on Earth, to study ways of drilling down to and detecting microbes in an environment analogous in many ways to parts of Mars. It will culminate after 4 years with a simulated autonomous rover mission, with a drill, arm, and carrying 4 life-detection instruments.

This year is the first set of tests... no rover, 2 of 4 instruments, an earlier model of Mars-prototype drill (test software and generate samples to test instruments) and a lot of baseline field science. Over the past 6 weeks, I've been largely absorbed in the logistics of getting 24 people to a remote location, with test equipment, dealing with hazmat, customs, safety, food, water, portapotties, etc.

Yesterday I left California behind and headed south, overnight into Santiago this morning. I will head tomorrow to Antofagasta and the desert. Testing and field science will run to the 24th. Then some personal time off (Galapagos) and business at JSC in Houston will mean I won't get home until March 6, gone a month.

Oddly, once I got on the plane, I relaxed... as though I'd done all I could and now had to just go with it.

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Saturday, November 21st, 2015
10:45 am - Any redeeming social value?
Today I read a link from a friend-of-friend regarding one of these "modern manhood" organizations (The Man Kind Project), one that conducts "New Warrior Training Adventure" weekends. "We're looking for men who want to be powerful Leaders and Role Models." I found myself reflexively making a gagging gesture at the screen. The last thing society needs are more entitled, controlling, preening self-promoting guys having pissing contests with one another and trying to dominate anyone not in their club. "Men ready to take real risks and step into their full power." Really? They should just do what is true and meaningful for them (like any other person), deal with the risks, make stuff happen and STFU about it. Accomplishment needs to be self-motivating.

Granted, I have a chip on my shoulder, more like a 2x4 sometimes. From age 7-16 I was bullied and harassed (and even once sexually assaulted) by my male peers. I learned quickly that (in my experience) my own gender is/was not trustworthy or generally worth the trouble of getting to know better. And that many men seemed to me to be overly aggressive, predatory and/or clueless jerks. So I tend to write off my own half of the human race as too flawed or too dangerous. Growing up, the girls were neutral, so in later life nearly all my friends (particularly close ones) are women. Even in the workplace, I tend to prefer working with women as colleagues, staff, or my bosses, as I feel they are likely to be smarter, have better social skills, and less attitude than their male counterparts. Really, In my view guys have little really to recommend ourselves, besides greater brute strength.

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Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
6:04 pm - Thoughts on disclosure dynamics...
I have been told that I can be, or have been, a scary person to whom to disclose edgy or unpleasant things. That my (negative) reaction sometimes has been out of proportion to the significance of the thing being disclosed, or that the fear of my reaction has led some people to tell me as little as ethically possible and/or at the last possible moment. Or even telling me *after* some fact, defiantly to me.

This doesn't generally lead to a good relationship or friendship or workplace dynamic. Springing on me partial or incomplete truths, or at the last moment, out of fear of my reaction... helps make more likely the feared negative Jay-reaction. Granted, I have my buttons... but the easiest way to work through them and let go is with advance warning, ideally long enough (before the disclosure becomes relevant) for me to calm down and let go and ask for reassurances if I feel I need them.

But for some people, that seems to require some way to safely tell me "hard truths".

(Even when *really* upset, BTW, I don't generally scream, yell, swear, or break things... my usual M.O. is to just withdraw, and not interact for awhile with the other person(s). Emotional cutoff, flight rather than fight. This drives some Northerners nuts, though.)

Looking for a way to make personal disclosures "safer"... as an experiment, possibly adapting the "Withhold" script. That might look something like:

(a) The person disclosing might say, "Jay, I have a [Level 1-5] disclosure/thing to discuss, are you willing to hear it?" ; where [Level 1-5]… is based on the internal trepidation of the *disclosing* person, 1 being minor, 5 being life-changing. Or use color codes, or something. (the receiving person may, of course, not receive the news at the same level, up or down)

(b) Then, if I lack spoons, I might say, "not yet, could we discuss it later?" But assuming I say OK (consenting), then the person says whatever it is, I then say simply "thank you".
No response on my part.

(c) I may then ask, "would you like to hear my response or feelings? ", but the discloser can choose to say "no" or "not now" and stop the thread... or they can choose to listen. But that makes it safer overall, in that they won't get involuntarily dumped on in reaction. Even if the recipient is upset, they have to just nod and drop it, at least unless/until they ask to bring it up sometime later on.

Thoughts? Improvements?

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Friday, August 14th, 2015
12:40 am - Sampling weather excels :)
This field season has two main science goals: gain another annual set of trace gas samples from previously-placed monitoring shafts, and carefully sample the soil at the same areas as 2007 and 1999 (pre-occupancy) surveys, to study how or if humans have brought and spread our own microbes. The former pertains to future Mars life detection, the latter to assessing how much a human presence might forward-contaminate Mars.

I've been doing the gas sampling, Pascal the soil samples. We are done with the latter now, and only lack one on the second round of the former. Weather has cooperated -- it has been lovely, clear and low 40s. This is making up for the last two years of my complaining about bad field season weather. ;-)

Tomorrow... close up camp and head back to Resolute, just a 6-day season.

current mood: cheerful

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Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
11:51 am - Short but pleasant thus far...
Despite last minute surprises in Resolute (Pascal added a reporter from a kids' channel, who had been on their "Students on Ice" cruise together) we adapted and headed out here on Sunday evening. Then worked five hours opening up camp, until exhausted we had dinner at 11pm.

Monday I spent the morning bringing up the safety radios and repeater, then tried unsuccessfully to get first the old satellite ground station, then the new one running. But we also weren't sure if we would have to be pulled-out on Wednesday (3 days?!) or Friday (someone had the available aircraft booked solid Thursday for a week). If the earlier date, it did not seem worth much effort bringing up net access, so I shelved it and went out to get trace gas samples. These are a follow-up to the past two years' worth, part of a methane and oxygen isotope study by Lisa Pratt at Indiana University, she is looking at ways to differentiate living and non-living sources of trace gasses for future Mars life-detection. On Monday I couldn't find the shaft Bolek had installed last year above base camp, so I gave up and then went with Karen and Keith (media) out to Haynes Ridge and the hydrothermal vent site past Trinity Lake. Their first serious ATV traverses... they did very well. Tuesday I found a photo from last year and got the sample from Bolek's site.

Yesterday morning we heard that the guy who reserved the charter plane would like to bring his family out here and visit us Friday, then bring us all back, so we have our later pullout. Whew, as closing up today would have meant not getting some samples and rushing frenetically. One set of soil samples in 2007 was taken from Gemini Hills, a breccia outcrop area > one hour's ride away. I opted to (alone) stay behind and go to Drill Hill to pick up the muddy wood we'd left there last summer... I carried a slung shotgun and a radio, and know the area very well.

Back at camp, I had several hours to myself before the other four returned, so I went up the hill and got the satellite acquired and locked and a parabolic wifi antenna pointed downhill at base camp. And made BBQ chicken, cheesy home fries and glazed carrots for dinner in time when everyone returned by 9pm.

We are sleeping in-camp in the work tents, since there are only five of us this year. Weather is lovely by Devon Island standards, sunny and mid-40s with little wind. Compared to the mud and flooding last year, or the high snow drifts in 2013, this is dry and easy. :-)

current mood: cheerful

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Saturday, August 8th, 2015
1:02 am - A glimpse of history, amid field preparation
Today I was in Ottawa with KS, getting field supplies and provisions which we will check as baggage en route to Resolute, hopefully tomorrow. It went smoothly, and we were essentially done by 3pm. Flight to Iqaluit isn't until 9am Saturday, so we had the late afternoon to ourselves and went over to the Canadian History Museum in Gatineau, across the river in Quebec.

I saw first-peoples exhibits, stamps... and an exhibit on the 30 years leading up to the Confederation of Canada, 1837-67. I did not know that there was essentially a civil war, a rebellion in 1837-38 against the aristocratic-dominated political system in place then. As well as an economic crash.

This now makes sense of some things in my own family history. My grandmother Viola's grandfather Brown was born in southeastern Quebec in 1832, his parents' families had come there from New Hampshire and Massachusetts in the 1810s. They apparently did fine... until mysteriously something happened around 1837-38 and they fled back south and settled in Vermont, Eventually moving to Kansas in the 1850s. Some family members stayed in Quebec, and a couple show up in both the US and Canadian census records as having dual residences into the 1870s. So today I learned something new that perhaps sheds light into that mystery... after the rebellion was quashed, families with American connections were viewed with suspicion by the Tories who reasserted their dominance for another 10-15 years. Hence a young couple moving back to Vermont...

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Tuesday, April 21st, 2015
7:11 am - Happy birthday!
To geekchick, who is dear to me, may you have a pleasant birthday today!

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Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
1:21 pm - Happy 21st David!
Happy birthday to my son David, who is 21 as of today! I admire and respect the challenges he's overcome to get where he is today in school and socially. :-)

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Saturday, March 7th, 2015
10:02 am - A proposal win!
Yesterday afternoon I was grumpy after getting an email notice from NASA's proposal-management system, "A decision has been reached regarding your PSTAR proposal." Generally, the PI's of winning proposals get a congratulatory phone call from the relevant NASA program manager... I checked my phone, saw no call, and assumed the worst. And was kind of cranky with cyan_blue when I reached Atlanta yesterday afternoon. I let go of it in the evening, as it was my brother Coby's birthday party and I've lost on lots of proposals before.

At 2am there was an email from a co-investigator on my team, urging me to check the database as it looked like we were selected... and we were! A win! And for a large research grant, to essentially create over 4 years a Mars-analog rover mission with flight-mature astrobiology instruments, and take it to the Atacama Desert in Chile for testing. Our team colloquially called it "the 2024 brassboard" internally.

This particular proposal had been submitted twice before -- both times near-misses, it had been "selectable" but never funded. This time it made it past that threshold. And so I get to bring this team together and towards future Mars exploration, hopefully.

After the past year of rolling with various shocks, it is great to have a pleasant surprise!

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Saturday, February 7th, 2015
12:17 pm - A year of facing mortality
A year ago, I was contemplating anniversaries, things which had changed my life profoundly in relationships and in how I interact with others . My quote was "February 7 is dear to my heart."

Later that day, I had a close brush with death, as my car was T-boned by a speeding driver running a red light under rainy conditions. My reflexes (and a fast car) saved me, as I accelerated far enough that the impact point was the left rear tire rather than the driver's door. It totaled my black Mustang, parts of which were then salvaged to combine with my current red Mustang. I was battered and bruised and still have some left knee pain. The other driver (in his 70s) hired a law firm and threatened/cajoled the eyewitnesses and claimed the light was yellow, escaping full responsibility.

A week later on Valentine's Day, my father Jack, who was on warfarin after a stroke the previous year, fell while fetching the newspaper, developed a breath-blocking hematoma and nearly died then. I spent the evening trading calls with my brother Coby back in Atlanta, outside the restaurant where patgreene and I had gone. Dad then spent a month in ICU, a month in rehab hospice, was released in late April. I was with Pat again in Mendocino celebrating her birthday and got a text from Coby, "he's lost the will to live, won't last a week, you need to come home". I went, a couple days later, and tried to help out. And again in June (with the boys, Father's Day) and September (his birthday, a surprise) and November. Dad stabilized and improved somewhat and got the feeding tube out over the summer, even went to the beach. But over the holidays, had a mild second stroke, but developed pneumonia in the hospital and didn't bounce back this time, passing on January 1. Both Pat and Geri went to Georgia with me and supported me there, and tenacious_snail offered.

My mother-in-law Eloise Greene was one of the nicest people I've ever known. She also helped Pat and I raise the boys when they were small and we had no local friends or community here... she would come and live with us for a month at a time. Twice over, when Pat's C-section (after Kevin) ripped open and required home nursing care for two months. Her banana pudding was famous, and she loved and respected me. She laid down for a nap on Mother's Day and didn't wake up. I did my best to support Pat and her siblings at the funeral and after.

In childhood and my teen years I was taunted and beaten and abused by my peers. Boys were dangerous and often hostile, not to be trusted. Girls were neutral and stayed out of the abuse. Consequently, 95% of my close friends in adulthood are female. In terms of other men around whom I could be vulnerable or express myself openly, the only ones were my father, my brother Coby, and Rob Firester, whom I met at MIT, was my best man at my wedding with patgreene and was the only male non-relative whose company I actively sought. A redhead like myself, Rob developed melanoma three years ago, had gone through a series of treatments, and died on 30 October, exactly 34 years after Rob had set up Pat and I to meet at a party at Wellesley College. anaisdjuna met me in Atlanta and supported me at the funeral.

This summer field season in the Arctic at Haughton Crater was colder than usual and very wet and muddy. There were only five of us in camp, and it was more of a challenge than usual. Exhausted, we beat low ceilings and bad weather and made it back to Resolute only a couple of days late on 4 August. Whereupon back on the grid, I got the news, relayed from a former OSO, that my LDR partner Ara Easley had died unexpectedly, in her sleep two days after having routine neck disc-replacement surgery. She was 41. And apparently my date with her in late June, while in Pasadena for drill tests, was her last with anyone. Ara and I had had a bumpy relationship, on and off over the years with some happy and some difficult times. But I had not lost a partner before. I arrived home on August 7 and left a day later for her funeral, accompanied by patgreene.

That's four loved ones lost over the past year, and a close call myself. I've spent periods of the past year depressed and seeing the world in shades of grey. It has affected my demeanor at work (cranky and brittle) and around the kids at home (likewise). There have been other challenges... David withholding disclosure of bad school performance, Kevin not getting into the colleges he wanted, the house being flooded (when we returned from Georgia on 12/31, there were several inches of water across most of the house due to a broken toilet... I spent 36 hours frantically cleaning and drying and doing remediation, fell asleep afterwards only to be woken by Kevin with news of Dad's death). Pat's month-long struggle with pneumonia in April. Even the used motorcycle I bought for $850 turned out to need $1200 of repairs, caused by botched maintenance by the prior owner and fraudulently covered up at the time of the sale.

I used to expect things would turn out all right in the end, if we kept moving forwards. Lately instead I've felt dread and expectations of disaster, "what's next?". Bracing for unspecified bad news. Ongoing low-level stress and depression. I've also gained ten pounds and my blood pressure is up 15 points, despite exercise.

There were some happy moments over the past year. But more and darker loss and grief. February 7 is no longer an unalloyed happy anniversary. It has been a tough year.

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Thursday, January 1st, 2015
9:44 pm - Dad's passing... today.
My daddy is gone. He passed away about two hours ago in Marietta... Coby and my mom were there at the time. He had recovered largely from a mild stroke on 12/22, but the subsequent pneumonia continued to worsen.

I saw him for the last time 48 hours ago in person. I thought then that it was likely goodbye, but still hoped he could stabilize and bounce back, as he'd done over the past 20 years (quintuple bypass, COPD with < 18 months left (went 11 years), first stroke, throat injury and bleeding after fall, and now this second stroke... he was tough, and beat the odds already in the past, so why not again?). I came back to CA with Pat and Geri and David and Kevin, as planned. And have then spent the past 30 hours dealing with my flooded house upon arrival here.

Even though this wasn't unexpected, the reality is still a shock. I'm dazed and hurting.

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Sunday, December 21st, 2014
11:02 am - 2014 beds...
Unless something radically changes, these are the 41 places where I've laid my head over the past year:

Mountain View, CA
San Leandro, CA
Harbin Hot Springs, CA
Pasadena, CA
Cocoa Beach, FL
The Woodlands, TX
Beaumont, TX
Bend, OR
Mendocino, CA
Austell, GA
St Petersburg, FL
Orlando, FL
Monterey, CA
Monrovia, CA
Woodland Hills, CA
Santa Clara, CA
Ottawa
Iqaluit, Nunavut
Resolute, Nunavut
Devon Island, Nunavut
Valencia, CA
Ukiah, CA
Minneapolis, MN
Edina, MN
Memphis, TN
Madrid
Nerva, Andalusia
Salema, Portugal
Lisbon
Malibu, CA
Santa Rosa, CA
Alexandria, VA
Washington, DC
Independence, MO
Topeka, KS
St Louis, MO
Landover, VA
Geyserville, CA
Healdsburg, CA
Sacramento, CA
Novato, CA

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Sunday, November 30th, 2014
9:57 pm - Thanksgiving weekend remodel project
Over the weekend... finished a bathroom mini-remodel. Removed the pedestal sink in the main bathroom, the light fixtures, and the rusty medicine cabinet. Removed a section of wall and confirmed that we have a local infestation of drywood termites behind the shower. Donned bunny suit and protective gear and sprayed 0.25% imidacloprid/Premise in the walls. Then put the wall back up. Today I had to open up the walls again to fix a plumbing issue. Did more termite spraying while I was in there. The neonicotinoids aren't terribly toxic to humans or animals... a version of imidacloprid is the active ingredient of Advantage flea treatment for pets. (Penwiper, you're overdue...) It is terrible for bees, in agricultural uses, but I don't want those in my house's walls anyway.

Still, now we have nice new fixtures and I put up waterproof contact "paper" (vinyl) over the most water damaged/discolored areas of the walls, after spraying and replacing.

I also put up our outdoor holiday lights (despite the rain), rearranged the living room and hung pictures. And went out to a fun party Saturday night, so wasn't completely domestic.

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