Monday, 26 September 2011



Over the last few days I have been learning a lot about powers of two.

1 Generator
2 UDU's
4 server rack's
8 Jet Powers
16 CPDU's
128 Panels
256 RF Cables
512 PCU wires
4096 AEU's
and more...

Equals 1 AMISR!

This thing has a LOT of parts! It has struck me as I have been working here how phenomenal it is to see this project come together and to have the opportunity to participate in constructing it. The work of many hands (and machines) has finally resulted in a very large scientific instrument sitting in Resolute Bay with the University of Calgary's name on it, very cool. It is going to be a special moment when we finally get to see it turn on.

Izuzu 75kW twinns that power the OCC

I arrived in Resolute a few days before Mike left and have been occupying my time with various different tasks. My first job was to drill holes in the sides of the UDU's so that we could pass the panel power cables through the wall to the breaker panel. 128...127...126...125...124... I soon realized that no-one wanted this job because it sucked! But hey, I'm game to give anything a try. The interior set of holes took ~ 1.5 days to complete (I think I set a speed record...seriously) and the exterior holes took ~ 20 minutes, stainless vs mild steel, mild steel wins. It was a good thing that I remembered to throw in an extra set of hole saws when I left Calgary since every single one on site was toast. There was no cutting oil on site either so we made use of some used gen set oil as a substitute, it worked not too bad but smelled awful when it heated up. Lesson learned, when cutting stainless use lots of cutting fluid and lots of pressure!

With that job out of the way and the good natured insults flying freely (its hard to keep up with the RKO boys...and Mike) I went over to see what I could do to help Perry the Electrician. He was working on tying in the 460V 3Phase power that comes from the big gen set (we call it...Leviathon). Now to get a picture of what this involves, think three guys using a sledge hammer and brute force trying to push copper cables that are thicker than my thumb through a hole that looks far too small. It really set things into perspective seeing the size of cable required to provide enough power to this radar! The main gen set cables that feed the breakout box in the generator building are bigger than my wrist!

The wind started to pick up on the second day and the next task was to head up to the top floor to help Mike terminate power cables at each PCU, 128....127...126...125 all the way down to the last one. Most of the tasks that go into this radar are pretty repetitive and so it can be difficult to remain focused and not to make any mistakes. We were able to finish the top floor that day and then Mike flew home the next day leaving me to finish the other 3 floors of PCU terminations on my own...some manager hey? Leave when the going get's tough! (It's Ok Mike I am sure Linda was very happy to see you). Simple tasks become much more time consuming when you are sitting up 4 stories high and the wind is blowing at 80 km/hr. Each PCU (128) has 4 terminations inside of it and takes ~ 15 minutes to properly complete..512..511..510..509.... By the end I was getting pretty good at this task and was managing to do ~20 PCU's a day with everything else that was going on.

Terminating Cables in a PCU

Resolute is an amazing place, the desolation is incredible and just looking around gives you a sense of how small we actually are in this universe. The RISR-C site is in a low spot and on some of the days when the weather is bad, it is quite impossible to determine where the land ends and where the sky begins. You feel like you are in a white bubble trapped in time and space.

Earl's Cooking, now that's a steak worthy of an Albertan!

After Mike left (he got out just in time) we had two more days of high winds (gusting to 120km/hr) before the big blow set in. The RKO crew was scheduled to fly out on the Thursday after Mike left and Jarrett was supposed to fly in the same day. This didn't go as planned as the blizzard set in and we all ended up stuck in the hotel for 2 solid days while Mother Nature blew herself out. All you could hear at night was the steady 120km/hr winds blowing outside the was only 0degC but the wind chill was severe. I remember looking out the window after lunch one day and seeing someone walking back across the parking lot get their feet blown right out from underneath them.

Jarrett arrived on Saturday once the planes were able to begin flying again and was just in time to help me finish off the second deck of PCU terminations before moving onto the bottom row, fingers are COLD!

Well with that power of two out of the way it is time to move onto 256...the RF cables. Each panel has a Transmit and Receive input which feeds to an 8way power divider. The RKO crew had already run most of these cables so Jarrett and I worked away and finished the first and second deck that they didn't complete before leaving. We discovered that the technique which worked the best was to have Jarrett stay on the deck attaching the cables to the splitter and to have me sitting in the cable tray working across and reaching up to attach each cable. This symbiotic relationship really worked quite well, except that Jarrett kept complaining that his hands were cold.... what do you expect for someone who just came from the bahama's, I mean Calgary...just kidding, its great to have him here to represent for the U of C. We're having a great time working on the newest and biggest Auroral Imaging Group toy (did I mention that this thing is COOL!).

Working hard laying RF cables


Ohh yeah I forgot, the Generator! On Wednesday we got a special treat, the SRI group was scheduled to turn on the North Face for 2 days to take data for world day. This was very exciting since that meant that I would get to be the first U of C person to see one of these Radar's operate. Turning on the radar by the way means starting up the 1MW (catch that...MEGA Watt) generator (AKA really really big diesel engine with a spinny thing on the back). This development was very exciting, and very noisy. Once again I was put in my place to realize how amazing it is that all of these little bits and pieces combine to make something so large (and hopefully useful!).

Regarding the generator and operation of the north face, suffice to say that it was worth the wait.

Looking through to the North Face while working on the south face.

We'll I think I have written enough now to satisfy the avid readers (aka Mike, my boss, who can't stand being in the WARM south, but would rather be back up here in the COLD north) so I'm going to go to bed. We'll be spending the next two days terminating the other end of the PCU wires inside the UDU's..512..511..510..509..508..after which time we will have run out of parts and work and so will fly back home having paid our dues and made our mark on RISR-C.

Lessons Learned

From the comfort of my cozy office back in Calgary I thought I would ponder some of the lessons I learned during the installation of RISR-C in Resolute Bay.
  1. Pepsi does not taste better when it costs $126 for 24 cans. Seriously, on the first day in Resolute one of the RKO boys (who shall remain nameless in case his wife is reading this) went into town and paid $126 for a two-four of Pepsi at the Coop. This might seem pricey, but considering the critical role Pepsi played in our survival it was probably worth it (nobody wants to sit around drinking straight rum). Of course when Pepsi costs this much, you don't want to waste too much in your drink so the rum was flowing like a river.
  2. You haven't lived until you have shared your lip balm with an iron worker. Before you get any strange ideas, it was the 'stick your finger into the pot' kind of lip balm, not the 'put it on like lipstick' kind. Still, this level of intimacy with a construction worker was not a part of my plans when I got on the plane. It was so dry up here the first week it was incredible. My shower couldn't fog the mirror in the bathroom no matter how long I ran it (frankly, on Sunday morning after having a few of the aforementioned Pepsi's I am amazed any of us could "fog a mirror").
  3. When the going gets cold, go home and let Cody and Jarrett take over. I left Resolute Bay on the last flight out before a huge storm that canceled flights and scheduled work. It is now -10 C up there and Cody and Jarrett are slaving away. It was over 30 C in Calgary this weekend and I wore shorts the entire time. I think I am winning ...
  4. Never let an ex-hippie play your guitar. Perry, our "man on the scene" tends to get a little musically rambunctious. After spending 15 minutes trying to tune his guitar he broke the neck off. No big deal, a couple of lag bolts and some epoxy and it is as good as new. There is also a 'communal' guitar that kicks around the hotel and it has been reported that during the storm he drop kicked through the ceiling. Take that Hendrix.
  5. There are two kinds of cooks, and both are dangerous in their own ways. On my last visit to Resolute the food was inedible. We would barely fill our plate, throw most of that away and spend all of our time complaining about hunger pains. Imagine my joy when I discovered that this time the cook could cook! It was crazy, Earl used these funky newfangled things call "spices". Wow! After every meal we would groan and swear that next meal we would eat less. This never happened. I saw Spanky load up a plate with 30 Cod nuggets, 1/2 a pound of french fries and then smile at Earl and say 'This is all I am having today". Turns out that 20 days of eating this mouthwatering food 3 meals a day had some highly predictable side effects.

Until next time ...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Shift Change

The last few days have been very busy, and of course the blog is always the one that suffers. With the UDU's in place, RKO has installed the cables trays that connect the radar to the UDUs, and started running the power cables. This is a major undertaking as there is a large power cable that runs to each panel (that is 121 if you are keeping score). While this was going on backup arrived in the form of Cody. Phew, thank goodness. On Cody's first day we got him drilling holes in the UDUs with a dull hole saw. Almost as good as some of the practical jokes RKO has played on me (last night when I went to go to bed my bed was gone). I started terminating the power cables at the panels (121 panels, 4 conductor cable ... major ouch).

I am flying home tomorrow, so Cody and/or Jarrett will take over and continue the saga. Enjoy.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

UDU Voodoo

We have moved the UDUs (Utility Distribution Units) into position at the base of the south structure and are starting to work on connecting them to the radar. The UDUs need to be levelled, connected to power (from two different generators) and have cable trays run to them to hold the cabling from the panels. This would all be relatively straight forward if we weren't in the middle of a mini-blizzard. I spent the day in an unheated UDU, working in the dark on a floor that was a slippery as a sheet of ice ... and I had by far the best working environment on the crew.

Moving the UDUs to the base of the south structure.

Installing cable trays in the cold, windy north.

I don't know what these things are, but they grow like crazy up here. There must be 8000 of them at the site.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Keeping Up With The Joneses

After installing our 114 shinny new AMISR panels we sat back to admire our handy work. We glanced across the street at the neighbours and admired their 128 panels. Then we looked at our 114 panels again. Then we got to thinking about this inequity. Well the next thing you know we are over at the north face with a crane pulling RISR-N panels and putting them on RISR-C. Now each radar as 121 panels and everyone is happy (we really had to restrain ourselves, but we managed to stop before we took an extra panel or two). The end result is that now RISR-N and RISR-C are identical twins instead of fraternal twins (only their mother can tell them apart).

Extracting one of 7 panels from RISR-N

RISR-C in all its glory (it is missing a few Antenna Element Units on the bottom row).

Sunday, 11 September 2011

114 Panels

We a bit of a shindig last night at Narwhal, there were 3 guitars, a cake and a giant plate of nachos. There may also have been a wee dram of rum involved. It was a little hard to get rolling this morning, but we ended up having a nice day. All 114 new panels are now on the Canadian structure! The weather held and it was quite a pleasant day with no major hick-ups at all. It was also steak night at Narwhal and Earl (the cook) broke out the BBQ. Yum.

Luke and Mike at panel liftoff with the mostly populated Canadian face in the background (we are not just wearing sunglasses to look cool, which we do, but also because the sun actually came out!).

Yesterday there was a very cold wind blowing so Luke made a wind break out of the empty panel shipping crates which are used as garbage cans. This worked really well until you tried to throw some garbage in them at which point the wind threw the garbage back into you face. Of course this was endlessly entertaining for the rest of us.

The Canadian face with 112 of 114 new panels installed. Note the windbreak at the bottom of the photo.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Blue Hands

Yesterday we flew panels all day. Unpack a crate, lay the panels out, put on the dipoles and crane them up into place. Things are progressing very nicely and the weather was very pleasant. We even some some sunshine for the first time since arriving.

Attaching Dipoles to the panels.

Despite the relative warmth, my hands turned blue while working today. The why of this a little complicated. It turns out that for some reason the passenger seat in the RKO van got very wet (its a mystery) just before they drove back to Narwhal for lunch. This mysterious occurrence was attributed to me for some reason, most likely because it was me. So Luke spent the afternoon following me around with a bottle of blue chalk-line chalk waiting for me to put my gloves down. For three hours every time I took them off I put them in my pockets, until ...

We are using 2 little GoPro cameras to document this undertaking, and getting some astounding time lapse movies. I attached one to the crane for an afternoon and today we attached it to the stretcher bars that are used to lift a panel, so the camera was flying around the sky. Good fun. Other than the practical jokes and playing with the GoPro, there is not much to report.

Taken with GoPro camera mounted to the stretcher bars on the crane.