Thursday, January 8, 2009

Of DOM_Testing Disasters

Yesterday I began the training of my replacement. We waited to do our DOM-Dance until 1:30PM when the forklift guys could meet us, so in the morning I ate and worked on corrections to the instructions I had written him. At quarter to 1 we headed out to the OML, I showed him where things are, and we went through the whole process. Starting took longer than usual, not just because he was new to hooking up the DOMs and being overly cautious (breaking the connectors is always a concern, since we don’t have replacements, so it’s smart to be slow at starting) but also because the DOMs we had chosen to use were difficult to access for the forklift—they were next to some snow that wasn’t well packed, so the lift would sink in and look like it was going to be stuck.

But we finished the hook-up, covered the DOMs with their shades, zipped up the tent, and started our tests from the terminal in the OML all in less time than I had expected. From the beginning there was something strange—one of the DOMs wouldn’t communicate properly sometimes. But it seemed as though it would be okay as long as we were careful to be sure it was communicating when we needed it to be, so we went back to the station. Immediately we knew it was a mistake. After about two more tests we had to get back into our gear and go back outside to remove two DOMs from the sled, replace them with two new ones, and start fresh. Again, we went back to the station, and again we discovered a problem pretty quickly. Unfortunately this problem DOM was called Cruden Bay after a famous golf course that the guy we work for really likes. So we left it in at his behest and ended up cursing its existence for the rest of the testing. It threw off all of our tests in ways I have never seen a DOM do before in all the tests I’ve run both here and in Madison—it would stall them in ways they shouldn’t even be able to stall. At one point one of the writers of the scripts looked over my shoulder and was baffled. Many of the tests had to be run by hand—prodded along with a poker just so that they would finish, all for that wretched Cruden Bay! At 1 AM I went to bed, disheartened at the slow pace and concerned that we wouldn’t finish in time for me to leave the morning after tomorrow!

The same slow progress was made the next day. Fortunately there was time enough for Jon Dumm—my replacement—to learn to do the analysis since we did most of it before all the tests were complete. But finally, at the end of the day, we started the last test (which runs for many hours).

I was required to have my bags packed by 7:30 that evening so that I could leave my checked luggage at the bottom of the stairs, to be palletized overnight by the cargo people. In the morning I had showered my last shower so my towels could dry, and that evening I took one last trip to the store at 6, ate some dinner, and then dug into this daunting task. I discovered that in the space I have in my room (width = 1 twin bed + space to open door, length = 1 twin bed + space to open door) it is rather difficult to get organized. You can’t put your luggage on the floor and still open the door, but you can’t put it on the chair and still open the drawers to the dresser! So packing was a neat trick, but I finally managed to get two checked bags worth of things, with one carry-on bags’ worth separated out (I was very careful to include the items for my shower at McMurdo in my carry-on bags this time!) . I also put aside the 50-or-so postcards that I had, of course, neglected to write until the last minute. Around midnight I began the process of writing them, and around 3 AM I finally finished. I was watching the deployment webpage again that evening, wondering if the day shift would be needed in the morning—I was excused, of course, but my replacement DOM-tester would have to go and then I wouldn’t have time to show him how to unhook. It’s not so hard, and I have the utmost confidence in my typed instructions but it’s easier to show than to explain. In this way, yet another night passed without much sleep.

In the morning I attended the meeting where it was announced that the NSF had finally approved us for 19 strings this season instead of 16. This is fantastic news! We are ahead of schedule, under budget, and under our fuel allotment, which basically never happens in large physics experiments (here I give another nod to Jerry Marty, the retired NSF guy who helped us develop our plan). The NSF could have taken our excess money and fuel and given it to someone else, but fortunately they agreed to recognize our great effort this year and grant it back to us—good thing since the drillers, who have been working ‘round the clock (except on New Year’s Eve) to get so far ahead, would have been really disappointed. (So would the rest of us.) They are all very proud of their accomplishments, as they should be. I am proud of the DOM-Testers’ accomplishments as well: the previous guys got us on track, and Jens and I pushed us quite far ahead by testing through the holidays, so now Jon only really has two sets of DOMs to test on his own (of course he’ll have to put everything away, which is a huge task, but with extra time we’ve made up it will be easier to do it right, which means that next year they’ll be able to get a fast start). It has been good to be a part of something that has been so successful—and everyone has been integral to that success. It’s a great feeling.

As soon as the meeting was finished I put Jon to work finishing up the analysis and making a checklist and a deployment list while I began the task of pulling my room apart: sheets in the pillowcase outside the door; floor vacuumed; trash sorted; drawers cleaned out. Everything must be done or they might not let me board my flight! Before I was finished Jon was finished, so we went out for the unhook around 9. It took us only a little over an hour, but I still had to eat something and sort my trash before the plane arrived, so I didn’t take time for more hero shots at the pole, which I was hoping to do. In fact, there are a bunch of things I had thought about doing that I ended up just plain running out of time for. It is unfortunate. I guess I’ll just have to come back somehow!

By the time my plane arrived I managed to fully educate Jon as to the ways of DOM-testing, which was my goal and is a big relief, so now I can travel at my leisure. Whew, what a lot of work here at the end!

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