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18 January 2010 @ 09:00 pm
MDRS-88 sol 10: Snow Day  
Woke up this morning to snow! A light dusting of snow on the ground and just a bit in the air. Changed the appearance of the place completely -- very pretty, though not very Marslike.

The snow threw our plans for the day into a cocked space helmet. The suit constraints study, for example, couldn't be done because you couldn't see the plants under the snow. So we brainstormed a bunch of other stuff that could be done, most of it in the hab.

It was at around this time that we noticed our Internet was running exceptionally slowly. We tried restarting the wifi router and the satellite modem, but that didn't help. We suspected the weather, which was overcast as well as snowy and very cold, but we've had overcast before and it hasn't hurt us like this. We contacted Mission Support -- connectivity was present, though very slow -- and they suggested that we might have hit our satellite Internet connection's bandwidth limit. However, even the bandwidth usage page was taking forever to load. Finally I managed to determine that we'd used over 250 MB -- more than 5 times our usual hourly usage -- between 8 and 9 AM. That might explain why our Internet usage was throttled, but we'd all been at breakfast at that time! We tried and tried to figure out what had been the cause, not to scapegoat anyone but to keep it from happening again. Eventually it seemed that one of us had not managed to completely turn off updates and their computer had perhaps automatically downloaded a large Windows update during that time. That's turned off now, so with any luck our connection will return to normal speed at midnight tonight and the problem will not recur. I really hope so, because being without reasonable Internet connectivity is a royal pain!

Once we got that issue sorted out -- or at least diagnosed -- Laksen and Bianca took off on a GPS trail-mapping run and I started work on some more Quick Guides. But what really got us excited was the idea of shooting our official portraits. For a backdrop we set up the Official Flag of Mars (red, green, and blue), a map of Mars, and a plaque about the Mars Society that usually hangs in the airlock, and we prepared to pose in front of it in our space suits (holding the helmet) and in our official crew polo shirts. But then various people wanted to spruce up for their photos, so we kind of lost momentum.

While we were waiting for the photos to happen, Paul and Laksen decided to go off on another GPS trail-mapping run. It looked pretty darn cold out there but they talked me into going along and I had a great time jouncing along on an ATV across barely-tracked rough terrain. In fact, if you've ever been to Disneyland, imagine the Indiana Jones ride over the countryside of Big Thunder Mountain Railway. Only rougher and longer. I quickly learned that on an ATV your suspension system is your knees, not your butt, and after a while I was galumphing across ruts and gulleys with hardly a second thought. It was great fun and we saw some fabulous scenery and picked up some fossil shells as well as mapping out the trail system.

We got back just in time for our crew photos, smiling for the camera in our space suits and polo shirts. Bianca takes the school photos for her kids' school, so she had the whole thing down pat. It was very familiar, but also kind of surreal, and I think the photos came out great. (Paul thinks I look like Michael Farraday in Lost.) School photo day on Mars.

Today is a cooking day, and we got kind of ambitious. Bianca and I prepared pasta, pesto sauce from a mix, and canned spaghetti sauce beefed up with sauteed onions, TVP, and spices. Bianca also made muffins, which came out great, and Diego popped up with alfalfa sprouts from the GreenHab, which we served as a salad with a dressing of balsamic vinegar and rehydrated onions. A meal fit for a king!

We had an excellent conversation over and after dinner, including Star Trek and Monty Python references, but now it's time for the writing of reports and other paperwork. With the Internet still throttled it's going to take a while to submit this so I think I'll stop writing and send it in now.

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Oz Whiston writing as Oz Drummondbirdhousefrog on January 19th, 2010 11:24 am (UTC)
Oh wow! I live on Mars! You have HughesNet satellite "broadband." Being 'throttled' is a way of life in rural areas. I have their largest capacity which is about 500megs a day. There's a 'free' time from 2am to 7am Eastern time (midnight to 5am MST) when there's no throttle and it doesn't count. During heavy usage times of year (tax season), that's when we do all our updates. And yes, you can be killed by one computer like that. But at least it's a rolling 24 hour throttle and any hour you drop below a total of 250, you get back up to speed. It's painful, though. And, one uses the term 'broadband' loosely as HughesNet's speeds are frequently not much better than dialup during heavy usage hours.

Again, it's fascinating to get my interpretations 8-12 hours after the fact. I caught one of the 'official photo' sessions on the webcam. I thought, 'Why is that person holding a helmet under his arm in the middle of the hab?' It was so bizarre that it stuck. Also, I was quite pleased when I deduced rover activity and saw that helmets were also missing from the rack, implying EVA. And I also wondered why so many people seemed to be around the hab yesterday compared to other days when only one person tended to be visible during much of the workday time.

If it's this late in the game before you discovered the joys of HughesNet, you guys did ok. (And I've discovered that some computers seem to turn 'auto updates' back on without any encouragement.)

Oz
Steve Hutchisonfoomf on January 19th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
Well, technically, being throttled is rather a realistic thing for you being on Mars.