Category Archives: Life in New Mexico

Murals of Ft. Sumner

One of the most engaging features of Ft. Sumner is the murals present throughout downtown.  Their charm adds to the town’s friendly character.

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A Culinary Tour of Ft. Sumner, New Mexico

One of the biggest adjustments for our Berkeley-based group has been to the local cuisine.  Ft. Sumner’s small population only supports four restaurants, distinguished more by style than by significant differences in their menus.  Despite our pining for lettuce other than iceberg, New Mexican cuisine would meet with the approval of Alice Waters in its use of a local, seasonal ingredient: the chili pepper.  Accordingly, the quintessential (existential?) question in Ft. Sumner restaurants is: red or green?

The variety of chili pepper most commonly grown in New Mexico are called Anaheim.  They are fairly mild, generally; when ripe, they turn red and may be dried and used to make chili powder.  However, New Mexican cuisine is distinguished by its use of fresh, immature green chilies.  Rather than being dried, these are cooked, giving a fleshly vegetable texture with plenty of chili zip.  Red chili sauce is made similarly, with fresh (rather than dried) red chilis.

Just about everything on the menu in Ft. Sumner can be had with red or green chili sauce.  Unfortunately, that’s the main source of variety.  Broad sectors of the menu can be concisely summarized as:  hamburger (red, green, or plain), burrito (red, green, or plain), straight chili (red, green, or an empty bowl).  That said, steaks, passable salads, and tacos are also options.  Mark was surprised to learn what a Frito pie was, although Texas claims to have originated that dish.

On to the restaurants themselves.  Fred’s is my favorite, despite its frequently having unscheduled closures when we want to go there.  It also has a bar (the physical bar dates to 1800s) and a drive through package liquor store.  The latter results in annoying doorbell ringing punctuating your meal.

Fred's.

Fred's.

Restaurant on the left, lounge on the right...

Restaurant on the left, lounge on the right...

Fred's menu I.

Fred's menu I.

Fred's menu II:  Never trust a burrito called the Conquistador...

Fred's menu II: Never trust a burrito called the Conquistador...

Sadie’s is the next restaurant we frequent.  Its menu is a bit more limited than Fred’s and features more Mexican dishes.  (The menu appears longer because all options are explicitly itemized, and the kitchen likes to stick quite exactly to  those items.)  Chips here are saltier and the salsa spicier.  There is also no beer, to the dismay of the engineers.

Sadie's.

Sadie's.

Sadie's menu I: "Dx" means "deluxe," which means "with fries."

Sadie's menu I: "Dx" means "deluxe," which means "with fries."

Sadie's menu II.

Sadie's menu II.

Sadie's menu III.

Sadie's menu III.

Rounding our our tour of Ft. Sumner are restaurants we don’t go to as a group.  Dariland is a burger-and-shakes place; no chili here, it looks like.

Dariland.

Dariland.

The Dariland menu.

The Dariland menu.

There’s also the hamburger trailer (“Hamburgers, etc.”).

Maybe the catfish come from Ft. Sumner lake?

Maybe the catfish come from Ft. Sumner lake?

I'm not sure what to make of some of these.  "Atty melt," "reen chil," even "hili d" and "heese" I can figure out.  "Bagon" and "galapeno" scare me a little--but what is an "ex-patty!?"

I'm not sure what to make of some of these. "Atty melt," "reen chil," even "hili d" and "heese" I can figure out. "Bagon" and "galapeno" scare me a little--but what is an "ex-patty!?"

I’ve also seen signs indicating that the gas station/convenience store Allsup’s has hot food, so maybe that makes four and a half places to get food.

Thankfully, our local grocery, Dave’s Venture Foods, has a pretty solid selection.  Most evenings of the week we’ll cook for each other.  With Belinda providing courier service of Asian noodles from the Bay area for the Taiwanese guys, I think the best food in Ft. Sumner is found at home sweet home.

Dave's!

Dave's!

Maybe we should start charging other people to eat at our place.

The Gantts Go Marching

Two steps forward, one step back.  Today the flight computer is up and running again, and we’ll run it overnight tonight controlling the detectors.  For the first time we can test storage on its two redundant flash drives.  I also passed in some new code to the flight software (allowing us to telemeter our data at high speed in a future flight) which seems to be working.  We’ve also started installing and testing some of the small auxiliary systems like the differential GPS, the solar sensors, the pointing magnetometer, and CSBF’s GPS antennas.

Alan was ecstatic that the dGPS was seeing satellites!

Alan was ecstatic that the dGPS was seeing satellites!

The step back is the card cages, though: they’re running hot, and the engineers believe the low-voltage power supplies require better heat sinking lest they overheat in flight.  That has required new parts to be machined by the shop (several days delay), then we’ll have boards to disassemble and mass quantities of thermal gunk to apply.  Mark, who’s our de facto field chief, broke down and made up a Gantt chart showing the schedule dependencies (to calibrate, we need the gondola on the cart, but first we must harness, but first we have to heatsink the LVPS…).  We’re all antsy to get to flight ready!  But much needs to be tested in the interim, anyway.

Mark breaks out the Gantt chart for our morning meeting.

Mark breaks out the Gantt chart for our morning meeting.

Tomorrow we have a flight requirements meeting with CSBF!  We’ll be specify our requirements and goals for altitude, flight duration, etc.  Once the balloon launches, we can still control our instrument, but CSBF determines when the balloon gets cut down (generally due to proximity to airport airspaces), so this meeting is important in specifying our target flight parameters to CSBF.

Weather here has been warm and clear the past couple of days–quite pretty!  On the home front, Sunday night Belinda put together a hilarious Easter egg hunt in the house, and last night I stupefied the other students with a heavy dose of homemade chili, potatoes, and cornbread.

View from the hill behind our house.

View from the hill behind our house.

This ravine runs behind our house.

This ravine runs behind our house.

Greenery is appearing!

Greenery is appearing!

I’ll Cover You

Today, we took the system down to begin a substantial task:  putting channel covers on the analog boards.

First, a bit of detector physics background. The NCT detectors are germanium “cross-strip detectors.”  They are wafers of germanium 1.5 cm thick x 7.8 cm tall x 7.8 cm wide.  On each of the two faces of the detector, there are 37 aluminum strips, each 2 mm wide.  The strips are horizontal on one face and vertical on the other, so when a gamma-ray photon interacts  and deposits energy inside the crystal, we see a “hit” on two crossed strips, one on each face.  Thus, we have an X and Y position.  By using the time difference between the signals on the two faces, we can infer the depth (Z) of the interaction, and hence the 3-D position.  If the photon scatters several times through the detector, we can use the Compton scatter formula to reconstruct the direction of the initial photon to an annulus on the sky.  This is Compton imaging, and NCT–the Nuclear Compton Telescope–is thus a Compton telescope.  Compton imaging allows us to image with a very wide field of view (roughly half the sky) while efficiently rejecting background.

One NCT germanium detector, showing the horizontal and vertical strips.

One NCT germanium detector, showing the horizontal and vertical strips.

A schematic of Compton imaging with the NCT detector array.

A schematic of Compton imaging with the NCT detector array.

The detector channels are read out by analog electronic boards stored in “card cages,” one card cage per board.  To decrease noise, we need to cover each channel with a metal cover–that’s the task we began today.  Each detector has 37 strips per side, plus a few extras used for guard rings, for a total of 80 channels per detector (broken into eight boards of ten channels each).  With ten detectors, this means we have 800 channel covers to install!  Each board takes about 20 minutes to cover.  Thankfully, we have six grad students…  As Mark said, today we spent our day at the various “stations of the card cage.”

Supplies:   One analog board, a stack of fastened covers, and a screwdriver.

Supplies: One analog board, a stack of fastened covers, and a screwdriver.

Remove all the screws.  Don't lose any!

Remove all the screws. Don't lose any!

Begin fastening the covers onto the board.

Begin fastening the covers onto the board.

After fifteen minutes, one board down!  Twelve more to go...

After fifteen minutes, one board down! Twelve more to go...

While we’re covering the channels, we’re also trying to improve the thermal properties of the card cages by spreading heatsinking compound (or “thermal gunk”) on their contact surfaces.  This chalky paste helps heat move from the electronic boards into the card cage crates and dissipate into the electronics bay.

Mark applies heatsinking compound to a board.

Mark applies heatsinking compound to a board.

The boards are held (and heat transfered) through thin rails on the sides.

The boards are held (and heat transfered) through thin rails on the sides.

Despite the repetitive nature of the job, we made very good progress on the covering today and kept our good humor.  I’m certainly grateful that I have new music to listen to on my Ipod, though…

One more event of note:  last night, Jane cooked a lovely Passover seder for all of us at the grad student house, and we celebrated Zhong-Kai’s birthday.

Weekend Update

Both the hangar and the home front were sites of accomplishment this weekend. Saturday was a work day for us, marked primarily by great success integrating the detector cradle into the balloon gondola. Since our crane only goes up and down and side to side (but not front to back), we had to maneuver the gondola in place under the hanging cryostat by means of a pallet jack and some brute force. Thankfully, we accomplished this speedily (one hour!) and without harm to instruments or students. With the gondola starting to look like a full-fledged instrument, we began loading the electronics into the electronics bay in the rear of the gondola. This process revealed some small logistical snags, but we were able to power up the “card cages” and flight computer and verify that they made the trip in working order.

Lowering the cradle into the gondola.

Lowering the cradle into the gondola.

Bolting the cradle in place.

Bolting the cradle in place.

Final position.

Final position.

Sunday was a day of rest and an opportunity to make ourselves more at home. I was pleased to discover that our local grocery, Dave’s Venture Market, has a broader selection than I was led to expect. No one will mistake the produce for that of the Berkeley Bowl, but if we can pull off good meals like the lentil stew Daniel made tonight, we’ll be in good shape.

(Billy the Kid's grave is a few miles outside of town.)

(Billy the Kid's grave is a few miles outside of town.)

Turns out tumbleweeds can require you to take a different route.

Turns out tumbleweeds can require you to take a different route.

…and there’s nothing to stop it.

… HIGH WIND WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM MDT THIS EVENING…

A HIGH WIND WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM MDT THIS EVENING FOR MUCH OF THE EASTERN PLAINS.

SOUTHWEST TO WEST WINDS SUSTAINED AT 25 TO 40 MPH WITH OCCASIONAL GUSTS TO AROUND 65 MPH WILL PERSIST OVER THE WARNING AREA. THESE STRONG WINDS WILL RESULT IN AREAS OF REDUCED VISIBILITIES IN BLOWING DUST.