July 30, 2008

Donie Bret-Harte represented the Toolik Management Team.  Chad Diesinger, Station Manager, attended. 

General and IT issues:

Chad Diesinger opened the User Forum by asking for user feedback on how to deal with the problem of illegal downloading of music.  TFS was informed by the University of Alaska that someone illegally downloaded music from TFS at a particular time and using a particular IP address.  TFS staff were able to determine that this occurred at 5:30 am on one of the public-use computers in the meeting trailer.  This is the second time this summer that UAF has notified TFS of illegal file sharing, and UAF has requested that TFS take positive steps to prevent illegal file sharing from occurring again.  Chad suggested that if this were to occur again, he would need to remove the public use computers from the meeting trailer, thus forcing people to use their own or project computers.  UAF previously turned off internet access to an entire dorm when illegal file-sharing could not be curtailed.  Thus, there is concern that TFS could lose internet access if the problem keeps occurring. 

Dendy Lofton suggested that, rather than having a single public use account on the Toolik computers, each person could be issued a separate account and password by TFS staff, and the usage by each computer account could be tracked by time.  This would make it much more difficult for people to file-share anonymously.  Amy Breen noted that UAF already has an account and password system, and perhaps it would be possible to use their software, or even ask OIT to manage the Toolik accounts and passwords.  Cody Johnson wondered whether it would be possible to add filtering software that would block the sites where one can illegally share files, but presumably this would have to be specific to each site, and it would be hard to keep up with all the potential sites.  Amy, Cody, and Dendy agreed that taking away the computers should be a last resort, because they are a heavily-used resource.  All agreed that the consequences of illegal file-sharing should be made known to the community.  It was suggested that Chad make an announcement at dinner, as well as putting a note on the board.  This announcement should state that, if we get another warning from UAF, a password system will have to be installed or the public-use computers will go away, and that Toolik could lose all internet access.  Chad agreed to make this announcement, which was subsequently done. 

Scott Houghton asked how people were finding the speed of the internet.  The general consensus is that it is very slow, though it goes up and down. Fortunately, our (IP) phones are much better this year, now that they have been given priority on the T-1 line.  Jason Stuckey and Scott Houghton strongly advocated that TFS should rent a second T-1 line.  John Hobbie wondered about the cost of the infrastructure.  Donie Bret-Harte explained that there is already capability for more than one T-1 line in the fiberoptic cable that comes into camp, but TFS pays to rent only one T-1 line (for $22,000 per year).  TFS is already planning to request funds to rent a second line in next year’s CA budget.  According to UAF’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), we are between 80% and 100% of our bandwidth virtually all the time now, which OIT regards as past time to expand.  Several people commented that they cannot imagine that demand for internet bandwidth will go down, as more and more automated scientific instrumentation requires more and more bandwidth to transmit data.  John Hobbie suggested that TFS compile a list of researchers’ requirements for real-time data transmission, to help make the case that more bandwidth is needed.

Peter Ray commented that it is very annoying the printer in lab 2 keeps losing its static IP address, which happened again this weekend (for the 4th or 5th time this summer).  Elissa Schuett commented that the printer in the wet lab also lost its address at the same time.  As per Christie’s instructions, the folks in lab 2 called Glenn Johnson at OIT, and he fixed the problem there.  However, it is not clear why the problem keeps recurring, and Glenn doesn’t work on weekends. 

There was some discussion of whether NEON would rent its own T-1 line, and similarly have its own buildings for labs, housing, etc.  Donie commented that Hank Loescher did not completely reject the idea of chipping in to construct the Science Support Building, but that he didn’t seem very receptive to the idea, either.  John Hobbie commented that it would be a bad idea to set up a class system in camp, where one group of users (e.g. NEON) has access to better housing, lab space, etc. than anyone else.  Over the years, the LTER network has tried to keep everything equal amongst the different LTER sites, and the Arctic LTER has tried to keep things equal amongst the different research components here.  He suggested that TFS should take the position that NEON must share whatever infrastructure they build here.  We do not want a “Svalbard”-type model, where each country has its own infrastructure and all research facilities are duplicated.  Donie commented that Hank Loescher of NEON had seemed open to that idea, when he was here.  TFS management agrees that all residents, whether staff or scientists, should be treated fairly and equally.  John feels that it is very important to take steps to ensure that NEON infrastructure is shared, prior to any building.  Christie asked if NEON has a start date.  They do not yet, as the full plan has not been sent to Congress. 


Nan Trowbridge would like to request that the fact that radioisotopes have been used in experiments in most of the labs at Toolik be posted on the web site.  She and Marco Coolen had planned to use several pieces of our common-use equipment, but because they may have been contaminated by 14C, they did not feel comfortable using them for their work, which involves natural abundance measurements of 14C.  This created delays for their project, which could have been avoided if they had known about prior 14C use in the camp.  Christie commented that, in her correspondence with their group, she was not aware that they were planning to measure natural abundance 14C.  Scott suggested that it might be a good idea to have an advisory group for new projects that plan to be here more than one week, consisting of a representative of TFS management, TFS Science Support, and a Science representative, to try to ensure that the managers of new projects learn what they need to know before they arrive.  Chad commented that it would be useful for TFS staff to know more about the requirements of different groups for lab space and equipment earlier in the process.  He wondered whether including a box for lab and equipment requirements in the reservation system would be useful.  Nan thought that it would be.  John Hobbie commented that it is also important to notify users who are planning to use radioisotopic tracers that they must be prepared to follow all of the UAF regulations with regard to health and safety and the disposal of radioactive waste.  The camp may be “hot” with respect to natural abundance measurements of 14C, but it is not “hot” with regard to health and safety.  We have not had problems with any groups using radioactive tracers so far, but it would be good to make the requirements more explicit. 

John Hobbie commented that the room where the microscope is located in dry lab is extremely hot, because it is shared with the scintillation counter.  When the scintillation counter is in use, the room is made completely dark and closed off, and it is so hot that no one can use the microscope.  It might be possible to either move the microscope or to install a ventilation fan.  TFS will consult with John, George Kling and Byron Crump before making a decision as to the best course of action. 

Common Use Scientific Equipment:

Christie Haupert commented that she appreciates the care with which users are treating the general-use scientific equipment that she manages, and she hopes that they will keep up the good work.  The general use equipment is used by many people, and much of it is delicate.  She has prepared schedules for all of the scientific equipment, and is in the process of preparing user manuals for each item.  Cody and Dendy commented that being able to use this equipment has really aided their research programs, and they are very appreciative. 

John Hobbie requested that TFS purchase a dehydrator (food drier) for mushrooms.  There are several projects at TFS now that involve fungi, and fungi do not need to be dried in the oven (in fact they melt at high temperatures).  A dehydrator would also be useful for other projects that need to dry samples at a low temperature.

Angie Allen requested that TFS purchase one or two more dissecting microscopes, at least one of which should have an ocular micrometer in the eyepiece.  Although TFS purchased one dissecting microscope recently, that one receives a lot of use in other labs.  She feels that there are enough projects in lab 3 that could use a dissecting scope to justify having one that stays there most of the time. 

Sarah Barbrow asked about the DI system.  Lots of people need it, and though it has been much better so far this summer than it was last year, she wondered what the plans for a back-up are, in case it goes down.  Christie commented that last year TFS took over the management of the DI systems in both the wet lab and lab 2.  Prior to that, the LTER RAs managed the system.  There were no maintenance logs for the system, and no information on how much water could be put through the Barnstead cartridges before they should be replaced.  The motor on the wet lab DI system broke down last year and was replaced.  This year Christie has implemented logs to track the resistivity and the amount of water being passed through the system, in order to establish a protocol for when to change the cartridges.  The DI system in lab 2 can be thought of as a back-up for the wet lab, although it is much lower capacity.  Christie has also stocked a variety of spare parts that are likely to be needed.  The goal is to ensure more rigorous maintenance and log use. 

Cody asked why electrical breakers were being tripped in the wet lab.  Elissa commented that the “Big Suck” filtration apparatus trips the breakers.  Scott has ordered a new motor for it, which should be coming tomorrow.  Elissa commented that the filtration station receives a lot of use, and she wondered about the status of the additional filtration apparati that were requested last year.  Christie commented that vacuum pumps for an apparatus in lab 1 and one in lab 4 are here, but the flasks to serve as traps were smashed in the shipment and need to be replaced.  Scott needs to put the manifold together, which is a quick job.  Christie plans to install the systems in lab 1 and 4 this fall.  Cody commented that he has a flask that could be used as a trap, and that if a system could be set up in lab 1 soon, that would alleviate some of the pressure in the wet lab, because all of the GTH filtering could take place in lab 1.  Scott and Christie agreed to do this. 

Life at the Station:

Jason Stuckey commented that he would like to see a permanent home for the weight room, rather than having it move around.  Jorge has moved all of the equipment at least four times.  Chad commented that giving the weight room a permanent home in a heated space would take away scarce housing resources.  Housing is a higher priority than a permanent home for the weight equipment.  We would love to have NSF provide us with an exercise facility, but this is not likely in the near future. 

Cody commented that with the price of fuel going up, energy conservation is a significant concern now, and he has noticed that the clothes dryers are always going.  He wondered if it would be possible to put up some clotheslines behind the shower module, and provide some clothespins.  Christie commented that all of the plastic laundry baskets seem to have disappeared, and it would be good to get some of those at the same time. Chad and Scott agreed to purchase these, and to locate them far enough from the outhouse that smell will not be a problem.  Scott subsequently put up a clothesline behind the shower module. 

Dendy commented that the new mountain bikes have been a fabulous addition, which she very much appreciates, especially having the gears for trips on the haul road.  She has noticed that they have already experienced some abuse, and the shocks are locked up on one of them.  She wondered whether they could be stored out of the weather, and if perhaps there should be sign-up sheet for the use of the nicer bikes and trailer, similar to the one that exists for the trucks.  Chad commented that he initially did not like this idea, but now thinks that it is necessary.  Donie commented that more people might want to use the one-speeed “Cruiser” bikes if they had quick-release seats, so that they could be easily adjusted.  Chad replied that the staff is already planning to put quick-release fittings on the seats of those bikes.  Another bike trailer (able to be fitted to the Cruiser bikes) would also be a good addition.  Donie asked who is doing maintenance on the bikes.  Olaf has been doing most of it, though Jason Stuckey is also happy to help out.  We have a bike stand for maintenance and a variety of tools, but not a wheel-trueing stand.  Jason would be happy to true the wheels if a stand could be purchased.  Cody asked whether TFS could provide some bike helmets to loan out, particularly to people using the mountain bikes on the haul road.  Chad replied that there are several helmets available for loan, which are located in the tire shop.  People who wish to use them should talk to Scott, Chad, or Thom.  Dendy did not know about the helmets, and in fact brought her own for use this summer.  Christie reiterated that she really appreciates the ability to use the mountain bikes for recreation on Sundays.  Some of the denizens of the wet lab requested pegs on the bikes so that they could carry more people.  Chad responded that this was unwise, particularly given the amount of abuse they are already receiving.  A sign-up policy for the mountain bikes was subsequently implemented. 

Elissa requested that TFS purchase a second microwave oven for the dining hall, because there is always a big back-up when people return after the regular dinner hour and are trying to get food.  Chad commented that this should be possible now that the dining hall has been rewired to take all the outlets off the same circuit.  A second microwave has now been installed in the dining hall. 

Elissa commented that folks in the wet lab would appreciate it if the sauna door could be fixed to have a better seal at the bottom.  Cody and several others commented that the new sauna stove does not heat the water, possibly because the shroud on the water pipes does not allow them to get hot enough.  Scott will look into this and fix it.  He was unaware of the problem.  Scott asked whether anyone besides Chad and Cody are starting the sauna.  It appears that no one is, except Annie.  There used to be a sign-up sheet on the refrigerator in the dining hall.  It was suggested that it might be better to post it at the sauna, and to put a space for the sauna starter and an alternate.  Chad will take care of this.  Cody commented that the delivery of wood has been good, and the splitting (mostly done by Olaf) has been awesome.  Scott is willing to teach additional classes in how to start a wood stove. 

Cody commented that he appreciates being able to reach the staff, particularly the camp manager, by phone any time now.  This development that was made possible by the wireless IP phones.  Dendy commented that she also appreciates being able to borrow the cordless phones sometimes, as it is very handy to be able to speak to technical support while standing in front of your instrument, rather than having to run back and forth.  Christie agreed.  Chad commented that the radios have also been very helpful for communicating amongst the staff during the day.  Donie asked if scientists were aware that there is another set of radios available for check-out, for example for people going on hikes.  No one was aware of this, but Dendy and Cody responded that these radios would be very useful, and they would check them out now that they are aware of their existence.

Nan commented that the food has been absolutely fantastic, and she really appreciates the effort that the cooks have expended to accommodate her special dietary requirements.  Cody seconded that, saying he really appreciates the willingness of the kitchen to accommodate special dietary needs, despite cooking for over 100 people.  Everyone agreed that the food is awesome.  Angie appreciates the avocados, and would like to see more of them.  Kudos to the cooks!   Sarah Barbrow commented that the Toolik staff and management are doing an awesome job this summer.  Thanks for everything, and thanks to everyone!

The following comments were received from the suggestion box, and were passed on to the relevant departments:

  1. A request for cut-up veggies to be available in the leftovers fridge, for folks who miss the regular lunch.
    1. The cooks have tried this in the past, but they tended to go bad before they were entirely consumed.  The cooks are currently recommending that folks take bags of veggies for their own use at lunch from the salad bar (the night before). 
  2. A request for less salt, especially in the prepared foods.  Folks can always add their own salt at the table, to taste.
    1. Persons who wish to have a low salt diet should talk to the cooks, as it is likely possible to accommodate them, along with others who have special dietary needs.
  3. A request for less annoying phone rings, especially on the manager’s phone.
  4. “You guys should get a dog, preferentially a husky”.
    1. This is not possible because of the need to keep the pad free of dog waste – no additional N and P should be added to the lake!

Persons who attended or provided comments afterward:

Angie Allen
Sarah Barbrow
Amy Breen
Donie Bret-Harte
Chad Diesinger
Christie Haupert
John Hobbie
Scott Houghton
Cody Johnson
Jonathon Levine
Dendy Lofton
Peter Ray
Jake Schas
Elissa Schuett
Jason Stuckey
Nan Trowbridge
William Walters
Liz Zhu