June 12, 2014

First User Forum, June 12, 2014

Donie Bret-Harte, Brett Biebuyck and Mike Abels represented the Toolik Management Team.  Notes by Donie Bret-Harte. 

Other people who attended: Dan White, Peter Ray, Seth Beaudreault (TFS), Jeb Timm (TFS), Ashley Asmus, Caitlin Rushlow, Frank Bouchard, Jade Lawrence, Christine Pardo, and several others

The suggestion box was opened first.  There were many requests for specific food items and mostly laudatory comments on food, covering topics from chocolate to yogurt to unsweetened soymilk, and compliments to Baker Ben Bonnello.  All food requests and comments were passed on to the cooks.

Other comments in the suggestion box included requests for eyeglass repair kits at Toolik (Jeb will obtain some), for small mops and buckets for use in the labs, and for common use boot dryers in the shower module.  One winter science user expressed disappointment that garage construction was postponed for this year, because it would be really helpful for winter users.  Thanks were expressed to Jeb and Glenn for science support this spring.  One person commented that the water system in the sauna needs to be upgraded, and another commented that the flue in the sauna stove could benefit from a damper to burn wood more slowly.  One person requested that FEDEX labels be made available in the office (staff noted that one can print FEDEX labels from the office computer).  One person commented that Baker Ben could use steam injection in his oven (possibly Baker Ben himself).  One person commented that it would be great if the EDC could monitor the phenology of blooming of Dryas, and of more forbs.  Thanks were expressed to Seth for his assistance and knowledge.  There were also some impractical suggestions, such as for a zipline from Jade Mountain to camp, and a request that TFS plough out the road to Imnavait in the spring. 

Donie and Mike provided an update on construction of new infrastructure.  The garage construction has been postponed until 2015, and the footprint has been reduced from three bays to two, because the bids were too high.  The lab that was designed last year has been postponed for the moment.  However, TFS is going to acquire two labs that were originally built for the USDA office in Fairbanks, but have been donated to UAF.  These labs will be moved to TFS in late July, and will be outfitted for use by next summer (2015).  It is likely that NEON will be housed in one of them.  The new labs will have internet access, and will likely be hardwired.  If all goes well, the first phase of the camp fiber and local network upgrade will be completed later this summer, which should improve internet connectivity.  We hope to buy all of the fiber needed for the complete upgrade, even though it will be installed in three phases

Ashley Asmus commented that the web site is great.  It is so easy now to get truck and housing reservations, and to request assistance from GIS and EDC personnel.  She wondered whether it would be possible to see who else will be traveling in the science trucks on a given day.  Brett responded that we do not make that information public out of privacy concerns, but the system can be programmed to send an email with that information to all truck passengers a few days before the truck departs.  Jeb commented that very soon, users will be able to request science support assistance from the web site, also. 

Caitlin Rushlow commented that she really appreciates the new common use equipment purchased by the EDC.  It makes a huge difference to graduate students.  She is also really happy to see that user requests are being filled (we do our best). 

Christine commented that as a first time user, she is very impressed by TFS.  She has been to several field stations, and TFS is by far the best. 

There was some discussion of trucks and safety on the road.  Ashley noted that the tires on the local use trucks are mostly not very good.  Jeb responded that this is by design: we put the better tires on the trucks that drive between Fairbanks and TFS, as they cover the most miles.  The “half good” tires go on the local trucks, so that we can get some more use out of them before they are retired.  Brett commented that we expect to get a new science truck this year.  We are currently at the limit to maintain twice weekly runs between TFS and Fairbanks, because we have only two trucks that are safe to drive the long haul.  Having a third one will allow a more reasonable schedule to turn trucks around, and to accomplish maintenance.  Brett also commented that we will be installing new tracking devices in all of the trucks to monitor speed and acceleration, and they will beep if you are going too fast.  It is important to obey the speed limit and be safe.  Mike commented that all passengers in the science trucks should be able to expect a safe ride.  We can’t give the keys to someone who is going to drive too fast.  Also, it is hard to get new trucks, and driving them too fast beats them up prematurely.  Jeb commented that it would be nice to have cruise control on the new trucks.  Brett commented that an orientation would be needed for cruise control, as you often need to slow down for curves.  If a passenger feels that someone’s driving is unsafe, please say something to the camp manager or TFS staff in Fairbanks.  We can’t do something about it if we don’t know about it. 

There was also discussion of the road construction near Toolik.  Ashley commented that the wait times for pilot cars are better this year, more like 20-30 minutes instead of 40 minutes plus.  Chad commented that the AIC foreman “Bowser” is committed to keeping us moving.  He appreciates coming in and having our coffee.  Dan asked whether anyone has stopped by the side of the road yet in the construction zone.  Jade has stopped.  She said that it is OK, but you have to arrange for it in advance.  Chad commented that the construction in this section of the road is supposed to finish this year, which will make everyone feel relieved.  The contractor will be fined heavily if they have to go into next year. 

There was some discussion of the new sauna hours, which start the open hours at 9 instead of 10.  Are they working for people?  Dan commented that it makes no difference to him that the men’s hours have been shortened, as he always goes very late.  Several of the women said that they were happy with the women’s hours. 

Peter commented that more coat hooks in the dining hall would be helpful, as they always seem to be full.  Can we get a second set that would alternate with the ones that are already there?  Jeb will look into this.  Also, many of the cubbies in the shower module are full of free stuff to be given away.  Can that be moved somewhere else?  Chad will move that stuff to the small “SCUA” (Stuff that Can be Used Again) connex near lab 1.  Ashley commented that many people do not know about the SCUA, and recommended mentioning it in the orientation.  Chad will do that.  Dan commented that the cubbies in the shower module are overly generous, and much of the space in many of them is not actually used.  Perhaps it would be possible to divide them in half, and thereby provide more spaces.  We will look into this.

Ashley commented that life is good, and all is going well.

After the user forum, George Kling commented that he feels that the bridge over the inlet is still an issue in the spring, when it causes water to flow out of the inlet channel.  This spring we will put down shadecloth to try to melt the snow downstream of the bridge earlier. 

Second User Forum, August 26, 2014

Notes by Station Manager Chad Diesinger

Attendees/Staff: Chad Diesinger, Randy Fulweber, Jason Stuckey, Justin Johnson, Jeb Timm, September Sutherland

Attendees/Science Community: Marilyn Ramenofsky, Bill Cable, Ellen Dorrepaal, Laurenz Teuber, Heather Greaves

Chad described the reasoning behind holding user forums, their value to planning, policy development and improving the overall user experience and science support by staff.

-Marilyn Ramenofsky asked for explanation about yesterday’s planned power outage. Chad and Jeb explained.

*Marilyn asked about heat in Winter Lab. Jeb explained that a new furnace was installed but one of the parts provided with the furnace was not correct so replacement part is on order to complete the job. Chad offered portable heaters to warm the lab until the furnace is online.

-Randy commented that he thought the common use areas have been getting very messy this season. He noted that he witnessed repeat offenders spilling things and not cleaning up after themselves. He asked if maybe more public shaming may have a positive effect to make individuals take a more active role in helping keep these areas clean. Chad commented that this technique was used earlier this season to address individuals that were repeatedly observed driving too fast on camp pad with positive results. This technique will be employed during the busier part of next season.

*Heather cited that the trend is science users seem to be younger in last few seasons.

-Heather Greaves requested a Toolik email list serve which she and others thought would be beneficial for:

>Toolik Job Postings

>General announcements and information

>Science questions, etc.

>could be advertised at LTER March meeting

>Could be set up through TFS reservation system and an auto add feature to the list serve would take place if you checked a box giving permission to have your email address added

*Heather noted that the towers smell worse when people open windows. Chad and Jeb explained why this is. Signs will be placed in towers requesting windows remain closed and toilet lid closed to allow exhaust vans to work more effectively.

The Suggestion Box was opened and “suggestions” were read:

Food Service Related “Suggestions” (Typed here as written on the actual suggestion…no editing)

-Could the veggie lunches and dinners be posted on the board as well? I like surprises but I think some people would appreciate it.

-Fair trade chocolate (conventional chocolate uses slave labor)

-Breakfast for lunch and/or dinner (or save breakfast leftovers in fridge i.e. eggs)

-Lunch vegetarians dinner meat eater always! Easy to implement, just make more vegetarian hot lunch.

-Why are there no pepperoncini? Haven’t had any since June!?!? WTF?

-Meals have gone down hill this year. Frozen turkey burgers, spaghetti, hot dogs… Why are Toolik user days so expensive? It’s obviously not going to the food budget.

-Spaghetti and meatballs?! I’d rather cook for myself. Would you prepare this for NSF reps?? How many cooks do we need to make this meal? We have at least 5 at all times?!

-Drinking glasses that are reusable

Comments in response to these “suggestions”:

-Chad responded to the last comment about glasses…we do provide a reusable mug to everyone with a reservation. Glasses would require much additional water usage, racks to wash them and space to store and dispense them. Others agreed this is not a good idea.

-Many voices spoke in fond support of spaghetti and meatballs, hot dogs and turkey burgers.

-Heather noted that the meals have been more basic this season and less ethnic dishes prepared. She assumed it was a reflection of staff changes/new staff and their cooking preferences.

-Marilyn was critical of the negative comments regarding this season’s meals.

-Chad pointed out that Toolik has a Suggestionboxnot a comments box, criticisms or opinions box and that these criticisms are not helpful since they offer no suggestion as to what should be done differently or better. It is just someone wanting to anonymously state their opinion.

*Chad noted that the negative commenter obviously is not aware of the true operating cost of running TFS. User day fee is less that the cost of a hotel room in Fairbanks in summer. Toolik user day fee is greatly subsidized by NSF Cooperative Agreement and includes many services that are included for the fee. 

*Discussion ensued regarding the negative opinions about food this season and was generally dismissive of the comments and in support of the food being prepared for them by hard working kitchen staff.

*Chad and group discussed possible criteria that should/will be implemented and posted on suggestion box including the following:

> A name should be required if a suggestion is to be considered. That will allow more discussion and clarification by staff with the submitter. This will also discourage unhelpful, anonymous criticism.

>Submitters should be sober at the time of writing suggestion.

>This is a suggestion box, not opinion box.

>In person suggestions are preferred so they can be discussed in more detail. Staff is readily available to listen to suggestions and comments.

>Suggestions should be well thought out and practical. If you are uncertain, ask a TFS staff member.

Suggestions from box regarding facilities/infrastructure

-The towers closest to the Winter Lab stink, but only during strong breezes out of the south. Maybe because the tank is open to the south and not the north! Could this be remedied by using wind blocker (on south side of tower) under the stairs? 

*Chad’s response: Tank is not open on south side (just does not have siding material covering the tank under the stairs). The strong breeze affects the ability of the stack ventilation fan to work. Leaving the toilet lids open and opening windows in stalls increases odor also because it compromises fan’s sucking ability so air is no longer drawn down into tank. We will place signs in tower requesting windows remain closed (window cranks have been removed but people still open them) and reminding users to close lid after use.

-A slightly higher mirror at the sink in the dining hall would be nice for ~1/2 the camp population.

*Chad’s response:  Chad ordered taller mirror.

General suggestions:

-Can we add a map with magnets to the naturalist’s board in the dining hall to better locate animal sightings?

*Chad’s response: Although it is interesting, the animal sightings that are recorded in the naturalist journal are focused on critters around TFS. Not sure that a magnetic map will benefit people any more than writing where you saw the animals on the board. We have very limited wall space for hanging things in Dining Hall.

-Hand out maps of camp to new arrivals.

*Staff response: GIS staff will be updating aerial photo of camp. We can have a collection of medium sized versions of it that are laminated and have them available for new arrivals to use and return them when they are finished with them or departing.  We will consider also having the labeled aerial photo available in several additional locations around camp.

-Encourage bringing beer in cans to reduce the amount of glass deposited in the “pond”. Lots of good beer in cans these days

*Staff Response: Staff agrees. Not sure best way to advertise this but help us by bringing your beer in cans and suggest that to your Toolik friends.

-It’s hard to judge how long 2 minutes is when you’re turning the water off and on in the shower…timers?

Staff response: Use your best judgment and/or that Ironman watch you have…it has a timer on it.

-Print a few NYTimes Digests every day and leave them in Dining Hall (or get Sunday Times?)

Staff response: Not everyone likes to read NYtimes digest and staff is generally busy with other things besides printing things for others to read. Toolik community is welcome to utilize the computer outside of staff office or in Community center to print things they would like to read…or better yet, save paper and read it on line.

-Destroy the Community Center. The building is out of date, dirty and used only for partying. Not needed at a research station

Staff Response: Toolik Talking Shop is held there every week, music is played there, ping pong, foos ball, movie viewing, computer lab, lab group meetings, science equipment (drying ovens and walk in chiller and freezer)…not just partying. It definitely could use some upgrades but the structure still serves a valuable need at the station until a modern structure replaces it.

-It would be nice if Toolik had a “computer lab”. Maybe UAF surplus could donate a few good “older” machines to the IAB? The only 3 computers we have are sometimes not functional. Maybe the “study hall” could be turned into a proper computer lab with machines capable of running programs like ArcGIS. They should also have blocks on them for websites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. to ensure that they are only used for work.

Staff response: We do have a “computer lab”. It is true that some of the machines are sometimes problematic which is obviously true of all machines…especially “older machines”. Donated machines from surplus would most likely not be suitable to fill this need. Staff will support buying some additional computers for the computer lab and having ArcGis on some of the machines. We did have a computer with ArcGIS available all summer in the computer lab. Not sure about blocks on these machines for the websites suggested.

Ridiculous/Funny Suggestions

-A water trampoline for the lake  Shae Bowman

Staff Response: Doubt it, Shae.

-Too many clouds. No more clouds please.

Staff Response: Agreed, too many clouds, no more clouds please.

General comments:

Ellen Dorrepaal stated that she has been very impressed with the vegetarian food and appreciates the support she has gotten at TFS.

Laurenz Teuber agreed and both he and Ellen have been impressed with TFS, the support staff and wish Abisko Station would employ a similar process to allow science users to comment and suggest improvements to station infrastructure and procedures there.

Equipment requests:

-Ellen and Laurenz requested a Soil Thaw Depth Probe and hand coring tool. Laurenz sent Chad the following links to specific models and Jeb was also researching.



Forum adjourned