Packing and shipping

posted 25 December 2004

As if preparing to be away from home and office for six months weren't enough, David had a research cruise (out of Monterey, California) scheduled for December 10-19, so packing for holiday travel and the sabbatical were put on hold while he packed for the cruise. In addition, a crucial piece of equipment--a prototype benthic lander intended to stick electrodes into the seabed to gather more information about distribution of the carbon dioxide deployed as part of the project--was delivered not six months in advance as requested, but six days. The technician from firm that built it arrived from Denmark a couple of days later to make sure it was in working order and to train David and two colleagues (Kevin Carman and John Fleeger, who drove over from Baton Rouge for the purpose) how to use it.

Apparently, it rapidly became apparent that the builders had given little thought to the actual conditions under which the thing was to be used. Even on day one, after struggling to assemble it on a workbench in a warm, dry lab, David realized the process would not be fun on the cold, wet, rolling afterdeck of a research ship. Then, once assembled, it didn't work. They tech phoned Denmark for extensive consultation, borrowed soldering equipment, and found and repaired the connection broken in shipping. Of couse, two days later it would have to be disassembled, packed, and shipped again--this time to Monterey--but the scientists just tried not to think about that. David concentrated on documenting the whole procedure with the new digital camera we gave each other for Christmas, and a good thing, too; they would never have been able to duplicate it all at sea without all those photos to refer to.

And how did it go once on shipboard? Lousy, it seems. As predicted, the lander proved recalcitrant under the difficult sea-going conditions, most of its sensors broke in the installation process, and it generally failed to live up to its promise or to justify its hefty price-tag. And David says that adding its finicky care and feeding to the already grueling schedule and uncomfortable conditions on shipboard turned the cruise from tolerable to hellish. Good thing the lander has nothing to do with the work he plans for our time in France.

While David was at sea, I packed and shipped stuff to Villefrance--mostly books, clothing, toiletries (I'll use any old toothpaste, soap, or shampoo I might find there, but I want my sunscreen), medications, and a few kitchen items. And my wonderful new printer/scanner/photocopier, with which, once it arrives, I'll be able to scan items for inclusion in these pages. We should beat the stuff to France, because I shipped everything but the printer by surface--4-6 weeks.

I was pleasantly surprised at low little paper and how few books I needed to send. I packed the Chicago Manual of Style (when are those people going to issue it on CD-ROM?), four European field guides (birds, fish, mammals, insects), and my book of sample French letters for all occasions (breaking an engagement, applying for residence card, disciplining a domestic servant, inviting the boss to dinner--it really is all inclusive). Most papers--both those from the office and, e.g., recipes from my card file--I was able to scan and store on the computer. For the kitchen, I'm taking only two good knives, a potato peeler, and my hand-held stick blender (plus a bazillion recipes). I'll have a chance to try cooking things I can't get in Tallahassee (for example, I look forward to roasting a conger eel; I've seen them in the markets in southern France, but I don't know whether they'll be in season).

David, on the other hand, hasn't even thought about what to take to France. He spent the two days between the cruise and our holiday travel scrambling to catch up at the office, so all his remaining sabbatical prep will have to be crammed into the three days we'll be in Tallahassee in early January.

Right now, we're in Houston, visiting David's sister Janet and her family, playing scrabble, eating, playing with the Christmas toys we unwrapped this morning, watching the cats play with the wrapping paper. We even had a white Christmas, as it snowed last night (for the first time since 1989 in Houston).

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