Wednesday, December 16, 2009

McMurdo Station, Antarctica

The giant seals that were sunning themselves out by Discovery Hut.

Me after climbing Ob hill. It's nice to be able to go hiking again. Just climbing the stairs at the Pole would be exhausting. Note mount Erebus behind me.

A picture of mount Erebus from Pegasus field. And yes, it's erupting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Landed in McMurdo

Landed at Pegasus field about 20 minutes outside of McMurdo. The sea-ice runway was closed due to melting. I don't know what it is about those LC-130's but it's really a great flight--with the exception of the noise, but you wear earplugs. Take off and landing are so smooth. Maybe it's the ski's.

We landed right by Mt. Erebus, which is a huge active volcano. When we landed, it was spitting off steam from its summit. It was really beautiful. After a short wait for the shuttle and a 20 minute or so drive, we got back to McMurdo. Last time I was here there was a lot more snow on the ground. It was above freezing, which by the way felt like the middle of summer to me, and so most of the pathways had melted. Also the frozen sea around Ross island had started to melt which allowed GIGANTIC seals to sun themselves. These were huuuuge! I've seen the elephant seals of the californian coast (near San Louis Obisbo) but these seemed waaay bigger! It was quite a sight. After trekking back from Discovery hut, Jamie (the other team member who flew back with me) and I climbed one of the hills by the base. It was about an 800 ft climb--not too bad, but really steep. It was just incredible to be able to walk uphill without being winded. Hooray for sea level!

Anyway, I've got to take my bags over to redeployment to get weighed. Off I go!

Tomorrow night I should arrive in Christchurch, then Auckland, then LAX! Hooooooray!

Going Home

I'm set to leave the pole today at around 12:30 which should put me in McMurdo before 4. I don't know yet when my flight is supposed to leave from McMurdo, but supposedly I get into Christchurch at 3:30 am. So I have a night in McMurdo, then no nights in christchurch, which is ridiculous. So I'm not supposed to sleep on my trip back? I think I fly from Christchurch to Auckland which is probably about a 1.5 hr flight and then from Auckland to LAX, which is probably something like 15 hours. Hopefully I'll get some sleep on the plane.

I'm really excited to go home. I can't wait! Of course, I start traveling today, and get home in 3 days. That's nuts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


They had H1N1 2009 vaccinations today. Went and got mine done. I think it's a good idea. I'm not really worried about the flu, but it was free and it can only help.

The doctor tried to be clever and gave me the shot while we were talking. Afterwards he said "so, should I give you the shot?". I'm not 10 anymore. Needles don't scare me, shots don't hurt me. Still, I thought it was funny. We're at the most remote station, where some of the toughest people in the world work and I half expected that the doctor would offer me a lollipop...

So hopefully no side effects, other than the standard government implanted mind control devices that dear Glenn Beck told me about.

Our amps go to 11

Last night was the Open Mic night concert. It was held out in the summer cam lounge. Summer camp is a series of "temporary" buildings off the main site of the base. At 5:30 or so, we all set everything up. There was a lot of really nice sound gear to hook up. Danny even brought out his computer to try and record the show. Not sure how it turned out yet. I'll find out when I see him. At 8:30 we all came back for a sound check. My band did a little last-minute rehearsal as well. Once the show started, there were probably about 20 people in the room. There were a few acoustic acts first, then a guy who read some of his poetry. It was pretty good, but a little personal. I don't need to know about his family's problems. Then his girlfriend played some songs. She was very good. Afterwards, Mark and his guys got up and played for a while. I felt bad for Mark since the crowd was really obnoxious for most of it. It was understandable. It was their only night off of the week and they wanted to hang out and party, not listen to pleasant music. Mark played with this guy named Brandon who played some fairly crude songs. They were very funny, but it kind of annoyed me. They ended with an acoustic version of Jin and Juice. It's been done before. The crowd was really into it, though. I didn't want to follow that guy. After him, another acoustic act came up. I think his name was Eric. He was really good, but it just wasn't the right crowd for his stuff. I even pulled my solo act from the night because it just wasn't right for the crowd. By this point, I'm several beers deep and really anxious to play. Finally, we go on stage. Everyone was really really excited. We definitely melted some faces. A while back, Danny, Eli, and myself were hanging out in the music room when we started to play Blister in the Sun for fun. We talked about how funny it would be to play nothing but violent femmes songs. Well, the next night, I walk into the band room and Eli and Danny are playing some violent femmes songs. I just hopped right in, and the Violet Phlegm was born. We played a bunch of violent femmes songs last night, and everyone was jumping around and dancing, and just generally going crazy for us! It was awesome! After the set, I switched to electric guitar and danny, oren (the drummer), and I started jamming. This is when I really got to shine. People were really starting to dance once we let into some fast blues tracks. After a few tracks, the people kept yelling for more, so we launched into some hendrix tunes. The crowd was really going wild. They literally didn't let me stop playing. I must have done almost a dozen 'last songs'. It was a lot of fun to play in front of a crowd again. I'm totally in the wrong profession...

After the show people were coming up to me and saying how they were going to try to force me to stay longer. One guy who said that actually has a say in flight scheduling! It was really funny. It made me feel really good.

A lot of my group showed up for the concert. It was cool to be able to show them my passion outside of work. It was also cool to see some of them very drunk. I will leave names out of it since they may even be reading this, but at least one was really really drunk, and it was cool to see. Oh, the SPT (South Pole Telescope) people were there too. We've had a good relationship with them, since we work in the same lab and do similar experiments. One of the SPT girls was a little too drunk. When I refused to dance with her, she bit me in the shoulder. I was not amused.

It was all around a good show, and a great night. I love playing music for people. It's just the best.

I've played at some really incredible venues in my life, but I think headlining at the south pole might take the cake.

A pic of the stage

Me and my band!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Almost 200 degree club

Yesterday after soccer, we decided to hit the sauna. Yes, there is a sauna for some reason on base. I think it's tradition. It's a really nice sauna. It could probably seat 8 comfortably. We cranked the sauna up to around 165. It really felt good, especially after playing soccer. After a little while, I decided to run outside just to see what it felt like. It was pretty cool. It was probably around -20 without wind (-35 with). Of course, I couldn't feel it. My whole body was steaming. When I came back into the sauna, the other guys commented that I was completely dry. In the 20 or so seconds I stood outside, I went from completely soaked to bone dry. Pretty crazy. It was a lot of fun. I'll definitely do it again. Maybe next time, I'll make a run for the pole!

During the winter, they usually try for a 300 degree club. They crank the sauna up to 200 and go outside when it's -100. Now that's nuts. I can't even imagine...

Things are progressing pretty well. 3 more team members arrived last week with our new focal plane. We've been working to integrate everything, and then put it in the cryostat. Should have that done by the end of today if we're dumb and work through dinner, or tomorrow if we actually take our well-being into consideration. I'm guessing we'll take the dumb route.

In other news, I should be home next week! I'm really excited to be leaving the ice. Don't get me wrong, coming to the South Pole is by far the most interesting thing that I've ever done, but I do miss civilization. And the ability to not be surrounded by work for 5 seconds. Not to mention my wonderful girlfriend, who actually put up with me going away for 6 weeks, and does not intend to kill me when I get back (so far as I know).

Tomorrow night is the open mic night, which was essentially the "let's have a concert before Jon leaves" concert. I'll be playing some solo stuff, then later, my violent femmes cover band will be closing the show. Hopefully everyone will be good and drunk and make the show a blast.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Where are the AT-AT's?

Me riding the snowspeeder (aka snowmobile). Bring on the forces of the imperial army! (NERD!)

The South Pole Diet Plan

Need to lose a few pounds while doing nothing? Or don't even want to lose any weight at all?? Well, c'mon down to the south pole! Even breathing burns more calories here!

Seriously, it's crazy. I've been eating 2-3 plates at every meal... way more than I usually would, and I've lost almost 9 lbs since leaving LA. At meals, I get way too full before I'm done being hungry. I literally can't eat enough! Just about everyone I've talked to has lost weight. One guy in my group has lost nearly 15 lbs since getting here. Of course, there was this one girl who was trying to lost weight and couldn't. Maybe the key is in the attitude...

Also, sometimes, the food isn't so good. I think I've already mentioned that the food here is pretty good, and I stand by that. It's especially good considering how far away we are from anything remotely resembling a farm, and since we're not allowed to eat seals or penguins (dammit!), it's pretty fresh. We've been out of freshies for a while. Freshies are fresh fruits and vegetables, so it's kind of rough eating frozen or canned fruit all the time. We should be getting in a new shipment soon. I remember when the latest shipment of freshies came in last week. I've never seen people go so crazy over bananas. Going ape, perhaps? Har har har... ok. Sometimes, though, the food is no good. Occasionally the only salad offered will be a pasta salad, or everything is made from potatoes and white flour. Sometimes (very rarely) it just tastes bad. So it's even harder to eat all I need on those occasions.

On a happier note, I think I've finally acclimated (acclimatized?) and I'm not feeling sick when I wake up anymore. Because of this, I've been more active. Aside from soccer, I've started playing volleyball twice a week and I've been going to the gym a lot more. Volleyball is a lot of fun. I haven't played it in a while and forgot that I'm pretty good at it. I'm also not getting as winded as I was the first couple of weeks. It's still noticeably harder to breathe, but it's getting better.

Things at the lab are progressing. I think our pace may have been too fast, because now we're running low on things to do. Come monday, though, we have 3 new people coming in and they will be hand-carrying our new focal plane. Once that gets here, it's going to be a lot of work, although there will be eight of us to do it. I just hope it's managed correctly. The hardest thing I can think of (removing/installing the cryostat from the mount) is at most a four person job. Just about everything else is a two person job. I really don't want to be forced to sit around with nothing to do. I hated that at Caltech, but at least there I could leave if I was bored.

I'm scheduled to leave in 10 days. As cool as it is here, I'm really looking forward to going home. I really REALLY miss my girlfriend. I'm able to talk to her 2-3 times a day on the phone, but it's just not the same. I also can't wait to take some time to see my parents. I haven't seen them in a while. I just really miss everybody and I can't wait to get back.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Visit to the Dome

Some pictures of the old base before they started to dismantle the dome.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving at the Pole

The table setting. The picture I wanted to share wouldn't upload. Stupid internet...

The appetizer tables.

Here's the meal I had.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here. It totally makes sense. Thanksgiving is on thursday, which is friday here, so we do it on saturday which if friday at home. Totally logical. Really, it's just so people can have a 2 day weekend. And by people, I mean people that aren't in my group. We only worked a half day yesterday. It was pretty annoying, though. Naturally, just about every thing that needs to be done here is incredibly tedious, so I was back to making cables. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Even the socket which holds the pins of the connector fell apart. It took me a while to line up all the pins to put it back together. The sockets were difficult to solder into due to their positioning, and the wires were too big to fit in them. It was just an enormous pain. And we didn't have the right tools to make it easier, so I was doing most of the soldering while holding the cables with my knees. Just a real pain. Because it was a special holiday, there wasn't breakfast, so by the time lunch rolled around I was starving. The served brunch which was ok, but it made my stomach hurt. Oh, and while I was on the phone with Sara, the satellite cut out before I could say good-bye. Just an all around shit morning.

After lunch though, things really started to pick up. Thanksgiving was broken up into 3 shifts with each shift having a half hour appetizer session followed by dinner. I was planning on playing music for each of the appetizer parts with Mark and Danny. So after lunch, I went into the music room to practice. Oh, that day, I completely broke off my thumbnail, which is my most important nail for playing guitar, and I cracked my index nail, so I was bummed about the prospect of me sounding awful. Once I started playing, things sounded fine.

The appetizers were set out on tables in the hallway, and we set up behind the tables. The appetizers looked really good. There was a table with tapanades, a table with lox, one with baked brie, one with an assortment of veggies and cheeses. It was very impressive. We started playing once people showed up. Mark had some songs he played and sang and I played along on guitar, while Danny played bass. After a little while, Mark picked up his mandolin and I took over for guitar. We sang some songs and did some jamming. The people seemed to enjoy it. After the appetizers, we went in for dinner. The galley was completely transformed. All the windows were covered, and the lighting was provided by candles on the tables and hanging string lights from the ceiling. All the tables had fancy tablecloth and there were fake leaves spread out all over the tables. It looked really nice. Most people dressed nicely. I wore my nicest shirt, which was an Arrogant Bastard beer shirt. All the girls wore dresses. A friend of mine explained to me later, that for the girls, it was a big deal to dress up. For the entire season, they wear big baggy overalls and jackets and can't shower when they want to, so it means a lot to them to be able to be girls for a night.

There were a few speeches before dinner by the NSF (National Science Foundation) rep, the lead chef, and the person in charge of the station. Dinner was still served as a buffet like normal and we all went up by table to keep the line down. They had deep fried turkey, smoked turkey, and baked turkey, along with stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and everything else you'd come to expect from a thanksgiving meal. The food was just delicious. You would never think that they were cooking for 250 people. It really tasted home made. During dinner, there were volunteers who ran wine to everyone. If you would get up at some point in the meal, when you sat down your wine glass would be full. They did a good job! The wine was good, too! They really went all-out to make people happy. After dinner, people came around with pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and chocolate chiffon pie. I had the pumpkin and the pecan, and they were both delicious. They were served with fresh whipped cream, which tasted like they made it themselves.

After dinner, I went back out and played for the next crowd enjoying appetizers. This crowd was waaaay more fun than the first. They were really into the music. To them it was a free concert, not background music. We played Iko Iko, which everyone went wild for, then some grateful dead and some violent femmes. People were singing along and hooting and hollaring. It was a lot of fun to play for them. Once they went inside to get dinner, we worked on a few more songs until it was time for the next shift. The final shift wasn't as fun as the second, but still better than the first. We had a lot of fun playing. After they went to dinner, we stayed in the hallway playing whatever came to mind for a couple of hours.

After all the dinners were done, everyone went back into the galley to party. There was lot of wine and some sangria that somebody made. Everyone broke out their secret liquor stash. People had smuggled in all sorts of fine scotches. I had a couple of beers and some whiskey. It was good. People split their time between the galley and the game room, where we were playing drunken foosball and pool and listening to music. Eventually people dragged the ping pong table out into the hallway, so there was a long line of ping pong players as well. It was fun to see everyone having a really good time.

I decided to sleep in a little this morning, and I'm doing laundry right now. I'll probably go into work after lunch.

The South Pole

Here's me at the ceremonial south pole.

You've gotta lick the south pole!

Here's a picture of my at the geographic south pole. It moves some 30 feet every year due to the shifting ice.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dark Sector Lab

Some pics that I've been trying to upload for over a week. This is what the lab looks like.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Who needs thumbs, anyway...

Yesterday morning we got 2 more crates in and started unpacking them. They had all the necessary cable stock to make the cables to go from the electronics to the telescope. Walt and I disassembled the 2 non-working rack-mount monitors in an attempt to fix them, but we had essentially no improvement. We got one working as good as the other, which was not good enough to use...

Afterwards, we all started making cables. As I was cutting the casing of the cable, I slipped and sliced a nice gash into my thumb. I did some first aid in the building, then trudged back to Sick Bay (I love calling it that) to get it properly dressed. By the time I got there, it had stopped bleeding, so it was pretty easy to take care of. It was a good clean cut. I learned a couple of things at the doctor's office. First, he said that I shouldn't be surprised if it takes upwards of 5 weeks to heal the cut. Things heal slowly up here. Second, there's 1/3 the oxygen here than at sea level. That's a lot less than I was expecting. Third, my heart rate is a good deal higher than at sea level (which is normal).

Anyway... after getting treated for my owie, I met the group for lunch, then we headed back out to the lab. I pretty much just made cables until dinner time. It's pretty monotonous and tedious work, but it needs to be done, and the more I do it, the better I get at it, the faster it goes. After dinner, I went and jammed in the music room for a while.

I haven't been feeling well, so I left early to get some sleep. The past couple days, I've started to get a headache. Last night I woke up with a pounding headache. I took some ibuprofen and now it's feeling a little better. I got to sleep in an extra hour or so today, which really made a big difference. This is the first morning that I've woken up feeling rested. All my symptoms have been normal altitude sickness symptoms, so I'm not too concerned. I just need to make sure to rest and they will go away.

Today, we have the big teleconference with the group at 9am. After that, I'll probably finish making some cables, but my main goal today is to take it easy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Violent Femmes in Antarctica

So, sure enough yesterday about after lunch I was feeling much better. After lunch we went back to the lab to work. A new group member got in yesterday, so now we're up to 5. It was actually a pretty awful afternoon. A lot of sitting around. Wasn't much for me to do. I hate sitting on my hands, especially down here. After a while, Jamie (the new one) went back to rest and Rashmi and Phil went back because they were assigned the day's house mouse (cleaning the station), so it was just me and Walt. We were working on the computer systems. We spent a lot of time modifying and mounting the monitors to the computer rack and at the end of it all both of them didn't work. A lot of work for nothing. After a while, we decided to head back and get some dinner. All day we had been waiting for a call from cargo to get these 2 crates. First they said after 2pm. Then they said that the swing shift (the late shift) might be able to do it, but maybe not today. Well, when do they call and say it's ready? The second I start to climb the stairs into the main base. So I have to turn right around and walk aaaaaaaallll the way back to the lab. Very demoralizing. And of course, once I got there, there were 2 planes that flew in, so the skiway (the area you have to cross to get from the main building to the lab) was closed for about 40 minutes. So I just sat there in the lab for nearly an hour with nothing to do. Finally, the cargo arrived. Believe it or not, this is when my day started to get really good. Rashmi brought his iPod and we were blasting some pink floyd which always puts me in a good mood. I suited up in my ECW gear and then strapped on the body harness and we hauled these crates up. For the 2nd crate, I literally operated the crane, opened the gates, and moved the crate myself. I did the work of 3 people. The group got a kick out of it. I was just really pumped up and wanted to get the hell out of there.

We had already missed dinner at this point, and we were none too happy about it. When we got back to the galley, I asked about leftovers, and to my surprise, there were some leftover steaks. Jackpot. Although the adrenaline rush from moving the crates already put me in a good mood, this definitely pushed it over. After dinner, some people from the Ice Cube project came up and played Simpsons Clue with some of my group. I declined because I wanted to go into the music room and jam.

When I got down there, Danny and Eli (mandolin) were working out some violent femmes songs. I immediately picked up a guitar and started playing along. After a little while, a drummer joined us as well and we had ourselves our own violent femmes cover band. We must have played like a dozen of their songs. They're so easy and so much fun to sing at the top of your lungs. We were all having a blast. A little later, Mark joined and we started jamming on some blues and bluegrass stuff. Mark printed out the lyrics to Iko Iko after really liking the arrangement of it that I played. We all played it and sang and had like 3 part harmonies going. It sounded really good. We all had a blast. We're definitely playing tomorrow night after soccer, but I'll probably end up playing again with them tonight.

After jamming, I met back up with my group and played a little foosball before going to bed.

I'm still having trouble sleeping, and I'm waking up feeling just awful, but it fades as the day goes on. I think today or tomorrow I'm going to take a break from work and just rest.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Moon and Antarctica

Yesterday, I literally saw the moon and antarctica (the name of a modest mouse album). It's funny how something as regular as seeing the moon can seem so alien down here. Not to mention the alien spacecrafts that are buried under the ice...

Yesterday was spent mostly setting up all our rack-mounted electronics. A simple task, right? Apparently not at the South Pole. So many parts needed to be modified. Everything seems to take longer than even a normal delay would expect. We got to sleep in yesterday, seeing as how it was sunday and most people have the day off... didn't need to meet the group until 7am instead of 6:30! We broke for lunch at around 12:30 and then worked until dinner at around 5:30. Just before dinner, the store was having a massive sale on all older merchandise, and I scored 4 t-shirts for $20. After dinner I went to the store to buy more stuff. I bought a cool hoodie and I bought a 6 pack of beer for only $5. They have a whole section of DVD's at the store for rent (for free) so I rented the 1st season of the Simpsons.

After the store, I went into the music room and played for a while. Danny, the bass player joined a little later and we ended up jamming for a while and just chatting about life at the station, etc.

I haven't been able to sleep well, and the prospect of no breaks in my schedule has my spirits kind of low. Also I really miss my friends and family, not to mention my girlfriend! This week my parents are on the west coast, and I was really hoping to see them.

Feeling kind of blah this morning. Woke up last night about 2 hours after falling asleep feeling like I was going to be sick. It passed pretty quickly but the panic of 'I'm really far from everyone I know' didn't help. Perhaps I'm literally homesick. Yesterday morning I wasn't feeling great, but I perked up after I started working. Hopefully the same will happen today.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Recent Activity

My Diamox prescription has worn off, and I'm feeling pretty good with the altitude. Two days ago I tried working out for the first time. I got winded a lot faster than usual, but my recovery time wasn't too bad. I guess, because of the altitude, I'm breathing heavier anyway, so I'm still taking in a lot of air. The weirdest thing is that, no matter how hard I seemed to work, I didn't sweat. Other guys in my group reported the same thing: Winded faster, didn't sweat. After that, I took my first 2 minute shower. It made me realize how much water we waste by taking long showers. It also made me realize that as soon as I get home, I'm going to take a loooooong shower. The water heated quickly enough that I didn't use up all my time waiting for the water to get hot enough.

Earlier that day, the hoist was fixed and we were able to load up some crates. We're on the 2nd floor of the Dark Sector Lab (I've tried to post pictures 4 or 5 times, but the internet is so slow... after an hour in a half, I usually give up). We had 3 crates that were mostly filled with computers, and then one crate filled with random other things. We decided to call it a day once they were hoisted.

The next morning at around 7:30 am, we went out there an unloaded the crates. It took us about 45 minutes to do it all. After that, Cargo brought out an enormous palate filled with about 10 crates, 6 of which were these big blue crates which we shipped most of our stuff in. Of course, only about 3 of these crates were filled with stuff we could actually use in setting up the lab. So we spent the better part of the morning playing musical crates to get the ones we wanted upstairs and the ones we didn't downstairs. When we load crates upstairs, you have to open up the gate on the balcony of the 2nd floor, which requires you to wear a body harness and strap into the wall. So with all the winter gear and a body harness, you totally look like a gi joe cobra commando (again, pictures once the internet stops sucking). After that we called it lunch. After lunch we trudged back out and unpacked the 2 crates that we had brought up, and then played musical crates again to get 3 more up that we wanted. We unpacked all these crates and called it a day.

At one point during the day, we couldn't walk out to the Dark Sector since planes were landing/taking off (the runway goes through the path to dark sector) so me and one of the guys in my group went to the pole. Yes, there is a pole there. It's only about 20 yards away from the from entrance. There's the ceremonial pole with a big barbershop pole and a bunch of flags around it, and then there's the actual pole, which is maybe 50 feet from that, with a sign. I took some pictures which I'll post when I get the chance. So... I've been to the south pole. Literally.

After dinner, I went into the music room, as I do pretty much every day, and there were already about 5 or 6 musicians playing. I asked if I could join, and they said "sure!". There was an older guy, maybe in his 40's on guitar/singing, a bass player with an electric upright, a drummer, a banjo player, a mandolin player, and a harmonica/guitar player. I figured, I wouldn't add much on a regular guitar, so I picked up a 12-string and played along. They were mostly bluegrass tunes, or early rock songs played in a bluegrass style. It was a lot of fun. Once the guitarist heard me play, he asked me if I wanted to join the band. I did, but the main show down here is on new years, which I won't be around for. So we just decided to jam whenever we could, and maybe we'll do an "open mic" type thing. We also talked about the possibility of playing music for thanksgiving, which I am all for. It was just fun to jam for a while and everyone was really impressed with my playing. It was a lot of fun!

I played with them until bedtime, then went to sleep. I didn't sleep well last night, lots of tossing and turning, and waking up. I kept having nightmare after nightmare which would wake me up. Got up this morning just before 7am and had some breakfast. Even though the kitchen is closed for breakfast in the morning, they have instant oatmeal and cereal, etc. that you can have. We're all meeting by the front door at 8 to head out to the DSL. Although most people have the day off, there's no rest for the scientist. This is more of a complaint than a call to arms.

Friday, November 20, 2009

South Pole Station

The night of my first day here, I just took it easy. Internet was down until the morning, so I went to the music room to play guitar. There was already someone in there, so I asked if he wanted to jam. He was a beginner, so I decided to take up the bass and play along. Eventually a drummer stopped in, and we had a makeshift band! Played until it was time to go to sleep. The guitarist had some beers which he shared. Diamox is weird. It affects the taste buds. It felt like I was drinking beer with pop-rocks. Really strange. I slept ok that night, except the Diamox would wake me up to pee, really really bad.

The next morning, we met at 7 am for breakfast. After that, we walked over to our labs (in the Dark Sector--which is the coolest name for a lab, ever). But they couldn't unload our cargo until 2pm, so we just took care of some minor lab work, then went back for lunch. Lunch was a baja style shrimp burrito. It made the whole base smell really good! The food here is way better than I was expecting, and waaaaay better than it needs to be.

To get to the Dark Sector Lab, you have to suit up and walk in the -40 degree (-60 with wind chill) snow for about 15 minutes. So, you don't want to do it a lot. We trudged back at 2 to find that the hoist to life our cargo wasn't working properly. So we went back and had fall safety training. And that was about it until dinner. Dinner was a delicious lamb stew or meatloaf. Very tasty. After that, I played in the music room for a couple of hours and then played a computer game until bedtime.

Had breakfast at 6:30 and now I'm going to meet the group to see if the hoist is fixed, or if we've procured a hand hoist to lift the cargo.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

South Pole Station

The C-130 cargo plane that flew us from McMurdo to the South Pole (about 3 hours flight)

Me just getting off the plane by the station, in full Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. It was about -35 F outside with a windchill of -50 F.

My teeny tiny room.

The flight left this morning at around 9 am. We flew in a C-130, which is a propellor driven military cargo plane. It was really loud. They passed out earplugs before the flight. We had two 2-star generals and two 1-star generals on the flight, which was really cool. We figured that if anything should happen, we'd be rescued right away. Those guys are valuable. They said that they were just on a tour of the station, but I figure they were probably going to examine the alien spacecraft hidden under the ice. Since we were so heavy, we could only climb to a max altitude of 24,000 feet. About half way into the flight, the ice/mountains were over 10,000 feet, so we were really close. At one point, we dropped in and flew between the mountains. It was really cool to look out the window and see the side of a mountain. The landing was incredibly smooth (seeing as how we landed on skis on an ice runway). When we deplaned, the temperature was about -35 degrees F. It was coooooooold!!!! We entered south pole station and got our debreifing.

The crazy thing about the south pole is that is sits at an elevation of 9,3000 feet, and with the pressure and temperature, it feels more like over 10,000. So the biggest thing when you arrive is to make sure that you don't get altitude sickness. I started taking Diamox in McMurdo which helps prevent symptoms of altitude sickness, but it's got some weird side effects. Apparently, it works by ridding your blood of carbonate, which makes it more acidic, which triggers your body's natural reflext to breathe more. In ridding the carbonate, it does it one way--it makes you pee a lot. Like every 3 hours. I haven't had any of the other side effects yet, but apparently it can make random parts of your body go numb for random periods of time. Sounds kind of fun.

Here, I have my own room, well more like closet. It's got a bed, a desk, and a closet. I think its dimensions are 6'x10'. It's small. No windows either, which is probably a good thing since it will be easier to sleep. The station is really nice. It's brand new, opened last year. There's a gym for basketball/volleyball/indoor soccer, a cardio gym, and a weight room. The cafeteria is open 24/7 but has normal meal times. The rest of the time you can have left overs or cereal, etc. Lunch today was good, and I'll grab dinner in an hour or so. Lunch was beef sloppy joes (which were really tasty) and they had all sorts of sides, from fries, to fruit, to salad.

After lunch, and unpacking my things, I went to their music room and played guitar for a couple of hours. They have some nice equiptment. I started playing a Strat through a fender blues deluxe, then moved onto a Gibson SG, then moved onto an acousitc (made of carbon fiber).

I haven't been to the lab yet. I'll go tomorrow morning at 8am to check on the status of all our crates.

I haven't gotten a chance to upload pictures yet. Internet can be spotty--it depends on when satellites are flying through. I didn't even see a scheduled internet time for right now...

Weird things about south pole so far:

- Allowance of 2 2min showers a week
- 1 load of laundry /week
- they really REALLY emphasize washing your hands
- The station is on stilts
- the actual south pole is like 20 feet away from the building
- all waste gets shipped out (especially poop)
- all water comes from melted ice
- it's at an elevation of 9,300 feet, of which 90% is ice.
- There are 231 of us here right now

I'll post more of these once I learn more

McMurdo Station, Antarctica

The Massive C-17 which flew us to McMurdo

View of Antarctica from the air

The really really small bunk room.

View of the ice shelf.

I landed yesterday in McMurdo base at around 2:30. We took a C-17, which is a HUUUUUUUGE military cargo plane. I was sitting right near the biggest dewar of liquid helium I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure it said "do not fly with passengers". If it were to malfunction, that would be it. The flight took 5 hours. We landed on a a runway made from frozen sea ice. After taxiing for a while, we got out in ANTARCTICA!!! It was beautiful. McMurdo is right by the coast, but surrounded by a frozen sea. We could see My Erebus, and a whole lot of other enormous mountains. It was just incredible. The base felt like a post-apocalyptic mad-max type environment. All the cars were lifted 4x4s or conversions or weird machinery on tank treads. Even the ambulance was a monster truck. All the trash has to be sorted and recycled (as everything gets flow back to the US). The food was good. I had steak with salad and braised cabbage. The strangest part was the room. It was a room about twice the size of a standard bedroom, something that could fit 10 people if they were bunked. We, however, had more than 30 of us in there. You had to walk sideways through the hallways. The sun is up 24/7 at this time of year, which is really REALLY weird. I went to bed at around 10:30, but the sun was still as if it was 4 pm during the summer.

When we had some free time, we walked to Discovery Hut, which is where Shackleton and his men stayed when the Discovery was frozen in ice. I didn't get a chance to go in. Maybe on the return. Outside, there was a seal which they caught and killed in 1902, and it was in incredible condition. Even the wood that the hut was made from was in impeccable shape. It looked like it could have been built this year. The whole site was just incredible.

At 7 am the next morning, we went to catch the flight. I'll talk about the flight and the south pole station in the next post.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hiking in the Southern Alps

Me outside of castle rock. It was windy!

The view of the southern alps from castle rock.

Me at castle rock.

Me at the Devil's Punchbowl waterfall. Check out that sweet beard I've got going.

The southern alps, as we were leaving Arthur's pass.

Today, we took Phil's rental car out into the Souther Alps. We first stopped off at Castle Rock, which were these really cool Sandstone formations. I climbed all over the large boulders. It was a lot of fun. We then went into Arthur's Pass. It was sunny and relatively warm when we went to Castle Rock, but at Arthur's Pass, it was cold and cloudy and rainy/snowy. It was pretty cool. We stopped off at this cafe for lunch when I looked outside and spotted a large, brightly colored bird. It was green with an orange underside. It's called a Kea and is a native mountain parrot. We saw a few later on when we were hiking. We first hiked Devil's Punchbowl which was a 130 meter waterfall. Then we started to hike up Cassidy trail, but it was a very steep, very wet dangerous trail, so we hiked until a viewpoint, then hiked back. The trail was rated at 1 Rashmi, that is, Rashmi fell 1 time. After that, we hiked the Bridal Veil path, which was a huge disappointment. We hiked for almost an hour and saw pretty much nothing. It was still cool to be in the mountains of New Zealand, though.

Flight is scheduled for tomorrow morning. It's been fun in new zealand, but I'm ready to get to antarctica. I'll have to be up at 5 am to be at the USAP by 6 for my 9 am flight!

I'm going to meet up with the group in a few minutes for dinner.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some pics from yesterday's excursions

New Zealand fur seals. Can you spot all 3?

It was very windy!

The rare Hector Dolphin. Only found in this part of the world. World's smallest dolphin.

Cathedral Cave

The Harbor

Another delay

Not sure exactly why, but now my flight has been delayed until tuesday. There was a new group that came in yesterday, so I imagine some of them have priority on the monday flight.

Last night after the nature cruise, we all went out for dinner at this place called beer and burgers. It was very very cool. The logo was a black and white 1950's style school-girl vampire eating a burger. Really kitschey. They had posters on the walls of cartoons that would say "don't fight! Eat a burger" and would have one frame with two people fighting, and then the next frame would be the two people in the same position but with burgers in their hands. Had the same for "don't drink and drive! Have a burger" but with one of the patrons up in a tree. Very cool restaurant. Good food and good beer. We then went to Bailies for more drinks. It's right in Cathedral square and was full of usap people. There was also a soccer game on tv with NZ vs Bahrain. NZ won, but their team looked like shit. Got good and drunk, then went home and had a nice sleep! I like new zealanders. The innkeeper made an announcement that breakfast would be closing instead of just closing it. That allowed me to get up, throw some pants on, and get a decent breakfast.

After that, I went for a run in the park and did a quick workout. I think Phil rented a car, so we may take a longer excursion today. Hopefully, we'll be able to get into the mountains!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More fun in New Zealand

Today after breakfast, Walt's father's friend (or friend's father) who lives nearby drove us all through Christchurch, down through Lyttelton, and into Akaroa, which is another port town in a volcanic crater. It took us about 2 hours to get there, but we took scenic drives. The town was mostly a tourist town, but not in a bad way. It wasn't a tourist trap, but its main income is from tourism. We took a nature cruise which was on a small boat out into the harbor. We saw the Hector dolphin which is only found in this part of the world. Saw maybe five of them. The would swim up to the boat and dive out of the water. One of them sat on the top of the waves and slapped its tail against the water a number of times. It definitely knew we were watching it. We then saw a bunch of Shag's and a couple of blue penguins. Then we moved to the mouth of the harbor, where the waves were huuuuuge! We were really tossed around for a while. It was a lot of fun! I wanted to keep doing it. Then we went to the other side of the harbor where there were fur seals. They were mostly laying around. A couple were swimming. Not quite in the numbers as the leopard seals in La Jolla, but still really cool. We then went cruising around the harbor looking at all the remnants of the volcano around us. It was very pretty.

One thing in new zealand, is that there are always sheep. Everywhere you look, you'll find sheep. Lots of cows, too which I hear is a recent occurrance.

My internet connection here is spotty, and uploading pics takes forever, so it's been hard to show my pictures, but I'll upload them once I get the chance, probably once I get to antarctica.

"stuck" in new zealand for the weekend

Due to weather, the flight this morning was cancelled. I don't think they fly on sundays, so that means I'm here til monday. The plan for today is to go to Akaroa which is further south than Lyttleton on the volcanic crater, where we'll hire a boat to take us out dolphin watching. Yep. New Zealand kicks ass.

Last night we just went to the Dux de Lux for dinner and drinks. Food was good. They serve all vegetarian, and fish. I got the seafood jumbalaya. It had squid and shrimp as well as local mussels, which were great, and a huge prawn. The beer was good, but I've already talked about that

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hiking in NZ

Today, I decided that I was going to find a place to go hiking. I found that there is a city nestled in an old volcanic crater called Lyttleton, so I took the bus to the Christchurch Gondola and hiked up to the summit with Rashmi and Phil. The weather was beyond shit. It was cold, rainy, sleeting, EXTREMELY windy, and beautiful! Once we got to the top, we went into the Gondola center. There I had a well deserved beer. We sat for some time until the weather broke. There were amazing panoramic views of new zealand. Lyttleton was really pretty. It was nestled at the base of this harbor which must have been an old volcano. I've posted a good shot of the area. It was taken at around a mile up.

We hiked down the other side into Lyttleton. It was a city made up mostly of bars, coffee shops, and restaurants. It was really dead, but kind of neat. My bandwidth is really limited right now, so I can't upload any of the pics that I want. I'll upload them later.

Flight to McMurdo Delayed 24 hours

At about 4 am last night, the B&B keeper went around informing us that the flight to McMurdo has been delayed. We're most likely to report to the USAP tomorrow at 6am. I'm pretty happy about this, as I got drunker than I was expecting last night. Went to the Dux de Lux which was a pretty kick-ass bar/microbrewery. I had their stout, which was nice and rich, their strong ale (which had some apricot in it, I think), their traditional NZ style lager, and then sampled some others. They had a ginger beer which was just awful. It tasted like a soda. Most of their beers are rated at 4%, so I made sure to inform them about the far superior Stone beers and their towering alcohol content. For dinner beforehand, I went to the Belgian Beer Bar and had a Gulden Draak with some lamb. The lamb was fantastic. It had such a great flavor to it, very rich and somewhat gamey, but very very good. Nice and tender as well. Things are somewhat expensive here. The lamb was 30 NZD (~24 USD) and the beer was 17 NZD (~14 USD).

After the 4am flight delay, I went back to sleep until 7:30 after which I had breakfast. After breakfast, the innkeeper brought out his 1928 Erskine around and took us all for a drive. We went to this old house that used to be some private mansion. It had some nice gardens a a stream that ran through it. Very cool. I've got some pictures of my behind the wheel that I'll post when I get the chance.

Today, I want to go into the hills and maybe get a hike in. I really want to get a good panorama of the city.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Extreme Cold Weather Gear

Had my fitting for the Extreme Cold Weather Gear. This was done at the US Antarctic Program's Clothing Distribution Center by the Airport. It was right next to a hands-on antarctic discovery center which I would love to go to some time. I hear they have penguins! The clothing was stuffed into 2 orange duffel bags. Of course, my bag was non-existent, but there was a bag for Jon D Kauffmann--doppelganger!!! They realized their mistake and threw together mine fairly quickly. The clothing issued were:
- 1x large red thick jacket with my name on it (removable tag)
- 1x Thick wind-pants/overalls
- 2x leather gloves w/ lining
- 1x leather mittens with seperate wool liners
- 1x pair of plastic looking white thermal boots
- 1x set of thermal underwear
- 1x set of fleece pants and jacket
- 1x lighter red outer jacket (in case the weather gets nice)
- 2x thick wool socks
- 1x balaclava (baklava???) or head/face covering
- 1x goggles
- 1x fleece cap
- 1x fleece turtle neck (just the neck part)
- 1x another pair of thicker fleece pants

I'll have pictures of it all on a little later.

And they gave me a flu shot.

My flight to Antarctica is supposed to be tomorrow at 9am and I will report to the USAP at 6 am. I've heard rumors that the weather is very bad right now in which case they may not fly out until Monday (keep in mind tomorrow is friday-- +1 day from all y'all), which would mean I would have the weekend in new zealand! In this case, I would try renting a car and driving around the country.

I'm meeting a few people from the program at 5:30 when we'll go grab dinner and drinks. Should be fun.

First Day in New Zealand

Went to dinner with Rashmi at the Bailey's in the city square. Had a moroccan chicken sandwich. It was pretty good. Had some New Zealand beer with it. It was a light pilsner, very refreshing, not much to it. Walked around Christchurch for a while. Nice city, but everything shuts down at 5 and they barely open on the weekends. It's just weird. Lots of sex shops too. That was mildly unexpected. Wacky Kiwis. Bought my standard New Zealand t-shirt with the All Blacks logo on it. Planned on taking a nap and then hitting the town, but I woke up from the nap at around 2 am and decided to just sleep through the night. Had a nice breakfast this morning at the hotel. They had a lot of fruit (tons of kiwis) and eggs and bacon (which was more like canadian bacon than the far superior american bacon) and sausage. I had Marmite, which was advertised as a yeast spread. It was a dark brown, almost molasses looking spread which tasted just about as bad as it smelled. It was bitter and sour and tasted like uncooked bitter dough. The waitress said it was to be eaten with margarine, so it's just a winning combination.

After breakfast, I went to the nearby botanical gardens which were fairly nice. It was funny, the most impressive trees were originally from california. Then I went to the museum right by the gardens. They had the history of the indigenous people, the Maori and the Moriari. They neglected to mention the slaughter of the non-violent Moriori by the aggressive and expansionist Maori. They had gems and meteors and mummies, and even a dinosaur or two. They also had a whole exhibit on antarctica and the early expeditions. It was cool. And it was all free!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arrived in New Zealand

And they gave us popsicles on the plane! They're so friendly!

The flight from LAX to Sydney went well. I was on a boeing 747-400. Big plane. Double decker, but no A380. Saw a few of those parked at the airport. Those are huuuuge. The meal was pretty good, the service was very friendly. About a 15 hour flight. Really wasn't so bad. Everything was free and you had a personal entertainment system with on-demand new movies. I watched Hurt Locker and Terminator: Salvation. Hurt locker was really good. Terminator was ok, but I was pretty tired when I watched that. Not sure if I slept. I took some sleeping aids and closed my eyes, but I really can't sleep on the plane. I can't believe I was in Australia this morning.

The flight to Christchurch (kosher city) was about 2.5 hours and was very smooth. We got popsicles. Lunch was really good. They served a red chicken curry which tasted great. Flying into new zealand was quite a site. Out of the ocean rose these enormous snow-covered mountains which end suddenly into flatness before falling back into the sea.

Tomorrow I have my clothing fitting tomorrow at 13:00 and find out when my flight to Antarctica is.

I can't wait to explore the city!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm Ready!

My long johns and my knit cap! Bring it on, Antarctica!

Going Away Party

Thanks to everyone who came to my bon voyage party. Sorry I was such a debbie downer. At around 7 or so, my stomach started to act weird. I could only eat a little bit at dinner. When I got home I just wrapped myself in a blanket and shook. I got some pepto when Ruwan drove me to the party, but it didn't help. I think I stayed for maybe 45 minutes. I went home and felt just awful. I spent most of yesterday recovering. I feel muuuuuch better today. I was able to eat a full meal this morning.

Anyway, sorry I couldn't be the Jon that I wanted to be. Sara still had a blast hanging out with everyone. And Rachel too. It was really great to see everyone come out.

Well, we should try a "welcome home" party where I intend to feel much better.

About to head out

my plane leaves from LAX today at 10:30 pm. I'm probably going to carpool with Rashmi, Walt, and Phil to the airport. We plan to leave by 5:45 or 6pm. Hooray for international flights! We are hand carrying the new Focal Plane Unit (FPU) to the pole, which is sitting comfortably in it's military grade beige briefcase. I hope Justus got the handcuffs for it. That would be sweet.

I got my noise "canceling" headphones--the cheap pair that doesn't seem to do much. I'm also bringing Watchmen and The Professional for the plane ride. Oh, and I always have my emergency Dark Knight on my phone. Hopefully the drugs I bought will knock me out on the plane. 15 hours awake on a cramped jet, ummmm... no thanks. Oh, and I have my book on the founding of the Navy, just in case my sleeping pills don't work.

Next stop, australialand...

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Here a picture of the Telescope in the Mount.

BICEP 2 is a microwave telescope looking back at the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB--The time about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, where the universe was cool enough for matter to form) for a certain signature indicative of an inflationary epoch in our early universe. It has been posited that after the Big Bang, the universe expand at an exponential rate. This explains some "strange" behavior that we see in our universe. Everything that happened between the Big Bang and the CMB is be imprinted on the CMB, thus this massive inflation would leave its mark on the CMB. We are looking for this mark with BICEP2, observing from the South Pole. The South Pole was chosen, as it is a very cold, dry, dark place. As water in the atmosphere absorbs microwave radiation (think of how a microwave oven works--the water in the food absorbs microwave radiation and heats up), we require an extremely dry environment. A space mission would be ideal, but the cost to put a telescope in space is extreme, and ground based experiments so far have been sensitive enough. There is a balloon borne experiment scheduled for next year as well, which takes the telescope and puts it extremely high in the atmosphere.

The Mount is the blue thing, which controls the movement of the telescope. The white thing is called the Cryostat, it's the part that keeps the telescope under vacuum and really really cold. It's filled with Liquid Helium (4K = -452 F), though the detectors are kept much colder than that, at around 0.250 K with a He10 dilution fridge. In this picture, you can see the window, which allows microwave radiation through. Inside the cryostat are the lenses, which focus the incoming light, filters to reject out of band radiation (ie not microwaves), and the detectors. There are 256 pixels, each sensitive to 2 orthogonal polarizations of light. They are made of a series of antennae coupled with a microstrip into Transition Edge Sensors (TES's). TES's are devices that are kept just on the transition of a material from its normal operating state to its superconducting state. This transition is a very steep curve in resistance, and thus a small signal on the antennae translates to a clear jump in the TES resistance. I won't bother with the rest of the circuitry right now, but I think that how the TES's work is really cool.

So the telescope scans across the sky, and we take these tiny changes in resistance and translate them into pretty pictures of the early universe!

My itinerary

So I leave LAX on monday (the 9th) at 10:30 pm and arrive in Sydney, Australia at 9 am on the 11th. A nice leisurely 15 hour flight. I then leave from Sydney to Christchurch, New Zealand, where I'm pretty sure I'll be greeted by at least one of the Chonchords. Maybe Murray. From there, I have 2 days before I leave for antarctica. For starters, I have to get my Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. I'm pretty sure it's sponsored by mountain dew. I have to get my computer checked for viruses/decepticons, and my arm poked with swine flu. I have one major goal in NZ: get drunk with kiwi's and listen to their funny accents. Insert obligatory Lord of the Rings comment here.

From NZ, I should be taking a C-17 to McMurdo station on the coast of antarctica, where I will be staying for the night. I'll then take an LC-130 giant prop cargo plane to the South Pole. This thing takes off and lands on ski's. And it's huge. From there, I'll be staying at the South Pole station for the next 4+ weeks, putting the telescope together.