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.