Tuesday, December 27, 2011

That Two Day Weekend

Saturday morning was the Race Around the World, a christmas tradition. It was only a 2.3 mile run but the weather was so terrible that it was very difficult. I really struggle with the altitude when it comes to aerobic exercise. I'm not designed for this. My lungs can't get enough oxygen. It's so cold out that you really have to wear something to cover your face or else risk damaging your lungs but then it's even harder to breathe. I started out the race fine, but about .25 mi in, we hit some really soft snow and the effort of trudging through it really wore me out. The rest of the race was spent gasping for air. It was really a miserable experience. I hate distance running to begin with, but add to that sub-freezing temperatures and 20mph winds and it was just the worst. Thankfully, towards the end of the race, when I was contemplating what it would be like to just drop dead, a friend of mine caught up to me and we raced to the finish. It made it slightly more fun. I would classify the race as worse than going to the dentist but better than being stabbed in an alley. Congrats to Jamie Tolan who won the race. He's a grad student on our sister telescope, SPUD or Keck (depending on where you are).

After the race, everyone gathered in the galley for brunch. I was too cold and too nauseous to eat but it was nice to see everyone out and about. After a little while, I grabbed some food, and then a bunch of us decided to hit the sauna. That was definitely the best idea possibly ever created by man. It goes 1) sauna after race around the world 2) go to the moon 3) the internet 4) sliced bread. Whatever damage I may have done to my lungs was definitely soothed by the 210 degree sauna. Naturally, after 10 or so minutes, you have to run outside. We call that "the cycle." After 4 or so cycles, I was ready for a shower.

Later that night was the famous Christmas dinner. The galley is decorated with strings of hanging lights and there is a christmas tree in the corner. There are also a few menorahs, for those interested. Dinner was beef wellington, lobster tails, white truffle mashed potatoes, baked root vegetables, and about 1000 different kinds of desserts. There were also appetizers before the meal. They had shrimp cocktails, seared scallops, baked brie, some duck dish, and spiced cider. There are three settings for christmas dinner. I volunteered to help with the second seating which meant I walked around pouring the wine. It was actually a lot of fun. I made sure that no glass went empty. I also helped serve desserts and bus the tables. I was part of the third seating, so after I finished, it was time to eat. The food was incredible. Best lobster ever. I made sure to take advantage of the wine stewards, having inside information on the job. The best part about the third seating is that there isn't a time limit. The other seatings were only an hour to make room for the next group but since this was the last, we had infinite time. I sat with a bunch of telescopers. One of the PI's from SPT was there and he was a lot of fun to talk to. He's up at Berkeley and I wouldn't mind working for him next.

After dinner came the traditional post-holiday dance party. It was a lot of fun. So many of us comment that we wouldn't be caught dead listening or dancing to most of the crap that was played normally, but down at the pole, it's all about just having fun. The dance party continued late into the night but I went to bed relatively early since I had to do a cryo transfer the following morning. That definitely put a damper on the evening, but it's what I'm here for.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This week

The past few days have been fairly quiet. Weather has been really bad at McMurdo so we haven't have many flights come in. This means that I won't get my crate of testing equipment until after christmas.

This week is christmas, or as I like to call it, "that two day weekend." Every year for "that two day weekend," there's a race called "The Race Around the World." I've never been here for it but I always wanted to do it. I think everyone who runs in it gets a free t-shirt. It's a short race, only about 2.3 miles, but I'm not looking forward to it. I hate running distances longer than half a mile or so. The stereotypical polie archetype is that of a marathon runner, so I'm probably going to get my butt kicked. The cold combined with the altitude and low pressure make running here extremely difficult. You start breathing heavily but can't get enough oxygen so it feels a little bit like you're dying. So that's probably what will happen tomorrow--I'll finish the race, then roll over and die.

Tonight, I volunteered to help out in the kitchen peeling potatoes, etc. I wanted to do it so that the people celebrating christmas don't have to worry about it but apparently I'm being a grinch for volunteering, according to two people I was talking to about it. I think they're being dumb. I also volunteered to pour wine during one of the dinner seatings. After christmas will probably be a big party but I'll have to take it easy since I'll have to do a cryo-fill early the next morning. That will not be fun.

The past few days have been fun, although nothing really remarkable happened. I've been sitting around drinking beer or wine with different people and we've just been discussing everything from science to the environment to travel to cars, etc. It's been fun. Of course, I've been staying up way too late drinking and talking, so my past few mornings have been less fun. But at some point, you really need a day or two where you stay up way too late and have a few too many beers. It's good for the soul.

I've been practicing with my band for New Year's. We've gotten almost all of our songs down. We're really trying to be a more rocking band than usual. Most bands down here are classic rock cover bands or folk/bluegrass bands. Those are fun, but after the last open mic night it was apparent that people really wanted to rock out--so we intend to fit that niche.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I love scotch, scotchy scotch scotch

To quote Ron Burgundy...

On Friday, we got a new supply of "liquids," meaning booze at the station. Whenever we get a resupply of stuff for the store (or sometimes for the kitchen), they usually make an announcement asking for volunteers to help unload the cargo. Well at lunch, I was talking to one of the people who helped unload the new "liquid" and she said she saw a few bottles of Laphroig being unloaded. The alcohol policy is as follows: each person can buy either 2 six packs of beer, 2 bottles of wine, or one bottle of liquor each day (a lot per day, I know). With this, prices are pretty much fixed. Cheap beer is usually $5 for a six pack. This would be things like Coors Light. "Good" beer is usually no more than $6 or $6.50 per six pack. This would be beer like Dos Equis. I'm actually impressed that they even have Dos Equis this year. We usually have the choice of watered down crappy New Zealand beer like Speights or watered down crappy American beer like Coors or Corona. You'd probably have to pay me to drink those. Anyway, the liquor is $30 no matter what, which means if you buy Jack Daniels, it's a rip off but if you get Laphroig, it's a steal. Because of this, really good bottles of liquor don't last long in the store. So having been tipped off to the nice scotch at the store, I lined up 10 minutes early to make sure to get a bottle. There were about five bottles of Laphroig and I'm pretty sure that the first five people in the store bought all five bottles. A lot of people who arrived just after the store opened were very disappointed to see the scotch gone.

I was very happy to get this bottle. It's a very very good scotch and for some reason scotch seems to taste better down here. There's nothing quite as relaxing as watching a movie and drinking a glass of scotch after a long day down here. The scotch came in handy as Saturday was James Brown Bingo. Last year was the first time I went to James Brown Bingo and it is quite the experience. The head chef, James Brown, always dresses up in some elaborate costume and then it's just Bingo as normal, except James Brown is a character and as the MC, makes it very interesting. I described it some last year, so I won't go into too much detail but this year his costume was that of a Viking with Norwegian flags painted on his face (in honor of our guests the previous week). James Brown Bingo is as fun as you want it to be. On the surface, you're playing Bingo (which is ok) and James Brown takes forever to call out the numbers. He always waits for the audience to call out numbers and then says yes or no but doesn't really say the number himself for a while. So it's really a test of patience. You can either succumb to the mind numbing boredom, or you can have a couple more drinks and start yelling our numbers or jokes or just random crap. This is really what makes James Brown Bingo so much fun--it's all the tables yelling out hilarious comments because we're all so frustrated with how long it is taking. The prizes are pretty good, too. They start small, like a mag-light flashlight or a gift certificate to a restaurant in Christchurch and then get bigger, like a gift certificate for some hot springs in NZ and eventually a $100 gift certificate to Kathmandu (a NZ REI type store). I actually came close to winning the Kathmandu gift certificate. The final Bingo game is blackout, where you have to have all your numbers on your board called. I had only one number left when the person won. It was a fun game this time around, and I got to share and enjoy the scotch I had purchased so it was a good time.

Eventually, a bunch of us telescope people, as well as some of the younger station worker all got together and had some beers and just talked about standard South Pole things--science, world travel, music, etc. It was a good night. The following day, I had two plans: 1) go to brunch and 2) play soccer. It was a successful day. Soccer was a lot of fun, as usual. It was fairly tiring as I'm still not quite acclimated to the altitude here. Hopefully by next week I will be back to ~100% or at least what my 100% is at this altitude.

First night by myself, first problem with the telescope

Randol, the other BICEP2 grad student down here, left on thursday which meant I was in charge of the telescope. Every three days, we need to refill the liquid helium tank and cycle the fridge. It just so happened that friday was the first time I would have to refill the helium. Liquid Helium, like all cryogens, is very dangerous if not handled properly. If it contacts your skin, it will burn it badly. If too much of it is released into the air around you, you will asphyxiate immediately. If you aren't careful about the container it is in, it will form an ice plug, pressure will build, and it will explode. Fortunately, I don't think there's ever been a death attributed to liquid helium so the procedures to deal with it are very safe and very proven. Still, it always makes me nervous the first time I have to deal with it--especially filling the telescope because if I get an ice plug, we lose a lot of time (and Helium which is in short supply) trying to un-plug it. The other major concern is that the telescope will run out of helium sooner than expected and then it warms up and again, you'll lose time and helium to cool it back down.

So my first night with the telescope, I watched the helium level as it slowly ticked down, figuring I should have more than enough to last until the morning. I go to bed at around 12:30 and at 2am, my radio starts going off that there is trouble with BICEP2. I look at the viewer on my computer that shows what all the thermometers are reading, mount position, helium level, etc. and they are all reading zero. I then check my email for the auto-generated message to see what happened. Apparently, the alarm for low liquid helium was triggered. The problem is that we should have had plenty to last the night and with everything reading zero, I had no idea what was going on. So I threw on some clothes and ECW gear and ran out to the telescope. I was nauseas from the effort but I pulled it together and checked the instruments. Again, everything was reading zero so I took a manual reading from the LHe level meter and it was reading what I was expecting. With that, I was much more relaxed. I power cycled some of the monitoring programs that we run and once everything was back online, everything was reading out normal. Thus, in the end, there was really nothing wrong. I babysat the telescope for about an hour and then went back to the station. At that point, I could maybe get 3-4 hours of sleep before having to go back out the following morning to refill the helium, cycle the fridge, and start the next schedule. Everything went off without a hitch but it made me panic for just a little bit. It was a helluva way to start my time as the responsible party down here. Since then, everything has been fine. This morning I did another fill and fridge cycle and now I'm waiting to queue up another schedule. All is well.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some Pics

Here's a good shot of what Antarctica looks like. Taken by Scott Hut by McMurdo. Those are some Weddel seals sunning themselves on the frozen ocean.

A pic at the airstrip outside of McMurdo. Mt. Erebus is in the background.

My lab. Randol is working on the computer.

Here's a picture of my band playing on Open Mic night. Daniel from IT is on bass and Jon from the greenhouse is on drums. It was a blast!

Here's a picture of all of us with the Prime Minister of Norway. From left to right: (top row) Brad Benson (post-doc on SPT), Jamie Tolan (grad student on KECK), Prime Minister of Norway (Prime Minister of Norway), Jamie Bock (JPL scientist, PI on BICEP2 and KECK), Me (duh), Colin Bischoff (post-doc on KECK), (bottom row) Hien Nguyen (JPL scientist), Chin Lin Wong (grad student on KECK), Sarah Stokes (grad student on KECK), Grant Teply (grad student on KECK), Chris Sheehy (grad student on KECK), Randol Aikin (Grad Student on BICEP2) in the front.

Here's a shot of my ice-beard. I'll get a better one going later in the season (both bigger beard and more ice). Note my hand-made monster hat from the OB farmer's market. Thanks to Sara for buying it for me.

I'm a crazy person.

The Prime Minister of Norway giving a speech by the Ceremonial Pole to mark the Centenary of the expedition to the south pole.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prime Minister of Norway's Visit

On Tuesday, the telescope needed a cryo-fill and a fridge cycle. That's where we refill the tank of liquid helium and then cycle the fridge to get down to 0.25K. The cryo-fill is always a little nerve-wrecking since if you screw it up, you could literally blow up the telescope--but you'd have to REALLY screw it up. The first one is always the hardest. The next ones should be no problem. Before starting our next observing schedule, we did a star pointing schedule. Now usually, I don't talk about work stuff because it's usually a) really specific and won't mean anything and b) kind of boring but this was kind of a lot of fun. On the telescope, we also have an optical camera that looks at stars so we run a schedule that peaks up on a star and we can see the star on a small tv screen we have. We also pipe the images into our control software so when we look at one of the stars, we open up a picture of it in our software. You then take your mouse and click on the center of the star which makes the telescope move a little bit until the star is in the center of the screen. You then tell the telescope that this is the center and repeat for the next star. You do this for about 7 stars and then rotate the angle of the telescope and do it again. It was kind of like a game. After it gets all the information, it uses this to calculate where the telescope is pointing which we then apply in our analysis software.

It was just neat to really have a hands on experience with the telescope, especially when it was in such a tight feedback loop. I'll have to do this about once a week, so it hopefully will remain fun and not become tedious for a while.

Later on that day, the Prime Minister of Norway, who is visiting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first successful expedition to the South Pole by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, came by the Dark Sector Lab for a tour of our telescope (and the SPT telescope). This is only the 2nd head of state to ever come to the South Pole, so as you can imagine, it's a fairly exciting place to be right now. We could tell that the PM was coming since out in the distance, we saw a bunch of people skiing. Clearly Norwegians. On the way in, all us grad students went downstairs and greeted the guests. So I got to shake the Prime Minister's hand and say "Hello! I'm Jon Kaufman. Welcome to our lab!" We set the lab up with posters and slide-shows showing off all our cool science. Our P.I. from JPL gave a short talk about our science and we toured the PM around. Afterwards, we got some pictures of all of us with the PM. It was really cool to give a science lecture to someone who can actually make decisions to benefit the scientific community. Because of the anniversary, there are about 100 tourists who have flown, driven, and skied in to the Pole. It's a really happening place to be right now. Y'all should come on down.

Open Mic Night

On Saturday night was the Open Mic. It was in the Summer Camp Lounge which is a dirty old Jamesway out in the Summer Camp area where parties are usually held. There were a few solo acts and a couple of bands. I decided that I would play some of my acoustic stuff as well as with my band which I haven't done before. As usual, all the acts were really great. The girl who put on the whole thing always sings some country/folk songs and has an amazing voice. The first band did sort of a folky/bluegrass thing, which sounded really great. My usual bass player down here, Daniel, went up and played keyboards and sang (first time he did that in public) with a fiddle player and a guitarist. They played some bright eyes songs which sounded great! The second band up played some covers like Hotel California and some Bon Jovi. It was fun to listen to. Later, my "band" went up. I say "band" since we only practiced once. It was myself, Daniel on bass, and then Jon from the Greenhouse on drums. Daniel and I have been playing together for a while so we were able to put the songs together quickly and Jon is a quality drummer so he was able to just dive right in. We played a Gov't Mule song, then Hey Joe, then Red House (both the Hendrix ones). The crowd really seemed to enjoy it. We definitely sounded much better than we were expecting and we all had such a blast up there. A few more acts went up and then at the end of the night, everyone wanted us to play some more so we got back up on stage and just started jamming. We picked up my friend Timon on keyboards so that added some to it too. We hadn't had anything prepared so we just started taking requests from the audience and surprisingly, we were able to play a lot of them. We did stuff from Metallica to the Violent Femmes, Guns N Roses, Bob Marley, etc. it was really a lot of fun. Eventually, we ran out of gas at around 2:30 am and decided to call it a night. The funny thing is that most of the party that stayed until the end were what's called "beakers," or the science people. The station people (carps, heavy machinery operators, etc) usually poke fun at us beakers but we were able to party way harder than them.

It was so much fun to play down here, as it always is. This year though, I should be able to play the big New Year's Eve party. A lot of people are really looking forward to my band playing that.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

First Few Days

It's Saturday here, and I arrived on Tuesday. It's been fairly laid back the past few days (as it is supposed to be). Because of the altitude, you really want to give it 4-7 days before you start doing anything too taxing. I'm able to get up and down stairs now without feeling like I'm going to pass out, so that's good.

I've spent most of the week doing turnover work with the current BICEP2 grad student. It's mostly just an information dump and changing some settings on the computers. It's all mostly set up and I've seen just about everything that I'll need to do once it's just me. This morning, we did a refill of the liquid helium tanks. That's probably the hardest thing that I'll have to do, but I've done it dozens of times before. In my free time (which is ample since my crate hasn't arrived yet) I've been watching movies in the lounge or playing foosball and darts with the other Polies. The station is abuzz since the centennial anniversary of the discovery of the south pole is coming up this week and for it, the Prime Minister of Norway is coming down so some Norwegian reporters, etc. have started trickling in. Hopefully, when the Prime Minister comes down, he'll take a tour of the telescopes so I'll get to meet him. I think it would be cool to have a photo with the Prime Minister of Norway at the south pole hanging on my wall.

This weekend will be a lot of fun. Tonight is an open mic night so I'll play some acoustic stuff and then I got the band back together, so we'll rock out again. I've gotten a lot of comments from random Polies about the band last year, so I think they're excited to hear us play again. One of the cargo supervisors said she heard guitar playing coming from the band room and said to the other people "I bet I know who that is..." Tomorrow will be the first soccer match that I'll play in. I tried a little on Wednesday but could only last about 5 minutes before I thought my lungs were going to jump out of my throat and kick me in the nuts.

It's been fun, but the more bored I am down here, the more I'm aware of the distance and isolation. Luckily, the "holy crap, I'm at the south frickin pole!" feeling gets me past the down times and work and physical activity will be picking up in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Arrival at the South Pole

We all met at building 140 in McMurdo to drop off our bags and get weighed. We then boarded the Delta to head out to Pegasus field. The Delta, is a giant orange truck with tires probably 4 or 5 feet in diameter. We all get shoved into and locked in the back, which is covered in graffiti and stickers from previous years. I like the Deltas, they make me feel like I'm actually in a harsh environment. The ride to Pegasus takes about an hour and is usually fairly bumpy. Supposedly the day before our shuttle driver had gotten air in the Delta. The ride ended up being fairly smooth and we made it to the field without any problems. At the field, there wasn't a shuttle to take us to the plane (which wasn't ready yet anyway) so we stayed in the galley nearby. Since the weather was so much better, we decided to walk around and take some pictures. Mt. Erebus was covered in snow and spectacular. The Royal Society Mountains have many more features and really look like they came from some artist's imagination. It's an amazing view. It was also relatively warm (around freezing) and with the sun shining, the snow was fairly soft. This could only mean one thing: snowball fight. A few of us got together and started winging snowballs at each other. It was a good way to pass the time. Eventually, we tired of getting pelted and went back in the galley for some cheesecake. One of the people traveling with us was former Air Force and current EMT at Denali in Alaska. He was telling stories about how he lives off grid, how small his town is, and how he survived no less than six air-crashes. It's definitely a certain class of people that are attracted to Antarctica.

The flight was late by about an hour since it took longer than expected for the flight crew to get out to the runway but once we loaded up, we were soon on our way. The LC-130 we were on was completely stuffed with cargo. I've never been on a Pole flight with this much cargo. Naturally, it took a looooong time on the runway to take off and it was only after our second attempt that we actually got off the ground. Later in the day, I was talking to someone who left earlier in the day who said the plane took 13 tries before it actually took off. Supposedly, they are way behind on cargo shipments due to weather and Thanksgiving so they are packing these flights full to the brim. The flight was great, as it always is with the Hercs. It's very, very loud but very smooth and the air force let's you get up and walk around. I went up into the cockpit and took some pictures and just generally hung out around the plane. One of the SPT grad students was allowed to sit in the cockpit as we landed! I was so jealous. Apparently, all she did was offer to give a tour of the telescope to the crewmen and they said "you seem cool, do you want to sit in the cockpit as we land?" That's crazy! We always give the airmen tours of the telescopes. This wasn't anything special!

We landed at pole about 3 hours after taking off on the snow runway--another smooth landing with the skis down, deplaned and headed towards the station. There were a lot of people out to meet us since the entire PAX (passengers) list was either SPT or BICEP2 (me) which was so much fun. You walk up and everyone gives you a big hug and says "welcome to Pole!" It really makes you feel good to have arrived. There were more people than I thought down here for our sister telescope, SPUD (or Keck depending on what part of the world you live) and it's all people I've either worked with for years or at least known for a while so it's a good group of people that I'm happy to be spending time with.

After I got into the station and changed, I met up with some of the guys to watch a cheesy 80's movie (The Delta Force starring Chuck Norris). I stayed up long enough to chug a couple of bottles of water and then headed off to bed. Sleeping wasn't too difficult, although the altitude was hitting me pretty hard. I've been taking Diamox, which is a medicine to prevent altitude sickness. The main side-effect, well actually the main intended effect is that it makes you have to pee every couple of hours. So naturally, I woke up in the middle of the night having to pee like my life depended on it. Unfortunately, my room is at a certain point of the station where the closest bathroom is up a couple flights of stairs. So by the time I got to the bathroom, the effort of putting on my clothes and climbing the stairs made me almost pass out. I was able to sit down and rest until it passed but it made it very difficult to get back to sleep. It's a strange experience--Diamox essentially triggers your breathing reflex so you do it more, so you're very aware that you're taking frequent, huge breaths. Eventually, I fell back asleep until morning. In the morning, I grabbed a quick breakfast and then headed out to the Dark Sector Lab. To get to DSL, you have to cross the skiway (where the planes land) and just when I got to the skiway, the crossing beacon went on signaling that the runway was closed. A small twin-otter aircraft took off and the did a few circles in the air. Twenty minutes later, the beacon was still on. At this point, there were a few other people waiting at the crossing beacon and we were all wondering what the heck was going on. Eventually, we saw a Bassler aircraft off in the distance coming in for a landing. Finally (after about a half hour of sitting in -20 F temperatures), the beacon was turned off. Fortunately, a Pisten Bully was waiting as well so we were able to catch a ride out to the lab.

I'll head back to station in a couple of hours to grab some lunch and then probably take it easy for the rest of the day. The altitude is hitting me harder than normal this year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


For those of you who followed my blog last year, you'll remember my disdain for mcmurdo, and it has not waned over the year. I would probably hate to be stationed here. It's like being in a tiny town in America except you have no privacy. The room I was assigned was small and sleeps three. I got the top bunk (which gets unbelievably hot at night). It seems like my roommates have schedules such that there is always somebody sleeping in the room so I can't spend any time in there. It's also so small and full of their stuff that I don't even have room to put my bags down. I just threw everything in a pile in the corner of the room. Because of this, I couldn't even change into comfortable clothes until after dinner. I can't wait to move on to pole (today, if everything goes as planned).

To pass the time, I went out to Scott Hut (as I do every day, every year I'm here). There were some Weddel seals sunning themselves on the ice and a Skua keeping watch. The food has been surprisingly good. Even at the welcome lecture, they commented that the food was better this year than in previous years. It's amazing, they started making the food with flavor and spices! Lunch was a grilled cheese and hummus sandwich with fresh salad with a beet and mushroom salad, as well as minestrone soup. Dinner had this excellent curried eggplant with Israeli couscous as well as salad and a black eyed pea stew. Obviously, these are just the vegetarian options. I think there was also beef short ribs and chicken stew, both of which looked good.

After dinner, I went to the store and bought some water bottles and patches, as per usual and a six pack of beer. I met up with the SPT people in the coffee shop where we had some wine and beer and traded stories from previous deployments. I drank just enough to get me tired, then used that to fall asleep quickly in the hot room. I slept ok except waking up in the middle of the night to my roommate's loud snoring. I haven't met the guy yet, but I know already that he snores, talks, breathes loudly, and makes weird noises in his sleep. So there's a good ice-breaker if I actually meet him...

It's been a boring morning. I got up at 7 to catch breakfast, which isn't really a good idea. Breakfast is always pretty bad, but I thought "maybe they improved it this year." Nope. So I've been in the library on my laptop all morning, passing the time until lunch. I'll probably take another walk out the Scott Hut since I don't really have any other options to entertain myself.

If all goes as planned, I'll be at pole tonight!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Back in McMurdo

Got to the airport without any problems at 2:30 and put all my bags together and ECW gear on. The flight left around 5 am and landed around 10 am. The C-17s are incredible machines. There were a few turbulent spots but mostly, it was so smooth that it felt like we were still on the ground. I sat on the side of the plane, as usual (infinite leg room). To make it super comfortable, you take the giant red parka and pull the hood through a strap behind you so the jacket stays up on its own. Then you wrap yourself in the jacket and it's like sitting in a warm red hug the entire time. I sort of dozed off but mostly just toyed around with the iPad. Midway through the flight, I tackled the bag lunch they gave us. It was pretty bad, but at least there was plenty of it! I then got to go up into the cockpit, which is really cool. It's such a shame that kids can't do that on planes anymore. It's really an inspiring view.

Supposedly, the reason our flight was so early is because they had to pick up a bunch of penguins and fly them back the CHC in time for them to catch a flight back to the US. I then heard a rumor that they are actually going to SeaWorld in San Diego, so when I get back, remind me to complain that they made me get out of bed early.

We landed in Pegasus field which is about an hour's drive from Mactown but the snow roads were very soft so we just crawled along. It took probably 1:30. Finally we got to mactown and were whisked away into a stupid meeting that was completely useless for us Polies since it talked about living in McMurdo.

I've gotta go get dinner so I'll try to post more later.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Finally Decent Beer!

My second day in Christchurch started out spectacularly in that I awoke after a full night's rest, finally. After a shower, I went to get a disappointing $13 breakfast of yogurt, sorry, I mean yoghurt, toast (with marmite--gross), and some kiwi (or kiwifruit down here--otherwise you get funny looks). My fitting for the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear was at one so I just vegged on the internet and watched some local tv. I love the news here. It has a 15 minute summary of world news followed by a half hour of local farming news. It's really interesting how different some things are down here. The Kiwis just elected their Prime Minister and instead of bickering and punditry, they interviewed a bunch of political rivals in a bar surrounded by their constituents. Things were pleasant, entertaining, and respectful. Very un-American.

The CDC was a fun experience, as usual. I've now gone down enough that they know exactly what gear I want and what gear is useless so I barely have to turn anything in. Also, much of my gear was brand new which is always good. This year I opted for the Carharts instead of wind pants. My official reason is that I will be doing more work outside this year although it's mostly because I'm sick of looking like a huge nerd around all the cool carpenters. The flight tomorrow leaves at 5 am so I have to arrive at the CDC by 2:30, meaning I leave the hotel at 2. So pretty much as soon as I'm done posting this, I'm going to sleep. It will be a 5 hour flight to McMurdo in a C-17 and then hopefully just an overnight before going on to Pole. The problem with the flight being so early is that I won't be able to grab breakfast and the next time I'll be able to eat (aside from the small brown-bag lunch on the plane) won't be until noon or so. So I went to a grocery store to buy some food to take with me. I was walking by the beer section and it looked fairly normal--crappy NZ Pilsners and Guiness but in another part of the store, there was a shelf surrounded with single 12oz beers. The Belgians caught my eye and upon looking closer, I noticed they had Rogue, then Avery, then Sierra Nevada. Then I found Victory and North Coast. But the crazy part is that I found Green Flash and Coronado. San Diego beer. I couldn't believe it! I was disappointed that they didn't have Stone but I was so blown away by their selection that I didn't care. Then I saw the price. Each beer was around $8 US! Naturally, I bought a North Coast Old Rasputin, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, and a Green Flash West Coast IPA. These will be my Birthday present to myself at Pole this year. I'm so excited!

I had met up with the SPT people before going grocery shopping and we stopped off for dinner at Flying Burrito Brothers. I don't know if we have them in the US but it's just a standard Mexican chain style restaurant. Relatively mediocre food, and almost insulting to the Mexican food I now take completely for granted in San Diego. I ate there more out of a morbid curiosity than a desire for good food. It's unbelievable how bad the Margarita was compared to what I'm used to. It was all lime--no Tequila flavor. If you're reading this in Southern California right now, stop what you're doing, go to the nearest hole in the wall and order a margarita for those of us who can't.

Anyways, tomorrow, I should be in Antarctica!!! Hopefully, just an overnight at McMurdo, then off to Pole!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

First Day in New Zealand

I arrived in Auckland, NZ after a 13+ hour flight full of turbulence and boredom. There was a good 20-30 minutes where we experienced some of the worst turbulence of my entire life. It was no fun. And when the turbulence was over, the in flight entertainment system wasn't working. It would cut out half way into a movie and then take 30 minutes to reboot. Luckily, I was able to find a channel with some simpsons reruns to keep me busy. So I watched some tv, ate a meal, tried to sleep, watched more tv, and then there were still over 5 hours left in the flight. Luckily, the entertainment system started working again and I watched X-Men: First Class and Our Idiot Brother. After landing in Auckland, I had to go through customs where they take a keen look at my hiking boots and then off to board another plane for Christchurch. Finally, at around 2:30, I got into my hotel room in Christchurch. Christchurch was hit by several massive earthquakes over this past year (including the 7+ magnitude 6 days after I left last year) so all of our usual hotels were closed or destroyed. After a shower and a change of clothes, I headed out to explore Christchurch. On the plane from LAX to Auckland, I ran into some South Pole Telescope grad students that I had traveled with two years ago, so I wasn't alone in my wandering. I met them at their hotel (which was a slightly longer walk than I was expecting) and then we had lunch at a little bar/grill. Had my first Steinlager of the trip and it was delicious. It's just a shitty pilsner but after the long flights, even the worst of beers would taste like heaven.

We decided to try to go to Cathedral Square to assess the damage from the earthquakes. Much to our surprise, most of it was cordoned off. Christchurch is destroyed. Almost the entire downtown area is in ruin, abandoned, and fenced off. We were able to walk along the fences and snapped some pics of the destruction. The Cathedral, which was shaken when I saw it last year, was rubble. It's incredibly sad to see an entire city like this turned into a ghost town. It looked like we had stumbled upon some post-apocalyptic wasteland. It was very eerie. We found an area near the old Cathedral Square with some shops open and looked around.

Instead of the old shops, they city had erected these stores and restaurants all made from shipping containers painted to look very modern and trendy. Some shops were large, made of 3x3 containers with the inner walls removed, some were two stories of shipping containers. It was so inspiring to see a very real and very environmentally friendly construction to bring back the local economy. We later walked around through the Botanical gardens and past some food/wine event in one of the parks (it was closed so we couldn't get it--everything in NZ seems to go no later than 7:30) and finally stopped off at a bar for drinks and dinner. The bar was also made out of shipping containers. It was set up like a cantina, with a bar in the back, a covered sitting area to the side, a patio area, and a food truck, all behind walls of reused corrugated steel. It was very cool and again, an amazing use of old shipping containers. There was a live guitarist who was actually quite good but nobody seemed to clap. It was awkward. I grabbed a falafel from the Lebanese food truck and ate it as I walked back to my hotel.

I'm exhausted. I've barely gotten any sleep in the past 36 hours so I'm going to crash. Tomorrow afternoon, I'll go to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) and then leave for McMurdo the following day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

South Pole 2011-2012

It's that time of year again, I've been PQ'd and ticketed and am off to the Pole. I thought I was leaving saturday but found out I'm leaving thursday so things just got slightly more hectic (and Sara got slightly more sad). The route is the same: fly to Auckland, NZ then to Christchurch, NZ leaving on the 1st and landing on the 3rd (thanks, international date line). Then off to McMurdo 2 days later and finally the South Pole the following day. I should be on the ice by the 6th and I'm supposed to stay until late January (around the 28th).

I'm definitely not looking forward to the long flights and hectic travel but I am very excited to get back to NZ and Antarctica. This year hopefully I will be able to visit my cousins in Australia who I have yet to meet, as well as catch up with Christian Heeres who I grew up with. I'm nervous as this year will be the first year that I will be the only one in charge of the telescope. Since everything is working excellently, we're down there with a skeleton crew doing testing and babysitting the cryostat so if anything goes wrong, it's up to me to fix it. My main goal this year is to test the frequency response of the telescope at the pole. To do this, I've shipped down a Fourier Transform Spectronomer (FTS) which produces light at frequencies from a few GHz up to about 1 THz with ~200 MHz resolution so we can see how our telescope responds to all frequencies within the band (125 to 175 GHz) and outside of the band. This will be an absolute pain. It's a large device (about the size of a dinner table) that weighs a few hundred pounds that I need to place on the roof of the lab and then couple the output light to the telescope using a series of mirrors and lenses that all need to be very well aligned. The only upside is to align them, I get to play with a really really bright laser.

I'm also anxious to see what state Christchurch is in after the latest earthquake which struck about a week after I left. There were already a large number of buildings in rubble and streets closed after the previous year's earthquake and this one was even larger. I have heard that the famous Cathedral in the heart of the city is in ruin.

So expect posts this year about:

- the state of Christchurch
- race around the world on christmas
- new years at the pole
- turning 27 at the pole
- Australia (Australia, Australia, we love ya amen)
- and many many complaints about how much of a pain setting up the FTS is

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My SPIFF on youtube

youtube link

If you're interested...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


The next morning in NZ, I got up at 8am (after going to sleep at 3:30am) and found out that I had no flight and would be kicked out of my hotel room at 11. I got a hold of the right people who put me on the next plane out (today!) and moved my stuff into Zak's room (they book us into rooms with 2 queen beds for some reason). After about 11:30 we all met up and went out to get some food. We were hoping to go to Burgers and Beers but they were still closed from the earthquake. Further down the block was C1 coffee shop. It will take me too long to describe how awesome this place was, but let me sum it up with this: Instead of the normal male and female bathroom signs, they had framed Han Solo and Princess Leia action figures and the water was dispensed out of a 1920's sewing machine. Really really cool place. We started with lunch and Chemix coffee (where you brew it slowly at your table) and slowly moved on to beers. The beers were actually quite good for a change. They were local and actually had more than 4% alcohol and hops that you could taste! We were there for I think 5 hours sitting out in the sun and chatting. Eventually we moved on and got some dinner at the awesome indian restaurant in town. The food was quite good. One of the guys made the mistake of ordering his food "spicy" which was not "American spicy," it was painfully spicy. Quite delicious.

I'm heading out to the airport in 10 minutes and should be home in about 20 hours. Hoooooray other side of the world...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Back in New Zealand

When I left the pole it was -45 F. When I landed in Christchurch it was +65 F and dark... quite a different experience.

We left at around 1pm from the pole on an LC-130 Hercules. The Herc's are remnants of the 70's but are incredibly well built and comfortable planes. I really enjoy them--although they are ear-splittingly loud (though it was on the C-17 that I busted my ear last time). About 3 minutes into the flight, we took a hard bank, where the plane went perpendicular to the ground (quite an impressive feat for how large this aircraft is). It took us by surprise and felt very disorienting, but once we returned to horizon a bunch of us applauded. It was a lot of fun. I've certainly never done moves like that in a commercial airliner. We think that the pilot's decided to buzz the station since it was the second to last day of flights. They usually dip their wings or fly real low, but I guess we had a veteran pilot who decided to give them a show. It was quite disconcerting to look out the window and see Summer Camp straight ahead...

All day I had heard rumors (from our famous South Pole Rumor Mill) that there wasn't going to be a C-17 flight that day or that it was leaving earlier, but anyway that we would have to stay in McMurdo until wednesday. Well, as we were landing, I didn't see the C-17 (a very obvious sight on the ice) but I didn't see the large transport to take us back to mactown either. Well, as we got off the plane, out in the distance we saw the C-17 circle around a mountain and come in for a landing. These planes are extremely impressive close up on the ground, but to see one maneuver and land (especially with the antarctic mountains in the background) was extremely impressive. They are truly gorgeous planes. Sure enough, we got on the C-17 within the hour. It was about 10 degrees outside and you would have thought it was the middle of a summer heat wave--I didn't hurt to breathe, my beard wasn't covered in ice, I didn't even need a jacket! The C-17 flight was packed. We lined both walls, as well as had 2 palletized airliner seat inserts and a center line full of people. It was a great flight, although after about 3 hours I was fairly bored. Although the C-17 is a much newer and prettier and faster plane, the LC-130's are way more comfortable. After about 4 and a half hours, I could see my first sunset in two months creeping through the windows. It was quite a sight to behold.

We arrived in New Zealand at around 10:00 and quickly rushed through customs, dropped all of our extreme cold weather gear off at the CDC, and checked in to our hotels. I'm staying at the Crowne Plaza again. Unfortunately, I still didn't have my flight info but I planned to call the next morning as soon as they opened (which I did--update later). I checked in at about 11 pm and we all decided to meet at the Casino across the way since we knew its kitchen would still be open. Thanks to the high-altitude training, by the end of the night I didn't feel so much as a slight buzz. It's quite a strange sensation...

I called the travel office this morning. They don't think they can get me on a flight until this weekend. To top it off, my hotel can't accommodate me any longer so I can't leave and I have no where to stay. Woo-hoo.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Extreme weather, sponsored by mountain dew

The past two morning, the weather has been pretty extreme. It's been -25 F and the wind has been howling, kicking the temperatures down to -60 F. I'm still not wearing "Big Red" yet, "little red" combined with a fleece, windpants and a facemask have done the trick but I'm starting to feel the cold. The visibility was really bad this morning. I could only see about 2 flags ahead of me (each flag is probably 100 feet or so). It's a good thing there was somebody about 250 feet ahead of me wearing a big red parka so I could follow him. On the way back to the station (which was not visible from the 1km away lab) I started to veer off course because I couldn't see the flags. I only went a little bit out of the way before realizing. The lab was white, covered with the blowing snow instead of its usual blue. At about noon, though, the weather has been clearing up.

The station is winding down. Only about 100 people here, down from the 250 person capacity. It's like a ghost town. It feels pretty cool. With the extreme weather, small population, 24 hour sun, and strange landscape, it sometimes really feels like I'm on a distant planet. This, of course, makes the nerdy sci-fi part of me extremely happy. This is especially true when I'm riding on the back of a snowmobile to or from the lab and can really look at all the nothingness whizzing by. I've posted some pics below taken about 3 days ago (or 2... the days really run together here) of the view from the galley. When the wind blows like this, it carries small currents of snow that make the ice look like it's dancing. It's really breathtaking. I love staring out of the galley windows whenever I get the chance.

A picture of the ceremonial pole.

You can see the wind if you look carefully. It looks like it's coming straight from the sun. This was about 9 at night. Maybe even 10.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

King Harvest is Sure to Come

Yesterday, I did one of the more interesting things you can do at the South Pole, I harvested plants.

The winterovers are starting to arrive and the harvest planted about 43 days ago was ready and the greenhouse needed volunteers. I started with Basil. They had 4 different types: long leaf, cinnamon, spicy, and lemon. The lemon was the best. The smell was unworldly. They also harvested a couple strains of bok choi, a whole bunch of lettuce, and some chard. It was a lot of fun.

This is what it looked like as you walked in. Quite the lush wonderland.

Me with my harvesting face.

Our harvest. There were about 5 more bags inside. Afterwards. We all held up the bags as if we were DEA agents after a big bust.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Open Mic Night/SPT party

This Saturday there was an open mic style concert in the galley followed by a party out by SPT (the South Pole Telescope) which is in the same lab as BICEP2. Both were a lot of fun. The open mic went well. There are a lot of very talented musicians down here. I was planning on playing some acoustic stuff but I would have followed a band and the vibe wasn't right so my drummer suggested that we get up there for a "reunion" tour. So we played some of the stuff that we played last saturday.

Afterwards, I caught a snowmobile ride out to SPT for the "cheesy cheese" party, where they had a cheese plate (quite a spectacle down at the south pole) and played cheesy music, projected cheesy movies and were all around cheesy. It was a small party but a lot of fun. SPT went out and bought a lot of wine from the store and were generous enough to provide the libations.

I mostly had fun because I was able to give tours of BICEP to all the people who don't usually get a chance to get out to our lab. Especially when I have a few beers in me, but even just normally, I love to give tours and explain what I do. It reminds you how interesting your work can be when you get lost in the mountains of boring data. I also took people up to the roof and let them see the top of the telescope. It was a lot of fun. I had everyone from firefighters and dish-washers to other people on other telescopes.

Here's a picture of my band playing during open mic.

Peligrisso Gigante made a guest appearance at the party.

I can take Peligrisso Gigante!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Photos, Phinally

Here's a shot of me from a random weekend. I was headed over to the bar in summer camp. It wasn't too cold out and I had a liquid blanket.

The concert in summer camp.

A shot of what I was playing to.

The obligatory hero shot. Yes, it was very cold.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Damn near froze my toes off!

Wednesday night was soccer (although it was just two of us) and afterwards, I went out to the pole in just my soccer jersey. I really wanted to take a picture wearing my team's jersey and then send it back to our sponsor. If that doesn't get me free beer, I don't know what will! After that, since I was lightly clothed, I took what's known as the hero shot. Well, not the full hero shot. I kept my shorts on...

Thursday was one of the guys in my group's last day and so I had a lot of work to do before he left. It was a full day but afterwards, I relaxed with some beers and a movie. I watched Appaloosa. It was pretty good.

Today, I got some good analysis work done that had been giving me trouble all week. Later, I watched Bananas and laughed until my sides hurt.

It's that time of the season where everyone is leaving. It's kind of depressing, but I'm really enjoying it here (though I do miss trees and weather). At around 10:30 tonight, the Keck collaboration asked me to help out while they put a giant mirror on their telescope. I damn near froze my fingers and toes off. I didn't realize we would be working outside for that long and didn't exactly dress appropriately. On the way back, I was riding on the back of a snowmobile and looking out at the reflection of the sun off the hard-pack and just thought about how amazing it is that I'm here. I get to tell about this for the rest of my life! It's very special to be able to come here.

I'm trying to post pictures, but it's just not working out. I'll keep working on it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Internet has been down

The faster satellite has been down for the past few days. It's only been up for about 10 minutes today so this is going to be a short post. Once satellite is restored to its former "glory" I will be able to post more details.

This past Saturday was the SPIFF and the concert at summer camp. SPIFF went really well. There were about 7 movies, all of which were quite excellent. My movie got a great response, even though it was the only non-overtly comedic movie. One of the IT guys will be posting it to YouTube. I'll link it when I have it. Afterwards, the concert went really well. My band went on first and totally rocked the place. It was a packed house (probably 40-50 people) and everyone was having a great time. They demanded an encore. It's a good thing we actually had another song that we worked on or else we would've been screwed. I would have hated to follow us...

Afterwards, it was party time. I had a lot of fun hanging out with my group and talking with the other "directors" about our movies.

There was a strange point in the night where apparently, somebody had a neo-nazi tattoo on his forearm. It was strange. I had talked with this guy a few times before and he seemed nice, but nobody with a racist tattoo is ok in my book. One of the guys in my group got really upset and we've since contacted the higher ups about how inappropriate it is to hire someone with a racist tattoo. I really hope I don't see this guy again. I don't want to be stuck on the ice with hate.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mmm... two minute showers...

You know you've been at the south pole too long when the highlight of your week is a two minute shower. At least the water was warm.

Tuesday, I finished filming the movie for SPIFF and I edited it on wednesday. I showed it to the guys who made it and a few random others and everyone really liked it. I know it's too early to start talking awards, but...

After dinner on wednesday, I had a quick band practice, followed by pub trivia. It was our week to host pub trivia so I wrote 12 questions about horror/monster movies. It was a lot of fun. Justus' category was still shots from movies where someone edited out the person's skin so all you had was the background and their clothing to guess the movie. It was kind of an easy round, but totally a lot of fun. The first round was done by Phil and every question was about military history. The scores were very low. Another round was done by Don, registered Canadian, and it was all about people on money from around the world. Aside from it being canadian biased, it was just plain hard. People seemed to enjoy it, though. How could they not? The prizes are beer!

After pub trivia, a few of us watched the movie Primer. I think I decided that I didn't like it. It's hard to tell since you have no idea the entire time what the hell is going on. It's essentially about a group of silicon valley nerds inventing a time-travel machine in their garage, but it totally throws causality to the wind. It was totally some pretentious sciencey-nerd's idea of a way to look cool to people who don't know more than him. It's like if I made a movie...

After a disappointing movie and weak beer, I went to sleep.

Yesterday, after turning in the movie, I actually finished some data analysis that had been giving me trouble for over a week. That took pretty much all day, but after dinner I was able to sneak in a half hour band practice and then played volleyball until almost midnight. The band is really starting to come together.

Concert and film festival are tomorrow night. It's going to be a crazy night. Parties like this are few and far between and the station really comes together and has a blast.

There are some very interesting people down here. Yesterday, I had a long conversation with my friend Mark. Mark has to be in his 50's by now if not older and has come down here every year for the past decade. He's also the guy I jammed with a lot last year, and the one responsible for getting me plugged into music down here. He was telling me about seeing Pink Floyd in germany in 1972 (before Dark Side of the Moon even came out). He also saw the Grateful Dead in 1970... just incredible. Mark works here for 4 months out of the year, then travels for months, then resumes a job back home for about 6 months. There are a lot of people who do that. They work here for a few months and save up enough money to travel for the rest of the year. It's pretty incredible.

Our winter-over should be getting in today, weather permitting, so there will be another hand to help with the telescope.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ice Beard

This is what happens when you stay outside too long when it's windy...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bingo, Film Festival, Fletch

I've had a busy and fun weekend. Saturday, after dinner, I practiced with my band. We had a really good practice and I think we'll have a great show next week. Saturday night was James Brown Bingo. James Brown is the head chef in the galley down here and every once in a while will host a bingo game. I only arrived for the last two rounds, but I think I got the gist of it. James Brown, dressed like William Wallace from Braveheart, complete with kilt, blue face-paint, and sword would pull bingo numbers and yell them to 50 or so drunk people. He would start by yelling the letter and then people would start guessing the number and if you guessed right, he would point at you menacingly and yell "YES!". It was quite a site. Of course, for certain tiles, there are standard responses. For example, if B4 was picked, everyone would yell "and after," or B2 "bomber" or B1 "with the universe". Naturally when O69 was drawn, the crowd would yell wildly. During the last round of bingo, where you had to black out your entire card instead of just get 5 in a row, when O69 was drawn james brown picked up a 3 foot long wooden stirring spoon (more like a paddle) and smashed a giant gingerbread house to pieces. It was quite entertaining. Afterwards, a bunch of us went into the game room and played pool, foosball, and drank. Much later on, I went with the firefighters to the "bar" at summer camp. Summer camp consists of a bunch of Korean War surplus Jamesways, one of which is a lounge that is used as a bar over the weekend. There, we had some whiskey and scotch. Outside of the bar was an ice-core from the Ice Cube experiment. This ice was upwards of 10,000 years old, so I chipped some of this ice off into my drink and had scotch on the 10,000 year old rocks. Thanks again to New Zealand's extraordinarily weak beer, I felt fine the next morning.

That morning there was the Polympics. Originally, the events sounded fun, but then there were all these stupid rules so it was more like games you'd play at a picnic than actual athletic events so I didn't feel like doing them. After lunch, I played volleyball from 2-4:30 and then soccer from 4:30 to 6 so my legs were quite tired after dinner. There's a film festival this weekend called the South Pole International Film Festival, or SPIFF, where people at the south pole make movies and submit them for judging. I decided to borrow an HD camcorder from the IT department, wrote a script, practiced some editing with iMovie and started filming. I plan on trying to make 2 movies: one will just be a documentary-style movie where I interview people around the base as to why they decided to come down here to work and the other will be my best attempt at a coen brothers style movie. The movies are only 5-10 minutes long usually, so it shouldn't take to long to complete... maybe a couple of days. I've got my actors lined up and a camera man and have shot some scenes already. It's a lot of fun. After SPIFF this weekend will be the open mic where my band will be playing. It's going to be a busy weekend.

Last night, after doing some editing, a bunch of us got together in one of the lounges and watched Fletch Lives on VHS. It's funny to watch a VHS movie on an HD tv... It was a very silly movie. Oh Chevy Chase... used to be so funny.

Today, the other guy in my group finishes his work with the telescope, so I can take over and start running the schedules that I want. I'm heading out there after I finish this post.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Past few days

A picture of a sun dog. These are like rainbows but occur when the air is full of ice instead of water.

I'm standing on the roof of MAPO, which is where Keck is located. In the background you can see DSL which is where my telescope is located.

Sara was complaining that I hadn't updated my blog in a while, but the only chances I get to update it (when the satellite is up) I'm usually on the phone with her... so it's her fault. That, and since the internet is frustratingly slow, it takes a long time to actually make a post.

I've been working pretty hard these past few days. We've had to do a liquid helium refill (I'll have to do another today) which is somewhat fun. During the fill, the visiting priest and dentist came by (I know, that sounds like the start of a dirty joke). I gave them a quick tour of the telescope and then went up to the roof for a while to install a mirror on top of the telescope. It wasn't too cold, only -15 F and there was no wind, so it was tolerable to be up there for a while. Afterwards, we had a group picture at the Keck telescope in the next building over. There were probably close to 20 of us, which was really cool. We had to do a re-take of the photos and I decided that I wanted the BICEP2 t-shirt that I designed on full display, so in the re-takes I was wearing only a t-shirt and jeans in -15. It wasn't so bad, but I didn't want to stay out there longer than a few minutes. Later that night, we played volleyball then watched Wet Hot American Summer with some beers and scotch. A few of the guys had never seen the movie before so it was even funnier seeing them crack up. The next morning we had a telecon meeting at 9am which went well and afterwards I took a quick nap. I did some more data analysis until around dinner time, after which I jammed with my band (concert is in 2 weeks). We've got about 4 songs that we're working on for the show. There was supposed to be soccer that night but it ended up being cancelled. All day, my plan was to go to soccer and then hit the sauna but with soccer cancelled, I was still able to convince a few people to go to the sauna with me. We cranked it up to just over 200 degrees and then ran outside for a total of about 215 degree difference. It's so far the most extreme I've experienced. I felt sooooo relaxed afterwards. Those whacky norwegians are on to something here... Afterwards, a few of us got together and watched It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia until we got tired enough to go to bed.

Yesterday, I worked on my code from pretty much when I woke up until dinner. Needless to say, I was not in a terribly great mood. After dinner we played volleyball for about 3 and a half hours. For the first hour I was still pissed off and there were some real goobers who play who were annoying the crap out of me. Goobers, by the way, in this case means either really dorky and annoying or someone who is just terrible at volleyball. I don't usually mind the terrible people because volleyball is really an excuse to relax and have some fun, but they were just awful that day. Eventually, I shook off my shitty mood and started to have a lot of fun. I was actually able to pull off a move that I've been trying for a while: the ball came over the net really low and I was able to bump it with my foot--where my foot was planted firmly on the floor. I was in shock that it actually worked. After volleyball, I was hungry so I went to the galley for some leftover lasagna (one of my favorite things) and had a beer with some of the Keck guys who were there playing cards. Eventually, I went to bed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

20 hour work days and spelling bees

Yesterday, I stopped working somewhere between 5 and 6 am. Not really sure when exactly. It was a loooong day. I jinxed myself since earlier that day I wrote an email to my advisor saying how great it was to have a working telescope and not having to pull the late nights like last year... and then it was 5am. It's somewhat fun, though. Since the sun is up all day you actually are able to work later without feeling as tired. You trick your body into thinking it's earlier and it keeps going. I was helping to build this housing for a calibration test and it was fun to get back on the mill and the lathe, since it has been a while since I've had to machine anything.

I was able sleep about 5 or 6 hours and get up for sunday "brunch" which they combine breakfast and lunch on sunday with a little less variety to give the cooks a break. I got a chorizo, onion, and cheese omelette and there was a make-your-own waffle station. After brunch, there was a spelling bee in the galley so I participated in that. I made it through about 8 rounds and got out on mischievous because the lady pronounced it "mischievious."

Today was the south pole marathon, which is just an awful idea. Marathons alone are terrible. Add to that -10 degree weather and 10,000 ft elevation and you have possibly the worst thing in the world. It was supposed to take place in McMurdo but due to weather, they couldn't fly the Pole runners in so they decided to have their own. Apparently, one of the people on the station is a world class distance runner and had a really great shot at winning so it's somewhat disappointing that he didn't get a chance to run.

There's supposed to be volleyball today and soccer a little later, so I'm looking forward to that. I think the science lecture tonight is from one of the guys on our sister telescope so I'll probably do that as well. Plenty to do...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

48 hour birthday

This is the Dark Sector Lab where I work. BICEP is on the right--the ground-shield is visible. South Pole Telescope is on the left (the big one).

My ice-beard.

What the South Pole looks like when it's cloudy. Can you spot the horizon?

On the 13th local time, I played volleyball for a few hours and then split a 15 pack (yes, 15) or crappy NZ beers with some of my friends down here. It was a good time, but it's no fun being hung over at altitude. Then, yesterday--the 13th in the real world--I had a couple of gin and tonics at dinner and then jammed with Daniel, the bass player I played with last year, and then went to the game lounge and had a few more drinks. They had these weird Japanese candies that tasted like real foods just like in WIlly Wonka. I had the Mexican meal which really tasted like an enchilada. After a few minutes I could even taste rice and beans. The Japanese are light years ahead of us!

Strange Japanese candies. Translations wanted...

Birthday beer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Soccer at the Pole

After breakfast and the meeting yesterday, I was feeling a little light-headed, so I took a nap. I woke up, grabbed lunch and walked the 1km to the lab. It's fairly warm, for south pole weather, only about -10 so I only really needed my wind pants and a fleece (along with gloves, a knit hat, and goggles). I spent the afternoon reacquainting myself with the lab computers and equipment and started some simple data analysis. Later, I trudged back to the station for dinner and then played some soccer. I still wasn't acclimatized so the doctors would have definitely advised against playing, but I did anyway. I just tried to take it a little easy. Playing soccer at 10,000 feet is like playing soccer in space. Every 5 minutes we have to stop to catch our breath. You breathe, but you don't feel any better. It's strange. I just can't wait until next week, once I'm fully acclimatized and can really start running. After soccer, I was feeling pretty dead, so I went to bed.

Woke up this morning and had a big breakfast of steak and eggs and headed back out to the lab to do more data analysis. I also wrote a schedule for our telescope to run which should give us some useful information. I'm currently working on another, longer schedule to be run later in the week.

I think there's volleyball tonight, which will be totally awesome and then I'll probably have a few birthday beers with some friends and go to bed.

It's hard to determine when to celebrate my birthday... Back in the US, it's tomorrow, but our timezone is across the international date line so it's a day later here. I figure, if I moved to Australia, I would be celebrating my birthday on their 13th, not the US' 13th so I'm going to celebrate today. Of course, maybe I'll just have a 2 day long party...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More fun at Pole

Counting the ways that Pole is way better than McMurdo continues. Dinner was much better and way more fun since I ate with a large number of people from my group. Afterwards, I played volleyball (which I totally shouldn't have done) and jammed with this grateful dead cover band down here. It was a lot of fun. The band sounded great and volleyball was a really good time. The weight room overlooks the gym so there were a bunch of spectators who were cheering us all on. It was gooooooood times.

Breakfast this morning was pretty good. There was a 7-grain porridge-like thing which tasted like the mash that you make beer out of. I also had peach yogurt, bacon, buckwheat pancakes, an egg and ham breakfast sandwich, and a fresh kiwi and orange. There's a meeting for my team in about 10 minutes, so I'll have to sign off.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arrived at Pole!!!

The LC-130 that flew me to pole.

grr!!! This machine doesn't want to be in mcmurdo any more than I do.

The trans-antarctic mountain range as viewed from the plane.

me in the back of the plane.

Finally arrived after only 12 days of delays...

I woke up this morning and took my last longer than 2 minute shower for a few weeks. It was quite nice. Afterwards, I packed up my stuff, cleaned my room and headed out to meet the shuttle (at about 6:45am). The shuttle was a normal passenger van, lifted about 2 feet, and given a badass 4WD system. Usually, we take a Delta out to the airfield but since there were only 3 of us (plus the flight team) this shuttle took us the whole way. Once we boarded the plane, they started up the engines. We heard a strange sound and the plane lurched a little bit. Apparently, engine 1 had a blown starter so we deplaned and caught a shuttle back to the airfield's galley to wait for them to repair it. It was just 3 of us travelers and then 2+ crews of airmen so we spent a while talking with the pilots. They were all cool guys. Some were young and some were old and they all had different perspectives on flying these massive planes in antarctica. Some of them were asking me about what I do at the south pole and I gave a mini science lecture. I could tell that their minds were thoroughly blown by the stuff my telescope looks at. It's always fun to share science with people who wouldn't usually come into contact with it. Once we got back on the plane, we started up the engines again, this time all four started, but there was another maintenance problem. One of the generators wasn't working. I'm not exactly sure what a generator in this context does, but I can take a guess. This was a quick repair and we were ready to fly within a half an hour or so. With my luck this trip, I figured we'd scrub the whole thing and I'd be stuck in mcmurdo for another day.

As I mentioned, there were only 3 of us in the LC-130 (that's the one with the skis) so it was quite spacious. The airmen were pretty relaxed about us moving around. About an hour into the flight, we crossed the trans-antarctic mountain range and I went to the back of the plane where there was a larger window and took some pictures. I'll try to post pictures with this posting, but the internet here at pole is much slower and a lot less reliable. We landed on snow, which is just about the smoothest landing possible and after a short taxi, we deplaned. Just about my whole group was waiting for me, which was quite heartwarming. It really felt good to be greeted with hugs and smiles by everyone after the rough travels. If any of them happen to be reading this, thanks! You're the best. The cooks made a plate of lunch for me and kept it in the oven so I had some food--more reasons why south pole is waaaaay better than mcmurdo. My room is in the station, which is excellent, and I even have a window!!!! I'm not actually sure whether or not that's a good thing.

Hmmm... fire alarm is going off... is it a test? Hmmm... doesn't sound like it... better go.

Well, it wasn't a drill, but it wasn't a problem. I'm back (about 20 minutes later). They announced that they were looking for one of my group members so I assume he was playing with matches.

I'm going to try to take it easy tonight to avoid getting altitude sickness (since we're at 10,000 ft). It's a balmy -15 degrees F (-34 with the wind). Beach weather.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cleared to Fly!!!

Doctor says everything looks good. Tomorrow will be a week, which is the minimum that they'll let someone with barotrauma as bad as mine was leave, so good job body on healing quickly. Yesterday they gave me Drixine, which I think is what they call Affrin on this side of the planet. I don't think my nose has been this decongested ever. Seriously, I'm finally using my giant nose to its full advantage.

I haven't checked the flight schedule, but most likely I will leave at 9am, which means a 6:45am shuttle pickup and should put me in at pole at around noon. I'm finally leaving!!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Soccer in Antarctica

Finally, there was a soccer game down here. It was only a 3 on 3 but it was still fun. We played for about an hour in a half. It's very dry here, so it took a little while for my lungs to adjust but once they did I was able to hit my stride. The games were in the big gym so we didn't have to brave the elements.

Now I'm watching more playoff football on AFN. Oh, there's a new public service announcement. Aside from our troops having big problems with suicide, domestic abuse, driving drunk, driving fast, driving motorcycles in general, being drunk, not knowing how to put out fires, and giving away secrets on facebook, apparently they also huff aerosols. Well done America. It wouldn't be so bad if these were spaced out throughout the day, but since they're all on back-to-back for the entirety of the commercial break, I'm starting to think our military needs some better role models--or maybe a hug. They had a commercial with an ex-NFL star quoting all his accomplishments and saying he was mostly proud of being a team player and then said "over 100 troops die a year in auto related accidents. That hurts the team." I did not see that coming.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Adelie Penguins in the wild

I just happened to go for a walk out to Scott Hut and there were 7 little Adelie Penguins waddling on the ice. I snapped some pics and took a couple of videos.

Passing the time in McMurdo

I've been keeping busy between meals mostly be reading or watching Bowl games on the American Forces Network that we get down here. It's a funny network where instead of commercials, they play propaganda and public service announcements. All the public service announcements are about either drinking too much, riding motorcycles dangerously, domestic abuse, or PTSD. It pretty much sums up all the negative stereotypes of our military. They also have military trivia, which is totally cool and news updates pertaining to the military.

The store was closed yesterday but it has opened today so I bought some random trinkets to take home as well as rented some DVD's to watch.

Also in my free time (which is bountiful), I take walks out to Scott Hut, which was an emergency base set up by the famous explorer and best middle name ever holder: Robert Falcon Scott. It was built over 100 years ago but due to the environment here is in perfectly preserved condition.

Anyway, it's off to lunch. Hopefully it doesn't make me as nauseous as it did the last two days...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

First Night in McMurdo, feeling a little better

Eventually the loudest of the snorers turned and stopped snoring and I was able to get back to sleep. I actually ended up sleeping like a rock--I didn't even hear my roommates get up. I missed breakfast (5:30-7:30--too early) but I was able to grab a bowl of cereal and a couple of plums. I spoke with the recreation people this morning and there should be plenty for me to do to keep from going crazy. Essentially, there are three types of people here: 1) scientists 2) people who facilitate science 3) people to make sure people don't go crazy.

Thanks Dan for the words of encouragement. Unfortunately, the cool-ness of being in antarctica fades in McMurdo unless you can get outside and go hiking--of course to do this, you have to be certified--of course the next certification course isn't until saturday... There's two things you can do without being certified: go to Scott Hut (which I'll probably do everyday to hopefully see penguins) and climb Ob hill which isn't really worth it since McMurdo isn't pretty this time of year. I did it last year and it was fun, but there was more snow on the ground so McMurdo didn't look like a dust bowl.

It's a goddamn symphony in here

It's about 2:30 am, I've probably been asleep for about 3.5 hours and now I'm awake and no less than 3 people of the 5 are snoring EXTREMELY LOUDLY! How am I supposed to heal if I can't sleep. And if I can't heal, I can't leave this godawful place. I think I'll just smother someone with a pillow. At least if I go to jail, it will be away from here.

One night in this shithole, and I'm already losing it. Fantastic.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some Pics from Antarctica

While I'm sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself, I thought I would post some pics for people to enjoy.

Here's a pic of antarctica from the air.

And one of me getting off the C-17

And a pic of Ross ice shelf from Scott Hut near McMurdo.