Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Sleep is a problem at the South Pole. Due to the effective altitude of the Pole, there's much less oxygen available, so most people suffer from decreased sleep for at least the first couple of weeks. Some people develop a sleep apnea which could prove fatal. Fortunately, that's extremely rare.

I generally woke up at least once a night, but usually managed to get around 5-6 hours of sleep, and actually felt pretty good most of the time. One of my colleagues couldn't sleep more than 4 hours a night.

After leaving the ice, I've been under various stresses (worrying about lining up my travel and accomodations for the rest of the week, getting up early to catch the train, etc.) and didn't get a really good night's sleep.

Yesterday I arrived in Wellington after a nice train and ferry ride and after wandering around a bit and getting supper, I came back to my room, watched a bit of video on my computer, then fell asleep at around 9PM and didn't wake up until 6AM. It was GREAT! After waking up, I even laid in bed for a couple more hours, reading and listening to podcasts!

Then, to complete the morning, I took a shower! After weeks of 2 minute showers, I still feel a little decadent taking a lengthy 6 minute shower. I'm sure the feeling will wear off soon, but it's fun to get so much enjoyment out of a previously mundane task.

I've spent the morning reading email and webpages, and writing these blog posts. Now I'm going to grab some lunch and then head to Te Papa, the museum a few blocks from here.

Last plane arriving

Last plane arriving
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Taken from Destination Zulu at the main station, you can see the last of the summer folk making their way toward the final plane of the season (visible in the upper right of the picture)

Final weather

Final weather
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here's the South Pole weather web page a few minutes before our plane arrived to take us to warmer climes.

Blue boot

Blue boot
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here's a picture of the blue boot mentioned in my previous post, with my foot providing a bit of scale. I've got on a thick insulated sock, so my foot looks a little larger than it actually is. They're bulky but keep your feet nice and toasty when you're standing outside for an extended period of time. I always felt a bit like Frankenstein's monster clomping around in them.

Monday, February 19, 2007

-80 to 80 in 12 hours or less

I'm in Christchurch!

The last plane out was supposed to leave sometime between the 17th and the 24th. Unfortunately, the weather on Antarctica turns bad fast. On the 17th, they decided that the weather forecast was looking ugly, so they announced that everyone was going home that day. Of course, the weather at McMurdo didn't cooperate, and they ended up cancelling the flights that day.

One the 18th, they had the first plane of returnees scheduled to fly at 11:30 and the second plane scheduled for 1PM. They must have really wanted us out of there, because both flights left an hour early.

Being on the last flight out was a unique experience. We waved goodbye to the 'winter-overs' (the people who are going to stay there until the next plane arrives at the end of October) and got on the plane. The plane took off and then a minute or less after we were airborne, the soldier in charge of the passengers signalled that we could get up and look out the windows. The pilot then proceeded to do a couple of long banking turns around the station and then flew low and fast past the assembled winter-overs as a final goodbye. Several people were competing for the small window I was at, so I didn't really see much except a couple of the visibility markers and the runway, but it was fun to be a part of the 'last goodbye'.

After that bit of excitement, we settled into the routine 3 hour flight to McMurdo where we met up with the passengers from the first flight and, after a couple of hours on the ground, another 5 hour flight from McMurdo to Christchurch.

Once in Christchurch, we needed to walk the mile or so from the airplane, through the International terminal and through a bunch of parking lots to the Antarctic Center. It's funny to think about the unsuspecting travellers watching this parade of people, many still dressed in pieces of extreme cold weather gear, making their way through the International terminal. One of the distinctive pieces of ECW gear is the blue boot (thick boots which keep your feet nice and warm) and the passage from the plane to the Antarctic Center is marked by spray-painted blue boot prints.

Once we made it to the Antarctic Center, we turned in our ECW gear and got our hotel assignments. Since we 'soft closers' weren't due off the ice for at least a few more days, and since all of New Zealand seems to be on holiday, the hotels are jammed full and we got some less than desireable assignments, far from the city center. Fortunately, one of the guys in my group scored a room with multiple beds, so after a couple of days of 20 minute walks to get to town, I'm staying with him tonight.

As for the rest of my time, the main focus is visiting a college roommate who lives in Napier on the North Island. Tomorrow I'll take the train and ferry to Wellington, spend a day or so there, then take a bus to Napier. I'll spend the weekend there, then take another bus to Auckland on Monday. I fly out Tuesday night at 7:30PM, so I'll have a full day to investigate the mysteries of Auckland. And thanks to the International Date Line, I'll arrive in Madison at 9:25PM, two hours after I leave Auckland ... even though it's a 15 hour flight from Auckland to Los Angeles!

I've got to go right now ... I've got a few more pictures to post, so check back again in a few days!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Jamesway and berms

Jamesway and berms
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here's a somewhat murky view of the Jamesways, taken from the main station. The Jamesways are those buildings in the middle of the picture. Behind them are the berms, which is basically the outdoor warehouse for all the equipment and materials which won't be harmed by the winter cold.

Over the winter, the snow will pile up against and even cover the berms and Jamesways. One of the first summer jobs for the heavy equipment operators (after clearing off the runway so planes can land) is to dig out the berms and Jamesways.

If you click on the picture and then squint at the blob in the middle left of the picture, you might even be able to see the pile of spools!

My room in the main station

Inside room
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here are a couple of pictures of my room in the main station. It's not clear from the first picture, but that's a desk next to the bed. The bed is about four feet off the floor. There is a chest of drawers underneath it.


During our orientation in McMurdo, they mentioned the South Pole ruor mill, and cautioned us to take all rumors with a grain of salt.

The rumors have been flying fast over the past 24 hours. At around midnight, one of the other guys on the project came in and said he'd heard we were flying to McMurdo on the 17th. That rumor kept going strong, with people saying the early exit was due to (a) McMurdo wanting to shut down and send all their extra people home or (b) because the National Guardsmen who fly the planes to the U.S. bases on Antarctica want to go home.

I took a nap from around 3PM until 6:30PM and when I got up, people were saying that we "soft closers" were likely to fly out on Sunday.

The IceCube section of B2 Science is right next to the Meteorology guys, whose primary job down here is forecasting weather for the flights into the Pole. A short while ago, one of the guys came by and told us that the forecasting models are saying that visibility will be low tomorrow, so it's unlikely that any flights would be leaving tomorrow, including the flight which was to take people directly from here to Christchurch via a transfer in McMurdo.

I wonder what the rumor mill will be saying tomorrow?

Thursday, February 15, 2007


After the first few days here, I settled into a routine. I'd wake up at around 5 or 6 PM, do my morning cleanup, then go up and have some "breakfast" (which, half the time, was whatever was for supper). After that, I'd work for 12-14 hours, broken up by midrats and breakfast, then I'd head to bed at around 8AM. That schedule slowly drifted until by the beginning of the week I was getting up at 7PM and going to back to my room at 10 or 11AM.

We're taking the last plane out of here and that plane leaves between the 17th and the 24th, depending on the weather.

A couple of days ago, in preparation for returning to civilization, I started breaking that routine.

I'm trying to work an additional hour each day, so that I'll be closer to a normal New Zealand day when we leave. Today I woke up at around 10:30PM (and it was shower day, so I got my luxurious 2 minute shower!) and will try to stay up until 4PM

There will be an additional break in my routine today, however. Since today is the 16th, and the weather could turn ugly at any minute, we need to have everything except our carry-on luggage packed and at the loading point by 5PM today. This means that I need to pack everything I'll need for the next week in my backpack (along with my laptop and accessories) and put out the rest of my bags.

That's not the bad part, however.

We need to bag-drag at 7PM. That means we'll need to put on our ECW gear, take our carry-on stuff and hike out to the Jamesway area to be weighed in with all our luggage. After that, we wave goodbye to our checked luggage (which will sit on a pallet until it's unloaded in McMurdo) and tromp back to the main station.

Note that bag-drag time -- 7PM. Note also that I'm going to try to stay up until 4PM today. It's going to be a LOOONNNG night...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


A few days ago, we figured out the root cause behind the bad performance we've been seeing in our DAQ (data acquisition) software over the past year or so. It turned out to be due to a design flaw in a bit of software which reads in data for the various pieces of the DAQ. As a result, I've been working furiously to fix it. After around 28 hours of work over the past two and a half days, I finally got it working! This is a major step in getting the DAQ stable, and seeing the software running filled me with such elation that I was literally bouncing around the room.

For the first time since I've gotten to the Pole, I feel like we have a very good chance of actually having things working before we leave next week!

This also means that, after the silence of the past few days, I'll have time to post to this blog again!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A puzzle for the kiddies

Spot John
Originally uploaded by dglo.
My co-worker John is hiding in this picture. Can you spot him?

Me at Pole

Me at Pole
Originally uploaded by dglo.

Here are the pictures of me at the South Pole. There are two "South Poles", the ceremonial one which fits most people's image of what the South Pole should look like, and the geographic South Pole, which is a plain scientific marker indicating the position of the South Pole. The geographic marker needs to be moved every year, because the South Pole station is built on top of miles of ice and that ice is continously in motion, like a gigantic glacier.

As you can see in the second picture, the ceremonial and geographic poles are quite close together this year. In the background, you can see the main station, where I'll be staying for the rest of my visit (another 7-10 days). I moved out of summer camp just in time; on my first 'night' in the station, the temperature dropped to -50F with -75F wind chill and has maintained that temperature ever since.

The third picture shows the old dome (you may need to click on it to see the larger version). The dome was built in 1975 and used to be the central location for all activities. It's now almost buried in snow and the pressure of all that snow on the outside walls is causing the dome to start to collapse. In the next couple of years, it will be disassembled, shipped north and reassembled in California.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Outside of a 2.5 hour break to play Settlers of Cataan, I've been plugging away at debugging software, so I haven't had time to put up the "hero shots" of me at the South Pole. Maybe tomorrow...

Friday, February 09, 2007

A good day

Today, I woke up after 4.5 continuous hours of sleep (and about 7.5 total hours of sleep), which is a new record for me at Pole!

After I woke up, I fired up my laptop and found an email msg telling me I could move into the main station! Summer season is winding down, so the station is down to 180 people after starting the week at around 250, and more will be leaving over the next 5 days. My group is staying until the last possible plane, however, so they've let me move into an empty room in the main station.

I hauled a load of my stuff from the Jamesway to the main station, then headed into the galley for the evening's repast, filet mignon and crab legs. After supper, it took two more trips to haul all my stuff over to the main station.

I worked for a bit, and then a group of us went and played Settlers of Cataan for a few hours.

After that, I spent the next 8 hours or so beating my head against a memory leak in our software, which I still haven't found. Even so, it's been a pretty good day!

I'll post my pictures at the ceremonial/geographic South Pole tomorrow...

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Originally uploaded by dglo.
Behind the Jamesways, there is an open storage area where the large, durable material is stored. There are rows and rows of mysterious boxes, crates, etc.

On one edge of this area, there is a pile of spools. I've heard that these cast-off spools once held the IceCube cables which bring information from the data sensors deep in the ice up to the computers which run our software.

Since nothing is wasted at Pole, somebody has stacked the spools and made a nice sculture. To give you a sense of the size, each of those gray spools is about 6 feet tall. Also adding to the beauty, there's nothing behind those spools ... you can see all the way to the horizon. It's a really pretty sight ... until your hand starts hurting from taking pictures while being exposed to -50 degree winds.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mmmm ... breakfast!

I'm kind of brain-dead today, even though I got a record 4 straight hours of sleep, followed by another 3 hours after a brief bathroom break. It feels like we're making good progress on our project, so I don't feel TOO bad that I'm not as productive today.

I got to the main station today at around 7:30PM, grabbed my "morning" bowl of Frosted Flakes and went to work for 5 hours or so. I'm writing this just after returning from midrats (midnight rations, a Navy term) in the galley (Navy again) and we had ... breakfast stuff: omelets, quiche, hash browns, corned beef hash, muffins. My next meal will be in 5 hours or so and will, of course, be everyone else's breakfast.

It's a day of breakfasts!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What am I doing here?

Rather than type in an explanation of exactly what IceCube is, I'll wimp out and point you elsewhere. This entry was written by Keith Beattie, another of my pDAQ co-workers. pDAQ is a set of software packages designed to read data from detectors buried deep in the ice, sift out some of the most obviously bogus bits, and then package the rest up and hand it off to another set of software which massages things further and finally sends the data north via satellite and also writes it to tape here at the pole.

Work Sweet Work

Back half of B2 Science
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here's the back half of B2 Science. The IceCube section is under those tarps. That's where I spend 10-14 hours a day pounding out code.

The second picture shows our work area. There are 7 network connections, and we occasionally have more that 7 people working here, so a spot at the table is a valuable thing. People are starting to leave the Pole, so we won't be quite so crunched.

The third picture is a more typical, early morning satellite shift scene. There are usually fewer computers on the table at this hour, but we're going to have an early morning debugging session with some people in the Northern Hemisphere, so some day shift people have left their laptops on the table and gone to nap until 4:30AM (which will be 9:30AM yesterday)

I work a lot with John Jacobsen (on the left) on pDAQ. The guy on the right is Georges Kohnen, who is working on storing IceCube information in a database.

Face - Feb 7

Face - Feb 7
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Beard growth - Feb 7. The left half of my right eye has been irritated for the past day or so.

Face - Feb 5

Face - Feb 5
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Beard growth - Feb 5

Face - Feb 1

Face - Feb 1
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Beard growth - Feb 1

Face - Jan 28

Face - Jan 28
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Beard growth - Jan 28

Face - Jan 24

Face - Jan 24
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Beard growth - Jan 24

Sunday, February 04, 2007

My room in the Jamesway

Originally uploaded by dglo.

Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here are a couple of pictures of my plush accommodations. These pictures are taken from outside the "door" (which is actually a couple of pieces of canvas hanging from a bare wooden frame). As you can see, there's ample reason to get out of my room and into the main station to work.

While floor level is certainly cold, it's comfortable at bed level for sleeping.

I share this building with 3-6 other people -- I'm not exactly sure how many, because we're all on different shifts and don't really interact. I'm on "satellite" shift (I work mostly during the 12 hours when the satellites are visible), and I know at least a couple of other residents are on day shift, because I've been woken up a couple of times by people banging around during the day.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My daily commute

My daily commute
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here's a picture from the door of my Jamesway. That big brown building off in the distance is the main station. In case you can't tell, it's a two-story building, but there are supports underneath to help keep it above the inevitable snow accumulation, so it's really a 3-story building.

Every morning I get up, do my morning ablutions, then don my ECW (extreme cold weather) gear and make the 10 minute walk to the main station, where I spend most of my time working in the IceCube section of B2 Science.

I keep meaning to count the number of paces from my Jamesway to Destination Zulu (the closest entrance of the main station) but somehow I get distracted while walking in -20F weather.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home
Originally uploaded by dglo.
Here's the Jamesway building which I visit occasionally when I'm not working. I haven't taken a picture of my "room" because I'm not sure who is asleep in there at any given time. I'll probably grab a picture of that in a couple of weeks when most of the people have cleared out ... there's a strong possibility that I'll be on literally the last plane out of the Pole, so I may have these luxurious digs all to myself!