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South Pole Blog

Collected here are writings from previous trips to the South Pole. Posts are in reverse chronological order.

Previous blog posts from the old Blogger site can be found here.

These pages are under construction — I am currently bringing older writing in a variety of formats into this blog… please stay tuned!



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In A Dry and Waterless Place

Friday, Jan. 30 2009 6 a.m. UTC

I’ve had some of my most intense music experiences in this place, often while working out. (Anyone else had similar experiences at high altitude?)

Just got back from my daily workout in the darkened aerie above the gymnasium where they were playing the U2 concert film “Live in Paris: The Joshua Tree.” Songs from The Unforgettable Fire taking me straight back to freshman year, 1985: friendships and first loves… my incense-filled room across the street from the hospital where I was born; learning to program on a 256k IBM PCjr… taking my first steps on the long, strange trajectory that lead me to this work, in this place.

Music has the power to reach across time and space, to cement and trigger memory and to connect people, all in ways that film, literature and visual art cannot. I wonder if Bono &co. could have imagined during their concert in 1988 that their music would fuel the workouts of a few South Polies twenty years later. That’s the way it works, I guess… most of the time we swim in a sea of ignorance about the effects we have on each other and the world.

Time for a 20 second shower before today’s first meetings.

And who are you that reads this? In what day / year / millenium? And in what strange place?

Immortality

Thursday, Jan. 29 2009 6 a.m. UTC

Despite the morning’s wind and low visibility, colleague Joanna just arrived from Berkeley hand-carrying some cables and a special surprise from Jerry at LBNL, carefully packaged in anti-static plastic and bubble wrap.

It’s the printed circuit board from one of our Digital Optical Modules, one which failed visual inspection and is therefore scrap for engineering purposes. I.e., a nice, flat, attractive paperweight. I’m touched, particularly because it has my name etched on it along with those of several of my current and former LBNL colleagues, and because I have just been told that all the the DOMs deployed in IceCube are thus enscribed.

Though it’s not quite a burial fit for a king (not to mention the fact that I’m still alive and kicking), our names entombed inside the polar ice cap will endure for many millennia, far beyond the current age of the Pyramids of the pharaohs. When some future civilization visits the barren ruins of earth and goes prospecting for technological artifacts in the polar ice, they will find the sigils which make up our names and wonder at their significance. Or, in a hundred thousand years, when the flowing river of ice finally reaches the ocean, they may rust free of their mutual tethers and drift the ocean currents… five thousand messages in spherical glass bottles to be found by whatever forms of life might remain to roam the seas or shores of future Earth.

Thanks Jerry and Joanna.

Routine

Thursday, Jan. 29 2009 6 a.m. UTC

It’s 10:05 AM and getting close to bed time. The weather today is strange – quite warm (almost minus 10F) but with 21 knot winds, making the wind chill about 50 below. The snow is blowing high and visibility is poor at times. But it’s quite beautiful.

Life is settling down into a routine, of sorts. Wake up as late as possible, usually before dinner. Clean up room, go to gym, meditate, have breakfast. Start work when satellite rises around 11:30 PM. Work until mid-morning, and then wind down until I have to do it again.

Most of the other late-season 'Cubers are on night shift. Our 'days’ consist of testing new pieces of the detector and new bits of code, troubleshooting, adding features, all somewhat endlessly. We have regular consultations with colleagues up North via phone meetings and instant messaging; and a daily 8 AM face-to-face meeting here just to check in and make sure everyone has what they need to get things done. There are a lot of things happening at once and it turns out I have to orchestrate and schedule quite a bit. But, so far it’s going ok. We have tested an additional 9 strings combined with the 40 we ran throughout 2008. If we can get the remaining 10 more strings added in and calibrated, that will be a good start to the winter season. In addition, the experiment control software I wrote throughout 2008 is starting to come together and be fully operational here.

IceCube Laboratory

One strange feature about being here is that current and past summer seasons blend together into a sort of day-lit constancy, where the real world up North seems not exactly unreal, but somehow parallel and separate in both space and time. The sameness of the surroundings, the work, and, to some extent, the people (many of the denizens here are 'repeat offenders’ like me) all contribute to this. Lots of people have a summer home… mine seems to be a January slot in a late-season population of 250 or so people dreaming of Christchurch and points beyond. Part of the strange timelessness of this place is also the absence of people who have been here before, never to return, and whose spirits somehow knock about the place still.
What part of me will be left behind when I get on that northbound plane for the last time?

Last night I dreamt a great rainstorm fell here. It was delightful at first, but quickly turned terrifying because everything started to melt and submerge. I knew that when the cold came back everything would be frozen in place. I have no idea what that means, but images of liquid water are powerful in a place where showers are tightly rationed and the daily per-person water consumption is flashed up on the video scroll in the galley.

More pictures here“:2009/Pole/index.html; added to older posts, below, as well.

Tourists

Wednesday, Jan. 28 2009 6 a.m. UTC

In the next few days, the last few 'Cubers are arriving on Station to help us with end-of-season commissioning of the new strings. Many more IceCube people are leaving, however… most of them drillers. It will be nice to be here when things are a bit quieter. The winter-overs are already talking about how great it will be when we summer folk are gone.

Some people pay a fair chunk of change to fly here for an hour or two, look around, and leave. Tourists, we call them. Others fly in for McMurdo ('sleigh rides’) to see the place, or to work for a day. Still others ski here from various points remote, and camp a few hundred yards from the Station (I’ve already given a few impromptu tours to various frost-bitten groups). Those of us here for the Summer are called 'tourists’ by the winter crew.

Of course, everyone is a tourist in Antarctica. Despite what repeat winter-overs may sometimes feel, there are no true Antarcticans. We are as much visitors here as we would be to Mars. Take away the airplanes, and we all perish.

I have posted a video of the last string deployment.

Meanwhile, a group of five or so of us are up all night, every night, fussing with software to read out the newly-deployed strings as they freeze in. We still have two weeks but it will go very quickly, and we tourists will redeploy to various points North.

OK but busy

Monday, Jan. 26 2009 7:27 p.m. UTC

Posting here just so y’all don’t worry I’ve fallen off the map. I mean, any more than expected. Been here a week and all is going pretty well, though very busy. I have a meeting with the North in four minutes but will try to post more tonight when I wake up.

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