Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Years

We're on New Zealand time, so we had one of the first New Years. Gavin, Matt, and I went over to the party at Scott Base for a couple hours. It was pretty busy there, but it was a good time. There were lots of people out enjoying themselves. The weather has gone rather dodgy, so I'm glad to be back to work. Though with some beer in me and a full stomach, I might need a nap.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Picture Roundup

It's been a fairly quiet, but productive night. No more logging, so I've just been working on getting the final logs for the on-ice report done. This has involved some new coding, but I hope to be done with it tomorrow night or the next night, then I can focus on other things.

Anyhow, since there isn't much new to talk about, I thought I'd put up a few fairly recent pictures:

(from the pressure ridge walk we did a couple weeks back)

(Franco, Kelly, Thom, and I after Christmas dinner)

(looking along the coastline towards Scott Base from Cape Armitage)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Numbers dwindling...

The night shift numbers are dwindling. Today we lost Davide and Catalina to the day shift. Kelly made it to dinner with us but she got an early flight out of here so she'll be heading home in two days. That leaves just 5 of us still on night shift: Matt, Larry, Gavin, Ellen, and me. Tonight the last of the core should get described, so I don't know how much longer the sedimentologists are going to stay on nights. I'm hoping to stay on as long as possible because I get so much more done during the peace and quiet of the night. I don't have a proper office, so I sit in the common area. During the day, there's people constantly walking through and talking. It doesn't make for a situation where you can concentrate on writing code.

As for wrap up, I got my official orders about what needs to be done. I've got a bit more code to write to get the diagrams for the on-ice report ready. Hopefully this will only be a night or two of work. Then there's numerous data management type of stuff to do. I need to burn copies of the data for the various international institutions. I suspect the road to the end will be pretty busy. But hopefully after most people leave on the 4th, things will quiet down some. I'm hoping there will be some extra helo hours that we can burn touring around a bit during some free time.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas on the ice

We had a nice Christmas dinner at midnight going into Christmas day. There was shrimp, duck, lobster tails, and beef wellington. I learned my lesson at Thanksgiving and made sure not to gorge myself too much. All in all it was a pretty good mood.

I was feeling pretty glum for Christmas. I didn't sleep very well the night before so I had a bad headache, and being away and missing all the festivities back home made me a little depressed. Davide cheered me up, though. After work we went to the Galley and got big plates of fruit. And then we walked back to the lounge to watch a movie and play some pool. On the walk home, we ran into the skua and just dared him to take to the air and try to attack us. He eyed us interestedly but I think since there were two of us, he decided to wait for easier pickings. Or maybe he had already gotten his share of the Christmas feast and he was full. It was a good Christmas even if I wasn't at home with my family.

Last night was Tom's last day on the night shift. He's going out into the field in a couple days. What a trooper! He's been down here with us since October and is heading out to the field for another 6 weeks. I know I speak for everyone on the night shift when I say that he'll be sorely missed. But hopefully we won't be on the night shift for much longer...

The big surprise for Christmas day was that drilling completed. The last run came up at approximately 10:30PM putting us at a terminal depth of around 1285 meters below the sea floor (and nearly 100% core recovery). We're currently about 100m behind the bit, which means another 2-4 days of night shift depending on the complexity of the core. The first ANDRILL hole is officially a success!

I'd also call PSICAT a success. The road hasn't been without bumps, but with nearly 1200m logged already, PSICAT has been up to the challenge. There's been no major failures; only minor annoyances. I've implemented a lot of new features and fixed as many of the annoyances that my time down here has allowed. The day to day operations has given me valuable insight into how people interact with PSICAT. The team down here has also given me plenty of useful feedback into how things can be improved to make using PSICAT easier and more productive.

Other than all of that, things are about the same: still working hard, still tired, but still having a good time. I'm looking forward to getting back and seeing family and friends. That and a big Chipotle burrito. :)

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Christmas Miracle!

It's a Christmas miracle:

I told Santa that all I wanted for Christmas was a banana and look what happened: fresh bananas and salad too! It's probably only been a week since I last had a banana (since the last flight came in) but it seems like a month. It was a welcome treat, and as you can tell from the picture, we all took advantage of the opportunity.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Skua Attack!

Yesterday I was coming out of the Galley with a plate of quesadillas and chocolate chip cookies balanced on two six packs of Guinness. A skua (think large sea gull) dive bombed me from behind and knocked the plate onto the ground. Fortunately, the plate was covered in saran wrap and survived the whole ordeal. And fortunately for the skua, the Antarctic Treaty prevented me from punting him like a football. I had to settle for muttering "piss off" and collecting my plate of food from the ground.

The beer that I was carrying was for Vanessa's going away party. She said that she didn't think I could drink a 6 pack of Guinness. And being young and dumb, I took up the challenge.

Now just a quick aside: this isn't normal Guinness, it's Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Note the "Extra Stout" in the name. At 7.5%, I'm pretty sure this particular brew was chosen for it's "stoutosity" so it could be stored indefinitely. I would not be surprised if the beer was sledged here by Shackleton and left to "mature".

I'm normally no slouch when it comes to drinking beer, so despite Larry telling me (multiple times) that I'd regret it, I proceeded anyways. Did I mention that I'm dumb? The beer drinking part was fine. I made it through it without too much difficulty; I even drank an extra one just to spite Vanessa. I wasn't playing very good pool by the end, but then again I rarely play good pool even when I'm sober.

When I woke up, I was, as Davide would say, "destroyed". I had an absolutely epic Antarctic hangover. Who would have thought that drinking alcohol in a desert would leave you catastrophically dehydrated? A shower did nothing to improve the situation. There was a going away party for the teachers in the lounge when I got up. So when I showed up someone suggested the old 'hair of the dog' remedy. I don't know if it helped, but if it improved the situation at all, I'm pretty sure I couldn't have physically survived without it.

Work was interesting (in a masochistic sense). Since I was rather "fragile", I stayed away from doing anything high impact or technical. It was probably the longest shift in history. But everyone was pretty understanding; Larry didn't mention "I told you so" at all. I didn't start feeling human until after supper. Today I woke up feeling much better. So all in all, the saga is over. It's something I have no desire to repeat.

In other news, the bit is at around 1125m. They're currently tripping the pipe out to change the bit. We should be back drilling by tomorrow morning. We've still got about 100m of backlog, so it's nice to make up a bit of ground while the drilling is stopped. Tonight they crossed the 1000m mark into PSICAT. I played a little joke on the team, telling them that "I hadn't anticipated we'd actually make it to 1000m, so PSICAT can't handle 4 digit depths. It is ANDRILL's version of the Y2K problem." Everyone had a good chuckle.

Monday, December 18, 2006

This is the life

We were walking the Hut point ridge trail and happened upon some seals sunning themselves on the ice:
It seems to me that these seals have a pretty good life. They eat and spend days laying on the ice sunning themselves.

I'm working on getting as fat as them, but I don't know if I'll be able to pull off the laying around for days sunning myself; there's far too much work to do. The other big snag is that I'm not a huge fan sushi, and I'm guessing they don't have too many Chipotle burrito shops under the ice, so the food situation may be a little grim.

I had to walk around some flags and out on a rather dodgy looking snow drift to get these pictures. The flags were red instead of black, so I'm just going to assume that they were there marking the route. :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Antaractic Drilling Record

Today we crossed the 1000m mark in the hole and claimed the all-time Antarctic drilling record. The previous record was 999m. This is quite the accomplishment for our team of drillers, so mad props to them.

This puts us in good position to reach target depth of 1200m and potentially surpass it. We are ending drilling on Christmas day, but if they reach 1200m before then they are going to continue drilling. There is a seismic reflector that was supposed to be at target depth but is looking to be a bit deeper. They are interested in drilling through the reflector to see what it is.

Other than that, things are the same on my front. I've been working on PSICAT to add features and fix any bugs that pop up. Two days ago we crossed the 800m mark in core that has been logged into PSICAT (a record as well, though 10m was the record before I came here, so we've been breaking PSICAT records on a daily basis :) ). Yesterday I put together the summary logs that showed the first 800m of core so that the folks working on the cyclostratigraphy and age model had something to work with. It's pretty impressive seeing 800m of PSICAT output put on 2 letter size pieces of paper. I wish I could put them up here but alas, they are super secret. :)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Spirit

We decided to get into the holiday spirit by setting our Christmas trees up. We had been holding off until all of the December birthdays were out of the way. It was our little stand against the Christmas decorations going up earlier and earlier back home. So anyhow, when I came in to work yesterday, Ellen was decorating our Christmas trees. We had gone over to Skua Central back in late October because someone told us there would be little Christmas trees there. Skua is the place where you can leave stuff you don't want to take home and anyone can come in and get stuff. We were fortunate to get the last tree (sans any decorations), which has been sitting on the shelf since then. Fortunately for us, my mom and grandma mailed me another tree with plenty of decorations. So we had two trees and enough ornaments and such for both. We kept the nicer tree for us back in the lab and sent the Skua tree out to the drill site:

In other news, it looks like my departure announcement in the last blog entry was a bit premature. They needed someone to help finish the on-ice report and getting stuff packed up to ship home, so I volunteered to take one for the team and stay a bit longer. Most other folks have kids and/or teaching to get back to, so sticking around seemed like the right thing to do. The main ANDRILL contingent leaves on January 4th, and then a handful of us catch the next available flight out of McMurdo on the 9th. So with any luck I should be back in the States on the 10th instead of the 5th.

And finally, I grabbed the Java Posse podcast for this week and listened to it. Great as per usual and they gave me a nice shout out at the end, which was awesome! It's always good to hear from folks back home. When I get home, I'm definitely going to take them up on their offer to chat.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Home Stretch

It was brought to my attention at dinner that we're coming into the home stretch--only 3 weeks left to go. We've drilled about 850m thus far. That means there's close to 2km of drill pipe hanging off of the drill rig and buried into the sea floor. Assuming we run into no problems, they are going to drill until Christmas day, which should bring us to our target depth of 1200m below the sea floor. The drilling will stop on Christmas day, but we're about 4 days behind the bit in terms of processing and logging the core, so our standard day to day operations should finish up by the 29th. After that, it is writing the on-ice report and packing everything up to go home. My flight is scheduled for departure on January 4th, so hopefully we get finished up by then and can head out.

Day to day life has been pretty routine. I've actually been able to do some coding the last few nights, which has been nice. Haven't had too many bugs to fix, so I've been working on some new features for the end of expedition report and for next year. I've also been playing with Mercurial for doing SCM. I had been using Subversion, and haven't had too many problems with it, but it stopped working since I've been down here. And it's rather distressing to have changes piling up on top of each other so you can't tell when you changed what. I'm the kind of person who likes to commit early and commit often. I've been playing with Mercurial via the command line since I couldn't get the integration working for Eclipse. So far things have been working out pretty well.

Earlier this week I broke the rules and downloaded a bunch of podcasts that had been queuing up back home. I hadn't gotten any new podcasts since I left because they are sticklers about bandwith and downloading down here. They've blocked iTunes altogether because it was taking up too much bandwith. Well, I finally said enough was enough and downloaded them anyways in the middle of the night (a little 'scp -l 160' magic to prevent snooping and limit the amount of bandwith I was using). It was glorious having podcasts to listen to. I think I caught up on the Java Posse in a single shift. Since they cheered me up so much, I decided to drop them a little note thanking them for all of their hard work in keeping me entertained. And I took the time to place myself on their frappr map, so they could say they have listeners on all 7 continents. I've got another batch of podcasts on their way down as we speak. :)

I posted a few pictures from the pressure ridge trip we took the other night and my trip up Ob hill.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pressure ridges and Observation Hill

Today was our day off, so I took the opportunity to sleep late. After dinner, we headed over to Scott Base to do the pressure ridge walk. The pressure ridges form where the sea ice and the ice shelf meet. They are pretty impressive:

After that, I decided to go up Observation Hill. It was a little dicey since some weather was blowing in, but I risked it. The wind was blowing through the valley pretty stiffly and bringing a weird fog with it, but since I was shielded by the hill, the hike up wasn't too bad. Up at the top, the wind was pretty brisk. For a while, I lost sight of town because of the fog. Below is a picture from the top of Ob hill looking at the ridge across the valley:

You can see the eerie fog blowing through. I decided to walk down the back of Ob hill. There's less of a defined path and a lot more slippery stuff, so it was a rather improvised, sem-controlled descent. Going down the back side of the hill meant that I was walking into the wind the whole way down. At the bottom, I had a rather good coating of frost on my whiskers and my clothes:
What can I say? It's a harsh continent.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The good days just keep rolling in

Man, it's been a really great last couple of days. Things have been a bit more relaxed due to the drill string being switched over to the new size. We've still had plenty of core piled up to work on, so we haven't gotten a break, but everyone seems to have relaxed some. Perhaps it is the prospect of the day off tomorrow that has buoyed everyone's spirits.

It also helps that yesterday we had 3 birthdays on the same day just within the ANDRILL project! And even more amazing 2 of the 3 are night shift folks--Larry and "Il Padrino" himself, Franco. It was also Laura's birthday. Laura is the glue that keeps this project together, and without her, no one would have made it down here. So, given those circumstances, we've given her the coveted title of honorary nightwalker. The birthdays meant a little frivolity was in order.

Vanessa and Leslie got together and made a decadent chocolate cake, which they brought (straight from the oven and still warm) over to the Galley during dinner. Larry and Franco were there since it was their normal lunch time, but as luck would have it, Laura happened to stop by just in time for cake. So we sang "Happy Birthday" to all three and enjoyed the cake:

Deb, Larry's wife, requested though my blog that I do something special, and potentially embarassing, for Larry's birthday. My first instinct was to get some embarassing photos of Larry to show at the morning meeting. Little did I know that being Mr. Cool himself, there were no photos to be found. So in absence of any compromising photos, I resolved to fabricate some. I went on a photoshopping tear and put Larry's head on the body of an old man running out doors in the winter. It was a rather hilarious combination. I also didn't leave out Laura and Franco. I put Laura's head on Wonderwoman's body and Franco became The Godfather. Everyone was a good sport and had a good laugh when I showed it at the morning meeting for everyone.

In unrelated news, PSICAT is performing marvelously. It has proven it's worth many times this week. We've been tweaking the color scheme for lithologies a bit. If they had been doing things the old way, all 600 meters of diagrams would have had to be individually adjusted to update the color. But I just changed one color value and all of the diagrams were updated. The other big thing is summary logs. Being over 600m into the core, it's hard to get a big picture of what is going on since the diagrams that get put up on the wall are only 4m/page. So I took all of the PSICAT data, applied some general rules to combine similar intervals, and voila! generated a summary log for the first 600 meters. It looks pretty impressive to have 600m of log displayed on a single sheet of paper.

Well I should get some more work done so I don't feel guilty tomorrow during our day off. Today it hit 4oF down here. Much nicer than back home, from what people tell me. Hopefully the weather holds for tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A day off

We got some awesome news yesterday. The sedimentologists and myself are getting a much needed and much overdue day off on Saturday night. The coring has been stopped for the last couple of days because they were switching between the HQ and NQ drill strings at the 700m mark. Everyone else has had some time off, but because there was a backlog of core the sedimentologists haven't been able to rest. Fortunately there's an open house on Sunday for the McMurdo community to come in and see what we do, so there wasn't going to be time to sample during the day on Sunday. The day off comes at an opportune time, as well. There are three birthdays on Friday (two of which are people on the night shift) so that's a pretty decent birthday present for those folks.

We've already started planning what we're going to do with the free time. The plan at the moment is to meet at midrats and have dinner together. And then after dinner, we're going to walk the Castle Rock loop, which takes a couple hours. After that we're heading back to the lounge in the dorm to PARTY!!!!! Lots of yelling and playing pool so we make a lot of noise. We'll get our revenge on the daywalkers for waking us up during the day when we're trying to sleep. Just kidding, we're much too nice to do that. I don't know what we'll do when we get back, but I'm looking forward to skipping the morning meeting and going to bed early.

It's been a pretty busy week or two for me. I've been working hard on some new features for PSICAT that should make compiling the on-ice report easier. But between that and other things like homework, I haven't had much time to sleep. I've been really happy how the body has been holding up. So far I've dodged the flu and the crud, even with the long hours and little rest. It must be the strict regimen I've been sticking to--a multi-vitamin every day and 2-3 beers a couple times a week to sterilze the system.

Since there haven't been too many pictures recently, I thought I'd include a picture from when we were over at Scott Base last weekend for brunch. They have the original base building open for tours so I walked through it and snapped a photo or two:
I complained in the blog earlier about the food. And while I stand by my previous assessment, I see now that it could be much, much worse. :)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Weekly Roundup

Well, there's been a couple things that weren't important enough to warrant a separate blog entry but are still worth mentioning:

MSNBC: As John would say, "The press is coming. The press is coming. The press is here." Some reporters and camera crews arrived a couple days ago to do some coverage of ANDRILL and the other going ons down here. Of the crews down, Miguel Llanos of MSNBC seems to have made the biggest splash around base. On the day that he arrived, he posted a story to the MSNBC website (read from the beginning forwards) complaining about various things having to do with his trip down and his arrival here. This didn't sit too well with the base, so he's been getting a lot of flak from people around here. My favorite is the response at BigDeadPlace:
[In regards to his complaint about no movie on the C-17 flight down here]
"C-17s are military aircraft. They sometimes go into combat zones packed with soldiers ready to kill the bad people. They're not going to show videos."

[In regards to his complaint about the ECW gear we're issued]
"When it's -100F and you're spending much of the day outside, the parka and boots are your friend. You're like a diver bitching that he has to wear an oxygen tank."
Those two were my favorite, but all of them are pretty good, especially the story about another intrepid explorer that had a bad trip down here. The other camera crews have taken to wearing signs that say "We're not MSNBC". :)

Scott Base Skirt Party: Tonight was the infamous Scott Base Skirt Party, where everyone puts on a skirt and...has a party, I guess. I wasn't able to attend since I had to work tonight but I did catch a glimpse of a few people who were loudly roaming the halls while I was trying to sleep. A few people stopped by the lab afterwards, and judging from their conditions, a good time was had by all.

Since we missed out on yet another social event, the night shift organized a trip to Scott Base for brunch. So hopefully by the time we get there tomorrow, they'll have cleaned up the place and someone will be in a good enough condition to cook us some food. I have faith in the Kiwis--they're a hardly bunch, so they tend to recover quickly.

Interviews: I answered a few questions for ISU about being down here, so there's an article up at the ISU news service. The picture of me in my snow trench looks like I'm wearing those footy pajamas that you wore as a kid. :) I also answered a few questions for ComputerWorld, so I hope that pans out into an article as well.

Josh's Greeting Service: It has recently come to my attention that a few of the spouses of ANDRILL folks have been following the blog. Since it's hard to be away from your family for such an extended period of time, especially during the holidays, I'm starting up Josh's Greeting Service. Here's how it works: at your request, I can catch your spouse at the morning meeting (or some other suitably embarassing time) and give them a hug and your greeting in front of everyone so he or she (and everyone else) knows that you're thinking of them. And if a hug doesn't work, or you want something more discreet, I'm open to suggestions. Just note, I can't hold a note or carry a tune, so singing is out. And I've got some pretty scraggly facial hair, so they likely wouldn't want a kiss from me :)

Other than that, I just wanted to wish everyone back at school good luck on their finals.

Burger Bar

A truly glorious thing happened yesterday: I had a cheeseburger and curly fries for supper. I know what you're thinking, 'big deal', and you're right it is a big deal. Since I'm on the night shift, my supper time is at 6AM. This makes it nigh impossible to get non-breakfast food for supper. So since I started on the night shift, all the way back to the middle of October, I've eaten eggs or cereal for supper. But yesterday was the first day I was able to eat supper-type food for supper.

The fact that there was a burger bar at 6:30AM for the night shift was brought to our attention by Jesse, the night janitor here in Crary. He was walking through and mentioned that he was working burger bar in the morning and was wondering if we wanted something other than eggs for supper. Naturally we all jumped at the chance, so he was even nice enough to take down our orders and call us when they were ready.

On the walk over to Gallagher's (which isn't very far, by the way--I could pick up a rock and probably hit the bar from the front door of Crary) to pick up the burgers, I saw someone walk out with a brown paper bag. On the bottom of the bag, a little grease was soaking through. Now, I'm not too proud to admit that the sight of the greasy bag got me even more excited at the prospect of a big greasy burger. It wasn't 'a kid on Christmas morning' level of excitement but I think I was looking forward to the burger more than I was for Thanksgiving just a few weeks ago.

Anyhow, after getting the burgers all sorted out and paid for, we headed over to the Galley to eat them. Since we were still working, we couldn't stick around and drink beer with the rest of the people at the bar. Instead we settled for milk and juice in the Galley. We also wanted to eat in the Galley so we could lord the fact that we were eating burgers and curly fries over the room. As for the lording, likely no one noticed, or if they did notice, they didn't care, that we weren't eating eggs or cereal, but it felt good nonetheless.

As for the burgers, it's amazing how mediocre yet absolutely wonderful something can be at the time. And if you were reading closely, you might notice that I said 'burgers'. Indeed, I fibbed a little earlier when I said I had 'a cheeseburger'. I actually had TWO cheeseburgers, in addition to the aforementioned curly fries. It was far too much food, but I ate it all like a champ. But don't worry, I ran extra tonight to work off the extra burger.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Monumental Day

Today is a truly monumental day for the ANDRILL project and myself: Franco 'Il Padrino' Talarico has named a clast after me. A picture of the clast, which occurs at around 439.5m below the sea floor, is included below:

As you can see from the picture, the clast and its namesake (me) share many of the same qualities. Both are a little rough around the edge, and judging from the sediment "snowballing" that the clast exhibits, both of us have had long and interesting journeys to get where we are now. But the thing we have most in common: when you cut us in half, both of us are red on the inside.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mad Props

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, things have been busy around here. I successfully recovered from the Thanksgiving meal, but it took a day or two. The core has been flooding in at 50-70m/day. Which is awesome considering the slow start we got, but it also means a lot of work for me and everyone else on the night shift. We obviously can't keep pace with the bit, so the gap between what has been logged and what has been drilled continues to widen.

I have to give mad props to my fellow nightwalkers. Larry, Ellen, Gavin, Thom, and Franco have all been pushing themselves to the limit to get as much core described as possible each night--sometimes pushing out 40m or more. The other allstars are the curators. Matt, Davide, and Kelly work flat out for 12 hours or more on splitting and imaging the core so that it is ready for the sedimentologists to describe. The current record is 60m of core split in one 24 hour period, and over 40 of that was done during the night by Matt and Davide. Vanessa and Matteo also deserve recognition. Matteo has been entering all the clasts that Franco draws, a job that would drive me bonkers. Vanessa has been helping the sedimentologists with smear slides, and they both have been helping Donata with the spectrophometer, which judging by their excitement when they walk up to the RAC tent is not a very fun job.

As for me, I've been trying to automate as much of my work as I can. Otherwise, I'd quickly fall hopelessly behind. I've written a bunch of scripts and helper programs to minimize the amount of manual work involved with the Corelyzer server administration. I still have to manually crop the split core images, but after that is done the script can take care of everything. After the split core images were under control, I turned my attention to the whole core images. These need to be converted from BMP to JPEG, renamed to a sane file naming scheme, and loaded into Corelyzer. The most time consuming and error prone part of the whole process was converting the files and then naming them based on some data in a spreadsheet. So in an act of inspiration (or perhaps disgust), I wrote up a little program to read the spreadsheet and do the conversion/renaming step. So I can start it and just walk away. As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention".

So now that a lot of things are automated, I've been able to focus in a bit more on PSICAT. I made some major advances the last two days. There had been some performance problems we've been experiencing. They hadn't shown up before, mainly because we've never had 400m+ of continuous core described in PSICAT. So I went out and got a trial license for the YourKit Java Profiler to see if I could improve things at all. Within the first 10 minutes I had found and optimized a loop that PSICAT was spending most of its time in. The fix was relatively trivial once I took a closer look at the loop and the problem it was trying to address. This made a noticeable speed improvement when opening up a large project. The other thing I fixed with the help of the profiler was a heap space issue. I was running out of heap space when exporting images, and I bumped up the heap size, but to no avail. The profiler was instrumental in tracking down where the memory leak was. It took me a bit longer to fix that problem but now you can export all 400m of core as images w/o running into any heap space issues. Now I can turn my attention to a few of the new features that need to get developed for the on-ice report.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Antarctic Thanksgiving

Well, Thanksgiving has finally arrived here to McMurdo. Thursday actually happened here before it did back home, but there was little fanfare and more importantly no turkey. We had to wait until today for the food. This morning was the annual Turkey Trot Fun Run. It was my first 5K, and it didn't go too bad. I dressed like a ninja for the run. I was in all black except for my shoes and my neck gaitor that I wore like a mask at the beginning of the race. Time-wise, I didn't do as well as I would have liked, 26:35, but I ran the whole way and finished in the middle of the pack. And most importantly, the people dressed as cows didn't beat me. :)

The meal was pretty good. I ate entirely way too much food. They had turkey and prime rib and shrimp and I partook in all of them. The stuffing wasn't as good as back home, but it was still edible. I was glad they had a Thanksgiving dinner just for the night shift, as I suspect it was much less crowded than at the previous meals. Now, I need to find a nice, quiet corner and take a nap.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Well it's just about Thursday back home, so I thought I'd wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Eat a bunch of turkey for me. We don't get our Thanksgiving dinner until Saturday so everyone can gorge themselves and have a 2 day weekend. Us ANDRILL folks will be working like normal, since they just started drilling with the HQ drill string and they are pulling up the core 6 meters at a time. We're cutting the morning meeting short on Saturday because a bunch of ANDRILL folks are running in the 5K "Turkey Trot". I'll be running it; I think it is a loop around the base and then out to the ice runway and back. It'll be interesting :) Us night shift folks will get our turkey dinner on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Anyhow, I'd better get to work. Oh and I put up a picture gallery from Evans and Royds.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cape Evans and Cape Royds

We were able to get out to Cape Evans and Cape Royds last night. It was a nice break. The scenery was amazing as usual. Seeing the huts and the living conditions that Scott, Shackleton, and their men lived in was very humbling. I personally enjoyed Shackleton's hut at Royds more than Scott's at Evans. The Evans hut was very dark and had many nooks and crannys, so it had a very claustriphobic feel to it. All of my pictures were taken in pitch black, so I was happy that most turned out. Shackleton's hut at Royds was the opposite of the Evans hut. It was open and bright. There was less privacy but I also felt more cheery there, which I think would be more important than privacy when you're there for months on end. And the best part of Royds was: penguins! There is an Adelie penguin rookery there, which was the big attraction for everyone. I got some pretty good pictures, which I'll put up in the gallery tonight. For some reason, I'm really tired after the trip. It must have been all the fresh air and the walking around. The temperature was pretty nice, but it was pretty windy. The wind was blowing at around 40 to 45mph. Wearing my big coat, standing up on the hill by Evans, I thought that if I jumped I would fly like a kite all the way out onto the ice. Anyhow, I'll leave you with a picture of a penguin:

Monday, November 20, 2006

Field Trip Canceled

Our field trip to the historic huts at Cape Evans and Cape Royds last night was canceled due to the weather. Oddly enough, it was the nicest night in town that we've had in the last couple of days, but I think MacWeather is tracking some storms that are supposed to hit today. I kind of hope it gets nasty because we really haven't experienced too much bad weather around here. I'd like to see it get to Condition 1 where they ban all movement between buildings just to see the worst that Antarctica can throw at us (see it from the safety of my nice, dorm room that is).

So instead of taking a night off, we worked instead. Since it was quiet, I took the opportunity to put the finishing touches on my Psych 521 paper. It's a rather modest 4.5 pages, single-spaced, 2 column, 9pt font. It sure is a relief to have that off of my chest. I am happy with how it turned out. I don't think I will submit it for publication as the paper is rather contrived. No one will want to publish a 4.5 page literature summary but it was useful to work through the process. And it might make a nice section of a larger paper on PSICAT.

After the paper I fixed a recurring bug with PSICAT, so hopefully tomorrow night the logging will go a little more smoothly. And the rest of the night was allotted to processing images for Corelyzer. I'm keeping up with the drilling by taking a couple hours every other night or so to whittle away at the backlog that builds up.

Since it's been a while since I posted a picture here, I'm including a picture of the infamous 'skua'. These devious birds sit outside the Galley waiting for people to walk out with food and then dive bomb. Here's a picture of one that is conveniently sitting in the middle of the road waiting for an unsuspecting victim:

Saturday, November 18, 2006


The Italian dinner we had cooked for us was delicious. It was sort of odd having pasta and bruschetta for breakfast, but it was good nonetheless. I'm not a big fan of the Parmesian cheese, mainly because I don't like the smell of it, so when a plate of pasta covered in cheese was placed in front of me, I was a little hesitant. But I didn't want to be rude, so I dug in and it was really good. They also brought around some delicious prosciutto and sliced turkey after the pasta. It was funny to see the volunteer cooks in their aprons and chef hats with Italian names on them. Matteo and Davide have been teaching me Italian, or at least the cuss words, so I was able to read some of the hats. The rest they gladly translated for me.

It's been pretty quiet at work tonight. I've been finishing up my Psych 521 paper so I won't have to worry about it any longer. Thankfully things have been a bit less hectic as everyone is hitting their stride and settling into a groove. After the paper is out of the way, I'm looking forward to doing some hacking on PSICAT to improve a few things.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Daywalker [dey waw-ker] - noun
  1. one who works during the day or on the day shift. Commonly used to refer to all of the people on day shift as a collective.
  2. often muttered in disgust or exasperation by a person on the night shift e.g "What were those daywalkers thinking?!" or "Silly daywalkers..."
Being on the night shift aka a nightwalker, I'm bound by a sacred oath to make war on the daywalkers; I just don't think anyone has told them that we're at war. :)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Care Package

I didn't get the picture of me squeezing porewater from Thom, nor did I get a blog entry posted. I did, however, get a care package in the mail from the Rosses. It had all sorts of goodies like chocolate, fruit snacks, beef jerky, tea, and some long underwear and a knit cap. I ate the beef jerky right away. It's something I really like but very rarely actually eat; the last time I had it was probably at their house. I wear the knit cap quite a bit. I also have a wool ANDRILL hat and a fleece Yazoo cap but the knit one I can wear all the time. I think it's pretty stylish and it keeps my head warm.

We had some DVs from NSF and the National Science Board touring yesterday. It was especially interesting because one of the DVs is going to be the new Provost for ISU. We had a nice chat about ISU and what I'm doing down here. She said that she'll be very busy when she starts in January, but that I should stop by when I get back and make sure I tell her assistant that I'm Josh from Antarctica. I guess you never know who you'll run into...or where you'll run into them for that matter.

Things are pretty much the same here on the work front. PSICAT still has some quirks but overall has been working exceptionally well. So most of my time is spent administering the Corelyzer software--getting images and data ready to go into it.

Since being on the night shift means we miss out on a lot of activities that are arranged around a day shift schedule. So, being the proactive bunch that we are, we got together and arranged a trip to Cape Evans and Cape Royds to see the huts that Scott and Shackleton used when they were down here exploring. Gavin volunteered to get sea-ice trained so he could drive the Pisten Bully out to the huts and Thom and Larry volunteered to get hut guide trained so they can give us the tour. It looks like we're going Monday night, so we'll even get a day off of work. And I'm pretty excited since we should be able to see some seals and penguins.

Next entry I'll hopefully get that picture from Thom and if nothing super exciting happens, I'll be discussing Daywalkers and Nightwalkers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Logging as fast as it comes in

Things have been cooking around here. We've had pretty constant core flow at about 15m/day. This is still under our estimated peak flow of 30m/day, but flow should pick up here pretty soon. And when it does, we can build a buffer of core so I'm not constantly working on the next section the sedimentoligists need.

We've been in some pretty monotonous sediments, so the sedimentologists have had a pretty easy time of describing the core. Tonight we're finally into something different to spice up the core presentation tomorrow. But the word is, tomorrow we're back to the monotonous stuff.

As for me, work has been pretty busy with the increased core flow. About every 20 minutes I have to stop what I'm doing and prepare the next core image for the Corelyzer system. There's also been some procedural issues that I've been working through to minimize the amount of manual work. Tonight I worked up a notification script that checks to see if there are any new images waiting so then I can process them. And I've streamlined the processing down to as little as possible--I simply have to crop the images to the right size depending on the core and run a script to make them available to the sedimentologists via the Corelyzer system. So for the most part, I've got things under control. The constant interruption to process images is pretty annoying, because it makes it hard to concentrate on getting any work done. Though when we get a buffer built up, it should go away.

We've also had a lot of DVs (distinguished visitors) coming through recently. It makes for long days when they are here because I usually stick around through the core tour to make sure all of the software is working and give little demos of the software. I haven't been leaving until 1PM or later most days, which gives 6 or 7 hours to do things like laundry, run errands, and sleep. I'm definitely looking forward to just sitting back and relaxing once I get back to the States. :)

I got a good action shot of me squeezing pore water from rocks last night. It's on Thom's camera so I'll get that from him and get it posted hopefully tomorrow. In lieu of that, here's a cool picture of a big rock we drilled through:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Putting on my sedimentologist's hat

They let me out from behind the keyboard tonight to help out with the logging. They were in some pretty easy stuff so they let me have a whack at logging a meter. It wasn't that hard, so I don't understand why it takes them so long. I don't know how I did, but from the smiles on their faces I can only assume that I must have done a good job.

Friday, November 10, 2006

All is well

All is well here. We have had a good couple days of coring so I've been pretty busy the last couple of nights. I went out to the drill site on Wednesday and got to look around a bit. I didn't get the full tour, but I'm looking forward to it anxiously.

As I mentioned above, the coring has been great. We aren't up to full production mode, but we're pushing through 5m+ a night. And they just switched out the drill bit to something a little faster, so the volume should pick up. PSICAT has been keeping up. I pushed out version 1.0.10, the biggest release with updates and new features since being down here. None of the bugs so far have been very major or show-stoppers. I'm gratified to see that PSICAT isn't slowing down the logging at all, and I think it's even making things easier on the loggers. But my opinion might be biased. :)

I still have a few things to get done before the morning meetings, so I have to get going. And after the meeting, I've got a beer or two with my name on it since it's officially Saturday night for me :)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Taylor Valley

Wow. The whole field trip experience was awesome.

The helicopter flight was pretty cool. It was my first time in a helicopter. There were 8 of us on the trip so we were packed into the helo pretty tight. The view was amazing, especially coming back when the pilot did a circle around McMurdo and Ob Hill so Alexander could do some video filming. The helicopter dropped our survival bags and extra gear down at the mouth of the valley and then took us and our daypacks up to the top of the valley. The plan was that we would hike down the valley to the survival bags and get picked up at 5.

The Dry Valleys weren't as dry as today as normal because they got a pretty decent dusting of snow that hadn't melted off yet. Nonetheless, Taylor Valley was pretty breathtaking. One of the first thing you notice after the helicopter takes off is that the valley is really quiet. The only things making noise are you and the people around you. And the occasional sound of a glacier calving. Another thing you notice is that you're surrounded by glaciers. They seem to hang from the walls of the valley, and each has a name. Ellen was telling me that these glaciers are unique because they have very flat face as opposed to a sloped face. This is because these glaciers stay frozen year round and have very little melt water, which contributes to a sloped face. The final thing you notice, which is a little subtle at first, is that there is a complete lack of vegetation.

The landscape was littered with all sorts of debris--from boulders of granite the size of a pickup truck all the way down to pebbles and ice chunks of all sizes from the glaciers. The ground ranges from pretty solid stuff to very soft sand. There were also places where there were very many loose pebbles and cobbles that made walking somewhat treacherous. When we first got out of the helicopter, we wandered around for a while pretty leisurely. After a bit, we realized that we needed to head towards the bottom of the valley if we were going to make our pickup time. Ross set a pace that made for quite the workout. The temperature was also pretty warm--20F--so between that and the hiking, everyone got warm and sweaty pretty quickly. It was a long hike to get to the bottom of the valley where we were going to eat lunch. My hips and knees were sore from hiking across a steep slope of loose sand and stones. Sitting down for lunch was one of the greatest feelings I've ever felt :) We ate lunch overlooking the mouth of the valley with Taylor Glacier and Lake Bonney at our feet.

After lunch we wandered down to the lake and decided to hike across it to the survival bags and then explore the glacier further. The ice in the middle of the lake is permanent but the ice around the edge melts aways and forms a moat during the summer. Fortunately for us, it was still frozen solid. The ice was really clear but also very slippery. Ross said that the lake is really salty, but it didn't taste very salty when I got down on my hands and knees and gave it a lick. I guess the salt water sinks to the bottom :)

Taylor glacier was the best part of the whole trip for me. We got to climb on it and the moraines in front of it. It also has this unique feature called the "Blood Falls". It looks like there is a frozen waterfall of orangeish 'blood'. I guess it is caused by some lake minerals and salts that are underneath the glacier and getting forced up through it.

The helicopter picked us up around 5 and took us back to McMurdo. On the way back, I got a couple of nice pictures out the window. When we got back, I was dog tired. But considering we'd hiked quite a ways over some tough terrain, and it was during the time I'd normally be sleeping, and I was running on two hours of sleep, I guess it wasn't too surprising that I was tired. When I get a chance, I'll upload a few more photos from the trip. I need to sort through them and pick out the best 15 or 20 since I took about 130 pictures.

EDIT: I uploaded the pictures to the Taylor Valley album.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Field Trip

I'm ducking out of work a bit early tonight to get some sleep because we're off on a helicopter tomorrow to Taylor Valley to do some sight seeing. Ross Powell, one of the co-chiefs, is leading the trip. We'll be out there checking out some glaciers and glacial sediments. And if things go as planned, we'll be back in time to catch a little nap before we start logging core. The sea riser cementing went well and they were going to be finishing up the drilling of the cement tonight. So hopefully we'll have a couple meters to log tomorrow night.

PSICAT is still working out quite well. I just pushed out an updated version with some new features. I've got a few more, collaboration-oriented features to get pushed out before the end of this week when the big boss--Tom Wagner from NSF--shows up.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A day in the life...

Things are looking up around here. They should have started cementing the sea riser in while I was asleep today. This means that if everything goes to plan, we should start getting a more steady stream of core to log. It'll be slower at first since we're going through soft stuff but once we hit the lithified stuff, we're looking a 30-40 meters a day.

On Monday, I'm scheduled to go on a helicopter ride to the Dry Valleys for a field trip. As the name implies, the Dry Valleys get virtually no snow or moisture of any kind. I guess they are quite amazing so I'm glad that I was able to get to go and visit them. So expect some pictures early next week.

Things around work are pretty much the same as before--no core so there's a limited amount of things to do. Fortunately I have some coding on PSICAT that can be done as well as some work on a paper for class. I've settled into a pretty steady routine that should keep up until we're done coring in late December. Below is a snapshot of my day:

7:30PM: Wake up when my room mate, John, gets home
7:45PM: Go to the gym and workout for an hour or so
9:00PM: Shower and head into work
9-10PM: Fix any problems with the blogs and check my mail
10:00PM: My shift starts. If there is core, I start processing the images so they can be displayed on the Corelyzer system. Get the sedimentologists set up for logging with PSICAT.
12-1AM: Midrats
1-6AM: Work on various things, answer any questions that the sedimentologists have about PSICAT.
6-7AM: Breakfast
7-8:30AM: Wrap things up from the night. Fix any problems with the blogs.
8:30-9:30AM: Co-Chiefs meeting.
9:30-11AM: Science team meeting.
11AM-12 or 1PM: Fix any day shift issues and then head home to bed.

All in all, I like the schedule. Here's what I like about it:
  • The people on night shift are great. We always have a good time.
  • It's quieter, so you can get more work done.
  • The meals are less crowded.
There are a few downsides, though:
  • Not as much variety in meals. Midrats is usually pretty hit or miss. Some nights it is awesome; some nights it is pretty eh. Fortunately you can always make a bowl of cereal or a sandwich. And my other meal is at dinner time for me but at breakfast time for everyone else, so I usually have eggs.
  • Fewer social opportunities. We missed the station's Halloween party because we were working and I think we miss out on a fair amount of social interaction with the day shift.
As you can probably tell, there is a lot of emphasis put on the meals. The food is neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad. When you're cooking for a couple hundred people, it's hard to make sure all of the food is cooked perfectly and accommodate a variety of tastes. The meals are the major gathering times for people so they factor highly into Antarctic life.

In the end, it's an awesome experience and definitely worth it. I'm missing home a bit, but I know I'll be home soon enough so I might as well experience as much as I can. And when the core starts pouring in, we won't have time to miss home because we'll be too busy.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Observation Hill

Two posts in one night! After dinner Gavin and I conquered Observation Hill. It's a pretty stiff climb, especially with the wind and such but it was good to get out and break a sweat. I took a couple of nice pictures; I guess the light is good at 3AM in the morning. I also marked up a 'pictorial representation of my life at McMurdo':

Frosty Boy Returns!

It's funny how people seem to fixate on the littlest things down here, and also quickly I find myself fixating on them as well. Take Frosty Boy for example. Frosty Boy is the soft serve ice cream machine that they have in the Galley. Frosty Boy has been gone for most of the week with a sign on the machine saying he'd be back on Tuesday. So every night at midrats, the conversation inevitably turned to Frosty Boy and wondering how he was and whether was really going to be back on Tuesday. Being on night shift and not eating during the day, I didn't get a chance to have some Frosty Boy, so imagine my disappointment when I walked into midrats and Frosty Boy's door was closed. At the table, no one could figure out why there was no Frosty Boy. But none of us could remember whether he was open for midrats, so Tom and I decided to ask the rather imposing chef about Frosty Boy's whereabouts and whether he was generally open for midrats. The chef said that there was no product for the machine and that it would be a couple of days. We were awfully disappointed but they had a nice German chocolate cake for dessert so we were willing to make do.

Fast forward to about 30 minutes into dinner. A fireman got up, walked over to Frosty Boy, opened the door, and helped himself to a bowl. All eyes nervously turned to the kitchen just waiting for the big chef to come out and brawl with the fireman. The chef came but didn't stop the fireman. So after the briefest moment of hesitation, half the room got up and got in line for Frosty Boy. He was back! I thought I could hold out, since I'd already had a piece of cake but when we started speculating at how long Frosty Boy would last, I had to give in and have a bowl:

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Night Shift Life

Things have been pretty slow going the last couple of nights. We haven't had enough core to fill the whole shift but I've been staying awake the whole night to keep up the schedule. With my free time, I've been doing various things. One of those things has been adding new features to PSICAT. Today I finally tracked down how to do Eclipse update site mirrors. This is an important thing because we've got a bunch of people down here using PSICAT but there is very limited bandwith, so I don't want everyone having to download from the main PSICAT update site in Ames. So I finally tracked down how to specify mirror sites (and when I say 'tracked down' it wasn't that hard to figure out, I just hadn't looked previously). A couple of lines in an XML file later and we had a McMurdo-based mirror site.

Adjusting to the night shift hasn't been too bad since the first day or so. I think I'm actually sleeping more during the day than I had been during the nights. Yesterday I got into the gym before my shift started and I'm going to try to make that a regular occurrence. I also did some laundry yesterday, so I should be good for another week.

The night shift is much different than the day shift. There is hardly anyone in Crary Lab, which is nice because we have the run of the place but it also sucks because they turn the heat down/off and it gets pretty chilly. Tonight Kelly and I hung out in the freezer and watched movies on my laptop because it is the warmest room in the building (it sounds odd that a freezer in Antarctica would be warm, but it is the best insulated room in the building). They have a special meal for the night shifters in the Galley at midnight (called midrats for midnight rations). So far our nights are filled with waiting for meals to begin, but I'm sure once the core starts really flowing in we'll look back on these free nights fondly.

Coming up soon, I think I might post a blog entry about everyday life here in Antarctica. Here's a teaser: "work is the stuff that fills the time between meals".

Saturday, October 28, 2006

First Core

Above is a picture of the sedimentology team logging the first gravity and push cores we got in. It was exciting to actually be in there and watching them work. Overall, I think the logging process went well. It took them a little time to figure out the logging flow and who was going to do what, so the first cores took longer to describe than the last ones.

Overall, I think PSICAT performed well. There were a few minor bugs and some feature enhancements requests. While they were working, I was fixingthe bugs and adding the new features. When they had a little down time between cores, I updated PSICAT. It seemed to work out well and there were fewer issues as the night went on.

Tonight, instead of sitting in with them and hovering around, I'm going to let them fly solo and see how it works. Hopefully they won't run into any major problems and I can get a bit more work done.

Adjusting to the night shift is touch and go. This morning I was pretty grumpy when 10AM rolled around. I think it was mainly because I was tired, stressed out, and have been working too many long days. It's tough, too, when the day shift folks are coming on all rested as you're ready to go to bed and expect you to fix all of their problems on their time. I guess I'll have to tell that 11AM isn't a good time for me but if they'd like to swing by the lab at around 3AM, I'd be happy to tackle their problems :)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Night shift

We'll be logging core tonight. It's amazing how quickly the situation can change. We had been hearing that we'd be getting core on Saturday night so we'd officially start logging core Sunday night, but Ross came and found me a couple hours ago and told me that they'd made quite a bit of progress at the drill site and to plan on starting a couple days early.

On one hand, it's kind of a bummer to be starting the night shift tonight because ANDRILL is hosting a little "Thank You" shindig in our dorm to thank all of the wonderful support people that have been working so hard to make sure we have what we need to be successful. So I'll probably sleep through the beginning of it and be heading out to work as it gets into full swing. And tomorrow they have the big station-wide Halloween party, though hopefully we'll be able to sneak away and check out the costumes The other bummer about starting early is that it gives us only about a day to completely flip flop our awake and sleep schedules. I opted to just stay up last night, so I'm just passing the 24 hours awake mark on 5 hours of sleep the previous night.

On the other hand, I'm really excited to actually have core to log and to finally put PSICAT through its paces. And overall, it's just good to be finally settling into a routine; I know everyone around here has been anticipating the first core. We'll see if they're just as excited when we're 800m into the hole :)

I also had a delightful dinner over at Scott Base (the Kiwi base over the hill). They invite 12 ANDRILL folks over every Thursday to have dinner and do a tour. Their food is much better than here because they are cooking for fewer people. I think they generally run about 1/10th as many people as are at McMurdo. I'd heard good things about the food and I wasn't disappointed. And the best part--they served it with a Speights. After dinner I played a few games of pool with Julian in the bar and had a beer or two before heading back to begin my long night of staying awake.

Staying awake was easier than I expected it to be. The Galley opens up at midnight for the night shift folks to come in and have some lunch. The food perked me up and got me through the toughest part of the night. Around 3AM, everyone else had left so I cranked up some tunes and did some coding on PSICAT. Around 6, John showed up and we went for some breakfast. I still need to figure out when I'm going to fit the gym into my schedule. I'm thinking I'll get up around 7PM and hit the gym before my shift starts. But we'll see how well that works out.

I promised a picture of the computers, so here goes. Hopefully I'll get some good pictures of the sedimentologists in action using PSICAT and Corelyzer with the core laid out on the tables.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Not too much to report on here. I've been working through some system administration issues which I think I finally got sorted out. And I've even found some time to implement some new features in PSICAT. I added the ability to add depth-registered images. It's functionally complete but I need to add a few niceties. I also implemented a clast column which was requested a couple days ago. All in all some pretty standard coding but it sure feels good to be doing it.

Besides work, I haven't been doing too much besides having a few beers in the lounge before bed. I work from 7ish in the morning to 9, 10, or 11ish at night. I take time to eat lunch and supper but it makes for long days. It looks like I'll be switching to the night shift on Sunday night. I haven't quite decided how I'm going to do that. Perhaps if I get all of my preparations done tomorrow and Friday, I can take the weekend to try and adjust to the new schedule. Once we get started on the shift work, things will settle down and perhaps I'll have time to hit the gym. :)

The station Halloween party is on Saturday. I'm guessing that it'll be a pretty big thing, since there's not much to do down here besides drink. And most of the Raytheon folks have Sundays off. I haven't thought of a costume yet. Actually I've thought of a couple ideas but most of them are not appropriate. ;) Someone suggested that since I've got a beard going, I should paint my face green and go as a kiwi fruit.

Well I should probably get back to doing something productive. Hope everything in the outside world is going well for everyone. Tomorrow I'm going to try to post a picture or two of the computer setup we've got down here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Dog's Breakfast

Today was a much better day; I actually feel like I made some forward progress. I never did find my access card, but I was able to get a new one without any big fuss. We had our usual morning meetings. The administrative meeting was business as usual. At the whole group meeting, Tim got up and explained some of the science behind why we are drilling where we are and what they are expecting to find. It was really interesting. He's a good speaker and even though there was some pretty heavy science mixed in there, I wasn't completely lost. I also learned a new phrase: "the dog's breakfast". Both Tim and Gavin busted it out while talking. The Kiwis sure do have some interesting sayings.

After the meetings, I spent most of the day getting some issues from yesterday sorted. Since that was all non-coding work, I decided to reward myself with a few hours of coding after dinner. We're expecting to begin logging later this week so I'm updating a few things on PSICAT. I'm working on a clast plugin that should allow the sedimentologists to describe the major clasts in the core. I also have a few small UI and workflow optimizations to make things easier on the scientists.

One of the things I still have to get set up and working is a central Subversion repository for PSICAT data. PSICAT has the ability to store and retrieve its data from Subversion. This is going to be a really awesome feature for ANDRILL because they have a large contingent of scientists scattered all around the world. They will be able to access the core logs much sooner that they have been able to on previous projects. Previously they would have had to wait until the expedition was over and everyone came back from the ice. Not this time, though. They'll be able to pull up the data as soon as it is committed. And assuming that the logging team commits their changes every night, the people back in the States will actually have a negative delay because the core would have been logged on a Monday in Antarctica but be available on a Sunday in the States. :) All joking aside, I think the Subversion is a smart move because not only will it allow them to disseminate data, it will also allow for tracking changes and add a bit of accountability.

Well I had better get to actually working on PSICAT instead of just talking about all the cool things it can do :) Cheers.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bad Day

Today started out as a good day. I got up early and called my mom and Elizabeth. It was good to talk to them. But after that things went down hill. Lots of crap at work culminating in the realization that I had lost my keycard to get into Crary Lab some time this afternoon. It fell off of my lanyard somewhere. So I guess I'll swing by the administration and see if I can get another one tomorrow.

On a positive note, I figured out a bit more about SSL on Apache and how to do rewrite rules and proxying. So I'm a little smarter even though it was a completely pointless exercise. And I am getting a chance to work a bit more on PSICAT. There are a couple new features in the pipeline that I'd like to get finished before the first core comes in--which is looking to be in 4 or 5 days.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Blogs Everywhere

Turns out I'm not the only one on an adventure. My friend Arun, of Corewall fame, recently moved out to San Jose to work at NVidia. He's got a blog to chronicle the excitement. Somehow, I bet he's going to be able to find better Indian food than I am here.

And if you're into technology, especially the Web 2.0 stuff that is all the rage recently, you should check out Doug's blog. I'll put links to both along the side.

Let The Real Work Begin

After all the fun of Happy Camper, it's time to start doing some real work. I spent yesterday setting up computers in the core logging room. It's going to be a pretty nice setup. There will be two computers for the sedimentologists to use. One will be set up for using the Corelyzer visualization software. It's a new Mac Pro with 2 30" Apple Cinema Displays hooked up to it. The second computer will be used for my software, PSICAT, and is a MacBook Pro hooked up to a 30" Apple Cinema Display as well. So we've got a Mac Pro, a MacBook Pro, and 3 30" Apple Cinema Displays all sitting on the benches in a room that has been known to leak. What could possibly go wrong?

Beyond setting those up, I was setting up our central servers. I got static IPs for them so I can start circulating them around. They are mostly set up, though I had to do some tweaking to the Plone-based Whiteboard stuff last night before I retired home to do some laundry and drink a beer.

The final area of work is going to be updates and new features added to PSICAT, the core logging software I've written. I haven't done much on it since shortly before I deployed but there were some updates that were in the pipeline. I did a few last night and will finish up the rest this morning. I also have to implement a whole new piece of functionality this weekend. Fortunately, since Eclipse is such an awesome platform, this is pretty trivial to do. I simply have to implement a new plugin with my code, add the plugin to my feature, and push it out to the update site. Then all of the clients will automagically download the new code. The whole update site is going to be very useful for distributing updates to both the on-ice scientists and those that are off-ice, and it is the major reason why I'm not freaking out at the moment. I've got a clear way to distribute new features and bug fixes to my clients, so I can fix the problems on the fly and know that everyone is getting the changes.

A related note on the PSICAT front, Stephan Wahlbrink contacted me about possibly translating PSICAT and some problems he encountered. He is using PSICAT in the German locale, and it turns out that I'm not handling numbers in the correct locale-aware way. I display them properly according to the current locale but I don't parse them properly which leads to some major errors and makes PSICAT pretty unusable for non-English locales. I looked at how I was doing things and it turns out I was using DecimalFormat.format() to display the numbers but Double.parseDouble() actually parse the user's text. Doh! So I've got to go through and update the code to parse numbers from the users in a locale-aware sort of way but store them in the XML files in the standard English decimal format so you can share data between different locales.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Happy Camper

I survived field camp aka Happy Camper School. I can officially say that I slept outside in Antarctica in -40F weather. And it was literally outside--I slept in a trench I dug in the snow.

The camp was a lot of work. We started out doing some classroom work to familiarize ourselves with the signs of hypothermia, frostbite, etc. Then we packed up all our gear and rode in some Deltas out to near the camp site. After some lunch and a short discussion about how the stoves work, we made up our sleeping kits, and walked out to the actual camp site.

At the camp site, we learned some tips on how to lay out our gear for an Antarctic expedition. After that, the real work began. We learned how to set up Scott tents, the same kind that Scott used on his expeditions to Antarctica.

Next we got out the saws, shovels, and sleds and built a large snow wall. This was a lot of hard work. There were three groups of people: the block cutters, the block haulers, and the wall builders. The snow is very dry and solid, so cutting it was a chore. It came out in huge blocks and sort of sounded like styrofoam but it was much heavier. We used these blocks to build a horshoe-shaped wall about 5 blocks high.

While we were building the wall, Trevor, the instructor, dug a snow trench to show us one shelter option that we could make in about 10 minutes. He showed us that and then we set to pitching 4 season, mountaineering tents.

Since I'm hardcore, I decided to spend my night in a snow trench. It took me a bit longer than 10 minutes to dig my trench, so I would have been screwed if it were an emergency. And I also dug mine a bit too wide, so it was hard to cover. I couldn't get single blocks wide enough to bridge the whole gap, so I had to get creative and use multiple blocks. Here's a picture of me digging my trench with my trusty Eclipse fleece:

The instructors left for the night while I was working on my trench. We were on our own for dinner and sleeping. Dinner was just one of those rehydrated meals. Someone got two large pots of water boiling and we poured a couple cups in our bag '0 food. Surprisingly, it was mighty tasty. I'm guessing anything would have tasted good at that point, though.

After dinner people started head to bed. I went for a walk to warm up and then turned it. It was quite an elaborate dance to get in my sleeping bag and in my trench and then close things up. Surprisingly, I stayed warm all night. I laid my sleeping bag on two foam pads and an extra sleeping bag to insulate me from the ground. The trick that worked for me was bringing a chocolate bar to bed with me and throw a bottle of hot water wrapped in a sock into the foot of my sleeping bag. I promised myself that if I could hold out for the night without having to get up and go to the bathroom, I'd pick up a six pack of beer. And I did, so there is some beer in my future (the first since I got down here).

Today was mainly breaking down camp and learning about radios. We set up the HF radios and used them to call Mac Ops to find out what was for lunch (even though we weren't going to eat lunch in the Galley). After we got everything cleaned up, the instructors picked us up and we watched a few videos and called it good.

Afterwards, I went back to my dorm, showered and hung up my gear, and then headed into the office to upload some pictures and write this blog entry. I think I'm headed over to the Galley to get some food and then back to my dorm to pass out. The beer will have to wait until tomorrow night.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Field Camp

Today was a pretty standard day. I actually was able to get my computer set up for wireless and start setting up the servers. Tomorrow I have to do field camp, so we'll be outside from 9AM to 5:30PM the following day. Yep, we're sleeping outside in Antarctica in a tent. It should be fun, though. But it means two days without getting any work done, right when we're trying to get everything setup. Oh well, there's nothing to be done about it. I'll be posting again in two days.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


McMurdo is an interesting place. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it's what I think a mining town would be. There's lots of buildings that seem to have sprung up pretty haphazardly and each building has a specific function. There are a few streets and even a stop sign or two. It's built into the foothills of a mountain and there is industrial equipment and the like all around.

After our arrival brief, we took ourselves over to the dorm to drop our carry-on bags. The dorm room is pretty nice; nicer than the rooms in Towers. We've got 2 beds, 2 wardrobes, 2 nightstands, a desk, and a fridge. My roommate came in on the same flight as me so we got all unpacked yesterday before we went to bed.

After we dropped our bags off, we did a little impromptu tour of the main buildings. We saw where food was and where we'd be working. Then we headed over to the galley for a first meal at McMurdo. It was cafeteria food--neither exceptional, nor terrible. Food was followed by a quick walk down to Scott's Hut. It was a nice walk and I got a few cool pictures. Though I really started to feel the cold.

Last night I slept like a baby. The whole being light out 24 hours a day was pretty surreal but they have nice thick blackout drapes on our windows. It was actually hot in our room so we turned off the heat. I always sleep so much better in the cold. I slept from 10PM or so until 6AM which is pretty good, though I'm starting to drag a little bit this afternoon. I should have eaten more for lunch and grabbed an apple or some other quick snack for this afternoon.

Today I spent most of the day around the Crary Lab building where I'll be working. I didn't feel like I got much done because everything is still pretty disorganized. And on top of that, all of the Raytheon people are off on Sundays so we couldn't track things down and meet people. Oh well, I'm hoping they'll have something for me to do this afternoon.

I'm going to upload some photos I took on the plane and here in McMurdo to my picture gallery.

Made it to McMurdo

Well as you probably guessed from my lack of blog post yesterday, we headed out to McMurdo. They got us up and out to the airport by 6AM to get our gear on. They told us the weather was pretty sketchy so they wanted us there in case it broke but there was a good chance we'd head home. After going through security and checking in our bags, we sat down to wait for more instructions. At around 8AM they did our final screening and started a safety video but less than half way through it they told us to get our asses on the plane. So it was pretty exciting to finally be off after the delays.

We flew down on a C-17 cargo plane. It was a US Air Force plane with a crew stationed near Tacoma, Washington. The plane was half full with cargo and the other half was pallets of airline seats. I opted to sit along the sidewall, which I think was a good choice because there was lots of leg room. The flight was pretty loud, you needed earplugs all the time. But other than that, it was enjoyable. We got to go up on the flight deck and see the pilots. There was also a bathroom if you needed to go. I would say it ranked higher than a commercial flight.

The whole flight they kept telling us that it was pretty iffy to land. I guess the weather was bad so there was a good chance of boomeranging. But, as luck would have it, the weather broke just before we got near McMurdo and we were able to land. It was pretty chilly but all the gear they gave us kept me plenty warm.

This is getting pretty long, so I'm going to save my description of McMurdo for another post. I'll leave you with a picture of the plane we came in on.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

24 Hour Delay

Well, unfortunately our flight to the ice was delayed 24 hours this morning. We were supposed to be out at the Antarctic Center this morning at 6 but someone at the hotel came around at 4:30 to turn off our alarms because we were delayed today. Fortunately I was able to quickly fall back asleep until almost 6:30. I think I'm finally getting adjusted to NZ time.

Yesterday afternoon was busy. We went out to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) and tried on all of our gear. All of my gear fit for the most part. It's crazy how much stuff they are giving us to wear. I was pretty lucky, about half of my gear was brand new.

My bags also showed up yesterday. So the first thing I did was change and brush my teeth. It was glorious. Richard and I had a few more beers at the Dux de Lux last night. I tried the Blue Duck Amber, thus completing the tour, but in the end decided I like the Bitter best. Then we went to dinner at a nice indian restaurant. It was good food and there was lots of it. And best of all, I got to have a Speights.

There is nothing official planned for the rest of the day, which is good because I have to work on my homework. But first--breakfast.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Day 2 in Christchurch, NZ

Day 2 in Christchurch started pretty early. I was up at 5AM local time, which may seem really early until you realize it is something like 11AM back home (and I usually don't sleep a wink past 8AM). Yesterday I fought a valiant battle with jetlag. My body kept telling me "Lay down, just for a bit" but I knew if I did I would be out like a light. So I stuck through even though Richard gave me a double take the first time he saw me and told me I looked like hell :)

We met up around 6PM for dinner and went to the Dux de Lux. I had never been, though I guess it is famous among the Antarctic folks. It's a brewery and vegetarian restaurant. They had fish, but other than that, no meat. I had the fresh local fish in cajun spices and it was very good. And the beer was good as well. I think over the course of the night I tried all but one of them. My favorite (maybe because it was the last one I had and I was feeling pretty good by then) was the Hereford Bitter. Their stout was pretty good too. They also had a ginger beer which was interesting. It was very light and refreshing, though I don't think I could sit down and drink more than one or two.

Today, about 1PM we're off to try on our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and get our computers cleared. After that, I think the afternoon is ours. Hopefully my bags will have shown up by then otherwise I might be out getting a few clothes and toiletries to tide me over on the ice. Before I head out to try my gear on, I think I'm going to go find the fish and chips place I stumbled across last time I was here to get some real fish and chips.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Christchurch, NZ

Well, I arrived in Christchurch. It was not without incident. The plane from Chicago to LA was delayed by over an hour and a half. Fortunately my flight from LA to Auckland was also delayed so I was able to actually make it onto the flight. We got into Auckland late so I didn't think I was going to make my flight to Christchurch, especially since I had to dick around at baggage claim because my bag didn't make it. I strolled over to the domestic terminal pretty leisurely since I figured my flight had already left but lo and behold, they were holding the flight since over half of it were USAP folks. So in the end, I made all of my flights and only ended up arriving 30 minutes later than I was supposed to (sans bag, of course).

There were a lot of USAP people on the flights. Many more than I expected. I only ran into two people that were actually part of the ANDRILL project. Christchurch is just as I remembered it. I'm actually staying at a bed and breakfast that I walked past numerous times when I was here last. It's a really nice place. The proprietor is really awesome; I think she is used to the Antarctic groups. She set up our shuttle for tomorrow and told us all about the notification system so we know when to be ready to head to the ice. The rooms are pretty tiny--just a bed, a night stand, and a little chair. There is a community bathroom and shower. They have a lounge (where I'm presently sitting) and there is a nice dining room where they serve breakfast (eggs and bacon!).

Once we got checked in, I decided to show John Jackson, my roommate down on the ice, around Christchurch a little bit. We walked down to Cathedral square and then grabbed a bite to eat at the asian food mall that I found last time I was here. After eating airline food, the khmer style curry tasted fantastic. And then we wandered down to the Canterbury museum because there is a superstition that you have to rub the bust of Amundsen's nose for good luck before you head to the ice. So we did that and got pictures.

Well I'm going to head out and perhaps take a nap. I'm trying to stay awake to kick the jet lag, but we'll see how well that turns out for me.

PS: Cut me some slack on how crappy I look in the picture. I haven't been able to shower yet owing to the fact that my bags didn't make it and I've been traveling for 28 hours.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Shipping Out

I'm shipping out today. My flight is at 2:10 and I'll be in airports and planes for the 24 hours or so. I don't know if I'll be able to update this blog while I'm in New Zealand. I actually fly to Antarctica on the 13th, so I should be back online then.

I just wanted to thank everyone. I never realized how many people cared about me until they started calling and emailing to wish me luck. I'll be back in no time flat and hopefully with some awesome stories to tell.

I put some more pictures from the tailgate up here.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mission Accomplished

The going away party/slushy tailgate was a big success. There were no casualties except for a little sunburn and the slushies. I think everyone had a good time, I know I certainly did. Now I can officially begin packing for this little trip I'm going on.

Friday, October 06, 2006

3 Day And Counting

Well if you saw yesterday's post, I mentioned that the Eclipse folks were sending me a fleece to keep me warm down in Antarctica. Well, much to my amazement it showed up this morning around 9AM. That's less than a 20 hour turnaround from Ottawa to Ames. So I just wanted to thank Ian and the Eclipse folks for sending it off to me and thanks to FedEx for getting it here so quick.

Today was my last day at work for a while. I spent the morning finishin up a few things that needed to get done before I left. It was harder to clean out my desk and say bye to everyone than I thought it was going to be. I swung by the Post Office on my way home and shipped by "big envelope of tea". I threw a bunch of tea into an envelope and shipped it to myself because it is somewhat difficult to get things like that through New Zealand customs.

Tomorrow is the big day. We've still got a few preparations to make but if you're reading this and are anywhere near Ames, stop by the tailgating lots about 2PM and find us for a slushy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Endgame

Only 4 more days to I deploy. It's been a busy time since my last post. I finished up PSICAT on Tuesday afternoon, so I've mainly been working on finishing documentation at work. In other
PSICAT news, I had an interesting email conversation with Ian Skerret about his blog entry on RCP applications. Ian works on marketing at Eclipse and asked for examples of Eclipse RCP applications 'in the wild'. I dropped him a note about PSICAT (which is an Eclipse RCP application) being deployed to Antarctica, and he thought it was pretty cool. So they are going to add a PSICAT entry to their Open Source RCP Application Catalog (it's not their yet). I also (jokingly) asked if Eclipse had a flag that I could plant in Antarctica to claim the continent for Eclipse before the Netbeans folks get down there. Turns out they don't have a flag, but they are FedExing me an Eclipse fleece pullover to keep me warm down there. Awesome! I'm a sucker for swag.

Today at work, they surprised me with a nice lunch--pizza, ice cream, and seaweed. It is the mid autumn festival in China so Xiaoyun brought in some tasty treats for us. The lunch really made me realize that "holy crap I'm going to Antarctica" and I'm not going to see Cinzia, Doug, Xiaoyun, or anyone else from the department for 3 months. Tomorrow I need to clean up my desk so I don't leave a big mess while I'm gone.

People keep asking me if I'm all packed and ready to go. And the answer is: Nope. Nope, I'm not packed but I'm also not worried about it. Before I can even consider packing, we've got to get the going away party my friends are throwing out of the way. Let me set the scene for you. Saturday, October 7th. ISU-Nebraska football game. More importantly, ISU-Nebraska TAILGATE! This is normally an important enough excuse to get together. Now throw in the fact that it's the last time I'm going to see people for a couple months and you've got a good excuse to do something special. I'm not going to go into all the details but let's just say the slushy machine is making a trip to the tailgate lots and we've got 13 gallons of slushy mix to put in it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Second To Last Weekend

Well, my second to last weekend before Antarctica is over. It seemed to fly by. I got back Friday night from the VCD meeting in College Station, TX at about 10PM. Since Elizabeth is on call next weekend, she decided to come down this weekend to see me before I leave.

Saturday we went out to lunch to Stomping Grounds so Elizabeth could get a curried chicken salad sandwich. The weather was gorgeous so we sat out on the patio and the food was good as per usual. I think the two foods I'm going to miss the most while I'm gone is going to be Stomping Ground's curried chicken salad sandwiches and Chipotle's burritos.

A bunch of people were in town for the UNI - ISU football game, so Elizabeth and I went over Saturday afternoon and tailgated a bit. I had a good time, and I think she did as well. Below is a picture from the tailgate (from left to right: Gerrit, me, Kyle, Brandon, and Big Kelly). As you can probably tell from Kyle and Big Kelly's faces, everyone was having a good time.

Elizabeth and I left the tailgating lots around 5:30 and headed home where I cooked us dinner.

Sunday we got up and walked to Jimmy John's for lunch. Then we headed over to Target and picked up some things I needed before I leave. Elizabeth took off after some dinner. All in all, it was a good weekend.