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.