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.