John Jacobsen
Sunday, January 9, 2005

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Earlier post Getting Ready (t minus 2 days) southpole

Later post Halfway Around the World; Dragging the Soul Behind southpole

GPS: N40d00.000’ W88d35.625’ (but, bad signal in O’Hare)


Well, I’m underway, waiting for my flight to LAX. Managed to get my form stamped at customs, and found a seat near my gate with a power outlet.

Itinerary: Chicago -> Los Angeles -> Auckland, NZ -> Christchurch, NZ -> McMurdo Station -> South Pole Station. Five plane rides, something like 30 hours in the air.

This is my fourth trip but it’s been a five year wait and enough time has gone by that I am not 100% sure what to expect. Will I get a few days to unwind in Christchurch? Will I get to stay at my favorite place, the Devon Private Hotel? Is Gloria still the inkeeper, will I get to eat her tasty if fattening breakfasts? Will I get to go jogging along the tiny river Avon?

Is the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) still the same? Is all the gear they give you the same? Will I have room to stretch out on my flight to the ice? Will I get to see the view from the cockpit?

I’m hoping to have a few days to walk around in McMurdo and take pictures. McMurdo and the South Pole are very different, but both are dead ringers for sets for the game Traveller, a game I played when I was a rather younger man, a sci-fi role-playing game where you travel from one world to another and have adventures in dusty, desolate and desperate places.

             McMurdo vs Pole
             -------    ----

    Dirt, rock & Ice    Ice

           Sea Level    10,000 ft

Skuas, orcas, seals,    People
 penguins and people

Pop.: a few thousand    Pop.: a few hundred (summer)

       24/7 internet    ~8hrs/day internet

  Get money from ATM    Can cash checks

"Chapel of the snows"   Meditate on makeshift zafu

    Shared bunkrooms    Private, closet sized room in
                        wood+canvas "Jamesway" building

      Summer weather    Summer weather like a
         like a nice    really, really bad winter
       winter day in    day in Minneapolis

     Short stroll to    Half-mile walk across skiway
  Crary Lab to check    to Dark Sector to work on
              e-mail    experiment

 Jog up "Observation    Run on treadmill, lift weights,
  Hill" to catch the    bake in sauna.

   4 cafeteria-style    4 home-cooked, delicious
  meals/day in huge,    meals/day in cozy
multi-room meal hall    galley

   2 minute showers,    2 minute showers,
         twice/week.    twice/week.  :-(

Stymied, Just Out of the Gate


Thanks to a broken de-icer (actually a faulty computer circuit board) we are still at our gate in Chicago, so I may get stuck overnight in LA.

Why am I doing this?

When I describe trips to the South Pole, people tend to split into two camps: those who think it’s very cool and would love to go, and those who think it’s utterly crazy and wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.

There are some good reasons (and maybe a few not-so-good reasons) for doing a high energy neutrino astrophysics neutrino experiment at the South Pole. Rather than go into the why’s and how’s of the project, I will refer you for the moment to the IceCube Web Site.

But as to me personally, there are several reasons why I wanted to make this fourth trip. Professionally, I have worked on IceCube and it’s predecessor AMANDA for over 13 years. This is the first season when IceCube will put sensors (“DOMs”) in the ice. It is a crucial season for this reason and I want to do whatever I can to help ensure the successful deployment and operation of the instrument. My work on IceCube in the last two years has been to write the software for communicating with the DOMs in the ice, and I hope to help debug any problems that may arise in the communications. I also wrote some of the software that runs inside the DOMs themselves, so it will be good to be “on hand” when we shake out the DOMs deployed in their proper environment (a few kilometers below the surface of the ice). Also to help with the actual deployments if need be, helping with other parts of the software, or troublshooting anything that comes up.

Personally, I get to indulge my thirst for barren, strange places (a taste acquired, no doubt in part, on my previous trips to the Pole…. I love the idea of doing systems software for other projects in similarly remote places – the ocean floor, the desert, down in a mine, or in deep space). And after painting seriously for several years in the Bay Area I have been pretty caught up in photography in the last year or two, and I hope to take advantage of the trip to capture some of the otherworldly imagery which abounds in Antarctica. On previous trips I fantasized about taking pictures with a medium or large format camera to show the kind of vivid texture and detail that make the otherwise very minimal ice-scapes so compelling when seen in person. So I have brought my Dad’s old Horseman 6x7 camera and a ‘50s era Russian folding camera along to try to capture some of this detail, along with a Canon 20D digital camera for the flexibility to shoot absolutely any number of pictures of absolutely anything that catches my eye. I have no idea if any of this will be at all successful, but it’s worth a try.

Finally, it’s another chance to re-connect with colleagues (since I telecommute from Chicago most of the time I feel like “the ghost in the machine” too often) and hopefully get back into shape after the long holiday season (in past trips South, exercise has kept me sane and happy).

Best wishes to all, Happy Birthday to Pete, and thanks again to Gregory for the GPS receiver.

Earlier post Getting Ready (t minus 2 days) southpole

Later post Halfway Around the World; Dragging the Soul Behind southpole

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