Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bad Mandolin Haiku

I've been whiling away the time checking in on a message board called Mandolin Cafe: (as some of you know, I'm an aspiring mandolin player). One of the threads on the cafe is mandolin-inspire Haiku-- here are some of my posts:

A bird in the hand
Is better than no mando
Must ignore the noise

(I have a "loaner" mandolin which is noisy and poor-- frustrating)

Sun won't be back soon
Cold and dark, so dark and cold
Mando warms the soul

Oh the stars twinkle
Chill air penetrates the coat
Inside for practice

Music of the spheres
Astronomy inspires me
Write a mando song

Such extreme darkness
Star flicker like a pinhole
Warm and light inside

Hogging the thread now
No one else comes out to play
I plink on alone

In answer to your question: yes, I do have a lot of time on my hands!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Astronomy, word for the week

Hi All,

Well, it's getting seriously dark now. It's not quite pitch dark all the time, but we can see stars pretty much 24/7. There is an odd quality to the night sky here that I've never experienced in the northern hemisphere... bright stars seem to flash in colors in ways that I've never seen. It's called scintillation, or twinkling, but it's much more pronounced here ( If you look out at Sirius, it appears to be a bright flash of white, followed by a bright flash of red, then blue. I suppose this is accounted for by the cold, dry air, but it really is different. Big stars look like psychedelic beacons. The air is so clean, and so dry, that more stars are visible, and it seems (to me) that the brightest stars (betelgeuse, sirius, canopus, rigel...) are much brighter and more "twinkly" than I've ever seen them. We have been very fortunate in having some major Iridium flares lately ( Some of you may have seen them without thinking twice about it, but they are particulary dramatic here. Iridium satellites are always facing the sun, and at certain times they "flare" or show a bright reflection to folks on the ground. We, with time on our hands, note when Iridium flares are going to happen, using tools like this ( to determine when and where they will be happening. You can go outside at the proscribed Iridium flare time, and see a bright streak across the sky.

I use a really cool tool called SkyGlobe, which is free to whomever would like to download it: ( You can input your coodinates, and see the whole sky as it appears from your position. This is really cool, because you can note a bright planet or star in the sky and use SkyGlobe to figure out what it is. It is especially helpful here, because the heavenly bodies don't move in paterns I'm familiar with. The moon is up for two weeks and down for two weeks-- totally different than what I'm familiar with.

It's so different here. You would probably never be able to see the stars at all in a big city-- we are immersed in darkness and starlight.

I've been reading a lot lately, and keeping track of words I've never heard of-- here are the words of the week: Vulpine (foxlike), and Argot (



Friday, May 16, 2008

AHT Tour

This Thursday the Kiwis had an open house for the yanks. They let us come over and see the work the Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) have been doing ( They are working to conserve the artifacts that were left behind by Antarctic explorers at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is actually quite a bit of stuff in those huts, and some of it is in remarkably good shape. The conservators, Carla, Lizzie, Therese, and Susanne, have a nice blog at: Ironically, Lizzie is the only Kiwi in the group. Therese and Carla are Canadian, and Susanne is from Virginia. They were very gracious in answering our questions, and they let us look at some cool artifacts. There were some jars of gooseberries that looked almost edible. There all sorts of cool broken pots and things, as well as some food containers that looked almost new. You can see a webcam of Scott Base at

Smurf Fire

Well, it's been a pretty eventful week. On Monday morning we had a town safety meeting on fire prevention, where we watched videos of some of the big building fires we've had here at McMurdo. After the safety meeting I went up to T-Site (a facility on top of a hill here where there are a lot of radio transmitters) with my boss, Mark. On the way down, I said to my boss "look, you can see the Smurf Hut from here". The smurf hut is a small, blue warm-up shack that the fleet operations folks use on various projects-- they just drag it around behind their equipment, for a nice place to get warm. It was pretty posh-- it had a microwave, computer with wireless internet access, a nice couch, a phone... you get the idea. It was ironic that I happened to notice the lights from the hut from the hilltop, because it turns out that about that time, it was catching on fire. In my office we have a radio console that monitors all the frequencies in town-- we're among the first to hear about it when something happens. About ten o'clock we heard the fire dispatcher announce that the Smurf Hut was on fire. Antz went to get a long lens, and I went up to the Crary lab library ( to watch the fire through a spotting scope. The hut was out at the Pegasus runway on the ice shelf, several miles from McMurdo, so it was just an orange blur on the horizon. That picture is also a pretty good representation of how dark it is these days-- it was probably taken around noon. Since the ice is white, things look a lot brighter than they ordinarily would. The sun never gets anywhere near the horizon any more, and it's pitch dark for about twenty hours a day. There was a buzz around town-- the Smurf Hut drama was more exciting than anything that had happened in a while. The hut had a 500 gallon and a 200 gallon fuel tank (both full of jet fuel), so it burned pretty bright for quite a while. We chided the station manager for being a jinx. The last time he held an "all hands" safety meeting, the fleet operations folks dropped a bulldozer through the ice. They went out to get it, and dropped the rescuing dozer through the ice, too! The search and rescue team went out to help, but they got off-course in a blizzard, and rolled the Hagglunds vehicle ( they were driving. They had to spend the night in a small mountain tent, in the raging blizzard. This time, the safety meeting topic was fire, and guess what? We told the station manager to please not have any more safety meetings, lest someone get hurt.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Yesterday was the third Scott Base trivia night. My team is now 3-0 for the season. The prizes have been deteriorating, however. The first and second times we won real Kiwi ice cream, but they just gave us a bunch of gummi bears or something last night. The format is this: there are teams of 3-6 members; each team gets three forms with 25 blanks each. The emcee reads off the 75 questions, and the team does the best they can to come up with the answers. Whoever has the most correct answers wins. The competition was pretty fierce, and a lot of the questions were very tough. This one had us perplexed: "If your travelling companions are ghosts and empty sockets, what is your destination?". The answer is Graceland. Lyrics of the Paul Simon song, I guess. Never would've guessed that one in a million years. Anyway, it was good to get out of McMurdo for a while, and shake the cobwebs out of the old memory bank. The aurora pictures above were taken from right outside my dorm room last Sunday night. We've been having some really nice ones lately-- it's unusual to be able to see them this well over the town's lights. (Photos by coworker Antz Powell-- see

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Last Sunset

(This was a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on April 25, 2008)

Hi All,

Well, today was the big day. The sun set for the last time, or maybe I should say it rose for the last time. Tuesday was the last day that the full disk of the sun came up above the horizon, and today was the last time any portion of it showed. The lay of the land here prevents us from seeing the sun at sunset (mountains in the way), but it can be seen from the Pegasus runway facility (where the last flight took off). Here's a picture of me, at about 11AM yesterday at Pegasus. This is pretty typical of the light conditions we are having these days, with a lot of cool blue and purple bands in the sky. If I look cold, it's no mistake. My glasses were completely frozen over. I had just been on top of one of the airport buildings, removing an antenna, and my breath, deflected by my neck gaiter, was frosting up my glasses. It was about -10F out, with about 30mph winds. Brrr. The other photo is the actual sunset event at about 2:30 this afternoon. This is an important time of year for us, emotionally and otherwise-- going into winter at the bottom of the earth!


PS: I think my coworker "photoshopped" the moon in on that picture!

Darkness, Links

(This was a "travelogue" e-mail, sent out on May 2, 2008)

Hi All,

Well, as you can imagine it’s getting quite dark and cold down here these days. The last sunset was almost a week ago, and the most we get is a bit of twilight in the middle of the day. It’s okay, though, I’m kind of looking forward to the darkness. It hasn’t affected me much mood-wise, except for a touch of insomnia. There is a light room here in the main galley building, in case the darkness gets really old. It’s just a vacant dorm room with about ten extra fluorescent fixtures added. I think they use full-spectrum bulbs, too. There is also a greenhouse on station, which I haven’t had a chance to check out yet on this tour. Very strange weather lately—blowing mist at well below zero. Yesterday’s low was -17F, with a low wind chill of -45F. That’s not any worse than weather we were having six weeks ago, but there was a lot of moisture in the air, which formed hoar frost on everything, and felt extra chilly against exposed skin. I drove out to the Pegasus runway, on the ice shelf to troubleshoot a data network yesterday. The road is flagged with bamboo flags—at times we could only see three or four of them at a time. Found some interesting links for y’all to peruse, in case all the warmth and light in your lives gets to be a grind. First, you can read a nice article about my coworker, Antz Powell, in our newspaper, the Antarctic Sun: You can view the paper in general, including back issues at: . Another interesting blog/site developed by a McMurdo local (fellow contractor) is Big Dead Place: He makes some rather controversial and insightful observations about the bureaucracy behind the polar program. Warner Herzog did a documentary about life down here, called Encounters at the End of the World; you can see details at: I haven’t seen that one yet, but it sounds interesting. There is a review and some background information about that film posted on Big Dead Place. Another new film out is Ice People: Haven’t seen that one yet, either, but I understand both films had some footage of McMurdo and our unique local population—most likely some folks I know. I’d like to hear back from you on these films and links, and any other you discover. There seems to be a lot of interest in the ice right now, and it’s fascinating to see it from this perspective.


("Frosty Bike" by Ken Klassy, a coworker. "Flags" picture not taken lately-- just to show what a flagged ice shelf road looks like.)

Last Flight

(This was a "travelogue" e-mail, sent out on April 17, 2008)

Well, the last plane has just hit the skies. There was a lot of tension and speculation around town regarding the last flight, but it came in and went out without a hitch. It’s a nice, warm, relatively calm day today (+10F, 15mph), so the plane had no worries. This time of year (approaching the final sunset) can bring unsettled weather, and severe storms are not uncommon. Murphy ’s Law would have indicated a Herbie for today, but evidently Murphy was wrong. (A Herbie is a severe Antarctic storm, blowing into McMurdo from the south. The name is a combination of hurricane and blizzard.) There is a McMurdo tradition of turning out to salute the departing flight from the Chalet (NSF administration building). That building has already been winterized so we couldn’t go inside, but eight of us managed to follow the tradition from out on the deck, with champagne (for those so inclined), or Hershey’s kisses (for the champagne-averse). It’s an emotional time around the station—we have developed strong bonds with the “extended season” crew, and it’s hard to watch them go. Our population just went from about 220, to around 130 for the winter, with five or six fresh bodies coming in on the last flight. One fellow who works for NASA was scheduled to come in on this flight, but didn’t make it. He flew from his home in Alabama to LAX, where he discovered he had lost his passport. He managed to get his documentation covered somehow, and jetted all the way to Christchurch, only to miss the military flight to the ice. Oops. Probably a good thing for him—he might not have survived the grief we would have given him if he had made it. I’m sure his boss is none too happy, as it turned out. I have heard a lot of winter-over veterans say that a wave of grief and regret hits them when the last plane leaves—there is a certain feeling of being doomed that descends when you know there is no way out. That feeling hasn’t hit me yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does. The next plane won’t get here for five more months, with no mail, freshies, or way to leave. In the case of a dire medical emergency, they would find a way to do a med-evac, but it would probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and be quite risky. It’s now time to get back to work, and to adapt to a slower, less social style of living. There will still be a lot of parties, bingo, radio darts, and tons of stuff to do; there will just be less of us doing it. In about a week, the sun will dip below the horizon for the last time. It will only be pitch dark for three of the next five months, but I’m sure that will be plenty. It’s an adventure!


Sunset Pics

(This was a "travelogue" e-mail, sent out on April 9, 2008)

Hi all,

I found a couple of good pictures of McMurdo sunsets on our network. There isa common drive where people post pictures and other stuff, like funny videos. I go in and check it for good stuff periodically, which is a lot easier than standingoutside watching the sun set for two hours. It is really hard to get good sunsetshots, because the event lasts for several hours, and frequently the good colorscome out long after the sun is below the horizon. There are usually nacreous clouds ( around, which light up in all kinds of crazy colors at sunset. Even in the middle of the daytime, nacreous clouds are blue and pink, and the effect is greatly increased by looking at them through polarized sunglasses. These sunset pics were taken on 4/4, at which time this sort of color would have been about 6PM. In one picture, you can see another sunset watcher in the big red parka, and the corner of Robert Scott's discovery hut.



Lee's Antarctic Book Club, Condition One

(This was a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on April 6, 2008)

Hi All,

The weather has been gorgeous lately down here. It's amazing how fast I can get aclimated to the idea that +4F and slightly breezy is unseasonably balmy... The big flight is coming up in less than two weeks-- all us winterovers will get one last chance to jump ship. So far there is just one official ship-jumper, so the bookmakers are eyeing all potential bailers with some interest. If the current early-departer is the only one, the person who drew her name in the "wheels up" pool stands to win over us$500. Unfortunately for me, the four names I've drawn are the four least likely to bail. Hmph. For myself, I'm planning on staying. Exept for missing Conan intensely, I'm ready for the long, dark winter. Here's a video my friend, coworker, and neighbor Antz Powell shot in a previous season. You can kind of get an idea of what nasty weather is like here. Imagine pitch black, forty below, and hurricane force winds, and you get the general gist: We've had some condition two weather this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of the really hellish stuff, just so I can say I was here for it. It does get pretty ridiculous here sometimes, weather-wise. All part of the macho polar explorer mistique we are trying so hard to qualify for.
I have taken full advantage of all the free time, and have read more books in the last six weeks than in the last six years. Here is my list, with my book reviews:

How the Irish Saved Civilization Cahill, Thomas (1996) A very readable account of the history of Christianity during the middle ages, a topic I've been really interested in lately. I didn't know that Ireland was the repository of Latin knowledge during a lot of the time of the barbarian conversion.

The Power of Now Tolle, Eckhart (1999) A must for truth students and those of us open to new age thinking. Clear, well written, and full of wisdom. Highly recommended.

How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus. Hurtado, L. (2005) A sociological study of the way Christianity spread in the early days. Didn't get too much out of this approach.

Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World. Barber, B. (1996) (Mentioned in a previous travelogue). Very good book, with some amazing insights, especially given that it was written 12 years ago. Recommended to students of history and current events.

The Orthodox Church Ware, T. (1997) A very interesting (to me) history of the Orthodox Christian faith, which filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of early Christian history.

In Search of England: Journeys Into the English Past Wood, M. A great primer on English history. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in British and/or English history, though it does contain a lot of references that were lost on a non-Brit.

Paradise: A Chronicle of a Distant World Resnick, M. A pulp Sci-fi novel I picked up out of the lounge. I haven't read sci-fi in so long I don't know if it's good. Kept my attention through to the end, though. Not one you're likely to find.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life Isaacson, W. (2003). A really great biography. I don't read this kind of stuff too often, but I doubt if it gets much better than this. Extremely well written and researched. Highly recommended.

Music Picks: Greyboy Allstars. James Brown meets Lenny Kravitz. Great stuff.
Hope all is fine in the land where springtime blooms, from the land where darkness looms.


Thursday, May 1, 2008


(This is from a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on April 3, 2008)

Hi All,

Happy Thursnesday Mornternoon!*
I found some cool pictures from my adventure to the top of 1882 the other day. It is so windy there that the windblown sand and ice sandblasts the stone into crazy shapes, called ventifacts ( This particular one looks like the head of a crazed elephant, and it had the sun behind it when I spotted it, shining through its eye hole. In the last one I walked around to the other side of it. The view in the background is of our helo landing site and the peak of 1882 and the repeater site there, with the Transantarctic Mountains in back. The red bag is a survival bag-- we are required to bring one along. It contains a couple of sleeping bags, a stove, gas, and a bar of lard to eat if we get really bad off. Luckily it was a very nice day (about 4F, wind about 20mph), so I didn't have to break into the lard bars.



*Thursday morning here, Wednesday afternoon there.

Hero Shot

(This is from a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on March 30, 2008)

Hi All,

Last Thursday I got a chance to ride in a helicopter, to go up to one of the most scenic places on the Antarctic continent. The peak is called 1882, AKA the Matterhorn. There is a radio repeater site up there, and we were there to change the batteries in the radios. The view was unbelievable up there, and I even got a chance to hike around a bit. In this picture, there is a big valley behind me, one of the McMurdo Dry Valleys ( If I were to take about twenty steps back, I would plunge off a 3000' cliff. When the helo picked us up, he flew straight up, then plunged over the cliff like a roller coaster ride, since our next destination was at Lake FryxellCamp, in the bottom of the valley. I'll be going through the pictures,and will send out more as I process them.

Happy Trails,


Happy Easter Sunturday

(This is from a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on March 23, 2008. Sunturday is when it's Sunday here, Saturday back in the real world. The day of the week are Sunturday, Monunday, Tuesonday, Wedsnuesday, Thursnesday, Friursday, and Satriday. Yep.)

All sorts of interesting developments here at the bottom of the earth. I successfully avoided eating the ice cream won at last week's trivia contest, and have caught endless grief for my folly. Evidently, Kiwi ice cream is the best in the world, bourne of the most wholesome eggs and milk and stuff. One of the things I love about New Zealand is that they steadfastly refuse to be "Americated". The three flavors of ice cream we won were Hokey Pokey (Pronounced "hikey pikey", sort of a butterbrickle, I think), Rocky Road (strawberry with biscuit (cookie) crumbles mixed in, and Jelly Tip, which sounds just nasty. It's vanilla ice cream with jelly swirls and chocolate chips. We had another science lecture tonight, the second of my stay here. Dr. Mike Lizotte from the University of Wisconsin gave a presentation tonight on the science his group is doing in the McMurdo dry valleys, as well as in the Arctic. A lot of interesting stuff, much of it on the cutting edge of climate studies and our understanding of the way greenhouse gasses will impact the global climate. One of the interesting slides from his presentation showed that millions of square miles of arctic land will transition from being barren to tundra, or from tundra to arctic forest land. I asked him if that wouldn't tie up millions oftons of carbon, mediating the greenhouse effect. He didn't answer that question directly, but pointed out that there is some ongoing science that shows that a lot of methane will be liberated by the warming of the arctic, which is even more detrimental to the greenhouse situation than carbon dioxide is. It is so cool to be able to attend these science briefings, with only twenty or so people in attendance, even though they are doing some really cutting-edge stuff. This last Friday, I got a chance to take part in a great old Antarctic tradition: radio darts. I helped the IT&C (Information Technology and Communications) team to defeat the dastardly Kiwis at darts on their hometurf. Ordinarily, we engage a team of dart-throwers from the south pole via radio, and compare scores. Unfortunately, the Scott Base Comms Tech couldn't find the right parts to make the radio work, so we had to just play the Kiwis in real time, and submit the scores to Pole via e-mail. This has been a tradition since time immemorial, and it was a big honor to get to be a radio dart player. We didn't hear back from pole, and wondered what they were up to, before we realized that our dart match fell on the equinox, which is a major holiday at pole. They watch the sun spiral down to the horizon during March, then it screws itself downto earth about now. On the equinox, the sun traverses the whole sky at exactly the horizon, so it is sunset for 24 hours. The Polies take two days off to celebrate the end of summer, so they weren't there shooting darts like they should have been. After the equinox, it will be twilight for a couple of weeks, and then dark for six months. It is not that extreme here. It is still light in the daytime, and dark at night. The days are getting markedly shorter, and the nights are getting noticeably shorter, but it's not too much different from the real world. If you pay attention to where the sun is in the sky, it's still quite strange. At noon, the sun is in the north (which never happens in the northern hemisphere). It is getting a little creepier around here-it definitely is not normal, as far as the path of the sun and the transition between day and night-soon it will be dark all the time. I'll take a bunch of pictures, and pass them along. In the meantime, I've attached some pictures that I've clipped from the internet, showing someone in a "big red" parka with all the gear, and a McMurdo sunset.



*A Kiwi term meaning thanks and goodbye, simultaneously. Pronouced:"Cheese".

Happy Thursnesday

(This is from a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on March 20, 2008)

Hi All,

Well, things are just humming along down here on the bottom of the earth. Work has been picking up, and I’m learning more about radios and other mysterious phenomena. It’s getting darker all the time, and has been pretty cold for the last week—wind chill temps have been in the neighborhood of -20F to -50F. Right now it’s about -4F and calm, so it feels like a heat wave. My dorm is about a quarter mile from my work center, and there have been a few times when it seemed like an awfully long ways. I don’t like to don ECW (extreme cold weather) gear just to walk to work, but I’ve gotten a “brain freeze” a couple of times walking down the hill into the wind without the proper insulation. The cold wind on my forehead had exactly the same effect as gulping down a half-gallon of ice cream, with the painful brain freeze effect. Even with a down parka, fur hat, and gloves, I got frozen. We have tons of ECW issued to us when we come down, so it’s my own fault if I ever get cold. The proper way to dress for really nasty weather is the “big red” parka with the hood up, fleece neck gaiter, fleece balaclava, hat, goggles, wind pants, big gloves, and bunny boots. The big red is so huge and cumbersome I try not to wear it unless I have to, and it’s a drag to have to put on all that gear just to walk from building to building.

I had a great time last night playing trivia at Scott Base ( The Kiwis have a very nice station, with a cool bar and dining area for get-togethers like that. There was quite a turn-out, about seven teams of five or six each, almost all from McMurdo ( My team won, and the prize was a tub of real Kiwi ice cream for each member. There are a ton of social things like that going on, which makes it a lot easier to be here. Some of the social and recreational things sound really tacky and stupid, but I usually go anyway and have a good time. There is a big bulletin board in the galley building with all the week’s activities posted on it. Last weekend it announced that there were board games being hosted in the galley, and I decided to give it a whirl. I only knew a couple of the people playing, so it was a good opportunity to get out and meet some folks. We ended up playing “Apples to Apples” until late—it was a total hoot. I even went to Bingo Night the previous weekend. I had never played bingo before (and had never really had the urge to…), but it, too was a rowdy, fun time. Maybe there is something in our harsh environment that helps people to turn seemingly mundane entertainment into a riotous adventure. Quite a few people here turn into “room hermits”, and aren’t seen much. I get to spend a ton of time in my room playing the mandolin and reading, and I feel that it’s crucial that I get out sometimes and mingle. I don’t want to turn into Smeagol.

This is my first winter contract, so this is all new to me. I’m hearing a lot of buzz about how this winter is unusual—normally the station is closed by now, and there is no possibility of leaving. This season the USAP ( is trying an experimental extended season. Instead of having the last flight and station closing in February, they’ve added another flight in April. This has allowed the winterover crew to entertain the possibility of bailing out, an option that never existed before. Typically a winter contractor would get here in February, and the station would close shortly thereafter. Only someone with a very bad immediate reaction to the place would dare turn around and jump on the last flight out, and it was very unusual for someone to jump ship. This time, we get to sample the weather and culture for two months. All it takes is a visit to HR to void your contract and bail. They don’t make it pleasant—I believe their agreement is to fly you as far as LAX, where you are unceremoniously dumped with your ton of baggage. There is also a stipulation that you are flown out of NZ on the next available flight, so you don’t get to hang out there (which would be a bummer). There is a betting pool going on now, where you pay to draw a name, and you win if that person decides to go home early. It should be interesting; I predict that five or six people would rather have a quick flight to L.A. than six more months of this. Not me—I’m ready to hang out. I miss my dog, Conan, intensely, but he’s in good hands, and it’ll be all the sweeter to see him again.

Well, it’s time to fix the radios. See you in the next installment.



Science Lecture

(This is from a "travelogue" e-mail sent out on March 10, 2008)

Hi All,

We had a very cool science presentation last night. In the summer, there are science presentations every Sunday, and most Wednesdays, but in the winter, I didn't think there would be any. This one was a little different-- the USAP (US Antarctic Program) is trying a new "extended season". Some interesting things happen between the light season and the dark season, but very little science has been conducted at that time, for logistical reasons. The station is usually closed for the winter bynow, but the NSF (National Science Foundation) decided to add an Aprilflight so that the "beakers" (scientists) could conduct experiments inthe waning light. They are particularly studying life in frozen lakes inthe McMurdo dry valleys. There is liquid water under the ice, and it's teeming with little bugs. The algae are photosynthetic, but it is known that they must have some other way to make energy in the winter. They switch over to eating bacteria during sunset, but that had never been really studied. There was a British beaker on my flight down, and she's been keeping my apprised of the science they're doing. In one of the experiments, they are bringing back algae, culturing them in the lab,and feeding them dyed bacteria. They kill them, and look at them under a microscope to see if the dyed bacteria are now inside (eaten). So far the algae are not eating "meat", but that's probably because it isn't that dark yet. In another experiment, algae were taken from the lakesback in the 80's. Those have been cultured in the states for all this time, and now they are brought home. They are suspended in "balloons" of dialysis membrane, so they can get viruses and nutrients from the lakewater, but they can't escape. It's kind of mean teasing those poor, homesick little critters like that. All in the name of science, I suppose. The PI (Principal Investigator) is John Priscu(, from MSU in Bozeman (practically a neighbor). He has been coming down here and doing this microbial ecology work for over 24 years. The program is called LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) The presentation also covered other work with bugs in ice and water here. Did you know that 70% of the fresh water on earth is in Antarctica?There are about 150 lakes under the ice sheet, along with rivers of liquid water bigger than the Amazon. At Lake Vostok, the Russians have drilled almost all the way down to the liquid water, and have been trying for years to figure out how to do it. The water is under about 11,000 feet of ice, so it is under incredible pressure. If the drillerspunched through the boundary without special precautions, it would probably kill them all, and spray water 1000' in the air for three days. Not to mention that the Vostok station is at by far the nastiest place on earth. The coldest temperature every recorded was taken there (-129F,in 1983, and that's not a wind chill temp). Yikes. Right now the borehole is full of super-pure kerosene, and they will have to do all sorts of odd things with liquid silicone and special heat-boring equipment toget samples of the lake water without blowing themselves up or getting contamination in the lake, which is the fifth largest lake on earth, by water volume. I love going to those science lectures-- it was always the highlight of my week in the summer. Unfortunately, that'll probably be the last one for eight months or so, and the beakers will all be going home in the middle of April. Then it'll be time to settle down for thelong, cold, dark winter. It should be cool.

Cheers from the Ice,



(This is from a "travelogue" e-mail sent out Mar 7, 2008)

Hi there,

Work has gotten a lot more interesting in the last couple of days. Brian and Brian, the regular Comms Techs, have been kind of ignoring me while they do their real work, and I've just been doing the menial things like reprogramming people's pagers when they drop by the office. Yesterday, B&B had to fly over to the other side of the Ross Sea to fix some radio equipment that has been giving us trouble lately. One of the places they went is called 1882, which you can see here If you look at the tallest peak, you will see that there is about a 3000' drop-off into the valley below. It is supposed to be spectacular. They needed me to be up on top of a hill here on the island, with some diagnostic gear, to help them set up a link. "T-site" is a clean room with racks of NASA servers and radio gear-- you wouldn'tknow from inside that you were in a remote place. Here we use the same technology that powers wireless internet to provide data service overlong distances. Basically the WiFi hot spot you use at the localStarbucks can be extended for miles across sea ice and valleys. Beakers(scientists) living in tents in remote parts of the dry valleys can surf the web just like they were at home. Some links have been slow lately, so we've been trying some different things. I got to set up these data radios (Cisco 1310 802.11g wireless bridges) on a test bench, hook them up to laptops, and make them talk to each other. I'm learning how to use hyperterminal and telnet and things like that, which may not ever come in handy in my life, but at least I feel like I'm learning something. Brian and Brian are typical Comms Techs-- they came to doing this after many years of doing it in the service. Since the whole Antarctic support system is a civilian replacement for the old Navy support, they fit right in. I've been feeling pretty self-conscious about my ignorance,but hey, someone decided to hire me. The season has been a lot like I expected it to be, and it's good. I have had a ton of time to read. So far, I have finished The Power of Now, read How the Irish Saved Civilization, How on Earth Did JesusBecome a God: Historical Questions About Earliest Devotion to Jesus, and I'm halfway through a book called Jihad vs. McWorld that I picked up ata garage sale. (See: It's really good, and extremely well written. It's about the rampant spread of American Cheese-Whiz culture (Disneyland, MTV, Starbucks...)all over the world, and the cultural backlash to it. It was written in the mid-nineties, but it's dead-on accurate to what's going on now. To balance the sitting around reading, I've been getting out, too. I went over to the NZ base and played darts with some interesting charactersuntil about 11PM last night. I think I mentioned the Italian diving instructor from Ohio, and the plumber who just finished working in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The Kiwis also have some interesting things going on. They are going through the supplies in the old explorers' hutsover the winter, cataloging and studying them. They will then return them to the original huts, where they are kept as more or less a museum.I took some pics of the inside of the Discovery Hut here at McMurdo,which I'll send along when I can get access to a computer with photo-editing software, so I can resize them. Well-- better get back towork now.

Talk to you soon,


Happy Camper School

(From a "travelogue" e-mail on February 28th, 2008)

Hi All,

I sent out these pix a couple of days ago, but I'm hearing that thee-mail didn't go through. They were taken at "Happy Camper School". Wehad some training in survival and such, and went out on the ice shelf tobuild snow forts and spend the night. I stayed in a "Quinzy", an igloomade by stacking up gear bags, packing snow over them, and pulling thebags out through a hole. The fuzzy picture of me was taken inside thequinzy. It was about 7F out, with winds up to 30mph. Not bad weather forAntarctica, but you have to keep in mind that it's still summer here!It's getting a little darker and colder every day, but as of today it'spretty much still light all the time. The sun is dipping behind themountains some now, and it will be completely dark sometime in April.What an adventure!