Antarctica Dispatch

Journal of my Antarctic experience working to support the United States Antarctic Program.

What I do down here


After reading my Blog, a friend of mine wondered if we get any work done. It seemed we were reliving our college days. Well what's wrong with that.

Work is just that, it's 'work'. Just because I'm doing it at the South Pole makes it unique although sometimes there are some unexpected situations. As the Network Engineer my work is mostly indoors, except for when I need to head out to remote buildings to perform work, which I welcome. Other workers do a lot more outside, and sometimes get frostbite.

Here's an excerpt of my job responsibilities:

The Network Engineer will be primarily responsible for supporting the station’s network infrastructure, including Windows 2003 servers running Exchange, Active Directory, DNS, DHCP, and Veritas backup. There will also be some day-to-day maintenance of the Cisco based gigbit network, wireless network, Call Manager, and VoIP telephones, as well as administering Solaris and Linux servers. Additionally, the new South Pole Station is under construction, and the Network Engineer may have an opportunity to participate in the installation and configuration of new servers and network equipment. This is going to be a one of a kind network environment that will not be duplicated anywhere in the world.

So if you didn't understand all that basically there's a Help Desk person who takes care of general computer issues, a System Administrator who does the next level of computer assistance, and then there's the Network Engineer who has to know it all. There's a whole bunch of systems in the new station, unlike under the Dome, where there was only a small room with just a few servers. It's almost overwhelming at times, but also a great opportunity to learn things that would have taken years. I'm learning stuff like Cisco Call Manager, which uses the same lines used by computers for phone services - VoIP. This technology allows us to make calls back to the U.S. Additionally I'm getting a chance to study all different Microsoft platforms, Cisco networking devices, LINUX operating systems, network security, video/web conferencing, data storage technology, and network management.

Will all this help me get a job when I get back? Who knows, but I can wait to say in the interview, "So, tell me where you worked for your last job?".

Christmas in July


We celebrated another tradition down here - 'Christmas in July'. The galley again was wonderful, roasting whole turkeys, a ham, and all the trimmings. It's always nice to see everyone showered and dressed up. I searched through my luggage to find the Santa cap I brought down and wore in December.

I ended up sitting at one of the ends of the table and was put in charge of carving the 'bird'. Placing all the tables together into one long row really put into perspective just how many people are down here.

Later we had a 'White Elephant' gift exchange. Of course we didn't perform the rules properly. Instead of stealing an opened gift or choosing one, when a name was called, the person chose a gift, opened it, and either kept it or traded it. I swapped my gift, which I then had taken away, then the next one stolen, and finally ended up with a cribbage board. I've always wanted to learn, so it didn't turn out so bad.

300 Club


At 0502 NZT, we hit -100 F. Jeff, one of the meteorologists, called me around 0520 to let me know the news, and that he was heading out around 0600. I was just getting up to go workout, so this was kinda perfect. Still I had lingering reservations about shedding my clothes and running outside with fellow Polies as part of a long-time Winter-Over tradition. Was this modesty?

In any case I got part of my workout done, grabbed my robe, and with nothing more than my socks, shoes, and a towel around my waist, I headed for the Sauna. There were already a few hearty souls who had already returned from their quest. I waited with others for the temperature to reach above 200 F. After building up a sweat, we headed out down the hallway, out to the 'beer can', and then finally outside to the Pole marker and back, all in our 'birthday suits' - OK, except for shoes, socks, a neck gator, and cap.

Am I crazy or what?

*Jeff posted pictures on his site.

ARRL Field Day


A few weeks ago a Ham Radio class was started. I was always interested in it, so now I didn't have an excuse not to participate. We're hoping to get our 'Technician' Class license, but who knows. A well-known ham operator and author of many traning manuals Gordon West wanted to send us textbooks, but we had to inform him that we couldn't receive them for a couple of months.

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national association for Amateur Radio operators. Every year on the fourth full weekend in June, they host a "Field Day" where operators try and contact as many 'stations' as possible within a 24-hour period. We were hoping to get quite a number of calls from the US. Unfortunately, propogation, just wasn't on our side.

Hash House Harriers III


Well another month and another installment of Hash House Harriers. This time I was a 'hare' along with Neal. He thought up a good trail, and the fun part was doing all the prep work which we did a day or so ahead of time.

The trail would take people outside where they had to choose two paths. One was a dead end, the other took them into the Dome where they had to climb up to a hatch, walk across the snow to another hatch which took them down a spiral staircase into the buried fuel arch, then outside again.

We had to dig out the fuel arch hatch which is the opening to a vertical tube that sticks out of the snow. During the summer one could open the hatch (door) and the snow was level with the threshold. It only took a few months for snow to bury the hatch, which is on the windward side. As we walked around the outside, I fell into the 10 foot drop on the leeward side of the structure. It spooked Neal seeing me beside him one second then disappeared the next. It's amazing how snow settles around structures. It doesn't build up level with things but instead accumulates on one side while the other remains free of buildup.

Since it was dark outside, we used green food coloring to make a trail from the Dome hatch to the Fuel Arch hatch. During one of our times at prep work, I lost my mitten and spent considerable time looking for it. Neal did not complain, but I feel he may never want to partner up with me again.

After everyone gathered for the evening's festivities, we were given a 20 minute head start. We walked part of the trail, and added last minute signs which we couldn't do before. As we headed back to the station we saw the runners outside with lights bleeding into the night. Neal and I fell to the snow, worried they might see us although they were 100+ yards away. As they disappeared we raced back into the station, placing the last few signs, and then coming to rest at the finish. We listened on the radio as the runners went through the course. We laughed at their comments to the trail, especially when the lead runners thought they had gotten to the end and were told to go back 200 yards.

Finally everyone found the finish and the 'down-downs' began. People were named. I was not one of them. I'm quite dreading what name they will come up with eventually.

The Shining


Another tradition down here is watching Steven King's "The Shining". Believe it or not, I've never see the whole thing. The isolation, the 10,000 yard stare, it kinda makes you wonder about the other 63 I'm living with down here...... One guy sat down to watch it with a fire axe.

No worries, we all had good fun. If you've never seen the movie, here's a quick synopsis, re-enacted by bunnies The Shining in 30 seconds. For those who have seen it, someone re-cut the trailer to make it totally different - The Shining Redux



I don't have a creative bone in my body, so it amazes me to see the videos some of my fellow winter-overs produce. Some though inundated us with quantity like Bob C. I made it into a few with my beard - "I heard you were allowed to grow a beard at the South Pole, so that's why I came." and "The Talking Pen."

Our hosts (critics) playing the parts of Siskle & Ebert were Don (the weatherman) and Patrick. The free beer helped get through some of the films or at least bolster our confidence to heckle the hosts.

A few of these movies were posted up to Google Video, someone even posted the video I sent to Jimmy Buffet.

8 o'clock news
Fire On Ice

Jimmy Buffet Video
Party at the Bottom of the World

Summer Video
Frozen Time