Antarctic Diary: November 18, 2002


I have no idea why it gets warmer or colder. Go out one minute, the ice is melting. Fifteen minutes later, a bitter wind picks up, the temps drop 20 degrees, and you'd better have your hat.

Yesterday was Sunday, the rest day in McMurdo. I spent it hanging out with members of the MegaDunes team, and the LTER team.

MegaDunes is an expedition to an extremely remote part of the ice cap. They're going to put in about 300 miles away from Vostok, which is already so much nowhere only a hearty Russian crew can stand to be there. Underneath 2 miles of ice there's a lake that's been sealed since the time of the dinosaurs. As soon as they can figure out how to drill down without contaminating the lake with 21st century germs, they're going to start sampling that prehistoric body, which occupies hundreds of square miles under the ice.

The equivalent altitude at Vostok is about 15,000 feet. It's a shelf of nearly flat ice. So when you're up on the polar plateau (as it's called) you're at about 9,000 feet above sea level, but the combination of the cold air sinking and the earth flattening at the poles makes it seem like you're 4,000 feet higher.

Folks going to the plateau take high altitude training. They have to take drugs that enable their bodies to absorb oxygen more effectively.

The MegaDunes guys are bringing a winter mountaineering expert with them. Robert Bauer has climed the Eiger in winter. Going to an infinitely flat, high plain of ice should be easy. Right?

He thinks so, but he's still worried. He has to get the four scientists in his charge back alive. And to make matters more intense for him, they're all personal friends.

Rob has final veto power over the team's comings and goings. If the science isn't done, but the weather is going foul, or someone is hurting from altitude sickness, or someone has been injured in an accident, it's his job to terminate the expedition and call in air rescue. He gets to veto his friend, the expedition lead, Ted Scambos, who is there for the science.

The science they're doing is one of exploration. From space, they've seen giant ripples on the ice. They're mounds about 200' wide, and hundreds of miles long, and only about 3' tall. The undulations will be undetectable to the naked eye. The slopes of the mound sides are only fractions of a degree.

They're going to try and find why the winds in that area create this giant fingerprint-shaped structure in the middle of Antarctica.

We have a 9PM "safety meeting" nightly in the Coffee House, where we consume as much wine and beer as we can before the place closes down.

LTER stands for "Long Term Ecological Research". It's a 10-year program scattered all over the world, measuring the effects of humanity on the environment. The Antarctic team I've met on several occasions is part of the "limno" or "limnology" project. Limnology is the study of inland lakes.

This year the LTER Limno team (you can check their website on the internet for more details) will be diving under the ice in some of the lakes in the Taylor valley. They'll be sampling the organisms and the water.

Other LTER members monitor the stream run off from the glaciers in the summer, as well as the geology of the area.

They like to drink, too. Some of them are decent dancers.

Yesterday I walked to Hut Point with Jess, a representative from the National Science Foundation. We talked about my project and why RPSC thinks its so important. She took some shots of me next to Scott's hut and then we made an aborted attempt at climbing ObHill.

Jess didn't know much of the history of the hut. I told her all about Scott's Discovery mission, and how they used the hut again about 8 years later when they came back with the Terra Nova.

When the Terra Nova depot laying crew was making its way back to Cape Evans, they stopped in their old hut to weather a bad storm. The hut was completely buried and full of snow and ice. Scott blamed Shackelton's crew, who also used the hut on his expedition some few years prior. He was sure someone had left a window open.

You can go into Scott Hut. I haven't yet, but the MegaDunes and LTER people did right after Jess and I left. I'll have to get the key and try it soon.

The weather turned colder and I was only wearing a ball cap so I got chilly.

We met up with the MegaDunes and LTER teams and had dinner.

Last night a Canadian diver gave a science presentation on sea-bed scouring. When large icebergs move around in the water, there's more ice submerged than is above the water. The submerged section drags along the seafloor, smooshing anything in its path. After a while, new life takes root in the iceberg gouges.

That was reasonably interesting. She showed a cool video. There were pictures of penguins.

In the galley in 155 (where we eat all our meals at McMurdo) there's a big clock with a map of Antarctica on it. Each "hour" of the clock is marked with a direction, as if the face of the clock is a compass rose.

On that clock, all directions are north.

Love to all from Antarctica.

Dear Dewey,

     I want to thank you for making me laugh when no one 
 else could. That night, when you came with Jim and I to
 visit my Mother in the hospitol, you were the
 reason I didn't cry. Do you remember? It probably wasn't
 a big deal to you, so you might have forgotten. It was
 important to me, and I want to share it with you again,
 before it's too late:

          We stopped at Sam's Club before going to the 
 hospitol, maybe to pick up supplies for the garage - but
 definitely to get some food and drink for the house. It
 was all loaded in the back of Jim's truck, and there was
 a case of Arizona Iced Tea sitting closest to the
 tailgate. Do you remember this? After leaving the
 hospitol, the cold wind was the only thing keeping my
 tears from escaping their prison in under my eyelid -
 but that barrier was ready to fail. I can't remember
 every crying in front of Jim (or you for that matter) and
 I really didn't want to. It's something I usually did in
 private. Yet, what you said made everything so much

          The three of us were at the tailgate now, and
 Jim opened it up, revealing the pack of iced tea.

          "Hey Dewey, you want an iced tea?" said Jim.

          You replied "No, but I could sure go for an iced pee!"

          My tears almost burst out of their emotional
 well, and, yet, they were overcome by the laughter I
 began to hear coming from my own mouth.

     You saved me that night, Dewey, and I want to thank
 you. I have wanted to thank you for some time now, but
 have been putting it off for one reason or another. You
 always made me smile.


Francis Frisina (Jim's stepson)

Yes, Dewey, this is the letter I planned to give you, but you went and died a week too early.

Or I was just a week too late.

I am sorry. And thank you again, for being a wonderful person.

Today, the Office Manager at my work came in quite distressed. She’s a very sensitive person and easy to offend, so this is not an uncommon thing. She’s also pregnant, so hormonally speaking, she’s more sensitive than usual. Having been on the receiving end of one of her “misunderstandings,” I’m always on my best behavior. Once she got offended when I asked her if she could order some supplies for me -- a perfectly reasonable request, I thought, considering that she is the office manager. After that blew up, I quit asking her for anything.

Anyway, today she was approached about her pregnancy by a woman who works out of one of the adjacent offices on our floor. From what I understand, this woman is a professor and once served as a judge on some important federal appeals court. She’s in late middle age, and has the habit of coming into our fully stocked library and stealing our books, magazines and newspapers. Once, our office copy of Peter Bergen’s Holy War, Inc. was discovered in her pocketbook, carefully concealed in a brown paper bag. She’s clearly a skilled office thief, at least when it comes to printed matter. It makes me wonder what kind of rulings she made as a judge.

“I see you’re pregnant,” she told our Office Manager. “You know, I just had a baby, myself.”

This was interesting, because neither the Office Manager or I can remember her being pregnant.

“Oh really?” the Office Manager said. “How old is your baby?”

”A little older than yours,” replied the kleptomaniac former judge. “He’ll be able to beat up your offspring -- rest assured of that.”

This is a true story, I’m not making it up. Understandably, our Office Manager was pretty offended by this. “What was the point of that?” she asked me. “Why would you say something like that?”

And then I recalled everything I knew about the professor/judge and it sort of made sense. But instead of suggesting mental illness, I offered that maybe we should track down her boss and complain about it. But oddly enough, no one seems to know whom she works for. I can’t even find her in the phone directory.

Yet another weird incident in the bowels of University bureaucracy.

Today, my girlfriend bought my a big crate of Jolt Cola. Oh GLORIOUS DAY. Being trapped here in Britain, getting the stuff can be tricky. I mention it once to my girl, within three days she has located and ordered a 24 pack of the wonderful fluid. Five cans later and I am realising why it is so highly thought of. I am spouting phrases at random

Give me back my haddock wench, I am not your personal money-lender!!!

And so forth.

Life Is Good.
Happy Birthday to me!

This daylog has traveled back in time, to warn you of the horrors of the future!

It is the Nineteenth, a time of unrest and terror! After the glorious weekend spent basking in birthday-fueled love, I am sealed back up in this cold gray box, hammering keys and smiling at people I don't like.

SAVE YOURSELF! Don't leave home. Flee! Run off to the tropics.

Nothing here has changed! 1 year older and the pattern remains the same.

Brief interludes of joy do not help.
I must escape.

That is why I send this message into the past. I pray that I find it in time.

Today was an excellent day for me. I could care less that the call center went to hell at work today. It was the other things that happened that really made my day. First of all, the gift that I ordered for my girlfriend's dad arrived at the office. Then on my lunch break, I got a call from the jewelry store that the ring that I bought came back from being resized.

When I came home, I worked on my Cisco homework for my CCNA certification class, then went into the kitchen and mixed up a batch of buckeyes. I made a total of 33 buckeyes before putting them into the fridge and letting them cool prior to dipping them into chocolate.

Shortly after logging onto the Internet at a measly 34.6 bps, my girlfriend logs onto ICQ, and we chatted away until 11:00pm. She couldn't contain her excitement about me coming down to visit her and her family on Thanksgiving weekend. Neither could I.

Only 8 more days until we're back together again.

Usual workday shenanigans, getting Amelia dressed and fed and her lunch packed and off to school. Ruth Anne was kind enough to drive her in, so I could get to work. Work means upstairs to tele-commute to San Francisco, specifically Alexa Internet ( Currently I'm nudging my search engine, AndyVista in new directions. Having made it really small in the last go-round, it's now time to make it a little bit bigger, adding back in phrases and more data for relevance ranking.

Also, I finally got around to writing up a review of Tom Weller's The Book of Stupid Questions, so now all four of his books are in the database. If only I could pry some biographical information out of him, I'd create a wu for Tom himself.

Afterward we packed, picked up Amelia, and headed east to Murphin Ridge Inn, in a little town called West Union, about a hour east of Cincinnati on Route 32. The plan was to get far away from the city lights to better see the Leonid Meteor Shower in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

The dinner we were served there was something really quite special. No part of it could be considered especially fancy, but each and every part was remarkable tasty. The tomato bisque, creamy and piquant; the salad with an exquisite celery seed dressing; both entrees, chicken with mushroom sauce and a white fish whose name escapes me, both served with sweet potatoes, carrots and a sort of pickled cabbage kind of thing, and apple crisp a la mode. To make thing even better, it was a slow night at the Inn, and the waitress was quite taken with Amelia, so she took Amelia off our hands for a few minutes, a few different times, and let Ruth Anne and I eat in peace, and also let us both eat at the same time.

At the risk on encroaching upon tomorrow's write up, we got up at 5 AM to see the meteor storm, and saw only clouds.

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