Friday, February 1, 2008

IceCube Laboratory Video Tour; Midrats Finale

Tonight I jogged half a mile across the skiway to the IceCube Laboratory (ICL). Oddly enough, it was my first time out there since I arrived two weeks ago. This has been the first trip where physically interacting with the computers has not been required since all the hands-on work is getting done by other people this year. You might ask, why go at all then? There are a few reasons. First, the satellite connection to South Pole from the real world is slow and lasts perhaps 12 hours a day at best; for much of my time here, it's been rather less than that. My work is 100% focused on interacting with the computers, so a good connection is important. Second, there are many things that could go wrong which would require hands-on work (as has happened all other years previously). Also, there are several people here who I need to assist with various things. And finally, one gains special knowledge by seeing the physical system one works on (sensors, cables, building, station, ...), which is hard to quantify but important nonetheless.

Still, as various systems get more reliable, there will be less call to have so many people on-Ice. When construction is complete, there will probably be only a few seasonal people and one or two winter-overs for IceCube.

For my part, though, it was a treat to get out and see the experiment. It makes the work more exciting and vivid. Even when back home in Chicago, I spend a lot of time "inhabiting" the computers in the ICL, logging in from over the satellite, fixing things and running tests. Seeing their hyper-functional rack-mounted exteriors "in the flesh" was an experience somehow akin to looking in a mirror... the face you see in the peering back out of the looking glass doesn't correspond necessarily to your sense of self, yet it's somehow "you" nonetheless.

Jogging out to the Dark Sector was also a heck of a lot more fun than the treadmill in the Gym, despite -60 F wind-chills. On the way back, I got "stuck" on the far side of the skiway - the crossing beacon was on, indicating the approach of an aircraft. I zipped up and hunkered down for a 10 minute wait out on the snow. But in just a few minutes, the incoming C-130 touched down and I was free to finish my jog back to the station.

Software serves up endless intellectual delights, but nothing beats physical "meatspace" for animals like us.

Speaking of meatspace and physical pleasures, tonight's Midrats (midnight meal) was the season finale. Here's the menu (details included for a certain special chef!):
  • Bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon
  • Grilled scallops
  • Stuffed Portabello Mushroom Caps
  • Mixed Vegetables
  • Baked potato
  • Sushi bar
  • Harvest Salad with Apples, Blue Cheese, Cranberries, Onions and Roasted Pecans
  • Triple Chocolate and Mocha Mousse
  • Iced Tea
I told the Midrats chef that it was the best meal I'd had in seven seasons on the Ice -- a comment I heard her passing around to her crew. We also had tablecloths and candles (a rarity at the Pole due to fire safety concerns). The meal was explicitly off-limits for day shift but there were so many people there I suspect some folks snuck in.

Today is the first of February, meaning I'm more than halfway done with my stay. With any luck, work will continue to go smoothly (we are still about five days ahead of schedule). At any rate, all IceCube folks are leaving Feb. 13 on a straight-through flight to Christchurch. After a week decompressing in New Zealand, I am coming back to Chicago on the 21st.

No comments: