Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lame Duck DAQer

IceCube Party in Summer Camp

"Tengo get el f--- out of aqui," a young Kit Traverse mutters to himself under his breath while studying vector mathematics at Yale in Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day." The phrase keeps rattling around my head as the hours count down to our straight-through flight to Christchurch the day after tomorrow. My eyes are tired, my brain is fried after 30 days with hardly half a day off, and my stomach has just about had it with the food here. I have hit my wall and, while I will do a bit of work tomorrow, mostly the day will be about packing, enjoying the surroundings and taking it easy.

Oddly enough, the work has also hit its own wall. The DAQ software which worked rather smoothly throughout a month of tests finally met its match when trying to read out all forty IceCube strings. I believe the situation is very workable, but a days' worth of debugging didn't uncover an easy fix. Still, we are at least a week or two ahead of our original schedule. I find it ironic, though, that the last test (and most important, at least psychologically) would be the one to give us trouble. At any rate, we have a month to find a solution, which still puts us light years ahead of where we were last year (where we were putting the code together with spit and duct tape at the last minute before the last flight of the season came to yank us off-station).

As things wind down I want to check in with some of my other goals for the trip.

Complete and abject failures:
  • Regular drawing practice. I filled maybe three pages of drawings the whole month.
  • Skiing to the "love shack" at the end of the skiway. I didn't make it there, it just seemed too darn cold to get my rear in gear and do it.
  • Pynchon's "V" - I made it a good 150 pages or so but the book is staying here in the library, as I promised myself. "Against the Day" and "The Lord of the Rings" in audiobook form wound up being my fiction fixes.

Qualified successes:
  • Kept to a meditation practice perhaps 3/4 of the days here.

Exceeded expectations:
  • Ran almost every day, and made it up to nearly 5 miles. Beat my previous South Pole/high altitude mile record of 8:47 by a whole minute. Lifted weights and stretched. Physically this was an enormously helpful antidote against long hours at the computer, and cabin fever.
  • Work-wise I managed to meet not only most or all of my planned goals but also got a chunk of work in on a new project which will likely occupy a lot of my time this year. Also strengthened work relationships and managed to help several other people with their projects.

Unexpected surprises:
  • The eclipse was a lovely natural and communal event.
  • Going out on the deck at random times without bundling up (in shorts even) and enjoying the electric chill and the stark blazing white ocean of ice for a few moments before taking refuge back in the warmth and chemical smells of the station.

It's getting past bedtime - 8:40 PM and I am still up. I'm more or less on New Zealand days now. But just like this place is somehow like no-where, it is also somehow no-time: no night; arbitrary New Zealand time zone; shifting sleep schedules; and having to be aware of at least five different time zones (I regularly do time zone calculations in my head for all US time zones as well as Greenwich, England, which is the standard scientific/astronomical time base known as UTC).

At any rate, it is time for bed -- this much is clear. Until tomorrow...

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