New Years Eve 2006

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Last night First Born and I did a radio show till 2am or so, playing mostly for the people in the bar that were listening and having a good time. Then up at 7am to do the skivvies (chores). Now I am sorting cables and getting things together for the full-time running of the station.

30 December 2006

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Eeek…. just woke up. It’s almost 1300. First Born and I did a radio show for the drivers (they left at 2am), while we made jingles for the station and cables for the ‘studio’. I think we finished about 0600 or so. It was lots of fun.

We struggled with the communication between the AWS (Automatic Weather Station) and radio modems today. So far no success. We know we can install a low-powered computer in the unit containing the AWS but this is not the most efficient or preferred method. So we will methodically try all options in the configuration of the modem tomorrow.

In the meantime, the station is up and broadcasting loud and clear FM. We need some radios (receivers) so we are hoping that  Marko can get some on the plane that will bring us gear on Jan 11th. The good news is also that we have been given a desk in the HF Radar room that we can use as a studio. It’s perfect. We have plenty of desk space and a nice view etc. It even has a PC running Linux that we can use for the station’s music library. It took a little bit of work to get the cables through the ducting system but we managed with the assistance of our roommate Remmy.

So now if anyone wants to make some radio, they need just creep into that room and do a show. Already we have First Born doing interviews, and as I write he is DJing with a couple of the over-wintering crew from last winter.

Meanwhile, Tom and I had a good conversation about the AWS. I had understood the AWS unit (a metal box which will house the AWS, computer, batteries, solar panels) was a foundation stone for the lab Tom and Marko had envisioned would be installed in Antarctica. However, it seems actually the unit is for testing the remote communications systems and power systems. Hence there is no real need to host the unit remotely, it might as well be installed in the scientific area at SANAE, making it easier to monitor and maintain but also it can serve as a good prototype for the power and communication systems during a full cycle of seasons in Antarctica.

It also seems Tom is not so keen on making a remote lab for art and is more interested in trying to establish a unit for scientific purposes, something like an ‘away station’. I believe the idea that the lab would be portable has been current in most of the plans so far for this development. I will help think through these ideas but I think it might be more interesting to think through whether cultural residencies in Antarctica are a good idea, and then if the answer is ‘yes,’ then how this could be achieved. I am still very unsure as to the necessity of this but I am enjoying the discussions with Tom and I am keeping my mind open to alternative reckonings.

As for what I am specifically doing and its relevance- again, I am unsure about it. As I said in earlier postings, it is an amazing experience being here in Antarctica and I must say just being here has taken Antarctica out of the realm of mythology for me and placed it firmly in my emotional landscape. I now feel somehow that I have more of an understanding of our planet just by being here. I have visited many countries over the last few years on every continent (except Antarctica of course) and feel I have learnt something about cultures and people through these experiences. I have often come away from these travels with a feeling I have learnt something about our species. However, this is the first time I feel I have gained such a feeling of connection with the planet we all share.

So, why am I here, in this last wilderness, setting up a radio station? Well, I am not really sure. I was invited to be part of the I-TASC crew and then the FM station was added to the list of projects which I would install as a
r a d i o q u a l i a initiative. There are many reasons for doing the project, one of the most interesting is to experiment with hybrid radio, mixing high frequency radio with FM. We will, for example, start experimenting with the link we have established with the radio modems doing audio broadcasts from remote locations and putting these live-to-air on FM. The station is also a community station for the isolated individuals over winter and it is for the summer team to have some fun and help build the feeling of community. I can plainly see on the faces of those involved and those listening the enjoyment and pleasure the station brings.

However, just two days before turning on the transmitter, I sat in my room and while drinking a coffee, I turned on my portable radio. Over the next few minutes I ran up and down the radio dial on FM, LW, MW and 12 channels of Short Wave. And what did I hear? Static. The sound of the earth’s natural spectrum. There was no ‘artificial’ source of radio emissions anywhere on any dial. I have never had that experience anywhere, and it was a very moving experience. I was reminded of a project r a d i o q u a l i a did in Mexico. It was called ‘.sol’ and we travelled to an isolated spot in Mexico to record sounds of the sun using a large array (collection of antenna) and to mix this with recordings in the same frequency range made in Mexico City. In Mexico City you could not hear the ‘sound’ of the sun as you could only pick up the interference made by so many spurious electromagnetic emissions. The result was a cacophony of artificial buzzes and hums. The recordings of the sun we had from Morelia, on the other hand, were clean lovely rolling static noises. The point was, that in the heart of Mexico City is the sun temple, an important cultural center for the ancient cultures of Mexico. However, now the sun is obscured by the noise of modern electrical life.

.sol made me more aware of the electromagnetic spectrum as an environment, one that we should consider has a natural state, a modified state, and a polluted state.

The question confronting me now is whether I should have occupied this space, however small, with my own transmissions?

A few people have said that they would like to post comments. Unfortunately, we cannot check web pages from here in Antarctica, so if there was a comment option on the site we wouldn’t be able to read and respond. So, perhaps a way round this is if you would like to make a comment then perhaps just send an email to me :

If you send a comment I will put it on the diary page of the same day (layout the text as you wish). Please feel free to comment, critique or reflect on what we are doing. We will also be happy to answer questions about what we are doing or our experiences. Additionally, we are very happy to research questions for you as there are many knowledgeable people here that know a lot about Antarctica, the base, and the science that takes place here.

We have about 1K of connectivity so the ‘usual’ length of comments would be fine (a paragraph or two) and obviously we can’t handle attachments. I will then upload the comments when I upload the website every day.

29 December 2006

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Today Amanda, Tom and First Born went to the proposed site for the Automatic Weather Station. We could make a connection easily via the radio modems we had. It was a simple test. From the site on Lorenzo Piggen, some 7km away, they plugged in a laptop to the radio modem. The modem at the site seamlessly connected to the modem here; once the link was established, Tom and First Born browsed (using a regular web browser) to a web server running on my laptop at the base (connected to the other radio modem) and they could see the files I put there for the test. Simple. I could also monitor the data traffic through a program called ‘EtherApe’ and this told me that there were no data errors or loss of data over the link.

Received Packet Statistics 		Transmitted Packet Statistics
Receive bytes: 		1236797 	Transmit bytes: 	913038
Receive packets: 	4865 		Transmit packets: 	5396
Receive errors: 	0 		Transmit errors: 	0
Drop packets: 		0 		Drop packets: 		0

Great, so now we know two laptops can connect via the modems over the distance between SANAE and the site of the AWS, and we must now work on getting the modems working with the AWS. We are not sure this can actually work, but if the hardware will actually allow it then it should be easy to set up. Essentially, what we are doing is sending data between two points using the modems and communicating not through the ethernet connectors but through a serial connection (it’s a different kind of hardware and data protocol).

Today I also went to the top of SANAE (on the roof) to trace the cable we will use for the FM transmitter. There are two cables which aren’t being used. I traced these with a circuit connector and it seems the longest cable goes right to the point where we need to mount the antenna and then right back into the base with good length so it will reach to the lab. That is good news. I think all I have to do now is to put the right connectors on and plug it all in. If only technology was that simple (I am sure I will come across problems I hadn’t thought of yet).

In the meantime, life in the outside world continues. My good friend Luka Princic is on holiday for a few days in Amsterdam where I would be if I wasn’t here. Damn! Ah well, I might see him in New Zealand in a few months. And here life moves to its odd insular beat – for example I-TASC met to work out a schedule for working. The schedule calculations seemed to get algorithmic so I said they can do what they like but I would just get up, work, and stop when I couldn’t work anymore. I don’t know, it seems to make sense to me…

Anyway, time for lunch.

…so now its midnight(ish)… the day started productively then went to the pack. The team shot off to check stuff out and there was not much productive I could do here at the stage we are at without them so after a good deal of procrastination I decided to take a break. I went upstairs and, hello, there was someone sleeping in my bed… and it wasn’t me…. I was a bit miffed at first but then I (eventually) woke him up and it seems he is one of the over-winter team and couldn’t sleep because in his room people are talking. No worries, the over-winter team own this place (it’s been their home for a long time) so I apologised and went to throw some darts.

After the team returned and after dinner, I got the connectors I needed from Franz (pretty much the boss). I had tested the cable before and I knew all I needed to do was plug in the antenna and transmitter (using the connectors)… it’s probably the fastest install I have done for a radio station. The only tricky bit was that we were on the roof and it was kind of cold, and putting on the antenna bolts when you can’t feel your hands (actually they hurt quite a bit from the wind) isn’t so easy. Thankfully, Tom was there to share my suffering and help squeeze in the tricky little bolts.

So now stage one of the r a d i o q u a l i a (subset I-TASC) Polar Radio is complete. The transmitter is all fired up and transmitting as I write. Already quite a few of the over-winter crew have come down to check it out and we hope to broadcast tonight so the drivers that leave tonight for the boat (to pick up more gear) can listen for a distance as they disappear slowly into the sunlit night. Chris Munro, if you are listening, I’m playing a song for you.

28 December 2006

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Updates coming, sorry for delays, been a bit busy here but we will ensure we update every day now, unless it’s absolutely not possible.

Today we travelled to Lorenzo Piggen, a small Nunatak (Inuit for ‘island’) about 7 km from the base. This is the proposed site of the AWS (Automatic Weather Station). We travelled out there by Skidoo – I-TASC has been given 2 skidoos to use at our leisure.


It was an interesting site and tomorrow we will try a data test between the base and the site. It’s not so far away, so there are no problems anticipated.


What we have to do is set up a radio modem at the base, and then another radio modem and laptop will go out to the site. Then we will establish communication between the two modems. Essentially, this means we have a ‘wireless’ data connection (point-to-point) between the site and the base. If I connect the modem at the base to the internet then out at Lorenzo they could check their email (for example); this is not the intended purpose of the equipment but it’s an interesting exercise anyway.

I would like to try this setup with sending live audio between the two points, and also to try some internet telephony (something like Skype, but I would try a software called Asterisk and some ‘software phones’) and IRC (chat) communication. I will leave this for now and just do a basic test but in the next few days, I will try something a little more sophisticated.


In the meantime, life at the base is establishing a rhythm. We get up every day at 0630 and then do ‘skivvies’ which are the cleaning duties for the base. After that, we get to work (skivvies take about an hour). Then we work until 1300, have lunch, work again and have dinner at 1900. Then we are usually working again until late or we go to the sauna and relax. Sleep comes at about midnight. So it’s a long day. Just when you think you are feeling tired you look out the window and the sun fools you into feeling it is the middle of the afternoon and refuses to let you sleep.

I think many people are a little lost for things to do at the end of the day. Of course, it is beautiful here and a walk outside is a good cure for boredom but at the end of the day most people are very tired and the thought of spending 20 minutes wrapping up in the protective clothing needed to go outside is not as appetising as you might think. Additionally, even though we are on the continent with the least population density, there is no private space which is something of an irony. There is just no way of getting away from people: if you go outside then you must go in pairs for safety’s sake, and inside there is nowhere that doesn’t have people. I am a bit saturated with people at the moment so I might sneak away to the TV lounge when most are asleep and get some nobody time.

27 December 2006

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

More work on the equipment today. There is a meeting later in the afternoon about the requirements of the FM station. In the meantime, we are plugging in the HF modems to the laptops to see how the communication works. We didn’t get this far last night as we had issues with the Automatic Weather Station software (it’s not compatible with the operating system we are using in the mini PC). The manual was wrong for the modems but we managed to sort out the connectivity. Seems like it is a nice fluent system. We tested connecting a laptop to a High Frequency Radio modem and then connecting another modem to the network, and that works very well. My cable-making skills are not very good but I managed to make a working crossover cable (similar to an ethernet cable but with a different wiring) for the laptop-to-modem connection. After that, the system worked well. For now, this means what we have to do now is to connect one modem to the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) and another to a computer at SANAE. Then we can relay data from the AWS to SANAE via radio, which in turn means the AWS can be deployed remotely.


So everyone is falling into their roles nicely. I am doing the FM station and helping with the tech for the AWS etc; First is doing a lot of work on the PCs we need for both the AWS and the FM station; Amanda is mainly doing video documentation but also was extremely useful with the AWS because she was the only one that read the manual; and Tom is acting as liaison between SANAE and us, and he is also the person responsible for being eternally optimistic regarding the tech (while First and I have to try and implement his optimistic suggestions – actually it’s good having someone optimistic about technology because over the last years I have become a little cynical about it, so his optimism will help push me on.

In the meantime, the room where we sleep is turning into a micro family. Zama and Remmy are really funny, and it’s good to hang out and talk bullshit at the end of the day. It doesn’t always work because the end of the day is quite hard to determine, it being sunshine 24/7. Despite the permanent sunshine, there is actually a definite evening light. The sun gets lower and you can see the longer shadows on the ice, which kind of gives it the appearance of the moon. Below is a photo taken just as this effect is starting, looking through the window of our room. I will try and take a picture showing this effect more clearly. The antenna you see in the photo is used for measuring the distance and shape of the ionosphere.