26 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Ambitious Elements
Today is the day Remmy and I got ambitious with the antenna building. We decided we were going to go and build a much stronger yagi antenna after being encouraged by the success of the first design. So we loaded up the yagi design program and designed an antenna with 8 elements which gives us 14 dBi gain. The first antenna we had was 7.9dBi and the one we made a few days ago was 12.2 dBi. So if this works, it’s going to be quite a significant improvement.

We decided to use an all-metal boom which changes the design a little bit. With 8 elements, the lengths we had to cut are as follows:

144mm		120mm	
142mm		179mm
140mm		250mm
138mm		331mm
136mm		423mm
135mm		521mm
133mm		625mm
132mm		733mm

Additionally, we needed what is known as a ‘reflector’ which is 170mm long and placed at 30mm on the boom, and ‘radiating element’ which is 148mm and placed at 96mm on the boom. So Remmy worked on the elements (and reflector and radiator) and I worked on the boom.

All materials are recycled from the HF Radar at the back of the base. The boom was a little more tricky to drill holes in than the PVC and with less room for error but with a little hacking, we got it looking pretty good.

Then we inserted all the elements at and pop-riveted them to the boom.

Last to add was the ‘radiator’ as this needs to be insulated from the rest of the antenna. We searched around and within a few minutes I found a small piece of electrical cable which we stripped and it fitted perfectly over the radiator.

So, now we have a very robust antenna which should deal with the high winds pretty well. If it works (will be tested in the next few days), we will use the PVC antenna inside and the larger one we built today at the unit.

Advice from the bottom of a well, Part II : Coffee, Computers, Correspondence

If you are on your way to Antarctica, one thing you will already know is that there aren’t many espresso cafes here. Worse than a continent without espresso is the coffee at the base. By the time you get to the base you are drinking the leftover packets of last year’s filtered coffee… eeek… so you need a solution for your caffeine addiction and here it is

This is a portable one cup espresso maker… you just unscrew the top, clean the filter, pour in the water, add the coffee, and plug it in. It takes about 3 minutes before you have excellent espresso. The important thing about this gadget is that it runs off electricity. You won’t get much of a chance to access the kitchen, so any ‘stove top’ espresso makers are out… a coffee press is also a good strategy but this one is better 😉

Ok, well the thing is, you need to come with as much software as possible as there is no chance to download software over a 1K connection… If you run Windows or Mac then you just need to try and think what you need in advance and download it before you come… If you are slightly geeky then you are in a better situation. The best idea is to install Debian as it’s super for portability. Once Debian is installed, you need to download all the CD sources from a Debian mirror and copy the contents of these disks to your computer. Then you can apt-get install any software you want straight off your hard disk without needing to download anything…

This is a _major_ advantage, and if you feel like going the Linux way then it would really be worth getting familiar with it before you go installing it and considering this strategy.

If you are coming here, there are a few things you should do before you leave:
* download all your email
* unsubscribe from any email lists you might be on
* set up an auto responder (you will be about 2 weeks on the boat without mail access)
* ask someone to read your email and forward only the necessary correspondence
* setup your auto responder email message to tell all your friends *NO ATTACHMENTS*
* make sure you have a SPAM filter working which is server-side not client-side

Email here is actually functioning quite well (if you use an smtp client… don’t try and use something like Mutt or webmail which requires a direct connection to the net). The above steps are really for managing the travel here so when you arrive you don’t have to download 2000 emails. Once here, you can operate pop-email more or less normally.

If you want to chat with someone in real-time, it’s not impossible over the 1K connection. You need to use ‘internet relay chat’ (IRC). It is a super lightweight system for text chat, and sends minimal data over the network. You can then chat away very easily in real-time, even over this slow connection. Forget Aim, Gaim, MS Chat (or whatever it is), Skype etc…they will not work. If you don’t know what IRC is, then please google it before you come, and train yourself and those you want to chat with before you come here. IRC has been excellent for me, I chat with my girlfriend Lotte a couple of times a week for some hours with occasional timeouts: this has been especially good, considering they only allow 2 calls a week for 10 minutes each (and these are mostly only to South Africa unless you are lucky).

24 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Yesterday Amanda and Tom went to Gronehogna to test the home-made antenna we made the day before. I was a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure if it would work or not. Making an antenna out of PVC pipe and old HF Radar elements, with extra bits of gaffer tape to hold it together seemed unlikely to really do the business. Also, we didn’t know they were going until about an hour before they left, so we had no time to make any adjustments. The antenna had to go as is (although we made a quick mounting bracket and mounted the antenna to an old broom handle). First then posed for a picture with the antenna and newly acquired broom handle and tried to look tough 😉

They left in the Challengers which takes a few hours, so in the meantime, First and I prepared the other modems and the equipment he would take to Lorenzo Piggen. The idea was to do the tests in the same order as we had done them 4 days earlier, which was this:
1. SANAE – Gronehogna (yagi-to-yagi)
2. Lorenzo Piggen – Gronehogna (omni-to-yagi)
3. SANAE – Lorenzo Piggen – Gronehogna (yagi-to-omni-to-yagi)
4. Lorenzo Piggen – Gronehogna (yagi-to-yagi)

The home made yagi antenna would be at Gronehogna the whole time and would be the only one used at that site. With the earlier test with the manufactured antenna, we got about 15% signal, yagi-to-yagi between Lorenzo Piggen and Gronehogna, and no signal to speak of using the omnidirectional antenna at Lorenzopiggen.

So, off they went. We decided to do the tests at 1500, and change every ten minutes. We had to decide on this beforehand as they had no radio equipment at Gronehogna that would go the distance, so we had to hope that Tom and Amanda would be there in enough time and we would then do the tests ‘deaf’ (so to speak). When 1500 spun around, we tried the connection. I could talk to First Born at Lorenzo Piggen but we could not talk to Gronehogna, so we had to go with our instincts a bit. I was pretty disappointed that we got no signal on all tests. First and I then agreed we would hold on a little longer, as the new antenna (if it worked at all) would be more directional than the ones we used earlier, so it might take them a little longer to ‘find target’. So we waited an extra few minutes, and bingo – we had 50% signal. Amazing! I was very excited. Just to be sure, I shut down the systems at SANAE so we could tell that this was actually signal coming from Gronehogna and not from the equipment I was using at SANAE. I shut down the modem and First reported the signal was still strong. He then opened a browser (we had a computer connected to each modem) and he could see the web pages we had setup on the machine they took to Gronehogna. First said it loaded instantly! Great!

The trick was, however, that this connection was yagi-to-yagi which is not what we would use in the final setup so we had to quickly switch to omni-to-yagi, the omnidirectional antenna being at Lorenzo Piggen. So First had to change the antenna very quickly as we were afraid that if we disconnected from the yagi for too long, Tom and Amanda would not see signal and would assume we had stopped the tests. To do this he would have to hold the omnidirectional antenna as he would not have time to mount it on the pole. So it was a bit hacky, but it wasn’t worth the risk of Tom and Amanda thinking we had stopped the tests and packing up before we could confirm the final set-up could work.

So First switched the antenna in the cold in record breaking time, with just a few tens of seconds downtime (he asked Luta, one of the crew that went with him, to hold the antenna). I turned on the modem here and ….. 30% signal! Great! First loaded their web page again to confirm the connection and it seems that our homebrew antenna was really doing a great job.

It wasn’t till Tom and Amanda returned that we learnt they had real difficulties setting up in the snow there (there was a storm) and that they didn’t have difficulties ‘finding target’. They couldn’t get the system working for some time, which was why we got no signal through the tests, but as soon as they were set up and turned on the modem they got 50% signal immediately. The fact that they had bad weather there was bad for them but in terms of the signal tests, it was a better situation for the tests than the earlier one as the first test was a perfect day. If we get 50% signal with some snow around, then it’s a very good sign. Tom apparently had also logged onto the IRC (chat) running on my computer at SANAE which is even better! Great.

So we know now the radio systems will work. Additionally, we can build a stronger antenna than this one,  one that is also more robust. It shouldn’t take more than about 4 hours to do. So now we await the discussions between Tom and the SANAE management about whether they can get us to Gronehogna before we leave in 9 days….

22 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Yesterday we decided we would like to try and improve the reception for a possible installation of the AWS in Gronehogna. We cant improve the transmitters, or the position of the base, so the next thing left to do is to try and improve the antenna. Tom and I mailed a few people to ask them to find a diagram online or some software for an antenna for the frequency we needed (900MHz). Marko responded by mailing an application that helps you design yagi antenna. So, not having done it before, we dived right in. Thankfully at hand was Remmy (my roommate) and he didn’t have much to do today so we went through the process of sourcing the materials we needed. At the bottom of the backyard here is a small radio orchard. It grows big HF antenna for measuring the depth of the earth’s atmosphere.

So naturally, Remmy and I figured this would be a wonderful place to start looking, so Remmy and I went down the back to see what we could find. Rumours have it that antenna elements have been known to ripen and fall off the big radio trees. Strongman Struan told us that he himself had been down to pick up some elements there just recently (Strongman Struan is a story in itself, the story would be longer but a few days ago he tied himself to a huge kite and the wind played unkind games leaving him with a broken leg and dislocated foot. He was lucky he had thought to tie the other end of the rope to the base, else he would have been blown over the cliff). We stopped by the first small grove to enjoy the sun and take some photos.

Then we pushed on to see if we could find anything interesting. It wasn’t long before we found a small antenna sprouting from the ice. That would have been good for what we needed but we decided it was best to let it grow in case the scientists found out that we had taken all the saplings and their measurements next year might not be as tasty.

Luckily it didn’t take long before we found an element or two lying about under the enormous electromagnetic branches, and most of them looked just about right. So we kept searching for what we could find, looking for the telltale long shadows they cast on the snow.

Remmy proved an expert at finding them and he quickly found many more than I did. I think in all he found about a dozen or so and I found one or two. I put this down to the fact that he has spent more time in this orchard than I and knew what to look for.

So we decided quite soon we had found enough and walked back slowly in the sun to home.

Next up was to cut and dice the found elements according to the pattern we had designed with the software. No problems. Remmy started in this while I went to look for something to use to mount the antenna. In the backroom above some stairs, there is a pile of unused junk. In the pile was a nice discarded piece of PVC pipe about the right length and width. I brought it back to Remmy and he was delighted, thinking it a very good find indeed.

Remmy measured and cut the elements we found and I marked the pipe with the right points that we would mount each element. We then went to drill holes in the pipe. Within an hour or so we had all the elements completed and the holes drilled.

Next up, we needed to start inserting the elements into the pipe at the right spots.

It meant we needed to file out the holes a little and by the time we had finished it was looking like a yagi antenna (but possibly not like the ones you buy in the shops).

We had to make the connection between the antenna and the cable which requires a ‘balun’ (short for ‘BALance UNbalance’).

So we taped the new antenna onto a bit of plastic pipe and Tom volunteered to run down to the airstrip on a Skidoo with one of the transmitters so we could test the antenna. Zama (cabin mate 2) was also on hand to give us his guru tech advice on the balun.

Within a few minutes, we could test it and it seemed to work! At first glance, it does appear to be quite a bit stronger than our original antenna but we will need to do some more comprehensive tests yet. Anyway, it was in interesting thing to do and means at the very least that we have now tried every possible thing to get the radio communications going the way we want them. Many thanks to Borja, Luta, Marko and Zama for their invaluable advice regarding building a yagi.

Any other news? I don’t think so… ah yes, there is a hippy living in a tent at the garden, but that’s not surprising I suppose since hippies like gardens.

Any other news? Not really…hmmm…I think the radio station round these parts sounds pretty good, you should tune in – 90FM i think…..no more news I think… oh yes, I have a beard (don’t worry Lotte, it will be gone before I get to NZ 😉

(Happy birthday Wayne!!!!)

18 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Yesterday we got the delivery of some new material for the radio. We had one hour’s notice that a plane would be leaving from Cape Town for Troll (the Norwegian base about 1 hour away from here by chopper). Tom called Siphiwe and Siphiwe ran around Cape Town getting the CDs that had been delivered for the station but which  had missed the first flight on the 12th of this month. So a crew flew to Troll (for other business) and Tom was on the chopper and was able to pick up the CDs for the station. Hurrah! So we have the additional material now:

Story Salon
LA Podcasters
Sundown Lounge
The Jazz Diaries
Handwritten Theatre
Three Jackasses in a Garage
People by the Fringe

A total of 13 extra CDs. Now playing on the radio is the entire CD of ‘Story Salon’…coolio! Many thanks to all those that sent this material. Today we have a great schedule on the radio:

1400 - 1500 : Story Salon
1500 - 1600 : Documentary on Moscow
1600 - 1900 : The Gravy Train with DJ TK
1900 - 2000 : DJ Zamii's HF Radar
2100 - 2200 : The Night Watchman
2200 - 2330 : DJ Danny

In the meantime today we tested the High Frequency Radio Modems over a distance of about 7km. We wanted to test the antenna as the discussion has now shifted to putting the AWS unit at Gronehogna (approx 40km away) and a repeater at Lorentzenpiggen. This is because we had an unsuccessful test yesterday transmitting from Gunehogna to SANAE. So today we tested a link between Lorentzenpiggen with an omni directional antenna at that site, and a directional antenna at the base. We got a good connection and tested browsing a webserver, ftp, and IRC (these services were running on my laptop at SANAE). Most exciting for me is the use of VOIP. We made an excellent connection via Asterisk and two softphones over this distance and could chat with no problems at all.

We tried to get a repeater in the network too but we couldn’t make the connections. I went to bed feeling good about the Asterisk tests but frustrated by the failure of the repeater config so I got up again and have just worked it out (I hope). Seems to work.

Tomorrow Tom and I go via chopper to Grunehogna and First Born will go to Lorentzenpiggen. This is to test:
* – Grunehogna (directional antenna) to Lorentzenpiggen (omni directional antenna) link.
* – the repeater set-up : Grunehogna -> Lorentzenpiggen -> SANAE

If the first test works, then we can set the unit up at Grunehogna (hence it’s the most critical test). If the second one works, then we are really on our way.

So cross ya fingers for us.

Here’s the proof of a nice fat VOIP connection made over UHF modems in Antarctica (for those that like to pin such things to their wall):


16 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

My post today is slightly geeky. I haven’t had enough coffee to break it down to a language that’s easier to understand. My apologies, I will caffeine-up and maybe edit it later.

Today I slept in quite late. I couldn’t sleep last night so I watched a couple of movies and crashed about 4am. Then I got up and took some photos of the area around us through the windows.

I consequently slept in and felt stupid coming in late. Ah well, it happens. So I set to work setting up the processes for sharing data between the AWS and a machine that will be located at the base. Amanda had done some great problem-solving with the logger and it’s running smoothly although we have to solve the comm port issues, but for now we have settled on using an extra computer sited at the AWS. So I twiddled with SAMBA, a networking protocol which, if you know what you are doing, lets you transparently share files between Linux and Windows machines on the same network. Unfortunately, I don’t know what I am doing, having never set up a SAMBA system before, but it wasn’t too tricky. In a couple of hours, we had a working SAMBA network and some scripts that automagically mount the logger’s shared drive on the Linux machine. Coolio. Next up, I have to meet with the network tech here about how they would like me to set up our network.

I’m just hanging out to get outside….I think I will go sit on the roof for a bit….

Brrrr….too cold outside… who would have thought… hmmm… so, I thought maybe I might explain a few little bits of what makes our days here interesting. First up has to be the ever present static. I must get about 50 static shots per day, perhaps more. The air is so dry here that static charges build up quickly. You have to be really careful with your electronics as it can fry the equipment. One of the winter crew just fried their mouse the other day. We have a copper earth wire running around the bottom edge of every desk here, and before you sit down, it’s a good idea to tag that wire with your hand. This means the charge discharges and you get a shock, but it’s better than discharging that shock on your laptop. During storms, the static build up is much worse and you can hear the cracks from several metres away when the charge discharges. If you are unlucky, the shock is actually quite painful, but if you touch a wall quickly before you touch a door handle, or if you quickly rap the earth wire on desks, the discharge normally doesn’t hurt. But at least once a day you are sure to receive quite a whack somehow, somewhere, sometime… Apparently, in winter during the big storms, you can make small arcs of continuous static discharges between your hand and the wall.

Another small interesting part of our day is the 1K internet connection. Actually its faster than this, but they throttle it, so that as much as possible is reserved for uploads by some of the science projects. Getting information can be tricky in this environment and when you don’t have access to it, one realises how much Google augments your brain. You can actually check google on 1k if you turn the image downloads off on your browser and type search queries directly into the location bar. However, the world is full of less enlightened people and I often pass offices where people are checking their email via webmail which chokes the connection… eieieiei…. Another headache is that they have just started turning the net access off during the day, allowing access only between 2100 and midnight. Great. 1K split between about 50 people for 3 hours a day… not so hot… one way we sneak around this (shhh, don’t tell anyone) is that they haven’t blocked certain protocols, and if we bend data around certain network corners and leap some gritty protocols, we can get a plain text version of what we need…

Also, we haven’t had enough water for showers and washing for almost 2 weeks… wooohooo! a small enclosed space, with 70 sweaty bods, and no clean clothes or showers… if the water situation continues, apparently we get the privilege of carrying our own toilet water… good oh…. looking forward to it.

Also, the timing of the day and ‘night’ is odd. It’s 24/7 daylight at the moment. The sun goes lower during the evening but never falls anywhere near the horizon. So you have to make up your mind when you are tired. It’s true. With 24/7 sun you can feel awake at anytime. Some strategise by pulling the blinds down in their room at about 20:00 and then they feel like it’s evening and can sleep at a reasonable hour. I just keep going till I feel tired. Last night that was 4am and even then I could have easily stayed up another hour at least.

These things don’t really bug anyone… just thought you might want some info on the bits and pieces that fill in the gaps of our days.

Just did a little more after-dinner setting-up an ssh server on the Windows machine to allow remote access. Good oh. I will next look to setting it all up in a full demo using the local network with the modems.

Here’s a shot of DJ Marlon (aka ‘the nightwatchman’ – one of the chopper crew) who did a late night mix of speed trance and jazz.

14 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Well, today is Sunday and it’s been a day off. I didn’t do much but sleep, and held a Linux workshop in the top tv lounge. It was a slow day. So slow I think it added to a bit of cabin fever on my part. I really need to get outside at the moment and do something but the winds are still pretty high. I don’t know where the rest of the crew is, I think everyone needs some space at the moment. We have had some agitty times these last weeks but I think the internal dynamics are improving a lot now.

In the meantime, I will write a brief for DJ CRON, watch a movie, and go to bed.

13 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007




Well, we got a crazy shipment of goodies last night from the Norwegian Troll station. A plane had flown to Troll from Cape Town and Marko had loaded all sorts of goodies into the plane. We got it all except the dead frog. On my biggest hit list was the extra espresso coffee, a wonderful telephoto lens (from which I took the above photos), and the CDs Honor had organised for the station. We also got Mr Snow’s Debian CDs. Hurrah!!!!

I think the later delivery made me realise I have a problem and perhaps it would be good to go to OS Anonymous one day. It seems that at every critical point in a project I decide it’s a good time to re-install my Operating System (OS). So I did so today. I appear to be getting better at it as when i first started my OS addiction it took me several days to get it right. This took about 2 hours. I waved goodbye to Ubuntu and welcomed back Debian. Ubuntu is good but it’s really a user’s operating system (and it’s very good at doing that) but I have often run into problems with development work and Debian is pretty well suited for that. So yes, my name is Adam, I am addicted to installing Operating Systems (chorus : “welcome adam”)…

As for the photos, I am enjoying taking them very much. I haven’t taken photos for years and the need to generate photos for each day of the diary pages has spurred me on to practising (you are welcome to use any of the photos in the diary pages, just distribute them with a Creative Commons licence 2.0, attributive (by Adam Hyde), share-alike – – there are a couple I didn’t take so I will clear it also with the author if you write to me, I can also send the high-res versions if needed). It’s great fun. The telephoto will open the opportunities for shots both scenic and for documenting the projects. I’m looking forward to getting out on the field and using it. coolio….cheers Marko, Siphiwe, Honor, Mr Snow and all those that sent materials for the station.

10 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Today was a great day. I started off a bit sluggish. Not sure what that was, I got up, did the skivvies (chores) at 7am, drank two hard hitting shots of espresso, and went straight back to sleep.

Then we had an I-TASC meeting to plan the AWS scenarios. Seems that we won’t try any more fiddling with the serial ports on the radio modems, we will instead place a computer at the site of the AWS to manage the data gathering and transportation (via the modems) to SANAE. That may change if we have some advice from the modem manufacturers but until then this is the plan. We also spoke about the gear Marko is bringing. He is in Cape Town right now loading a plane with gear for us. The plane flys to Troll (Norwegian base) and it costs 12 Euro per kilogram to ship material. The chopper pilots from here then fly to Troll to pick it all up. I think Marko has done quite some shopping which is great news. He is also sending material for the radio station to play and some radio receivers for the crew here.

After lunch and the meeting, First Born decided he wanted to shoot a video he has been planning for his forthcoming hiphop album. So Remmy (our roommate) and Danny (one of the chopper crew and also a DJ on the radio station) dressed up in their big winter clothes which kind of looks hiphop in a very sub-zero way. Baggy jackets, snow glasses, big boots. They cruised around with attitude on the skidoos while I buried myself in snow and ice trying to get the right camera angles. It was heaps of fun and I think my days filming the trots for TV ONE left me with a steady hand on the cam (it was a bit more fun filming today than keeping a camera on horses going round and round in circles).

We viewed the results and I was surprised they looked so good, I was sure the white balance would be weird or contrast would be bad as I couldn’t see the LCD screen on the camera due to the glare off the ice and I had to rely on the black and white viewfinder. First Born did a good job with miming his own rhymes and Daniel looked mean (although he could only maintain it for so long before getting self-conscious) and Remmy looked like he had been doing this sort of thing all his life. It was a great couple of hours.

Then it was time to try and get the telephone working with the radio station so people could call in live to the station and be put on air. The head of PWD (the people that maintain the base by contract) was real keen to do a talkback slot and First Born was training him (Kim) today. So thankfully Matthew Biederman (a friend from San Francisco/Montreal) answered my query in a previous diary listing where I asked for ideas on how this could be done. Matthew has such a pragmatic turn of mind and his recommendation was really fascinating. He suggested we make an induction coil that would pick up the electrical current of the speaker in the phone’s handset and then plug this into the mixing desk. Sounded crazy to me but Matthew does have a tendency to get things right, so we found a ferrite core from an old power transformer at the base and ripped it out of the old casing.

We then found some about-to-be-thrown-away copper coated wire and wound it around the core 100 times.

Then the two ends of the wire were soldered onto an audio jack. We then opened the handset of the telephone and threaded one of the wires going to the speaker through the middle of the core.

We plugged in the cable to the audio desk for the station – and what do ya know… .talkback radio!

Matthew, I owe ya _another_ one 😉

So First Born trained Kim and Kim is super excited about doing his first talkback show. … in case you are wondering the calls would be entirely from within the base as each room has a telephone.

Lastly, I got an email today from Julien Ottavi from APO33. It looks like he is keen to help with the DJ Cron script I mentioned a few days ago so we can schedule the station over the net on a 1K connection. This means people in South Africa could control what plays on the radio here even though the connection is a miserly 1K. It would be a wonderful thing to try, and even more wonderful if it works well as there are many scenarios where low bandwidth scheduling could be extremely useful. So, fingers crossed!

Also, a big thanks to Borja Jelic for all his advice on how to set up the AWS computer.


Hey Adam,
was just reading your Antarctic diaries. Wow what an incredible thing  
to be doing. I was taken with your questioning of the whole  
enterprise of 'art' in such a space, and the potential imposition of  
a 'minimal object' / monolith on Antarctic space. I'm curious enough  
to write and take up some of your valuable email space, I'd love to  
hear more on how this is being resolved for all of you there.... I'm  
only asking because I have been following a rather odd tangent over  
the past few weeks that connects Kubrick, 2001:a space odyssey with  
minimalism - in terms of the monolith being simultaneously inhuman  
and human; and the imposition of human scale onto objects which may  
seem impenetrable. And I was thinking about et al's monoliths which  
crop up on top of Google earth maps in her last installation in Christchurch.  And there you are in Antarctica, with another minimal monolith...

Edward Strickland writes about 2001 saying "the nonhuman arrived in  
utterly nonhuman form: black monoliths ten feet tall ... it was the  
invasion of the minimal sculptures."

But also the minimal sculpture was thought of as site-specific and it  
seems yours is more navigational - a tool rather than an object -
so maybe yours is not an invasion, and maybe it is the opposite,  
actually a way of stating the inhuman in such a wonderfully alive  
space. I really enjoyed all your descriptions of the flying ice and  

sorry there isn't really a question here , but I guess it fits as a  

I'd love to see an image of your minimal object...

cheers and warm regards

09 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

So today I decided it would be great to try out the Very Low Frequency (VLF) antenna and receiver with Remmy. The VLF receiver allows you to tune in to, and listen, to the earth’s ionosphere. It is the type of tuner that people use to listen to the auroras, but it conjures up some interesting sounds at any time. Remmy and I had renovated a VLF antenna from the base just 2 days ago. It was sitting on the roof of the base but got destroyed in a storm. So we located an extra filament and reconstructed it. Then we made a nice antenna cable to run between the receiver and the antenna, and an earth cable.


The VLF antenna itself is about 3 metres long and looks like a long fishing rod. We grabbed it and the receiver and headed off after lunch to a nice quiet spot about 800 metres away from the base. The problem with VLF is that if you are close to power sources (cables etc), the receiver will pick it up and all you will hear is hum. So we got as far away from power sources as was practical and dug the earth cable into some rocks. We then connected it all up and plugged in the headphones. It was exciting as Remmy is a space scientist specialising in VLF and he had never heard live VLF sounds before. The little INSPIRE VLF receiver worked wonderfully and we could listen to the sferics. They sound (in Remmy’s words) like fat frying in a frying pan. We were hoping to hear some other sounds like the fabled whistlers, but these are rare, especially this time of year. So our tests were relatively short lived, we really went to test the set-up and see how it operated. Next, we will do some longer soundings and record the output. The place we chose to set it all up is pretty beautiful. About 800m from the base and overlooking a huge plateau. There were plenty of rocks for us to lie comfortably on, the sun was out and the wind was almost non-existent. It was a clear and hot day. The scene cut quite a mix of the familiar and the bizarre, and I had to tell myself I must remember this moment as it’s not every day you see a space scientist sitting on a rock fishing for rare radio waves.


Remmy explained to me quite a lot about VLF. One of the most interesting things is that VLF travels along the earth’s magnetic field, which means you have points of mirror-like reflection. For example, the sounds we were hearing could have been occurring directly above us in the earth’s ionosphere, but equally, they could have been occurring in the Northern Hemisphere and being communicated here by the earth’s magnetic field. This is a very interesting phenomenon, peculiar to VLF, and it has been suggested that VLF communication could exploit the earth’s magnetic field in a similar fashion and produce a highly efficient long range communications system. Additionally, it was interesting to learn about the rarity of whistlers (caused by large electromagnetic events such as nuclear explosions or lightning strikes), and other sounds that can cause interference with VLF observations and cause problems for scientists (such as emissions from submarines).

In the evening we will go back and record some audio from the antenna which will be used in an installation r a d i o q u a l i a has in Italy in April. In the meantime, it was a nice afternoon chatting and mixing art and science in equal measure.

08 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

OK… some radio ponderings. The station here is coming along well. We have DJs being trained, jingles are being made, and we are looking forward to the arrival of the first load of radio receivers sometime around Thursday.

In the meantime, I was wondering if there are any keen radio heads that can help us with a few things. Warning : the following is marginally geeky talk, so apologies in advance if it makes no sense to you.

If you are a Linux geek it would be great to have a small script that could schedule some basic content for us. I was thinking an interactive script (or ncurses interface) that would add commands to the crontab for scheduling radio content. We are using XMMS here as the basic playback device. XMMS can be installed with a plugin called ‘xmms-shell’ which allows xmms to be controlled via command line. It’s a pretty commonly used plugin and if you have Debian or Ubuntu it can be added through apt-get.

The idea is simple enough. The script could ask for a playlist name, and then prompt for what time that playlist should be played. It would then add the appropriate xmms-shell command (conceivably the xmms-shell command might not need to be used, just killing and restarting xmms could be enough). That bit isn’t so hard. The hard bit is being able to show the list of scheduled material through a shell interface and give options to delete material from the cron …

We have a system that we will use which will hopefully be written by mid- January, but it uses a HTML interface and mysql etc. What we would like to try is the low-fi way and experiment with scheduling content over the 1K internet connection we have.

2. Phone Hybrid

We have an internal telephone network here and there have been requests to have radio requests and talkback put to air. So, we need to make a kind of DIY telephone hybrid. I was thinking of putting a contact (piezo) mic into the earpiece, or even just a small lapel mic. The caller can then be plugged straight into the desk and the DJ would just have to talk directly into the mic and the phone at the same time… not too tricky but I’m not sure it’s going to work so I thought I would make a post here to see if anyone had any better ideas. We do have a collection of electronic components here so if anyone has an idea of how we could make something out of a simple circuit we might be able to give it a go. Otherwise, any suggestions involving paper cups, chewing gum, no.8 wire and 2x4s (etc) are welcome.

Any ideas please post to me (Adam) at : adam@xs4all.nl