31 January 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

It’s been a busy few days. We fly out to the boat in two days and so it’s a mad rush to get everything done. Tom, Amanda, and First Born have been very busy outside with the AWS unit, setting it up with the wind turbines and solar panels. It looks fantastic and they have done an excellent job.

It’s been pretty cold these last days, and they have been outside most the time, coming back looking frozen. Today the wind turbine was finally working, and tomorrow we install all the AWS and communications equipment.

In the meantime, I have been inside working on the networking systems (writing scripts etc). It’s been warmer work than that of my colleagues but possibly a little bit more boring! ūüėČ

Still, today was rewarding. I was looking for a way to restart the computer that will be in the AWS. If the batteries fail in the unit (if there is a storm during winter or other reason), then we need a way to power the computer on once the batteries have recharged. There are a number of ways this could be possible with some machines (bios settings for example) but this computer supports none of them. The computer has an on/off button which, if depressed momentarily, starts up the computer. So, we needed a circuit to solve this. After wedging off a plastic panel, it appears that shorting out the button momentarily would also start the computer.

So, we needed a circuit that would do this automagically. I wondered if a relay would do this. A relay will close a circuit when power is applied, but it couldn’t do this on its own, so I emailed some friends. We had excellent brainstorming sessions, and Mr Snow and Matthew Biederman helped shape the idea of what was necessary. But we had no circuit. So I visited Pierre (one of the scientists here) and naively asked him if a series of relays might do the trick. Before I knew it, Pierre had sketched out a circuit on some paper and helped me source the parts. I built it, but it didn’t work… so, Pierre then troubleshot the circuit, which took a good 6 hours or so. I could mumble some agreements, and nod a few times, while Pierre whizzed through the possible causes for many problems we were having with the circuit. Finally, we had a circuit that works. It might look a little crazy, but it does the job.

So now, if the batteries fall below 6 volts, the computer is more than likely to be turned off. Then when the power rises, at 10 volts the circuit triggers some relays, one of which short circuits the on-button for half a second or so and the laptop starts. Pierre is now drawing the circuit diagram and tomorrow we will publish it if anyone wants to use such a thing.

Anyways, off to bed now, a big day tomorrow.

Antarctica – New Years Day 2007

I-TASC expedition 2006/2007

Happy New Years Day. Last night we had a party for New Years with everyone having a boogie and some had lots to drink while others took it easy. I took the later strategy and I am thankful not to have a hangover. It was a great party though and everyone had a great time. The PWD guys (they do the maintenance for the base) dressed up as if it was Carnival and did a street boogie with ringleader and limbo and were generally the life of the party.

Now there is a storm building up outside. The sky is as white as the land so all you can see are floating rocks which make up the Nunutaks. If you look at the rocks around the base, there is a wind-strewn fog running along the ground. It will probably be a small storm, running just for a day or two, with relatively low winds. Even so, as I look out the window now, this is what I would call a windy day in Wellington – the fog is moving at quite a pace and I can easily hear the sound of the wind from inside the noisy lab (and this is just the preliminary build up to the storm). I asked one of the experienced SANAE crew to check the antenna and apparently we mounted it fine. In the winter,¬†apparently, the whole base shakes to the storms. One of the over-wintering crew said that you can feel like you are in a boat in a swell. I don’t know if the pictures so far have given you an idea of the scale of the base, but suffice to say that it is massive and it’s difficult to believe this base would move at all. So the storms must be amazing. At times the crew felt the base was going over the hill, they always knew it would be OJ but the shaking was so fierce it freaked them out anyway. I also heard a story from Tom about one of the crews that helped build the base. They stayed in a container bolted to the rock and they had one storm where they knew the container was going to be blown away. Thankfully it didn’t happen.

We had an interesting discussion yesterday about the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) and art. Part of the installation is sculptural, it is a functioning AWS, but also deliberately a monolith. I had not previously understood that the AWS had this artistic sculptural component and I felt very uneasy about it, especially since the casing is larger (quite a bit larger) than necessary to fulfill its desired aesthetic.

For me, this is quite close to the heart of my questioning the role of art/culture here and our presence in Antarctica. It was a great discussion, and I especially appreciated some of Amanda’s comments. I will have to think about it more. There is a balance to be met somewhere, if there is to be a cultural presence here, then it must draw its own lines as to what is acceptable. Art in itself is not a justification for just doing anything that an artist desires. The base has a quite strict environmental policy and the Antarctic Treaty is also quite strict (I haven’t read it, I am taking this information from discussions with Tom who has read it). If anything is to be installed, it needs to have an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The AWS will probably pass this threshold (the Environmental Officer arrives on the 11th of Jan to do this and other evaluations). However, even if it does pass, I am not sure if I enjoy the idea of an overly large object being in the space if the justification is that it is sculptural. It’s a difficult question, as I understand the artistic motivations of the AWS project and I think it is good art, but is that enough?

I also enjoyed some of the points made about the fact that we live in this world and people should come to Antarctica, and culture has a place here etc. It was a position that was touted as being more realistic than my suggested idealism. I’m not sure I am an idealist. I am just a bit depressed about the damage that we have already done to the planet, but I take their points. Perhaps there could be a role for artists here, but that is ‘perhaps’ with a capital ‘P’. If this were to be the case, I think there need¬†to be some lines drawn. One of the advantages of having SANAE governed by the government¬†is that most governments are slow moving and conservative (I never thought I would see the day I thought that an advantage!). This brings quite a strict and procedural process to the activities here, which minimises the environmental impact. Everything done has to be evaluated, checked, and then checked again. Activities that are too dangerous or which do not conform to the environmental policies cannot take place. Having said that, there is, of course, inevitable leakage and some pragmatic bending of rules. It would be good for any group (such as I-TASC) to consider where their own lines are, and how these would be maintained. I don’t think artists should be given free reign to do as they wish, the environment here is just too important for that…

As for my own work, I am still working through my own position in this with regard to the work I am doing here. In the meantime, I am getting on with the chores at hand. This at times makes me feel like quite a hypocrite when I am exploring a line of thought which is sometimes against us being here. I have to acknowledge to myself that my thoughts are evolving daily and I feel I have not yet reached my final point on these issues. So I continue to work on the tasks required. It is difficult to do this at times and feel good about what I am doing, but I must give myself some time to reflect on all this and assist my colleagues at the same time. Yesterday, I did some work on the radio terminal, making some new serial cables to try and crack the mystery of why it’s not working. So far, nada. I should have gone and had more of a party instead but at least we have eliminated some possibilities. I think now I am going to write up everything I have tried, and Marko (in Slovenia) said he would contact the manufacturers and ask for their advice. They don’t get back from holidays until the 5th so in the meantime I will set up the radio station with First so it gets into a more regular schedule. Below is an announcement my colleague Honor (r a d i o q u a l i a) sent out yesterday.

In addition to this call,if anyone can send a full set of Debian CDs (Debian Testing) to the below address, that would be fantastic. We need it for the station and also there is one of the crew that has just done one full year here and will do his second full year to replace our colleague that was killed. He would very much appreciate these CDs as the ones he had sent with the boat are corrupted.

r a d i o q u a l i a call for content

r a d i o q u a l i a have just begun broadcasting a new FM radio 
station in Antarctica.

'Polar Radio' is Antarctica's first ever artist-run radio station. 
It transmitted its first programme on FM on 29 December 2006.

Polar Radio is part of a series of projects run by I-TASC - the 
Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation  

Please see the below announcement for more information about Polar Radio.

CALL FOR CONTENT - DEADLINE: 10 JANUARY 2007

Do you have a song, a message, or a sound that you want broadcast in 
Antarctica?

We are looking for your music, sound art, radio plays, radio 
documentaries, and any phonically interesting artifacts you have to 
broadcast on Antarctica first artist-run radio station.  There is a 
supply plane leaving for Antarctica from Cape Town on 11 January.  We 
plan to have a shipment of CDs sent on that supply plane.  We are now 
looking for CDs of:

- music of all different kinds
- radio art
- radio plays
- audio documentaries
- audio books
- archived news reports
- investigative journalism
- podcasts
- any other audio material you would like to have broadcast in Antarctica

If you have sonic material you want broadcast, please make a CD and send it to:

Siphiwe Ngwenya / I-TASC
c/- Pitch Black Productions
7 Prince Street
Gardens
Cape Town 8001
South Africa

The best formats to send are:
- audio CDs
- MP3 CDs

So send what you can ūüôā

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?

Comments
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 : adam@xs4all.nl

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.

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.

28dec-1

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.

28dec-2

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.

28dec-3

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.