Sunday, June 29, 2014


This week in pole is food. During the winter, there are three cooks, one for each meal. A typical menu is shown below.

A lot of the options are very 'meat and potatoes' american, but occasionally we get chinese or indian food. Every Friday is steak night, every wednesday is burgers for lunch, and Saturdays rotate between Pasta and Pizza. This Saturday is an exception because the thee workers in the Vehicle Maintenance Facility are throwing a July 4th BBQ. The breakfast meal is a random main dish (such as breakfast burritos or breakfast pizzas) and some stables like hash or hash browns. Smoothies and bacon are available almost every day, and eggs, omelets, or pancakes can be made to order. Despite all of this breakfast goodness, it is the least attended meal. 

Overall, the quality of food is excellent - when it costs so much fuel-wise per pound to fly food down here, it isn't that much more expensive to pay for good food stock. 

Sundays no meals are cooked because that is everyone's day off. So people either have to eat out of the leftover fridge or rely on one of the many snack options, the most important being the bottomless cookie bin. 

They aren't always fresh, but they are always there. 

Another important snacking option

Unlimited coffee and tea (the good kind)

If all of those options are insufficient, anyone can raid under the galley counter for cookies, crackers, and ramen. These are commonly brought to work sites or to people's rooms for anytime snackability.

As you can see, it is easy to eat a completely unhealthy american diet at the South Pole all year round. Although those that plan to return might want to avoid bacon every morning or they might not pass their next physical. Overall, the food variety is good. This is partially dependent on the creativity of the cooks, but ours are all good, especially as long as they continue to throw Tikka Masala and Naan into the mix every so often. 

Other crumbs:

  • Vegetarian options are available for every meal
  • Breakfast 6-7:30, Lunch 11:30-1, and Dinner 5-6:30
  • People can cook their own meals during off hours, but few do
  • People will odd or night shifts can requests the kitchen to save them plates
  • No fresh fruit, but the kitchen does make use of the veggies from the greenhouse
Next Week in Pole: Why is there a cyanide kit in Medical?

Sunday, June 22, 2014


This week mid-winter officially arrived with the solstice. Mid-winter's Day is an official antarctic holiday, and one that warrants another banquet, similar to the one for Sunset Dinner (the next one is Sunrise dinner). So the table cloths and candles again adorned the galley and all but the 10 most recluse of us dined together with a special meal prepared by the cooks. 

Mid-Winter's Day is celebrated around the entire continent, and we sent/received greetings from all the other stations on the continent. Inexplicably, we received greetings from MacQuarie Island, Amsterdam Island, and Crozet Island - which on the map aren't even part of antarctica. Vostok of course, gave us no winter's greeting at all. Regardless, the station greetings we did receive were put up next to map of the continent in the galley, allowing us to glimpse the staff and station designs around the continent. 

Mid-Winter's dinner was followed by our winter open-mic night (available here and here). Mid-Winter is also the time where people start to get more edgy from the isolation and having to see the same people day after day. Inevitably, certain people don't get along and cliques start to form. However, spirits for our crew certainly seem better than some of the stories from previous winters. Reading also helps. 

 Other tidbits:
  • Mid-Winter dinner was a choice of beef filet, lobster ravioli, or the veggie option (plus lots of wine)
  • NSF inexplicably sent down boxes of presents to be opened mid-winter, which included star wars/star trek snap-tite models, chocolate, and socks stuffed with body oil and chapstik. 
  • The night before we completed another midwinter tradition by watching The Shining in the gym. 
Next Week in Pole: Five ways to make the most of your NSF/ASC gifted body oil and socks. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Skynet and Interwebs

I receive lots of questions about internet access at the South Pole. We receive intermittent internet access via three satellites: GOES, Skynet, and TDRSS. These satellites are all in geosynchronous inclined orbits. We can only receive and transmit data when they are in our line of sight. The satellite passes are displayed on one of our south pole intranet webpages. A sample from 7 PM to 4 AM is below.

After 4 AM, there is no internet until about 11 AM, when Skynet comes on. Because the satellites are in geosynchronous orbits, the start/end times of the passes move forward by four minutes each day.

The fastest of the satellites we use is TDRSS (SPTR), which can be used to ssh, VPN, etc. Skynet and Goes are much slower, and are only really good for checking email (using gmail's basic html option) and some news sites.

Because I use ssh/VPN for some research, I shifted to a night schedule to coincide with the SPTR passes. As a plus, I get to see even less people around.

Each of the satellites has it's own dome, containing a dish that receives/transmits data (two shown above, from back when there was still twilight). They are about a 10-15 minute walk from the station. We have two satellite engineers wintering over that ensure the satellites are kept running and continue to deliver the internet to the station. More important than access to Facebook, is the transmission of the science data. SPT transmits ~50 GB of data each day, and IceCube transmits even more. As for personal internet usage, it is closely monitored by the hive-minds in Denver, and certain websites or transmission types are completely blocked.

When the satellites are offline, phone calls can be made using our Iridium satellite uplink, and email messages < 50 KB can be received. This is limited to work email/phone.

Other Notes:
  • Forget youtube, netflix, or any other form of video streaming
  • BitTorrent is (understandably) completely blocked, and downloading anything takes a long time

Next Week in Pole: A midwinter guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Station Store

This week in Pole: the station store. For the most part, everything here is provided for. The few extra necessities / perks can be obtained from the station store. 

Cash only

The station store is the one place cash is needed on station. It is open three days a week for an hour in the evening and 15 minutes in the morning (for the night shift workers), and run by someone who takes it on as an extra job assignment. The only necessity provided by the store is toiletries, although this year, because of some mixup during the summer, the store ran out of floss a couple months into the winter. I guess, every year the station runs out of something, and this year, it is floss. In addition to toiletries, you can also purchase souvenirs, and a few food items not available in the galley (like candy and soda), but by far the most popular offering provided by the store is alcohol. 

The leading cause of frostbite

To prevent alcoholism, store patrons are limited to two beer/wine purchases per day that the store is open, and one bottle of liquor per week (liquor is only available for purchase on Saturdays). The selection is quite reasonable, and you can purchase a $6 six-pack of Fat Tire, a $12-15 bottle of wine, or $25-40 bottle of whiskey. The best deal is the handle of Skyy Vodka for $8. 

Happy Customer

Other observations:
  • One of the few remaining places where a can of soda still costs 50 cents
  • Most people on station now wear some form of south pole swag on a regular basis
  • During the summer, the store doubles as the post office
  • Yes, that is Avery and Dale's Pale Ale in that photo - we have a good beer selection

Next week in pole: What to do when a penguin wanders onto station.