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Ch-Ch-Chatting With the South Pole's IT Manager 120

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the its-getting-hot-in-here dept.
Have you ever thought about working at a place where the main worry is keeping the equipment from getting too cold? An excellent detailed interview with the IT manager of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Getting service is a little tough. They try to maintain at least a year's worth of spare parts. Includes an interesting set of photos.
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Ch-Ch-Chatting With the South Pole's IT Manager

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  • by Lurker2288 (995635) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:25PM (#21672975)
    watch Clark. And watch him close.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:28PM (#21673031)
    "My computer froze!"

  • 300 club? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by joeytmann (664434)
    Being in Minnesota, I am used to cold weather, but -104F! I wouldn't go out in that with clothes on, let alone naked.
    • It scares away the Old Ones.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by wwmedia (950346)
      he probably has (had?) BIG kohones [urbandictionary.com]
    • Re:300 club? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by arivanov (12034) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @03:46PM (#21675331) Homepage
      Actually, I have done it myself and have seen a large portion of my dad's collegues do it in Russia (with slightly lower temperature differences - +220-230F to -4F).

      After a "proper" sauna (not the modern IR shit) you have to quickly chill down. If you go into hot water or try to chill down slowly you feel like shit after that. Now, ice cold water or even snow is a completely different story. It is the ultimate refresher. One of my dad collegues had a sauna near Moscow and we went there nearly every weekend during the winter when I was a kid. Coming out of 110-120C+ into -25-30C, breaking the ice on the water bucket with your bum and throwing snowballs at each other (that is 240F difference so a bit less than on the south pole). Totally nuts. Especially if you do it after a 20-30km ski run.
      • 250 club here. It's the greatest. We used to do this every winter at a lake up on the Minnesota/Manitoba border. The sauna was right on the lake shore with a ramp running down to the water. Use a chain saw to cut a hole in the ice at the foot of the ramp. Sit in a 120 degree F sauna for a good long while. Run down the ramp and jump into the water. Get out in a -30 degree F ambient temperature. Crazy thing is that you can stand around outside for quite a while and be perfectly comfortable - with huge clouds
    • I believe he's lying about his nudity, as the top of a sock is clearly visible in this picture [computerworld.com].

      I learned a long time ago never to completely trust an IT Manager.

  • by ZeroFactorial (1025676) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:29PM (#21673059)
    When the machines get too cold, they install Microsoft products.

    Then Satan shows up and heats up the joint.
  • by Enlarged to Show Tex (911413) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:30PM (#21673083)
    It has to be much, much easier to overclock machines when you never have to worry about overheating. Who needs liquid cooling when you can have polar cooling?
    • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:40PM (#21673227)
      >It has to be much, much easier to overclock machines when you never have to worry about overheating.
      Two words: Global warming.

      And it's all their fault.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cromar (1103585)
      Imagine a beowulf cluster of polar cooled super computers!
    • by myvirtualid (851756) <pwwnow.gmail@com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:47PM (#21673357) Journal

      It has to be much, much easier to overclock machines when you never have to worry about overheating. Who needs liquid cooling when you can have polar cooling?

      Apparently not: The FA mentions that they are at 12,000 feet, so they have a real problem with computer fans not being able to move the thin air.

      Other effects of the thin air include laptop disks that don't spin properly, because they are built to float on a layer of air and are designed for near-sea-level densities. The air is also very dry, leading to increased risk of fires and disk failures caused by static.

      Fire is a huge problem in general, because in the winter they have no choice but to fight and extinguish. Relocation isn't an option. Very interesting article.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        Fire is a huge problem in general, because in the winter they have no choice but to fight and extinguish. Relocation isn't an option. Very interesting article.

        Which is why, back when the DoD provided uniformed support personell (they contract out to civilians mostly now) - a high proportion of them were Navy, and a large fraction of those were submariners. (Sailors went mostly to the South Pole station, McMurdo was virtually an Army base.)

        I wanted to go - but never applied because it was almost ce

  • Sounds awesome (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by schnikies79 (788746)
    I don't work in IT, but I would love to have a job at the south pole. Snow and cold any idea of hot weather. How people can stand heat I have no idea.

    I'm thinking about moving to Alaska after I pay down some of my student loans. I have some relatives that live there and they love it.
    • by MightyYar (622222)
      My wife and I are considering the Virgin Islands...

      d'frent strokes...
    • My brother lived in Alaska for 5 years. I went a visited twice during the summer. My god it was beautiful up there.
      • by jrp2 (458093)
        "My brother lived in Alaska for 5 years. I went a visited twice during the summer. My god it was beautiful up there."

        Living there, and visiting in the summer, are two very different things. Much of Alaska (south of the circle at least) is awesome 4-5 months a year, the other 7-8 take some serious fortitude. If the weather doesn't get you down (Anchorage and Juneu can be mild-ish), the short days probably will.
    • by COredneck (598733) *
      I actually thought of applying for jobs where I would some work related to the South Pole which includes going there. What not too many people know is the NY National Guard fly through Christchurch, New Zealand. Having been to NZ, I am interested in doing a job where I can go there several times each year, of course on the company dime instead of my own. I have been looking at the Raytheon Polar Services web site for positions.

      If you haven't been to NZ, once you been there, you don't want to leave.
    • by hitmark (640295)
      heh, i just hope you dont get easily depressed. those long winter months can take toll on the nerves...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        This AC is actually in the same office at NPX with the subject of TFA.

        I've only been here for a month, but I love it. It's weird. You must have a high tolerance for everything: extremes of temperature, people, daylight or lack thereof, variety of food or lack thereof, limited hardware and software choice, members of the opposite sex, etc.

        The new Amundsen-Scott South Pole Elevated Station is way cool for a geek. It's like an extraplanetary outpost. Yes, you can go outside whenever you want, but you also
      • Re:Sounds awesome (Score:4, Interesting)

        by rossifer (581396) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @05:18PM (#21676599) Journal
        If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Vitamin D (D3, 4000-10000IU/day) is your friend. SAD appears to be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency and supplementation of D3 (not D2, which is harmful in large quantities and ineffective in small quantities) can be very effective at resolving it.

        Vitamin D deficiency has been implicated in many other diseases of civilization and correcting the deficiency (getting the value above 60ng/ml) seems to help with lots of issues, from osteoporosis to low HDL levels to atherosclerosis to depression to cancer (reduces tumor growth rates).

        There are more than 200 kinds of vitamin D receptors in the body. It does an astonishingly large number of things, and most people who don't work outside are severely deficient. Working on the South Pole is the extreme of that case.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jotok (728554)
      McMurdo Station is always hiring. [usap.gov]

      Ask yourself what kind of stuff you want to tell your grandkids when you're old. Then sign up :P
      I'm dying to winter down there--just to say I've done it--heck, I'd apply for the janitor job if that's all that was available. They don't seem to have much need for security consultants :\
    • by mikael_j (106439)

      The thought of working at the south pole has crossed my mind a few times but every time I've done reseach it seems the main barrier to entry for me has been that I'm european and (at least in the past) most jobs had that lovely "You must be a US citizen to apply" line in the requirements...

      So I guess I'll take the chance and ask if anyone here who's not from the US has managed to make it to antarctica without getting a second degree and a PhD in something relevant and if so, how did you do it?

      /Mikael

  • by greg_barton (5551) * <{moc.oohay} {ta} {notrab_gerg}> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:32PM (#21673107) Homepage Journal
    A high school buddy of mine went to the south pole a couple of years ago. Here's his blog. [blogspot.com]
  • CDW (Score:5, Funny)

    by Verteiron (224042) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:33PM (#21673117) Homepage
    I click the link, and the first image is of a very cold-looking guy standing next to the South Pole marker. Underneath it is a CDW ad that states "We're there.".

    That may be the first time I've cracked a smile at an online ad.
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      That may be the first time I've cracked a smile at an online ad.
      Personally, I launch into hysterics whenever I'm invited to "punch the monkey".
  • Did anyone else read this as "ch-ch-chatting with south park's IT manager"?
  • There's me thinking the 'nsfw' tag on this article was just the /. crown trying to piss-off the guys who were trying to patent 'nsfw' [slashdot.org]. God, how wrong I was.
    • Re:NSFW (Score:5, Funny)

      by garcia (6573) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:41PM (#21673247) Homepage
      Well, I'm not sure how a smiley face [computerworld.com] is NSFW but whatever.

      Personally, being that it was a balmy +5F outside this morning on my walk in from the car, I was seriously considering making my dreams come true and showing up in a school completely naked -- well, except for the yellow smiley face hovering over my dick.
  • While I suppose it is a little offtopic, I noticed in the first picture that the elevation of the south pole is greater than 9,000 feet. I never knew that, and it really highlights the crappy conditions that must exist there. Even at 10,000 feet your body does funny things adjusting to altitude (source [springerlink.com]).
    • I know, when I think of the South Pole, I imagine a flat expanse of ice and snow only a few hundred feet above sea level. Apparently, the guy in TFA says they're at 12,000 feet.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by lowder (194305)
      That's right, and in fact the pressure is slightly lower than it is at the same altitude closer to the equator (latitude less than 30 deg.), because the earth's rotation pulls some air away from the poles and towards the equator. So even though the Pole is at 9900 feet, the pressure is equivalent to an altitude of 10600 feet near the equator.

      I worked there for a couple of Antarctic summers, one month each time. It definitely takes a couple of days to get adjusted. And there are always a few people who CA
      • That's right, and in fact the pressure is slightly lower than it is at the same altitude closer to the equator (latitude less than 30 deg.), because the earth's rotation pulls some air away from the poles and towards the equator. So even though the Pole is at 9900 feet, the pressure is equivalent to an altitude of 10600 feet near the equator.

        But while the air pressure is lower, the density of oxygen in terms of moles/liter might actually be higher. Considering that the air there can get as low as 100C be

  • The antenna looks like it came from the battle of hoth!! Sweet!
    • Speaking of the antenna I had to read the caption twice. I was under the impression that geostationary satellites were below the horizon. On the re-read, I caught the fact that it is geosynchronous. That explains the platform and the stuff stored on one side of it. The dish tracks a satellite that rises, passes overhead and then sets on the other side and reaching the horizon almost at the same place from where it rose. The track is the same everyday so tracking can be a simple programmed pass. (Polar
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @01:53PM (#21673427) Journal
    worst virus - W32/Snow.a http://vil.nai.com/vil/content/v_138727.htm [nai.com]
    Security software - BlackIce
    Snow license Manager
    Snow screen savers
  • Too cold ? (Score:3, Funny)

    by this great guy (922511) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:09PM (#21673671)

    Have you ever thought about working at a place where the main worry is keeping the equipment from getting too cold?

    Isn't that a perfect situation to make use of Netburst-based Pentium 4 processors ?

    • I saw in one caption that they vent the server/backup room directly to the outside so keeping it cool is not a problem. However my question is why not use the server farm as a heater for the rest of the hab? Even if you have to vent when the room reaches 60 F (the temp we aim for at my work place) any extra heat would help keep fuel consumption lower in a place where everything has to be flown in.
      • by noahisaac (956470)

        However my question is why not use the server farm as a heater for the rest of the hab?
        He mentions in the interview that they do use the heat from the datacenter to heat other areas of the station.
  • by sootman (158191) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:14PM (#21673781) Homepage Journal
    All those pics are upside-down! :-)
  • ...was a little underwhelming, looks like it was done a pen plotter although it does convey a certain 70's scientific vibe. Also, where are the iceweasel/icedove/firefox/icewm jokes?
  • This site (www.bigdeadplace.com/) is dedicated to the stories of what really goes on at McMurdo. It's a very funny read; I haven't gotten around to buying the book yet.
  • At 80 degrees north in Eureka, Nunavut, Canada, you would need to point an antenna horizontally to communicate with a geostationary satellite.
    There's a photo of an satellite dish antenna pointing horizontally at the south pole. Is communication with that satellite only possible during certain times of the day?
  • Denver (Score:5, Informative)

    by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @02:34PM (#21674189) Journal
    The reason the guy keeps referring to his people back in Denver is because logistics and support for the South Pole station (and McMurdo, too, I think) are run by Raytheon Polar Services [raytheon.com], which is based in Colorado. The Antarctic program [usap.gov] is run out of Washington by the National Science Foundation, but they contract out the actual infrastructure, operations, and other support.
  • How'd they get pictures of my parents basement where I live? Oh wait, pictures of Antarctica, never mind. Still cold in both places though.
  • ping mcmurdo.gov
    ping: unknown host mcmurdo.gov


    What happened? Their ice foundation melted already? Roving gangs of starving polar bears finally cracked their nut? Some kind of cosmic driveby [imdb.com] took them down? Or maybe the South Pole Station IT department repair to McMurdo's WAN is just glacially slow...
    • What happened? Their ice foundation melted already? Roving gangs of starving polar bears finally cracked their nut? Some kind of cosmic driveby took them down? Or maybe the South Pole Station IT department repair to McMurdo's WAN is just glacially slow...

      Nothing so exciting; router's just frozen.

    • Their ice foundation melted already?

      Most buildings in the Antarctic are built on foundations which can be raised over time to compensate for both the sinking of the buildings into the ice (due to heat) and the covering of the buildings by snow and ice.

      Roving gangs of starving polar bears finally cracked their nut?

      Polar bears only exist in the Arctic. Penguins exist mainly in the Antarctic with a few that have evolved to live off the southern coast of South Africa.

      Please hand in your geek c

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        Yeah, what about Alien vs Predator!?! I guess you're implying that's the only logical explanation.

        OTOH, "The vast majority of people are idiots. The problem is they're too stupid to realize it."
  • Why do photo's 1 and 7 both have signs that say "Geographic South Pole", when in the background of one photo is nothing but snow and in the background of the other there is a big building. Can't there only be one geographic South Pole? Both photos have pole markers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zenaku (821866)
      Because Antarctica is covered by a giant ice sheet, and the ice sheet moves. As the ice sheet moves, the entire station and the marker pole drift away from the true geographic south pole. They have to stick a new pole into the ice every year, at the spot that is over the geographic south pole at that moment.

      So in the pictures, one of the marker poles is probably from a previous year.
    • Re:South Poles (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Deep Penguin (73203) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @04:11PM (#21675619) Homepage Journal
      There is only one Geographic South Pole, but the sign now has the legend on both sides. One side faces the station, the other side faces away, with a view of, essentially, the polar plateau in the general direction of the departure-end of the skiway.

      Also, from looking at the Pole markers in each picture (we get a new one every January), it looks to me as if the #1 shot was taken in either March, 2004 (around sunset) or September, 2004 (around sunrise), and the #7 shot was taken this summer season, sometime since mid-October, 2007. If the #7 picture were high enough resolution, you could see my signature on the aluminum plate on the Pole itself.

    • by gsmalleus (886346)
      After Googling around for the past half hour (what else am I going to do at work) I found that South pole moves around 32 feet per year.
  • I shared this interview with the 7th graders in my computer lab today as an example of an IT career. They thought it was cool (pun intended) see, they are already geeks....
  • When I first saw it, I thought it said "linuxpenguingohome".

  • Well, I don't know but the story sound similar to a friend of mine. But he moved to Hawai instead, which I think is a choice I would also vastly prefer.

    Still I must say; He definately has a cool job. ;-)
    • by aksenkto! (997298)
      ...except in Antarctica competition for the same job is definitely a hundred times less than in Hawai'i.

  • I'm not exactly sure when Chris' tour is up, but I'm sure I'll hear about it, since he and I live in the same town. He and my brother both served on the student volunteer force [afde3.com] in Amherst, MA, and that's what he's doing up there now-- fighting fires. Well, he would be anyway, if there were any. Chris seemed hell-bent on doing something crazy after college, and I remember him asking me a million questions about hiking the AT, but I guess he opted for something way crazier!
  • "In the past year we put up a really cool system"

    "Liquid water is such a hot commodity"
  • "Hard drives also have a problem with the high altitude. Most hard drive heads float on a cushion of air above the platter. We have fewer air molecules for hard drives to float on so we have more hard drive crashes than anywhere else."

    Dont they make hermetically sealed hard drives anymore?

    • Hermetic seals tend to fail, and when the breathing starts moisture wicks in, condenses, and does not leave. You end up with an enclosure full of water. Hard drives have always been made with breather elements that filter out dust but allow the internal atmosphere to reach equilibrium with the atmosphere outside the HD.
  • Damn, I thought you were talking about the hip-hop clothing company "South Pole". Too bad the ch-ch-chatting isn't scra-scra-scratching. Interesting article anyway. Can I still get some swag?
  • I misread the headline as "Ch-Ch-Chatting with South PARK's IT Manager", and I thought "If the IT manager has crutches and a speech impediment, this is the greatest headline ever."
  • A fellow slashdotter [slashdot.org] has an absolutely fantastic collection [slashdot.org] of stories from his time working in Antarctica, primarily at Dumont D'Urville and Concordia Station (which is actually quite a bit more isolated, and colder than the south pole itself).

    It's filled with plenty of nerdy anecdotes, including the difficulties of running laptops in Antarctica (hint: don't bother), and a few jury-rigged experiments that would make MacGyver proud.

    If you have a good bit of time to kill, I strongly recommend reading throug
  • After living and working in Alaska for a number of years, I think I could handle it. Eventually I'll have lived and worked on all seven continents ... now if only I could get that Antarctic job down I'd be set. I have a feeling that those positions are few, and difficult to come by.
  • If you like the article above, you'll get a *lot* more nerdy info from a mate of mine who runs IT for a big project at the south pole:

    http://antarctica.kulgun.net/blog/ [kulgun.net]

    For example this post on communications at the pole - very readable.

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