south pole

Welcome


Welcome to my journal! Please feel free to post comments or add me to your friends list!

I have pretty much stopped adding people to my Friends List since I got down to Antarctica. I simply don't have the time to keep up with existing people on my FL. But that doesn't mean you can't add me. Please go right ahead!

I will be working at McMurdo Station, on Ross Island in Antarctica from 9/08-10/09 and 1/10-9/10.




Click for McMurdo, Antarctica Forecast





How to send me mail in Antarctica
How I got this job


web tracker
south pole

My favorite travel apps

I recently helped a friend pick out a new smart phone for traveling (Motorola Moto G 3rd gen -- highly recommended) and he was asking what apps I use when I travel. I compiled a list for him and thought I would put it out into the world in case others are curious. All of these apps have been tested by me on the road and have been found to be useful. Everyone is free and for Android phones.

XE Currency -- A free ap by one of the most popular foreign currency exchanges. Allows you to monitor multiple currencies and instantly convert amounts at the most recent bank rate to a currency of your choosing. I use this multiple times a day when traveling. I normally have the currency selected for whatever country I am in and then additional currencies I like to monitor (USD, EU, NZD).

Maps.ME -- A free map program with GPS routing that doesn't require a data connection. You need to select the country/city you will be visiting in advance and download those specific maps. The maps are open source, free and can be quite detailed with restaurants, gas stations, places of interest etc. Depending upon how large a city or country is the download size can be quite large -- up to 400MB (although the entire country of Tajikistan is like 13 mb). The trip routing is extremely useful and it will give you step-by-step directions by vehicle. However there is no audio component so you need to be careful when driving as you will have to look at the screen to follow the directions. This ap tends to suck up your battery if you let it run in the background so always exit out when you are not using it. If using it in a car for directions than make sure you phone is plugged into a charger.

Google Maps -- My go to map of choice whenever I have a data connection. Has street level details and gives great directions for a variety of modes of transport. However you need to have a data connection to take advantage of all of the features (including directions). It is possible to save certain parts of the map for offline use by bringing the section you want to save up on the screen and then typing OK MAPS in the lookup field. This only works in certain parts of the world. For some reason the save feature is blocked in certain countries (Russia. I think Japan etc)

ConvertPad – A simple measurement convertor for metricphobic Americans. It has an exhaustive list of things to convert to and from. Pretty simple to use but I reccomend going through and removing some of the measurements that you don’t care about to cut down on clutter. For example, the only temperature values I use are C or F.

WorldTime -- Basic clock that lets you display multiple time zones on one screen. Great for people who keep in touch with friends and family around the globe and need to always know the time at their locations.

Flashlight -- Allows you to use your phone's camera flash as a flashlight. Great for exiting hostel dorms late at night or exploring caves/crypts.

Translate -- A freebie by Google, this ap is extremely helpful when you find yourself in a country that doesn't share your love of english. It offers a variety of features when you have a data connection: scan and translate written text, speech recognition, voice playback and basic word lookup for almost every language in the world. Without a data connection it is useless unless you have downloaded the appropriate language pack -- so plan ahead. If you are interested in a langauge that doesn't use the roman alphabet (such as cyrllic) then you will need to adjust your keyboard settings (I use Cyrllic On Demand for traveling in Russian speaking countries)

Colornote -- I wanted a simple ap that allowed me to type in quick notes when walking down the street or sitting in a cafe. I didn't want any bells and whistles or extra features and this delivers flawlessly. My one complaint is that it doesn't automatically backup notes to my google drive account.

ES File Explorer -- Not necessarily a travel specific ap but useful for maintaining the file directory on your phone. I use it a lot to backup pictures on my phone (I have an adaptor cable to allows me to plug in SD cards or USB sticks).

Kayak -- This needs no explanation. My favorite travel site for flights in convenient ap form.

AP MObile -- A news aggregator from the Associated Press. when you have an internet connection it constantly updates a varirty of topics with the most current news. Great way for staying up to date while traveling.

SumRando -- A free VPN that can allow you to access Facebook or other blocked sites when using the internet in countries that have internet restrictions. I used this, along with OpenVPN, when I was in Iran but it may no longer work.

Tripadvisor -- Probably the best overall travel ap out there. It has all of the features of the website in convenient to use ap form. If you have a data connection it will show you all of the nearby restaurants/hotels etc for an area with reviews. For many cities you are able to download this information for offline use. The more popular cities have free guides that you are able to download that aside from all of the restaurants and hotels includes most of the tourist sites to visit (such as museums etc). A map is also included. As you review all of this you can save the ones you like and then they all appear as stars on a map which I find helps with day to day sightseeing as you are able to quickly see what is in the neighborhood you are visiting.

CamScanner -- A good office program for scanning documents and saving them as PDFs. I use this for sending back deployment documents for work. It uses your phones camera to take a picture of each page you need to "scan" and then collects them all in a PDF file.

White Noise Free -- A white noise generator that also has some nature sounds. Great for drowning out snorers in a hostel dorm.

Tinder -- Could be useful for meeting people in a new city. I haven't had any luck. It is fun for virtual people watching and it is interesting to see the way photos change in different cultures.

Weather Underground -- My weather ap of choice. It can install a small widget that displays the current temperature on the main menu screen of the phone. You can load the ap to find out extended forecasts for your current location as well as other locations of your choosing.

Capitaine Train -- For some reason it is very difficult for Americans to buy train tickets in France online -- you have to use an American based company that charges a large commission. This ap allows you to buy directly from the French rail company and not pay the commision. It also is great for checking out train schedules and monitoring your upcoming trips. I used it once to buy tickets but didn't end up taking the train so I don't know if the tickets were actually purchased! :) This also works for countries neighboring France. Requires a data connection.

Skype -- Don't need to explain this. One thing I like about using Skype is that there is no charge to make a voice call to the US if you are dialing a toll free number. I find that I have to call my banks at least once when I am traveling and since they all have 800 #s there is never any charge. Plus I rarely buy local SIM cards so skype is the only phoning capability I have.

GPS Coordinates -- Simple program that displays your current GPS coordinates and elevation.

Ankidroid -- I just started using this program and already feel it is going to be good. It is a flash card program that helps you memorize any type of data you are interested in. For traveling it is useful to load up a "deck" of flash cards with key words for the country you are in. Whenever you have a few free minutes just load it up and work on memorizing words. Supports audio and pictures as well. It is scientifically designed to help you remember data by re-displaying items you arent sure of more frequently then it displays items you are confident of.

I am still trying to find a good, simple, android ap for budget/expense tracking. The only decent one I have found (TrailWallet) is only for iOs.
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Victory Monument

I watched as a group of 5 young Indian males entered the tall, phallic shaped, Victory monument within the walls of the Chittor fort. Standing over 9 stories tall you can climb to the top of the monument, up an internal series of narrow and winding stairs. After waiting a few minutes, to give the group in front of me a chance to do their thing away from me I took off my shoes, showed my ticket to the guard and with an admonishment to "mind my head" I entered and climbed.

The monument itself is exquisite. All the walls are filled with carvings and statues. Presumably it was built to commemorate some battle or something. I have no idea. There was a plaque but I forget the details. I also have no idea what any of the carvings meant. I knew they looked pretty, as I looked at them with my head stooped over, glancing, while walking, my eyes darting to the ground in front to the wall on the side. And using the same criteria I use when I am in art museum, I knew I could never produce something similar so was impressed.


It's a tight squeeze as you make your way up. The stairs were not designed for tour groups and it all gets a bit claustrophobic at times. But it is atmospheric. The only light is what comes through the scattered windows. I had a feeling that this what what it must have been like to climb the Washington Monument when that was allowed. Minus the hindu inscriptions, of course.

A few minutes in, and only a few stories high, I came across the group of 5 males on a staircase. They were bounding down it, leaping the last few steps with a nervous laughter. Something had spooked them. Noting this and figuring they were afraid of the dark or just playing with each other I pushed past and made my way up the stairs to the next level.

With the low ceiling and the dark passage I climbed the stairs ladder style. Hands on the step in front of me and my feet tentatively looking for purchase below me. Ever cautious about rolling an ankle or falling down the stairs I moved slowly, hunched, so that when I came to the next landing I wasn't in the best position. As the ceiling grew I started to stand up, facing a large window, with some loosely spaced bars, only a feet from where I was. There in the window stood a giant macaque monkey.

It glared at me. It's barred teeth daring me to attempt to pass by him. I did some math in my head and quickly came to the conclusion that the bars in the window would be insufficient to keep it from grasping me. Looking both ways down the corridor I realized there was no way I could continue with out passing very close to the monkey.

There are thoughts that run through your head at a moment like this, ranging from pride to practicalism. A part of you thinks this is ridiculous, you are the dominate primate. No way should you allow a silly little monkey to affect your plans. But then you start to think about bites, and the availability of clean water to clear out the wound for 15 minutes. And then you wonder what the medical options are in this quaint, small, town you are visiting. And do you really want to work a rabies vaccination cycle into your itinerary. And so as those thoughts rage in your head you find yourself downgrading your expectations. You tell yourself, "maybe you don't need to walk all the way to the top of the monument, maybe half way is fine. Besides it's just a view up there. You have seen views before".

While I make these mental calculations, carrying the remainders, adding in decimals, wondering which direction to round, the monkey, which has shown no sign of moving, stares at me one more time and shows it's teeth. It's big, white teeth. In my head they are glistening, a mixture of saliva and tourist blood dripping off them. I do the only sensible thing and retreat down the steps to the previous level.

The 5 Indians are there when I get down. One of them looks at me and with a questioning smile asks "Monkey?". And I swallow my pride, look him in the eye mumble something about big teeth and push past. I linger for a bit, admiring the carvings, wondering what I am missing on the higher levels. Wondering if the monkey is still there.

The Indians saunter over to me and ask if I will pose for pictures with them. One by one they all sidle up next to me as their friends snap the pictures. We don't talk about the monkey. I wonder, briefly, if when they show these pictures to friends and family if it will start with "and this is the foreigner who was scared of a monkey". I wonder if the retelling will also include their large group bounding down the stairs, equally afraid of the monkey.

After pictures there is an awkward moment as we all stand around. You can tell we are all lingering to see if the monkey will leave. You can tell we are all waiting for the other person to check it out. Eventually we run out of carvings and one of the Indians cautiously goes up the steps. He returns a few seconds later with good news "No monkey"

We all moved up. A hollow victory.
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Into the Thar desert

We drove 40 minutes north of Jaisalmer. The sandstone city turned to scrubgrass turned to dirt turned to sand turned to a nothinginess broken only by the black strip of asphalt we were traveling down. Our driver came to a stop and myself and the group of too young german tourists chance threw together with me exited the vehicle, to the waiting hoofs of camels and a night under the stars.

There was no ceremony. No instructions, no tutorial of how to ride the camels, how to sit on the camels or how to keep yourself from falling off. Our driver waved goodbye, promising to see us in the morning and we were left with the camels and a guide whose name I never caught. I was assigned a camel, an indifferent beast who would just esaily carry a basket of rocks as it would me. At the sound of the guide the camel rose up off the ground, it's legs bending unnaturelyt, it's body first leaning far forward then leaning far back. Grasping for a handhold and leaning back as far as I could I was almost thrown immediately, before we had even moved a foot.

Camel riding didn't come naturaly to me. After 4 hours of it I feel myself expert enough to announce that I will never be an accomplished camel rider. Never shall I grace the polo fields or gallop proudly through the desert, living through some Arabian Nights fantasy while screaming "Indy!". I felt a certain sense of akwardness being so high off the ground and feared with each step being thrown off or losing my balance. It's a long way to the ground from the top of a camel.

We moved on, away from the road, away from cars, from traffic and headed into the desert. Our small caravan of 5 camels traveled for almost two hours, at a leisurely pace, a walking pace. My camel soon fell far behind from the others -- our caravan was in danger of falling apart and I would be easy prey for Pakastani marauders. It was a lazy camel, refusing to be led to be forced at a speed faster than it wanted to go. Occasionally, in frustration my guide would tell me to kick it and and I would and for a minute or so we would go a bit faster. Perhaps even galloping before I would have to call it all off, the bouncing becoming a bit too much for my nerves and the wodden saddle being a bit too much for my backside.

Eventually we made our way to some massive sand dunes and set up a simple campsite in the hollow. The guide set to work prepping our dinner and I set to work watching the sky change, watching the sun set, the sky turn pink, then orange, then black. One by one, then ten by ten, then thousand by thousands the stars came out and I found myself feeling like I was cheating on Antarctica, for I haven't seen so many stars since my Antarctic winters. Some fell, some shot, some twinkled and in the darkness we ate a simple dinner before making our beds under the nighttime sky of the Thar desert.

I'd like to say that my last thought before falling into a blissful sleep was of wonder at my life, of the things that have took me to this moment but that would be lie. My sleep wasn't blissful and my thoughts would turn alternately from the cold wind blowing over us and a rememberance of all the dung beetles I had seen scurrying around the desert. Sleep came, and then it didn't and then it did again and so it went.

Morning announced itself with a cool breeze and a hint of color in the eastern sky. The evening before reversed itself, camp was struck, the camels were loaded and relucantly I climbed aboard my beast for the 2 hour trot back to our pickup point. Unlike the day before I was already sore. Each footfall hurt. Each stumble traveled up the camel leg and directly into my ass. When we finally came to the end and the camel knelt down for me to get off I was barely able to walk. Almost two days later and I am still a bit sore. But getting better.

Glad I checked that experience off the list but will never go on a camel again. I feel sorry for the folks that signup for the 3, 7 or 30 day camel treks. Masochists all!
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not as I planned

My arrival was not really as I expected it to be. Rather it was all uneventful -- there were no lines for immigration, the flight was short, the airport was tame. From what I had read I expected walking out of the secure area of the Delhi airport to be akin to jumping into a maelstrom. I saw hoards of taxidrivers, with rupee signs in their eyes extending claw like hands, ready to fleece the latest foreigners fresh off the plane. But there was none of that.

Instead I just found the guy from my hotel, with my name on a sign and he walked me to his car. 45 minutes later I was checking in and hurrying off to bed, fearful of what my body was starting to tell me.

I have been sick off an on since leaving the ice about a week ago. I had a fever for the two days I was in Sydney but it cleared when I got to Bangkok. About midway through my stay in BKK though I had some ice in my soda at a KFC (foolish, I know) and it was all down hill from there.

I arrived in Delhi already with a case of Delhi belly! And so I have spent the past 3 days in bed, battling a fever that ranged from minor to rather high while spending some quality time in the bathroom (conveniently only 4 ft from my bed).

I am better now, I think. Or at least I am getting better. My fever has subsided, my stomach is starting to settle but this extra time in Delhi has caused some problems with my initial itinerary. I have had to postpone visiting the Taj Mahal for a month which is sad. On the day I was supposed to be watching the sunrise at the TM I was lying in bed watching The Majestic on TV. A good movie but no TM.

My encounters with "india" have been so limited so far, I have walked along 2 roads and one alley. I have eaten exclusively at one restaurant, shopped at two convenience stalls so I hate to make generalizations but... I like it so far. I love the smells, the incense mixing with burning trash, the stray dogs lounging in the street, the outrageous displays of color and shades on the people, watching minor traffic jams develop on streets too narrow when a bicycle rickshaw stops to unload his passengers, oblivious to what is behind him (though I could do with out the cacophony of horns).

So.... not how I planned my first week to be. But, it is what it is. Tomorrow I am off to Jaipur for 2 nights.
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Bangkok, for a moment

For a city I have never expressed any interest in visiting I find myself in Bangkok for the second time in my life. Funny how that works out. I still don't have any interest in visiting it though it has been nice for what I needed: a cheap place to stay for a few days, some shopping venues and all of the western chain restaurants I can eat my way through. My last morning I am chilling in the hotel restaurant biding my time before I need to leave to the airport. I had an itineray planned out for this morning, a walking visit to temples and buddhas but I can't be bothered.

I really shouldn't beat up on Bangkok but for some reason it has never appealed. It is as if every travel cliche that has ever been written or noted can be footnoted to Bangkok, to Thailand. All of the suspects are here: the drunk spring breaker, the pretty young girl who spends entirely too much time making herself up, the gracelessly aging hippie or the dazed over look of one seeking enlightenment but finding only neon.

I won't say any of that is a terribly bad thing. It's just a wearying thing. I am too jaded, too old a backpacker to feign excitement over questions of "where are you from" or "what do you do". I have become my own cliche, of course.

This visit has been a layover, a 4 day break in my journey to India which commences tonight. India snuck up on me. Up until just a few months ago I had told myself I had no interest in visiting, in dealing with the hassles. My assumption that India is a place you enjoy after the fact, after you have survived the daily onslaughts seemed born out the more and more I spoke to people who had been.

But then I found myself booking a ticket, planning a route, setting aside 2 months to make my way through this massive, intimidating and overwhelming country. I enter with a belief that I am going into battle and maybe that is the wrong frame of mind. But I am expecting the worst and hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the reality. Or I will spend the next 2 months dodging touts as I race to the nearest toilet. We shall see....India will be good for me, I think.

Don't know if I will be regularly on LJ but I have been missing the venue to write, to put words to a screen. I also have some other adventures planned:

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And, sweet jesus, when did the backpackers get so young?
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a shameless plug....

A friend of mine has spent the past 10 years developing and creating a movie about living and working at McMurdo/Antarctica. It's a full length documentary with some stunning photography and lots of footage of Antarctica during the winter, a season that isn't often depicted in films.

He is looking for funding help and has setup a website, along with a trailer, here:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/antz/antarctica-a-year-on-ice-documentary-feature-film

Please check it out. The trailer is pretty cool. The voice over at the end is a friend of mine who I have worked with for the past 4 years. If you can spare some money I invite you to check out the variety of funding options he has in place.

Please feel free to share this link wide and far!

Plus I have a bit role in it! :)
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what remains

We lost the sun a few weeks ago. It did its little bow, winked as it passed to do it's snowbird thing. It's return is expected in August. We hope. But we still have some light in the sky, some brilliant hours of twilight and if you happen to be in the right spot and the conditions are just right this lighting is what fantasies are made of. You can get lost in the colors, in the shades, in the blue that starts with the ice and ends in the sky.

I spent a few hours outside yesterday taking some pictures. The conditions were perfect: clear skies, a bright moon, positive F temps and little wind. What follows are some of the highlights. With the exception of the moon picture these are all HDR photos, built from a 5 photo sequence.

This might be the best photo I have ever taken:
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aurora australis

I have enjoyed viewing the Aurora Australis for the past few years but something I have never been able to do is photograph it. My camera has never been powerful enough to capture the spectral lights. Until this year.... Thanks in part to a new camera, but mainly thanks to installing CHDK (this program is amazing and has added so many capabilities to my standard P&S) on my new camera last night I was able to capture my first photograph of the aurora. I am very excited about this and look forward to tweaking my settings as the season progresses. It was also a pretty amazing aurora. I had been outside for about 30 minutes taking pictures of stars when my batteries died. I was about to head back inside when I noticed the faintest glimmer of an aurora starting to form. I ran inside, swapped out my batteries and went back outside. And waited. Sure enough the beginnings I had seen started to grow and grow and grow. Eventually a river of light was flooding it's way from horizon to horizon. It moved, it danced, it twinkled. It lit up the sky with an eerie green that I have come to love.

These were shot with a 62 sec exposure and at 100ISO.


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final sunrise/sunset

Two days ago we had the final sunrise/sunset of the season. The sun will next rise on August 19th and the intervening months darkness will rule the land. We drove out on to the ice shelf, to the wreckage of a plane that crashed here many years ago to view the sunrise and sunset. 4 years later I still find it beautiful.


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I took this picture out of the half opened window of a moving vehicle. I am shocked it came out so good!

I recently installed CHDK on my canon point and shoot and have been playing with all the new exciting features. One of which is bracketing which I have been experimenting with. The following photos are a composite of 5 different pictures, each at a slightly different exposure level.

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