The South Pole Bar Albums, Volumes I-V

This is my holiday gift to you as I put together some other thoughts about Antarctica. A lot of things happened around New Years 2003, so they will take some collating. In the meantime, I have a YouTube playlist for you. While I was bartender at Club 90 South at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, I was not it’s DJ. Two weeks into summer I walked into the bar, looked around, and saw the only available seat was behind the bar. So, I sat down and put my feet up on the beer case.

Random Polie: “Hey, get me a beer.”

Me: “Do I look like a fucking bartender?”

Random Polie: “You’re behind the bar…”

Me: *tosses him a beer from the case* “Whatever.”

Random Polie: “Hey, can you mix anything?”

Me: “As a matter of fact, I can.”

And there I stayed for the next 11 months after mixing that first manhattan.

Me, Club 90 South, Amundsen-Scott Station, 2003: Performing "The Dragon" by exhaling a mouthful of liquid nitrogen

Me, Club 90 South, Amundsen-Scott Station, 2003: Performing “The Dragon” by exhaling a mouthful of liquid nitrogen

I got to see and hear a lot behind that bar. I also became the unofficial barometer of mood for the station manager. As an honor bar, Club 90 South didn’t have a bartender like the bars in McMurdo, so mixed drinks didn’t usually happen before my tenure there; typically just whiskey and beer. Unfortunately, this also really cemented the barfly vs. teetotaler factions for that winter. Mixing between the groups was somewhat limited in the first place and got no better as the year wore on. Over the coming few Antarctica posts, we’ll discuss that a bit more.

The link to the playlist above is five CDs worth of music that I culled from our Winamp player for our most listened to songs over that year. I would like to reiterate that I was not in control of the music. I suggested many songs and as the person most likely to be in the bar at any given moment that winter, I have some honorable mention in presence of songs like Oingo Boingo’s “Insanity”, Royal Crown Revue’s take on “Beyond The Sea” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Ultimately, control of the music was in the hands of the person sitting next to the keyboard for the computer installed in the wall of the bar connected to the, in 2003, 2TB jukebox of the X Drive on the server. This was typically the IT guy or the belligerent heavy equipment operator that liked tequila.

NOTE: Dear MPAA auditors searching for the X Drive, you will never find it. It is normally buried in the snow. Antarctica is big and mostly made of snow. Please accept that people at the ends of the Earth would like some music and that we collectively share what we’ve all brought down.

Some of these songs may be tied to specific people. Fore example, Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently” became the 2002-2003 Winterover Anthem thanks to one amazon Alaskan equipment operator/boat captain/pilot that demanded it be played for her during the summer. By the time winter hit, we had an entire drink in hand dance routine worked out for that song we loved it so. The song “Tribute” kind of came along for the ride.

David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Call Me By Name” is the Australian telescope mechanic and former New South Wales rugby prop that could drop a sheep dead with his flatulence at 20 yards. He was also fond of the Lee Kernaghan’s “Goondiwini Moon” but that’s not included on the albums.

The Geto Boy’s “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster” may be squarely laid at the feet of the very meek meteorologist who went a bit off the rails early. She loved that song.

The Dropkick Murphy’s “Spicy McHaggis” is my favorite electrician, Mark. He comes up prominently in many of my stories. In many respects, Mark and I were the same person that lived completely different lives. We got along like a house on fire, without actually committing any arson.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is Drew, the other IT guy. When not in Antarctica, Drew wrangled his family’s marina in Logan Harbor, ME. He brought this nautical disaster gem to us near midwinter and we adored it. Along with the construction manager’s love for Led Zepplin’s “No Quarter”, these two songs combined were for relaxed, leaned back in the chair, contemplation of the glass of whiskey.

As you look at the song list, you might notice some trends. I can’t help but see the repetition of the topics of madness, alcohol, and murder. Of course, I’ve been listening to these songs for the last decade and the music of Antarctica never leaves me. I can only hope you enjoy them, despite the ads that YouTube inserts.

The Noble Sport of Volleybag

Before our slice of Antarctic life for the day, I should let you know that most of the “Complete by December 16th” pre-order slots are already gone. The next pre-order slots to go up will be set to complete by January 6th. I am going to do my damn best to crank out some of these before Christmas, but anything that ships after December 20th has no guarantee to make it by Christmas Eve. If there is something you desperately need to get under the tree and have been procrastinating, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do.

And now we set the Wayback Machine to December 2002 at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to discuss physical fitness and the Noble Sport of Volleybag…

Leak From The South Pole Station Sewer Line - The architect wouldn't like this either.

Leak From The South Pole Station Sewer Line – The architect wouldn’t lick this either.

Prior to the construction of the elevated station, South Pole had three gyms: a weight room under the Dome, a laminate wood floor gym that was the back half of the old building in the Garage Arch, and an exercise room full of stationary cycles, rowing machines, etc. out in the Summer Camp which shut down every winter. I believe the weight room was the oldest continually used gym there. It wasn’t the best weatherproofed of buildings but decades of sweaty grunting had caused all the cracks to seal up with ice on the inside nicely. One time, I offered to pay a guy $20 to lick the ice on the weight room wall. I did so over dinner, ruining yet another meal for our architect. For a man with such a delicate constitution, I don’t know why he kept insisting on sitting with me and Mark.

The gym was a mutant. The limited space at the station combined with the varied athletic pursuits people need to keep sane and the fact that this space used to be part of the garage meant it didn’t quite do anything right.

First, ventilation. The gym was created when the old garage was partitioned into a smaller garage, a parts room/paint shop, and gym. Obviously, the first two need good ventilation or people asphyxiate, so the systems that used kept the air clear for the entire building were dedicated to just these two. This meant that after enough time in the gym, you had to prop open the door as it overheated so badly just due to your physical exertion (remember, Antarctic buildings are generally very well insulated). Air that was over 80F went rushing out the top of the doorway as -80F swept across the transom. A cloud instantly formed that began roiling in the middle of the doorway, caught between the convection currents.

Second, you have to take into account thirty years of shifting athletic pursuits. The gym’s original purpose was to provide a half court basketball game that could double for volleyball for the Navy personnel of Operation Deep Freeze. Of course, that was just silly because the ceiling was so low that you couldn’t make a shot from any farther back than the foul line and any volleyball set or bump was likely to come right back down on your head from the ricochet. Later, the adventure tourist faction of Antarctic workers (which make up a high percentage these days) got climbing wall holds installed on two of the four walls. Finally, the gym was also an emergency refuge, so it had all kinds of speakers and alarm systems in the corners of the ceiling. Basically, the two of the four walls and the ceiling were covered in junk, including a basketball hoop.

It was room meant for all sports and thus it was good for none. The solution, of course, was to make a game that required these things.Volleybag was the product of these physical constraints. The game didn’t just work around these obstacles, it depended on them. At heart, it was volleyball, but instead of a volleyball it used a basketball-sized hacky sack made of Carhartt’s heavy duty #5 duck cloth, stitched together like a baseball, and filled with the stuffing from a dearly departed sofa. The only out of bounds was the back wall and your serve had to be a perfectly clean shot, but other than that the game was like racketball with knobby walls. You actively aimed for the obstruction to change the direction of your shot or to drop it dead to the floor. Players had to be willing to make abrupt changes in direction and sudden stops when playing for this reason.

It was chaotic bliss, a sport I could truly get behind almost as much as Calvinball. One of the IT guys played with us, so he wired up the stereo to run through the emergency announcement speakers. We played at least twice a week for a couple hours each time. The memory of lying prone on the floor exhausted and overheating, door open, ice crust of sweat forming on me, and listening to the Lords of Acid blasting on the PA is vivid. I regularly went home bruised and battered from running into the climbing wall at speed. One time I ended up kicking the wall so hard that I broke my toenail off and discovered that many orthopedic implements haven’t changed much in appearance since the Inquisition’s “presentation of the tools”.

And, oh yes, the cold and lack of maintenance had taken their toll on the floor.  The slats of the hardwood were gapping ever so slightly, exposing blade-like edges to lay your knees or whatever open if you dove for a save.  I bled for that sport often and it shows in the scars.The obstacles that made the game so fun took their toll on the volleybag. Despite being made of the same heavy canvas as our insulated Carhartts, it still tore. The guardian of the volleybag, Johan, one of the South Pole’s denizens of longest duration, kept it in his room with him and had a sewing kit dedicated to mending it. By the end of our winter, it looked as stitched together as Frankenstein’s face. Since I had never worn them, preferring my shorts and Hawaiian print, I volunteered my Carhartts to provide replacement material for the volleybag for the next season (not a new one, much like Grandfather’s Axe). I have no idea how old the volleybag actually was but rumor has it that the game dated back to the seventies.

The Dome and old buildings are gone now. To the best of my knowledge, the sport of Antarctic Kings went with it. Last I heard, the metal skin of the Dome was going to be reconstructed in a quad somewhere at the University of Wisconsin, Madison since they bought it originally back in 1975. I will have to make pilgrimage when that day comes, but there will be no volleybag under that Dome.

THE DECEMBERING: 2012 Edition

The end is upon us. ‘Tis the season for staring concerningly at calendar and realizing all the things you need to do before it is 1/1/2013. It’s enough to make one hope the Mayans are right and that you should just sit down and enjoy a leftover turkey sandwich in the meantime. Perhaps a beer. In fact, that’s not a bad idea. I’ll be right back…

MUCH BETTER.

The December 16th production slots have gone up, as a few of you have already noticed, but there’s a few things you should probably think about when placing an order for a gift from Funranium Labs:

  1. BBotE Is Perishable: When refrigerated, it has a shelf-life of about three months (possibly longer, but I’m only going to quote three).  If you’re going to wrap it up and put it under the tree, this a present to put out on Christmas Eve and the promptly put back in the fridge after unwrapping.
  2. The December 16th date is “Ship By”, not “Ships On”. I get your orders out as soon as I can, but even in the furthest flung corner of the US with the slowest mail carrier, this means you should have your order in hand by the 21st.
  3. Yes, I will probably add a few more slots as I get a handle on how much I can make at the last minute but shipping gets dicey in those last days before Christmas.
  4. International Shipments Of BBotE Go Out Express Mail: Because I don’t want BBotE to get stuck in postal facilities or customs, express is the only way to ship to minimize their time in bureaucratic hell. Expect it to take 3-5 business days to get to you, so time your orders accordingly to make sure things get to you in time.
  5. APO/FPO: If you wish to send something out to someone with an Armed Forces address, there’s good news and bad news. Good news – it’s no more expensive than priority mail. Bad news – I can’t guarantee any date as to when things will arrive. Outside of active war zones, things move somewhat normally; inside war zones and ships at sea, things get iffy. Also, depending on routing, some nations (I’m looking at you, Turkey) have bounced BBotE on the basis that it is, and I quote, “Morally Questionable Material” because, obviously, any liquid from the West must be alcoholic in nature. In short, I’ll do my best but you’ve been warned.
  6. Local Pick Up: Resupply shipments are going out to all the BBotE Ambassadors as fast as I can crank them out, so be sure to drop them a line if grabbing a bottle that way is convenient for you. I’m sure they’d like clean and empty refrigerators as their Christmas present.
  7. Italy: It breaks my heart to say this, but I absolutely do not trust your postal system. The level of theft shipping things anywhere south of Rome is, frankly, appalling. If you ask me to ship to Naples, I make absolutely zero guarantee of it arriving.
  8. Steins of Science Have Lead Time Too: The steins are built to order and it sometimes takes a while to get parts in.  Generally, things move much faster and ship within a week but you have now been warned of the possibility of delays.  For some insight into which stein is the best fit for you, I rambled on that a while back. Dewars that are on hand for me to build steins with RIGHT NOW can be found here.
  9. BBotE Production Is First Come, First Served: My maximum daily production output is 12L per day. Thus, people who request 12pk cases will lock up production for an entire day.
  10. There’s No Kosher Or Halal Certification: While Robert Anton Wilson did confer the papacy upon me, and all the other people in the Porter College Dining Hall, this does not permit me to sanctify food.  Sorry.
  11. The 4300mL Stein of Science Is Ridiculously Large: Seriously, BIG.  It will should take an entire pre-game, Super Bowl, and wrap up to go through this much beer.  Or one cricket match. You may think you are a super drankin’ badass, but consider that you may want to drink more often than once a year, so think about a smaller size. I’m just sayin’…
Xmas Lights 2002

Christmas Lights 2002 in my room in Upper Berthing of the old dome (the madness in the eyes and smile is actually always there)

I have high hopes to actually share a tale of Antarctica or two between now and New Years. There’s some fun 10th anniversaries I’m hitting here in the summer, some of which I’ve already rambled on about. Yesterday, in fact, marked 10 years since the unintentional Twin Peaks marathon described here. But, for festiveness, here is the picture I sent home to my folks showing that, yes, I did indeed but up the Christmas lights in my room in the Dome. You may also see the first signs of Shining-esque madness creeping in.

My Birthday, Resupply, and Antarctica

Tomorrow, November 2nd, is Dia de los Muertos and my birthday. It also roughly marks ten years since I arrived at South Pole Station one glaringly bright and cold Antarctica day. I bring this up because it’s already my birthday in Antarctica and I have a story to share.

For those that don’t care about my birthday blithering, you’d probably like to know the BBotE status report. Madison, Dublin (Ireland), Santa Barbara, and soon Portland’s Ambassadors were all resupplied this week. This week also sees the inauguration of regular BBotE service to Boston courtesy of your new Ambassador, Talena! She is a recent transplant from Portland and acolyte of the Caffeinatrix. You may drop her a line for 750ml bottles by email at bahstun [dot] bbote [at] gmail [dot] com. I somehow suspect they may go quickly.

Now for the Way Back Machine, but first a glossary…

“The Ice” (n) – Colloquial name for the continent of Antarctica.

“The Dome” (n) – Colloquial name of the part of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station covered by the geodesic dome weather skin to help keep buildings from getting buried by snow. Commissioned in 1975, demolished in 2005. Replaced by the new Elevated Station.

Club 90 South (n) – Bar at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Built by the Navy and beloved by me.

Polie (n) – A person who is/has been at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Polie (adj.) – 1. Pretaining to the actions, people, or places at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. 2. Patently crazy, primary evidence being the willing agreement to spend a year at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Winter-Over (n) – A person who has stayed at one of the Antarctic stations through an Austral winter.

Winter-Over (adj.) – Crazy

Skua (n) – 1. A large, evil minded, dust mop of a Southern Ocean gull that has no fear of Man and has, in fact, learned that things in Man’s hands are often tasty and will steal them. 2. A central location in the station for excess/junk items to be stockpiled for general use by anyone rather than just throw them away.

Toast (n) – The state of diminished faculties associated with a winter spent at one of the Antarctic stations, likely related to thyroid hormone imbalance due to extended darkness and cold.

Toasty (adj.) – A descriptor of foolish acts or person who is likely suffering thyroid hormone imbalances due to a winter-over conditions.

Taking from these definitions, you may note that a Polie is double crazy.

On Halloween 2002, after almost two weeks of weather delays and mechanical failures in Christchurch, NZ before getting to McMurdo Station and then a cold snap that made it impossible to fly into Pole, the first flight of the summer season, P001, arrived at South Pole Station and I was on it. We then dropped off our gear and tromped to the not yet complete galley of the new elevated station. The NSF representative welcomed us new folks (note: he flew in with us), congratulated the previous winter’s crew for making it and handed out the Antarctic Service Medal to them, and then the station opening party began. I was the only new person that got out there on the dance floor and danced the Time Warp with the old winterover crew, thus earning me another nickname and access to Club 90 South while the winterovers were still hiding in it from the new people. This should have been a sign to everyone when people who’d already been stuck at Pole for a year considered me to be alright and normal.

There are two parties not particularly set on the calendar in Antarctica because they are dictated by weather: Station Opening and Station Closing. Roughly speaking for Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the first flight in is some time around Halloween and the last flight out is Valentine’s Day-ish. However, these are not the big parties. The big two are Halloween and Midwinter (AKA the austral winter solstice, every day from there is a day closer to light). Halloween, in particular, is big because it is the fleeting moment when the previous year’s winterovers are there and the first planeload of new people has showed up. Not without coincidence, the first cargo pallet to come off the first plane of the season is not medicine, or mail, but beer. However, parties happen on Sundays because that’s the day off. Halloween fell on a Friday that year, so the party was delayed until the 2nd. My birthday.

Halloween, of course, demands costumes. To this end, the nice folks back at HQ in Centennial, CO had loaded several large, palletized, tri-wall boxes full thrift store clothes and generic accessory crap from the Goodwill Bargain Barn (motto: “VALUES BY THE POUND”) and sent them to Antarctica. Pole had them lined up to the skua bins. McMurdo had a goddamn Costume Closet for special events, which tended to cause a lot of men dressing in drag for some reason (ACTUAL REASON: Navy tradition).

PROTIP: DO NOT dress in drag around the Russians freshly released from a two year stint at Vostok. They. Do. Not. Care. Anymore.

CHICKENHEAD

CHICKENHEAD and his faithful, but inebriated, sidekick General Assistant!

I did my best under the trying circumstances to find something that fit. I had no other clothes than the expedition grade stuff I had arrived with in the go-bag I was carrying; the rest of my possessions were still stuck in McMurdo and wouldn’t arrive for another two weeks. The resulting horror was a hybrid of snowpants and boots, brass toned expedition thermal underwear, a blue seersucker jacket, and a chicken hat.  When I eventually find the picture of this, I’ll put it up.

EDIT: Picture found!

 

 

In the ship store, I discovered they sold both Maker’s Mark and sweet vermouth. I’d brought my own bitters with me, so I bought one of the travel mugs to use as a shaker, chipped some ice off the side of the Dome and made a manhattan. We were warned that we who weren’t accustomed to altitude and probably shouldn’t do any drinking. I made a second one to go out to the Summer Camp huts for the party.

My Antarctic Manhattan Travel Mug

My Antarctic Manhattan Travel Mug

On my arrival at the hut, I was greeted by my friend Mark, with a bottle of Glenfiddich in hand. “PHIL!” he bellowed. “YOU NEED DRINK AND BLOOD!” I then was ordered to take a swig from the bottle and fake blood was poured all over my face and chicken hat. Mark had already had great fun with the fake blood and his head looked like he’d just recently pulled it out of the carcass of a freshly killed pig.

The night gets a bit hazy after that. Pinatas happened. We summoned Mark, a gifted mountain climber, down from the ceiling with the promise of shots of whiskey. There was also a chainsaw. A chainsaw happened to a pinata.

As this kicks off the ten year anniversary of Phil’s Antarctic Adventures, there’ll probably be a few more of these posts popping up between now and next Halloween as we hit more milestones. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Vacation Reminder and OKTOBERCAST

Alright, the next round of pre-order slots have gone up and, as you may have noticed, they say “Expected Release Date is by November 30th”. This is because, as stated in this previous post, vacation associated with a string of weddings begins next weekend. Production will resume on the 17th, but I wanted to make sure people had a chance to grab their place in line as we had toward the grim meathook reality of December. Some orders, particularly steins, may go out before I jump on a plane at the end of next week; big BBotE order aren’t likely to do so until after I return but I’ll be cranking as much as I can before I hit the road.

Hello, everyone that just joined us from Oktobercast! If you are reading this post due to another pointer, please go check out the Oktobercast. They’re a fine crew doing a 24hr webcast marathon to raise money for Child’s Play and happy to have given them a couple things to help them make it the distance. There might, perhaps, be something shiny auctioned off…

#401?!? Is it Yours?

Stein #401 – WILL IT BE YOURS?

In other news, the current stein count is solidly in the 390s. As a reminder, whoever orders Stein #400 is going to be getting #401, a 665ml FMJ, FOR FREE.

[EDIT: Stein #400 & #401 have gone to a good home. We’ll try this again in another hundred or two steins.]

Restocking and ComBots Cup 2012

In the last couple of days Ambassador restock shipments have gone out to a variety to Baltimore/DC, Austin, London (UK), Los Angeles, and Houston. In particular, the Ambassador of Houston wanted me to let you local folks know that he’s got 375ml bottles available to grab here made with the beans of his favorite local roaster. Come ‘n’ get ’em while you can.

Robots FIGHT!

“Last Rites” delivers a lethal hit against “VD6” for a knockout in a heavyweight combat prelim round. – photo by Dave Schumaker, courtesy of RoboGames

Meanwhile, on October 21st I will be attending the ComBots Cup VII in San Mateo. Why? Pfft, do you really need to ask that because, c’mon, robots! In the interest of greater glory, I have volunteered to make a respectable amount of BBotE available to the staff that make the magic of Fightin’ Robots possible over two days. I’m to understand from the organizers that there’s a distinct lack of sleep around this event and that I can help with that. Because robots.

My suggestion for the aerobot combat may need to be done elsewhere BUT I LIKE THE IDEA. I suspect the FAA won’t though.

More seriously, the crew at RoboGames sponsors a variety of events for the robotically inclined to test a variety of applications. The BarBot Challenge is particularly near and dear to my heart. Around the world, they’ve been helping teach kids the joy of tinkering and I can get behind that. For those wondering if they can jump into robotics, I’m to understand that there are workshops and often parts o’ plenty to tinker with at their events.

I also hear tell that Lagunitas Brewing will be there, therefore my stein will be as well. I won’t have a vendor booth because I expect to be far too busy watching the combatants and looking at the wonders on display, but if you happen to catch me there be sure to say hello. I might bring a few extra steins in the car, but no guarantees.

Seriously, come on out. Robots. How many times to have to say it, people?

Robots.

Vacation Announcement and The Decembering

Because we’re heading into that time of year when everyone has a sudden realization that they’d been meaning to grab some BBotE or a Stein of Science for someone, it seems like the ideal moment for me to go on vacation for several weeks!

When this current pre-order window for October 14th closes, the next one will be set to end on October 28th. After that, I will then be off enjoying the weddings celebrations of legally binding co-existence of several friends scattered around the country who have all decided to conveniently schedule events within a two week window. One might think their love for me and my production calendar was almost as great as what they have for each other. Almost.

Production will resume on November 17th, with the first orders after my return likely to ship  on the 21st. Except, oh dear, November 22nd is the Thanksgiving holiday which will make shipping screwy that week. Then we’re into December and I think we know what that means…dooooooooomed.

What I’m trying to get at here is production is going to get cramped here very soon. For the steins in particular, the earlier you jump on them the better. I have taken the liberty of stocking up a bit so that supply chain problems don’t end up being a problem, just my available time. More are in the pipeline to arrive later this month, so there’s that. Once we hit November, supplies lines get a bit tricky for steins.

In other news, the production number count of the Steins of Science is getting frighteningly close to Stein #400. Just like I did when we hit Stein #200, whoever grabs that one is getting Stein #401, a 665ml FMJ, for free. The count is currently in the high 380s, so the time is nigh!

And with that, I need to go see a city about some whiskey.

Horrible People Dragging The World Forward

This rant had it’s genesis chatting outside the Burger King, around 2pm on a Sunday, in Terminal C of Las Vegas’ McCarran “Sad Bro” International Airport. Let me tell you, early afternoon on Sunday in McCarran is a sea of desolate, hungover, broke, exhausted, and, above all, chica-less bros. It earned my new name for it that day. However, this rant is a blither across academic organizational theory, prions, not offending Germans, and the Most Important Man at the University of California, Berkeley (hint: not me, nor the Chancellor).

A friend who is a writer in the tech press related to me that he’d like to go back to school, get a new degree, and do actual science rather than report about the toys of others. No, I won’t tell you who or where, but I have renamed the company he works for to “Techcrotch”. Then he said something that I’ve heard from a lot of prospective grad students:

“I want to work in a new field, NEW SCIENCE. A field where there’s a chance to do something without all the hierarchy and the weight of your predecessors on you.”

I gave a sad smile and said, “Oh, it’s different, but definitely not nicer.”

DISCLAIMER:  While I am scientifically trained, I am not exactly a participant, nor am I quite an observer. To the point of view of the most of the research community, I am a small, petty bureaucrat. A simple obstacle to be overcome/ignored at best, an active impediment to THE PROGRESS OF ALL HUMANITY at worst. On rare beautiful occasions, I’ve been a collaborator to help make their experiment the best that it can be. This may have colored my worldview a titch.

At some level, it comes down to a fight for scarce resources. The hierarchies of the old hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology and the electrical/mechanical engineering) are inherited structures from medieval clerics needed to keep an abbey or cloister running. The purpose is to translate knowledge, but also to insure that there is a safe future for those clerics to grow old in.  To assure the new novices that they too could safely become emeritus if they take care of their seniors and teach their juniors properly.

Except good science doesn’t work like good religion. Good science questions assumptions and grows the body of knowledge. Sadly, people in academia today aren’t much different than they were in the monasteries 1000 years ago. Uppity undergrads that appear to have stumbled on something for their adviser which refutes the adviser’s old adviser, they are not rewarded with an immediate pope hat and made full professor on the spot. Goodness no, they get told they’re an idiot and did it wrong (to be honest, there’s a very good chance they did). This preserves the institution but may hinder science. Hopefully, things will get to the right answer by and by. Eventually.

Worse comes to worse, it makes fun internet research for future people looking for how many times the radio was invented and by whom.

But it takes a very special kind of person to stand up to their adviser and grand-adviser. To, in fact, stand up to the entire world and say “I am right, you are all wrong, and I am going to prove it.” And then argue for enough money, space, time and support to prove it and change What We Know. To build an entirely new field of study!

With rare exception, the personality that can do this is a magnificent, utterly unrepentant, abyssally cavernous, asshole.

This is not the cute “I’m on the spectrum, tee hee” social awkwardness of the average first year physics or EE grads. This is malignant. It is self-centered to the point of ego singularity and it accretes people to feed it. If the old discipline is a medieval fossil serving the monolithic Church of Science, the new one they’ve created, at first, is a cult of personality, handling dangerous snakes out in the shed around back of the old gas station…I think I lost hold of my metaphor there and wandered into a Call of Cthulhu module.

When you actively seek the shiny new field of research to do New and Exciting things, you are actively engaging a small coterie of people that founded it, their students, and their collective egos. You are free of the stultifying hierarchy of the big ol’ department, but beholden to the vicissitudes of your founders (SEE ALSO: any number of 19th century American sects).

The book that particularly comes to mind is “The Family That Couldn’t Sleep” by D.T. Max and the tale of discovering prion diseases. In the course of doing so, we come to know the two major personalities who both garnered Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Dr. Stanley Pruisner and Dr. Daniel Gajdusek. It should come as no surprise that they aren’t entirely wonderful people, and hooooo nelly Dr. Gajdusek should come with a trigger warning for some folks, but they certainly advanced…hell…created the field of prion research.

But, sometimes, that personality backfires in the wrong setting. I recall the tale of certain astrophysicist visiting the Max Planck Institute for a discussion of the brand new, at the time, theory of dark matter. The chair of the physics department of the Institute was giving a plenary talk where he likened dark matter to a Tenth Planet, AKA no basis for this being THE explanation, but it makes the math work. Many things could make the math work and the point the chair was trying to make was that some more rigorous testing of the theory was in order before advancing it.

An institutionalized researcher would’ve gone back, chastised, and tried to bring something better, more supported back. Not the founder personality, oh goodness no. A perceived attack on their theory is an attack on them. Said astrophysicist resorted to ad hominem attacks on the chair from the crowd. The chair asked him to leave the room. He was met by the bursars who were there with his luggage, who then escorted him off the grounds and told him to get a hotel because he no longer had access to the grounds of the Institute. Oh, and he’d best a arrange a flight out first thing in the morning because his visa had been revoked by the sponsor, the department chair.

PROTIP: In America, a departmental chair gets a nice office but no particular power. In Germany, they have utter rule over everything their influence touches. Don’t piss them off.

When people pull the I-am-more-important-than-you card, which has happened often lately playing with biochem folks, I am quick to reply, “That may be, fellow staff member, but do you think you are the most important person at this University?” This usually gets met with a confused blink and declarations that they suppose that would be the Chancellor. Only once has a Nobel laureate declared that, indeed, he was the most important person on campus, which is a sure sign that he isn’t.

The correct answer is that the most important person at UC Berkeley is Juan, the bartender at the Faculty Club. When protestations start, I ask them to consider that Juan has the pleasure of taking the time (and he does take his time) to make fine cocktails in a stately old bar filled with brilliant people, people untangling the knots of the universe and human condition at his tables. But more than that, he is UC Berkeley staff, not a food service contractor. He, too, is Professor Egopants’ colleague. He is a bartender with the same benefits as a full professor. This generally causes people to consider their place in the world and the importance of their role in it. If said researcher is still up for it, I then invite them to join me for a joyous, but humble, drink from Juan as we discuss their work.

In summation, I wish my friend luck in his endeavors, that he will successfully navigate the founder personalities, and that I will smack him upside the head if he starts behaving like an ass. But a cocktail from Juan will set him right as rain.

A Very Special Thank You

Someone once asked me what the high falutin’ Stein Baron/Coffee Mogul lifestyle was like. Honest answer: not much different than it was as a grad student, but with slightly better quality booze and meat. All fiddling my Funranium Labs has mainly been a labor of love, a hobby that occupies that hands and clears the mind, plus gives me a place to spin a fine yarn from time to time. What profits I make tends to get squirreled away in hopes of acquiring new, dead sexy, laboratory glassware. I can’t resist a fine piece o’ borosilcate glass, nosirreebob.

But sometimes bad things happen. A little while back, Laurie Penny’s tools of the trade were stolen from her in Bloomsbury. You folks pitched in for a small tidal wave of BBotE that turned into fresh gear for her, much to her surprise. I tried to tell her people like her work and want more of it, with ultracoffee being a very meager excuse to her help out.

Yesterday, my parents were heading east on a grand retirement camping trip, driving through Amarillo, TX pulling their tiny camper behind them when someone decided the best way to merge onto the freeway was through their trailer hitch. My mom successfully swerved to avoid a wreck, which is good because a sideswipe at 65mph is Bad News, but this flipped the camper trailer, destroying it and their stuff inside.

Within less than 24 hours of the accident I have, literally, bought my parents the demonstration unit camper from the Casita showroom in Rice, TX (they normally only build to order). I have moved them with my parents plight, they wish to show good Texas hospitality and, coincidentally, steal a customer from their primary competitor. I’m not sure they could’ve have asked for a better PR opportunity, so here it is being shared with you.

But really, I want to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to be a good son by keeping my folks on the road. I couldn’t have done this without a couple years of people partaking of my bizarre coffee and sharing my desire for cold beer.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Oktoberfest Prep Work

In case you haven’t been watching the calendar, Beer & Pork Product Christmas (Beerporkmas?) is rapidly approaching. I will be assuming my usual table at the Tyrolean Inn with the occasional polka, stein holding competitions, and tackling of the pretzel girls so I can get salty deliciousness in the scant seconds before they usually run out and have to go fetch more.

But every year I get messages from people with a quandary, a worry my own family had when I handed them the first set of 1000ml FMJ steins: “I need a stein that can hold a maB worth of beer at Oktoberfest, but this one seems awfully tall and easy to tip over. Especially once I’m drunk.” I can’t deny, they’ve got a point there. The aspect of this stein definitely puts it in the tall and prone to being knocked over, much like a Paulaner glass. I’ve had no reports from bereft Steinwielders saying this has actually happened, but I can definitely see the worry.

Last month, Steinwielder Tyler, who had such concerns, asked me a simple question, “Could you make a 1000ml in the rugged style?” In the crunch to meet BBotE demand in the last year, I’d sort of stopped experimenting with the steins for a bit, save confirming that mine continued to work when filled with beer, cider, and rather large cocktails. I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t, I just hadn’t. So, here it is:

Yes, that is a big stein.

1000ml “Textured Rugged” FMJ Stein of Science

The base is a good inch or so wider than the normal 1000ml FMJ and it is almost twice the weight, coming in at 5lbs thanks to the heavy silicone sheath. This makes it considerably less tipsy but more of a workout to drink with. Not even remotely in the same neighborhood of crippling weight that the 4.3L FMJ is, but still substantial once full. The first one has headed north to Washington state and I hear tell it may grace PAX Prime in the coming days.

Of course, following the fine example of Mr. Hadden in Contact, why build one when you can make two for twice the price? In addition to Steinweilder Tyler’s new toy, I made one extra that I tossed in the Prototypes & Clearance section.

In general, I’ve stocked up on most all the steins prior to Oktoberfest just in case you people to a run on me again. You can go check what I have kicking around the bench here. Oh, and the September 16th pre-order slots for BBotE are mostly open now. To answer a question I get a lot, the pre-order slot dates are “production will be completed and ship by”, not “will not ship until”. I know clarifying this makes me seem like less of a miracle worker, but it thought it was important.

And as a final note, I’d like to thank everyone that grabbed 1000ml bottles of BBotE with the Ineffable Mustachio’d Goat of SCIENCE! in the last two weeks. Thanks to your support, we were able to deck Ms. Penny out with some new gear in fairly short order, causing things like this to be written and making some Greek neo-Nazis rather cranky. All in day’s work.