Where’s Phil Now & How To Get To Antarctica

If you’ve been poking at the store side of things lately, you may have noticed that the inventories of most everything has dwindled down to zero. This is intentional as I want to clear everything out before I put up the next round of pre-orders. “Why?” you ask. Because I am off to beautiful, scenic Richland, WA for a week of Fun With Radiation. “WHY!?!?” you may ask again. Because Richland, WA is where we’ve hidden Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, AKA the Hanford Site, and they’ve accreted various things relevant to my actual career of playing with the DEADLY RADIATIONS™. So, really it’s almost a vacation, if your definition of vacation includes plutonium and talking about regulations. Regular production will resume after Memorial Day.

And you may be absolutely certain that I am going to sample all of the wares of these fine folks at the Atomic Ale Brewpub. In the interest of Science, of course.

Over the last decade (oh god, it has been that long) I have been asked many times people how the can get to go to Antarctica, most recently by Meredith Yayanos. Well, here’s my list of ways down to the Ice:

The typical way people assume you go to Antarctica is to do Science. As I have attempted to tell folks, the vast majority of people in Antarctica are not scientists but this is still a way down. As an American researcher, the first thing you’ll need is a large research grant. You then submit your research proposal to USAP, the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program (international researchers may feel free to apply, though many of the signatory nations to the Antarctic Treaty have their own programs). If approved, you’ll be granted an event number, which you should hold on to for dear life as absolutely everything you do in Antarctica will be referenced back to that.

For those of a scientific bent, it is far easier to find someone that has an existing event number, try to modify their proposal to include your research, and sort of be a research subcontractor. Or, if you like their research, go down as a research associate under their project. NOTE: this is why Antarctica is full of undergrads, grad students, and postdocs.

Of course you may fabulously independently wealthy, or have such folks as backers, and don’t want to deal with the USAP and feel like having an expedition to Antarctica on your own. You better have your shit together unless you feel like pulling a Capt. Scott down there because without an event number assigned to your expedition, absolutely no one will help you. Or they will help, grudgingly, and an extremely high price that will be taken out of your hide when your sorry, unprepared ass gets rescued and shipped home…assuming you survive to get rescued.

There are a variety of cruises that “go to Antarctica” that you can sign up for but buyer beware. Many of these cruises on converted Russian fishing vessels count crossing 66° 33′ 44″, the Antarctic Circle, as going to Antarctica. Some visit islands south of the circle, some play along the peninsula but I don’t know any that do landfall on the mainland. These cruises are also painfully expensive.

It was only -38F that day. It's a dry cold.

My Ceremonial South Pole Hero Shot & Xmas Card 2002

But perhaps price is no object to you and you want your hero shot at the ceremonial South Pole. Well, there’s always Adventure Networks that for ~$60k will fly you down, let you do  a bit of skiing, take your picture and fly home. Honestly, we Polies looked at these flights with some disdain as we contemplated our paychecks and watched 60-70 year olds pile out of the plane, gasping for air at the altitutde, stay for 30min and fly out. That was back when the trip only cost $30k.

If you want to actually work in Antarctica and let someone pay you to be there, there are a variety of contractors that support the USAP mission. The primary support contractor for USAP is Raytheon Polar Services Co (NOTE: this is no longer accurate). Akima Staffing Solutions is also down there as well. This is they way for most anyone else to go to Antarctica if you don’t think you have “science applicable skills” good enough to support the NSF directly as a grantee. Construction workers, cooks, mechanics, custodians, etc.,on average there’s eight people to every one person doing research just to keep the stations running. If you aren’t afraid of scrubbing pans or wielding a shovel, and don’t mind long hours and low pay, you can go to Antarctica. I’m to understand a judge on the federal bench once went on sabbatical as a dishwasher. Of course, you will have to pass the physical and psych qualifications; you have to be crazy enough to want to go to Antarctica, but not too crazy.

Lastly, there is a special Antarctica Artists & Authors Program out of the NSF to promote the creation of works of art inspired by Antarctica. The grant will pay to get you to Antarctica, plus food and berthing once you’re there, but there’s no money for salary or materials. So get your ducks in a row to keep the home fires burning before you go on an inspirational journey. Also, don’t be surprised if you get roped into the odd job or two while you’re there.




BBotE Ambassador Supplies and Approaching Science

Alright, as of tomorrow, resupply cases for all your local BBotE Ambassadors (except for College Station, TX and Dublin, Ireland) are either there or on their way. In fact, Portland may be out of stock again and in need of another. I am to understand the case for Delta City (AKA Detroit) has disappeared into a black hole somewhere between Oaktown and the Motown so a replacement may need to go out. Per Justin, Ambassador of London, that the clouds cleared over his blighted city for the first time in months and angels could be heard singing. That might be a titch of hyperbolic exaggeration, but he sure was happy to get resupply.

And I am pleased to announce that I can finally repay New Zealand for all the kindness it’s shown me for the last decade or so. Next week I will be shipping the inaugural case to the BBotE Ambassador of Wellington, Ms. Meredith Yayanos. Do you not know Meredith? Allow me to acquaint you. Admittedly, this entry needs a bit of an update as she is now a denizen of Wellington, which is California’s loss but New Zealand’s gain.

You see, back in the dawn of BBotE Warren Ellis asked, pretty please, if would I drop a bounty of BBotE on his co-conspirator Ariana Osborne (AKA She Who Turns Warren’s Muttered Ramblings Into Things & Stuff) to see what wonders might result if she slept even less than normal. The story gets a bit fuzzy after that but, somehow, a bit of that bounty made it Meredith’s hands, an edition of Coilhouse was published in record time, new music projects were contemplated, the Pacific Ocean was leapt in a single bound, and other Pythonesque feats as well. So drop her a line, New Zealand!

On a completely unrelated note, my brain sometimes works slow but the background processes are always turning away. Roughly a year ago, I offered to do some science nerding for a friend’s 10yo daughter. He somewhat apologetically waved me off and said that, much like her dad, while she was interested in science, the math skills weren’t really there (much like him) and that music & art were really her passions.

Last night, while enjoying the zen like meditative state of a BBotE extraction, I had a realization and answer to that.

I have forgotten more math than most people ever learn. I feel like a case study of “use it or lose it” as, at one point, I had to shove more or less an entire undergraduate math degree in my head in six months in order to complete my BS in physics. Tensor analysis, bra-ket notation, Legendre polynomials, Bessel & Von Neumann functions…all those things I used to be rather good at in order to do quantum mechanics, GONE. I remember what they were for and why I’d want to use them, but I’d need to spray a whole lot of WD-40 into my brain to free those rusty gears and actually do something.

But honestly, the shape of those things is what was important in the first place. The ability to look at the world, tilt my head slightly to the right, squint, and say to myself “Yeah, I’m pretty sure it works that way.” The math to prove it is an afterthought, the confirmation with elegant numbers & equations that the universe works like you intuitively thought it did. The name I’ve been calling this for as long as I can remember is Physical Intuition; that deep down knowledge of how physics works that changes how you see the world around you.

I don’t see waves on the ocean, I see possibilities of what the ocean floor looks like and wind/water interaction. I don’t see a rock with crystals in it, I see the Earth baking in a magmatic kitchen with temperature-pressure diagrams vs. different chemical concentrations. I don’t see a satellite TV dish out the window, I see the perfect curvature for impedance matching for receiving a electromagnetic beam originating in Low Earth Orbit like the last puzzle piece dropping in place.

This is an artistic way of looking at the wonder of world. The math is just another way of trying to express it. So, don’t let the fear of math, or perceived incompetence, keep you away from trying to find a deeper understanding of the world. The worst that can happen is you learn something new when you’re wrong.

Alright, Game On But New Rules

I have completely cleared the orders spike due to the TWiT Army and turned ordering back on for most items, as some of you have already noticed. However, there has been a significant change. Once upon a time, there was unlimited ordering of the standard six varieties (Ethiopia, Kenya, Kona, Malabar, Panama, Sumatra) and limited stock of the others that might easily run out (Death Wish, Rwanda, Colombia, Peru).

Not  anymore.

Because it isn’t fair of me to make people wait weeks for things they’ve paid for. Because my Lovely Assistant complained a bit that she hadn’t seen much of me in the last month. Because I have more travel coming up at the end of May. And because, frankly, I’ve had to consume far too much BBotE to stay awake to make more BBotE in the last month.

Henceforth, there won’t be unlimited ordering on any item in the store, so you may hit “Currently Out Of Stock” now when you go to find something. I’d rather tell you to wait and check back later, than take your money and make you wait while I crank a backlog. Makes me feel guilty and you feel cranky. The expected release dates you’ll see on the item listings are when things should be finished and on the road to you by. It is very likely that I’ll get your order out earlier than that date but may overshoot it by a day or two. I apologize in advance if you go to the store and what you want isn’t there, feel free to drop me a line to ask when the next run is likely to happen.

(Side Note: I have discovered a limitation in my software, possibly in my understanding of it, relating to the expected release dates. If I change that release date, it goes back in time for all orders of that item. So, if I slate a production run due on the 7th, sell it out, and then set a run due on the 14th, when people that placed an order for the first run go check on their order it’ll say 14th. Sorry about that and I expect to answer emails about this on a regular basis.)

On a positive note, throttling things like this will likely give some time to do some experimentation again. The last month of uninterrupted maximum production has taken all my slack to go hunt new tasty BBotE away and that’s got to resume. As proven in the past, even tried and true favorites like Panama can run out and I need to find things that can take their place for you all.

And with that, GAME ON! I’m gonna go play with the Deadly Radiations again now. Bye bye.

PS – BBotE Ambassador resupply for local distribution is in progress. London, DC/Baltimore, Portland, Detroit, and Minneapolits-St. Paul all have cases on the way already. Madison, New York, Seattle, Chicago, and Santa Barbara will be going out by the by.