Sunday, February 17, 2019

Getting Settled and Various Projects

The past couple of months have been a combination of extremely slow and extremely fast. Right now, things at work are slow, which has given me some time to explore and learn about a ton of technology that I haven't had the motivation to look into until lately.  That being said, now that I have some momentum, I have had a ton of projects going on. I am not going into detail right now, but I figured I would give an overview on a "few" of the things I have been digging into more lately. Just to be clear, this is going to be a very tech heavy post with some more technical aspects discussed.  I am happy to answer any questions that anyone has about anything I discuss... well, assuming I actually know the answer!

i3gaps/Arch Linux:

I decided it was time to do a reinstall of Linux on my laptop, and started using Arch Linux.  I have been thinking about switching over for a while, but I was afraid there would be some configuration issues.  Back years ago, I used to use Slackware, and I was afraid the experience would be similar. Don't get me wrong, there will always be a special place in my heart for Slackware, but it could be a pain to configure. That being said, either because I know far more about Linux, or the architecture is more mature, I have found Arch Linux a delight. I have to do a ton of configuration still, but the documentation is good where it's needed, and there are so many options now that I am starting from scratch that I have actually enjoyed playing around with the new system.  That includes i3gaps which is a tiling window manager based on i3wm. I never knew how much I would like a tiling window manager, but I have loved this one. I have so much more flexibility with i3wm over say Gnome.  I am sure you can do many of the same things in gnome, but I think it is more difficult.  i3gaps is just so simple that it integrates well with other simple software.  It does what it does well and makes it easy for other things to do what they do.  It is pretty close to the Unix philosophy.


I have heard about Docker for a while, and I had been meaning to look into it more, but until recently I just have a bunch of motivation.  I kept hearing bits and pieces about it at work, so I finally started looking into it.  Initially, I wasn't that impressed, but then I saw a video about it where a woman had used it to basically isolate all of the applications on her computer.  Suffice it to say, I took a little more interest.  In all honestly, without really going into much detail, it is a powerful system, and I can see why it is so popular for systems admins/developers. I have actually started to implement it on my own network, which I have been overhauling btw and will discuss some below.


I have been using virtual machines for the past several years, and specifically kvm based systems.  That being said, I have spend a bunch of time lately doing a few more advanced things on test servers. I actually specifically purchased a small Intel NUC system to use as a test server that I have run up a dozen or so VMs.   This has allowed me to do some interesting server testing.


This is another tool that I decided to dig into recently after constantly hearing about it.  It really is an interesting management tool.  I have some experience with Puppet, but I haven't even used that in a while.  I am still working on getting it fully integrated into my network, but I think I will be using this a great deal in the future.

 My Home Network/Server:

I have been restructuring my home network. Mostly, I have been cleaning things up.  I added an OpenBSD server as my router and installed DD-WRT on an old router to use as an access point.  I updated the storage in my server from a 1TB RAID 5 array to a 12 TB RAID 5 array.  So I have more storage and can move all my stuff off of the external drives they have been living on. I set up a Nagios/Icinga VM to monitor all the servers/VMs/network devices now running on my network.

Other stuff:

I have also been working on more security and privacy projects.  A coworker introduced me to containers in Firefox, and I HIGHLY recommend them: Firefox Multi-Account Containers. This is an addon actually developed by the people at Firefox. I also have started using a complementary addon: Temporary Containers by stoically.  Between the two of them, you can isolate your network browsing.  This means that Facebook and Google and others are less able to track you.  Those along with a handful of other addons, you can gain at least a little more privacy.  Though, that is only scratching the surface of what you can (should?) be doing.  I think I will have to make a post just about that one of these days.

There are also a  few other things that I have been working on. I migrated my domain and website to a new system.  I have been playing with some new apps on my Macbook.  I did some interesting VPN work, but I have already bored almost everyone away, so I am going to stop here for now. I will probably come back to all of these topics in future posts in much greater detail.  Right now I just wanted to get some thoughts down on "paper" as it were. So hopefully there will be another post soon!

Monday, January 07, 2019

Am I back? We'll see!

Over the past several months, I have avoided blogging.  There are a few reasons for this, but one of the biggest was that I really didn't feel like I had that much to share.  I really wanted to my blog to be about some of my adventures and/or science that I was taking part in, but I haven't actually been doing either of those things.  Most of my time was spent searching for a job and waiting to hear back about job applications... There isn't very much to say about that, but now that I have picked up a position, I am hoping to be able to get back into posting on here. That being said, there may be a shift away from "science" more toward "technology", but I don't plan on completely avoiding or abandoning science any time soon.  And in all honesty, some of the technology I hope to explore has connection to science as well.  It can be hard to separate science and technology so we'll see how that goes.  In the mean time,  I have a ton of cleaning on on my social media accounts to get them up-to-date so that they don't still all say that I am down at the bottom of the world!  But after I get things cleaned up, hopefully, I can get a few interesting posts up.  Soon, I also hope to have some interesting flying posts, so there will be more adventures ahead, but I have a few things to take care of before then, so we'll see how that goes.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Catching up in Atlanta

This is just a quick update post.  I am trying to get into a habit of regular blogging, and I have a few things I'd like to get posted, so I am starting with a shorter post while I work on some of the other posts. The last week and a half has been pretty amazing.  One of the final duties as an IceCube winterover is to make a couple of presentations at one of the collaboration meetings.  Our collaboration meetings are like scientific conferences, but almost everyone participating is IceCube.  We do invite a few other science speakers to give talks, but really the focus is to get everyone in the IceCube collaboration together a couple times a year in one location to make working together a little easier. The reality is we have around 250 people in our collaboration, and they are spread out all over the world. Most of what we do is done over email or phone calls, but sometimes, you can make things go so much faster face to face.

This year the IceCube Spring Collaboration Meeting was at my alma mater, Georgia Tech! Since my fellow winterover, friend, and colleague, Martin was going to be in town from Germany, a few other winterovers decided we would get together and have a camping trip up in North Georgia before the meeting. So Martin flew in a few days early, and along with 6 other winterovers (and one of their girlfriends), we spent a few days camping up in Black Rock State Park. After a year of working together in one of the most isolated places in the world, you tend to form some close friendships, and it turns out these friendships don't exactly just disappear when you get off the ice. So we had an amazing time and were able to catch up for a bit.  After this Martin and I drove down to the GT campus.  I'll be honest... I was super excited.  Not only did I get to see my IceCube friends that I hadn't seen in a while, but also, I was able to hang out with some GT buddies again. While most of my grad student friends have graduated, I was able to chat with a few professors and a few other local friends.

The meeting went very well. I gave two joint talks with Martin, a public talk and a collaboration report.  I also had a sit-down with some members of the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics where I showed a few pics and answered a few questions. Interestingly, I was able to meet up with a few family members as well.  My dad's cousin and her husband, who found me on Facebook while I was at the South Pole, came to the public talk as did some cousins from my mom's side of the family. It was great to have family come and see one of my talks.

So all in all it was a pretty good week.  Now that I am back in Huntsville, I have a ton of things I need to get done, but that is going to have to wait for another post!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Back into the groove of things...


This is just a quick update post.  I know I am way behind on my travel picture posts.  In all honesty, I was having so much fun traveling, that I didn't really feel like spending too much time updating my blog. That being said I know a few people want to see pictures, so I am placing links to my photos from my travel here.  I took thousands of pictures while traveling. I am sure many of the pictures below are not that amazing, but as I am not a great photographer, I take lots of pictures in the hope that at least a few of them turn out OK. I did go through and put together a quick highlight set (top album), but even that may be missing some good pics, so I am going to just throw them all out and let everyone judge for themselves. I mean, if you REALLY want to see them all... Here you go!

Semi-Sorted Pics -

Namibia -

Morocco -

Egypt -

India -

Laos -

Cambodia -

Krabi, Thailand -

Chiang Mai, Thailand - 

Bangkok, Thailand -

Cairns, Australia -

Adelaide, Australia -

Sydney, Australia -

At any rate, there they are! I'd still like to go back one day soonish and write a little about my experiences in many of those places while the memories are still a little fresh, but there is so much to write, it is a little overwhelming. Hopefully, I can get motivated to do it before the memories fade.   

Friday, December 22, 2017

Traveling Australia

Sunset from our dive boat on the Great Barrier Reef!

After I got off the Ice, I think I needed to clear my head a bit. Being at the South Pole for a year can have a mental impact, but more than that, we had the delays getting out as I mentioned in the last post. That being said, now I have been traveling a bit, and I think I am going to try to blog a little more frequently. Of course I have said that many times, so we will see how things actually go. Also, I have updated the name of the blog. Originally, my intention was to focus a little more on science, but given that most of my posts have been about and will be about travel, I have changed it up a little for the time being, not that I am particularly thrilled with the title anyway, but it will do for now. Also as a side note... Photo album links at the bottom for those who want more pictures!

Starting out - Cairns

As I stated in my last post, I wasn't able to spend much time in New Zealand, due to my flight delays out of Antarctica. After we made it to New Zealand, I spent my time getting ready for the rest of my travel. The first stop, and the topic of this post, was Australia! I have been a scuba diver for number of years.  During grad school, however, my diving along with many of my other hobbies slowed way down. Right before I was offered the position at the South Pole, I decided that it was a good time to get back into it a bit. I went down to the rock quarry in Pelham, Alabama and did a quick refresher and got a few dives in.  I was gearing up for more diving over the next couple months, when I got the call about the job at the South Pole... So my diving stopped AGAIN! Though that was a small price to pay for the most amazing job in the world. While at the South Pole, I decided that I would have to go diving when I got back, and where better to dive than the Great Barrier Reef? So in my post-ice travel planning, the first stop became a dive trip in Australia. I talked to a few people and one company was recommended, Prodive. Actually, it was only thing I booked while in Antarctica, outside of my plane tickets. I didn't even start booking hotels anywhere until I got off the Ice.

So my first stop on my tour home was Cairns, Australia. I got in a few days before the dive so I could relax and wonder around the town a bit. I ended up hitting up a few pubs throughout that time, including an Irish pub that at one point had Sweet Home Alabama playing. I also decided to hit up the local aquarium before my dive. I'm glad I did! I got a few interesting pics while there, primarily for my nephew who was in a bit of a shark phase a while back.

A hammerhead shark I saw in the Cairns Aquarium

Getting ready for a dive on the Reef!
The dive trip itself was a 3-day 2-night live-aboard. That means, that I was picked up at my hotel on Monday morning and they took us to a boat that we lived on for the next couple days of diving. We ended up getting 11 dives in, including 2 night dives. Here is where I have to make a small confession. At the start of the trip, I had around 50 to 60 dives under my belt (if I remember correctly). I was even a certified rescue diver through SDI/TDI. That being said, all of my dives were in rock quarries up until this point. So my first ocean dives were on the Great Barrier Reef! I enjoy diving in quarries, espcially when they are the only nearby place to dive, but diving the Reef was amazing. There were even a few others on the boat who actually got their dive certifications on the trip.  That is an epic place to learn how to dive. One common question I have been asked about my dives so far is "did you see any sharks?" Yes, I saw sharks, but sadly, I didn't get any pictures of the ones we saw. Mostly, they were trying to get away from us! We saw several very interesting fish and
coral structures. We also saw a few turtles, as you can see below. It was an amazing experience.

A turtle we saw while diving

Everyone in Australia was getting ready for Christmas!

After the dive trip we went back to Cairns where I spent another couple days relaxing and planning. At this point, I actually had no idea where I was going next. I even had to extend my hotel an extra night so I could figure things out. I toyed with a few ideas, but then settled on a quick hop to Sydney and then Adelaide. Honestly, the biggest reason I wanted to go to Sydney was to see the Sydney Opera House. IceCube has some collaborators in Adelaide, so I figured I would show up and see if they were around. I figured between Cairns, Sydney, and Adelaide I'd get a little bit of varied Australian Experience.

The iconic bridge across from the Opera House... I think this is where they shoot off fireworks during new years!
Me with the Opera House in the background

Sydney was actually pretty nice. It is a much bigger city than I realized. I hit the ground running there. The truth is I am probably spending way too much money on some parts of travel, but since this is supposed to be an epic travel vacation, I figure I can live with it to some degree, but in order to mitigate the costs a bit, I decided not to spend to much time in Sydney since it was so expensive.  I was able to get a pretty nice tour of the Opera House early on my first full day in town. It turns out the Royal Botanical Gardens are right next to the Opera House, so I went there as well. It was a great time. Other than that I did a little exploring and hit up a couple local bars/pubs. It was a pretty laid back trip.

A view from the tour inside the Opera House

Another inside shot of the Opera House
An interesting bird I saw in the botanical gardens
A sundial in the botanical gardens


After Sydney, I flew off for a few days in Adelaide, which has a much smaller feel to it. I actually went to the mall there on one day since I had to get a few things. While I was there, I was able to meet up with a few of my IceCube friends Sally, Gary, and Ben. The truth is that ever since I heard IceCube had people down in Australia, I kinda wanted to visit. Thankfully, they were actually in town when I got there! I probably should have checked ahead of time, but where is the fun in that? It was really great to see them and hang out with them for a couple of evenings. Another surprise along those lines was meeting up with a fellow winterover Rick. He and his girlfriend happened to be passing through Adelaide on their way from Darwin down to Sydney. I was able to hang out with them and have a couple drinks as they passed through town. That was great and totally unexpected!

I was told these were pretty iconic for Adelaide
Another Adelaide Icon
Sunset on the beach with Gary and Sally

While I was at the South Pole, a couple of guys there gave a wine class that I partcipated in, and one of the regions they actually mentioned was called the Barossa Valley near Adelaide. So, one day while I was there I joined a tour of the Barossa Valley that included a couple of wine tastings including one at the Seppeltsfield winery and the Wolf Blass winery. The truth is, I still don't know much about wine and am not very sophisticated in respect to wine, but it was a fun time. At Seppeltsfield they had a port (which I think they call a tawny for legal reasons since port has to come from Portugal?) that was aged 100 years. They didn't let us taste that one, but I did get a picture of the bottle of ~$2000 AUD port.

This was NOT on the tasting menu... around $2000 AUD for that bottle!

But they let us take a picture with it, and I was very careful not to drop it!

Me at the Wolf Blass Winery

On the last part of the tour we visited Hahndorf which is one of the oldest German settlements in the area if I remember correctly. It was ok... nothing spectacular. On the way back, however, the bus driver told us to keep our eyes open in the top of trees on the side of the road as there might be Koalas up there. One lady with a sharp eye spotted one. The bus driver actually pulled over, and we all got out of the bus to look and take pictures. It was actually pretty awesome.

For Martin! (kind of an inside joke)
Getting ready for Christmas!
Overall, it was a pretty amazing trip in Australia. There were a few things I didn't get to do, but due to the way I am traveling, I am a little limited on time in many of the places I am visiting. I also have the problem that my drivers license expired while I was in Antarctica, so I can't exactly rent a car right now! That being said, I don't really have any regrets about my time there. Hopefully, one day, I will make another trip down under and experience even more of such an amazing country!

And as promised... here are the links to the full albums!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

397 Days in Antarctica

The IceCube Lab in the Sunset

I have been thinking about this last South Pole post for a couple weeks. Part of the reason it has taken so long is that I needed to clear my head a bit. Also, as you'll see below, the last couple weeks were a bit of a challenge, and I wasn't quite ready to post on it. In all honesty, I don't really know what I want to say, so I'll start with some simple facts and go from there. If I am not mistaken, I arrived in Antarctica on October 27, 2016. I spent a few days at McMurdo before heading off and arriving at the South Pole on November 2, 2016.  I then spent the next 385 days at the South Pole, leaving on November 22, 2017. I then spent another week in McMurdo before finally arriving back in Christchurch early on November 28, 2017. I spent almost 397 full days in Antarctica.  Now to answer a couple of the more common questions I have received after returning to the real world:

1.) How was it?

Honestly, I loved my time at the South Pole.  It was one of the greatest adventures of my life, and probably one of the best years of my life. Yes, there were times when it didn't feel very adventurous, and there were challenges here and there, but overall, it was an amazing time.

2.) Would you do it again/go back?

Yes. The problem is that it may not line up very well with my future career, but if given the opportunity, I would return in a heartbeat.

That being said, by the time I left it was time to go. While I loved my year down there, the last few weeks were very difficult, and probably not for the reasons most people would suspect. As it turns out, there is one drawback to being a scientist at the South Pole: we don't leave as early as the rest of the crew. I spent a year in one of the most isolated places in the world with very few people. In fact, for 8.5 months, there were only 46 of us.  No one in or out.  No mail. No planes. Limited contact with the outside world over some pretty poor internet. We kind of became like a family.  Then, we opened the station at the end of the season, and a bunch of new people came in. This wasn't so bad at first. The bad part was when most of my South Pole family left. Over the course of a few days, 38 of the 46 winterovers left the station, leaving 8 of us to train our replacements. The first big flight out was by far my hardest day there. A large group of 32 or so people left on that first big flight and the station was filled with probably over 70 to 80 new people.  I honestly didn't think it would hit me as hard as it did, but something about all my friends leaving and all the new people taking over the station was really difficult for me to process. So, I hunted down a few of the remaining winterovers to get away from the crowd of new people taking over. We basically hid for a while trying to get away from all the new people.

After a couple of days, we were all ready to go, and then the weather hit. We ended up stuck on station way longer than anticipated. Almost all of us had our travel plans very messed up.  I was supposed to stay for a couple weeks in New Zealand and travel there, but by the time I made it back, all of my time was gone, and it was off to Australia. I was one of the lucky ones. The others lost thousands of dollars in missed travel and experience they had scheduled.  It is one thing to plan for delays, but it is hard to anticipate over 2 weeks of delays.  Day after day, we saw more of our travel plans get ruined. On top of that, we finished with our work, so we literally had nothing to do but sit around and wait and continuously check the weather. Suffice it to say, we were grumpy and depressed, and there was quite a bit of drinking, and a few really terrible movies (for example mutant/zombie sheep attacking people in New Zealand... yeah it was that bad), to kill time.   Finally, there was a small break in the weather, and we made it out of the South Pole, but then we got stuck in McMurdo. I spent my second Thanksgiving in a row on the ice.  At this point 7 of the 8 of us still on the ice hid ourselves away and ate in our room.  I love South Pole, but I really don't like McMurdo.  We didn't know anyone there. We weren't supposed to still be there.  It was time to go, but we were stuck.

Finally, we made it out on a late flight from McMurdo to arrive in Christchurch very early in the morning. We were exhausted. I spent the next day and a half getting ready for my trip to Australia. I had one full day in Christchurch before my flight, and it was mostly spent running errands. I had to buy pants, mail some packages, and I even got a haircut. I did take a few long showers, but I didn't make it to the botanical gardens. Still, it was amazing to finally make it. Then one by one, the last of us started going our separate ways. It was a bittersweet time.

Overall, as I said before, it was one of the greatest years of my life. The last 2 or 3 weeks were really rough, but in the end, I guess it was worth it as I'd still go back. When I started grad school, I stumbled my way into doing research on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory down at the South Pole. At the time I started, I had no ambitions to go to the South Pole or anywhere else in Antarctica. Then the opportunity presented itself for the first time a few years ago for a short trip. Since that time, Antarctica as become more and more a part of my life.  For me, it was one of those places that you just fall in love with. Now after this last year, I can't imagine what my life would be like had I gone a different route. I'm still trying to figure out my next few steps, but in the mean time, I have already had some amazing travel up in Australia.  Maybe now that I have finally gotten this last post up, I can start posting more of my other travels for those who are interested.

Over 400 days of beard...

I feel human again!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunrise at the South Pole!

It has been way too long since my last post. Part of the reason is that I have been waiting on some media get get posted online. Last month, I was invited to remotely participate in a radio program (Inside the Black Box) on WREK radio, the Georgia Tech radio station. I spent some time talking about the science I am a part of down here at the South Pole and then I spent some time talking about life here.  I was hoping that the audio from the program would be posted soon, but unfortunately, it still isn't up. As soon as it gets posted online, I will post a link, but in the mean time, I figured it was about time to give another update. To be completely honest and open, there is another reason I haven't posted. It turns out that being in such an isolated place as this does sometimes get to you a little bit. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but there have been more than a few days that I have felt like I was walking around in a haze with little to no motivation to do anything more than what was required. Don't get me wrong, I have tried to stay active in the community for the most part, and of course, Martin and I have kept the detector as our top priority, but really, I have watched more of The Simpsons in the past couple months than I really care to admit!  That being said, the past couple of months started out kinda slow, but now we are getting ready to open the station for summer, so things have started to get busy.  Not to mention there is an IceCube Collaboration meeting coming up, so there have been a few requests from the north for extra calibration data and work on the detector. The activity on station the past week or so is kind of helping jar me back into reality a bit.

In general, though, station life is still going well. There have been lots of activities to get involved in over the past couple of months. There was a wine class Martin and I participated in.  We did a programming class that I helped teach.  There was an eight-ball tournament and even a beer pong tournament. I didn't really participate in either of those, but several others did.  We have had several movie nights with new movies when we can get them and some classics for those interested in older movies, and everything in between. The biggest event lately has been sunrise. We have had several months of darkness and very recently, the sun started to rise above the horizon here.  We only get one sunset and one sunrise a year at the South Pole, but they last for days at a time! That being said one of the big events down here is the Sunrise Dinner. We all got together over this last weekend and had another big wonderful meal prepared by our amazing cooks on site.  Before the meal, they raffled off the flags that have sit around the ceremonial South Pole marker for the past year.  Earlier in the day they removed the old ones and put up new ones. Sadly, I didn't win one of the flags, but I am very happy for those who did.  Afterwards, a couple of us snuck out to have some sunrise cigars. It was a great night.

The sun starting to rise at the South Pole early last week!

One aspect of the sunrise that I will mention for you ham radio nerds is that now the propagation on 20m and 40m has greatly improved. During the long winter, I was able to make very few contacts.  In just a couple weeks now, I have made over 350 contacts with people from the north! One goal that I am trying to hit is to make over a thousand contacts starting two weeks ago before I leave the station. For all those other hams interested, I am generally on 20m at around 14.243 MHz when the band is open. If 20m is closed and 40m is open, I will hang around 7.178 MHz or 7.182 MHz. I am trying to get on the radio around sunset or sunrise stateside, mostly but not limited to the weekends. Oh, and I have spent a little time with the fine folks on the Reddit Ham Radio IRC channel answer lots of questions about the South Pole, so this is a shout out to them!

Now that we are so close to station opening, things have really started to get busy. There has been a ton of prep on the station itself including increased cleaning duties around station, for starters. But the really big thing is that most of us are getting ready to leave and eventually head home. For many of us, this means some kind of traveling. I've heard that some people have even started packing, but that is kinda funny to me as we still have over a month left! I personally have been working on my travel plans.  Right now, my plans are to spend a couple weeks in New Zealand, followed by travel to Australia, South East Asia, India, then hit Egypt, Morocco, and the Namibia area in Africa before actually getting home in mid February. It turns out, it will be about 3 months of travel, but this is an opportunity I can't pass up! I've already booked a dive trip in Australia and am looking into a camping trip in Namibia! I almost have all my flight plans in order, and over the next couple of weeks, I will be taking care of Visa issues.

So far I am still loving my time down here, but I am definitely ready for warmer conditions with grass and trees and oxygen (we're at around 10,000ft).  As I have said before many times, though.... I know I am going to miss this amazing place when I leave!

A photo from earlier this year showing the Ceremonial South Pole Marker and some of the flags that were passed out to winterover at the Sunrise Diner!