Writings: Chile Journals
- Currently reading 15 March – 10 May, 2007
- Go to 11 September – 1 November, 2007
- Go to 3 – 18 December, 2007
- Go to 27 May – 16 June, 2008
- Go to 14 September – 4 November, 2008
- Go to 30 May – 23 June, 2009
- Go to 5 January – 2 February, 2015
Several people have inquired as to whether I will be keeping a "blog" while I am in Chile. This caused me to reflect a while on what a blog actually is, and I concluded that I would instead keep a journal.
My reasoning is thus: the term blog is a contraction of web log, and I do not intend this to be a log. A log contains entries like the following:
12 Apr. 1810. 1h00. Lat. 47o12'N Long. 68o2' W. — Engaged enemy frigate. Brief battle ending in victory, God be praised. Captured 8 working guns. Wounded: 19; dead: 5; prisoners: 37.
17 Aug. 2006. 6 a.m. — End of cycle. Turning off all heat switches. Turning on He4 pumps. Auto-cycler still crashes amcp.
Neither do I want to publish a diary online. Diaries contain entries like this:
10 Feb. 1667 — I staid at Pottle's shop till Betty Michell come, which she did about five o'clock, and was surprised not to trouver my muger there. We staid in the shop till it was late quite dark, and the mistresse of the shop took her for my wife, which I owned. But now comes our trouble, I did begin to fear that su marido might go to my house to enquire pour elle, and there, trouvant my muger at home, would not only think himself, but give my femme occasion to think strange things. I did go presently home (Betty whispering me behind the tergo de her mari, that if I would say that we did come home by water, elle could make up la cose well satis), and there in a sweat did walk in the entry ante my door, thinking what I should say a my femme. I did bless myself in my good fortune in getting home before her. So my heart full of joy, I to the office awhile and then home, and after supper and doing a little business in my chamber I to bed, after teaching Barker a little of my song.
My readers are interested in a more personal account than that afforded by a mere log; but I am not interested in discovering to them the more intimate thoughts recorded in a diary.
And hence the appellation of journal, which I consider a happy mean between the two.
On a final note, Michele Limon is also keeping a webpage about
working on ACT in Chile, aptly titled Lack of Oxygen.
My flight being in the afternoon, I did not hurry this morning and remarked two colourful blue jays and a cardinal on the walk into Jadwin. I was picked up at a quarter to one by a taxi, as, in addition to my suitcase and carry-on items I was carrying a rack-mount computer in a large cardboard box, all of which I could not have handled on the train.
The computer was accepted without complaint when I checked in, but going through security, the security guard opened my bag. I was expecting her to want a closer look at the spare Woodhead DeviceNet PCI card I had done up in bubble-wrap in my little suitcase, but what did she do but make a beeline for my toilet back and extract my shampoo and toothpaste. I had completely forgotten about this tiresome new rule which only allows up to six ounces or so of liquids to be carried on. And so back to the check in counter where the luggage porter did kindly offer to put the offending items into my large suitcase, which was already below.
The flight was delayed until five forty-five, and so it was a longer wait than I had anticipated. Sitting in front of me in the waiting lounge was a couple, newly married as I judged, based on how the wife did dote upon her husband. But presently she did a very curious thing: she removed a stick of deodorant from her purse, which I believe was a lady's brand, and proceeded to reach beneath the shirt of her spouse and apply it to his underarm! The which being done, she handed it to him and entreated him to make the same application to his other side.
I had the good luck of being upgraded to first class for this first flight to Atlanta, by virtue of my having flown last year to South Africa and then five times back-and-forth between Princeton and Vancouver since then. I asked for a beer upon boarding. The gentleman next to me ordered a vodka and tonic, and proceeded to drink two more in the space of little over an hour. I felt quite out of place in my jeans among the suited business men and women, but enjoyed the experience.
On the next flight I was back home among hoi polloi, sitting next to an American going down to Chile to do some fly fishing. Each seat-back contained a movie screen and I did watch The Prestige, which was pretty good, but not near as good as The Illusionist and I was able to forsee much about the ending. Sometimes it was hard to follow as the aeroplane was quite noisy in the cabin. Afterwards I was pleased to be able to sleep on and off for perhaps four hours, which is more than I can usually do on the 'plane, though I think I am getting better at it.
In the morning as we approached Chile the sun began rising on a foggy day with low clouds. The sun threw long, warm rays through the clouds, inside which the mountains stood starkly, pale blue and grey, as though cut out of paper and stacked range upon range, higher and higher, all the way to the sunset, their tips casting long shadows through the fog and clouds. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
It was in the Santiago airport that the fun began. I had arranged to meet Rolando Dünner at the airport after clearing customs and go on a tour of Santiago with him before my four o'clock flight to Calama. While waiting in line at immigration, I saw Lyman, who had arrived on a different flight. He got his bags and went through customs. I, however, was not so lucky and got a rather unwelcome opportunity to practice my Spanish, as the customs official had lots of questions about the big box containing bors, our rack-mount housekeeping computer. I told him it was "una computadora", and then when asked for what, explained that it was "para un telescopio" and produced the letter Lyman had written containing the duty-free import agreement we have with the Chilean government. He seemed to be asking me whether it would be returning with me, and I indicated that it would not; whereupon he pointed to the name of our lawyer which Lyman had printed in the letter and said that he had to arrange for the import. Being at a loss, I went out and fetched Lyman and Rolando.
Having Rolo there turned out to be a godsend as the legal and technical aspects of subsequent conversations were far beyond my grasp of the language. We ended up having to leave the computer — and the U of T crate which Lyman had brought back in with him when I went out to fetch him — in customs after filling out some kind of chit to claim it later. I checked in for my next flight and gave them my checked luggage (apart from the computer). Then we went with Rolo in his Toyota HiLux down to a lawyer at the Universidad de Chile. We talked to him for quite a while (with Rolo acting always as our indefatigable translator) and Lyman signed a prodigious number of import/export forms.
Eventually we figured out that we needed to have arranged before-hand an import invoice, which, it seemed to me, was basically saying that Princeton University (of New Jersey) was export the equipment to the Universidad de Princeton (of Santiago). The whole thing began reminding me of Bleak House, I being one of the wards in the Chancery suit of Princeton University vs. Universidad de Princeton.
And so off to our local customs agent to arrange for the appropriate documents. He told us he couldn't push things through until Monday, but said he would go to the airport and clear things with customs, and then mail us the boxes so they will arrive on Wednesday (más o menos).
Parking in Santiago is somewhat of an adventure. At the Universidad de Chile many of the cars were double parked. While we were trying to squeeze into a space, a man came along and pushed one of the double parked cars out of our way. Apparently those who double park leave off their brakes and entrust their keys to these men, who then ensure that other drivers can get in and out of their spots.
All of this legal wrangling took until about noon, and I was thanking my lucky stars that both Lyman and Rolo were there to sort things out. It seemed to be just plain bad luck that I got stopped, as Lyman said that people had brought similar things in many times before without a question asked — and he himself had cleared customs in front of me without a problem.
Needless to say, my tour of the city was cut short, but Rolo and I dropped off Lyman at his hotel and walked a bit around the downtown. We visited the government buildings, which were guarded by tall, well-trimmed policemen dressed in smart, white uniforms. After a brief look about we exited again to the street. At one point we passed a little boy peeing up against the wall with his father standing by, as the crowds walked around them. We took a brief peek in the cathedral, and then grabbed a quick lunch at a sort of fast food joint. I had salmon and rice, simply done but very tasty.
Thence back to Rolo's truck where I grabbed my luggage and caught a cab back to the airport. On the way I conversed with the driver a little bit, but his chief interests seemed to be whether Canadians drink a lot of beer, and what I thought of Chilean women.
A very pleasant flight up to Calama. I sat on the east side of the 'plane which afforded a great view of the mountains, this time in daylight, where they are now light brown and look quite barren, though still breathtaking, the taller ones capped with deep snow drifts.
The flight arrived early in Calama and I waited outside for about five minutes before Madhuri (of U. Penn.) and Michele (of NASA/ACT) arrived to pick me up. We piled my luggage (sans bors) into the back of the pickup and headed towards San Pedro de Atacama. The desert near Calama is absolutely desolate, with not a thing growing, and the rough, dusty terrain stretching out in a broad valley between foothills to the north and south. Presently small, hardy shrubs began appearing but still very bare.
As we approached San Pedro the sun had set and it had become dark. We took a couple of wrong turns on the way to the complex where we are staying and I didn't really get a good look at the town. I was given a brand new room — quite literally, as Michele told me they were finishing up the windows earlier to-day. It is a very nice room with a big bed, plenty of closet space and a private bathroom. There is a cook who prepares meals and the puts them in a refrigerator so that we can eat at our convenience in the common room. There are people from Caltech (working on CBI and other projects) as well as a Japanese group who are sharing the complex, but so far I have not met any of them.
And now off to bed after a long and eventful two days. I am not sure
if I will go up to the telescope to-morrow or not, Michele saying that it
is often good to spend a couple of nights in San Pedro (which is at about
2500 m) before venturing up. Some of us also need to go into Calama
to-morrow to pick up Lyman who comes to-morrow. I hope to start taking
photographs but my camera was in an inconvenient part of my luggage
during the voyage.
This morning Michele sketched out a plan for how we would like to mount the radio dish down at the compound which provides an internet connection to the telescope on the mountain. There was already a small tower in place here, and we needed a mount to be welded onto this. So Michele gave the sketch to the Astro-Norte folks, who found some metal scraps that would do the job.
Later in the morning, Madhuri and Michele headed up to the site and I remained below, to have at least 24 hours at 2500 metres before going up myself. I had a leisurely lunch and when I came out there were already two men welding the dish mount onto the tower. It looked like they were doing a good job so I left them and went to explore San Pedro for a bit.
Our compound is about a twenty minute walk from down town San Pedro. The weather was beautiful: about thirty degrees, clear skies and low humidity, making it very pleasant out. Upon arriving in the town I discovered that it is not an exaggeration to call it a tourist trap. There are many stores selling souvenirs and t-shirts, restaurants and tour companies offering day trips to various sites nearby. I aimlessly wandered the streets for a while until I had walked through the town, it not being very big. On the outskirts was the most interesting thing I saw: the town cemetary. It is quite large, containing, I would guess, on the order of a thousand graves, all walled in. No one else was there. There were not tombstones, as I am used to in a graveyard, but colourfully painted wooden crosses, and little shrines commemorating the deceased. The more wealthy dead had larger mausoleums. All was terrifically gaudy, in a charming sort of way.
Walking back to the compound, I passed the workmen who had made the dish mount taking their welder back home in a wheelbarrow. We said hello, and when I arrived I saw that they had even painted it an adobe colour to match everything else. And so I took it upon myself to start attaching the brackets and things in order to put up the dish. Presently Michele and Madhuri returned, and we finished putting on the brackets, and lifted the dish up into place. For now it is just pointed by eye to the approximate location of the telescope on the mountain, and we will have to point it more accurately later.
Michele and I drove to Calama to pick up Lyman from the airport at about six thirty. On the drive on the way back we saw the most bright falling star, which shone brilliantly for an instant and then fizzled out.
It being Madhuri's birthday, we went into town for dinner, joined by
Mel, who is the Amec employee down here supervising their work on the
telescope. We all enjoyed some Pisco Sours and a delicious meal at a
restaurant whose name I have already forgotten.
This morning we worked some more on the radio dish at the compound. We also scratched our heads because the toughbook (our heavy duty laptop for use on the mountain) that Lyman brought seems not to have its power supply. After getting in touch with Jeff Klein, we came the to conclusion that somewhere during the transfer of the computer from Penn to Princeton the power supply and computer got separated. We will have to jury-rig something together soon, as we need this computer to do the mirror panel alignment.
At noon I went to mass at the old church in San Pedro. It is a very old (built in 1641). Painted wooden carvings of various saints appear on the wall above the sanctuary, and everything is simple and rustic. Most of the congregation seemed to be locals. I was able to follow the basic gist of the sermon but when the pastor told jokes I was pretty much the only one left with a straight face. About half way through the sermon a little girl went up to the pastor and gave him a cup of water to wet his throat. At communion it was much less organised than I am used to as people seemed to just randomly stand up and approach the front in a blob. I also noted that Catholics in South America (or San Pedro de Atacama, at least) are just as bad singers as everywhere else . . .
Directly after church I was picked up by Michele, Madhuri and Lyman and we headed straight up to the site. It is about an hour's drive, paved about three quarters of the way. The rest is a dirt road, which is bumpy but no trouble for the 4x4. We looked for llamas on the way but there were none to be seen to-day.
The telescope is at an elevation 5150 metres, and it takes a few times up to get fully used to the altitude, as there is about half the oxygen there as at sea level. The first time up one generally only stays an hour or two. I felt weaker and somewhat lightheaded, as if I had just been exercising for a few hours. I had to walk more slowly and carefully, but didn't experience any headaches right away. Michele and Madhuri went straight to work making electrical connexions, but I was in no shape to work, so I walked around taking pictures, resting often and taking in the scenery.
Mel from Amec and the workers from Con-Pax were working on getting the ground screen up around the telescope. They had been prevented from working in the morning because of strong winds, but seemed pretty busy by the time we arrived.
After about an hour and a half I felt a bit better and Lyman and I tried to get the radiators off of the pallets they were shipped on, which proved difficult as a couple of the nuts were jammed onto their bolts. Working for twenty minutes tired me out and a headache started setting in. Lyman was also getting quite exhausted, and so, after about two hours at the telescope, we all headed back down. On the drive back I became very sleepy all of a sudden and napped about half of the way.
When we arrived back in town, we heard from Ye (an engineer from Amec) that he had arrived. Michele picked him up from his hotel, Casa de Don Tomás, which is a ten minute walk from us, and brought him back to the compound. He was ravenous so we gave his some food and talked about what we wanted to get done over the next couple of days.
To-morrow we plan on heading back up to the telescope in the
afternoon again and continue to make the electrical connexions so that we
can get all the power to the telescope.
This morning Lyman and Madhuri went into town to buy some hard hats (cascos de seguiridad, as we discovered) and some other small items. I stayed behind and tried to figure out how to get 110V power into our office, because all of our routers and switches have AC adaptors that only accept 110V. In the end I ended up running an extension cord back from the adobe container which has a transformer, but it would be nice to have a more permanent solution.
We headed up to the site just before noon. On the way we stopped to get diesel for the truck and also filled a 200 litre drum for our generator. Madhuri went with Ye to show him the way.
Once there we wrestled for a bit with the hand pump for the diesel as it wasn't quite fitting to the hose going to the generator. As would be expected, duct tape was involved in the final solution, which still leaked a little bit.
That being done, Madhuri, Michele and I went up on the telescope base and continued to work on routing the various wires along their racks using the drawings that Ye brought. This proved time consuming, but by about five o'clock we had the cables for controlling the secondary mirrors out along their trays to the edge of the telescope.
Lyman and Michele talked to Mel and negotiated to get a trench dug for the wire out to the radio transmitter for communicating down the mountain. Lyman also did a bunch of talking to Christian, an engineer from Con-Pax who had come to scope things out.
This day on the mountain I felt much better. A headache began after about an hour and came and went the rest of the time. I felt more coherent than yesterday and was able to work. I still become tired very quickly if I exert myself.
The temperature on the mountain now is around five to ten degrees
during the day, but it makes a big difference whether you are in the sun
or in the shade. In the sun it is quite warm and one can almost go in a
t-shirt. But working on the telescope base, with the wind whipping
through, it was very cold and my fingers were beginning to get numb as I
handled the cables.
Once again we spent most of the morning in town doing odds and ends. I started working on the ethernet cables to connect to our radio down-link. Crimping the connector (the same kind that you plug into your computer for the internet) turned out to be devilishly difficult as we need the shield and ground wire connected to the case of the plug in case of lightning. In the end my only progress was to shorten the cable by not a few inches in several unsuccessful endeavours.
We arrived on the mountain at about one in the afternoon, and set to work continuing to make the cable connexions to the telescope. Madhuri and I succeeded in locating the cables responsible for delivering power and routed them to the right breakout boxes in the receiver cabin.
The power was not connected at the other end, however, as the lines need to be run still from the telescope to the equipment room. Mel said that he would do it in the morning, and so we should have power in the telescope for lights, outlets and other equipment.
Lyman did use for the first time the insulated work suits we bought. It looked so comfortable and handy that I am resolved to try out the other one on the morrow.
This day on the mountain I had hardly no headache, but still had to rest from time to time when I would become light-headed.
Once back in town I tackled the ethernet cable once more, and finally discovered the best method for doing the crimp. I declared it, upon completion, to be the most difficult connector that I did ever make, having spent almost two hours patiently learning the technique. Applying my newly acquired knowledge, however, I was able to complete a second one in only about fifteen minutes.
This evening at dinner we talked with the Japanese scientists who are
staying at the same compound and working on the
Atacama Submillimetre Telescope Experiment (ASTE), which is a few
kilometres away from our site. They told us that in September of 2005
it snowed so much that they could not reach their telescope for ten
days; indeed, San Pedro was cut off even from Calama. We learned a
good deal from their experience with the snow, which can fall any time
of year (though it is very infrequent). In the summer it melts away
quickly, but in the winter it takes much longer to disappear as it has
to be evaporated directly by the sun.
An exhausting day to-day, as we spent over seven hours at the site. Our first discovery was that the power to the telescope is routed through a UPS in the equipment room. But before we could put it in place and wire it up, the KUKA cabinet had to be properly installed. Mel put a couple of men to that task.
In the end, the greater part of our work was laying cables. We first started laying power lines for the new generator from the generator pad to the equipment room. This was hard labour at 5150 metres, as each spool weighed about twenty kilograms, by my estimate. Unwinding the thick cables and pulling them into the ditch in which they will be buried required a great deal of exertion. We also ran a steel wire with the cables in case we want to pull any future wires through the same conduit. We still need to feed the cables through plastic tubes before they are buried.
The other cable-laying chore was getting the ethernet line to the radio down-link. The Con-Pax workers assisted us by engaging their bulldozer to dig a ditch for us, in which we laid the cable. The cable was passed through a metal tube below the road where the crane drives and in plastic the rest of the way.
Michele and I chatted a while with the Chilean Con-Pax workers as we did this job. One of them remarked that working on a telescope was like something out of a movie. I noticed that even these men, who are used to working at this altitude, became short of breath after only a few thrusts of a shovel or pick.
Meanwhile, Lyman spent the better part of the afternoon sealing the gaps between Kinko and the roof of the white container. Like the rest of what we accomplished to-day, it was tedious but necessary.
I have made a curious discovery, though not to be unexpected in retrospect: whistling at high altitude is more difficult. One must suck in or blow out the air with greater force to achieve the same sound as one is used to at lower altitudes. I have not deeply pondered why this might be. Is it because air density is lower and the standing waves in the vocal cavity are at unfamiliar frequencies, or is it because the whistling sound requires a certain rate of air flow through the lips? I suspect the latter.
Dinner again with the Japanese. This time they taught us how to
predict when San Pedro's petrol station is about to run out of various
kinds of fuel. They recommended always keeping our tanks half full.
This day I was humbled by the mountain. We arrived up at about noon, and at four-thirty I began feeling a bit disoriented. From then on until we left at six it was downhill, and for the last hour I just sat and watched Michele finish connecting our new power lines to the switch box in the receiver cabin. Perhaps I was too cold, or perhaps two long days in succession was too much, or perhaps I worked too hard. The symptoms were all so varied and confusing that it is hard to say.
At any rate we did make good progress. Both of the cable paths we started laying yesterday are practically finished. We just need to hook up the UPS to-morrow to finally get power to the telescope, and connecting the ethernet all the way through is probably a day or two away.
Soon after we arrived back this evening we discovered that the boxes which were taken from Lyman and I at customs last week have finally arrived. They were delivered straight to San Pedro, and Michele and I drove into town to pick them up. To-morrow I will try to boot up bors and hope that everything works after such a long and eventful journey . . .
An early night to-night, as I am still exhausted from working up at
This morning Ulises Cárdenas Hildago, the archaeologist who makes sure that our construction respects any indigenous or cultural remains, came to our office to go up with us to see the site. Lyman and Madhuri had already left to make sure that everything was in order for his visit.
I, still feeling a bit woozy from my trip up yesterday, did elect to remain behind. Now in the evening I am feeling much stronger and in retrospect it was the right decision.
When everyone had left, I unpacked bors to see if it would still function after its adventure from Princeton to San Pedro. But to my dismay I discovered that I had forgotten to pack the key that opens the case on the front. And so to the internet, where I discovered a manual by a student from MIT on how to pick locks. (Later I discovered that Lyman was familiar with this reference.) After about an hour of study and practice, I knew a great deal more about the operation of locks and how to pick them, but the lock remained fast, despite my best efforts with an unwound paper clip and a knife from the kitchen. Eventually I resorted to shorting the appropriate jumper on the motherboard (using my trusty paperclip) to start up the machine. To my relief, everything seems to work properly.
Later, when Madhuri returned, she was able to pick the lock after about half an hour, she being practiced in that art from her youth.
I accomplished little else the rest of the day, besides helping Jeff Klein back in Philadelphia get some of my software running on their computers. It was a slow and painful process as our internet connexion has been very spotty here for the past two days.
In the late afternoon, Madhuri and I went into town to stock up on
some munchies from a little grocery store; thence we perambulated the town
for a while looking at souvenirs. I bought some chapstick for my dry
lips, and Madhuri and I were amused to discover that it is called
"lipstick" in (Chilean) Spanish. The climate here is so dry and dusty
that besides my lips having dried out, the skin on my feet has turned as
brittle as old parchment. But I have no complaint about the aridity, as
it makes the warmth of the day very pleasant.
This morning Ye and Madhuri travelled to Calama to pick up the power supply for the toughbook which had been delivered to the DHL office there. Unfortunately the office was closed when they arrived, meaning that we will have to wait until Monday. In Calama, Ye saw, to his great surprise, a branch of Scotiabank (a big Canadian bank) and joked that he should have visited to enquire how things were going with his mortgage. It was a puzzle to us why they should put a branch there . . .
Meanwhile, after Ye and Madhuri had left, Lyman, Michele and I went up the mountain. We moved the cooling radiators into position behind the equipment room, and Lyman spent the rest of the day putting in the hoses and getting the water circuit going. Michele and I finished pulling the ethernet cable through the underground conduit. I took bors up and spent a good deal of time making the rack neat and organised, and finally put bors in.
This day on the mountain I was careful not to exert myself too much and felt much better. I also discovered that wearing a pair of long johns makes one much more comfortable up there.
This evening, being Lyman's last in San Pedro, the four of us,
together with Ye, went out for dinner in town. It was a nice, relaxing
evening and we were the last ones left in the restaurant at eleven in
This morning Madhuri and Michele took Lyman to the airport in Calama. I elected to remain behind and spent a lazy morning in my room, my most productive time being a half-hour writing post cards.
At noon to church. In the pew behind me a woman was breastfeeding her infant. I do think it very sensible that a culture should allow breastfeeding in public. But in front of me there was a couple who were so entangled in lovey-dovey embraces the whole service that it became very distracting, especially as the husband would frequently crane his head up (he being shorter) to plant a big kiss on his wife's neck and whisper into her ear.
Upon coming back I did find Michele and Madhuri vegetating in front of the television, and I joined them as I ate my lunch. Afterwards we decided not to go up the mountain, and instead worked on the radio antenna down here in town. Lacking a long enough cable at this time, we put a temporary cable through Madhuri's bathroom window and were able to establish communications with the radio. To-morrow or Tuesday we hope to test out the link between the ground and the mountain.
This evening Rolando arrived, having driven from Santiago in his
truck in two days, ten hours each day. He brought a student, Enrique,
who had been at the summer school in Santiago who wanted to visit San
Pedro, and so we went into town to find a hostel for him to stay at.
Afterwards dinner here at the compound.
This morning Rolando drove to Calama. His primary reason was to sort out an unfortunate speeding ticket he received on his trip here, but he was also able to pick up our package from DHL. To our dismay, when he arrived back we discovered that the power supply in the package did not work with the toughbook, so we will have to kludge something together to recharge the toughbook's battery.
Meanwhile, Michele, Madhuri and I went up the mountain and finished off the seemingly interminable cable connexion from the radio dish to the equipment room. Michele worked on the lighting protection box while Madhuri and I laid all the cables out nicely on the cable tray on the ceiling of the equipment room. When we had hooked everything up and booted bors, we were able to talk to the radio, but did not see the link to San Pedro. We were not sure whether it was bad pointing of the antennae, or whether we were missing a step in the setup. Whatever the reason, we had left the digital level, the compass and the radio instruction sheet down in San Pedro, so we will have to work on it again to-morrow.
Rolo joined us up on the mountain sometime around four, after returning from Calama. He seemed to cope pretty well with the altitude. It was his first time seeing the telescope and he took many pictures.
This evening Michele, being frustrated both with the fact that we received the wrong power supply for the toughbook and with our inability to make the radio connexion to San Pedro, decreed that we should go into town for dinner. We met Mel and Ye at the Casa de Don Tomás and headed to La Estaka to eat.
It was a delightful evening: tasty food; strong, well-flavoured Pisco
Sours; a good wine selected by Mel; and dishes that seemed to be
enjoyed by all. Mel told us about the small
rodeos he likes going to in British Columbia, and Rolo in turn explained
Chilean rodeos. Thence the conversation turned to where it was best to
holiday at this time of year in Chile with no dust or strong winds; Rolo
proclaimed that Region X was indisputably the place to go. Soon some
musicians — a couple of guitars and a recorder — came in and
played some pretty fair music. Everyone dutifully put money in their
hat but it must have been too slow for them as they soon moved on to
another restaurant. We left before ten, Mel expressing regret that we
should leave, though he is always up very early to begin supervising
work at the site. And so a lackadaisical walk back to Don Tomás,
remarking the constellations along the way; and parting from Mel and Ye,
back to the compound.
This day was again spent wrestling with cables. I installed the U of T crate and snyc [sic] box in the receiver cabin. Then I spent a good deal of time with the encoder cables. First I routed them all the way to the computer. Then, as we have the new Accopian power supply for these, and will no longer be using the HP's, as we did temporarily in Vancouver, I decided to redo the connector and output twisted pairs directly to the Accopian.
Madhuri and Rolando, the latter using his electrical engineering experience, were able to kludge together something to charge the toughbook. They ended up using a beefy power supply and a chopped-off cable with a plug that happened to fit the toughbook. By the evening it was charged enough that Michele and Ye were finally able to make panel measurements on the secondary mirror. They came down at about seven o'clock, shivering as it was absolutely frigid up on the telescope, especially after the sun went down.
Curiously, the monitor for bors seems to have died. It would flicker on every three or four seconds, but remain blank the rest of the time. Luckily we had another monitor up there that worked.
Rolo brought up his video camera to-day, set it up on a tripod and took a time-lapse video of the telescope, with exposures every five seconds. In the evening we watched the result and it was very nice. Workers and I-beams glided across the screen as the work continued on the ground screen. We were also lucky that it was a relatively cloudy day so that clouds swept grandly across the sky in the background. The camera was running off of battery power and only went for about an hour. To-morrow we hope to run an extension cord out and get a movie of the whole day.
This evening a couple of new ASTE people arrived and there was a
large gathering at the dinner table.
This day on the mountain, I had a couple of successes. The first was that when I turned on the U of T crate, the blinkenlights started happily away, indicating that everything from the firmware on the housekeeping computer through to the DAC cards in the U of T crate is working, even after a voyage half-way around the world.
The other success was in reading the encoders, the instruments that tell us where the telescope is pointing. I finished re-doing the connectors and plugged everything (including the BBCBUS) into the new power supply. After a couple of false starts with badly wired sense lines, the encoders read out perfectly. When going to plot them I realised that I had forgotten to load KST on the computer. Since we don't have the internets yet on the mountain, I will have to burn a copy onto a CD and bring it up.
As for the radio link with the town, Michele spent a good deal of time to-day trying to get the two antennae talking, but with no success. Our plan is to have someone stay down to-morrow so that people can fiddle with the antennae from both ends. Our best guess is that one or both of the antennae are not pointed accurately enough.
This evening we fraternised with a theorist. Joanna Dunkley, a post-doc at Princeton, is in San Pedro this week, both as a tourist and to give talks on astronomy to local school children. Picking her up at her hotel, we wandered a bit though San Pedro before choosing a restaurant with open air seating and an open fire. Some members of our party declared that their Pisco Sours were the best so far. This journalist reserves judgement, still having fond memories of those from La Estaka. At dinner, Jo told us a bit more about the talks she had given, and we filled her in on progress on the telescope.
Once again, at about nine, a troupe filed in and treated us to some live music. Whereas the last night we were out the music began with El Cóndor Pasa, this evening it was more authentic and all-round better. The group did not stay for long, and we remained after until about ten.
There are many dogs that roam the streets of San Pedro. They have no
owners, but get fed here and there and for the most part look quite
healthy. All, however, are mutts, and Michele, remarking that some of
them looked very strange, conjectured that perhaps they are part llama.
It was a cloudy day here by local standards. San Pedro was cooler than usual, and with the wind blowing on the mountain it was very cold to be outside. This day we drove the long way up the mountain, on the better but longer road which goes by some of the other experiments. On the way Michele pointed out Bolivia, and I had not realised before how close we are to that country.
I was able to install KST on bors and for the first time ran amcp (our master control program). Everything seemed to work well, including the links to the U of T crate and to the ABOB.
A couple of my faithful readers have complained that I have spent too much time detailing the laying of cables in this journal. But when said activity occupies a significant part of one's day, it cannot be neglected in a summary thereof. To-day I spent a good deal of time in the freezing wind standing on a scaffold with Michele routing thermometry and other instrument cables into the receiver cabin. The wind cut through our gloves making our fingers numb. Finally we took a break in the heated equipment room, using a heat gun to thaw our toes and warm up our boots.
Soon after six, Michele and Ye began panel measurements, and I braved the wind again to continue routing cables. Soon, however, I noticed that it was beginning to snow. Going up into the receiver cabin to inform Michele and Ye, I found that they were already beginning to pack up the laser tracker to leave. We hastily turned off the generator and locked up, and by the time we were on our way, snow was beginning to accumulate on the ground.
A couple of hundred metres lower in altitude, the snow had stopped.
Looking back up at the mountain, we saw that it was covered in a cloud.
It seemed as though we were actually driving through the bottom of the
cloud where the snow was forming. As we drove down to San Pedro, the
sky became clearer, but behind us the mountain tops remained shrouded in
snow. The dusk sky in front of us was all soft oranges and pinks behind
light blue mountains, a contrast to the dark grey tenebrosity at our
This morning Roland, Madhuri and I met Jo to do some sightseeing, it being her last day in Chile. (Michele unfortunately had to stay behind to meet the electricians bringing our new generators.) Our destination was the Laguna Chaxas, a shallow pan in the middle of a salt plain about sixty kilometres south of San Pedro. Like the drive between Calama and San Pedro, the terrain near the laguna is absolutely desolate. Salt deposits make the ground a dull white colour and grow into weird, spiky crystal formations. The water in the laguna is very shallow and is frequented by flamingoes which eat the brine shrimp living in the water.
We saw a good number of flamingoes, as well as sea gulls and sand-pipers. Despite the flatness and dryness, it is a beautiful place. The salt plain looks quite alien, and the mountains rise up all shimmering and pale in the background. It is remarkable that in such a harsh environment an ecosystem can survive. Since we went early in the morning there were very few people there, and it was only starting to get hot as we left.
On the way back, we stopped for a few minutes in Toconao, a village about forty kilometres from San Pedro. An old bell tower, plastered white, stands in a cool garden in the middle of the village, and we sat for a while watching some children play, wondering why they were not in school.
Arriving back in San Pedro at about noon, we went to a small restaurant to have some enpanadas for lunch. While we were waiting for our food, the musicians that we had heard a few nights before at La Estaka came in, and once more we were treated to their rendition of El Cóndor Pasa.
And so, having spent the morning in leisure, we parted from Jo and headed up the mountain. But no sooner had we set out than Rolando received a call from Michele saying that Mel was descending and needed help transporting some equipment that had just been delivered to our compound in San Pedro. So we waited for Mel to come down (which took about an hour) and then spent a good deal of time prying open the crate containing the equipment and hoisting it into his truck. The hardware in question was a big aluminium piece for the cable tray between the telescope and the equipment room which Amec had originally forgotten to ship. It barely fit in the back of his pickup, and some extra pieces needed to be put in Rolando's truck.
Only after we had changed to drive up the mountain did Mel inform us that he was going to take the rest of the afternoon off (it being about four-thirty by this time). After he had left, we decided that it would not be worthwhile to drive up ourselves, since we would only end up staying for an hour or so at the most, and instead decided to continue our day of sightseeing on bicycle.
We rode off north of San Pedro, with the vague destination of some Inca ruins that we had heard of. By the time we found the ruins the sun had set, and Rolando bargained with the gatekeeper to let us in at a reduced rate since it was fast getting dark. The ruins were part of a large Inca fortification. Still in good shape, they beetle up a steep hill in a tight labyrinth of buildings, well-preserved except for the roofs. Needless to say we had a very short look at them, and I would like to go back and have a better look.
We rode back to San Pedro in the moonlight. On our way through the town, Madhuri spied a couple of motorcycles outside of a hostel and stopped to look at them more closely. As she was admiring them, the owners came out, and as it turns out, they were from Canada, and had driven all the way from Kelowna, British Columbia (where my mother was born) down to here, in three months, taking a plane only once to cross the Darien Gap. We stayed and talked to them for almost half an hour about their trip. Apparently they had stopped in San Pedro not knowing about all the sights that are nearby or that it was a big tourist attraction. They must have just seen a small dot on the map.
This very eventful day (though not very productive as far as ACT is
concerned) is being ended by a barbecue/party here. It is to celebrate
the finishing of all the bedrooms here, and to welcome the new faces,
especially from our project. As I write this, many astronomers are
becoming increasingly inebriated and a good time is being had by all. I
have a bottle of Pisco next to my computer which I will take out to the
revellers when this journal entry is uploaded, and as I finish writing
this, Rolando is calling me to come and rejoin the party.
This morning Rolo and I drove up to the site to deliver the hardware we had loaded into his pickup yesterday. It was our first time seeing the new generators, one of which we were able to turn on after about a dozen stalled attempts.
We then proceeded to try and point the radio antenna on the mountain more accurately. Rolando was able to see San Pedro with my binoculars and did his best to readjust the dish, but to no avail. He soon had to descend, as to-day Madhuri left, and he was to drive her to the airport in Calama.
I remained up and vainly adjusted the antenna some more before giving up. I did have success reading the mirror panel thermometry though. In the middle of the day they ranged from six to ten degrees.
Presently Ye and Michele showed up. Mike Cozza and Jeff Funke from KUKA Robotics, the company responsible for our telescope motion, came up the mountain too, having arrived in Chile yesterday. They stayed up for about an hour before heading down.
Later in the afternoon I decided to build something that would allow us to point our antennas more accurately. My final design was a 5/8" copper tube fit snuggly into a piece of wood that bolts into the illuminator position on the dish. When it is in in place, one can look down the copper tube, cut to length to give about a five degree field of view, and point the dish in the right direction. After the sun went down and San Pedro's lights were visible in the distance, I tried it out and it seemed to work well. I am now fairly confident that the dish on the mountain is pointing in the right direction. To-morrow we will have to repeat the exercise for the antenna on the ground.
Meanwhile, Michele and Ye had begun measurements of the mirror panels
to see how much they need to be adjusted. This process, which needs to
be done at night as it uses a laser which is too difficult to see in
daylight, will take us many nights. I joined them for a little while and
we called it a night at a quarter after eight.
To-day at eleven-thirty Rolando, Mike Cozza and I went to the Palm Sunday mass at the church. The service was proceeded by a procession through the town, which we found only just before it ended. This day I was able to understand the first half of the sermon very well, but the latter part hardly at all. All I could tell was that it was political in nature, with the pastor being concerned about unity, crying, `Somos hermanos, hermanos, hermanos, hermanos!' with great fervour. Later Rolo told me that he was exhorting the parishoners to drop their quarrels and divisions (which, in such a small town, are known to everybody) in the week leading to Easter. He was also concerned that the residents often only treated tourists as a source of income and not as guests in their town.
Afterwards the three of us went to a small restaurant, frequented by the locals, and each got a two course dinner for less than 6000 pesos (~$11) total, with drinks. We began with a traditional soup containing a cut of beef, corn, pumpkin and potato, followed by some chicken with salad.
After the meal we headed back to the compound. I had brought down my device for aligning the antenna last night, and Rolo used it to align the dish to the mountain.
Arriving up on the mountain at about four o'clock, we found to our dismay that the radio link was still not working. But after reading the manual some more and studying the configuration, I discovered that the distance had been set incorrectly in the configuration, and switched it to automatically detect the distance. Leaving Rolo, Michele and Ye to do more panel alignment, I descended to San Pedro and made the configuration change on the lower radio.
And thus, at about eight o'clock this evening, we established an
ethernet link for the first time between San Pedro and Cerro Toco
This is quite a relief, as the down-link will be essential to our
operation. As it was dark by this time, we decided to do fine-tuning of
the antennas until to-morrow.
Madhuri having left, we became more acutely aware this morning that we are dependent on her room for working on the radio down-link. Accordingly, we began looking into running the permanent cable to our office. An underground conduit runs about a third of the way, but we needed to decide how to get the cable there. In the end, it was simplest to drape it across the roofs of the bedrooms. The cable is supposed to be resistant to disintegration from sunlight, so we hope that it is a robust enough solution.
Rolando worked on the lightning protection and grounding, while I routed the cable into our office. But then I remembered that we had left the ethernet crimp tool up on the mountain, so we were unable to finish the wire all the way through. And so for one more day we have been dependent on the proximity of Madhuri's room to the antenna.
After lunch, I headed up with Ye. Rolo stayed behind finishing the cable connexions and so that we would have someone to help us from the ground if necessary. (Michele, Mike Cozza and Jeff Funke had gone up earlier.)
Once on the mountain, Michele and I tested the speed of the radio ethernet connexion. We were pleasantly surprised to get over 6 MB per second (i.e., almost 50 Mbps) with the transmission power at the default of 25 dBm maximum. This would be more than enough to transmit all of our data real-time down the mountain. Lowering the maximum transmission power to 10 dBm we were able to get a rate of 2.3 MBps (18.4 Mbps).
I spent a good deal of time configuring the network on the mountain so that we can have internet access up there. It will be at least another day before this becomes a reality as I need to do a similar configuration in San Pedro.
To-day was the last day for many of the Con-Pax workers who have been constructing the ground screen. They have already been working about a week longer than they had planned and are going home now. They should be replaced by some other workers.
Ye and Michele adjusted some primary mirror panels which they had measured the night before, and then proceeded to continue surveying the primary mirror. I joined them about three-quarters of the way through, and we left the mountain at nine-thirty.
Our cook made an exceptionally delicious supper to-night of noodles
in a fresh tomato sauce with chops on the side.
To-day, two milestones were achieved up at the site. The first was that we executed motion on the telescope for the first time since it was shipped from Vancouver. As the grease sprayer is not yet working, it was only moved sparingly, both in azimuth and elevation. Mike Cozza was overall pleased with the performance, but saw some oscillations which he believed were due to some slightly loose bolts.
The second milestone was that we established a link to the internet on the mountain, and sent out our first email from there to the whole ACT group. Needless to say, our productivity fell sharply as everyone began wanting to check his email and browse the web. I also discovered Multi-player Angband.
Michele and Rolando hooked up the GPS antenna and mounted it to the equipment room. When I went to read it out on the computer, however, I discovered that I had forgotten to install the drivers. Joe Fowler told me this evening that I can probably download them from the internet.
The ground screen scaffolding is now complete, and only the panels remain to be put in. This means that soon the telescope will be hidden from view.
Earlier in the day for lunch, Michele, Rolo and I went into town
to have empanaditas. Once again we were subjected to a rendition of
El Cóndor Pasa; once again we did not buy the CD.
To-day on the mountain, Mike and Jeff continued tuning the motion. Jeff and I worked on the communication between the housekeeping computer and the robot computer. Rolando and Michele did some more work tying down cables on the rack below the receiver cabin.
Though we have the new generators, we still lack the big diesel tank for them, as well as a regular delivery service to keep it full. Once again we had to fill up a 200 litre drum, drive it up, and syphon it into the small generator tank. It will be good when this tedious and time-consuming task is no longer necessary.
This evening, it being Mike Cozza's birthday, we all went into town for dinner at Ckunna: Mike, Jeff, Ye, Mel and his wife Margaret (who is recently arrived to have a holiday here), Michele, Rolando and I. The musical entertainment this time was what we have come to term `Group Number Two', as opposed to Group Number One, the latter of which is well known to us for its rendition of El Cóndor Pasa. Group Number Two has six members and a better sound; moreover, they do more singing which makes the music more colourful.
As for Group Number One, Mike bought their CD the other night and sent me the El Cóndor Pasa track specifically so I could include an excerpt in this journal:
Click to listen to El Cóndor Pasa: MP3 | Ogg Vorbis
Having mentioned this song so often, I did a little research and found that it is a Peruvian song composed in 1913 for a play of the same title. The plot is about a conflict between indigenous and European Peruvians working in a mine. Simon and Garfunkel used the tune in their famous version in the album Bridge Over Troubled Water, substituting their own words for the original Quecha lyrics, and omitting the more upbeat, faster tempo ending.
Group Number One always introduces the song by saying that it is a traditional song from the Andes. I had previously thought that they said so tongue in cheek, but now realise that it is true.
This evening has been the coldest yet, with most of us shivering near
the end of dinner (our table being outdoors), and Mel and Mike standing
next to the fire to stay warm. I estimate that it was seven or eight
This morning Rolando left to catch a 'plane down south to join his family for the Easter weekend. Michele and I had a slow morning, organising our pictures and sending neglected emails. If you find that the one or two pictures per day which appear on this page do not sate your appetite, there is now reason to rejoice, as I have placed my galleries to-date online. Michele has also updated his website with a video of our telescope moving for the first time on Cerro Toco.
A message was posted on the wall opposite our office this morning which reads:
This weekend we do not have the service of cleanliness, Is Holiday in Chile.
Despite the natural apprehension caused by the prospect of no service of cleanliness, we decided to go up the mountain anyways. There, we worked more on getting the motion to work smoothly. Jeff and I coordinated to get the KUKA data streaming to our housekeeping computer.
There appears to be a slight discrepancy between the two elevation encoders, as they accumulate about a 10 arcsecond relative offset over their 30 degree range. I am going to try and dig up some data from Vancouver to see if this is a new phenomenon; we will also have to see if a similar effect happens in the azimuth encoders.
Meanwhile, Ye used the Faro to take measurements of the telescope at different azimuth angles. He will analyse the results to see how level the telescope is and prescribe any adjustments to remove any tilts.
After dark, Ye and Michele continued doing mirror panel measurements,
and made some adjustments to the panels from the back. By nine thirty
they were exhausted and chilled to the bone and we headed down for
supper back at the compound.
Good Friday is one of my favourite holidays because it has not been commercialised and would be impossible to do so. I cannot conceive, for example, of a Good Friday greeting card. It remains a quiet day with no obligations to society, free for rest and reflexion.
And so I spent the morning and early afternoon in relative idleness, staying in bed late and reading. I met Mike Cozza at three for the Good Friday service in the church, which I ended up enjoying more than I had expected. The pastor preached a very good sermon and the quiet, unadorned service was suitable to the day.
Afterwards Mike and and I wandered lazily through San Pedro, and ended up at the cemetery, where we spent about half an hour looking at the various graves, from the simple wooden crosses with fading dates, to the large tombs, full of well-tended flowers and memorabilia from the lives of the deceased.
In the evening I went with Mike and Jeff to dinner. We were joined half-way through by Cristian, a KUKA man from Santiago who will provide support when Mike and Jeff are gone. To my great surprise, a musical group entered which none of us had seen before, and which I call `The New Group'. They were better than Group Number One but fell a touch short of Group Number Two.
Leaving dinner we were caught up in the Good Friday procession which was making the Way of the Cross through the streets, just coming to the seventh station. The KUKA fellows joined for a bit and then went back to the hotel; I remained and followed the procession for the next hour or so to the end.
The procession was headed by statues of John the Apostle and the Virgin Mary, followed by a tomb with glass walls holding the dead body of Christ, borne by four men wrapped in white sheets as though for burial. Women of the town led the singing and the deacon and priest, together with what seemed to be seminarians or perhaps simply acolytes, who led the prayers at each station.
Thence back to the compound at about eleven thirty. The moon had
risen about fifty degrees in the sky, being trailed by Jupiter, and as I
walked home in the moonlight, the Milky Way was spread out in front of me, with
the Southern Cross at its zenith: a fitting end to this day.
This morning I headed up with the KUKA guys to the site. As it was Cristian's first time, we took two trucks so that one party could come back down earlier with him.
Once there, Jeff and I worked on getting VNC running on the KUKA computer so that we can access it from down the mountain. After not too much time we succeeded, and Michele, still not having left San Pedro, was able to log in and see what Jeff was doing.
I spent the rest of my time there wading through months data from Vancouver to see if I could find an example of the elevation encoder mismatch that we have been observing here. By the end of the day I had found some data which might be suitable, but will have to do some more work to dig it out.
Meanwhile, Mel and company worked on adjusting the bolts to the base to make the telescope more level. When they were finished, Ye, Michele and Mike did the level measurements again with the laser tracker, and Ye found that the tilt had gone from about 200 arc seconds down to about 80 (if I remember the numbers correctly).
Mike and I drove down together at about six-thirty (Jeff and Cristian having left about three hours prior), leaving Michele and Ye to continue with the interminable panel alignment process. I had a nice, quiet dinner at the compound with Mr. & Mrs. Dombey (who have just returned from their honeymoon) and Miss Dombey, who is overjoyed to have a new mother.
Later I went to the Easter Vigil, joined once again by Mike Cozza. As we listened to the reading of Abraham and Isaac, I thought how wonderful that the story of a people of a different race, language and way of life should be remembered here, on the other side of the world, four thousand years later, in a little, dark church.
The service lasted past midnight, and I, after having walked home in
the moonlight, exhausted from several late nights in a row, now go
sleepily to bed.
Being Easter I took this day off and spent most of the morning reading and watching television: Michele and I were captured by the Spanish A&E for a couple of hours, and especially enjoyed Mr. Bean.
In the afternoon I went with Mike Cozza to visit the museum of San Pedro, which is pretty large and has a good collection of artifacts tracing the record of human habitation in the region, from the first arrival of settlers coming down from the Bering Strait to the Inca and Spanish invasions. Of particular interest are the several mummies — bodies which are remarkably well preserved, not because of human intervention, but because the climate is so dry that the bodies do not readily decompose. Skin and hair remain on some bodies which are hundreds of years old.
This evening into San Pedro for dinner with Michele and Ye, where I
did have the best dinner I have had here to date, at Tierra. We all got
the menu, which started with a good, simple mushroom soup, followed by
salmon perfectly cooked on black beans flavoured with goat cheese, and
finishing with a raspberry sponge cake.
This morning Michele and Ye went up the mountain early to make measurements of the level of the telescope. I remained behind, first calling my mother, it being her birthday to-day, and then looking at old data from Vancouver until the KUKA guys came by. Mike and Cristian went up immediately, and Jeff came with me via the petrol station, where we filled up the truck and our 200 litre diesel drum, as we still do not have the proper tank and delivery for our generators.
On the way up with the fuel in the back of the truck I decided to try the low-gear four wheel drive and was very pleased with the result: Michele often complains driving up that there is no gear "two and a half"; driving in the low gear solves that problem.
It was a long day for me on the mountain. I spent most of the afternoon working a bit with the KUKA guys and interacting with Jeff Klein at Penn trying (still) to get data from Vancouver. A half hour or so was dedicated to syphoning diesel into the generator, which left my hands smelling of diesel as we don't have all the right hose fittings.
In the evening I worked with Michele and Ye to do panel adjustments and subsequently make measurements with the laser tracker. Ye showed me how to operate the system while Michele climbed up over the mirror holding the corner cube mirror. By the end my feet were very cold; not because the weather was acute, it being no colder than minus five or so, but rather from being fairly stationary the whole time.
Arriving back in San Pedro after ten, we found Rolando, who had
arrived back from his Easter holiday, and, it being Ye's last night
here, we went out to dinner, once again at Tierra, which I spoke of very
highly yesterday. Now after midnight, and I very tired to bed.
Now that Ye is gone, we, perhaps by necessity, want to become more independent at analysing the panel measurement data. To that end, Rolando and I this morning began looking in earnest at the data ourselves for the first time. My strategy is to build from the ground up an analysis program in C; Rolando has taken to trying to understand the motley collection of packages that Ye has used to do the analysis. My hope is that our seperate reasearch will converge at some point. In the meantime, I am hopeful that Rolando will become proficient enough with Ye's methodology to be able to use it within a couple of days, until we develop a faster and easier solution.
In the afternoon Rolando and I went up the mountain to meet the KUKA guys. Michele remained behind with an upset stomach, which turned out to be somewhat useful as we were able to test our new radios, one of which we will keep in the car in case of emergencies.
At the site Rolando and I assisted Mike Cozza in calculating some new filter coefficients for the motor servo, as the previous settings caused the telescope to shake progressively worse and worse as the telescope moved. In the end the new coefficients did the trick: the telescope no longer has run-away oscillations. Some work still needs to be done, however, as there is a large shudder in the motion when the telescope turns.
I also did some work on control software. To-morrow I hope to get some time to myself on the telescope to try and get full control of the telescope through our own computers.
This evening I discovered that we had no evening meal ready for us in
the refrigerator, and I suspect that the cook did not even show up to-day.
We were given no reason. Michele's stomach was still a bit upset, so he
did not want a big meal and decided to have the few leftovers we still
had in the fridge. Rolando and I went out to Café
Export and had some very delicious, and large, empanadas — or
rather, as Rolando just exclaimed, `Estoy chato [lleno] de tanta
This morning was spent wrestling some more with the Faro data. I made pretty good progress in understanding how the mirror deforms as the temperature changes, but still need to work on it more. In the process I have learned a bunch about linear fitting generalised to three dimensions. Rolando meanwhile struggled to understand the geometry of the mirror.
In the afternoon up at the site, Michele and Rolando looked for the last cables to connecting the LVDT's on the secondary mirror structure, as well as the secondary accelerometers, to the bulkhead of the receiver cabin. In the end the accelerometer cable was too short and they spent a while making an extension cable for it.
I, in the meantime, updated amcp so that we can control the telescope motion through it. I was pretty successful, though there is at least one bug on the robot computer that Jeff Funke needs to fix. The motion, though devoid of run-away oscillations, still needs work to make it smooth enough for us, and I hope that Mike's expertise will make for rapid progress.
In the evening, we went in once again to San Pedro for supper, as we
had eaten our supper meal for lunch before we went up the mountain. We
tried a new restaurant called Casa de Piedra. The food was
good (we all had the fish), but our waitress was very garrulous and
flirtatious, which is rather strange, because usually it is uncouth
patrons who flirt with waitresses, not vice versa. At any rate it was
late and we were all eager get home. On the way out Rolando pointed out
a phallic statue sitting on the bar which was quite amusing.
This day I continued to work on fitting panel measurements. Madhuri and Ryan Fisher (a fellow student from Princeton) were able to point Rolando and I to work that had been done a few months ago, which I hope will be useful. I made good progress to-day, and I believe that I can describe the contraction of the mirror as the temperature drops accurately enough now with a code that runs very fast. I want to properly document it before I move on so that it will be comprehensible to others (and to myself) in the future.
Rolando and Michele headed up to the mountain in the middle of the afternoon, taking another load of diesel with them: we still do not have our final tank and it is not clear when it will arrive. It is looking more and more like we will have to take up a barrel every day for the next week or so in order to have the generator running full time for the Site Acceptance Test, which requires the telescope to move almost continuously for a few days on end.
Not being urgently needed at the site, and mid-stride in my panel calculations, I stayed down. It is good to have dinner before nine o'clock and take an early rest for once.
I have become quite fond of avocados (denominated paltas in Chilean Spanish) since arriving. It is not a food with which I was previously well acquainted, but here we have them at least once a day in our salads, and often on sandwiches for lunch.
This day at noon, Rolando, being in town on some errands, spied our
waitress from last night coming towards him, and judiciously made off
with all haste in avoidance, clutching the rolls which he had just
purchased for our lunch.
This day I continued to work on the panel fitting. Being satisfied, for now at least, with my treatment of the fiducial points for tracking contraction of the mirror, I turned to fitting the mirror points to the mirror shape. The solution will be a bit less elegant because it requires a non-linear fit, but seems straight-forward enough. At the very least, this project is causing me to finally fill up some pages in my lab book, and with some real math at that.
The generator guys finally arrived to-day and went up with Michele in the morning to fix the problems we've been having. One generator would frequently display an error about a temperature sensor and refuse to start; the other was leaking coolant and oil. The technicians seemed to fix both problems and the generators are working better now.
Of course, we still lack the final tank and it was Rolando and my turn to take the diesel up to-day. Jeff Funke also travelled with us, Mike Cozza and Cristian having gone up earlier.
On the dirt road on the way up a herd of vicuñas were crossing the road ahead of us, the closest I have seen them yet. The fur of this relative of the llama is highly sought after and consequently they are somewhat endangered. In our region they are protected and seem to be doing well.
On the topic of high-altitude fauna (or perhaps moving on to avifauna), Rolando has just identified a flock of birds that we saw the other day. They looked like a type of fowl to me, rather drab in colour and ponderous in build. The name of the bird is perdiz de la puna (highland partridge), or locally, pisaca.
Once on the mountain, we found that Mike and Cristian had discovered the source of some fourteen hertz oscillations in the elevation motion which had been plaguing them: the elevation screws (which lift the telescope up and down in the vertical direction) appear not to be damped properly, and when we went into the receiver cabin and opened the ports to look at them, they rattled around like crazy when the telescope was moving, especially at low elevations. This problem has set back the KUKA guys at least a day, and it is not clear yet what the resolution will be.
Michele and Rolando made progress hooking up our last few
instruments. The secondary structure accelerometers and the LVDTs (for
measuring the position of the secondary mirror) are now reading out. It
took them a bit longer than they might have liked, because the existing
cables were too short and they had to make extensions. But, being good
experimentalists, they decided to do it right once and for all, and now
everything is hooked up robustly.
There are two dogs which live at the compound, named Bush and Bin Laden. When we asked which was which, we were told that the uglier one is Bush. This morning as I went to breakfast, I saw that Bin Laden had found an enormous bone somewhere, on which he was contentedly gnawing.
Work on the analysis of panel measurements continues to proceed forwards. To-day Rolando had a two and a half hour phone conversation with Ye wherein he learned the esoteric methodology for using Ye's hodge-podge of Excel macros and MathCad programs. On my front I spent a good deal of times calculating painful derivatives for the fitting algorithm, and then struggled to understand the different coordinate systems. I found that the optics paper our group recently finished to be useful. Though I am one of the authors I learned many new things from it — in particular, I now understand our mirror design much better.
The KUKA guys continued to be beset with problems. They lost almost five hours to-day because their robot "lost mastering", which, for all intents and purposes, meant that the computer lost its knowledge of where the telescope was pointing together with some configuration settings. It is still a bit of mystery why this happened. Then Mike continued struggling with the oscillations in the elevation drive. By eight in the evening he thought he had it down to reasonable levels, but time will tell — especially when he begins fine-tuning the azimuth motion.
Given that the KUKA guys were up until past eight, Michele and I did not get a chance to do the panel adjustments and measurements that we had been hoping to do to-night. We did deliver another barrel of diesel though, and now the generators are collectively three quarters full.
This was Cristian's last day here. He hoped we would meet again, but
with the proviso that the encounter not be because our motion was
failing. We hope as much also.
This day at church a horse-drawn carriage decorated with palms and flowers, escorted by almost a dozen men on horseback dressed as huasos (cowboys) pulled up at the front. The deacon hopped out of carriage and entered the church with great cheer, followed by a choir in traditional Chilean costumes with guitars and accordions, and finally by the huasos. Apparently this Sunday was Cuasimodo, where traditionally huasos escort the priest (or as it would seem to-day, a deacon) around the parish so that he can take the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and infirm who were unable to attend the Easter services.
After the service, the choir began playing music and performing a traditional Chilean dance in the town square. The dance (done in couples) is performed with each sex holding a handkerchief and waving it above his or her head. We ran into Mel and his wife Margaret who were admiring the scene. Then the priest came out and was entreated to dance, and he did very well and gracefully with one of the younger girls — though, being of a portly build, he was quite out of breath at the end.
In the afternoon, Michele, Rolando and I did go to some hot springs at Puritama, about thirty kilometres north-east of San Pedro. The terrain on the way is brown and rocky, full of craggy hills peppered with tall, straight cacti. Ravines, carved out by the rare watershed, cut through the landscape here and there. But the springs were in the deepest ravine of all — better called a canyon — with steep walls hiding a lush and verdant valley below, through which a series of small cataracts fed by the hot spring runs.
Parking at the top of the canyon, we walked down: perhaps a sixty or seventy metre vertical drop to the bottom. A boardwalk has been built along the water, surrounded by rushes and tall grasses, which stand out in stark contrast to the barren, rocky walls of the canyon rising up nearby. Standing next the water, Michele and I both remarked a strange sensation, until we realised that we were feeling humidity, a rare feeling in the Atacama.
The water is not as warm as some hot springs, being about thirty degrees, but is pleasantly lukewarm. Neither does it smell very strongly of sulphur or other chemicals, though it does slightly irritate the eyes. We relaxed in the water for almost two hours, until dusk, at which point it was very uncomfortable to come out of the water into the cool, evening air.
Back in San Pedro, we went out to dinner in town, as we had exhausted
the weekend's supply of meals. Once again to Tierra and once again some
salmon, although done differently this time, but still quite tasty.
Group Number Three played there this night, which was a bit
disconcerting as Group Number One usually plays at Tierra. But
we did enjoy this new group, they being fresh and enthusiastic. We also
discovered that their actual name is Los Quatros Jovenes.
This day marks a month that I have been in San Pedro de Atacama. Thus far I am not weary of the place, despite warnings from other scientists here at the compound that after three weeks it begins to become too long.
The panel analysis continues to come along well. I have now successfully fit the mirror shape to the measurements and calculated the residuals from the fit; all that remains is to convert microns into a number of turns of a screw for adjusting the panels, and to make some nice plots of the panel residuals. This afternoon Rolando and Michele were able to get some time on the telescope to make panel adjustments using the numbers that Ye provided a couple of days ago.
Jeff and I this afternoon were able to iron out some bugs in the communication between our computer and the robot. I think we will need a bit more time to finalise the details of the communications, but overall we are in good shape.
Coming down the mountain to-day, Rolando, Michele and I had a very
involved discussion about the use of the subjunctive mood in Spanish.
Michele and I assumed, based on our knowledge of other romance
languages, that verbs of belief or conjecture needed to be followed by a
verb in the subjunctive; however, after asking Rolando for numerous
examples, it seems that it is only verbs of doubt that take the
subjunctive. (Hence: "Creo que se llama Rolando", but "Dudo que se
llame Rolando".) This was a fascinating and unexpected piece of
knowledge for both me and Michele — who is still somewhat
incredulous about the whole thing and has vowed to consult some official
grammars on the subject.
To-day, continuing to work on analysing the panel measurements, I was able for the first time to create a list of panel adjustments based on our last set of measurements. Comparing my prescription to Ye's, I found that they were pretty similar, with some small differences which I believe to be statistical.
This success was not achieved on my own, as Rolando did the routines that locate the nearest panel adjuster for a given measurement. He also had the better of me on a small wager over a rather confusing geometric calculation. Although we both turned out to be right (I had made a barely-noticeable typo in my code) and had equivalent answers, I had bet a Pisco Sour that his calculations were fundamentally flawed. In the end, the mathematics proved him right.
On the telescope motion side of things, Mike Cozza worked all day to-day tuning the azimuth motion. When we arrived (late in the afternoon), he had made progress, but was still pretty discouraged with the slow progress. I helped him by analysing some of our encoder data, which gave him another perspective on the state of the system. He is considering moving from a state-space control — for which he has been receiving none of the crucial support he needs from Germany — back to a more traditional control system to-morrow, which in itself is not a lot of work, but would mean he would have to tune many parameters from scratch.
Mike's conjecture is that the differences in motion are due to the better foundation the telescope enjoys on Cerro Toco (built into rock) compared to the rather unstable base in Vancouver, which was built on soft ground. The Vancouver base appears to have been damping some frequencies which are now showing up. But it is structurally advantageous to have a solid foundation, and once KUKA tunes their servos for the telescope here, it should be stable in the long run. (Herein we find a behovely lesson.)
In the evening Rolando and Michele set up to take some panel
measurements. After finishing off some analysis code, I went up to join
them just as they were getting started. But we were flummoxed by the Faro
software, which for some reason would not allow us to save our data. We
are fairly certain that we missed a step somewhere in the setup, but
could not for the life of us discover it. And so we left without
recording a single measurement, planning to ask Ye for more detailed
This evening as I sat down to write this journal entry I checked my email, and got a letter from the Whitney-Browns (some family friends), in which Carrie writes: `You're probably reading this late at night. Don't let me keep you from your next journal entry!' Well, I was not much delayed, and she was certainly right that I was reading it late at night, it being half-past midnight at this time.
The reason I write at the witching hour is that Michele, Rolando and I finally got back to "such bitter business as the day / would quake to look on" — i.e., panel measurements. We arrived up at the site at about six, but Mike Cozza was so deep in his azimuth tuning that it took until almost eight thirty until the telescope stopped moving and we could begin setting up. Thereafter the measurements went smoothly, thanks in part to instructions provided by Ye to help us bypass the problem which prevented us from working last night. It was also relatively mild out (perhaps one or two degrees below zero) and we were able to do all 192 measurements without taking a warm-up break in the equipment room. Thence down the mountain to arrive for a late supper at eleven o'clock.
Earlier in the day, I worked on creating visualisations of the panel measurements, and came up with a very smart-looking graphic of the panels with a colour-code for representing residuals of the fit. I am currently working on turning my code into a versatile and understandable form.
On our trip to the hot-springs on Sunday, Rolando destroyed his mobile
telephone by neglecting to remove it from his swimsuit pocket. To-day he
received a parcel from his mother, who had an extra identical phone which
she gave to him. To the great amusement of Michele and me, the phone
was wrapped in a pair of new socks and placed in a recycled box
originally containing briefs; groaning, he told us that she inundates
him with gifts of socks throughout the year. But upon our earnest
entreaty, he did graciously thank her over his new telephone for her
This day, as the KUKA guys needed control of the telescope all the day long, we waited until the evening to go up. It was our first time driving to the site at night, which felt a little strange. We arrived at about nine o'clock, at which point the Mike Cozza and Jeff Funke headed down.
We had brought another drum of diesel, and while Michele pumped it into the generator tank, Rolando and I went up in the back of the telescope and made panel adjustments. The adjustments were based on the calculations of my new program, so I am somewhat apprehensive about whether they will be for the better. In all, it took us about two hours to make about forty adjustments.
Afterwards, we made another set of measurements with the laser tracker. Michele and I dreamed of ways to make the process less boring, and thought that employing monkeys to do the job might be a happy solution. But at the thought of chattering monkeys scampering about the telescope we both doubled up with laughter for a few moments, while Rolando (who was up on the ladder with the corner cube) wondered what was so amusing.
In the end, we were up at the site until one in the morning, and have come back all quite exhausted. We have a long way to go before we can be called real astronomers . . .
This day I finished Dombey &
Son, which I have been enjoying the last few weeks and wishing I
had more time to read it; but now I am finally done.
This morning I stayed in bed longer than usual, tired from our late work last night. When I arose and entered the common area for breakfast, I encoutered a large party seated at the dining table, as it is the birthday of one of the Astro-Norte people. And so I had cake for breakfast, for, I believe, the first time in my entire life — and very delicious it was.
No sooner had I finished this repast than the KUKA guys arrived to discuss their plan for the day with us. Mike is continuing to tune the azimuth motion, now with support from someone in Germany (who is also named Michael, as it turns out). I elected to go up with them ahead of Michele and Rolando since Mike needed help looking at our accelerometer data.
I spent a while at the site verifying that the accelerometers were properly installed on the primary mirror structure. (These little instruments record the acceleration of different parts of the telescope as it moves.) This necessitated crawling in the back of the telescope once again, at which I am becoming quite adept. The temperature is always comfortable in there, it being sheltered from the wind and heated by the sun, and this afternoon it was almost too warm for a jacket. One of the accelerometers was lying loose on the floor of the seventh level and so I installed it. It turned out to be one of the ones Mike was most interested in.
For the next few hours Mike and I looked at the accelerometer data in a fair bit of detail. In the end, Mike was able to deduce the main ways in which the structure twists while it is moving. Whether this information will be helpful to Michael in Germany remains to be seen. To-morrow I will finish compiling the information together in a neat package for him.
Michele and Rolando arrived up near nine o'clock, with yet another drum full of diesel. (We are all beginning to permanently smell of this particular fractional distillate of fuel oil.) I headed down with the KUKA guys soon after, leaving Rolo and Michele to do measurements of the secondary mirrors.
To-day marks the beginning of my sixth week in San Pedro.
This morning Rolando and I drove to Calama to pick up Judy Lau and Toby Marriage who were arriving from Princeton. It was my first time to Calama since Lyman arrived over a month ago. As we were approaching the city, their 'plane flew low directly over our heads on its way to the runway, and we arrived at the airport as they were picking up their baggage. They were remarkably alert after the long journey, as the overnight flight had been sparsely populated and they were able to stretch out on the empty seats.
While in Calama we went to pick up some supplies. It was rather surreal, as our destination was a large, American-style mall, which was crawling with Saturday patrons. We first went to the supermarket to stock up on snack food; thence to a computer store to get some headsets for communicating via Skype from the mountain; thence to a hardware store to buy antifreeze for our cryogenic pumps' cooling system. I, being in need of shoelaces for my work boots, was amazed to discover that none of the numerous shoe stores in the mall carried shoelaces. Apparently, one buys shoelaces at a cordoneria in Chile: a store specialising in lace of all kinds, including that particular variety which is used to fasten shoes.
Later, driving back out of Calama, we indeed found a cordoneria where I found some suitable shoelaces. I also saw the Scotiabank which Ye had spotted when he was there in March.
We arrived back in San Pedro at about four o'clock, and poor Rolando had to hurriedly pack and return to Calama within an hour to catch a flight to Santiago, where he is receiving an engineering prize early next week. And so we have lost him for a few days; but the one benefit of his absence is that Toby is able to use his room and avoid having to stay in a hotel in town, the compound now being full up.
This evening with the KUKA guys to Tierra, where Group Number Two
entertained us with, to our great astonishment, a completely new suite
This morning Toby and Judy were, naturally, very eager to see the telescope for the first time on Cerro Toco, and headed up at about ten in the morning with Jeff Funke.
For the rest of us, the telescope is no longer an exciting novelty, and we elected to spend our Sunday morning in a more relaxing fashion. This is not to say that we have grown tired of the telescope, but rather that it is more like a love which has matured rather than one in the throes of new passion. One is no longer anxious about whether she will remain steadfast in one's absence. In short: the telescope would still be there after church and a lazy luncheon.
The same is true of the drive to the telescope. The view is no longer breathtaking, but I will never grow tired of it. It works more on the subconscious, as I nonchalantly gaze out the window at the sloping expanse and distant peaks on either side of the road. Even if I am reading the grandeur and beauty still comes in through peripheral vision and infrequent glances.
When Michele, Mike Cozza and I arrived at the site we were surprised to see that the other three had already removed the CCam — our `prototype' camera for the telescope — from its shipping container and put it into the white container, and there was Judy sitting on the floor happily removing the screws to open it up. (It appears that I neglected to mention yesterday that this shipping container had arrived. While Rolo and I were picking up Judy and Toby from the airport Michele was busy shepherding the truck carrying it up the last few hundred metres of the mountain, where it kept getting stuck. He conjectured that this was probably the roughest portion of its long voyage from New Jersey. To our relief, everything inside was still well-secured and intact.)
Michele, Judy and Toby spent the rest of the afternoon starting to unpack the container. They were able to extract the printer and computers that needed to be brought back down to San Pedro and packed them in the back of the KUKA car, which does not have a drum in the back on a diesel-stained floor. I ended up spending more time with Mike looking at the accelerometers and was finally able to finish up a small document presenting the data.
On the way back, just before sunset, we took the long road down past
the other experiments, with a detour by an old sulphur mine a bit
further up Cerro Toco than our telescope. There were a number of
excellent views but this day I forget to bring my camera up with me.
This morning we went up `early' to the telescope, leaving just after nine o'clock. I place the temporal adverb in inverted commas because for most of the world, nine in the morning is not considered early, especially for Mel from Amec who is usually already arrived at the telescope by that time. But given that we work such a variety of hours — frequently at night — I believe that we were justified in calling it early.
One of our objects for getting a quick start on the day was that Jeff Klein from the University of Pennsylvania was supposed to arrive this evening and we needed the truck to pick him up. But at about one o'clock I received an email from him saying that he had changed his ticket at the last moment and would instead be arriving this Saturday. And so we stayed up at the telescope for a long, productive day.
Judy and Toby worked on opening up the CCam and making sure everything was in the right place. This included checking things like electrical continuity, thermometers and other esoteric cryogenic things of which I am ignorant; at any rate, they were holed up in the white container the entire day and into the evening.
Michele and I started the day by doing primary panel adjustments. There were not as many this time, and I discovered that Rolando and I had been performing an unnecessary step which had been slowing us down. This was the first time I had done adjustments with Michele since we were in Vancouver, and I picked up a few techniques from his time-honoured method which should make me faster in the future.
The rest of our time up there Michele and I spent unpacking the new container from Princeton. The inside of the container is dominated by the presence of a back-up generator, around and beneath with the rest of the equipment was crammed. It was a reasonable amount of exercise moving so many large (and often heavy) boxes at five thousand metres. By the end of the day we had taken everything out (excepting the generator and a large air pump), decided what needed to be put in a home right away, and then put everything else back in a much more organised fashion, so that we can access anything we need in the next few days in a matter of minutes.
In the meantime, Mike and Jeff continued working on the motion control of the telescope. Mike last night had discovered a rather glaring bug buried deep in the control software which had been there since testing in Vancouver. Investigating it further to-day seemed to unearth more associated bugs which he and Jeff spent a while coming to grips with. As discouraging as a given day may seem at the time to them, it is my belief that they are still making progress each day. As usual, Murphy's Law has been inescapable, and not properly accounted for in the scheduling.
Michele at one point made up an acronym for the task we were performing. When I challenged his needless addition to the vocabulary of initialisms, his immediate response was, `I work for NASA. It's my job to invent acronyms.'
Unpacking to-day we discovered that the pleasure of popping
bubble-wrap is even greater at high altitude, because the bubbles are so
swelled up in the low pressure that they gladly pop at a light squeeze.
This morning Judy and Toby planned to head up with the KUKA guys at about ten, but their truck was practically empty and the petrol station was in the middle of refilling its diesel tanks, so they were delayed about an hour.
I spent the next few hours populating the rack down here in town with the computers which had arrived in the new container. Such things always take longer than anticipated, but it is good to do things properly the first time.
When Michele and I arrived on the mountain we found that Toby and Judy, about to close up the CCam, had discovered that there was a relatively major problem. It seems that the G10 legs were broken during shipping, and consequently, all the cryogenic stages have collapsed into each other. They were lucky to catch this problem before closing up, as, needless to say, the camera will not work at all in its present condition. It will require at least a week of fixing — involving taking most of it apart to gain access to the legs — before they can attempt to pump it out and cool it down.
When the others left, around eight o'clock, Michele and I remained behind to do another round of panel measurements. This night we added another six panels to our survey. It was also the coldest night I have spent up on the mountain, perhaps between minus five and minus ten; though the telescope shielded us from the bitter wind that we heard whistling and beating about the ground screen. The moon, half-full and waxing, was setting behind the primary mirror.
We arrived back in San Pedro at about eleven to find Toby and Judy
having an intense telephone conversation with Lyman about how to repair
the CCam. After they had come up with a plan Michele and I filled Lyman
in with other aspects of the goings-on here, and then, ravenous, to
dinner just before midnight, where I did find a delicious soup left by
Last night Toby came back just before two o'clock from the Casa de Don Tomás, where, for some reason, he failed to appear on the on the reservation list. And so I took him into my room, where he elected to sleep on the floor in Rolando's sleeping bag, declining to be the Queequeg to my Ishmael.
To-day we had a visitor named Alicia Norambuena, an official from CONICYT which is the the Chilean government science foundation. She was instrumental in helping us bring the ACT to Chile. After Judy and Toby left with the KUKA guys, Michele waited until she arrived from the airport, picked her up from Don Tomás and drove her up to the site.
Meanwhile, Rolando arrived back from Santiago in the morning — probably on the same flight as Alicia. Due to a confusion here at the compound, he had lost his room and so is now staying at Don Tomás. While we waited for his room to be ready, he and I spent the morning in town: he working on subtleties of the panel fitting and I trying to organise our office as part of my drive to set up our new equipment.
After he had checked in at about one thirty, we headed up. On the way we passed Michele coming down with Alicia, who seems to have enjoyed her tour very much.
Arriving at the site, we set to work continuing to unpack and organise. I got the UPS's online and Rolando began figuring out how we will set up our weather station. Toby and Judy were busy in the other container attacking the CCam with a drill trying to get at the G10 feet.
In the late afternoon it began snowing at the site. The skies didn't
look too ominous, so we kept working, but by dusk the snow was coming
down quite thick, and Mike and Rolando began thinking that we should
leave, so we hastened down with the snow driving into our windshields.
It only began letting up as we reached the paved highway, and when we
arrived in San Pedro, the sky was clear there, with the ill weather only
a large, black cloud covering the mountains on the horizon.
This day Michele, Rolando and I went to the annual Chajnantor Working Group meeting, where the various astronomical projects in the region get together to update each other on progress and talk about common issues.
The meeting was held at the ALMA headquarters. ALMA is a huge project which will eventually have over seventy telescopes spread over the whole Chajnantor valley near to our own telescope, each one over seven metres in diameter, operating as one big interferometer. With a budget of over a billion US dollars, it makes ACT look like a high school science fair project (complete with a baking soda volcano to represent Licancabur). There are currently about five hundred people working at the ALMA site, there is a dedicated cafeteria serving professionally catered food, houses are being constructed for workers, there is medical clinic complete with an ambulance, and a security building is being constructed at the entrance entrance.
The meeting was interesting for the most part, with each project giving a short presentation of its progress over the past year, followed by some general discussion about electrical power, safety and environmental concerns.
In the evening there was a dinner for the meeting participants at
La Casona in San Pedro, where there was very good food and a
prodigious quantity of wine. We were treated to our own dedicated
musical group, which we had never seen before, as it seems they play
only at private functions. Still, we did not hesitate to denominate
them as `Group Number Four'. By midnight about a third of the people
remained, chatting and dancing by the open fire, at which point
Michele and I walked back to the facility to get some sleep before the
meeting resumes at nine to-morrow morning.
This morning the meeting started closer to nine-thirty than nine, as the CBI guys were late arriving. (Tony Readhead, who arrived last night after his flight was delayed, claimed that he was under the impression that the meetings started at nine-thirty, and I'm inclined to believe him, gentleman that he is.) The agenda was not terribly boring but rather uninteresting and does not merit much mention here. After the meeting there was a brief tour of the on-going ALMA construction, followed by another sumptuous repast in their cafeteria.
After lunch, Michele had a brief meeting with CONICYT, during which time Rolando and I played some pool in the ALMA recreation room. I was surprised that Rolando had never played Eight-ball before and so I taught him the rules and then promptly lost the match.
Back in San Pedro, I continued to set up our office in San Pedro. Then, going to our container to put something away, I heard some faint flute music in the distance. Feeling as though I was walking into the Songs of Innocence I followed the sound of the pipe drifting on the wind, and it took me behind the compound, past the horse and the back fence until I came upon a little coppice where Martin Shepherd (from Caltech) and Rolando were playing quenas — traditional Chilean instruments which are held like a recorders but winded like flutes. Martin is quite talented and was practicing some traditional melodies, while Rolando was improving his tone. I took one of the extra quenas and after considerable practice was able to coax out some faint sounds every now and then.
After a while, Rolando suggested that we visit the Valle de la Luna, a favourite tourist destination near San Pedro due to the its fantastical dunes and weird rock formations that have caused some to liken it to a lunar landscape. We took our bikes there — about a forty-five minute ride, mostly up-hill and into the wind — arriving just after sunset. Because of our late arrival, Rolando bargained for a reduced entry fee. The moon is now a few days from full and was about thirty degrees high in the sky.
There were a lot of tourists, but they were all starting to leave
when we arrived. We stayed on the top of the dune well past dusk taking
pictures with Rolando's tripod; Rolando was able to capture some very
nice photos of the stars above the sand dunes peeking out from behind
wispy clouds. By the time we left it was dark, and we rode back,
down the steep hills lined with craggy peaks, our way lit by the
moonlight. At one point Rolando taught me how to locate the southern
celestial pole using the Southern Cross and Alpha and Beta Centauri.
This long day began at eight in the morning when I left with Judy and Toby for the mountain, via the petrol station. Judy and Toby wanted, as usual, to get an early start on the CCam, and I wanted to continue setting up the new equipment. After about an hour on the mountain, we all headed down to visit a couple of our neighbours, viz., the Nanten and ASTE telescopes, which are about a half hour drive away. Judy and Toby wanted to get some helium gas and liquid nitrogen to operate the leak-checker on the CCam, which Nanten kindly supplied.
The added benefit of the trip (which was why I went) was to get a brief tour of each of these projects. Both are run primarily by Japanese scientists and have been operating for a number of years. One thing that impressed me is the number of shipping containers that they have accumulated on their sites over the years: Nanten must have almost a dozen, organised into a neat little metropolis next to their telescope.
Michele and Rolando arrived up in the early afternoon, followed soon thereafter by Simon Radford and Tom Sebring, who are working on the nascent (or rather, embryonic) CCAT telescope, and wanted to look at our instrument.
This brings me to an important point which I have failed to mention before: our telescope, the ACT, is currently the highest ground-based telescope in the world. If CCAT (or the Tokyo Atacama Observatory, another proposed telescope) goes ahead, it will usurp this record. So we will have to enjoy our heady position on top of the world while it lasts.
At about four in the afternoon I descended to pick up Jeff Klein (of the University of Pennsylvania) from the airport at Calama. The whole drive from the telescope to the airport took almost two hours (including stopping at the petrol station to refuel), and I arrived just on time. After picking him up, we made the egregious error of deciding to go to the supermarket to pick up some snacks and other miscellaneous supplies — a mistake because we discovered that, for some reason, Saturday evening at seven thirty is the peak shopping hour for the citizens of Calama. We consequently spent much longer there than we would have hoped. It was not until at least a half-past eight that we were on the road back to San Pedro, after getting briefly lost and making a mistaken and somewhat dangerous expedition the wrong way down a one-way street.
Back in San Pedro, we found that the others had gone out to La
Tierra, it being both a Saturday night and Michele's last evening
in San Pedro. Once again the fare did not fail to please, and we were
there until midnight, after which we all back to our respective homes,
and I, very tired, soon to bed.
This Sunday, as has become typical, a lazy morning followed by church and lunch in town. Toby and Judy, according to their usual wont, were up early to the mountain.
This was Jeff Klein's first day on the mountain this trip, and he seemed to do very well and stayed up a few hours. We got a good number of things done: Rolando installed the weather station on top of the equipment room; Jeff replaced the broken ballasts for the fluorescent lights in the white container; I installed Linux on the new rackmount computer that had arrived; and we three put some of the newly arrived electronics in the rack in the receiver cabin.
Before we arrived, Judy and Toby had leak-checked the CCam and were happy to find no leaks; afterwards they began getting the water circulating for cooling the refrigerators. After they left, however, Jeff Funke noticed that the water pump was making strange noises. When he and Rolando investigated they found that something was inhibiting the flow, so they decided to turn it off. Judy and Toby, upon hearing over Skype from me about this problem, where immediately worried that without the flow, the water would freeze and burst the pipes. But we discovered that they had used a fifty per cent ethylene glycol solution (this is a typical antifreeze mixture used in automobiles), which only freezes at about negative thirty-five degrees centigrade, and so we worried about it no longer. To-morrow Judy and Toby will have to figure out why the flow was blocked — the black colour of the water that Rolando and Jeff Funke observed is probably indicative of some problem.
Once back, Jeff Funke, Mike Cozza, Jeff Klein, Rolando and I to
Café Export for empanadas. This time I was not able to
vanquish the empanada and took half of it home in a doggy bag, or a
bolsa de perrito, as I like to call it.
The fiasco resulting from Rolando's speeding ticket (which he incurred on the twenty-sixth of March travelling to San Pedro) continues. Since the ticket was issued half-way between Santiago and San Pedro and his driver's licence was taken away there, and given the slow postal system in Chile, cutting through the red tape has been particularly difficult. To-day he appeared again before the local judge (three times in the space of two hours) and re-emerged with yet another provisional licence.
While Rolando was endeavouring to avoid the San Pedro gaol, Jeff and I, in a teleconference with Amec, learned that the base of our telescope has not been completed: apparently, there is supposed to be a layer of grout between the bottom of the base and concrete foundation; currently there are about thirty-six two inch bolts holding up the telescope, with about a centimetre and a half of clearance.
This naturally raised concerns that the motion tuning that Mike Cozza is doing will be rendered obsolete when the grout is poured; and with this in mind, Jeff Klein and I moved some accelerometers onto the base and the foundation to see how much the telescope was moving on top of the foundation. Mike Cozza, on a preliminary inspection of the data, seemed to think that adding the grout will not make much difference, but we need to perform a more detailed analysis, as it is clear that the telescope is shaking more than the foundation.
Judy and Toby, on the other hand, spent much of the day continuing to wage a war with the radiator hoses, which remain stubbornly dirty. They have so far flushed two one-hundred fifty litre drums of water through the system and still the water comes out muddy. In addition to working as plumbers, they also continued to fix the CCam, to-day testing some electrical connexions in the detector package and assessing the possibility of touches between cryogenic stages.
Driving down the mountain in Rolando's car, we began with the petrol
meter hovering just above the empty line; and so Rolando coasted much of
the way down. Before returning to the compound, we stopped at the petrol
station and filled up the tank, sixty-one litres in all. Jeff consulted
the car manual and we found that the tank's total capacity was sixty-six
litres; meaning that we could still have driven perhaps thirty or forty
kilometres — on flat terrain.
This day Jeff Funke and I did start for the mountain at about nine-thirty. Our goal was to ensure that all the programs for the motion acceptance tests were working properly, and we spent the morning and early afternoon doing truncated runs of the tests. For the first time, I saw our LVDT's (linear variable differential transformers, which we use to measure the position of the secondary mirror) operate. We discovered that some of them need to be calibrated and more precisely positioned.
Just before Jeff Funke and I finished our work, Jeff Klein, Rolando and Mike Cozza arrived; Judy and Toby had been there since about nine, working on the camera and the water circulation system. Mike continued the seemingly interminable job of motion tuning, while Rolando and Jeff Klein worked on preparing more retro-reflectors for mounting on the primary mirror to assist us with panel measurements.
As for me, I had to repair the accelerometers which I had stupidly neglected to remove from the base of the telescope after doing our testing yesterday. When Jeff and I began our first motion in the morning they were yanked away and dragged all about, with two of them being ripped out from their cables. Thankfully, they were still working properly when I repaired them. I spent the rest of the afternoon making more measurements of the telescope base with the accelerometers and analysing the results. Mike Cozza still seems confident that adding the grout will not significantly alter the telescope performance.
On the topic of telescope performance, Mike Cozza ran into more trouble near the end of the day, when he found that the elevation response near the top of the range of motion did not behave as he had expected. He is somewhat perplexed and will have to work on it to-morrow. We ended up staying at the site until nine in the evening, and as we left, Judy and Toby arrived with another shipment of diesel to keep the generator going overnight so that they could have the CCam pumping out the while.
Arriving in San Pedro, we found that our refrigerator was devoid of
food. We do not know why we did not get a meal, but conjectured that it
perhaps was related to the fact that to-day is May Day, which is a
public holiday here. And so we grudgingly went into town for dinner, it
being late and we all tired.
This morning I spent down in San Pedro, learning about how to set up a DNS on our local network, which I did find very interesting, it being a new topic for me. Late in the morning the KUKA guys came by, as well as Ye, who arrived back in Chile yesterday. Ye was filled in on the recent difficulties that KUKA has been having with the motion and there was a useful discussion about how to proceed.
After lunch we all headed up to the telescope (where Judy and Toby were already working). Mike Cozza and Ye worked on some new ideas for controlling the elevation oscillations, one of which involved having five of us crowded up behind the secondary mirror to add extra weight to the elevation screws. The additional weight seemed to help, and other tests yielded interesting and informative results. I looked yet again at accelerometer data, and we continue to obtain a more and more sophisticated understanding of the telescope flexing and bending. It is curious to me that the tiny inflexions of such a large, rigid piece of aluminum should cause so much anxiety.
In the meantime Jeff and Rolando continued working on the weather station, and for the first time we were able to read it out. However, this was accomplished using a software package running on a virus (known as Windows in common parlance) rather than an operating system. One of my next tasks will be to incorporate these new data into our housekeeping stream.
Toby and Judy descending the mountain mid-afternoon to make a
shopping trip to Calama. Besides a miscellaneous list of supplies, they
needed to buy several gallons of antifreeze for the water cooling
system. Jeff Klein, Mike Cozza, Ye and I left at about eight, and
headed to CKunna to eat, making it a semi-working dinner, as we still
had some things to discuss about the motion. We took a
Carménère wine with our meal. This variety of grape
originated in France, but in the nineteenth century a plague destroyed
all the European vines and it was presumed lost forever.
However, in the nineteen-nineties it was rediscovered near Santiago,
and since then, Chile has been the chief producer of this variety of
wine, for which we were to-night thankful.
This morning we had planned to arrive at the site at dawn in order to put the CCam into the telescope before the KUKA guys arrived. Last night, however, Toby and Judy wisely decided to scale back until we were better prepared. Nevertheless, they and Jeff Klein did leave at seven in the morning so that they could route the helium lines through the base of the telescope into the receiver cabin.
This left Rolando and me on diesel duty. I picked him up from Don Tomás at nine in the morning, and we drove up to the telescope with a drum full of diesel and a drum full of water: needless to say, the trip was more sluggish than usual. (Later in the day, Ye measured his milage on the way up to the telescope, which his fancy rental truck can do very handily. It consumed 22 litres per hundred kilometres.)
Once there, Jeff Klein, Toby and Judy had made good progress laying the helium lines and had prepared the cabin to accept the CCam. Rolando and I set to work pumping the diesel into the generators' tanks — a most tedious process, since the hand pump we have which is supposed to start syphoning after a few cranks has a small air leak and refuses to syphon. Rolando got the bottom of his pants soaked in diesel at one point when the end of the hose decided to buck out of the tank and began spraying everywhere.
After this eventful transfer, Rolando set to work making more mounts for fiducials and I went into the receiver cabin and began connecting more of the housekeeping electronics. Coming to the heater box, however, I found that one of the power cables was too short. So after lunch I set to work remaking a longer cable; as usual, it took longer than expected.
Mid-afternoon I descended, needing to get some work done in San Pedro. I believe that it was the first time I have come down in daylight in several weeks, which I did enjoy. Back at the compound, I worked to get the raid computer online and rearranged the network devices. Our new laser printer is now finally online and operational, and is a vast improvement over the treacle-slow ink jet printer which we had been using before. Toby was glad when he arrived back to find the raid computer online.
An early night to-night, as we plan to-morrow to wake up before dawn
to put in the CCam.
This morning I arose at five o'clock in preparation for our early start on the mountain. It was six o'clock before everyone was ready and we were on our way and the five of us (the Jeffs, Judy, Toby and I driving) had squeezed into Rolando's Hilux. If yesterday's trip up the mountain was slow, to-day's was positively sluggish, as Rolando's engine is smaller and we had the car full. The truck never seemed to decide whether it would rather be in second or third gear.
The day dawned as we approached the mountain, but the sun did not come up on our site for at least another hour, as it is now rising directly behind the peak of Cerro Toco.
We were pretty efficient at getting the CCam into the telescope. The one stroke of genius was to use the telescope itself to lift the camera up. Once the CCam was in the cabin Judy, Jeff Klein and Jeff Funke were quick to secure it at the telescope focus, while Toby and I worked on installing some power supplies.
In the afternoon, Rolando, Toby and I decided to hike to the top of Cerro Toco, which, at 5604 m, is about a 500 m climb. Though I am now well-acclimated to the altitude, it was a tough slog for me (and often a slog on slag). There are areas of sulphur on the way up, some of which have been mined in the past; patches of ice and snow get more frequent towards the top.
Cerro Toco has a complicated topology, and we ended up on the second highest peak instead of the peak, which was perhaps a few decametres below the true peak. However, it affords a better view of the telescope, and one can see the whole mountain range spread out, with Bolivia not too far off. It was cold, with a bitter wind at the top, and we paused for about ten minutes to take pictures, and then down in a more-or-less straight line towards the telescope.
The trip down was steep and full of scree, which required caution in places, but was in general easy to navigate. At one point it looked as though there was an impassible cliff, but Rolando was able to find a safe point of descent. By the time we arrived back at the telescope it was half an hour from dusk, and I was very tired. Jeff Funke, Judy, Toby and I drove down soon thereafter.
To-morrow Jeff Funke returns home, and so we went out to La
Estaka to bid farewell to him. Group Number One entertained us this
evening, the first time in several weeks that I have heard them. After
having heard a favourable review from Mike Cozza, I purchased their
compact disc recording for seven thousand pesos, which was a bit more
expensive than I had expected, and I hope I do enjoy it.
This morning I spent chasing a wild goose all the way to Calama. My return flight is for the ninth of May, which is next Wednesday, and I had wanted to postpone it for a week so that I could overlap with Mark Devlin and Eric Switzer, who arrive next week. The difficulty lies in the fact that, for some reason, I was issued paper tickets in an electronic age, and there is no Delta office anywhere near San Pedro where new tickets can be issued — the closest (and only) one being in Santiago. Calling the Delta office in North America and the one in Chile yielded two possible solutions: the former advised that I go to the LAN ticket desk at the Calama airport, while the latter claimed that only a certain type of travel agency would be able to reissue the tickets.
And so this morning, hopeful that one of these suggestions would turn into a solution, I drove to Calama. I went first to the airport to talk to the agents at the LAN desk. The answer was a polite but firm no: apparently LAN was powerless to change the tickets since they were issued by Delta: they could not even change the LAN leg of the portion because of the fare type. The most useful thing the agent could do was to give me the phone number for Delta in Chile — needless to say, I was already well acquainted with that particular sequence of numbers, having dialled it several times the day before.
Next I headed into Calama to try and find the location of one of the recommended travel agents whose address I had scribbled down before leaving. Luckily it was on the main drag (not too far from the Scotiabank), but unluckily, it was closed. And so into a neighbouring booking office for a local airline, where I was directed to the only other travel agency which could issue the tickets. Here it was explained to me that (for some reason I was never able to grasp) this particular office was unable to issue new Delta tickets. In my halting Spanish (no one spoke English at this agency) I explained everything I knew from conversations with Delta over the phone, but to no avail. Adamant that my trip all the way to Calama should not be wasted, I entreated the agent to telephone Delta. Half an hour of alternately being put on hold and having intense discussions with the Delta representative yielded no change. And so, dejected, I headed back to the car and left Calama defeated.
As though this was not enough, the odometer and speedometer in the truck (I took Rolando's) mysteriously stopped working about three quarters of the way back and the engine light came on. Later inspection showed that somehow the speedometer cable had snapped in two.
I travelled to Vancouver five times last year to work on the ACT, and each time I returned on a different date from the original booking. It is quite foreign to me not to be able to easily make a change in travel dates. The culprit, in the end, was the paper tickets, from which I will violently recoil in the future. Rolando may try visiting the other office in Calama on Monday when he goes to repair his truck, but at this stage it seems likely I will be leaving on Wednesday.
Arriving back in San Pedro at around one, I met Rolando, who had been working at analysing panel measurements all morning. After lunch at the compound, we headed up the mountain in his truck — sans speedometer or odometer, though it mattered little as we were incapable of approaching the speed limit going up-hill. Once there, I began working on repairing the break-out for the MCE power supply, which was extremely ugly and in disrepair.
Toby, Judy and Jeff Klein had been working all day getting the CCam ready to start cooling down, and soon after Rolando and I arrived, they turned on the pulse tubes to begin the refrigeration. After a little bit of work, we got all the readout working and were pleased to see the temperatures dropping steadily; at this moment the coldest stage is at 170o K (-103o C).
Rolando and Ye had intended to do panel measurements this evening,
but around dusk snow began falling pretty thick, and we all came down at
around seven in the evening.
This day in church a dog walked in during the service. No one seemed to pay any attention to it. Its purpose was not pious, but rather practical, as it soon found a comfortable place beneath a pew where it napped contentedly for the rest of the service. Soon thereafter, two little children began tearing up and down the aisle while the pastor was delivering the sermon, having great fun until the sister tripped and fell flat on her face.
After lunch, Roland and I became tourists for an hour, as I wanted to buy some souvenirs from San Pedro. One of the items I acquired was a quena, which I do hope to learn to play better.
When Rolando and I arrived up the mountain, we found that Toby, Judy and Jeff had gotten the heater box running and were working on getting the detector readout computer online. I arrived in time to help with this latter task, which gave Jeff and me a bit of a scare when the computer did not boot the first time. It is still not clear what the problem was, but when we removed the hard drive and tapped it a couple of times, the computer started working properly.
I then proceeded to try and get a working driver to use our outdoor webcam, but did not meet with success. In the meantime, some of the others decided to sweep and vacuum the container, which had accumulated a tremendous quantity of dust. When they were done, the grain of the wood on the floor was once again visible.
To-day the camera was cold enough for Toby and Judy to ascertain that
the repairs they had made seem to be holding up. It looks as though we
will probably have a working receiver in a few days.
This day Rolando planned to go to Calama to get his truck repaired. Just as he was on his way, Masao, a Japanese-Chilean (i.e., of Japanese ancestry but raised in Chile) who works for ASTE, stopped by and asked where he was going. Upon hearing Rolando's plan, Masao strongly cautioned against it. Apparently, the Toyota shop in Calama is notorious for its less-than-ethical business practices, such as cannibalising `spare' parts from clients' cars and copying their keys. After this piece of intelligence, Rolando decided to get his parents in Santiago to order the part and ship it to him (it being compact enough) and then install it himself. In the end this also turned out to be a cheaper alternative.
Given that Rolando did not go to Calama, the last (tenuous) possibility of me extending my ticket was extinguished, and so I will be leaving the day after to-morrow.
Judy, Toby and Jeff had gone up early and I went up at about ten o'clock with Mike Cozza. I spent the rest of the day wrestling with drivers to try and get our housekeeping computer reading out our shiny outdoor webcam and our little weather station. The webcam driver continues to baffle me, but I did make some progress with the weather station. By the end of the day I had figured out how to communicate with it, and hope that to-morrow to at least start incorporating weather data into our housekeeping stream.
To-day, like yesterday, it was very windy at the site, averaging around fifteen knots and gusting up to twenty-nine. Combined with sub-zero temperatures, it made it bitterly cold — especially for Rolando and Ye this evening making panel measurements. About half-way through the afternoon we lost our radio down-link to the internet. The two conjectures were that the churlish chiding of the winter wind had blown the dish out of alignment, or that dust being kicked up by the gusts down in San Pedro was interfering with the signal. When night arrived, we were able to determine (from the lights of San Pedro) that the former theory was correct, and got the internet link back up.
Just as Jeff, Mike and I were preparing to leave, Toby and Judy arrived
back up with another shipment of diesel — this time two drums full.
Now that we keep the generators on full-time to run the refrigerators
(which consume seven kilowatts each) the fuel runs are becoming even
This morning Toby, Judy and Jeff Klein and I left for the mountain at eight o'clock. The three of them wanted to get our detector read-out computer hooked up to the camera, which required a few hours of fiddling with the fibre optic cables. For my part, I continued working on the communication with the weather station. I have found it to be very poorly documented, and even though it comes with example code, it is obtuse and badly written. By about four o'clock I had made progress, but not as much as I had wished, and I will have to continue working on it remotely.
It was another cold, windy day at the site, with gusts up to thirty-five knots. We discovered that the camera had begun mysteriously warming up at four o'clock in the morning, and later tracked it to one of the refrigerators which had stopped working because of the cold temperature. Toby and Jeff Klein worked to remove the I-beam sticking out of the receiver cabin doors so that we could close up the cabin and turn on the heaters. This seemed to do the trick, and hopefully we will not have this problem in the future..
Jeff had to leave at four o'clock pick up Mark Devlin in Calama, and Toby, Judy and I left with him — just after Ye and Rolando arrived up to do panel adjustments. I had to wrap up some loose ends in the office in San Pedro and wanted to get my bags mostly packed before dinner. Toby and Judy took the opportunity to buy some souvenirs in San Pedro.
We all planned to meet at CKunna for dinner, and as Mark and Jeff
were late getting in from the airport, Toby, Judy and I went by foot.
The moon was not yet up and we walked in the dark up to San Pedro,
beneath the Milky Way, which is getting moreand more visible as the
winter approaches. At CKunna a good dinner, tho' many of us sleepy, and
now to bed as we must rise early to-morrow to travel to the airport.
This morning up at six-thirty, and departed at seven-thirty with Rolando driving. Mark Devlin was up already, about to take his morning run, and so we said goodbye again. The drive to the airport was uneventful: we played Rolando's game of taking turn choosing songs from his I-Pod. Toby's eventual selection of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On was mercifully cut short by our arrival at the airport.
Our flight was at a quarter after ten, whereas my schedule had said a quarter to ten. We waited for a while in the café on the second level of the airport, from where we could see the tarmac and watch for our plane to arrive.
The flight was routed through Antofagasta, so we had a short half-hour hop before the the ninety minute flight to Santiago. Whereas on my journey to Calama I was on the east side of the plane, on this flight I was on the west side, with a view of the coast. The mountains rose gently out of the sea, with a soft but short division between the blue of the water and the brown of the earth. This landscape drifted by in the corner of my eye as I finished reading an abridged edition of Pepys's diary.
In Santiago picking up our luggage we met Jay, a graduate student from the University of Massachussets who had been in San Pedro working on Aztec, a new receiver for the ASTE telescope. He was also returning to the United States this day. As it was only one o'clock and we all had over seven hours until our flights, we decided to stow our baggage and travel into Santiago for lunch. I worked somewhat hard to get the taxi fare down from ten-thousand pesos to nine-thousand, and we were dropped off by the fish market.
Upon stepping out of the taxi, we were immediately swarmed by restaurant employees who all earnestly entreated us to patronise their establishments, to the extent that we almost literally had to push our way out of their midst. Similar accostings as we wandered through the market prevented us from fully enjoying the atmosphere: we obviously looked like foreigners. In the end we chose a little restaurant and ate fish for lunch.
Afterwards we walked towards the Plaza de Armas and looked at some of the statues. A prodigious number of people were playing chess on little tables scattered throughout the square. Thence over to Cerro Santa Lucía, a hill which rises above the city and is covered in park land. It was a short climb to the top, which afforded a good view of the city. A turret stands at the top of the hill, but we declined to mount to its very summit as there was a couple entangled in an amorous embrace whom we did not wish to disturb. In fact, the whole hill seemed to be littered with lovers who reclined on grassy spots and sat on park benches, oblivious to passers-by.
The taxi driver on the way into town had advised us to leave an hour to get back to the airport by six, so we hailed a taxi at about five o'clock, after coming down from the park in an elevator built into the side of the hill. It seems we were either mislead, or that traffic was particularly light on this day, as the ride was only took twenty minutes; moreover, the discount I had negociated for the ride in was negated when we were charged twelve-thousand pesos for this trip.
Then over three hours waiting for our flights in the airport, which was quite commodious and filled with duty-free shops of all descriptions. We were all pleasantly surprised at the low price of the pisco, and each of us purchased a bottle of it. Unlike North American airports which have water fountains near most bathrooms, Santiago seemed to have none, and so I was forced to buy some water to slake my thirst. Being back at sea level, I did not think I had to be careful about opening the bottle (it was gasified water), which proved to be a mistake as I ended up with a damp shirt.
Toby and Judy were on an American flight, and so we parted at the gate for my Delta flight. As it happened, Jay was on the same flight as me to Atlanta, so we endured the extra check of our luggage for evil liquids together before heading to our respective seats.
The flight was not very full and I had two aisle seats to myself. The possibility of watching two films at once, one on each seat-back, did occur to me, but the thought did not pass the realm of whimsical imagination into action. In the end did watch two films, but in series, rather than in parallel. The first was Miss Potter, a very good little romance about Beatrix Potter and her publisher, with excellent performances, especially from Ewan McGregor. Then, in a tired stupour but unable to descend into sleep, I watched Aragon. It was enjoyable for someone in my state of fatigue, but is overall a very patchy story, and poor Jeremy Irons (who is one of my favourite actors) was forced to try and fob off his terribly trite and stilted lines in a dignified manner.
Arriving in Atlanta just after dawn, I had but one more flight to complete the journey to New Jersey, which went off uneventfully enough. My first impression stepping off the plane was the humidity: though not nearly as bad as New Jersey gets, it was far more than I had ever experienced in San Pedro. From the airport by train to Princeton, I completed this voyage of almost thirty hours. Once arrived I was overwhelmed with the amount of green: I felt as though I was walking through a film which had had the green artificially enhanced, or that my optical organs were using a faculty that had been long neglected. Even now as I finish up this entry, looking out of my kitchen window, the green continues to amaze me.
And so, gentle readers, I reach the end of this public journal. (By the bye, all my pictures are now online.) I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of faithful, daily readers who have told me told me how much they have enjoyed my entries. When I return to Chile, part two will commence.