Chile Journals: 11 September – 1 November 2007

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September 11–12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
October 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 28 29 30 31
November 1


After the positive — dare I say, enthusiastic? — reception of my last Chile Journal, I have not hesitated in deciding to set fingertip to key again. And so once again I your humble patience pray, gently to read, kindly to judge, my journal.

For those who have mistakenly referred to my daily recollections and ruminations as a `blog', I refer them to the introduction of my first journal collection. Be pleased not to persist obstinately in error.

11-12 September 2007

This journey was originally intended to start more than two months ago, in late June. However, the evening of the day my original ticket was purchased, I came down with a fever which kept worsening, until I was sent to the hospital and eventually diagnosed with Lyme Disease. After the routine antibiotic treatment I still experienced fatigue and weakness, which are not uncommon with Lyme. This, together with other logistical details, has delayed me until now. But so run the vicissitudes of life.

The last few days in Princeton have been some of the hottest of the summer, but the morning I left it was steadily raining, which, though the air was still unpleasantly clammy, cooled things down considerably. Lewis Hyatt, who works in an office neighbouring mine, was kind enough to drive me to Princeton Junction in the downpour. From there it was a routine train ride to Newark airport. On the way I was treated by the gentleman in front of me to a long business conversation on his phone, which had him switching back and forth between Tanya, to whom he was trying to rent a mystery item for $950 (but could perhaps obtain a lower price), and John, who seemed to possess said item.

Due to the storms, my flight was already delayed by more than two hours until six-thirty when I checked in. I had a long layover in Miami, so I was not too concerned, although I was afraid that it would get later and later as delayed flights are sometimes wont to do. But it stayed steady at six-thirty and had us into Miami before ten in the evening. In Miami I was unsuccessful in the popular airport sport of finding a free, working electrical outlet and had to run my computer off of my battery.

The flight to Santiago, leaving at eleven thirty, was without incident. I was dismayed that American Airlines does not offer even a single complementary alcoholic beverage on international flights.

Though the baggage claim area was very congested, my passage through customs in Santiago was as smooth as could be, especially after my ordeal last time. The general rule seems to be to to pack everything in regular suitcases rather than conspicuous boxes — neither the two hard drives nor the hose and knick-knacks for an air line that I brought were of any concern to the officers.

My layover in Santiago was eight hours. I had not really planned on going into the city, and Rolando confirmed that plan by reminding me that the eleventh of September is the anniversary of Pinochet's 1973 coup. He explained that every year there are protests, some of which devolve into excuses for general hooliganism. As he wryly put it, `We commemorate our September 11 with all kinds of amusing activities like rock throwing, tire burning, shop destruction contests and many others.' And indeed there was some unrest which made it onto the BBC, but by to-day, as I found out post factum, things had settled down.

And so I spent the day in the airport. Mark Devlin had tipped me off about the `VIP Salon', where for eleven-thousand pesos I got a hot shower, internet access, refreshments and comfy chairs. Thanks to these amenities I was able to get a good amount of work done, finally finishing the adefile GUI I have been creating off and on since the beginning of the year.

The last leg of the flight, from Santiago to Calama, arrived just before before sunset, at six o'clock. I had booked a seat on Transfer Licancabur, which is a seven-thousand peso shuttle to San Pedro. We used to pick everyone up from the airport ourselves, but making use of the shuttle has proved much more convenient, since it saves a lot of time for those who have more important things to do than spend three hours driving to Calama and back.

During the drive I dozed off a couple of times, but still remembered the road well enough to know how far we were along. By the time we were half way it was pitch black and the stars were out. Arriving in San Pedro, it strangely felt as though I had never been away. Michele, Rolando and Madhuri, who form the current crew down here, were up on the mountain when I arrived (and are, in fact, still there as I write this), and had left my keys taped to the office door. There is a new intercom since I was last here which allows instant communication with the mountain and I was able to let Michele know that I had arrived. I have just had a solitary dinner and a cup of tea, and now, after more than thirty hours of travel, am exhausted. And so to bed.

13 September 2007

As it turned out, Michele, Madhuri and Rolando were at the telescope until about two in the morning, doing a complete survey of the primary mirror (which is now down to an RMS of 35 microns). Consequently, it was not until late this morning that I saw any of them. But I had a number of emails and other little details to attend to which filled the time.

The weather in San Pedro was quite windy, and ominous clouds lingered near the mountains, enveloping the tip of Licancabur. Someone from ASTE reported that it had begun snowing near their site. Since it was necessary to deliver some diesel to our generators to keep them running, Rolando, Michele and I decided to head up, pump in some diesel, and then come back down if the weather was still looking threatening. From my point of view, a short trip was actually ideal since I am still acclimatising. We took two trucks as a precaution, in case one of them would not start or got stuck on the way.

There were a few centimetres of fresh snow on the way up the mountain, and at the site it was snowing and blowing around a lot. The snow and darkness of the clouds gave Cerro Toco a grey, steely colour, such as I had never seen it before. Over to the west, Licancabur was by this time almost completely covered in a white, foggy cloud.

In total we were probably at the site for almost an hour. We transfered the diesel, using the new-and-improved pump that transfers a litre per revolution of the handle — faster than the pump at the petrol station, as Michele proudly told me. Then we checked on a couple of other things and decided it would be prudent to leave right away, as the weather was not letting up. From experience, the fear is not so much the amount of snow, but that the little snow there is will be blown into deep, impassible drifts on the road.

At the site, I felt better than I had expected — less intelligent than normal, but quite functional, and no immediate headache. It was also not as cold as I had anticipated, being only three degrees below zero.

Back in town, I spent some time going over some of the code that was written during Robert Lupton and Toby Marriage's recent visit. To-morrow I will talk to them all to come fully up to speed. Then, in the evening, I had a long and very useful talk with Mike Cozza from KUKA about the outstanding issues with the telescope motion. To-morrow, if the weather permits, we hope to start doing the final tuning of the elevation motors.

14 September 2007

This morning Michele had an appointment with a freelance journalist from the Netherlands who wants to write a story on our telescope. Since they were going up to the site, I tagged along, as I wanted to work on telescope motion. The journalist, named Govert Schilling, was an affable man, who had a pretty good knowledge of astronomy and asked intelligent questions. This was not his first time visiting observatories in the area.

Thankfully the weather was better than yesterday and though there was fresh snow, it was not enough to cause any difficulty. It did remain overcast the whole day and some flurries blew by every now and then.

When we arrived, Michele gave Govert the grand tour and I fired up the KUKA cabinet to begin moving the telescope. Last month there was a minor disaster when it was discovered that one of the elevation motors was broken. It was replaced last week ago and seems to be working fine. However, the elevation still needs tuning, and that was the task for the day.

Later in the morning I got Mike Cozza on the phone and for about the next seven hours we worked on taking motion traces and tuning servo parameters for the elevation drive. I had not planned on being on the mountain so long, and a dull headache and fatigue set in after a couple of hours. But it was not enough to prevent me from being useful in assisting Mike and we got a lot done. We will need to spend at least another day working on it.

Meanwhile, Rolando investigated some of the panels which have stubbornly been refusing to align, and even changing position from night to night. He discovered that their adjustors were not working properly, nor were they holding them in place securely. And so when Madhuri and Michele arrived around dusk, they decided to have a closer look at all the possibly bad adjustors instead of doing a panel survey.

It was a long day, and I came down, quite tired, with Madhuri at about eight o'clock, leaving Michele and Rolando to continue the adjustor investigation. Once at a lower down my headache magically subsided, and I spent the rest of the evening reading, until we all had dinner at about ten o'clock.

15 September 2007

This morning everyone got off to a slow start. But I did have a good, long conversation with Jeff Funke of KUKA about various issues with the motion software.

After lunch I headed up to continue working on motion with Mike Cozza. The highway had the most traffic that I ever have seen on it: I must have passed half a dozen trucks and three or four slower cars. Who knows why in the middle of the day on a Saturday the road should be so busy. But the day itself was so fine that it more than made up for the traffic. It was the first day since I arrived where the sky was blue and the clouds scarce and lofty. The mountains far into Bolivia stood up crystal clear; my arm resting on window was warmed by the sun which made everything pleasantly hot in the dry air.

Once at the site, I immediately began working with Mike, and again we spent many hours tuning the motion. I was joined at about four by Madhuri and Michele, who had come up to fix the broken adjustors, which they did in a window of time when Mike and I were not using the telescope. They had intended to do some panel measurements, but just as they were about to set up, they saw that it was snowing. Though it was very light, any amount precipitation makes it impossible to do the job properly.

This gave Mike and I more time to work on the motion. This time, we decided to investigate an anomalous behaviour in one of the elevation motor brakes. It appeared that each time the brakes were applied, one of the elevation screws would slip down a fraction of an inch. To get a better look, Michele and Madhuri took the cover off of the elevation motor and watched it as the brake was applied. Sure enough, the motor did a quarter turn whenever the brake turned on. We don't know what is causing this yet, and certainly hope that this is not the beginning of the same failure we saw in the other elevation motor. The brake on this motor was tested a little while ago and seemed to be working, so this is a bit difficult to understand.

By the time we had replaced the motor cover it was past ten o'clock. We made it back for an eleven o'clock dinner, and I was just about to turn in when Rolando suggested that we go into town to get a drink. The eighteenth of September is Chile's independence day, but the party starts the weekend before and lasts until the weekend after. We have been warned that business in Chile will grind to a halt in the coming week.

Once in town we went to a new restaurant called Bendito Desierto, had a beer and sat around an outdoor fire. There were many tourists there: mostly young people including a largish contingent from France. San Pedro de Atacama is a strange place in many ways, full of people who congregate here for a few days and are then gone. Even many of the inhabitants are here because they are wanderers, or running away from something, or were looking for adventure and then ran out of money or perhaps even the motivation to go anywhere else.

After we left Bendito Desierto, we poked our heads into Adobe where there was a much louder, bustling party, complete with a bored policeman keeping a dutiful watch at the entrance. Thence back to Don Esteban at two o'clock, and so to bed.

16 September 2007

This day at noon at church there was a traditional band providing the music — an accordion, a couple of guitars, and tambourines — presumably because of the independence festivities. The service concluded with the following rite:

Priest: Viva Chile!
All: Viva!
Priest: Viva Chile!
All: Viva!

Afterwards, with Michele, Rolando and Madhuri to lunch in the town square. The restaurant that we often eat at had a barbeque outside, and for six thousand pesos you could get a couple of ribs, a chicken leg, a piece of beef, a regular sausage and a blood sausage, with two side dishes, an empanada and a glass of wine. I managed to get through most of the meat, which was very good, but was not able to finish everything. Madhuri and Rolando had chicha instead of wine, which is much like cider but made with grapes.

By the time lunch was done it was nearly three o'clock and we were all stuffed. I drove up to the telescope to continue the tuning with Mike Cozza, and we worked until about eight thirty. By that time the others had arrived and were ready to start panel measurements, at which point I left and returned to town.

To-night is Martin Shepherd's last night here. He is a research scientist from Caltech working on the CBI experiment, who arrived in January for what was supposed to be a three week visit, and ended up staying until now: nine months in total.

17 September 2007

This morning when I woke up I took the ACT bike for a ride southward, towards Solor. I had not realised how far the town of San Pedro sprawls, and perhaps I was actually riding through Solor. The narrow dirt roads wind back and forth, flanked on either side by adobe walls behind which gardens and small fields are scattered among the houses. I rode for about half an hour, turning back north into town and then back home.

Then after breakfast I drove up to the mountain. Dark clouds hung ominously above the mountain, but looked high enough not to cause any problems. When I arrived a teleconference with Dynamic Structures and KUKA was about to begin, so Mike and I had to postpone our work and join in the call. By the time it was over at about one o'clock, the clouds had descended and it began snowing and blowing pretty hard. This forced us to cancel our plans as it seemed unsafe for me to to remain.

When I arrived back in town, Lyman had just arrived. He had gotten a good flight itinerary through Lima which got him here in under twenty-four hours without wasting much time in airports. Soon after he arrived, Rolando left for a holiday in Bolivia for the next two weeks, so we maintain the same number of people, at least for now.

The weather on the mountain did not worsen and in fact seemed to get better over the next couple of hours. This was a bit frustrating since I probably could have remained on the mountain after all. Michele and Lyman went up later in the afternoon for the daily diesel ritual, as the generator would not have run through the night without refilling the tank. It turned out to be a particularly painful operation this time because of the cold, and Michele returned with a strong smell of diesel on him.

(For some bizarre reason, recalling the smell of diesel reminds me of a funny shampoo brand Michele said he saw in Calama: Ballerina: For Men)

My afternoon was spent working on code in town, while Madhuri continued tackling the difficult task of figuring out how we will focus the telescope. As the temperature causes the telescope to expand and contract, the primary and secondary mirrors move relative to each other, changing the focus. We have the ability to correct for this by moving the secondary mirror with actuator motors, but knowing how much to move it is a challenging problem because the thermal properties of the telescope are not simple.

Our cook left meals for the next three days, as he has time off for the ongoing independence holidays. It will certainly not last that long, however, since we ate at least half of it to-night. But it will provide an excuse to eat out sometime soon.

18 September 2007

This morning Lyman and I left for the mountain at eight in the morning. Yesterday the petrol station was out of diesel, and on the way we drove past to see if they had refilled their tanks, but they were still dry. This was the first cloudless day since I arrived, and the drive was very pleasant. Soon after turning off the highway we saw a viscacha sunning itself on a boulder by the side of the road. I have just read a bit about viscachas and find that they are not closely related to rabbits, which they resemble quite a bit, with their long ears, shape and overall size. In fact, while rabbits belong to the order Lagomorpha, viscachas are of the Rodentia order — more closely related to mice than rabbits. And now, reading further, I find that rodents make up the largest number of mammal species, which I would not have guessed.

My continuing mission was to work with Mike on the elevation tuning. By the end of the day we think we had gotten it into a pretty good state. To-morrow we will run some more general tests and hopefully the elevation motion will comfortably stand up to them.

As the truck was almost out of diesel, Lyman took some from our generator reserves on the mountain to fill it up. The fuel must have been a bit dirty because driving down the mountain the engine did not respond smoothly to pressure on the accelerator.

As soon as we arrived back in town, Michele and Madhuri left to go back up — with Rolando gone, we only have one truck. Lyman and I went into the town for dinner. On the walk back we were perplexed at not being able to find the Southern Cross. Our conclusion was that some haze was preventing us from easily locating it, but I think we were pretty embarrassed with ourselves. For my part, I gave the excuse that I was used to the autumn, and not the spring sky. At least I was correctly able to identify Jupiter.

19 September 2007

When I came into the office this morning, Walter Brzezik from Dynamic Structures, who had arrived last night, was talking to Lyman. Although he has been very involved in the engineering of the telescope, we had never met. After discussing some logistics with Lyman, Walter and I drove up to the telescope. It was once again a very fine day: the kind of day which reminds us why we chose this location to build our telescope and makes us wish we could be observing around the clock.

I spent another day working with Mike on the motion. We think we have finished tuning the elevation, and spent most of our time running various tests to see whether the new parameters have affected any of the other functionality. Walter, meanwhile, began looking at some of the hardware outside near the telescope that needs to be made a bit more robust — one of the KUKA electronics boxes, for example, is not supposed to go below freezing and yet is sitting out in the open air.

Lyman came up later in the morning with diesel. The credit card reader at the petrol station had been vandalised and so he had had to spend all his cash on the fuel. Later in the afternoon we had a large teleconference with people back in Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of British Columbia, to try and figure out what has to be done in order to do some observing to-morrow night. There have been many improvements in our detector data acquisition that require upgrades to our software and much of the discussion revolved around that.

We left at about eight o'clock and arrived back at the facility where there was no food left over from what was supposed to be three days' worth. So we went into town again for dinner. Though spring has arrived, it is still quite chilly in the evening and a sweater and a wind-breaker made the cold barely tolerable.

20 September 2007

This morning Walter and left just after eight. When we were only a few kilometres along the dirt road, I saw a small car ahead of us. As we came closer, I saw that there were two figures pushing it up the hill. Walter came to a halt, and we got out of the car and met two women pushing the car while a man sat at the wheel. It was a tiny Peugeot and it is surprising that it had made it so far. We explained that if they were already having trouble they would never make it to the top, whereupon they asked for a lift as they were set on climbing to the top of Cerro Toco. So Walter obliged and they squeezed into the back.

The man was a tour guide and the two women were tourists from Santiago. Apparently they had been using this guide for a few days and were staying in his guest house. The guide also spoke French and so got me all muddled up as I had to keep switching between Spanish, French and English, the latter of which one of the women spoke pretty well. The tour guide explained that he normally had a truck for his excursions but that he was awaiting a new one. We thought it rather strange that a tour guide would attempt such a road with such an inadequate vehicle but kept our opinions to ourselves.

When we arrived the tourists departed for the summit. As their Peugeot was at least ten kilometres back, we entreated them to return to our site after they had climbed the mountain as it seemed far too unsafe for them to attempt to return to the car by foot.

I spent the morning verifying the integrity of the elevation motion by running some of the standard Site Acceptance Motion Tests. I have analysed all but one of these tests and so far it looks like the telescope is behaving very well.

In the afternoon the tourists returned and I drove them back to their car. The tour guide was very genial and kept entreating me to visit him, especially after he discovered that we did not live far apart in San Pedro. He then gave me his brochure and offered me and my colleagues a free tour with him. While we are somewhat enticed by his offer, we are rather wary of going on a tour with a guide who had to rely on the chance encounter with some astronomers to carry out his business. The women, still as friendly as ever, were yet fatigued and one of them had a pretty bad headache. Nevertheless the guide said they had reached the top and that not all of his clients were able to achieve this.

In the evening we did some observations. This was the first time I was present at the telescope during observations and it was pretty exciting. Most of the software worked well, except for our data merger which had a bug we couldn't get to the bottom of. Mike Nolta in Toronto and Eric Switzer in Princeton joined us on skype and were instrumental in getting things to work. It was a pretty frantic three hours as we were debugging all our software almost continuously as the observations were taking place. We plan on doing the same to-morrow evening to try and get the system more and more bug free.

Now after another very long day it is past midnight, and so to bed.

21 September 2007

To-day is one of the two equinoctes of the year. Although common usage denominates them the vernal and autumnal equinoctes, this introduces a Northern Hemisphere bias, as does spring or autumn equinox, as does northward or southward equinox. An alternative nomenclature that is free from this north-south ambiguity is to refer to them by the constellation in which the sun finds itself at the time of the equinox: the Virgo equinox and the Pisces equinox. The only disadvantage is that due to the precession of the equinoctes, which completes a cycle about every 26000 years, these constellations change every two millenia. Thus the alternate names the first point of Aries and the first point of Libra, are now a couple of days late.

This morning I left again with Walter at about nine o'clock. He spent the morning putting a shim in one of the elevation bearings that was jerking half a thou when the telescope turned around in azimuth. The shim did the trick and now the bearing is quite still. I performed some analysis on the motion with the shim and so far it looks as though the shim did not disturb the elevation tuning.

In the evening we again attempted to observe. The software worked better this time, but due to a human error the schedule files were always behind in time and we kept missing Jupiter by five minutes. It was confusing for a while, because Jupiter is so bright that we should easily be able to see it by eye in our data stream and we were seeing nothing. But eventually Mike Nolta, joining us by Skype from Toronto, noticed the error. After Jupiter went below thirty degrees (the lowest our telescope can point), we set everything up to scan our southern observation strip for the rest of the night. Now, at almost midnight, it is chugging away, filling up our discs at a rate of forty megabytes per minute.

22 September 2007

This morning I did not leave as early as I have been over the past few days, and the respite was welcome. Lyman and I went into town around ten o'clock to get some money from the ATM, after which he drove to the petrol station and I took a detour through town to get some food for lunch.

On the drive to the mountain Lyman told me about his adventures sailing through the Caribbean when he was a young man, stopping in various ports and doing odd-jobs to make a little money. The story ended when he was caught in a storm on the way to Panama. `It was when our sail ripped in two,' he said, `That I decided to go to graduate school.'

On the mountain I continued to work on various issues related to the telescope motion. Lyman and Walter spent the whole afternoon working on the telescope's stow pins, which have been a perennial source of frustration. To-day the situation was no different and it took them hours to understand what the problems were.

For the third night in a row we did some observations. Some of our software continues to frustrate us, but we are pleased to be making real observations which should be of some scientific value. The telescope continued to do automated observations after we left, and now, at about half-past two in the morning, they have just ended.

Lyman and I arrived back in San Pedro close to eleven in the evening. But the night was far from over, as we had been invited to a barbecue at the house of the guide, Rodrigo, whom we rescued on Thursday. His two clients, Natalia and Helga, whom we had first encountered pushing Rodrigo's Peugeot up the mountain, are leaving to-morrow so he wanted us to come and send them off. As it turns out, he lives very near to Don Esteban in a little house lit by a car battery. When we arrived, there was lots of meat on the grill, pisco and wine, a spread on the table and a roaring fire in a pit to the side of his abode.

The night was quite cold, but when we sat down at the table on his porch there was an abundance of hot and delicious food — rice, potatoes cooked in the ashes of the fire in tin-foil, salad, olives, sausages, chicken and pork. It was the most satisfying meal of my visit so far. Afterwards, motivated by the chill, we migrated to the fire. Rodrigo hooked up a stereo system he had to Walter's truck and we stood by the fire talking and warming ourselves. Helga and Natalia seemed reluctant to be returning to their jobs on Monday — Helga as a psychiatrist in a hospital in the south of Chile and Natalia as a school teacher. Meanwhile, Rodrigo regaled us with his tales of world travel, especially in Belgium, where he spent twenty years.

Eventually the night wound to a close. We bade farewell to Rodrigo, Natalia and Helga and headed home, after a well-deserved break from work. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera on the mountain and can present no pictures from this day of great variety and incident.

Virgo Equinox September 2007

After my long explanation about equinox nomenclature two days ago, I realised to-day with some embarrassment that I was mistaken about the actual day of the Virgo equinox: it was in fact to-day, at about ten minutes to ten o'clock in the evening. Now, I admit my error, but I wonder whether I should be worried at not receiving any emails from any of my colleagues about it. There are a few possibilities: (a) my journal has declined in quality and is no longer read by them; (b) it is still widely read, but they have better things to do with their time than correct me; or (c) they read the entry but did not notice the error. If (c) is the correct answer, then I am a little bit afraid for the future of our project: after all, we are supposed to be astronomers.

I took most of the day off from work to-day. It was a beautiful day: not very hot and with a pleasant breeze and I enjoyed the outdoors for a while. I have also discovered that we get many soccer matches on our satellite television on Sunday mornings: both the Premiership and the Spanish league have several channels. I turned on the television just in time to see Aston Villa win their game. (I have relatives in Birmingham, which makes this my favourite team by default.) Then I watched a bit of Spanish league — I hope that one of these days that Deportivo is on, as a classmate of mine from high school, Julian de Guzmán, plays for them.

In the evening I spent several hours writing software, and then later on I joined a Skype teleconference with Lyman and Michele, who were at the mountain all afternoon and evening, as well as Eric and Mike Nolta. We had some problems with the telescope motion this evening which frustrated many of our plans. Barth Netterfield's informal motto is, as usual, very à propos: `Step by tedious step, we stumble away from abject failure.'

No pictures appear again to-day as I did not go up to the telescope and could not therefore retrieve my camera.

24 September 2007

This day, Lyman and Michele left for Calama in the morning to buy various supplies. There were also replacement parts for one of our UPS's that had been shipped from Vancouver: most usually international shipments terminate in Calama and necessitate a visit there, and this was no exception.

I however, did not join them, and left with Walter at about nine o'clock to go up to the site. Once there, I began furiously writing code and did not stop until about ten o'clock in the evening. By that time Lyman and Michele had arrived and we were making making more observations. It seems that every night there is something that goes amiss — this evening, getting our detectors to read out properly proved difficult and required the expertise of Elia from the University of British Columbia — but overall I think all of the components are steadily converging to a working system.

We did not get back to San Pedro until near midnight, and then made a midnight feast of our food in the fridge and supplemented it with some wine to celebrate Lyman's birthday.

My friend Craig Burrell wrote to me this morning saying, `You can imagine my excitement — actually, more of a giddy feeling caused by intense self-satisfaction — when I detected your error about the date of the equinox.' But he goes on to ask, `Perhaps you, as an astronomer, can explain how it is that the Virgo equinox does not occur exactly six months after the Pisces equinox?' Now, it is quite late and I am exceedingly tired, but I think the answer has to do with the fact that the earth's orbit is elliptical with the sun at one of the ellipse's foci, not at its centre. Dr. Burrell, who is a particle physicist by training, will nonetheless undoubtedly remember Kepler's Laws from somewhere back in the mists of time, which, besides the fact mentioned in the previous sentence, also state that equal areas of a planet's orbit are swept out in equal times. Therefore the earth moves faster during certain seasons than others, making them of unequal length: which explains why the equinoctes are not evenly spaced. And so, with this last bit of mental exertion completed, to bed.

25 September 2007

This evening we observed again, and this time, from my point of view at least, it went much more smoothly and was very satisfying. Due to human error, we did not begin cycling our detector refrigerators early enough in the day to begin when Jupiter moved into our range. It takes more than eight hours to cool our detectors from four degrees kelvin, the temperature at which the first stage of refrigeration maintains the innards of our camera, down to their operating point of 300 millikelvin. (That's a third of a degree above absolute zero, or -272.85 degrees centigrade.) Since we began the cycle at about one o'clock in the afternoon, we were not cold until about a quarter to nine in the evening, and had only one chance to observe Jupiter before it set below thirty degrees, the lowest our telescope can observe.

The late start was advantageous for me, however. Walter and Mike were testing the limit switches (devices which shut the telescope down if someone accidentally moves it too far) until about six-thirty in the evening, and I had to hurry to modify the telescope control software in the time that was remaining before we were cold enough to observe. In fact, it turned out that just as I was finishing the last testing of the software, we were ready to begin. It is just past one o'clock in the evening now and it looks like the motion is still working. I am hoping that for the first time it will last through the night.

After the single pass at Jupiter, we decided on a whim to look at the moon. Joe Fowler had gotten a crucial piece of acquisition software in place by this time, and for the first time we were able to see our detector time stream in real-time. The moon is ridiculously bright compared to what we will usually observe, and we could see our detectors jumping up and down as the moon passed in front of them.

On the drive back a fox darted out near the road. It was the first live fox I have seen here — live, because there was the unfortunate expired zorro that had met his demise on the highway in April whom we would daily pass on our way to the telescope. Michele says that he often spies them near the road at night, and that they are the most common wildlife he sees. I, on the other hand, would have to say that I see more viscachas than any other animals, barring llamas, which are domesticated.

Those who enjoy seeing photographs in this journal will have to go without for another day because I made the mistake of leaving my camera behind in San Pedro this day. Anyone, however, who is reading these words, does not come to this page for the pictures alone; and I hope that such a reader remain edified despite the lack of visual stimulation.

26 September 2007

This evening we were organised enough to have our camera cold enough in time to see Jupiter. These days it is rising into our view at about seven thirty in the evening and exiting at about a quarter after nine. After a couple of hitches we were observing it and again we were able to see live data as it passed over our detectors.

Michele stayed down in San Pedro this day. Our science camera, called the MBAC (Millimetre Bolometer Array Camera) is being shipped by air freight this week (needless to say at considerable cost) and he had a lot of coordination to do in preparation for its arrival.

To-morrow morning Lyman leaves, and since we have been spending many late nights at the telescope, we decided to come down early (i.e., a quarter to nine) and go out for dinner. The town was pretty un-alive this evening and I was surprised that some restaurants were even already closed. We settled on Adobe, which, though it be one of the more prominent and popular establishments, I had never before eaten at. We were joined by Walter, who was glad to have some company after having to eat alone for a couple of weeks. When we each ordered a pisco sour to start the meal, I realised that it was my first one since I arrived a couple of weeks ago. And it was one of the best ones I have had.

27 September 2007

This morning Lyman and Michele left at about seven for Calama: Lyman to return to Princeton and Michele to buy various supplies in town. Michele dropped Lyman off at the airport, and then proceeded to acquire parts for connecting our large diesel tank to the generators among other things.

I, however, was not up so early, but did get up at eight to leave with Walter at a half-past eight. When we arrived, the telescope was still doing the observations which we had scheduled the night before. At one point its scheduled motion almost pointed it at the sun, which frightened me not a little since the sun would destroy our detectors. And so I spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out how to let our control programs know where the sun is in order to do an emergency shut down when telescope ventures too close.

In the afternoon I spent a few hours with Mike Cozza trying to diagnose a mysterious problem which causes our telescope to stop in the middle of motion. Then, at about a quarter to four, I joined Walter who wanted to make a hike to the peak of Cerro Toco before he left. We drove up to the old sulphur mine, left the truck there, and then hiked to the summit. The previous time I climbed the mountain we ended up on the second highest peak; Walter had also made the same mistake on one of his previous visits. We were determined to make it to the true summit, and the solution was as simple as following the paths made by previous visitors, which indeed led to the correct peak.

It was a magnificently clear day and we could see far into Bolivia and Argentina. At the summit it was a little windy, but pleasant enough that we spent about twenty minutes there before descending. In total, it took us little over two hours and I think we were both pleased at how easily we did the climb.

In the evening we went out again and met Rodrigo at Adobe for dinner. He is now entertaining a French-woman named Stephanie, and we made plans to join them to-morrow for part of the day to visit some indigenous rock paintings nearby.

28 September 2007

This morning Rodrigo and Stephanie came by to leave for our trip to petroglyphs (which I incorrectly referred to as `rock paintings' yesterday). It is a bit of a drive out of San Pedro and we took Walter's truck. The turn-off from the highway is inconspicuous: a simple dirt road which veers off into distance on the Llano de Paciencia, on which, apparently, NASA has tested some of its planetary explorers. Eventually the road turns into a gorge carved out by an ancient river.

There are numerous petroglyphs on the canyon walls created some centuries ago, most before the Spanish arrived. Llamas are the most popular subjects, indicating their importance to the culture; there are also many representations of shamans. According to Rodrigo the petroglyphs are not often visited by tourists. Nevertheless, there was some unfortunate vandalism in a couple of places.

We continued driving through the canyon until we came to a brook named the Rio Salado where we parked the car and looked at more petroglyphs. After a picnic we set out on a hike towards the Rio San Pedro over a rocky, rolling terrain. The Rio San Pedro runs in a narrow canyon ten or fifteen metres deep and the vegetation inside is lush compared to the barren surroundings. Descending down to the river, we went into a gorge that branched off from the river, where Rodrigo suggested we do some "freeclimbing", as he pronounced it. Walter and I were a little wary at first, but when we saw that he had good equipment and that there were anchors at the top of the wall, and further, when he rappelled down himself, we each gave it a go and spent about an hour going up and down the rock face.

When we were done it was about three o'clock and we started back, taking a different route which followed the river. Much of the time we had to wade across it or even down its middle. The river winds through the canyon, shallow and narrow. The cool water and the shade afforded by the walls of the gorge made this part of the hike very pleasant. Rodrigo's dog, who was with us the whole time, was always hesitant to jump into the water, but then very happy to be wet once she had made the plunge.

Someone once made the observation to me that one's mind divides languages into two categories: one's native language, English in my case, and `The Other Language'. Consequently it is very confusing when there are more than one Other Languages being spoken. All day long, English, Spanish and French were being used and I often found sentences which were a tangle of Spanish and French coming out of my mouth.

It was a very interesting trip and a good break from the long days I have been putting in for the last two weeks, and also a memorable final day for Walter, who leaves to-morrow morning. This evening I am supervising some observations of Uranus and then one of our survey strips.

Michaelmas 2007

Yesterday our science camera, the Millimetre Bolometric Array Camera (MBAC) arrived in Santiago from Philadelphia by air and cleared customs. This camera, with 1024 detectors, is more than four times more sensitive than the test camera we have on the telescope now, and in a year will have tripled its detector count to 3072 for observing in three frequency bands. The camera shipped without the detectors, however, which are at this very moment being hand-carried on a plane by Jeff Klein and Dan Swetz from the University of Pennsylvania, who arrive to-morrow. Given the expense and the years of work that have gone into this particular piece of luggage, I am glad not to be transporting it myself.

Michele has been in touch with the company driving the MBAC container from Santiago. It should be here to-morrow evening, in perfect time for Jeff and Dan's arrival.

This afternoon when we were up at the telescope, Michele and I were visited by our colleagues from ASTE. David Hughes, who is here currently here working on the AZTEC instrument on ASTE, had been wondering what to do with some left-over liquid nitrogen. Naturally, the solution was to make ice cream. (Surprisingly, recipes for liquid nitrogen ice cream abound on the internet.) He and his colleagues brought over a big bowl to share with us, as well as a special tupperware container for Michele since it is his name day.

This evening we continue to observe. The software still continues to work well, to the extent that observing has become almost routine, at least until we begin using the MBAC.

30 September 2007

During the week of Chilean Independence some hooligans ripped the credit card reader out of the petrol station and we have since had to pay for our daily diesel by cash. Fortunately I was given a large cash advance before coming and for the past two days Michele and I have had to drive to the cash machine in town, where I get out 200000 pesos (almost US$400) to fill both our drums full of diesel.

On the way up, mid-afternoon, Michele got a call on his cell phone from the trucking company shipping the MBAC. They had arrived in San Pedro rather early and didn't know where to park the truck. Michele phoned Masao, a colleague with the ASTE experiment, who was kind enough to intercept the truck, guide it to Don Esteban and find a hotel for the truck drivers to stay. We arranged to meet them to-morrow morning at eight o'clock to show them the way to the telescope.

When we arrived back in town at about eight o'clock, Dan Swetz and Jeff Klein from the University of Pennsylvania had just arrived. As we didn't have enough food in our fridge to feed all of us, the four of us, plus David Hughes and Itgziar Aretxaga from ASTE, went out to Tierra, where, as usual, the food was delicious.

1 October 2007

This morning Michele went to pick up the MBAC truck drivers in town and then rode with them to show them the way to the telescope. After an hour or so, Jeff, Dan and I followed. We went the long way, around the back of the mountain via the Pampa la Bola to make sure that the truck hadn't gotten stuck somewhere. In fact, it had already reached the site when we arrived and so Dan, Michele and Jeff helped the drivers unload everything.

After lunch I moved outside to help with the unpacking job. The MBAC receiver itself arrived in a wooden crate about five feet square; additionally there was a huge crate about seven by four by four feet containing computers and other equipment, and two pallets loaded with miscellaneous supplies.

The container at the site in which we work on our instruments (imaginatively referred to as the White Container) has a hole in its roof, on top of which is attached a sort of second storey. On the ceiling of this is a strong girder which holds a chain pulley that we can use to lift the whole MBAC up several feet off the ground. It took some strength to get the cover of this hole off, and then some more elbow grease to vacuum and mop out the upper storey (as well as the bottom storey) before we opened up the MBAC crate and gingerly lifted it out.

Despite the fact that there was a puncture in the MBAC crate which looked like the result of a mal-directed forklift tine, the instrument itself seemed to be unharmed. To-morrow Dan and Jeff will open it to examine its innards and we are crossing our fingers that there will be no major surgery required.

By the end of the day, Dan, who was at altitude for the first time, had splitting headache, and we drove down. There must have been some mix-up with the cook because we hardly had enough food for three people, let alone four, but Tony Readhead from the CBI experiment said that one of his party wouldn't be eating this evening and offered us a supplement to our diminutive repast. In the end, we all ate well and filled our bellies after a satisfying day of work.

2 October 2007

As we didn't take any diesel to the generators yesterday, we filled two drums this morning before we headed up. With four hundred litres of diesel and four men, the truck was very sluggish and we were down to thirty or forty kilometres per hour on some sections of the highway. Our truck is also beginning to misbehave: it often lurches and the engine light comes on every now and then. Jeff suspects that perhaps the fuel injection is not working properly, although it could be a number of other problems. To-morrow Michele will try and get it replaced in Calama.

At the site, Michele, Dan and Jeff continued unpacking. They swept and mopped out the white container again and replaced the fluorescent lights' ballasts to get better lighting. The MBAC's cradle was assembled and now the MBAC is sitting comfortably upon it.

In the meantime, I attempted to observe Jupiter. Whereas we have observed it at night, when it is setting, we wanted to track it in the day when it is rising, on the other side of the sky. However, there was a problem getting the detectors to work, and when Elia and Eric finally fixed them, Jupiter had just risen above our maximum elevation.

Thus, our last chance to observe with the CCam — the test camera currently in the telescope — did not work out as planned. Before we left the telescope, we turned off her refrigerators to start warming her up in anticipation of the MBAC going in. We will not be observing, therefore, for a few days now, giving the software writers a chance to breathe and make many long-awaited additions, adjustments and bug fixes.

This evening, unlike last night, we had enough food for everybody. There was even left-over dessert.

3 October 2007

This morning Michele left early to pick up Rolando from the airport and to see if we could get another vehicle from the rental agency in Calama. We are now, with the arrival of Rolando, five people, with two more to arrive within the week, and need at the least two trucks. Late in the morning Jeff got a call from Michele who said that there were no more trucks available, but that there should be one available at about one o'clock. The plan was therefore for Michele to come back with that car in the early afternoon, while Rolando would remain behind in Calama and wait for the original truck to be serviced.

When Michele arrived back in the mid-afternoon, we went to the telescope. Michele and Dan set to work on the MBAC, opening it up for the first time since it arrived. It is necessarily a delicate and time-consuming process, but in the end Dan was extremely pleased to see no discernible damage inside.

Jeff spent the best part of his time there replacing one of the compressors for the refrigeration system which was a hot and miserable job in the noisy part of the equipment room. I, on the other hand, was in the quieter section working on telescope motion.

At nine-thirty, just before we left, Michele called Rolando's mobile phone, and we discovered that he had arrived back from Calama but was locked out of the office. So after spending a tedious day in Calama milling around the shopping mall, watching a movie and finally arriving in San Pedro late in the evening, he found he couldn't even access his luggage since it was locked away. It was a frustrating end for him to a long and tedious day, but he was not in low spirits. Later on in the evening he showed Jeff and me the pictures from his trip to Bolivia.

4 October 2007

This day Dan and Jeff left mid-morning to continue working on the MBAC. Rolando, Michele and I left in the afternoon since our plan was to do primary mirror panel measurements. Much of my afternoon was spent on the phone: first with Mike Cozza to put some finishing touches on the elevation tuning, and then with Eric Switzer and Mike Nolta trying to figure out how to write a `watch-dog' program to monitor the health of the telescope.

As it turned out, Jeff and Dan remained quite late at the site putting together a small dewar to test one of the MBAC refrigerators. It must have been about nine o'clock when it was finally sealed up, placed in the receiver cabin, and had begun cooling down. But for the panel measurers, the night had just begun.

I became acquainted for the first time to-day with the names which have been affectionately bestowed upon groups of mirror panels: along the middle of the mirror runs the Bone, which is flanked by the Meat; on the bottom is the Cross and the Vee; four nebulous regions are simply called the Blobs. The panel groups that have been measured from the very infancy of the telescope are collectively called the Old Testament, which consists of the Bone, the left and right Genesis and the Vee: which I suggested be renamed the Pentateuch.

Despite these diverting appellations, the measurement process this evening was particularly miserable because the computer which controls the laser tracker crashed three times. It seemed to be due to a flaky ethernet cable connecting it to the Faro: Michele is resolved to make a new, more robust one to-morrow. All in all the process took about one and a half hours longer than we had anticipated, and we did not leave until almost half past midnight.

5 October 2007

When I woke up this morning Jeff and Dan had already left. Rolando, Michele and I, after our late-night work yesterday, were naturally slower to get going. We did some work in San Pedro in the morning, and then after lunch Michele and I drove up. Rolando remained behind to extend the panel code to analyse the secondary mirror. I am quite pleased that he has taken over the development of this software and made it his own — I started it back in April but am glad to have one less responsibility.

Arriving at the telescope, I decided to properly install the computers that came with the MBAC in the rack along with the others. When I got a better look at the state of the racks, however, I was dismayed: a tangle of cables crowded the back of the rack making access nigh impossible: cables were not tied down or strain relieved: an assortment of catenaries dangled from the ceiling; an HP power supply was balanced diagonally at the floor of the rack. I decided the best thing would be to do everything properly from the very beginning.

For the next three or four hours, I unconnected more than half of the cables in the back of the rack, cleared the desk of the monitors and mouses and keyboards, and then began properly installing the new computers.

By about seven-thirty, Jeff and Dan left, and Michele and I postponed the computer rack clean-up to set up the laser tracker to measure primary panels. Last night we surveyed about half of the surface; this night we completed the rest of the mirror. We were joined about an hour into the process by Rolando, which enabled us to rotate one person out every forty minutes to take a break. After spending an hour out on the telescope in the cold, it is a great relief to retreat back into the equipment room to warm one's numb feet and fingertips.

We finished at about eleven thirty. Once back in San Pedro Michele and I had a midnight snack, and now to bed.

This evening Elia Battistelli, a post doctoral fellow from the University of British Columbia, arrived. But he was naturally in bed when Michele, Rolando and I got back.

6 October 2007

Again this morning Jeff and Dan were gone by the time I got up; and, surprisingly, Elia had gone with them. I took an exploratory bike ride and found a nice round trip that went south and looped back, all without passing a single vehicle. The day was very fine: pleasantly hot and not a cloud to be seen: to borrow a favourite phrase of Enid Blyton's, `The sky was as blue as cornflowers.'

In the afternoon I continued organising the computer rack. Though it be slow work, it is satisfying and I made good progress. Jeff and Dan were busy working on the MBAC, and Rolando and Michele did panel adjustments. Being quite tired from two nights of panel measurements, I was dreading the thought of another such night. Fortunately, Rolando and Michele felt the same way, and we all were down in San Pedro by about eight o'clock and went out to dinner at Tierra.

My friend Diedre Sportack recently wrote about shrines on her blog. This prompted me to finally take a picture to-day of one of the many shrines we pass on the way to the telescope. These roadside shrines commemorate those whose lives have been claimed by car crashes. They are set up at the sites of the accidents, often with the remains of the vehicles rusting nearby. Many of them are well taken care of, with flowers and jugs of water regularly left behind. The picture included here is of a fairly typical shrine; though they range from simple crosses to practically full size mausolea.

7 October 2007

To-day I relaxed all morning and most of the afternoon. The church at noon was filled to capacity because there was some sort of youth group there: a few dozens of teenagers and what appeared to be chaperones. They did not look like locals, so presumably it was some kind of trip. Just before the mass began, a few of the girls, rather on a whim, it seemed, left their seats and went to join the choir.

Jeff, Dan and Elia had gone up in the morning, again leaving Michele, Rolando and I at Don Esteban. Michele and I had a leisurely lunch and watched about a third of Spiderman 2 which was on television.

Late in the afternoon, the three of us went to do more panel measurements. By about eleven we were finished, and then Rolando put the laser tracker in a survey mode to watch the movement of the mirrors through the night. We were just about to leave when the lights in the equipment room began flickering, soon followed by the power going out. Running outside, we saw that we had been five minutes too late in switching to the other generator and that the first one had just run out of diesel. Recovering from this mistake was not too painful, but kept us at the telescope until just past midnight.

Thanksgiving 2007

This morning Rolando and Michele went to Calama to take Rolando's car into the garage to fix the gearbox, as well as to do some shopping. Our contract with Agreko, from whom we rent the generators, is requiring us to return the power cables that go from the generator to the junction box in the equipment room. Given that we spent hours carefully burying them, we are loath to dig them up again, and our plan is to buy the same length of identical gauge copper cable and give them that instead.

For the past two weeks or so, Michele has been negotiating the order with a vendor in Calama, and to-day the cables were to be picked up. But to Michele and Rolando's great astonishment, they refused to sell the cables because they would not recognise the Universidad de Princeton as a company for the purposes of making out the receipt. Of course, Michele and Rolando gave all the rational arguments about how of course we were a proper company — after all, we have had contracts for thousands of dollars with other local companies. Michele even called our lawyer in Santiago, who verified that yes indeed we were a proper company. But the vendor did not budge, which is very surprising given that they are the losers by it.

When they arrived back in San Pedro, Michele learned that the CBI experiment has often done business with this vendor, which made the whole situation even more bizarre. At any rate, the day was not a complete loss, both because Rolando's truck is being repaired, and because they got a whole load of groceries.

The rest of us spent the day on the mountain. I finally finished cleaning up the computer areas and setting up the monitors, keyboards and mouses. Elia and Dan worked on testing the connexions in the MBAC and Jeff spent many frustrating hours trying to make one of the computer's hard drives run.

This evening when we were all in the office, we spied a dog peeking in our window. We don't know where she came from, but she seemed to enjoy our office and was pretty clean by San Pedro standards.

9 October 2007

This morning we split into what have become somewhat established groups: Jeff, Dan and Elia went up while Rolando, Michele and I stayed down until early afternoon. Before leaving, Rolando had the brilliant idea of phoning one of his friends who owns a small restaurant and asking her to make us sandwiches to pick up before going to the mountain. The sandwiches were top-rate.

This morning on a southward bike ride I saw the Lascar volcano at a new angle. From this position the crater was much more evident, and there was clearly smoke pouring out of it: before I had seen smoke, but it had been barely distinguishable from a wispy cloud.

In the evening Michele and I made panel adjustments. In total it took us almost three hours because in addition to the forty-nine adjustments, we also checked every single adjustor to see if it was coming loose from its panel. Unfortunately, there were a couple of dozen of these. We tightened them as best as we could, and hope that they will remain secure.

Don Esteban is now full, and Dan and Elia have had to move to Hostel Terracota, where I have just driven Dan to turn in for the night.

10 October 2007

To-day Elia did not go up in the morning with Dan and Jeff, because we planned to do a full survey of the primary mirror in the evening and required a fourth person. So the four of us worked in San Pedro for most of the daylight hours.

In the afternoon Rolando and Michele went to get some diesel. They began by filling the truck's tank, but before they had put in ten litres the electrical power to the pump suddenly went out. Rolando had noticed that there were about fifty-five hundred pesos on the pump before the electricity went off, but the pump attendant, a rather taciturn fellow named Gaston, with whom we can never converse, was sceptical. What if Michele and Rolando had taken more and were trying to cheat the petrol station? There was no way to prove anything, so it was a rather futile and somewhat strange argument to begin with. He even took the tack that if they didn't pay for everything, the difference would come out of his pocket. Of course, there would be no way for his boss to know if that were the case, the electricity being out, even if they had cheated him . . .

In the late afternoon, the four of us went up to do panel measurements. Rolando and Michele checked for loose panel adjustors and found a bunch more on a level that Michele and I had not tested yesterday evening. At about nine o'clock we started measurements. With four people there can be two teams, one doing measurements and the other warming up in the equipment room, in forty minute rotations. We generally measure each panel twice, each at a different time in the night so that we can average measurements together. To survey the entire primary surface in this way is a total of one-thousand fifty-two measurements, taking in total about four hours, or three shifts per team.

Unfortunately, we were only able to complete one measurement per panel. An error with the laser tracker cropped up twice, taking away about an hour in total, and leaving us frustrated and unsure about whether it would keep happening through the night. As it was nearly midnight when it happened the second time and we had not yet done even half of the planned measurements, we completed the first survey of the primary and headed down, tired and disheartened.

11 October 2007

This afternoon we removed the CCam from the telescope, in anticipation of putting the MBAC in to-morrow. The logistics of removing it were a little unorganised: to begin with, Jeff, Dan and Elia did not even know where to put it once it was out. When the rest of us arrived early in the afternoon, I was able to locate the box it was shipped in: two wooden crates, one inside the other like Russian dolls, with padding in between. It was in a rather dilapidated state, sitting behind one of the containers with snow drifts locking it to the ground.

It was dusk when we were finished, but we did successfully complete the removal. While we were removing it, some colleagues from ASTE visited, including Grant Wilson who liked the looks of CCam. Later, to Michele, who thinks it is ugly, he said, `I didn't find the CCam unattractive at all — I actually thought it was pretty cool-looking.'

While the others were busy securing the CCam in its crate, Rolando and I went up into the telescope to do panel adjustments. To our dismay, there were more panel adjustors which were loose — this even after Michele and I had tightened them all two evenings before. And so we came down from the mountain for a second evening in a row disheartened at the state of the primary mirror.

Some leisure seemed to be in order so we all went out to Bendito Desierto for dinner when we arrived back in San Pedro, joined by David Hughes, Itziar Aretxaga and Grant Wilson from ASTE. We were entertained by a smaller version of Group Number Two. The food was quite good, though the pisco sours were not the best in town.

12 October 2007

It was one month ago to-day that I arrived in San Pedro, and, perhaps unexpectedly, it feels as though I have been here exactly that long.

The plan for to-day was to get the MBAC into the telescope. Jeff, Dan and Elia started preparing it early in the morning, and Michele, Rolando and I arrived late morning to help out. The task I volunteered to do was to remove the roll-bar from the bed of the pickup in one of our trucks. The MBAC is too wide to fit in the bed, so we intended to lay it across the width so that it rested on the sides of the pickup: the roll-bar, however, protruded too far back and needed to be removed.

Who would have thought that this would be such a difficult task? I spent almost two hours working at it, assisted first by Rolando and then by Jeff. It took heaving and straining at two of the bolts to realise that they needed to be well-greased before starting. Then, two of the bolts had nuts beneath the truck located directly above the fuel tank, with barely enough room to slide a spanner in and no way to locate it except by groping around while lying directly beneath the muffler and the spare tire. (From this vantage point, I noticed that the exhaust pipe was being kept off the ground by a couple of loops of wire connected somewhere up in the chassis.) In the end roll-bar did come off; though I do not look forward to putting it back on.

As usual, everything else also took longer than expected, and when we were finally ready to put the MBAC in, it was almost five o'clock. Jeff and Dan were reluctant to begin at such a late hour, decided to delay it until to-morrow, and headed down. This plan had the benefit that someone could be in San Pedro to meet Michael Niemack, who arrived from Princeton this evening.

The rest of us stayed up to do panel measurements. Again we were thwarted: this time, the laser tracker refused to track. Even after a complete power cycle it would not work, and so Michele and Rolando decided to throw in the towel. Jeff, when they described the problem to him, had a couple of ideas which he wants to try to-morrow, but I think we all remain somewhat dejected at the state of the panel alignment.

13 October 2007

This day we put the MBAC into the telescope. Jeff, Michele, Dan, Elia and Mike went up at about nine in the morning, and Rolando and I went in the other truck at about ten thirty after filling the two drums with diesel. When we arrived, they had just taken the MBAC out of the white container.

From the white container, we lifted it up with a chain-fall onto the back of one of our pickups. Michele drove it very gingerly over to the telescope and carefully positioned it below the chain-fall suspended from the receiver cabin. From there, it was lifted it up by moving the telescope up in elevation. Once up at sixty degrees, it was pulled in and placed on the rails which Jeff had installed yesterday.

All this takes only a paragraph to summarise, but it was about two o'clock before it was on the rails. After that it was another few hours to roll it down the rails into place in the back of the receiver cabin, rotating it on the cart in a couple of complicated manoeuvres to make all the protrusions fit beneath the low-hanging ceiling.

At eight-thirty Mike, Elia, Rolando and I left, with Jeff, Dan and Michele remaining behind, trying to get the MBAC onto a vacuum pump to evacuate it some more overnight. They were having difficulty because the oil in the pump had gotten very cold, causing the motor to work so hard that it burned a fuse.

The rest of us arrived in San Pedro and had beer and dinner. Just as we were finishing, we got a call from the mountain: the others had tried to leave, but the truck wouldn't start because the fuel was turning to gel in the cold weather. So Rolando jumped in our other truck, and is at this moment driving up to rescue them. Thus ends this eventful day in the Atacama, and so to bed.

14 October 2007

To-day daylight savings began in Chile, meaning an hour less sleep for us and also putting us an hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time. When North America turns off daylight savings, we will be two hours off; though with the new switch-over date, I am not sure whether this will happen before I leave.

This morning in church there were several pews of people dressed in Mexican costumes, which was rather curious. And then after the service, they began dancing in the square to brassy Mexican music. They had a banner which said that they were a Mexican dancing group from Calama; but why they came to San Pedro on this day was a mystery. Rolando shrugged it off as one of the many odd things about San Pedro. Adding to the bizarre bustle in the square was a film crew, which seemed to be from Germany. I am not sure what they were filming, but Rolando said he was talking to someone who was going to be paid as an extra, so presumably ably it is some fictional movie.

After looking at the Mexican dancers for a short while, Elia, Rolando and I went to get lunch at a little kitchen off the beaten track. Over lunch, Elia and Rolando were engaged in an impassioned debate about Augusto Pinochet, which, over half an hour or so, became a repetitive circle of fruitless argumentation. But try as I might to steer the conversation to something more general, it always came back to Pinochet. It is good, however, to hear a Chilean perspective, even if it be but one.

In the early evening we went up to attempt to push through some panel measurements. For faithful readers of this journal, it will come as no surprise (but should still be an occasion for dolour) that we were unsuccessful. To-morrow Rolando and Jeff will get in touch with the laser tracker manufacturer to try and get some clues about what is wrong.

15 October 2007

This morning there was a backhoe out in front of the offices at Don Esteban with masses of mud in the bucket being dumped on the roofs and spread by some workmen. I asked them what it was for and they told me that it helps to insulate the buildings. Later in the day when I was working in our office, I could hear them trampling about above me.

Rolando, Elia and I slept in after our late night. After getting diesel, food for lunch and a couple of twenty-litre bottles of water (all of which took more than an hour) we headed up to the site soon after noon. The MBAC was continuing to cool, and Jeff, Dan and Mike were working to get the heater controls working so that they could get the internal refrigeration going.

To-day was Mark Devlin's first day up and by mid-afternoon he was ready to go down. As my work for the day could be continued in town, I drove him down and dropped him off at Don Tomás where he is staying, and then worked for the rest of the afternoon at Don Esteban.

This evening over dinner I talked with Oliver King, a South African graduate student from Oxford who is here to help with CBI. Oxford has had a pretty steady stream of people here, each staying for a few weeks, ever since they became involved in the CBI project. They seem to have rapidly expanded their astronomy group in the past few years.

16 October 2007

To-day I went up in the morning with Jeff, Dan and Elia and did computer work until early afternoon, when I started a conference call with Mike Cozza in Pittsburg and three other KUKA employees in Detroit in order to track down a long-standing problem that causes the telescope motion to shut down. In the end the call lasted about five hours and was very hard to follow because the connexions to Detroit kept dropping out and Mike Cozza had to keep adding them to the call. Moreover, there were many people on the call, most with flaky connexions, and they kept asking Jeff and me to make measurements of voltages and currents inside the KUKA cabinet.

By about seven o'clock, though, we had successfully diagnosed the problem and to-morrow Mike Cozza and I will implement the fix.

In the evening Mark Devlin, Mike Niemack and Rolando came up. Yesterday Rolando and Jeff got in touch with the company that makes the laser tracker and, despite a lengthy and garrulous conversation, were able to get some useful advice on how to avoid the problems that have been plaguing us. Apparently, temperature changes rather than absolute temperature are supposed to be more crippling, so it is best to leave it out in the cold for a couple of hours before starting measurements. Armed with this knowledge, the three of them are currently still up the mountain trying to measure the secondary mirror panels.

The rest of us came down at about nine, had our dinner with a bottle of wine, and then, after a call with Lyman to discuss what the plan is once the MBAC is cold, to bed.

This evening I received a letter from Dr. Craig Burrell, post-marked September 29th, containing his most recent move in our game of correspondence chess. He responded to my deft Bg4 with h3, which, besides challenging my bishop, may also serve to prepare for a future castling move.

17 October 2007

This morning the eastern part of the sky was quite overcast, extending over San Pedro. The clouds above the mountains had wispy tendrils hanging downwards, which looked similar to distant patches of rain but were too gross in size; the sunlight played dully through them. There was snow on Cerro Toco.

Mark, Elia and Jeff went up early in the morning. We have new generators arriving any day now, and in order to make the switch-over as smooth as possible, we got Conpax to come in and move the old generators off of the concrete foundation. They are still connected, but now the new generators will be able to go directly into place.

By mid-afternoon, the clouds had not lifted. Rolando, Mike Niemack, Dan and I were ready to head up when Mark called and said to wait before coming, as it was starting to snow. So we waited for about half an hour, and saw not much change. Rolando, who is the most experienced with the weather, voted for going up, and this turned out to be the right decision, as the sky had cleared considerably by the time we arrived.

In the evening we did a survey of the primary mirror. Now that we are on daylight savings, we cannot start until about ten in the evening, which makes the whole process go even later. Thankfully, the laser tracker did not act up very much, requiring only one reboot, and at a quarter after one, we headed down, and so to bed.

18 October 2007

To-day all the clouds were gone, the sky was back to its usual deep blue and the temperature was pleasantly warm. As usual, the panel measurement crew slept in and Jeff, Mark and Elia were gone by the time any of us was up.

In the morning our new generators arrived. By the time the four panel measurement crew members arrived at the site, the generators were in place in their concrete pool. They really do look remarkably clean and shiny, though it will not be long before they are permeated with the smell of diesel and dirtied by the ubiquitous desert dust. In addition to their glossy exteriors, they are also much nicer inside: there is more room to poke around the engine and it is easier to see where everything is.

As usual, however, all is not smooth sailing. The switches that the generator company sent us are designed to switch between a generator and a power grid, not between two generators. In addition, some bolts in one of the generators sheared during shipping, misaligning the engine in its housing. Mark Devlin spent a while on the phone with the company trying to sort things out. Mark and Jeff were able to start one of them after a few false engine starts, but for now we will continue to run off of the Aggreko generators that we still have here.

It was a busy afternoon for everybody: Mike Niemack and Elia worked on data acquisition software, Rolando and Dan focused on panel adjustments, Mark and Jeff continued to work on the generators and I worked with Mike Cozza on motion.

In the evening we did panel measurements. We hope that with only a couple more iterations we can bring the rms of the surface down to about thirty microns (three hundredths of a millimetre). This evening finally proved a success and we completed a full survey of both the primary and secondary mirrors. To-morrow, Rolando will analyse the results, but we already know it is around forty microns as he had a quick look at the data half-way through the measurements. We have just arrived back in San Pedro at three-thirty in the morning, sleepy but satisfied.

19 October 2007

This morning the panel crew slept in even later than yesterday — for my part, I woke up around noon. Before going to bed, Dan and Mike had had a beer and hadn't gotten to sleep until about five in the morning. In the light of day, Dan said, `It seemed like a good idea at the time.'

We skipped breakfast and went straight to lunch, and, to complete the mix-up, we ate our Friday dinner, which had just been put in the fridge. After this repast, I went into town to buy diesel. While the second drum was being filled, I paid for two-hundred thousand pesos of fuel, as this buys about four-hundred litres. However, about a hundred and fifty thousand pesos in, the nozzle clicked indicating that the drum was full. I was a bit perplexed, but then realised that someone must have forgotten to completely empty that drum yesterday. I filled each of the drums as well as the truck's tank up to the very brim, but there were still about twenty-five thousand pesos left, so I arranged with the pump attendant to return to-morrow morning to recuperate the rest.

After getting fuel we went up. Elia, Mark and Jeff had been there since the early morning, working on a variety of things, including re-zeroing the secondary mirror position. With seven people at the site, the equipment room can get very crowded, and Rolando and I had to create a makeshift workspace in a corner to figure out which panels to adjust. Thence followed about three hours of crawling around in the back of the telescope, both making adjustments, and adding extra hose clamps to the adjustors to make them extra secure. Mike Niemack was in for the longest: about four hours, and at the end he was positively haggard.

After the adjustments we did another complete survey of the telescope, arriving again in San Pedro at three-thirty in the morning. It is our hope that this will be the last complete survey for a while. Preliminary analysis suggests that the rms sits near thirty microns.

20 October 2007

This morning I woke up rather earlier than I would have wished, and decided to go for a bike ride. A few days ago I found the route to a nearby lake and thought I would try and follow it all the way. After almost an hour, there was no sign of the lake and I was thirsty and without water, so I turned around and retraced my steps. When I returned, the other panel crew members were just getting up. I had to go and get diesel, but when I returned, Mike had made a pan full off scrambled eggs, and we all had a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast and beans; and I, not yet sated, had a steak that was sitting in the fridge for dinner.

Over this breakfast, Oliver King explained in detail to me why England had no chance against South Africa in the rugby world cup final this afternoon. When I came back this evening I saw that he was indeed correct, as the Springboks appeared to handily win the contest.

To-day we started using the new generators. There were four electricians from Conpax over to assist in the switchover, and Mark and Jeff later said that they were excellent. We were about fifteen without power while the switch was being completed, and for me, it was a good test to see how long our UPS batteries would last with all the computers on. It turned out to be about twelve minutes: not quite long enough to wait out the switch-over, so I had to switch most of them off.

There was a lot of other activity at the site, from properly grounding readout electronics in the receiver cabin to moving the secondary mirror. Meanwhile, the MBAC keeps cooling, and Dan anticipates that it will be cold enough to start the low-temperature refrigeration to-morrow.

21 October 2007

This morning I woke up still tired even after getting nearly eight hours of sleep. I lay in a while reading Barnaby Rudge, who has just become an unwitting recruit to the Lord Gordon's belligerent mob.

There was some kind of religious procession towards the cemetery as mass was starting this morning. I never found out what it was for — All Soul's, which is the only thing that came to mind, is still two weeks away. Later Rolando observed that in Chile people often like `taking their saints out for a ride', and perhaps that was the case to-day.

Meanwhile inside the church the service went on as usual. There were two girls baptised; one an infant, Francesca, and the other perhaps four or five years old, whose name I have forgotten. Francesca's father was all proud smiles. After they had been baptised and presented to the congregation, they were carried in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary and her special intercession for them was requested.

This afternoon the MBAC got down to three-hundred millikelvin — a third of a degree above absolute zero — which was cold enough to turn on the detectors and seeing how many of them are alive. As I write this, Mike and Elia are still doing tests and measurements, and so far there are more than eight hundred out of a thousand thirty-two which are working. They are confident that this percentage will increase.

22 October 2007

This morning I woke up at a quarter after three. Mike and Elia thought that they would be ready by that time to observe, and Mars was going to rise into our field of view at about four o'clock. And indeed they were ready. A note on the office door informed me that Mark and Jeff had left for the site a few hours earlier at midnight, so it was six people on the mountain and I down below assisting.

I had to manage a whole suite of data acquisition software, some of which I am not fully acquainted with, but most of it worked and the components that were buggy I was able to nudge into a tolerable state. For about three hours we chased Mars, but never saw him in our data stream. Eventually Dan went up to the camera and waved a cover in front of it, at which point we saw a huge signal and knew that the detectors were indeed working. That left the pointing of the telescope suspect. By this time, Mars was leaving our field, but thankfully the lovely Venus was rising and we focused our attention on her. Her new votaries were not disappointed. At about eight in the morning we saw a clear signal of her crossing the our detectors, and thus we achieved first light with the MBAC.

Those on the mountain immediately headed down, having been up all night, and short of sleep besides. When they left, I thought it would be a good idea to get some champagne to celebrate. The only problem was that it was not yet nine in the morning. It was then that I ran into Masao.

A brief digression is here required to describe Masao before proceeding with this narrative. Masao is ethnically Japanese but Chilean by upbringing: it is very strange to see a Japanese man speaking Spanish like a Chilean. He works for the Japanese ASTE project and seems to have connexions with everyone in San Pedro and beyond. Always ready to lend a hand, he is almost impulsive in his generosity; he moves quickly with a distinctive swagger and more often that not has hardly greeted you and shaken your hand than he is running off to some new task.

It was he whom I met when I was thinking of the champagne, and before I had finished explaining why I needed it he was on the phone to the owner of a restaurant in town that he knows. Sure enough, they had some champagne that they could sell, and within five minutes I was on a bike to the restaurant, where I promptly purchased a bottle of Brazilian (of all places) sparkling wine.

The others arrived back about twenty minutes later, and though sleepy and somewhat incoherent, were pleased to see that champagne and we all toasted to a successful first observation with the MBAC. Then they all went to bed and I held the fort for most of the day, getting some work done but becoming progressively more tired myself. This evening it seems as though the same schedule will prevail, so I am trying to get to bed early in anticipation of rising again before the sun.

23 October 2007

In the morning I woke up early again, at four o'clock, to make Mars observations. This time he was not so elusive and we got some good measurements. Again, the others, who had been up all night, went straight to bed, except for Elia and Mark who had flights in the morning to leave. I myself took an hour nap.

In the afternoon I noticed some strange behaviour in some of our data acquisition software. After poking around for a while, I saw that a couple of the computers on the mountain were shutting down and booting back up every now and then. Jeff had just woken up, so we drove up to the mountain to see what was the matter. It soon became clear that the new generators were not regulating the voltage properly, which was giving the UPS's a hard time. We switched generators, but that one also started showing the same symptoms. It eventually became so bad that we decided it was not safe leaving any equipment on, for fear that the voltage instability could damage something: it was already being very rough on the UPS's. So we shut down absolutely everything, including the main camera refrigerators, then turned off the generators, and drove down at about ten o'clock. If it is any consolation, we were able to observe Jupiter and Uranus before shutting down.

To add insult to injury, when we arrived back in town, our internet connexion was down. Whether this journal entry will make it onto the internet this evening or not remains to be seen.

To-day is Mike Niemack's birthday, and he was happy to receive a working camera on the telescope for his birthday. Hopefully the generators will be promptly fixed so that the birthday present lasts.

24 October 2007

When I got up this morning, the internet was still not working, and, of course, the generators were still down. Jeff and Rolando made a lot of phone calls to North America to figure out what the problem was, and then Jeff, Dan and Mike went up at about ten thirty, still unclear on exactly what was wrong with the generators.

A few hours later, we got a call from them saying that they had found the problem. Apparently the electronics board that controls the voltage governor (which happens to be situated in a difficult-to-find place behind a very heavy panel in an almost impossible to reach location), had a badly connected wire. What is surprising is that the very same problem existed on both of the generators, which seems to me like it must be something other than a remarkable coincidence. At any rate, Jeff fixed it and the generators appear to be running well, at least for now.

The MBAC had, in the meanwhile, warmed up to about sixty degrees kelvin (-213 C), so it will not be until at least to-morrow evening that it is cold enough again for observation.

But I, however, am off to-morrow on a four-day trip to Bolivia. Those who faithfully read this journal every day will have to wait until Sunday for another entry.

28 October 2007

I am now back from Bolivia after a wonderful trip which was too short. Right now I can barely keep my eyes open because I am so sleepy. I was about to post a picture from my trip but my USB cable is in my hotel room (I am not staying at Don Esteban my last three nights). I will post pictures at some point and link them from this page.

29 October 2007

This summer, a nurse in Princeton told me that `Lyme is the illness that keeps on giving.' I'm not sure if it is the Lyme rearing its ugly head again to-day, but I felt worn out and completely sapped of energy, almost exactly as I had been two or three months ago. Or perhaps it is simply the lack of sleep and a cold I have that has been widely circulating here.

I lay in until about nine o'clock, had breakfast and then went into town to get a couple of souvenirs. It was afterwards when I arrived in the office at Don Esteban that the fatigue hit. Though I didn't feel well enough to go up to the telescope, I did manage to get some work done. Then a lie-down in Dan's room until about seven o'clock, when I walked Dan and Joe Fowler (who are at the site) though the start of observing for the night, as part of a programme to make more people in the group become self-sufficient observers.

Now to bed, heartily wishing that I feel better to-morrow.

30 October 2007

To-day was my last day here. The Lyme was present but not as bad and got better through the day. In the morning at breakfast at my hotel, there was a man from Concepción (in the south of Chile) who turned out to be up for a couple of days to work on CBI. There were also tourists from Brazil. I am not sure how much of what they said was Portuguese and how much was Spanish, but I understood very little of it. The other people at the table had to translate it into comprehensible Spanish for me.

In the afternoon I went up to the telescope and worked with Mike Cozza and another Michael from KUKA in Detroit on the telescope stow pins: an issue that has been plaguing us for a long time now. We were able to fix most things, but there are still a couple of wrinkles to iron out.

Once done with the KUKA folks, Dan and I transfered diesel to the generator; Dan remarked that it was entirely appropriate that the last thing I do here is pump diesel.

Now out to dinner in town and hopefully to bed at a reasonable hour as my ride to the airport leaves at seven in the morning.

All Hallows' Eve & Day 2007

The night before I left San Pedro I woke up often, from a mildly irrational worry that my alarm would not go off, and so in the end I did not even need it, as I was awake at a quarter after six.

The professor from the Universidad de Concepción also happened to be leaving this day on the same flight. When, at about twenty minutes after seven, our bus to the airport had not yet arrived, he began calling someone at Don Esteban to give us an emergency ride. But while his phone was still ringing, the bus came, and we arrived at the airport in good time. On the way, he told me about the state of astronomy in Chile. It seems as though there is a shortage of Chileans doing astronomy: in his department, for example, I believe he was the only Chilean, the rest being chiefly American and German.

On the flight to Santiago I watched the in-flight video, the first part of which was an American soap (whose name I forget), which, like most shows of this genre, was about beautiful people who are always miserable because of their destructive relationships. Somehow, however, everything is presented in such a way that the intention is clear that these are actually attractive lifestyles. It was really too depressing.

I opted not to spend eleven hours in the Santiago airport. Depositing my luggage in a bag-check, I took a bus into town. Joe Fowler had tipped off to the Centropuerto bus, which, for less than three thousand pesos for a round trip, drives you right downtown. I walked around for a bit, finally ending in the square next to the cathedral. I had lunch in an outdoor cafe: as it turned out, the pastel de choclo (maize pie, rather too literally translated) was rather bad: too much onion and not enough maize. But it was pleasant to sit and watch all the passers-by.

Afterwards, again on Joe's recommendation, I went to the Museo Chileno de Arte Arte Precolombino, which was quite excellent. It displays sculptures and other handicraft from pre-1500, aboriginal mezzo- and South American cultures, some as old as five thousand years old. I spent a couple of hours browsing, and then back to the bus to return to the airport.

I was a little early to the airport, as the American Airlines check-in counters were still closed. But within about an hour I was through, and enjoyed the commodious international waiting area until my flight started boarding at nine o'clock.

I was in the second last row of the aeroplane: while I did have a whole row to myself, I was also right next to the flushing toilets and beneath the flight attendant call bell. One person about thirty rows in front of me had the impertinence to violently and repeatedly ring it at least once an hour. The stewardess who answered it was not the only one who was annoyed. Moreover, besides being about half commercials and sitcom previews, the video kept repeating and there was never a movie. I ended up getting perhaps two hours of sleep.

In Miami the lines for immigration looked reasonable, but I did not anticipate how slowly they would move: almost five minutes per interview. I waited a good hour in this line, by which time, together with the fact that the Santiago flight was a quarter of an hour late in arriving, meant that there were only ten minutes until my connecting flight left. By the time I had gotten my bags and cleared customs it was gone. Then I remembered that I had to go through security again, and arriving there, saw incredibly long lines. I waited about another hour just to get through security, so all told, it took me more than two hours from landing to getting into the domestic terminal. The next flight to Newark wasn't until forty minutes past noon, so I had more than four hours to wait in the terminal.

Of the numerous annoyances new airport security regulations (and they are legion) is that one can't pack toothpaste in one's carry-on luggage, except if it be in a three-ounce-or-less tube contained in a one quart zip-lock bag. Consequently I had to brush my teeth with no toothpaste.

My one consolation is that I found what is perhaps the only power outlet in the D terminal of the Miami airport. (This lack is a curious phenomenon here — could it be deliberate?) I thus had power for my laptop the whole time and made good use of it.

When we were finally all in the plane, we were informed that because of high winds in Newark, we would have to sit in the plane for an hour before taking off; and after this wait, we had to wait almost half an hour again before getting clearance to take off. All told, I arrived in Newark almost eight hours later than scheduled. This is perhaps not that bad; after all, I was occupied either with reading or on my computer for most of that time.

On the flight to Newark they showed the film Blades of Glory, a comedy spoof on the world of figure skating. I watched it partly with Toby Marriage in mind, who is the president of the Princeton Undergraduate/Graduate/Alumni Will Farrell Fan Appreciation Club.

To-morrow I am going back to Ontario to attend my friend Dr. Vinai Bhagirath's nuptials, and have spent a pretty frantic evening sorting through my mail, doing laundry and packing for the wedding. But now, gentle readers, I return to my private life, and thus ends this journal. I shall put a notice here when all of my pictures from this trip are posted on my webpage.

New! Photos now available here.