Chile Journals: 14 September – 4 November 2009
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This visit to Chile is supposed to be different from the others. The telescope has been installed, observed for a season (though short) in 2007, and has been re-commissioned with a full, working camera. My employment here is no longer to make the experiment work, but rather, to keep it working. Our intention has been to have a system that functions smoothly enough that only a couple of operators will be needed on site keeping an eye on it. How well this expectation will be realised, these pages must show.
It seems appropriate here to also direct my readers'
attention (if not daily engaged there already) to
web log. (The readers of this web-page are reminded that
this is not a log, but a journal.) After
obtaining a degree from Queens
University, she quickly realised the error of her ways and
rectified it by obtaining a masters degree from a superior
the University of Toronto.
This being taken care of, she landed a job at
the University in Rennes,
Brittany. Her log picks up there.
My journey began on a Sunday, the 14th day of September. A couple of days before, however, Jeff Klein had kindly brought me a few boxes of equipment to take down with me: some hard drives, a computer power supply, an IP-controllable power strip, a couple of motherboards, and various other goodies. There was still room left over in my bags for my clothes and all my other personal effects, but I was quite weighed down. Adam Zawadowski kindly drove me to Princeton Junction to catch the train; not only did this prevent me from dragging all my luggage up the hill to the local station, but it also prevented me from starting my voyage soaked through with perspiration, as it was one of the most hot, humid days we have had in a while in New Jersey.
I arrived at the John F. Kennedy airport at about five o'clock and found the check-in area crawling with travellers. My flight had been delayed by forty minutes — not, as one might expect, because the weather was bad or the aeroplane was late arriving, but because the original crew had worked too much the day before and union rules required a new crew to be installed. At any rate, this made me somewhat concerned as I already had a short connexion scheduled in Miami. I was assured, however, that the interval would be long enough.
Of course, the assurances were incorrect. Though we boarded the plane on time, we sat on the runway for over an hour before taking off, there being over forty planes in the queue ahead of us. When we arrived in Miami, about a quarter of the passengers, including me, had missed their connexions. We were all directed to the American Airlines desk to reschedule our itineraries. Most of the line was comprised of Latin Americans, who are very astute opportunists when it comes to queues — or perhaps it is more fair to say that they regard line-ups to be more of a rough guideline than an actual order. Consequently, after some confusion when the queue split in two due to all the Peruvians shifting over, I found that I had moved from about the middle all the way to the penultimate position of the remaining line. It was one o'clock in the morning before I was able to reschedule my flights for the following day.
The airline put me up in a nearby hotel, where I was able to get about six solid hours of sleep in a comfortable bed, far more than I had been expecting to get that night. After a hot bath I took the buffet breakfast, which for me is always a treat, and then had to check out at eleven o'clock.
I had been told the previous night to return to the airport to get them to change the destination of my checked bags: my aborted itinerary had me going through Lima, and the new one direct to Santiago. Apparently they needed to have someone physically go and change the sticker on the bags, otherwise they would have tried and send them the original route, get confused about why the bags have arrived in Lima without the passenger and then keep them there, while he goes onward to the middle of the desert in Chile. So a ticket agent requested the change and I crossed my fingers. The agent also found that my schedule issued the previous night had a mistake in it and was able to rectify it.
My flight not being until near midnight, I found the public bus that went to downtown to pass the time. The day was pretty sultry, though I imagine that this is pretty normal for Miami. The one thing that struck me most about the city is how much Spanish there is. I would guess that at least ninety per cent of the conversations I heard were in Spanish; when I was waiting for the return bus, one man who wanted to know its destination simply started speaking to me in Spanish.
The waterfront of Miami is pretty nice, and I took an hour long boat tour around. It ended up consisting mainly of going by the waterfront mansions of the rich and famous (Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, P. Diddy, Will Smith, etc., etc.). They were beautiful homes and interesting to see, but I found it rather strange looking at other people's homes. It was a pleasant ride, if nothing else. Then a late lunch and a bit more poking around downtown before heading back to the airport to wait out the last four hours before my flight.
The flight to Santiago was comfortable and I watched the in-flight film, Leatherheads, a light-hearted but pretty good football story. Then I slept remarkably well, for more than three hours. Customs and immigration went off without a hitch when we landed, and I was relieved that my bags had been correctly diverted. I had about five hours before my flight to Calama, which I considered a bit too short to make it worth going into the city, so I camped out in everyone's favourite Santiago Airport restaurant: Gatsby's. I had there perhaps the worst cup of tea I have had in my life. I described it to Samuel Taylor, an English friend of mine who happened to be on skype, as tasting like they had steeped a small, dead animal instead of tea leaves in very tepid water. To add insult to injury, it was the second terrible cup of tea of the day: on the plane, I had wondered whether the lukewarm beverage they had given me, purportedly tea, was in fact some form of weak coffee.
I arrived in Calama at about five o'clock but had to wait over an hour for the shuttle to leave. While we were waiting a motorcade drove by into the military wing of the airport. Someone was standing by the side of the road with a Chilean flag. Then all these vans pulled up and a bunch of journalists with television cameras jumped out and ran into the airport. I don't know who was leaving Calama, but it must have been someone important.
Currently Danica Marsden and Ryan Fisher are down here from
the ACT project, and I had dinner in Don Esteban with them. I
was also pleasantly surprised to run into Rob Dumoulin, who was
a classmate of mine from the University of Toronto and is now at
Columbia working on
experiment. I knew that he was on that project, but not
that he would be in Chile now. After dinner Danica, Laura (a
student with QUIET) and I went out briefly for some pisco
sours. And so to bed.
I slept in until about nine this morning. After breakfast, I was starting to unpack (I hadn't last night) when Danica knocked on my door and said that we needed to leave for the site. She had just gotten a phone call from the diesel company. Though we had not been expecting a delivery to-day, they had shown up in town and were about to start driving up the mountain. So I quickly changed and we headed up. About half way up we passed the diesel truck.
There is now a daily check-list to be done at the site, mostly involving recording the numbers off of various gauges. Ryan walked me through it when we arrived. It is a quick list, the most onerous item being to go up into the telescope and gently wipe the dust off of the windows into our camera. The surface of the telescope has now been painted to reflect sunlight and keep it from heating up. Before, the sun would make the telescope almost too hot to touch, but to-day it was quite cool. It also makes the whole interior of the telescope incredibly bright.
Soon after we completed the checklist the diesel truck arrived. The driver I recognised from before and he is quite used to the altitude. The transfer went smoothly, leaving us with seven thousand more litres in our large tank.
The most exciting task of the day was yet to come: a generator oil change. I had actually not done this before, so Danica showed Ryan and me how it was done. First, we emptied out the old oil, which was very dirty — a black, oozing sludge. Then we changed the oil filter, and poured in some clean oil. Finally, we changed the diesel fuel filter. The whole job was quite messy and took us over an hour wrestling with hoses and funnels. We put a bit too much new oil in when we measured the level at the end, so we drained some of it out since we have had generator problems when the oil level is too high.
After changing the oil I was ready to go down, it being my first day at altitude. We also had had nothing but a small snack since breakfast and were hungry. So we went into town for an early dinner, it being Danica's last night here. Only when we arrived did we realise that we had come a bit too early (six o'clock) for the restaurants. We milled around for a bit, and then went to Adobe since it serves dishes al pil pil, a traditional culinary style which Danica had wanted to try before leaving. In the middle of dinner a large group of townsfolk dressed in traditional costumes came into the restaurant and started singing and dancing. This must have been because it is the eve of Chilean independence day. It made the atmosphere very festive, even though the tambourines were being played right behind our heads.
The moon had not risen as we walked back to Don Esteban and
we were treated to a beautiful sky of stars.
This morning at breakfast there was a pitcher of some kind of juice on the dining room table. A couple of the QUIET people were eating but none had tried the juice. I asked the cook what it was and she said it was made of grapes and was a special drink for Chilean independence day, which was to-day . So I tried some and it tasted very different; I couldn't make up my mind that I liked it. Laura tried some and said that it tasted like fermented grape juice without the alcohol. Then Carlos, a Chilean on the QUIET project, came in and told us that indeed it was alcoholic. So we celebrated the holiday with a rather unpleasant fermented grape drink for breakfast.
I spent the morning starting to clean up our office in town, and also installed a new router for our network, which had some quirks that took me a while to figure out. Ryan was getting a new computer that just arrived ready to take up to the site.
We left at about two o'clock. After doing the check-out list and a few other odd jobs, I moved over to help Ryan install the new computer. It was supposed to replace one of our data computers that had been flaking out and randomly turning off, and the plan was to try and transfer the hard discs (four of them) into the other computer and see if it would run like that. Some minor complications made this a longer job than we had expected: in particular, the power supply in the new computer did not have a particular type of connector that we needed. We decided to snip one of these connectors from the old computer and solder it to the appropriate wires in the new computer — not the prettiest solution, but it seemed robust and worked fine. However, we were unable to get the computer to boot with all four hard drives. Though thought we might be getting close to figuring it out, it was almost eight o'clock and time to start the night's observations. So we put the old computer back together to use for this night. We plan to work some more on this problem to-morrow.
We were back in San Pedro by about nine, where I ended up
staying online until midnight working with Matt Hasselfield in
Vancouver to make sure that the night's schedule went through
properly and that the data were being transported to our storage
discs down the mountain.
Ryan and I left for the mountain shortly before noon, stopping to fill up the truck on the way. There were some policeman at the petrol station, and later, when we were on the highway, we saw them following us. Presently they overtook us and signaled for me to stop. So I pulled over, and they asked where we were coming from and where we were going, then they recorded my driver's licence information, the car's registration and the name of the rental company, and the plate number. All of that seemed to satisfy them, and they let us go. We have been stopped before on the highway, but never been asked to give so much detail. Presumably they are patrolling for smugglers from Argentina or Bolivia, but what was curious was that they seem to have followed us all the way from town. At any rate, they were pretty courteous and friendly.
Ryan was able to quickly fix the computer problem we were having yesterday — as it turned out there were some loose wires on a couple of the hard discs, and connecting everything carefully seemed to make the new computer happy. So we installed it in the rack and it is now contentedly purring away.
Our next problem was to try and figure out why our internet radio downlink had recently slowed down. It had been causing problems with our data acquisition because we were not able to copy our files down to our storage discs in town fast enough. Though it seemed unlikely, there was the possibility that one of the antennas had moved out of alignment, causing communication to be less efficient. I climbed the antenna tower on the ridge of the mountain and it seemed as though the lateral pointing was aimed roughly at San Pedro. To determine whether the pointing in the vertical direction was correct, I got Ryan to hold a plumb line next to the tower, and then took a photograph of the tower and antenna so that we could measure the antenna's angle from the vertical by comparing to the plumb line in the photograph.
When we got back down to town, we found that this photographic method worked remarkably well: from the photograph we measured an angle of about 3.9 degrees. Then, since we know the elevation gain between San Pedro and our telescope — 2800 m — and the line-of-sight distance — 42.9 km — we could compare to what the angle should have been, viz., 3.74 degrees. We were pleasantly surprised at how well the antenna was pointed. We repeated the same measurement for the antenna in town and found that it was pointed a bit too high, but was within a degree of the nominal pointing.
Though figuring all of this out was rather entertaining, it
didn't explain why our data rate had suddenly dropped. As I
discovered soon afterwards, the answer was more mundane: it was
due to changing out an ethernet switch in the office. The new
switch was not passing data as fast as it advertised, clogging
the whole pipeline. Changing back to the original switch
immediately fixed the problem, and to-night's observing schedule
is happily running.
This morning I continued cleaning up the office, a process that I think will take a good while longer, as there is equipment and junk everywhere, and all the computer cables are confusedly strewn behind and along the desks. There was also one little three hundred sixty watt UPS powering far more than it should have been, which I rectified.
We started up the mountain after lunch. Ryan has the sixth Harry Potter book on compact disc, and he suggested that we listen to it in the car, which I thought was a good idea. So we heard chapters one and two on the drives up and down. The recording is several discs long, so we should be entertained for several weeks if we keep at it.
We received a visit this day from some of the ASTE people who decided to come down by our road. They were quite frozen through since they had unexpectedly had to do a lengthy repair on a piece of equipment outdoors, and the wind is very strong at their telescope. We gave them hot chocolate, which seemed to help, but they said they were still cold when we met them back in town.
Ryan and I arrived back at about six o'clock. I went into
town for the vigil mass, which I discovered last time I was here
— it is a quieter, more meditative service than the Sunday
one, which I was in the mood for. Afterwards back to Don
Esteban for dinner, with a beer kindly provided by David Hughes,
and funded by the kind tax-payers of Japan.
If possible, I try to relax more on Sundays, especially when I am down here in the Atacama, where the pace of work can be quite frenetic and exhausting. Consequently, I lay in this morning reading the third act of III Henry VI (the first two parts of which I recently finished reading), and then a chapter of Little Dorrit over breakfast. Then I watched the first half of a Deportivo de La Coruña soccer match, which held interest in particular for me because one of their midfielders, Julián de Guzmán, was a classmate of mine in high school.
We went to the telescope briefly at noon in order to do the daily check-list. On the way, we passed two tourist vans, one from Awasi and the other from Tierra Atacama, which were presumably returning from a hiking trip on Cerro Toco. This is the second time since I have been here that I have seen the latter van coming down the mountain, and I wonder if it is a coincidence, or whether our mountain is becoming a more popular destination.
This evening Ryan and I sat down with David and Itziar of
AzTEC to compare some of our data and see how we could
complement and coordinate each other. It was interesting to see
some of their most recent maps. This kept us up until almost
eleven o'clock, so now to bed.
On the dirt road on the way to the mountain to-day, as we were rounding a corner near the big switch-back, we saw a vicuñas on the road ahead of us. Presently three others joined it, crossed the road, and lazily began walking up the hill. I gingerly nudged the car forward as slowly as I could manage on the washboard to get closer. They were very docile and did not bolt. They were not even alarmed when we got out of the truck to take pictures, and I was able to get nearer by climbing up the side of the road. In the end, even though I was pretty close, my lack of telephoto lens meant that in my photographs they came out very small. So I have included instead a picture of the road (devoid of vicuñas) where we encountered them. Let me acknowledge here my roommate Samuel Feng, who heroically went to pick up the polarising filter used in this picture at the post office the day before I came to Chile.
We spent a good part of the afternoon on teleconferences with our colleagues in North America, filling them in on what has been going down here and discussing operations in general. They reminded us to try and get the air conditioning working in the container we have in town which contains our large storage computers. We do have two air conditioners, but have been having trouble with both. One was purchased from a Canadian Tire back when we were in Port Coquitlam, BC, but takes 110 volts and has difficulties with our transformers. The second was acquired in Chile, but has the feature that it does not turn back on when the power drops out — a semi-daily occurrence when we switch back and forth between the town's power grid and Don Esteban's generator. Ryan and I thought of a simple circuit that we hope will allow us to have it restart automatically, which we plan to work on to-morrow.
For dinner there was pastel de choclo, which is like
corn bread, but with chicken, eggs and onions. There
were also raisins and an olive hidden inside, a Chilean specialty.
Before going to the site this day, we stopped to get diesel. Ryan was also concerned that our tyres needed some air, but the petrol station did not have a working pump or gauge. The attendant, a rather taciturn fellow, gave some vague directions saying that there was a tyre shop "to the right" up the road. So we took the next right and didn't see it. Then we took a turn I had never taken before, which brought us on a long loop around the outskirts of town, taking us by some twelfth century ruins which I had hastily visited during my first stay here. We eventually ended up back in town, near a bakery that David and Itziar had recommended, so we bought some bread and pastries for lunch.
We found the tyre shop pretty soon after leaving the bakery — it was near the border control, and had a large pile of tyres in the middle of its yard which made it easy to identify. Ryan was indeed correct, as all but one of the tyres did not have the right pressure. With thirty five pounds per square inch in each wheel we headed up the mountain for a routine visit. On the way back down we discovered a new route (new to me and Ryan, at least) which was by far the smoothest, and relatively quick.
In the evening I went with Rob Dumoulin to La Casona
in town where we drank a bottle of wine and caught up for the
first time in four years since we graduated from the University
The theme of this day was cleaning up. I started in a small way when we were briefly on the mountain by properly routing the USB cable from our weather station inside the receiver cabin. But when we returned to town the tidying continued more in earnest. While Ryan called into a telephone conference at Princeton I finally finished organising all the ethernet and power cables by our workspace — not simply a matter of aesthetics, as all our data pass through these cables on the way from the telescope to our storage discs. Then, after the call was over, Ryan and I started putting things away properly in our storage container, and moved things from the office — which was a dense, cluttered mess — into the container. There will still be a bit of work organising everything in the container so that it will be easy to find and access, but we put in a good two hours and got a long way.
Earlier, just after we had gotten back to town, I walked through the kitchen at just the right time to be offered a bowl of pumpkin soup that the cook was serving to the Don Esteban staff. I have learned that if one meets her at about this time, one is not unlikely to get some extra food. The soup was very good.
A couple of days ago I mentioned that Ryan and I had been
tackling our air conditioner problem. Ryan came up with a
simple simple solution that created a delayed turn-on of a
transistor switch by using an RC circuit. I believe it was my
idea to add a diode to ensure a fast switch-off when the power
went down. At any rate, neither of us is extremely adept at
circuit building, so we were pleased when we the thing was
finished and worked — it currently looks a mess as we
couldn't find any bare circuit boards and had to string the
whole thing together with solder joints. The design works,
except the power supply we used for it has a delayed shut-off,
which negated our fast switch-off design, so the system only
works if the power switches off for more than a couple of
seconds before coming up again. In the end, we might just try
putting the air conditioner behind a UPS.
Again to-day we saw tourists climbing Cerro Toco: there were two vans up by the sulphur mine awaiting their return, and they must have been two different tour companies because they left severally. Recently a tourist newspaper started in San Pedro (clearly for tourists because it is in English and Spanish) which had an article about Cerro Toco and how it is an ideal mountain to climb. Perhaps that is the reason for its current popularity, or perhaps people have always been climbing it every day but we have never gone up at the right time to encounter them.
Back in town it was a pretty frustrating day. On the side of one of our computers was a sign that said, `Warning: do not attempt to get the dual display to work. Many have tried; all have failed.' Joe Fowler described the task as a `fool's errand'. I myself spent a while last year on this problem. Naturally, despite all these warnings, I decided to try again, as I had a new graphics card. As it turns out, the problem seems to be that the computer needs a new BIOS. But, as luck would have it, I could not for the life of me get the computer to upgrade the BIOS. So I did something I rarely do: I contacted technical support. Here is the end of the chat I had with the Dell technician (after he had disappeared for about twenty minutes to investigate further):
- 09/25/2008 06:51:56PM Agent: "Thank you for Waiting Adam, have you tried to set the BIOS to Factory Settings?"
- 09/26/2008 06:52:08PM Agent has signed off.
- 09/25/2008 06:52:08PM Session Ended
That's right: the agent ran away! (Of course, I had tried this
rather lame suggestion already.) I think I will give that
computer a rest for a few days. To-morrow, Ryan and I are
planning to go to Calama to do some shopping.
We woke up this morning intending to leave for Calama at about a quarter to eight. However, when I checked my email, I saw that some people had noticed that the computers at the site were not responding last night. After checking for myself, I realised that the most probable explanation was that power had failed.
So we cancelled our trip to Calama and drove straight up the mountain, arriving by about nine o'clock. Indeed, the generator had shut off, claiming that its oil pressure was too low. Concentrating on getting the telescope functioning again first and foremost, we switched to the other generator and went down to see the damage.
A couple of our computers had a hard time coming up, including the one that monitors our camera's vital statistics, so I applied myself to resurrecting it. Ryan went up into the receiver cabin to see if he could determine whether the camera had lost any of its vacuum. Within a couple of hours we were getting assistance from some colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to get the camera pumped back down to full vacuum. There were minor complications along the way, including a blown fuse on the backing pump which meant we had to haul up one of our spares. I managed to sort out the computer problems so that we saw the extent to which the camera had warmed up. The hope was that we could still get cold enough for a good night's worth of observing.
Cleaning up all the loose ends took us well into the afternoon and evening, and it was not until seven o'clock that we were able to leave. Because of all the computer restarts, I ended up having to monitor the cool-down by hand, with Danica's assistance back in Philadelphia. After a relaxed dinner with Ryan, Michele and Osamu, I realised that all was not right with the camera, since our coldest thermometers were not reading out properly. After scratching our heads for a while, we realised that we had forgotten to reset some of our electronics before we had left.
Every night of observing is important, and given the cost of our operations here, diligent effort is necessitated when things go awry. So at almost ten o'clock we decided that there was nothing for it but to return to the telescope. As luck would have it, we were almost out of diesel, so we had to make a detour to fill up our tank. We were able to rectify the thermometer problem fairly expeditiously, and to our disappointment, the camera wasn't nearly as cold as we had hoped it would be. Moreover, our read-out electronics had not come up in a good state after the generator outage. We spent nearly two unsuccessful hours trying to get it to work. By about twelve thirty, it was also clear that the camera was not going to be cold enough to observe, so we finally called it a day, leaving the site at about one o'clock.
In the end it was hardly the day we were expecting. We are
not sure when we will return to Calama, or how cold the camera
will be to-morrow morning. But for now, at least, one item of
the schedule is as certain as may be: bedtime.
I woke up just before eleven o'clock this morning, an hour I rarely approach so closely in the sleeping state. After breakfast Daniel Swetz was able to provide some good insight into the state of our camera temperature. In his opinion it would still be a while before we would be able to get cold enough to observe.
This day Ryan drove up to the telescope for the first time. He is not experienced with standard transmission, but when I took him out for a little lesson a couple of days ago he performed quite well, and to-day he got all the way up to the site without stalling once. On a steep portion of the road he even learned how to start with the hand brake, which he did quite adeptly.
We spent about five hours on the mountain tying up some loose ends (almost literally in a couple of cases) from power failure recovery. Matt Hasselfield in Vancouver helped us get the readout system working again, a process that involved making a new cable and doing some continuity checks between the receiver cabin and the equipment room.
At dinner, one of QUIET's recently arrived Japanese
collaborators had brought a bottle of liquor from Japan. I did
not catch what exactly it was, but I believe it was some kind of
sake. At any rate, everyone was having some with their
dinner, and I was offered some too. It was pretty good, though
lacking in flavour.
The church was pretty full to-day at noon, perhaps because it was some kind of follow-up to the independence day celebrations, and the Virgen del Carmen, Chile's patroness, was mentioned on several occasions, even though her feast is in July. I couldn't quite catch what the occasion actually was. At any rate, there was only standing room left at the back. The sound system in the church is quite shoddy, and to-day during the sermon it cut out. But the pastor refused to pause in his train of thought and kept talking in a loud voice while the deacon ran around behind him like a headless chicken trying to fix the system. Finally he stretched the wired microphone up the aisle, where the priest was standing. Without looking down from the congregation, he fumbled for it until he grasped it, and the speakers started rasping again with the unbroken homily.
After church I met Ryan in the town square, and we went to get some cazuela for lunch. In the mid-afternoon we drove to the site to check up on everything. The camera continues to cool at a slow rate, but hopefully we will get a little observing in this evening. However, the weather is quite poor. Cerro Toco was shrouded in cloud late afternoon, and when Ryan and I drove down at about seven o'clock, we passed through some flurries of snow. In town, the folks from the other experiments also reported light snowfall at their sites.
I was looking forward to a quiet evening, but the mountain
gods would have otherwise, because I noticed that I couldn't
communicate with any of the computers on the mountain. The
radio link appeared to be fine, however, so it did not seem like
a power outage. After thinking it through for a few minutes, we
gulped down a hasty supper and drove back up. The ethernet
switch in the equipment room had come loose from its power
cable, which I probably did by mistake after adjusting some
cables just before we had left the previous time. So it was a
very brief visit, not more than fifteen minutes, and we drove
down for the second time to-day, arriving back in town at about
Last night we were finally cold enough to observe for a few hours, although the cloud cover will almost certainly make the data pretty useless. It was good, however, to be able to observe again.
Ryan and I arrived at the site around noon. It was a beautiful day, and as the few remaining clouds made the sky more variegated, I decided to taking some pictures of the telescope. For about forty minutes I walked all around, climbing part way up Cerro Toco, snapping away. When I got back, Ryan and I did the daily check-list.
Afterwards I wanted to work on the weather station and do some reorganisation of some loose cables, but all of a sudden I got hit with light-headedness and a nascent headache, which prevented me from concentrating on any work. I think it might have been my vigorous walking, though I felt fine at the time, perhaps coupled with some mild dehydration. Since Ryan did not have much work to be done at the telescope, we decided to leave. Pretty soon after we hit the paved highway, I dozed off (not being the driver, this did not prove fatal), and when we got back I took a short nap, a very rare feat for me.
The headache persisted through the afternoon, though I was
able to get some work done. A hearty dinner at about seven
o'clock seemed to help. We had some delicious soup, followed by
a vegetarian lasagna and salad, and then, for the first time,
some cake for dessert. Afterwards, we got back online to help
Matthew Hasselfield in Vancouver get set up to do some noise
tests on our detectors, and then an early night to bed.
There was another cake out at breakfast this morning, just like the one from last night. As I am not fond of sweets at breakfast I declined it this time.
Ryan and I quietly worked on our own projects until about three o'clock, when we left for the site. First we went to fill up our truck, and then to a corner store to get some food as we had had light lunches. But curiously enough, it was closed, and all the stores nearby were also closed. We had no idea why nothing was open on a Tuesday afternoon that wasn't a public holiday.
At six o'clock we began another series of noise tests with
Matt Hasselfield. Of course, they took longer than expected.
By the time we were finished, at about nine, the weather was not
looking favourable for observations since it was so overcast
that no stars were visible. We called Lyman to discuss our
options, and decided to put the covers on our camera windows for
the night so that some "dark tests" could be done. A team from
North America soon got in touch with us to determine how best to
use our time. In the end we were up on the mountain until about
eleven thirty, moving the telescope for the various tests that
needed to be done. We continued helping with the motion from
town (though in fact, most of the real work was being done
remotely) until about one thirty, at which point we parked the
telescope for stationary tests until the morning.
I slept in this morning after the latish night yesterday, and after breakfast did some analysis work until lunch, which did not follow that far afterwards. As we had not eaten much of our dinner from the night before, I had that — a kind of oriental stir-fry, quite different from anything I have had here before.
This day at the site Ryan and I did the "weekly checklist", which, similar to the daily checklist, involves reading gauges and checking the levels of various instruments. In particular it requires an examination of the generators and the fuel levels. When we had finished this, we called into a teleconference with North America to discuss how things down here were going. It was a long, but useful call, finishing at around five o'clock. Afterwards, in an effort to try help with noise mitigation, Ryan and I grounded our data acquisition power supplies with some thick copper braid. This accomplished, along with some other odds and ends, we left at about six thirty as the sun was setting.
Dinner and some quiet work in the office, and now to bed.
It was another more relaxed day to-day, with no last minute or urgent work to do at the site. We spent about two and a half hours there, doing the daily-check out and some other projects. I continued to try and get our weather station to read out properly and made some good progress.
On the drive up to-day, we saw some highland partridges (which I have only gotten a good look at once before). We were not close enough for me to get a worthwhile picture, but when Ryan rolled down his window, we did hear their call, which was unexpectedly high-pitched.
This evening the American vice-presidential debate is on at exactly the same time as the Canadian leaders' debate. I am doubtful I will be able to get the streaming video to work for the latter, and I don't think I want to sit listening to the online radio for two hours, so I'll probably also catch some of the American debate, which is currently being watched on the television in the common area.
For those disillusioned with the political process, there is also, as my friend Jack Lenartowicz reminded me to-day, the Rhinoceros Party of Canada. They offer such attractive platform promises as:
- repealing the law of gravity;
- declaring war on Belgium because Tintin killed a rhinoceros in one of the cartoons;
- making the Trans-Canada Highway one way only;
- counting the 1000 Islands to see if the Americans have stolen any.
Unfortunately, they are currently embroiled in a court case
to regain their legal party status.
This morning driving up to the telescope we passed some more highland partridges — actually, they were probably the same three that we saw yesterday. Once again they were too skittish for us to get close. It was very windy on Cerro Toco, with speeds approaching twenty metres per second. Later on, some QUIET people said that the wind was almost thirty metres per second at their location — strong enough that Michele had to throw his whole weight against a door to keep it from slamming shut.
We spent a few hours up at the site, during which Ryan got our noise monitor to work: success came when he was able to see a few of the Calama radio stations show up as big spikes in the noise plots. I, on the other hand, struggled to get the weather station to work consistently, and concluded that my USB cable must be too long.
Everyone staying at Don Esteban decided to go out for dinner this evening. But just before Ryan and I could join the party, we noticed that the data-taking schedule had not started properly. After fifteen minutes or so of panicked skype conversations, we realised what the problem was and quickly rectified it. By this time, it had been half an hour since our colleagues had left for town, but Joe Fowler in Princeton kindly offered to keep an eye on the system, so we went and joined them at Adobe. It was a pleasant evening, and our first meal out in about two weeks. I think it was also the first time that practically everyone from all the experiments had gone out together since I have been here. Only Hajime of ASTE declined to come out as he had just arrived this evening all the way from Japan and desired his bed more than anything.
Ryan, Itziar and I left Adobe first, arriving back at about
eleven thirty. The telescope schedule was, thankfully, still
Ryan and I left at eight o'clock this morning for Calama, where we had a number of errands to run. But we drove first to Chuquicamata, which has one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world and is only ten minutes from Calama. From a guide book we had learned there were tours every morning, which we hoped to join. However, when we arrived, we found that all our information was out of date, and that there were no longer tours on the weekend. Moreover, all the employees who used to live in Chuquicamata now live in Calama, and one can no longer enter the town without security clearance, so we had to turn back.
As it turned out, we needed most of the day to get our errands done, especially as many things move at a slow pace in Calama. First, we stopped at the Hertz centre (which we located only after a few wrong turns) in order to get a second spare tyre for our truck. Then off to the mall where we spent most of the afternoon shopping. We got a number of much-needed items from the hardware store. Then we searched for some computer accessories, particularly, some hard drives for transporting our data. These proved particularly hard to find, as none of the stores in the mall offered anything over three hundred gigabytes, and that for the steep price of a hundred thousand pesos, which is more than two hundred dollars, so we had to abandon that idea. Finally, we bought some groceries and other sundry supplies, and by the time we finished it was late in the afternoon. We tried to fill up the truck on the way out of Calama, but the petrol station was out of fuel.
On the highway out of town, a piece of duct tubing we had
bought flew out of the back of the pickup, but we were able to
find turn around and find it on the side of the road. The rest
of the drive was without much incident, and we were back in San
Pedro before sunset, stopping a couple of times on the way to
It has been a long day. The first half, however, was pleasant enough, disrupted only by a child right behind me in church who cried very loudly for most of the service so that I could not follow much of the sermon. The day was very fine: hot, cloudless and, as always, dry.
There were more noise tests to be done on our camera which
required us to be on site, so we went up at around six o'clock
to get started on them. They ended up taking far, far longer than we had
hoped or expected, and it was not until half past one in the
morning that they were finished. The job was not particularly
onerous, and we had help from Mark Halpern in Vancouver, but our
tests kept failing and had to be restarted again and again. In
the end we managed to complete everything, which provided some
solace, and at about two o'clock finally headed down. Now,
quite tired, to bed.
After our late night, neither Ryan nor I were much to be seen before eleven, and I did not break my fast until about noon. But once awake we drove to the mountain so that we could be done with our duties up there well before the evening fell. An hour of our time at the site was spent participating in a teleconference, but around that time we were able to each get some work done. For my part, I have continued to be frustrated with the weather station — there seems to be something defective in the driver as I cannot get weather data for more than three or four minutes before my requests for more readings fall upon deaf ears.
When we were in Calama, we purchased a very cheap microwave which we have installed up at the site. The difference in our high-altitude repasts is heavenly — hot, tasty, leftovers in minutes.
We drove down around sunset again, at just the right time
that the sun was shining directly through the windshield for
about half the drive, requiring me to hunch over the wheel and
peer under the sun visor. Down in town we did a bit more work,
and then dinner, where there was some pretty good steak, which
Michele, who does not eat meat, calls `dinosaur'.
It was an uneventful day at the site. We completed the check-out; I continued working fruitlessly on the weather station, and Ryan made more progress on the noise monitor. We were up for about two hours, before returning to San Pedro for another teleconference at four o'clock to discuss the detector noise studies that have been ongoing. It was a long discussion, with some headway made, and the conclusion was that we are probably going to need to do more tests to-morrow evening.
Soon after we finished, Michele told me that he and his Japanese colleagues were going to visit the Valle de la Luna. I declined to go myself, as I had been before, but Ryan was interested and joined them. After they left, I took the bike into town to visit the office of the bus company that travels to Argentina, where I'd like to go near the end of my stay. It was, however, closed, so I will have to return another day.
This evening there was another offering of American politics on television with the presidential candidates' debate. As there was not conflicting programming this time with my own country's election, I watched the whole thing with David, Itziar, Michele, and Stephen (newly arrived from Stanford — so newly arrived that I am unsure if I am spelling his name correctly). There was much discussion about the real-time CNN opinion plots beneath the main video, mainly revolving around the lack of error bars and therefore the complete ambiguity in the relevance and correct interpretation of the data. Interestingly enough, Ryan, the only American currently here at Don Esteban, did not join us.
We remained in town for most of the day, working on our own projects. Having no lunch in our fridge, we went into town intending to get some of the rotisserie chicken that we like, but they didn't have any ready. Instead, we had some empanadas. While we were in town, I visited the Geminis bus office, which has a service to Salta, Argentina, and bought a return ticket for my last week here. It is still far in advance, but apparently it often fills up.
Continuing to pursue our noise problems, we had yet another teleconference at five o'clock to-day to come up with a plan for more tests in the evening. Once it was squared, Ryan and I drove up to the site. It was around dusk and the declining sun was behind us. As it set, the horizon's shadow crept up towards the mountains, until at the end only the top of Licancabur was illuminated a rusty, red colour, while all below was a darkening grey. By the time we reached the telescope night had fallen.
Our tests went pretty well, with the normal amount of confusion and false starts. We were done at almost exactly midnight, whereupon we drove back down. I mentioned a few weeks ago that we had begun listening to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and to-night, just as we were turning into the driveway, we finished it. It was an enjoyable way to pass the time driving to and from the mountain, and (the filmed versions aside) it was a good re-introduction to the series, as I had only read the first book, and that several years ago. While it was a very entertaining and engaging story, I did not like the constant element of vengeance, which I hope is rectified in the final installment.
Again we slept in this morning, and did not leave for the site until close to two o'clock. On the highway, at an altitude of at least four thousand metres, we saw a bird on the road which both of us thought was a duck. It quickly flew away, so we couldn't be sure. But though it seems very unlikely that there would be a duck at that altitude and so far from water, the resemblance was pretty good.
Harry Potter now finished, I downloaded some Tales from Lake Wobegon and Vinyl Cafe audio to listen to in its place. Ryan was not familiar with A Prairie Home Companion, and it will take another day or so to see how he receives the former of these.
On the mountain we did both the daily and the weekly checkout, had then had another long teleconference. Afterwards, I finally made some progress on our weather station, and have left it running over night to see if it is robust enough to be added to our datastream.
It was nice to have dinner in Don Esteban after eating last night at the site, and we were joined by the QUIET team. We discussed how the southern constellations, being invented by French Enlightenment astronomers, were so much more contrived than the northern. Then I challenged Michele to name all of the twelve zodiac constellations, and he came up with about nine or ten on his own.
We had an early start this morning, leaving for the site at seven-thirty in the morning. Soon after turning onto the dirt road, we spied a fender lying on the side of the road and wondered whose car it had fallen off of. Only after we had gone some way did it occur to me that it could be ours. Sure enough, when we reached the telescope, Ryan had a look and saw that our rear fender was gone.
Our reason for going up so early was to do another noise test which carried a bit of risk and therefore was best performed after our nightly schedule was completed. The test was to acquire some data with our main refrigerators switched off to see if they are contaminating our signal. However, it is bad to turn them off for longer than a couple of minutes or the camera warms up substantially. So I turned off the refrigerators and yelled to Ryan in the other room, who took a one minute file, after which I turned them back on. It seemed to work out fine, except that a few minutes after switching them back on, one of them failed. Power cycling it seemed to fix it, however, though we kept an eye on it.
Next, we decided to neatly secure all the cables in the receiver cabin, which were a random, dangling mess, and their swinging around could possibly contributing to our noise. We spent the next four hours rerouting and tying everything down — an onerous job, but satisfying when complete. By this time it was almost three o'clock and we had only had a couple of crackers since lunch time and were both ravenous, so headed down. On the way, we picked up our fender.
Back in town, we had a brief teleconference with Lyman and Danica, during which I ate some lunch. Ryan and I had decided to go out for dinner and each of us did his own work until about eight o'clock.
We were just about to leave, when, checking our thermometry, I noticed that the refrigerator had died. There was nothing for it except to drive back up to the site, now about eight thirty. We threw the rest of our meals for to-day and to-morrow in the truck, and arrived at about half-past nine. Restarting the refrigerator seemed to fix it. We called Mark Devlin, who recommended that we turn up one of the heaters on the refrigerator (which is counter-intuitive, if you think about it). So we did as he suggested, and waited around to make sure the temperature, to the touch, was about where we wanted it, and then headed back down.
We had forgotten to fill our tank to-day, and we had just under an eighth of a tank left, by our estimate, although the fuel light had not come on. We reckoned we easily had enough to get down, but just the same, I coasted in gear as much as possible, which ended up being about four-fifths of the way. This was a prudent measure, because soon after we left, the fuel light flashed on. We easily made it back to Don Esteban, where Michele, whom we had told we were coming down, greeted us. Now past midnight, and, after another of our long, two-trip days, to bed.
Early this afternoon there was some kind of celebration on the side of the road near Don Esteban. There was band music and some dancing, but peering over the side of the compound's wall, I could not quite tell what it was. Later, when Ryan and I left for the mountain, we drove past it, but still could not discern what the party was for.
Our first stop was at the petrol station, where it took about sixty-four litres to fill the tank — about eleven short of the seventy-five litre capacity. This either means that we only took a fraction of a litre to come down last night after the low fuel indicator illuminated (which is supposed to happen with about eleven litres left), or that the light came on prematurely because the car was tilted downhill the whole way. Regardless, we now know the fuel gauge much better.
Our main task this day was to change the oil on our running generator, which had not been done since my first day here. Ryan and I were pretty efficient this time around, but it still took us a solid couple of hours. One thing that slows the process down is that it takes a while for the fresh oil to seep down into the engine, and we had to wait a while to be able to measure the level to know whether more needed to be added.
To the vigil mass at seven o'clock, which was emptier than I have ever seen the church — so empty that the priest forewent the homily. Afterwards Ryan and the QUIET crew came into town and we all went to dinner at Tierra, where we were eventually joined by the rest of the guests at Don Esteban, so that our party filled up most of the restaurant. The food was, as usual, quite good. In fact, our old cook Jaime now works at Tierra and we all said hello. We stayed out until past eleven, and thence most of us back to Don Esteban. We lose an hour this night to daylight savings.
We took this day off. For a while Ryan has wanted to visit the Laguna Cejas half an hour to the south of us; and as I had not been either, I was keen on going too. Michele had told us that one could swim there and that the water was salty enough to make one very buoyant. I had, on previous bike rides, discovered the turn-off to the laguna, so we had no trouble finding it. The road was dirt most of the way, and riddled with large, rolling pot holes in some sections, which made for a bouncy ride.
The lakes are protected and we had to pay a couple of thousand pesos each to enter. One of the two lakes is off-bounds for bathing, as it is home to a number of flamingoes. There were three or four other groups there, but it was by no means crowded. After walking around for a bit, we decided to go in the water. It was quite cold near the shore, but eventually I steeled the courage to plunge into the deep section, which was just as frigid. Sure enough, however, I floated like a cork. Later, on the other side of the lake, we found a part which was less cold, especially if you floated near the surface where the sun kept the water more tolerable. The very curious thing was that in some parts, if you forced your foot down, the water as hot as a steaming bath, and kicking your feet would stir the water up to warm your legs. The explanation is that the hot water more readily dissolves the salt, thus becoming more dense and sinking beneath.
The flamingoes on the other lake were on the far side, too small to see really, so I suggested to Ryan that we drive further south to the Chaxas laguna, which I had visited last year. It was about a forty-five minute drive away, but offered plenty of flamingoes, very close up. We even were privy to a couple briefly mating, which I am not sure is a common sight or not.
We arrived back in San Pedro close to five o'clock — now one hour ahead of the United States and Canada since we went on daylight savings. At six o'clock local time we had a teleconference with North America for half an hour or so. Then I called my family back in Toronto, where they were celebrating Thanksgiving, and talked to my mother, father, brother, a couple of aunts and my cousin. They had just finished having the turkey and were beginning on the pumpkin pie. Afterwards, I might not have been able to have turkey, but there was still some salmon which was quite delicious.
To-day it was back to work and we drove up to the site in the morning. I spent most of my time there installing some accelerometers on our camera so that we can watch how the telescope's scanning shakes it. We did not have any extras, so I took the accelerometers which were mounted on the outside of the telescope below the secondary mirror. I was afraid that I would have to remove the carefully routed cable to this position, or else make a new one, but thankfully there was a convenient joint at the end followed some bundled up extra length of cable which allowed me to take the whole package. Inside the receiver cabin, it was almost the perfect length. After making some software changes to be able to read it out, everything was good to go.
As this meeting was winding down, I got a message from Michele who said that he and his QUIET colleagues would like to come visit on their way home. This suited our schedule well. It was his first time back at the ACT, this trip at least, and Masaya and Stephen joined him. After they were given the tour, we decided to drive up the Cerro Toco road towards the sulphur mine to get a view of the environs. We continued much further than I was previously aware was possible — in fact, one can get to within about two hundred metres of the peak by road, though one would not want to do so without four wheel drive. We took some pictures and then drove all the way back down to San Pedro, where we passed a quiet evening.
Before arriving at the ACT this morning, Ryan and I drove the long way around to visit the QUIET experiment. This longer road had much more traffic on it than we are used to, as the ALMA project construction is well underway. In fact, it was a little bit difficult to navigate our way to QUIET as all the construction vehicles have carved out multiple roads on the way. Additionally, neither of us had been before and weren't quite sure what we were looking for. But it only took one wrong turn for us to arrive at the right place, where we found Michele, Stephen, Masaya, Colin (newly arrived from the University of Chicago) and Cristobal. They were having their generator serviced and were without power, so they were idle and well-disposed to giving us a grand tour. The QUIET experiment is built on the mount of the now-decommissioned CBI experiment, and the facility is very well built up. The pinnacle of the little civilisation they have constructed there at five thousand metres are two cosy sleeping quarters, next to a bathroom complete with a (hot water) shower and incinerating toilet.
We spent perhaps an hour at QUIET, and then headed over to our own telescope. Last night I ran a test of the weather station and for the first time it survived overnight, so I finally began preparing to incorporate it into our datastream. Later on, the robot computer died, complaining that the hard disc was full. There were about two gigabytes of old files that I thought now obsolete, but copied them off to burn to a DVD just in case they might turn out to be useful later on.
To-morrow Ryan leaves Chile, so when we returned he started tying up loose ends, packing and went into town to buy some souvenirs. I finally set up the desktop in the office, though only with one screen, and then worked on some analysis. Dinner with Michele, Masaya (who also leaves to-morrow), Colin and Ryan. I looked for the CBC on our satellite television as to-night the Canadian election results will be coming in, but was not surprised that it was unavailable.
At four o'clock to-day Ryan was picked up by Transfer Licancabur to be taken to the airport. He had been here a month, and now has only a convoluted airplane schedule between him and Princeton, New Jersey.
Before leaving, however, we went back up to the site. Lucas Parker, who will be Ryan's replacement, does not arrive until late to-morrow evening, and we thought we should do the daily checkout as otherwise the telescope would have been left alone for two consecutive days. It went smoothly, and we only stayed up for about an hour before returning. We were entertained on the road this time by an episode of Car Talk which Ryan had burned to a compact disc.
Once Ryan had left, I did some analysis work until dinner time. The third and final United States presidential debate was on television, and I got sucked into watching more than I had intended, as it was by far the most engaging encounter between the candidates to date.
This day I was the sole representative of the ACT project here in the Atacama. I started the morning with an hour long bike ride through the desert. It was an unusually overcast day, with more cloud cover than visible sky, and that chill in the air which, anywhere else, I would take as a sign of impending rain.
In the afternoon I took to doing some more clean-up and organisation of our office and the adobe container. Ryan and I had bought some plastic containers in Calama which I used to organise our cables and random computer hardware. I was surprised at the overabundance of computer power supply cords we have — literally dozens. Michele kept me company for five or ten minutes during this chore while he waited for his airport transfer to arrive, which it did soon after four o'clock, bring the QUIET group down to three people.
To-night at dinner Cristobal had the television on, and the news was full of Chile's historic win against Argentina — the first time Chile has ever beaten Argentina in a World Cup qualifier. Afterwards the moon was up and I took some night pictures, one of which is posted here. Now I am waiting for Lucas Parker to arrive, which should be around midnight since he got a late flight into Calama.
Lucas slept in well this morning, after his strange travel itinerary which had him spending the night in the Bogotá airport and not arriving in San Pedro until the next day at midnight. We left at about two in the afternoon for a short visit to the site so that he could acclimatise. He was here earlier in the year, but had not done the check-out list, so I introduced him to it. Some minor software problems kept us up a bit longer, by which time he was ready to go down.
Before we left, I had gotten a telephone call from Copec, the diesel company, saying that they could come to-morrow, to which I readily agreed, as we need a delivery. But later this evening the agent called back and said that their truck had broken down and they would not arrive until Tuesday. Luckily I was able to deduce that from my knowledge of French, where the word for "break down" is similar to Spanish, otherwise I would have been pretty lost. And now that I check it online, I see that I was even luckier, as the term pana is distinctly Chilean.
In the evening I spent a while sending inquiries for my stay in Salta. Writing emails in Spanish makes this process much more laborious as I have to look up practically every other word. Afterwards to dinner, where there was pastel de choclo, a kind of corn pudding, which our cook makes quite sweet and fills with ground beef, boiled eggs, olives and raisins. David Hughes discovered that the sweetness was well tempered by the addition soy sauce.
It was a much finer day to-day, with a blue, cloudless sky.
We spent about six hours at the site to-day, first completing the daily check-out and then the weekly check-out. When Lucas removed the cap to check the coolant level in the running generator, it started overflowing out, and as it hit the hot generator, smelled like burning sugar. So we closed it up again and concluded that it was full. We emailed the group about it, and got a couple of responses telling us that the burnt sugar smell is the reason that dogs like licking antifreeze off the road.
Afterwards I spent a good while incorporating the weather station into our data stream with some success. Lucas helped me to calibrate the wind direction, which he achieved using Google Earth to figure out the orientation. But as I look at it this evening, I see that something has gone wrong and it has stopped reading out, so I will have to revisit it. This was not unexpected, I suppose.
This evening I spent a while trying to book a hotel for Salta, trying many places, but with no luck. I cannot for the life of me understand why everything is so full, as I cannot see it being high tourist season, and there is no long weekend. At any rate, I sent out more requests by email and we'll see what I come up with. I would have preferred to have spent my evening doing something more pleasant. Now to bed.
In church this morning there was a mentally disabled woman sitting in front of me. She was cheerful and happy and reminded me of L'Arche, and then about my sister who worked at a L'Arche home for a while.
Earlier, I tried another Salta hotel and it was also full on the weekend. So I asked the person on the phone why everything was full, and he responded that there was a conference in town this coming weekend. I have no idea what kind of conference it might be, but it must be huge to be filling all the hotels. So I booked space in a hostel for the first couple of nights and will take it from there.
It was another fine day in San Pedro. Lucas and I went up mid-afternoon, after stopping in town for a lunch of cazuela. I worked some more on the weather station and believed that I had fixed the problem that made it fail last night, but it seems to be stuck again, probably with another problem. It has really been a real headache to get to work — the interface and reliability of communication is truly lacking. The payoff is that having our own weather data will be very useful in the long run.
Very good salmon for supper this evening. The leader of the ASTE project from Tokyo was also dining and I asked him about his work, especially on the upcoming TAO telescope which will be on the top of Cerro Chajnantor, significantly higher than the ACT. He has been coming to the Atacama since 1992, when there were no observatories here at all. He started by placing weather stations to determine if the area would be good for astronomy. I suppose it has paid off.
Lucas and I had some individual work to do here in the office to-day, so we remained down in San Pedro until about three o'clock, before going up to the site. There was a teleconference at a quarter after four which I joined from up there, while Lucas worked on getting some fans on a piece of equipment in the receiver cabin which has been overheating. The problem was, the fans took twelve volts and we didn't have adaptors available, so he spent some time trying to see if there was a way around it. We came up with the solution of swopping the twelve volt fans for the wall-power fans which were cooling some hard discs in the equipment room, but still it didn't seem like the best implementation, so we decided to wait until to-morrow.
We arrived back in town at about seven thirty, only to shortly discover that one of the computers on the mountain was dead. We tried rebooting it over the network, but that did not work at all. And though we had been back for only a few minutes, there was nothing to do but to immediately return.
Luckily we had filled the tank of the truck when we had come back to San Pedro so we were able to head straight up. Soon after getting on the highway, a car coming out of Pozo Tres cut me off badly enough that I had to slam on the brakes. I honked the horn, and afterwards realised that it was the first time I had ever used it in over a month of driving this truck.
Back on the mountain, we had a look at the computer and it wasn't immediately obvious why it had failed, though we soon found that it wasn't recognising the main hard drive. We had to dismantle it and start examining cables pretty closely and eventually found that there were a couple of loose joints that we must have dislodged when we were investigating the cooling fans earlier in the day. It was a couple of hours before everything was back together and running again, and we left the site soon after ten o'clock.
Dinner at eleven thirty or so, and now to bed.
We woke up early this morning in anticipation of our fuel delivery. However, we did not receive a call until nearly ten o'clock, telling us that the delivery truck was starting the ascent up the mountain. About forty minutes later, we ourselves departed. On the way, we stopped by a market to get some food and some soap, which both of us had run out of. But Lucas had forgotten his wallet, and I realised that I was out of cash. Between us we had two-hundred and fifty pesos, leaving us with a dire choice: bread, or soap? In the end, we purchased a small loaf of bread.
The truck had made it pretty far, well past our regular turn-off, so we took the long route which goes all the way around Cerro Toco, passing the diesel truck about ten kilometres before that dirt road. When we got to the telescope, Lucas began working on the cooling fans he had contemplated yesterday, this time with all the tools and equipment he needed. For my part, I continued tidying the cables behind the rack in an effort to mitigate future mishaps like our episode yesterday.
The delivery truck arrived perhaps forty-five minutes later. The driver and his companion were in a hurry because they had two more deliveries to make later in the day. However, when I came back forty minutes to see how they were getting on, I saw that the pump was registering nine thousand litres — two thousand more than they had promised to bring. I went up to the cab and rapped on the window, waking up the slumbering drivers inside. It turned out that there had only been seven thousand litres in the tank and that the meter had kept counting away as it pumped air while they continued sawing logs.
Neither Lucas nor I had finished our jobs, so we stayed up a couple of more hours, leaving at around four-thirty. When we returned, Lucas suggested that we take a bicycle ride. I showed him a route north of town which goes by the river, in a valley between two long ridges of sandy hills. We discovered a large reservoir and saw how overflows and water shortages were variously diverted from the river.
Arriving back in town at dusk, we went back to the market, this time with money, and bought our soap, and a couple of packs of beer. These turned out to be quite awkward to carry while riding the bicycles. When we were approaching Don Esteban, we saw a woman, also on a bicycle, but balancing a tray of about two dozen eggs with her left hand. As we passed her, I was just about to comment to her that she was much cleverer on two wheels than us, when all of a sudden, Lucas dropped his bottles on the road. The comic timing was impeccable. Luckily, none of the bottles broke, and we were able to enjoy our dinner with beer after all.
On the way through town before going to the site, we went to a new bakery that we spied yesterday to pick up some bread for lunch. It seemed to specialise in sweets, which were tempting, but we thought they would just get crushed on the bumpy road, so we went for plain bread. About twenty kilometres along the highway, we passed the ASTE truck, stopped by the side of the road, with everyone stretching their legs. Later we learned that they have a policy that requires them to stop for ten minutes at that spot whenever any new personnel arrive. The only benefit of such a practice that I can think of is that it might get the circulation flowing some more, but otherwise I can't see why it would help.
I continued with more wire re-routing in the equipment room, and am now almost finished the job. When we returned to town, Lucas went on a bike ride again, but I remained behind to get some more work done. Dinner was a pretty good dish of chicken and mashed potatoes. Afterwards we had some kiwifruits for desert. They are a very peculiar shape here, but taste about the same as kiwifruits that I have had before.
Lyman Page arrived this day. It is the fall recess back in Princeton, and as he is teaching Thermal Physics, it has been his first opportunity to come down this term. He had an enviable travel itinerary: leaving Princeton at one o'clock yesterday and arriving here just before one o'clock to-day — twenty-four hours door-to-door. The only drawback was that his luggage is going to be a day late.
We all went up to the telescope about an hour after he arrived. Over Licancabur there were a couple of very prominent lenticular clouds; I did not take a picture, but now wish I did.
We have been having shorter lengths of cold time with our refrigerators, and Danica wants a test done to-morrow to better characterise why this might be so. In preparation, we got the vacuum pump up in the receiver cabin working, which required changing one of the fuses — when Ryan and I had to use the pump a few weeks ago, we had not been able to find them, but I discovered to-day that they had been right under our nose, in one of the drawers in our tool chest. It did not take too much work to get the pump ready, and after the daily checkout we went down, keeping the visit short as it was Lyman's first day at altitude.
This journal will not see any new entries over the coming week, as to-morrow I am journeying to Salta, Argentina and area for a vacation. But I shall be back in San Pedro for a few days before returning to the Northern Hemisphere.
I returned from Argentina this day, after a very nice week's holiday which involved hiking, rafting, visiting vineyards and sipping tea in Salta's main square next to the cathedral. The voyage to-day was about ten hours in length, leaving Salta at seven in the morning and arriving close to five o'clock in San Pedro. The bus was comfortable and the scenery beautiful, beginning in the foggy lowlands of Salta, going north through Juyuy and then the Purmamarca valley, whence the road rises very quickly on a seemingly endless series of switchbacks, to-day so foggy that one could see only a few metres away, before breaking out above the clouds at about four thousand metres in the altoplano. From there it was still a few hours to the border, through desert now, spotted here and there with verdant patches with grazing llamas where mountain streams passed, the skies becoming bluer and clearer. Then into Chile, still climbing in altitude before we reached the territory I am familiar with and began the steep descent into San Pedro.
On the bus finished reading The Name of the Rose and I happened to be sitting next to an Italian who claimed that it was his favourite book.
Because Don Esteban was full last night, I stayed at Tierracota, across the road from Don Tomás. There was a breakfast included, which I took, and then rode the bike back to Don Esteban to pick up a truck to collect my luggage, as I only needed to stay there one night.
Lyman had a meeting with some other project leaders at ten o'clock, but afterwards, we all headed up to the telescope. Lyman and Lucas have invented a game which is both fun and encourages safe driving: the goal is for the driver to make it all the way along the dirt road without skipping the compact disc player. Lucas was driving and won the game, to his great self-satisfaction.
At the site, Lucas and Paula (a Católica student who arrived the day before yesterday) helped Danica to do some more cryogenic tests. I looked over some software, and then helped Lyman to rearrange and clean up our storage containers, at which we were occupied for the rest of the afternoon. When Danica was set for her tests, Lucas began running cable to make an antenna for monitoring radio frequencies, and Paula started a new, diagrammatic inventory for the rearranged storage containers.
We left at about seven o'clock, with Lyman driving this time. He was, unfortunately, not as successful with the disc skipping game, but I will not reveal how much less so.
To-day is a holiday in Chile — not, as I had thought, because All Saints falls on a weekend this year, but rather because, as Paula explained to me, evangelical Christians complained that there were too many Catholic holidays in Chile, and the government decided to add another one. This must have made all parties more than happy, but I'm not quite sure what we're supposed to be celebrating to-day, besides Hallowe'en, which seems an unlikely candidate.
In the evening we went out to dinner. We tried Bendito Desierto first, but it was full (being a long weekend) and then headed for La Casona. It was also full, but we waited at the bar and had some pisco sours. Our table was ready just in time for us to be joined by the QUIET crew — Simon, Stephen, Colin and Carlos. We got a couple of bottles of good Carmonère with the meal which helped enliven the anecdotes ACT, QUIET and WMAP which were passed around the table.
After our late night I slept in this morning. At noon I went to the All Saint's service, which was not held in the church, but rather in the cemetery itself. There was a lengthy litany of prayers for the deceased, perhaps fifteen minutes, before the mass itself began, and I thought, how great the number of the dead and how many people must lie buried beneath. People were moving around the cemetery, meanwhile, dressing up the graves and laying flowers. There is a widespread practice here of placing bottles (often with the Coca Cola labels still on) of holy water at the foot of the graves, and during the service there were dozens of bottles of water lined up behind the altar which people were waiting to be blessed. Suffice it to say that there is no shortage of holy water in San Pedro to-day.
When I returned, there were several large boxes in the middle of our office: a shipment of equipment just delivered by DHL. One of the much-anticipated items was a new air conditioner for the adobe container, which we hope will not require restarting several times per day like our current one.
Lyman left in the afternoon in order to be back in Princeton in time to teach on Monday. Paula, Lucas and I went up in the mid-afternoon. Paula continued working on cataloguing our equipment, Lucas worked some more on the antenna for monitoring radio frequencies and I built a sturdy cable to replace one of the quick-fixes that had been in the receiver cabin for too long. We were back down by about eight thirty. Paula went out to dinner with her parents, who happen to be visiting San Pedro for the long weekend, while Lucas and I raided our fridge for our weekend meals.
The masses to-day continued being at the cemetery, and there was an early one at eight o'clock that I went to. It is kind of neat to be at church with mountains behind the altar.
When I got back I started tackling the new air conditioner. I thought it would be a job of two or three hours, after removing the old one, which was caulked in pretty tightly to the window, and replacing it with the new unit. Soon I had Lucas, and then Paula, helping. It ended up being a much more time-consuming task. First of all, it took us a long time to figure out how to remove the existing air conditioner — it turned out that we had to remove most of the body from a shell which was firmly bolted into the window frame of the container. Then, it took some more time to discover that the new unit could not be installed in the same way, because its shell fit on vertically rather than front-to-back. Moreover, it is an inch wider and we did not have the tools down in town to widen the wooden frame stuck into the window. So we had to content ourselves in the end with placing a fan in the old air conditioner's shell to keep the room semi-cool for the day. To-morrow Lucas and Paula will try and complete the job.
On the other hand, progress was made at the site. Lucas finished constructing the antenna, Paula made big strides at the inventory and I installed in the computer rack the new two kilowatt UPS that arrived yesterday. A silly mistake cost me about an hour: the power plug had one of the prongs at ninety degrees to the other one, which is used in twenty ampere plugs to ensure the correct polarity. I thought that our outlet did not take this kind of plug, and promptly endeavoured to twist the skewed prong into place with a pair of pliers, whereupon it snapped off. Then, when I actually checked the outlet, it turned out to accept the ninety degree plugs. Fortunately, one of the little hard drive cooling fans had a beefy, fifteen ampere power plug that I was able to rewire for the UPS. For the fan, I cannibalised a plug from a computer cable that wasn't being used.
When we arrived back, we went into town briefly and Lucas and I bought ourselves alpaca sweaters. After dinner, I packed up my belongings as I am due to return to the United States to-morrow morning. Instead of calling it an early night, I decided to take some pictures of the night sky, which kept me up until almost eleven o'clock. The best samples are displayed here.
The transfer picked me up at about eight-thirty on Monday morning for my flight at twenty to eleven. We spent about half an hour circling town picking up other travellers before actually hitting the road. My route back was Calama to Santiago to Lima to New York, and door-to-door took about twenty-six hours. Psychologically, the most painful part of the trip is flying all the way south to Santiago before doubling back and flying north again: this adds about twenty-five hundred kilometres to the trip. It did, however, give me a chance to finish reading Little Dorrit.
My longest layover was in the airport in Lima, where I camped out in a café for a while and then found an outlet so I could use my computer. The flight for New York left at about midnight. The new planes that LAN has are remarkably comfortable. There was no one next to me, which helped, but I really think that they have significantly more leg room and chairs which can recline more obtusely. I watched The Philadelphia Story, which I had never seen, before sleeping for about three hours.
When we arrived at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and were waiting in line for immigration, two policemen, one in uniform and another in plainclothes (complete with black trench-coat like on television) led a man away in handcuffs. Thankfully I escaped that fate, and entered the country with no trouble. The train connexions worked out very well, getting me back to Princeton at ten-thirty in the morning. The leaves are still turning here, so I shall have a brief autumn before winter sets in as I return to life in North America, which signifies the end of this journal.
All my pictures from the trip are now posted.