Tedious posts about infrastructure...
January 12, 2023 12:45 PM   Subscribe

.. but in Antarctica! This is the premise of brr.fyi ⛄, a cool little blog written by an IT worker who is currently at the South Pole.

Topics range from the day-to-day, like the doors of McMurdo Station or wastewater treatment, to the slightly more esoteric, like how to do two-factor SMS authentication with your bank when the nearest cell phone tower is 2000 km away.

Also a lot of content about the onboarding process, and what it's like to get hired to work seasonally for the US in Antarctica as well as only-in-Antarctica events like sea ice safety training or helicopter flights.
posted by Superilla (26 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
From the About page:

Can you pet a penguin?

No, the Antarctic Treaty System is very clear on this matter.
posted by box at 12:54 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]

(how come they don't have cell towers?)
posted by mittens at 1:01 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I love this logistical stuff. Look! An ATM at McMurdo! (How do they decide how much cash to bring down? I would imagine that it doesn't get recycled back into the banking system quite as quickly as it does in the U.S.)
posted by praemunire at 1:13 PM on January 12

Good find - this is fascinating, and some really cool photos.
posted by davidmsc at 1:21 PM on January 12

The protocol also doesn’t expose any useful diagnostic info to the end user in order to troubleshoot. You just have to cross your fingers that the magic “wifi calling” icon lights up.

Am I imaging that wifi calling has gotten progressively worse over time? Over a decade ago with my Blackberry Pearl, UMA worked like a dream and it was so awesome being the only one in basement offices to have a working cell phone. Now it seems like it hardly works at all, even in my own home standing feet from the access point.

What changed? Did the system not scale? Did network operators get much more selective about outgoing traffic? Did more widely deployed deep packet inspection just break things?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:23 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I stumbled across a US Federal job board for Antarctica a few years ago, and it looked like there's any number of non-technical non-scientist jobs to do down there if you're up for an adventure.

Of course, I'm completely failing to remember any specifics right now, though.
posted by Kyol at 1:26 PM on January 12

This is so cool! There's a thrift store on Antarctica!
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 1:28 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

I came for pictures of tiretracks in mud and wasn’t disappointed.
posted by Kattullus at 1:33 PM on January 12

If you've been on the net long enough you'll remember Nicholas Johnson's blog (and subsequent book) Big Dead Place.

It's the complete opposite of this website above so I won't spoil the party and link to it, but it's archived if you want to seek it out. This tribute to Johnson describes it well enough.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:38 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

As to petting penguins… Back during the International Geophysical Year in the late 50’s my uncle was in Antarctica. He loved the emperor penguins. If you knelt down on the ice/snow and started to scratch the surface, in minutes the emperor penguins would come and crowd around you trying to see what you were doing. At least that was his story.
posted by njohnson23 at 2:45 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]

June 2, 2022
NSF informed me via email that I need to do a Tier 2 (Non-Sensitive Public Trust, Moderate Risk) Background Investigation. This process is done using an electronic version of Form SF 85P on E-QIP

*pours whiskey on laptop.
posted by clavdivs at 3:13 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]

*pours whiskey on laptop.

? This is pretty standard for a government employee who has any capacity to embarrass it with apparent authority, or steal anything valuable.
posted by praemunire at 3:46 PM on January 12

I think pouring whiskey on a computer is a jokey reference to the opening scene of The Thing.
posted by crossswords at 3:54 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]

Quis referat referat?
posted by y2karl at 4:34 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

The Swedes.
posted by clavdivs at 4:55 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

posted by praemunire at 5:25 PM on January 12

This is delightful!
posted by Xany at 6:04 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]

I love the downtown shot. I wonder how cold it was when that shot was shot. I imagine walking to the end of town and being bombarded with stars.
posted by clavdivs at 6:11 PM on January 12

How come they don't have cell towers?
In large part because there are multiple mm-wavelength cosmological telescopes that really don't like microwave radio interference. Convincing staff to avoid using their handy talkies near the dark sector is hard enough. Cell phones would be a nightmare.

(The article is neat. I've been to three of these places - not the field camps - and it all rings true. Thanks! Shame he didn't go the bar at Scott. But, pole is better.) [edit: the NZ Scott.]
posted by eotvos at 8:59 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]

Thank you for this! I've enjoyed this light look back at McMurdo, particularly the Wastewater Treatment entry -- I didn't get the chance to tour that when I was there.

They did leave out what was the most surreal thing for me with the mail system -- I could (and did!) order from Amazon, and it showed right up in McMurdo.

> How come they don't have cell towers?

Some stations do! I woke up on the icebreaker the day we arrived at Zhongshan Station and found a text message on my phone saying "Welcome to China". Nobody had told me there would be cell coverage there, so I had to scramble to figure out how the heck to get international roaming added to my contract.

The highlight of my cell phone usage was definitely calling home while hanging out underneath a defunct Russian tank. (I was enjoying the scenery, and it was blocking the wind.)
posted by Metasyntactic at 11:24 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]

Very good read.

SMS 2FA has had its time and needs to go away. Trivially easy to spoof.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:44 PM on January 12

So thorough!

I love the mundane but fascinating details like the doors.

About petting a penguin, I've been lucky enough to hold a baby penguin when weighing it at the Two Oceans Aquarium where I used to be a volunteer.

It felt exactly like a puppy. Soft and so warm!

Somehow I hadn't expected that.
posted by Zumbador at 1:31 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]

Gone Venturing has a fair few videos about life in McMurdo and Scott station from someone doing some sort of grunt work. Note: only watched a few so I can't promise he's not a milkshake duck.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:29 AM on January 13

As someone living in one of the (vast areas) of the US without cell reception, I feel the SMS verification one. It's gotten progessively worse and worse over the past decade. Adds no meaningful security in my case either.
posted by joeyh at 6:40 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

About petting a penguin, I've been lucky enough to hold a baby penguin when weighing it at the Two Oceans Aquarium where I used to be a volunteer.

OK, now about to be hospitalized for severe case of acute envy.
posted by praemunire at 11:04 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]

Werner Herzog's documentary Encounters at the End of the World about people who live and work in Antarctica is great. The penguin will haunt you the rest of your days (how many times have I mentioned this penguin on Mefi and Twitter?).
posted by neuron at 7:17 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]

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