Sunday, December 08, 2002
Pharlap, the mystery South Pole computer
It's Monday and the South Pole springs back to life after the weekend. 6 LC130's were
scheduled from McMurdo (in the end 4 made it), and a Twin Otter called in from the Beardmore
Glacier camp. The strange effect of aircraft-induced cloud was quite evident mid-day. It
was another perfect Pole day - 35 below, no cloud and minimal wind. But after the take-off
of several LC130's, marked by their clear con-trail as they bank around to head back to
Christchurch, clouds started forming around the con-trail and spreading out over the
sky. It even got quite hazy at ice-level for a time, before everything cleared up and
we got back to clear weather again. There is a moral to this tail, though, and that is
dont fly aircraft when you want to observe - they're not good for the sky!
Paolo and I got down to the serious business of calling on people for the help we need.
Another lead for the location of the SUMMIT and Whispergen boxes sent Paolo scuttling back
to a new part of the the cargo berms, but to no avail, aside from a few more old AASTO
packing crates. So we're going to have to get the carpenter to knock together a couple
more boxes for us, and Paolo has been busy with the tape measure.
Much of the day was spent over the all-consuming issue of IP numbers for computers. This
are those strange looking numbers like 126.96.36.1990 which are all important for getting
computers around the globe to talk to one another, but can be rather baffling for the
unititiated. We simply had to get a laptop 1m away from the SUMMIT computer talking
to it, but for various devious reasons have to go through the historic computer pharlap,
secreted in an unknown location at the Pole. Pharlap is not only a horse, but the name
of one of the original Pole computers, brought in in the early 90's to run the SPIREX
telescope. Now it is an historic artefact, but used in a mysterious way to allow us to
run the AASTO instrumentation from Sydney (or indeed anywhere in the world Michael Ashley
might happen to be). It's IP number was mysteriously changed a month ago, cutting off
all access for us. Now you might think it a simple matter for us to change the number
back, but no, its far more complicated than this, and involves bringing together an
international team to effect it, and would not be possible without the iridium satellite
phone network to help us. So, Paolo and I are lining up this team of experts, and hopefully
tomorrow the switch will occur, and everything will be happy again in IP-land. Watch this
space for further installments in this fascinating story......
However we did in the end manage to connect to SUMMIT from John Storey's antique computer
Poodle (another epic story in itself, but I'll spare you the details....), and Paolo
was very happy to be able to put SUMMIT through its paces, and verify it is still working
and ready to be packed off the Dome C.
So, all in all a good day at the Pole, and we're on track for getting our tasks completed
in the next few days.