Thursday, November 2, 2023

A Little Humor to Relieve the 'Horror

 11/23 IEEE Spectrum:

Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station is a permanent scientific research base located at what is arguably the most isolated place on Earth. During the austral summer, the station is home to about 150 scientists and support staff, but during the austral winter, that number shrinks to just 40 or so, and those people are completely isolated from the rest of the world from mid-February until late October. For eight months, the station has to survive on its own, without deliveries of food, fuel, spare parts, or anything else. Only in the most serious of medical emergencies will a plane attempt to reach the station in the winter.

While the station’s humans rotate seasonally, there are in fact four full-time residents: the South Pole Roombas. First, there was Bert, a Roomba 652, who arrived at the station in 2018 and was for a time the loneliest robot in the world. Since the station has two floors, Bert was joined by Ernie, a Roomba 690, in 2019. A second pair of Roombas, Sam and Frodo, followed soon after.

These Roombas are at the South Pole to do what Roombas do: help keep the floors clean. But for the people who call the South Pole home for months on end, it turns out that these little robots have been able to provide some much-needed distraction in a place where things stay more or less the same all of the time, and where pets, plants, and even dirt is explicitly outlawed by the Antarctic Treaty in the name of ecological preservation.

For the last year, an anonymous IT engineer has been blogging about his experiences, working first at McMurdo Station (on the Antarctic coast south of New Zealand), and later at Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, where he’s currently spending the winter as part of the station’s support staff. His blog includes mundane yet fascinating accounts of what day-to-day life is like at the South Pole, including how showering works (four minutes per person per week), where the electricity comes from (a huge amount of aviation fuel hauled over land from the coast that will power generators), and the fate of the last egg for five months (over medium with salt and pepper).

The engineer also devoted an entire post to signage at the South Pole, at the very end of which was this picture, which raised some questions for me:...

Ernie, it turns out, has had a dramatic and occasionally harrowing life at the South Pole station. After Ernie arrived in 2019 to clean one floor of the station, lore began to develop that Ernie and its partner Bert (tasked with cleaning the floor above) were “star-crossed lovers, forever separated by the impenetrable barrier of the staircase.” That quote comes from Amy Lowitz, a member of the South Pole Telescope team, who overwintered at the pole in 2016 and has spent many summers there. “I think I made that joke every year when a new group of people comes to the pole for the summer,” Lowitz tells IEEE Spectrum. “There’s only so many things to talk about, so eventually the Roombas come up in conversation.” Happily for Ernie, Lowitz says that it’s now on the same floor as Bert, with the new Roombas Sam and Frodo teaming up on the floor below.

Funny article, which those of you who have worked for startups will recognize and enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment