By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
"One of the most fun things we used to do is Bingo. We'd sell Bingo tickets for a buck or two, and the winners would get small cash prizes. My understanding is that Raytheon put an end to that, saying it was immoral. The company also stopped selling hard alcohol in the store last winter, making a lot of folks angry that the only role of the company was to say 'no' to anything that might be fun. Morale is at an all-time low."
Midwinter's Day did return in 2009, and its festivities have been chronicled on several blogs. The anonymous blogger acknowledges that Raytheon isn't always to blame for low morale, but adds, "When anything negative comes down from Denver, we are usually told that [Raytheon] is fighting for us but the big bad NSF is just being cheap. Sometimes I'm sure that's true, but there seems to be a consensus that the full-timers in Denver by and large don't give a damn about folks on the ice."
In the 1980s, the only way for Polies to communicate with loved ones back home was by writing letters (in the summer) or by making phone calls patched through by high-frequency radio. The radio didn't always work, however, and messages often had to be short.
The bad communication had its good points: Every little decision didn't have to be approved by headquarters, says Bill Spindler, a construction manager who wintered over at the South Pole in 2008 and has spent considerable time in Antarctica over the past three decades. But now there are phones everywhere and Internet access so that "anyone can put anything up at any time," he notes.
When Johnson started BigDeadPlace.com in 2002, he knew of no other blogs about Antarctica. "Pre-Internet, there were a bunch of photocopied underground newsletters that people had made. Two important ones were called The Shadow and The Antarctic Moon, from the early '90s, I believe," Johnson says in an e-mail from Afghanistan, where he now works for another private contractor. Because of that, he adds, BigDeadPlace.com got a lot of attention.
But within a few years, the blogging trend that swept the rest of the world had also moved onto the ice. "I started my blog a couple of years ago at the request of a relative who thought it would be a better way to stay in touch than my old method of sending out broadcast travelogue e-mails," says one blogger, who asked to remain anonymous. "The upside is that it can reach more people, but the downside is that it can reach more people, out of my control. I'm very careful with my web posting, both on my blog and on social networking sites like Facebook. I know it's important for a big company like Raytheon, or a big entity such as NSF, to control PR. Viral information which may or may not be accurate is a risk for them. I'm not surprised that there have been crackdowns on blogs and other web rants. I have no desire to use the web to alienate the company that signs my paycheck. If I thought there was rampant corruption or malfeasance, I would still go through other channels before ranting online."
Today there are dozens and dozens of Antarctica blogs — written not just by Raytheon employees, but also by scientists and people who work on bases owned by other countries. Some of them detail daily life, while others focus on science or photography. Examples include:
Antarctiken.com, from Ken Klassy, a systems admin at McMurdo who posts his gorgeous photos, but also details his daily successes and frustrations.
Icewishes.wordpress.com, which follows the life of a "peripatetic redhead" at the South Pole.
60south.com, which focuses on art and photography at the bottom of the world, but also features a discussion board and other links.
Vagabumming.com, a view from Palmer Station.
Harriettstomato.com, an unusual look at the life of a cook at the South Pole. "This here is the insane group of people that purchased the last bits of fast food at the Midwinter Auction at the South Pole," one post reads. "To celebrate, we made a ginormous dinner and the following day had a live concert and festival with putt-putt golf, tarot readings, ring toss, trivia games, and homemade beer. But the auction was a hoot. At left here you see the last Dr. Pepper on the station which took in a $20 bill. A Snickers Bar then went for $10...But the crowning glory, the most inane buy of the evening, was surely by our own David," who bought a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for $66. "Wow. For that price, we hope he at least slept with it first."
Carroll is aware of many of the blogs. "I certainly do go look at them. I wouldn't say I have a list," she says. Like most major corporations, Raytheon has a social media policy, but Carroll declines to offer any specifics. "It addresses, and I'm speaking generally, common sense behavior and common sense use of government equipment and resources. There are policies to accommodate virus concerns, security, and especially sharing the limited bandwidth available at the bottom of the world."