September 20, 2000

Site dedicated to Open Source science, at the bottom of the world

Author: JT Smith

By Grant Gross
Managing Editor

Beyond a certain bird mascot, it'd seem that Open Source software and Antarctica don't have much in common.

But the technology movement and the continent -- at least the science that's practiced there -- operate by some of the same principals, and Brendon Grunewald has merged his interest in both topics on a Linux-run, Antarctica news Web site called 70South.

It's a fitting combination, he says. Scientists at the South Pole have to cooperate, because equipment and bodies are often scarce, says Grunewald, who worked as a physicist in Antarctica between November 1992 and February 1994. "You share information -- you collaborate," he adds. "You have 10% of the picture, and you add three or four other people's measuring equipment; suddenly you get to 150% of the picture."

70South includes headlines, such as "The warming debate heats up" and "Whaling sanctions ordered' as well as general information about the South Pole and a weather report. Wednesday's weather at Vostok, one of the few stations open year round: minus 93F.

"It's an incredibly beautiful and dangerous continent; it's almost like it's a different planet," Grunewald says. "Antarctica is a pristine, or near pristine, environment, and it's a great place to understand our world."

Grunewald, who says he's been using Linux for "I don't know how many years," launched the site in July 1999. He just recently added WAP capabilities to 70South, using the Open Source Zope; he's been attracted to Open Source products because he can "fiddle and play and learn."

The site, a sideline to Grunewald's full-time job as business development director of a Chicago technology company, keeps his tech skills current and allows him to experiment with software that he can use in his day job.

"A lot of what I play with there, we get the benefit in my company," he says. "There's no better way to establish your technical skills than by actually doing it."

The site, which gets several thousand page views a month, has linked Grunewald with hundreds of people interested in Antarctica. He gets 50 to 60 emails a month from students researching Antarctica or wanting to work there. (There are occasionally tech jobs.) He's also offered advice to people planning expeditions to Antarctica.

He's hoping to round up sponsors for contests on research-paper writing, and he'd like to publish articles from anyone ranging from grade-school students to college professors. "I'd like the site to become very much like the Open Source model -- where people can contribute and take from it what they see fit," he says. "I want the site to be one that mirrors both Antarctica and Open Source."

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