Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I’m home in Chicago, at last. In fact I’ve been home for 2 days now, anxiety ridden and lonesome still. Well, it’s not that bad but now I am waiting until Friday to finally get to Texas and start my holiday break proper. I got home around 9pm Sunday night, December 18th having left the South Pole 5 days earlier on Tuesday the 13th (well, in Chicago time). The last time I saw my room was 5 weeks and 3.5 days prior on November 10th, likewise maya tsaritsa who I eagerly await to see again.

The trip home was decent considering how long and complicated it was. I spent about 30 hours in the air, 3 from pole, 8 from McMurdo, 15 from Christchurch (including a change of planes in Auckland) and 4 from Los Angeles. Sleeping on planes is not my forte and it required numerous doses of Johnny Walker to finally soothe myself to sleep. Ill be honest with you, I stopped when the stewardess kindly informed me “You’ll have to wait 20 min for another drink sir, airline policy. We can’t just keep pouring non stop.” I didn’t even notice really, I just wanted to sleep and was finishing the final quarter of my book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Incidentally a good book if read for the human story and the motorcycle wisdom, although a little crazy otherwise. I suppose you can’t hold it against the author, he really was nuts. I sure can’t, I really was too.

We left McMurdo on a cloudy snowy morning. In fact it was one of the only snows I saw while down there, weird huh. Clem was actually on the flight that left just minutes before mine. His flights had been delayed by almost a week. Serves him right for making me feel so hopeless about getting home

That’s me in the plane on the way back to New Zealand, someone (ahem, Zarah) thinks I look like a lumberjack … awesome.

Perhaps the most cathartic moment of my life came when I finally dumped the ECW gear that was handed to me on the way down. It was the actual dumping that made it so great. As if designed with the fore knowledge of exactly how I would feel doing it, the procedure for returning ECW gear was to dump each piece one at a time into a giant pile in the middle of the warehouse while the dudes in charge checked off each item from their list. God it was fantastic, I felt like liberated 60s women burning their bras! Or a Nazi burning books … eh, maybe not. Here’s a picture of me rolling in it, literally …

As soon as that was done, it was time for a dinner and celebratory beers. I had a HUGE plateful of mussels and a beer. The following morning I did some quick souvenir shopping before shipping out. I ran across two things I thought I’d share. First was this plaque in the center of Cathedral Square in Christchurch. It was meant to honor the first people to reach NZ, exploring Pacific Islanders. See if you can read the words, its hardly honorable.

“During the first six centuries of Moa hunter occupation, the tribal succession … exterminated the Moa and burnt out the primeval forests … The later migration tribes … introduce kumara cultivation, warfare and intensified working of pounamu …” then the great and wise British settlers came and brought peace, conservation and environmental harmony to the land. Man oh man, that’s an odd way of honoring native past.

The other thing was this silly life size chess game. The two guys playing were crazy intense, they looked like they might break out into a fight. Yet, even I could tell their game was amateur piece grabbing, well cause that’s how I play it.

I came home to more snow and cold, not that I wasn’t warned (thanks Jon). It was somewhere between 0 and 10 degrees out, about the same temperature as it was at pole my last week there. I had a really nice cab ride home with this African immigrant who couldn’t get enough out of me about the South Pole and was as impressed by their flushable toilets as I was grateful for them. It was one question after another in total amazement about the 6 months of sun and 8000 feet of ice. I guess it kinda made me feel good, in an obviously smug and selfish way. It made me realize once more how crazy what I had just done was after all. Well I assured him if he practiced hard, he could ski over there himself, so it wasn’t really a big deal anyway.

My apartment was cold, colder than my room at pole and empty. Still it was home and I got to see the paint job I had just left freshly on the walls when I took off in November. Man we did a good job painting, you guys (all of you) have to come and see it! Jacolipe (my turtle) was healthy and happy, although a little algae ridden. My room looked like it was in good shape and had survived my subletter hell (another post on its own). Ahhh.

Well, I’m settling back into things I guess, South Pole is in the past. One last funny thing though, it seems that with all that constant sunlight, I have developed a little fear of the night. I guess I wouldn’t call it fear, more like distrust.

Peace and love my friends and family.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ehhhh, That’s All Folks!

Ok, as of 1:30 am (McMurdo Time) my flight back to Christchurch is scheduled for tomorrow at 11am. If it flies, I will have a very brief stopover in Christchurch and then back to the U.S. Needless to say, I am excited and very hopeful.

So on my last day in Antarctica I spent the day mostly in bed, then on a short climb up to a peak overlooking McMurdo and the sound and then in a bar, saying my farewells to the continent. The hike was quite cool. Me and Bob Spotz, the machine shop guy from pole, walked up to the top of a nearby hill, Observation Point, for a look over the surrounding area. About the only point of interest was a large wooden cross that was erected in 1913 in honor of the men who lost their lives on the 1912 Scott expedition to the South Pole.

A view of the volcano, Mt. Erebus that looms large over McMurdo. You can tell its active by the ominous smoke rising from its peak!

The cross in Scott’s honor and Bob Spotz, looking like quite the adventurer.

Another picture of the cross.

McMurdo in all its glory …

The neighbors; the Kiwi (NZ) base located on the other side of the island. The currently functioning airstrip is right outside their base. Every Thursday night the Kiwi base hosts “American Night”. I hear the pub there is quite cool and I totally wanted to head over there last night, but had no company to join me.

Also, check out the cool panorama I took from up top at

Well, I think that about wraps things up. I’m gonna be in Christchurch for no more than a night, so I don’t think there will be much more to report from there. Then it’s back to Chicago and off to Texas!!!! I can’t wait to get to San Angelo and finally see my tsartisa! It’s been an interesting time for sure, and maybe I’d even do it again. I’m not good at ending things, so I don’t know what to say. Thanks to everyone who read this and wrote comments. In fact, thanks a bunch cause those comments really helped me get through everything. Moreover, I’m sorry for not always answering back, it was mostly due to bad timing and lots of work.

I was thinking of starting a personal blog with pictures, articles and information from my everyday experiences. That would be very boring. Guess I’ll drop that.

Well, thanks again and I love all of you. Wish me luck on my flight tomorrow!

Yours Truly,
Robert “Buddy” Bryan Friedman
One Angry South Pole Elf

Thursday, December 15, 2005

One Step Closer to Home

Its 11:30, I’m sitting in the McMurdo Station computer lab on Ross Island, Antarctica. Five glasses of wine in me, I’m feeling profound. Tonight’s blog is dedicated to my father, Alex Friedman, forever in our hearts. Why, I’m not sure but he’s come up a bunch in the last few days and I figure its time to address it. It has something to do with what I’ve been reading obsessively the last few days, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Persig. The book is about a father and son voyage through the heart of America, but its also about science, art and insanity (my favorite 3 subjects, in that order).

I’m sorry to have been absent from stage the last few days but the change in my condition has been profound and I needed some time to process it and take a deep breath. Wednesday afternoon (my time) I finally made it out of the South Pole on an LC-130 Hercules cargo prop plane. Once again I had the great fortune of sitting on the flight deck. Two pole flights in a row, it’s a very rare coincidence and I may be the only grantee ever to receive such treatment. This time though, I have to say I was a bit jaded. How much more of Antarctica could I possibly swallow. I was unimpressed by the glaciers and mountaintops peeking through miles of ice. I sat calmly with headphones in place, thinking of home and my tsaritsa.

Leaving the South Pole, I passed through the passenger terminal (hehehe).

Visible out the cockpit window, MAPO and QUaD, it was a bittersweet farewell.

Then the after a mid-air turnaround the station came into view. Below lay my entire world for a whole month. That was all I knew, its borders were as impenetrable as prison walls yet they were open and vast as an American prairie.

I sat uninterested until the volcano came into view. Wow. I once flew to Seattle for an astrophysics conference, back when I was actually productive and useful. As I flew across the vast northern Rocky Mountains I was impressed to say the least. I had crossed them once by car, but by plane their mass was awesome. Then I saw it, a bit further west, the volcano stood above like a king on a throne. Its shadow cast upon what looked now like foothills below. Mt. Rainier was nothing short of superior. This is how I now saw Mt. Erebus, the active volcano that looms over McMurdo and the Ross Sea.

It doesn’t look like much from the picture I am sure, but in the flight deck I was certain we would fly right into it, it was unavoidable like the night. Well funny enough, down here the night is quite avoidable and we landed safe and sound. I really have to give the pilots some credit though. The fog was pea soup thick, I was scared.

We landed, thank god we landed and a wave of peace passed over me as I disembarked from the plane. This time around we landed further south of the station than back in November. This is because the ice runway used in the beginning of the season starts to melt into the Ross Sea by this time of year. This allows naval icebreakers to make their way into the sound. The old runway gets too soft. This other runway was far enough away and difficult enough to reach to warrant a special transport, the Delta. A conservative estimate dates this vehicle to the 50s.

I keep thinking back to my time at pole. Its funny what seclusion can do to you. It drove me a little mad, as much as I am embarrassed to admit fault, I went a little nuts down there. More than anything it was the lack of control. I hate not being in control, I crave control, I need control. All I wanted was to do my own thing and walk off station, leave. I couldn’t and it made me claustrophobic. It made me crazy. Why was everyone else so passive? I felt like a wolf among sheep. It’s funny, every day that I was there it felt like eternity. There was never an end in sight. Now I think back, I can’t even remember the details. I’ve been gone for 2 days and it feels like I was never there! Was I in some trance?

Now as the hour turns it’s Friday. I was supposed to fly out today back to NZ and one step closer to home. This has now been delayed until Saturday. Somehow, I can wait now, somehow the stress and uneasiness of pole has passed over me and now I feel like I can wait. Not that I want to … believe me. To pass the time I have been reading, insanely. I probably spent 8 hours reading today, since I got up this morning until now except for meals. After dinner tonight I went to this cool coffee shop and wine bar just a few short steps from where I am staying. It’s just called the coffee house.

I just sat in a corner for 3 hours and read quietly to myself while drinking cabernet and listening to Death Cab. It was probably the best 3 hours I have had down here. I felt calm and at ease. The bartender even grew fond enough of my tips to give me an Australian tea-tree oil toothpick; it was good. Then they closed at 11, a bit early for my tastes but I had enough and was ready to leave really. So, I took a little walk outside and snapped some quick photos of my surroundings.

The peak in the background is called Observation Hill. It’s apparently the best view of the Island and sound available. Tomorrow I will hike up and see what I can see.

Ok, so what about my dad huh? Well I don’t know, but I have been thinking of him a lot since I got down here. I guess it all started with my brother telling me that my father would be proud of me for this. My dad proud of me, I suppose I don’t even know what that would be like! The whole thing about this trip has been that I was supposed to feel really special and unique for this opportunity. Yet, I don’t feel it. So many people I care about seem proud of me, or at least interested and amused. For some strange reason, the only person who I’d really like some praise from is him.

Today at dinner I sat with Bob the machine shop guy. That’s him in the Delta.

We got to talkin about our fathers. Bob’s real dad died on the Eastern front in World War II; a Russian. His stepfather a skilled mechanist trained in German concentration camps. I told him about my grandfather escaping from the siege of Leningrad and how chance-like my entire existence is, how it rides on some odd twists of fate. I told him what I knew about my father, not much. Athletic, a disc and jav champ when he was young. Musical, a sometimes rodie and later a jazz fanatic. Hard working, an automotive mechanic and businessman who in his glory days drove clients’ Porches and Lamborghinis for fun. A funny, strong and lovable man with many friends and a wonderful wife. Wood fires on a winter night, personal pint of Haagen–Daz and a Hockey game. Died when I was 13, same year the Rangers won the Stanley Cup.

Proud of me? Could that ever be true, what for? I guess I’ll never know but that’s what’s on my mind tonight as I write all this down for posterity.

Monday, December 12, 2005

See Ya!

Ahhhhh, freedom! Clem finally got on a plane and left this evening. This was only after his flight was delayed then cancelled then changed to a new plane. Mostly due to weather in McMurdo, this has been the typical state of affairs here for the last week or so. Weather, I learned today, is also the reason there are still grantees backed up in McMurdo who had left the Pole last week. Not only that but my December 16th flight to Christchurch has been overbooked by at least 20ish people! This could mean trouble, but priority seating is given to grantees so at least I’ll probably get on a plane before some of the Raytheon personnel.

I also got word today that I will be allowed to leave Pole a day early on Wednesday. While this isn’t much earlier, it might be my salvation in the case of bad weather. If I get to McMurdo on Wednesday and then Pole flights are cancelled on Thursday I will certainly be a very happy person. If planes don’t fly from Pole on Thursday, then there is no way to make the Friday flight out of McMurdo and that’s the last flight till the 22nd. Well, of course flights can be cancelled on Wednesday and Thursday. Oh god, anyway this is all so complicated and unpredictable that there really is nothing you can do and no way of knowing what will be.

So, I’m at least happy to be on my own schedule again, no longer have to run after someone. Also, a lot was accomplished in the last 3 weeks so I am definitely feeling some sense of completion and satisfaction. I have a few things left to do tomorrow before I leave, but it’s definitely something I can get done!

Today was a pretty fun day and I spent most of it outside climbing around. The weather here (not at McMurdo …) the last 2 days has been nothing short of fantastic. Well, it wasn’t beach weather, but the temperature climbed to 3 degrees Fahrenheit, above zero, and with no wind! Man, I didn’t even have to zip up my coat or wear gloves! Of course I was still in double thick Carhart overalls with a fleece underneath. I guess I have gotten so accustomed to freezing at the very exposure to the air that it was fantastic to feel some air for a change.

We needed to make some measurements on the top edge of the ground shield that surrounds the telescope so I had to climb up a super high ladder and relay what I found by walkie talkie to someone controlling the telescope from inside. I get pretty scared of heights, but I managed to overcome for an awesome view of the station and the telescope. Here are some pictures I managed to snap while up top or during the rest of the day.

A nice view of where I work every day, the building near center, with the large wooden bowl on it the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory (MAPO). That’s where QUaD is, in the bowl (ground shield).

This is a view of the telescope when it is pointing to the horizon. Obviously it can’t see that low because the ground shield blocks its view. The actual limit of its view in elevation is about 45 degrees but it is not limited in azimuth.

This is a view over the lip of the telescope’s ground shield, probably something like 4 stories or more above the ground. This is by far the highest view from a building down here, if you can get on top of a crane (and some have) you can get a little better view. The white structure to the right is a hot water drill. Its used to make holes for inserting a string detectors that are part of a particle experiment called “Ice Cube”. Ice Cube because these strings of detectors go 2.5 kilometers into the ground over an area 1-kilometer square. This makes a kilometer cubed giant ice cube under the South Pole!

You might also want to check out this panoramic photo … go to and look at the groundshield_pan**.jpg files!

From left to right, John Kovac, Stanford graduate student Ed Wu and Clem Pryke. Clem is of course my advisor and John was once a student at UofC and now a postdoc at CalTech. John and Clem worked together to put up the original DASI experiment.

That me, in perspective.

The telescope!

Making the measurements from way up high.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Crazy Freaks

I claimed in my South Pole Adventure blog that there were no tourists at the South Pole. Well, I guess I was wrong. Over the last few weeks we have received a few visitors. They are officially restricted from accessing the facilities here, with the exception of a guided tour and use of the airstrip. Well, some visitors do not need the airstrip.

Take these guys for instance.

I don’t remember the lead member’s name, but he was the first to ski across Antarctica. Dude, they’re doing it again. Look at this, there are just some crazy freaks camping out at the South Pole like its some kind of national park. They’ve got some weak ass tents, a sled and some skis. They pull all their own weight, plus gear, plus food. Dude, they cross the continent on skis. The only thing more amazing that I can think of is Forest Gump crossing the U.S. by foot.

Somehow their mere presence makes me feel like a total poser down here.

Anyway, I am hard at work as usual. I guess I managed to warm up to Clem, cause he agreed to take these pictures of me and even went so far as to make them look as good as possible, before yelling at me to hurry up and untie a knot. We were removing a protective cover that was added to the foam cone the other day while setting up some electronics inside it. Its supposed to be used to block UV sunlight from degrading the cone during the summer, but we used it to keep the temperature pretty stable.

So, Clem tried to get me out of here early, but it seems like flights from McMurdo to Christchurch are all booked up. So I am stuck on the Friday flight and leaving pole early would only result in a prolonged stay at McMurdo. That place sucks; the rooms are shared and bunked, the food was nasty, and the facilities are less than luxurious. I think I like it better down here. Still I’m not sure if taking one more step is a better idea or not. Suppose I wait it out till Thursday and the weather turns. Flights can still leave McMurdo but not here. I’m going to think it over, but maybe McMurdo isn’t so bad after all.

As for my glasses, they are dead. My only viable option at this point is to seek out an optometrist in Christchurch on my way home. Otherwise I can try to get something when I get back to Chicago, but I’m not sure I’ll be in a very motivated mood when I get back. At least the weather is great in New Zealand right now, so searching the city sounds ok by me.

I read in the NY Times the other day that some protesting villagers in China were gunned down in a crowd. It was the single largest government public shooting since Tiananmen. The story is that the Chinese government had apparently chosen this village as the site for a new coal plant or mine or some other terrible polluter. They also decided to fill the village’s bay in with land in order to expand the surrounding area to support the mine. Well, it turns out the villagers are all fishermen! Man, that’s capitalism for you huh? I guess in the police’s defense, the villagers were shooting fireworks at them.

Ok, I feel the end is near and my mood is lifting. Please pray that weather does not keep me from my return!

Oh, and I got a little frostbite on my nose!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Global Warming, Global Shwarming

Hey, check out this pretty funny bit of Will Ferrel doing a Bush Special Announcement on Global Warming.

This comes by way of my friend Vasilis.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

North Pole My Butt!!!

Oh man oh man. I thought I had seen the worst of SPAM. Ungodly offers and requests for products and services of all kinds of debaucherous trash. Yet, to my shock and awe, today I received an offer for this!


While this did get me thinking that I should have started a similar program from here, I was shocked. Does the sender of the garbage know who I am? I have the right mind to destroy this person ... Santa ... HA!

Ok, thats enough, but I would like to draw your attention to a couple of items I found particularly amusing. First, if your child is old enough to read and still believes in Santa, then I pity your child. Believe me, it will grow up to be a pathetic loser, I know this from first hand experience. Second, if they are old enough to read, then I think the Alaska postal address may just tip them off. Thirdly, isn’t claiming that Santa himself will sign this a bit of false advertising? Finally, what is the difference between the traditional and Christian versions? Isn't Christmas a traditional Christian holiday?

I am one angry South Pole elf aren't I?