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Burning Man Aftermath


BM affected me a bit on the personal level this year. We always giggled at the “welcome home” mantra, because “home has running water.” This being the 4th time, BRC did feel like home. I really wanted to be there. I was glad to be there. It felt great to get out and mingle with random strangers. I’ve been completely frustrated with work lately and I was ready to leave it behind for a while. Last year, I was really regretting not going. After I got back this year I was hell bent on hanging onto the thought that there are good people in society. Ultimately that faded away as the real world took over. It almost makes me want to run out and work for DPW or get involved in some big art project.

Every time I’ve got back, I’ve always wanted a box of solid playa to play with or at least show people exactly what it is. By the end of the week I’m usually coated in the stuff, taste it, smell it, and don’t want to have anything else to do with it. This year, the first thing I did was scoop up and fill two Tupperwear containers to store. During the week I picked up bits of moop to put into one of the containers. I had intended to mail this to Michael/Alex/Victoria when I got back as a “wish you were here” gift since A&V were moving back to Seattle and couldn’t be at BM. I never got around to it, so I guess the novelty is kind of lost four weeks later.

I’m torn about the idea of towing a RV to Burning Man. On principle it flies in the face of radical self reliance and felt somewhat dirty to have. It was a complete pain in the ass to haul out there, expensive in both gasoline, rental fees and extra time. There’s still the need for a shade structure as a common area. Staying holed up in an RV and not mingling with the other BRC citizens is lame. Keeping hot dogs and bacon cold is still possible with ice + cooler.

We noticed a lot more RVs this year, in particular bus-sized motorcoaches. Along the 5:30 arm closer to ‘C’ there was a line of 3-4 of them parked bumper-to-bumper. It was disappointing to see and I think offered a preview of what was to come. On one hand it walled off areas, on the other hand some people don’t like random people wandering through camp. I’m told that bitching about RVs (especially since I brought one myself) is soooo 2003. I guess that’s that.

On the plus side, it was totally awesome to have a shower with running water (albeit still a navy shower to save water), a mostly dust-free bed, and a fridge+freezer for meats. Between three of us using the shower, I just about went through all 35 gallons of water. I never got used to waking up in the morning in a bed and realize the playa was just outside.

I think if I return with an RV I’ll have to come up with a solution for the grey water. Hauling all of it off the playa seems silly when I can evaporate it. People have gotten clever with plastic kiddie pools, the top of a plastic picnic table, metal mesh and a pump. If I were really smart, I’d figure out a way to use greywater as a feed to an evaporative cooling system for coolers. (Not for people cooling, as I don’t want to be bathed in atomized bath water.)

Solar worked beautifully. I rigged up Enron II to the RV’s batteries since the refrigerator had fans that needed to constantly run, along with coach lighting and the water pump. Each morning and at noon I’d go rotate the panels into the sun. At noon I had no problem generating near capacity. As I expected, I didn’t have many other things that required electricity. A couple of small fans was about it. Before I wired up to the batteries directly I tried plugging the RV’s shore power into my big inverter to charge the batteries that way. It didn’t like my modified sine wave too well, the electrical system had a buzzing sound to it. The inverter had fans on it which sucked playa in. I haven’t disassembled it yet to see if it’s a rusted mess yet.

The big idea that Alex and I cooked up was to build a really big Rubik’s cube to put on the playa. Mechanical was too hard to solve, so something electronic on a pedestal with remote controls. Lo and behold, somebody did that this year. I stopped by and chatted with the designer for a while. It was all PLC-driven with three controls for the three axis. They went a lot of effort to design the thing, even said they wrote a Java simulator for their PLC code so they could see how it looked and play it on the computer first. People I talked to said it was very difficult to work since you had to memorize what was on the far sides of the cube, and relay instructions to the other players. I hear somebody solved it late Saturday night after the burn, to much fanfare.

After getting back, I was really interested in Papa Legba’s OpenBTS project. They weren’t there out of the goodness of their heart to provide open SMS, they were really there to test a commercial platform they’re working on that they couldn’t test anywhere else. The whole idea is to develop an entirely new, very low cost platform for providing GSM voice service in developing countries (e.g. in Africa). They do this with software-based radio devices (USRPs) with a GSM protocol stack (OpenBTS) serving as a GSM air interface. Then they use Asterisk on the back end to terminate and route the calls with SIP. While on the playa everyones’ ordinary GSM-capable phones would communicate with their BTS, regardless of your phone’s carrier. Once you registered via SMS, you could text other Legba users. If you were lucky, you could make 30 second voice calls.

I went into full radio nerd mode for a solid week after this. I was reading everything I could about their project, USRP hardware, and how GSM works. I’d really like to tinker with this after the project gets a little more mature. Reading the bios of both Harvind and David, they’re not ordinary phone hackers. Harvind has a Ph.D in EE, David a Masters in CS, both have a decade or two of signal analysis experience as DoD contractors, and are accomplished programmers. If something breaks, I couldn’t figure it out anywhere near the degree they get into it. Still, running my own little isolated cell network certainly has novelty.

We were wondering what happened to Kamikaze. When we first met him in 2006, he was working for DPW. In 2007 he was working for the airport and had just gotten run off. He’s an interesting fellow to say the least. He’d pop into camp every day or two to visit. He seemed pretty down after the airport ordeal and wasn’t quiet his crazy self. Thirty minutes of googling, I finally found his profile on Tribe.net. He’s an avid blogger and apparently gets around, still in his trusty Suburban. He very recently went back into the Air Force, stationed up by Wichita Falls, TX, working as an avionics tech. Sounds like he’s given up on going to BM. It also turns out he has an attractive daughter our age. Who knew?

I hear the other Adventioneering peeps are planning to go out for 2010. As always, I’ll believe it when I see them in Gerlach. On a side note, I discovered yesterday that playa dust will turn a cast iron skillet into a rusted mess.

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