The 2013 Burning Man Report

I left this post for quite some time, but after a New Year's Blog-Off Challenge on Facebook, I thought I'd wrap it up and post it. It's about how back in August 2013, Jenn and I headed to Burning Man.

We left on August 23 and got to Chicago on the 24th. We met with a friend of Jenn's and did a bit of a tour of Chicago before getting back on and—in a roomette sleeper—finished the journey to Reno. We met some nice people along the way, particularly at meals when we were seated with two strangers.

The train ran pretty much on-time and we arrived in Reno around 9 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Monday the 26th. There were quite a few other people heading to Burning Man on the train and most of them headed off quickly. We chatted with a couple stragglers and one of the guys had a friend in Reno who was going to pick him up. We asked if we could hitch a ride with him if he had space. He arrived with a gigantic van and transported Forrest, Jenn, and myself to the Save-Mart where we hung out for some time.

We bought provisions and met other people going to Burning Man—many from the U.S., but a small group from Italy. We dawdled around a bit and had pretty okay pizza from Pizza Baron before getting a cab ride to the airport—somewhat ironically to the airport "exit" and baggage claim area where the Burner Express bus was to pick us up. The process was relatively smooth and quick: we checked in, got tags for our wrists and for our bags, waited a bit, put our bags on a trailer, and boarded a bus.

The air conditioning wasn't working so well and I felt a bit frustrated at the slow rate we made it to Gerlach. A couple times the traffic stopped completely and we got out of the bus. When we arrived at Gerlach, things were a bit less organized. The gist was that everyone on the bus was to exit, then Burning Man staff would check that we had proof of tickets (and they could confirm will-call and provide a hard ticket right there) before boarding the bus to Black Rock City. One person said we'd have time to buy a bit of water, but as we walked over, someone called out to get on the bus. We got on then had to get off again because it was not our bus. Eventually things got straightened out and we got on the same bus we arrived by (our bus was one of a few that had the ability to close the air-conditioning intake vents on the bottom of the bus; otherwise we'd be on a school bus.)

The great feature of the Burner Express bus was revealed when we turned away from the gate line into a special lane, passing several miles of cars 10 lanes wide. Random (the greeter) checked our tickets and we were on our way into the city. We arrived just before sunset and, oddly enough, the very same bus was our shuttle. We got our stuff loaded back onto it and headed down GDP street toward the 10:00 crossroad. The driver was willing to stop at each 0:15 street, so we got off at 7:45, walked 30 yards and arrived at our camp: Mama Kabuke's Big Tent at It Still Stings Camp at 7:45 and Holy.

It was great to see my friends from last year—Mama Kabuke, Jordi, Devon, Uncle Brett, and T who primarily set up the camp along with a bunch of fellow campers from last year. Jenn (now Vadra) and I (now Zhust) got the tent set up quick before it got too dark and started unpacking. We didn't stay up too late—we hadn't acclimated much from Eastern time, so by 10 p.m. we were experiencing 1 a.m. tiredness and went to bed.

We got up and had some breakfast and got settled in with the camp. This year two of our fellow campers were getting married on Thursday, and they brought a fair number of people for that but only one of them really liked being at Burning Man. We also had an inordinate number of freeloaders making for a stressful time trying to keep up with their consumption and messiness. We also had a genuine "sparkle pony"—a girl who brought only her physical beauty, nary lifting a finger to perform any tasks and frequently leaving half-eaten food and drink.

Vadra and I got out over the week to see the art and visit some random camps. For the most part, I felt like it was a year of "duties and obligations": I was tasked with setting up the lights on Connie the Baby Blue Whale (the camp's art car) we had as well as to install and test the blowhole device I made for her. I felt pretty spent by Thursday and really wanted to take a day off by then but couldn't and had a rough day.

Vadra was selected to participate in Spencer Tunick's photograph at dawn, so we got up around 4:15 a.m. and biked out into the cold early morning. We arrived at the staging area by the temple but all the slots had been filled. She was quite disappointed, having missed a previous opportunity in Buffalo a few years back.

But we made the best of it and got a chance to visit The Man. They were only letting 50 or so people into the UFO base at a time so there was a line, but it moved quickly. There were zoetrope inside that were beautifully designed but the animations were rather bland black-and-white line-art. Dawn was upon us, so we left and watched the sunrise through the hazy smoke from the forest fires in California.

Vadra surprised me for my birthday: she secretly made Instax pictures of a bunch of people in camp holding a whiteboard to spell out "Happy Birthday". It was very sweet of her and I was quite moved by it, especially after spending days feeling under-appreciated.

After the wedding, many members of the wedding party left, relieving some of the burden (although there were still a lot of freeloaders.)

It was an interesting experiment, really. We brought a camp that provided abundant resources. But in trying to embrace the principles of Burning Man, "radical inclusion" led us to attract consumers of our abundance. It gets to be an interesting puzzle, really: if you offer abundance, you'll attract people who will consume, but if you hoard, you'll expend much more energy doing so than if you simply shared.

I have been wrestling with capitalism versus communism for quite some time. Communism fails by people offering less than "their ability" and claiming more than "their needs". The way we are seeing capitalism fail is in failing to find a balance in moderation: either you are earning too little and constantly toiling, or you are earning too much and have no means to share your wealth. On the train, we met a woman named Amber who said she saw something about bacteria being freeloaders: in some colonies, they need to produce a particular protein to float, but some bacteria figure out they don't need to expend the energy; eventually the whole colony collapses.

But I recently read a blog post by Burning Man founder Larry Harvey that talks about commerce and community. I think it helps define when commerce (née capitalism) is most effective and when community (née communism) is most effective. In the article, Harvey quotes an article written by Zay Thompson, the Burning Man regional contact in Kansas. Thompson brilliantly lays out an analogy in the form of his large extended family getting together to compete in a soccer game:

If my Dad stumbles and falls, I don’t run over him in my rush to score on his team. My love for him and the value of human life causes me to suspend the game, help him up, and check to see if he’s alright. Likewise, I don’t continue to view my family as mere competition after the game is over.

In the case of our camp, it seems the balance between commerce and community was skewed. It felt like the desire to achieve enrichment by helping out was somehow suppressed. When a task needed doing, I felt an urge to not help because I felt that was the spirit of our community. It wasn't until these months later that I can even begin to articulate that, but I do recall that experience: when something needed doing, it was defiant to stand up and act rather than it being common and beneficial.

On Sunday we had a most unusual bit of excitement. Chris returned with a report of a DPW official stating that a huge thunderstorm cell was headed for Black Rock City and would arrive shortly before noon on Monday and the city would be shut down to all traffic. The report also recommended that anyone able to leave should do so before Monday. (By the way, the DPW is the "Department of Public Works", a not-governmentally-affiliated group who maintain the Burning Man infrastructure.)

I suspected it was an incorrect report—ordinarily this happens from "telephone game" failures, but this was unique in that it was reported nearly intact to the radio station. And again, Burning Man is susceptible to urban legends, but I thought immune to mass-media misinformation until now.

Many of our campmates were concerned. A couple new friends from Canada had an early flight on Tuesday and opted to leave on Sunday afternoon. Vadra was very concerned but I had instinctive confidence in the inaccuracy of the report. To calm her fears, we walked to the Emergency Services tent that were a mere 30 yards down the road. They had heard nothing of such a storm but cautiously refused to deny the report outright. Rivka pulled out her iPad and checked the weather on their private wireless Internet: partly cloudy with a chance of 0.01 inches of precipitation for Monday. Vadra was not entirely reassured but I persevered, gambling I was correct.

I know that humans are susceptible to visceral dangers more than statistically likely dangers. Even I was not brimming with confidence save for my tenacious rational side.

We stayed—and continued embellishing the tales. By Monday morning, we were expecting the caldera that formed nearby to erupt by noon, and that a raging storm would pin people down and lightning-rape everyone. I advised others that it was likely an attempt by DPW to hurry exodus, and I encouraged other camps to hurry along the freeloaders in their own camps.

Monday came and a front was indeed approaching, cooling the air and changing the wind direction slightly. I held fast, though, and we left by the Burner Express bus at 11:45 with no issues. During the morning, two drops of rain hit me, and none even left evidence on the parched lakebed. It took us 90 minutes or so to get to Gerlach and no rain arrived. I saw nothing on the weather radar once we got Internet back at the hotel room. (The Burner Express bus, by the way, dropped us off at the airport around 3 p.m. and we got to the hotel before dinner.)

Later, I contacted Jordi and Mama about the storm but none materialized. I started a thread on ePlaya that sparked some interesting theories: indeed, nearby areas received some downpours that, had such a downpour arrived at Burning Man, it would have shut down the event for 24 hours or so—and with no proper sanitation either. I suspect the nearby mountains cause vast changes in weather over just a few miles, and I believe that is what "protects" the Black Rock Desert. (For another example of localized weather, see "lake-effect snow".) But I could have been mistaken and we may have been stuck for 24 hours or longer. Who knows.

We stayed overnight in Reno then got on the Amtrak and headed back to Chicago to visit Jenn's friend there for a couple days. It was nice to visit the city more in-depth. We returned to the Amtrak for our overnight trip back to Rochester, arriving pretty much on-time on September 8.

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TEDxRochester 2012

I actually arrived early. I had intended to get there right around 9 a.m., but I was worried the lectures started at 9. In fact, it all started around 10, but about 30 people were there early as well. I was going to walk which would take about an hour, but I passed a bus stop and thought I'd check. In the one functioning piece of the RGRTA system, I was able to text the stop number to 585-351-2878 and it responded with the next 3 busses: the #50 arriving in just a few minutes. So I ended up at Geva about 8:15 a.m.

Finding the doors locked, I decided to go find some coffee. I walked past Bausch and Lomb up Stone Street to Main. I passed and ignored the Tim Horton's in the library but found no local places open, save for the Java Joe's by Boulder shop in the Crossroads Building (right across from another Tim Horton's — you'd think the city had some kind of preference for Canadian companies over locals!)

Anyway, I got back and into the theater. I first met Ota Unc who was giving a presentation. I told him about my Tadpole Trike project and the plan to cross the Nevada desert on it. He said to keep an eye out for his presentation but didn't want to say more as he didn't want to spoil the surprise.

First up was Carmelo Ramos who gave a nervous but pleasant start to the day with a traditional prayer to the spirits at each of the four compass points.

Andrew Phelps gave a speech titled "Rocket Jumping through the Game of Life" [mental note: write down the titles of everyone's speeches or else I'll be sure to fail to find some through searches]. He made the comparison that the way we learn in games — that there is a set of rules that are there to "be gamed" — is exactly the skills we need for real life: to exploit the rules to our advantage. The presentation title alludes to a technique in one video game where players figured out they could shoot a rocket launcher at their player's feet and fly over all the obstacles in a level rather than confront each challenge in turn as the level was designed. And while I think his thesis is essentially correct, I'd like to have seen him spend more time on the ethical quandaries of such behavior — specifically that actions that advance one's status alone may not be any more difficult than actions that advance the status of many including oneself.

Next was the presentation of a popular TED video by Hans Rosling titled "The magic washing machine". In it he cunningly implies that maybe we can do without a few fringe luxuries so many people can have some basic ones.

Ben Hayden was next to talk about his research into monkeys and gambling. I enjoyed the fact that he saw the duality of the real science that goes into his research and that it's really quite bizarre and somewhat hilarious. In short, he said that all animals are generally risk-averse, but primates aren't under certain conditions. We tend to be drawn to situations where we have multiple possibilities for random reward over situations with consistent rewards — which is essentially the preference for a slot machine over a machine that simply alternates between returning double your money or nothing at all. One of the interesting findings is that gambling addiction is a breakdown in the same areas of the brain that cause a number of psychological problems such as depression.

Next up, was a presentation about First Robotics which is a group that helps kids build robotics toward a goal. [I swear the name of the presenter was Glen Frey but I can't find proof, so I assume I must be mistaken.] By high school, they are building remote-controlled devices with modern industrial components to compete in a challenge that is different each year.

I'm often frustrated that such games end at the end of school. Half joking, I told a couple people that kids should be interviewed and find out what excites them and what they excel at, and then are told to do something else that they aren't very good at and don't really like for the rest of their lives to prepare them for the real corporate world.

When we returned from break, Nicole Corea gave an improvised demonstration of dance. I have no background in it, so while I was impressed, I had a hard time gleaning interpretation. My rational mind simply would not shut up about literal meanings.

Next we got to Ota Ulc who talked about competing in the 10,000 Mile Mongolian Challenge. He joined it in Czechoslovakia in a crappy car (which is part of the point) on their way to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (And yes, it is deliberately an insane idea.) The central point of his talk is that wherever they were, people were similar: they'd inevitably warn the team about the horrors they'd encounter inflicted by the people in the neighboring country, yet every-such warning turned out to be false, and everyone was actually very welcoming.

Next up was a video presentation of the TED talk by Abigail Washburn titled "Building US-China relations … by banjo". It's a powerful story of how our lives can suddenly change for the better in unexpected ways.

Erich Lehman — curator of the 1975 Gallery — discussed pivotal events in our lives. He starts by pinpointing the date when he received his first skateboard and how that caused him to grow from an outcast to a young man with a peer group. That one event set in motion a huge part of his entire life; had it happened differently, everything would be very different.

After lunch, One Dance Co. and The Pickpockets performed a shortened version of "In You is Home" which they presented for at the Yards some months back. The melding of fine, subdued "gypsy folk" music with metaphoric (but simple and accessible) dance makes for a great performance.

Next, Victoria Van Voorhis reiterated the gaming theme talking about her company's use of video game software to create collaborative environments for kids to learn. I felt a bit of pity that she spent so much time on obvious introductory information that she had to cut short the point of her speech.

A few friends and I talked about it afterward: it seems technology is often thrown at education as some kind of solution when the commitment of actual people teaching kids is what is really required. Human spirit is often compared to the most advanced technology of the day (as, per Arthur C. Clark's famous quote, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".) I wonder if there were attempts to include steam power in education at the turn of the century …

Dr. Ian Wilson is a radiologist who spawned the WALL\THERAPY mural project [officially with a backslash] and the Synthesis Collective. The former is about providing social space to allow public art to be created by street (née "graffiti") artists. The latter is about using technology to connect portable imaging tools in remote places with experienced radiologists who can read the results and provide diagnosis.

Dr. Craig Cypher is a psychologist who developed a tool for helping with psychological diagnosis. It's an application for ubiquitous smart phones that allows a patient to track jeir mood as it happens which can help identify problems to be discussed in therapy sessions. He is hopeful for the future where wearable sensors can help automatically record that information since depression and disruptive events are the exact moments when it is hardest for people to take the time to assess themselves.

Shanterra Randle and Doug Ackley gave a presentation on Teen Empowerment. It was a powerful message that young people — like the ones we have trapped in Rochester's inner city — are crying out to be heard; to have their ideas respectfully considered. I fear our city government is too entrenched in excluding those voices, and it will take new leadership to buck the trend of only listening to rich white men.

The Rochester Latino Theatre Group performed a play in the form of an introduction to Latino culture and an introduction to the performers (or the people they were portraying). It's familiar territory: a person is neither a sole individual nor an ambassador to a culture, but instead the product of both. I feel as if it is the nature of English (perhaps language) that prevents the concept of "person" from being adequately reflected, and in so, raising its speakers above the concepts of racism and prejudice.

Relatedly, Davin Searls spoke on the state of deaf culture in the world. Rochester is one of the best cities for it — as he pointed out, seeing a deaf person, or having a performance interpreted or subtitled is something we scarcely notice anymore. But in other places it's considered exotic and bizarre, and in some places, deaf people are not part of the society at large. The central point of his discussion, though, is that deafness is a culture unto itself, not a disability. That the expressiveness of sign language is different from the expressiveness of spoken language. Perhaps I could add that it's as much different as spoken language is from the written word.

Next they played a hilarious TED video by Colin Robertson titled "A TED speaker's worst nightmare". I'll leave it to you to watch.

Following that, Mike Governale came out to discuss his Reconnect Rochester project and how it started with a fictional schematic map of the Rochester subway system. The point of his group is to change the system we have to a place we care about — a counterpoint to Henrietta (which he leaves unnamed, highlighting in photo only) as an automobile-centric dystopia: a place we don't care about.

Finishing up was an interesting TED video by Derek Severs titled "Weird, or just different?" in which he talks about how we take things for granted as "the way things are" until we encounter another culture where things are done exactly opposite, yet equally validly.

Jen Indovina closed the day with a comment on the TEDxRochester crew's recent challenge: the Roc City 2.0 project. I had heard about it and was sufficiently frustrated finding information (like TEDx Flour City earlier in the year) that I was driven away. But they are responsible for the lamppost signs that indicate walking and biking times to nearby landmarks and neighborhoods. This project is continuing next year with the only clue being a triptych of flipbooks of a horse running.

Overall I found the day to be full of interesting discussions. I can only assume the glaring trend happened by accident: although the day's theme was ostensibly "community", it seemed more to be "games and play", as a large portion of the lectures centered on either video games or learning-through-play or both. At least this year I saw nothing that could be confused with an advertisement for a product, or a money-making scheme.

However, with all the consistent quality, no one discussion really surprised me. It may just be that I have become unfortunately numb to innovation itself. One thing I think plagues TEDxRochester is the dominance of technology — not surprising considering Rochester's tech-rich heritage — but it would be nice to be impressed by philosophy or by a substantial representation by non-technical solutions like Teen Empowerment.

I did want to give a response to the shout-out by TEDxRochester founding member Tony Karakashian. After lunch he challenged the audience to be more creative when they apply. In talking with Tony, Gary Jacobs, and Amanda Doherty, I've apparently developed a reputation for my applications, and one I try to uphold. For 2012, I tried to give them a chuckle and apparently succeeded as Tony read my answer to "Why do you want to attend TEDxRochester?":

Each year is a new adventure to attend, always with at least one amazing lecture that both fulfills my itch for something new, and infects me like an acute allergic reaction with all new itches. It's just a lot of itching and scratching leading to more itching. It's like psoriasis for the brain, only not gross-looking. Or maybe one of those weird back-scratchers that's made from a desiccated monkey paw, clutching at nothing but the agony of being cut off a monkey, and stuck on the end of a walking stick — a walking stick for a mental journey lasting ten lifetimes that, tautologically, you cannot complete before dying. Presumably of old-age, or longing. Maybe you get an infection from that filthy monkey paw. Someone will probably do a lecture on that.

Putting things convolutedly, I guess Tony could have said, "Jason upped his game, so up yours!" Ok, I probably shouldn't have actually said that. Sorry.

But I do have to up my game next year. I mentioned that I had an idea to build a temple for Burning Man in 2013 called the Temple of Seasons — an excessive, overambitious project that has little hope for success. But I gave a vague promise that I'd submit an application to present whatever happens on that project for TEDxRochester 2013. Yikes.

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The Little Burning Man that Couldn't

Thursday night I got to Amtrak (320 Central Ave.) about an hour early for my pilgrimage to Burning Man. Earlier in the day, I had to use a Zipcar to get my farm share from Mud Creek Farm (McMahon Rd., Victor), and to take Ali to pick up her car from getting brake repairs. Little did I know this was a mere warning shot of things to come.

I had packed into two Rubbermaid totes, a large suitcase, a smaller bag, and a backpack. I made a custom cart to carry the totes along with the additional luggage tied on: the totes contained my to-be-filled water bottles, and the cart was to make it easier to navigate around Burning Man, particularly to get to a place to get a ride when I left. I was quite impressed as I ordinarily required the bulk of a car to carry everything I needed.

Two totes, a suitcase, a smaller bag, and a backpack

Everything I need for Burning Man 2011

Anyway, I figured I could check the large suitcase and two totes, and carry the backpack and smaller bag onto the train. I was told I couldn't check totes (a.k.a. harbinger number two) so I did some quick thinking and swapped the contents of the smaller bag with the equivalent volume from one of the totes. I checked the smaller bag and the large suitcase instead. (In the future I'll make canvas boxes for the totes with zippers and hide them inside, giving the illusion of "real" luggage.)

While waiting for the train (which was an hour and a half late from Albany no less — that's three) I met a guy who was trying to get to Cleveland. He didn't have much (if any) money but he was going to try and sweet-talk his way onto the train. I was quite sure it wouldn't work, at least not on such a busy route — if it had been quieter, he would have been able to board without a ticket beforehand then at least made it to Buffalo before being kicked off. I looked into just paying for his ticket but it was too expensive so I just gave him a few bucks to see if he could make it to Buffalo or beyond. He went to the ticket counter then disappeared. Then when I was boarding, he reappeared and tried to be my "porter". Alas, he was indeed denied entry to the train.

I finally boarded the westbound Amtrak Lakeshore Limited at 12:30 a.m. By 9 a.m. we were partway through Ohio.

view from the Amtrak window just west of Bryan, Ohio

Just west of Bryan, Ohio from the Amtrak window

We arrived in Chicago a little late around 11:30 a.m. when I was confronted with this:

2:00P California Zephyr to Emeryville: CANCELED. * NO ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION, SEE AGENT *

The moment I knew Burning Man was not-to-be this year.

My jaw dropped and my heart sank as I read — as if a personal message to me about my whole trip — "Cancelled. No alternative transportation". That was when I really surrendered. Momentum allowed me to continue to the long line at the ticket counter as there was a possibility of leaving a day later — perhaps an engine had failed and needed to be moved. Alas the worst: the eastbound California Zephyr struck a piece of construction equipment and derailed, injuring 22 people. Service was not expected to resume for several days at the earliest.

I was to meet some friends for a ride on Sunday to arrive on Monday when Burning Man started, so although I might have been able to figure out how to wait 24 hours, several days was out of the question (service was still disrupted as I write this, so at the earliest, I'd have left Sunday, arrived in Reno on Wednesday, then have to beg for a ride). Not to mention I couldn't afford to stay at a Chicago hotel for that amount of time, and it would disrupt my whole experience significantly. Cost prevented me from getting a rental car as well, and flying was not an option because of the amount of stuff I had with me. The mandatory American experience of taking a bus across the country will have to wait [for another lifetime].

So I exchanged my existing tickets and bought one to return to Rochester at 9:30 p.m. I also ran into two burners in the station (which I deduced from their fire-enhanced hula-hoops and fur-covered bikes). I didn't get their names, but asked what they were going to do. They opted to take the train to Portland, San Fransisco, and east to Reno, arriving a day and a half later. I probably could have done that, but like I said, I was getting a lot of signs to quit. I gave them my Burning Man ticket, and hopefully they could get it to someone who could use it (it might even help them get a ride).

I got a little into Chicago but had to tote the cart of totes around so I didn't get far. I went to Beggar's Pizza (310 S. Clinton St., Chicago, IL) which was excellent. The Chicago style was so good that if it wasn't textbook-perfect, they should rewrite the textbook.

For the remainder of the evening I hung around the station. I met a woman who came from Indiana to go to her brother's childhood friend's funeral in Iowa but she had to turn back too. And on "commiseration corner" of the fountain we also met a guy who went to boot camp for the Navy only to be rejected on a medical discharge and had to absorb the bittersweet experience of watching his campmates graduate in full dress uniform.

And even on the way home, things got complicated: Amtrak stopped service at Albany because of Hurricane Irene. Thankfully this didn't affect me because I only needed to get as far east as Rochester. As things had gone, I fully expected them to suddenly stop service at Buffalo, though.

9:30P 48/448 Lake Shore Limited to New York/Boston, **DUE TO HURRICANE IRENE, TERMINATING IN ALBANDY, NY** NO ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION PROVIDED.

Thankfully I was only going to Rochester!

Obviously I'm really bummed. This was apparently the year of too-little, too-late. Earlier I had failed to get the Tadpole Trike finished on time. Then I hustled to get everything done to go by alternate means, but bigger and bigger roadblocks kept appearing. In both cases, I refer to a phenomenon I call "tractor-pull mode". In a modern tractor pull, a sled is used with weights over wheels that are slid forward causing the front to drag, so as Wikipedia puts it, "as the tractor travels the course, the weights are pushed forward of the sled's axles, pushing the front of the sled into the ground, synthetically creating a gain in weight until the tractor is no longer able to overcome the force of friction." Hence, the further I got, the more resistance I experienced.

At least I can look forward to the things I would have missed in Rochester. And I can look forward to FrostBurn and put some effort behind it. In any case, next year I will be much more committed. Or else I'll need to be committed.

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Evening Wear at Burning Man

As you all know, I quit working on the tricycle I was planning to ride to Burning Man this year. Doing that meant my time was more-or-less free in the last two weeks, so I thought I'd dig into another project I wanted to do for a while now. A friend of mine gave me a fake-fur purple coat that just barely fits (thank goodness I've lost a few pounds!) My original plan included a heart-shaped light around where my heart is that would flash to my heartbeat, and then animate light tubes outward from there to cover the whole coat. I since switched to colored LED's which were more readily available and more reliable. I didn't bother trying to get the heart monitor working either (at least not yet), so it's all done with variable timing to give the illusion.

So first it was getting a way to make 50 color LED's light up like I wanted, then to make them show different colors, and finally, to animate them into patterns. Without too many disasters along the way, I got it all working.

Here's a link to a YouTube video that demonstrates what it can do. See you all soon!

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Excuses, Excuses …

Wow: it's been quite a while — not since The Big Dig in July.

Anyway, the reason I've been away is this:

The Tadpole Trike, partially completed frame

What would have been the way to get to Burning Man this year ...

Sometime in early 2010, I hatched a plan to build a vehicle that I would transport to Winnemucca, Nevada then pedal 100 miles to Burning Man. I knew time was too short to make it for that year, so I slated it for 2011. Well, I spent hundreds of hours on design toward the beginning of the year, a dollar amount I'm afraid to calculate on custom-designed parts as well as off-the-shelf parts, and another hundreds-of-hours on building. By Sunday, August 7, I did not yet have a pedal-able vehicle, and I had 11 days before I would need to ship it, so I put it off for another year.

The more precise plan was to ship the trike to Winnemucca by UPS Ground. I have designed it so it folds up and can be shipped in a relatively small crate (which doubles as a trailer for extra gear). I would take the train to Winnemucca and it would hopefully be waiting at the hotel — probably Scott Shady Court Motel (400 1st St., Winnemucca, NV) which I stayed at and liked a lot before. Sunday, the day before Burning Man starts (on Monday), I'd get my water jugs filled, get packed up, and head for Jungo Road (a.k.a. Nevada SR 49). From there I'd pedal the 85 miles to 40° 46' 02.07" N, 119° 07' 12.26"W where there is a microwave antenna access road that crosses the railroad tracks. I would hope to pass the active mine at Sulphur before nightfall as there's a bit of traffic supporting it (not so much on Sunday, but on the way back). I'd take a right and cross the tracks then head due west across the Black Rock Desert, north of the Burning Man event, until I reach the barely-marked West Playa Highway which I'd take south to the main gate. After the event, I'd just reverse the trip. I estimate about 100 miles each way which could take anywhere from 10 to 24 hours depending on how fast I could go — and since I haven't tested anything yet, I really have no idea what is practical.

The vehicle itself is called a "tadpole trike" because it has three wheels and kind of looks like a tadpole with 2 wheels in front for steering and one rear wheel for propulsion. The picture shows the frame as far as I had completed it, and nearest the photographer is the mount for the pedals. I used parts from the 1994 Honda Civic I had taken off the road 2 years ago, parts from go-kart companies, bicycle parts, lots of scrap metal (mostly from bed frames), and the final drive is to use motorcycle chain for extra strength. I estimate that including the tires, it will weigh in slightly less than 200 pounds, so it's definitely not meant to win any hill-climbs.

But I did design it with a broad gearing range: a 2-speed custom shifter doubles the range of a continuous-variable Fallbrook NuVinci 360 internal hub shifter from a stump-pulling 0.2-to-1 to a mountain-bike-high-gear 3.5-to-1. In terms of gear-inches (which, if you imagine a pennyfarthing big-front-wheel bike, it's the effective diameter of that wheel) it has a range of 5.2 gear-inches to 18.2 gear-inches in low and 22.9 to 80.0 gear-inches in high. So with a pedaling speed range of 15 rpm to 150 rpm, that translates, overall, to 0.23 mph to 35 mph. And assuming I can put a maximum of 300 pounds of force on the pedal at a standstill, the lowest gearing will yield a massive 800 pounds of forward-force at the drive wheel.

I figure my goal is to just attempt it.  If I have to stop and go back, or haul the beast back broken, then so be it.  The road itself is generally pretty obvious, but I do have USGS topographic maps of the whole area along with a compass and a GPS for good measure.  I set up JayceLand to be able to accept picture-message posts like I did for the Big Dig … Verizon's map shows the last point of "coverage" to be around 40° 53' 21.534" N, 118° 26' 15.342" W which is little more than halfway, and not quite to Sulphur.

But alas, the whole idea seems to be quite distant now. Funny how a week ago I was picturing it actually happening, and now I don't even know if I'll try it in 2012 — or ever for that matter. I think I will desire it again in the future. After all, part of the beauty of it is that I can potentially be someplace where it's more than 20 miles to the nearest person. The whole trike and its testing is a separately interesting matter, but I can get that accomplished with some camping trips around here, or even just using it as a main vehicle.

We shall see!

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Being an Injured Superhero at the MuCCC

I read about the Injured Superhero Show at The Multi-Use Community Cultural Center (MuCCC) (142 Atlantic Ave.) and decided I to go. I have a green coat with light-up question-marks on it and I figured I could make something up if need be. (I bought the coat at a thrift store a few years back: it's a woman's raincoat that fits me perfectly and it is completely day-glo green. Naturally I couldn't resist. I added the question mark motif for Burning Man a few years ago and have used it at night there for a while. It's also been a Halloween costume, and now a superhero outfit.)

I had no idea how it was going to work, but I suspected something between an audience of passive superheroes to interactive improvisation. All I knew for sure was what the website said: "Injured Superheroes will be cast the night of the show. If you are interested in auditioning, please come in costume to [the MuCCC Theater] at 7 PM. Those injured superheroes auditioning will be admitted for free." I probably should have planned ahead more, but I arrived pretty much right at 7. I guess most people got a little instruction … maybe just for the actual theater actors. Anyhow, the way it worked was the "Baron of Bureaucracy" was interviewing injured superheroes to determine whether they should receive disability benefits, or if a new job was available. I decided I'd be the "Socratic Defender" and became disabled by being so sure of myself that I was unable to ask questions to find truth in the world.

I went up second (after Catwoman, now retired from crime, was distressed after devouring most of the village of NIMH.) I had hoped the Baron would devise a way to trick me into asking a question. In the end I accidentally did, so concluding my need for services. As the show progressed, the Baron started trying to solve people's problems.

In all, the show was a lot of fun — sort of a group-improv kind of thing that most people handled just fine. I talked with the crew afterward and I was one of a few (if not the only person) who came in "off the street." Five of us decided to go out afterward, in costume. We originally tried to find some "bar full of straights" to inflict ourselves upon, but couldn't think of something that would be attended by an unsuspecting crowd, and actually open on a Monday night. In the end we went to Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.) Although I'm sure people noticed, few seemed to care. I think we got more looks because it was Arts and Crafts night and they may have briefly thought we had made our costumes that night. Nonetheless, it was nice to get out and meet new people once again. Hopefully a new superhero-themed show is not far off and we'll get to do it again.

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The Next Revolution

I think I'm starting to see the boundaries of the next social revolution. Let me lay out a little context of recent references that I believe are related.

First, I talked last year about the "monkeysphere" idea.  The basic idea is that our primate brains can only accept about 150 people who we consider part of our clan, tribe, or village, and beyond that, all the other people are equivalent to "things" in the world.

Next is related to things I've seen in discussions about Burning Man and the idea of "community".  To me, the notion of "community" is like a lot of words: they are there to provide a spectrum upon which to measure.  So when one says, "the community", that is a reference to a specific group of people with traits that tie them together.  The thing that is important is that being "in the community" means you have the traits of the community — it does not mean that you must adapt your behavior because of your physical location.  In other words, actions cause description; description does not cause action.

Related to that, I recently found a new term: POSIWID.  According to Wikipedia at least, Stafford Beer coined the term as an acronym for "[the] purpose of [a] system is what it does".  The underlying principle is that the intended function of a system is irrelevant: its purpose (or function) is solely defined by what it does.  If, for instance, you set out to create a community of people who share art and resources, you might end up with a big party in the desert: the purpose of that system is a big party in the desert, no matter what your intentions were.

I have observed (especially in the last 10 years) that people I encounter are much more polarized by political party or political views than ever before.  It is probably most attributable to whom I hang out with, but I also believe there is a trend.  What I mean, specifically, is that I was finding prejudice in myself concerning politics: that I would judge someone favorably or unfavorably solely based on their political party affiliation.  I thought this was interesting to observe, and generally not good.

I also see the strong opinions of people concerning socialized health care. Although there many facets to it, the one I find most interesting is the debate on whether an arbitrary stranger should be cared for.  I'm neglecting any specifics because you can create straw men to support either side (i.e. abusers of a taxpayer-funded system versus a hard worker who circumstantially loses access to care).  The question is: will you help someone you don't know anything about?

So finally, what's this next revolution?: it's how we treat strangers.

I see people lining up along a spectrum.  On one side are people who are only willing to help those people they know personally (i.e. who are within their "monkeysphere") at the expense of the well-being of people they don't.  On the other are people who willing to support everyone equally, even if that means they may not have resources to help people they know personally.

I think it is more noble to lean toward helping everyone, and a testament to the superiority of humankind.  However, I also know that such civility is frail: a small percentage of people working to their own advantage can poison the whole system.  All societies have blind-spots and points of leverage for the advantage-seeker, but civility is maintained by the unspoken agreement among people that they not take advantage at those points.  And in America, there are socially-acceptable points to find advantage: that permission is specifically what allows capitalism to work.

Anyway, I find myself playing both sides of the fence for the time-being.  I have a network of friends who I help freely (with my time, skills, money, and resources) and who will do likewise for me.  I also strive for a better solution that is more inclusive because I feel better when my behavior also helps other people.

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Rochester to Glenwood Springs

So I headed out on Wednesday night, stopping at Paola's Burrito Place (1921 South Ave., formerly Big Dog's Hots) with Ali before saying our goodbyes. I drove until I got tired around Cleveland, then got up on Thursday and made it just inside Kansas. Of course, things took a downturn when the air conditioning in the Roadmaster gradually stopped working with a warning signal on the heating controls. At least I made it through the worst of it.

On the way through otherwise-dreadful Kansas, I saw a billboard for a GM dealership in Hays, about halfway across Kansas. Crap. I guess they do work. Anyway, I went to James Motor Works, Co. (108 E. 13th St., Hays, KS). I talked with Dan and they got me right in to check out the A.C. It turned out there is a leak (which I knew, having added more coolant before I left) and the ventilation system computer shuts things down when the compressor cycles too much. I got it recharged there — they were really nice and it was "only" $100 or so. Afterward I got a recommendation for lunch, and I went to Gella's Diner and Lb. Brewing Company (117 E. 11th St., Hays, KS) right around the corner. I had a really good Oatmeal Stout and a great Patty Melt: a "beef patty topped with mushrooms, schmeltz (caramelized onions) and provolone cheese on buttered marbled rye toast". Mmm. I met this guy who happened to be from Colorado and we chatted a bit before I got back on the road.

I made it to Colorado around 2:30 p.m. and managed to snap a self-portrait along the way:

Self-portrait (sort-of)

See the wagon? To be honest, it's larger than it appears.

Unfortunately, my timing was such that I got to Denver at almost exactly 5:00 p.m. Yeesh. It wasn't too bad, but getting up the mountain took a while. I made it to Sondra and Will's around 8 and got settled in. We'll be leaving on Sunday morning in a little convoy for Burning Man. Hopefully in air-conditioned comfort.

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Disassembling the Bike With 2 Brains for the last time

I haven't mentioned it in a while, but today I cut up The Bike With 2 Brains so I could make it into something else. It was kind of sad — I even said goodbye before I put saw-to-frame. But then again, now it's all new: now it can become other things and I can finally put that chapter to rest.

Sometime in the past year or so, I realized what has been wrong with it. It's like it's been sick or something. When I brought it to Burning Man in 2005, it went out and had a life of its own: I brought it to the desert and let people take it away and do whatever they wanted. I designed the project that way and it went well. But ever other time I've brought it out, it's just a thing: a toy to play around with. As such, it's never been as good as that first time out.

Now I could redo the experiment, but it was hard on me. I had to search for it so I could recover it at the end of the event in 2005 and it was a difficult, stressful, and frustrating experience. I could do things to make it easier to finish that aspect of it, but why? All I would be doing is to try and revisit that first experience.

So now it's gone: really in pieces. It'll become some new things this year and I'm excited to get started on those things. Now I can.

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Casino Royale and Bad Day at Black Rock

So Ali and I spent half a day together watching movies. A friend of mine had recommended Casino Royale — mostly because of the free-running sequence in the beginning — but we just watched the film anyway. As James Bond movies go, I guess it's fine. Maybe I just ran out of interest in such fantastic stories and we were both annoyed at the predictable and annoying plot twists. I also didn't like the impossibly evil and impossibly genius villain — obviously a staple of Bond films, but comically absurd to me now.

The other film I picked up at The Rochester Public Library (115 South Ave.) on VHS (although they had it on DVD as well from Webster, I think). It was Bad Day at Black Rock and I discovered it looking for movies made near Burning Man in Nevada — particularly Gerlach, the Black Rock Desert, and the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation — that were otherwise not about Burning Man.

The movie is really quite good: a sort of socially-conscious noir-western set shortly after World War II. A stranger appears in the tiny town of Black Rock looking for a man named Komoko. The town descends from being unwelcoming to downright hostile toward him as they try to collectively hide the secret they failed to forget from 4 years prior.

In most of the establishing shots I was trying to figure out where they were in that part of Nevada, considering seriously where 447 crosses the railroad tracks at Gerlach. I thought I'd do more research and stumbled upon the WikiPedia article [which outlines the whole plot in detail, FYI] but it made no mention of filming anywhere in Nevada — citing only California — and sets the film in the fictional town of Black Rock, Arizona.

Returning to the Internet Movie Database's page, I found that the shooting locations no longer mentioned "Black Rock, NV". Returning to the location browser, I checked the nearby Nevada locales and noted the film's sudden absence from the lists. So I think I ended up accidentally watching the movie for the wrong reasons, but in the end, it was a really good film.

Incidentally, there is a town of Black Rock: in both Arizona, and Nevada. There's even one in New York. None of them look like they're "towns", though — more like "places" … possibly with black rocks. My old DeLorme map software reports (with map data from 1996) three in Arizona along with one in Nevada — none of which are near the ones found by Google. The one in New York agrees pretty much right on the spot.

None of them are even close to The Black Rock Desert, Nevada.

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