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Burning Man 2016 [Sep. 9th, 2016|10:17 am]
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My second year at Burning Man was better and worse than my first. Most of the notable details of the experience were different, although the large scale view of camping in the desert for a week or two with 70k people partying remains the same. Overall, my view of Burning Man remains similar to before I went, and after my first year. It's a lot of fun, and worth the effort and cost if both are lower than average. I'll probably keep going as long as I'm on the west coast. From the east coast, I'd probably go back to spending the same money and effort and work vacation days on 3-5 regional burns instead.


My crossword puzzle installation was a success. I took the two widest puzzles Frank Longo has published and wrapped them around a white wooden triangular monolith in a helix pattern, so people could walk around it to follow the puzzles from beginning to end, about 46 linear feet of puzzle. About half the time that I checked in on it, at least one person was working on it, sometimes half a dozen at once, usually on whichever side of the puzzle was providing shade at the time. A few crossword enthusiasts thanked me for bringing it, a few folks seemed to have been nerdsniped, and everyone appeared to be having fun working on it. I haven't counted yet, but I think about 1/4 of the clues were solved. I took pictures in enough detail to reproduce the answers next year, so the solution can continue across multiple burns. Next year, I'll add enough lighting so that it can be worked on at night, rather than just lighting for safety.

The bus proved an adequate living space. I shaded the morning side effectively with tarps bungeed to the roof and the ground; half the labor and all of the materials used there will stick with the bus for re-use. A 5000BTU A/C made 1/3 of the interior chilly and the rest bearable until early afternoon, and kept 1/3 bearable through the heat of the unshaded sun for the rest of the day. Next year I'll shade both sides the same way, or just park east-west so only one large side faces the sun all day. I didn't use the roof deck at all during the event,I maintained two sleeping spaces, one for dusty naps and one for post-shower sleeping, managing to keep the pillow and bedding almost entirely playa-dust-free in the latter. Letting passengers move in and out while unloading led to more dust inside than I'd hoped, but less than I feared. That's an easy problem to solve next year. I also learned a lot about dust accumulation during the gate and unpacking processes, and came up with strategies to mitigate that in the future. Next year I'll bring more smaller airtight containers, rather than a few large containers. I expect to be comfortable with 2-4 people camping in the bus next year. I am so very glad that I covered most of the interior with rugs/carpet; removing them takes the majority of the dust away with them, and the rest of the cleaning is likely to involve a pressure washer.

I camped with Sextant camp, surrounded by other engineering-minded folks, in a mostly functional cooperative camping environment with a lot of great infrastructure including a zipline (which I rode, despite still being terrified of heights) and a pair of large tesla coils. I worked a few breakfast meal shifts with some campmates, feeding a few dozen folks at a time. If I camp with them again, this year laid excellent groundwork for being more involved next year. My primary motivation next year will be to organize some social interactive activities in our camp's public dome space, which is otherwise just a shade structure and the bottom layer of our tower (supporting the bar and zipline).

I got to tie up a couple of dozen people, mostly decoratively, and made some good impressions while doing so. I did a bit of electric play demo as well, including towards some kink educators, most of whom had never seen my style of TENS play and immediately said they would be buying the hardware once I told them how little it cost.

I taught a beginner rope bondage class, which seemed to be received somewhat well. I wasn't in my best form, and was trying a few new approaches to such a class, but overall it turned out ok. I also did a suspension demo at the end, which got some praise from the demo bottom and some observers. Next year I plan to repeat this, hopefully in my own camp.

A handful of people from eplaya (the official Burning Man forums) and r/burningman (the community on Reddit) recognized my face and/or name. Some of them introduced themselves, and seemed pleasant to interact with.

I spent more time in distant parts of the city and deep playa than last year. I think I biked along at least half of the city's roads, including the entirety of Esplanade, A, B, C. I still missed most of inner and deep playa, and a lot of the camps in the outer and low-numbered areas of the city. Next year I hope to tour more of the city and the playa art, hopefully with one or more friends.

My single favorite installation was large and simple. Someone built a 200ft long quonset/monkey hut through their camp, from B to C somewhere near 8:30. The interior was a series of themed sections (jungle, underground, ice, space), and you could walk or bike through it. The best part was that during daytime bike rides it provided an entire block of shade :)

I saw a few large projects that gave me inspiration for my own future endeavors, including a roller coaster, some flame effects, some climbable structures, and some interesting things involving light and mirrors. I'm going to put some thought into larger projects for 2017, both for Burning Man and for other events (and for just putting on top of the bus), inspired by some of those. If I can hook up with some large-project-seeking folks in the decompression season, I might even consider something bigger than a one-person project.

Wandering the exodus line between pulses with a spray bottle of diluted vinegar was well received. I spent a few hours doing people's hands and feet, and a couple of hours near dusk cleaning the headlights of all the cars. I got so much food put directly into my mouth as thanks. 7 hours for exodus seems to have been near the median, so I'll consider it good that we didn't spend 10 hours or more in line.

Having a bunch of people in the bus made the gate and exodus lines a lot more fun, providing conversation and distraction. Passengers also alleviated the financial burden of the trip significantly. We even got to pick up a few hitchhikers on the gate road, headed for Reno and SF. My request that the hitchhikers pay whatever they felt was reasonable got me a lot higher amounts than what I had asked my paying passengers for; I guess I can/should ask for more money next year if I do this again? (this year I asked for $75 for fuel/etc for the round trip, plus $25 for roof cargo like bikes and yurts).


I went in flying solo this year, relationship-wise, and struck out in my quest for physical intimacy of any degree. Last year I was attending with a girlfriend, and another play partner in a nearby camp. This year, no [attending] girlfriend, and the other person is now in a monogamous relationship. There was one girl who seemed interested in playing, but something went wonky shortly into our playa adventures and she ran off. There was also a campmate who mistook my interest in napping together as requesting kinky/sexual play, and I was afraid to appear pressuring if I attempted to clarify. I think for next year I'll endeavor to be sharing a bed by default, to at least fill the cuddling niche.

My custom printed shirts, "Ask me to tie you up" with clip art of a square knot, were barely effective. A simple nametag or button has been more effective in the past. If I try the shirts again, they will have smaller text and larger more explicit artwork, possibly arms or bodies that have been tied.

I witnessed a few egregious failures of structural safety precautions, fortunately leading to no actual structural failures or injuries. I'll be following up post-burn with the people responsible.

My crossword puzzle installation lost a couple of pages of paper to a storm. I spent a few hours searching for them, mostly biking slowly along the trash fence downwind of the site, to no avail. So, hours wasted and MOOP unrecovered :(

Some of the people who recognized me from online declined to introduce themselves, or wouldn't answer when asked, and seemed standoffish.

Sextant Camp was part of Dustfish Village, and the village didn't work nearly so well as the camp. Village amenities like power and showers weren't reliably available. Village porta-potties were seriously abused, including by non-village members once the locks disappeared, or the combinations became widely known. Village arrangement/coordination failed in a few ways, particularly for me, putting me two whole camps away from my ostensible campmates and our infrastructure. I ended up walking through the bright spotlights of SK8 CAMP with an audience wearing nothing but my towel more than a few times.

The BRC post office(s?) were apparently rejecting incoming mail for some of the week, and it was published post-event that this was a new policy this year. I wasted a not insignificant amount of postage and 4-6 hours of on-playa effort trying to retrieve some packages that I now know were never going to make it to me. I wish the volunteers on duty on Monday or Tuesday had known about this so they could wave me off, rather than telling me to check back the next days and eating up time on Tue-Sat. In retrospect, I could have saved myself some time if I'd arranged to have internet access so I could track them; I'd have known they were turned around at Gerlach on Thursday.

Most of the passengers on my bus were not particularly competent. I lament their lack of specific skills like luggage tetris, load securing, or bus driving, but that's not the crux of the issue. They mostly proved incapable of even following directions ("move X, then Y, then Z off the roof", "wake up now and get your shoes on or luggage sorted, 5-10 minutes before we stop", etc) or making reasonable decisions on their own (like not leaving sheets of material unsecured in the wind mid-unload, or not realizing the implications of asking me to pick them up at random places in SF). Some of them also exhibited some sparkle-pony syndrome, acting very offended when dropped off half a block from their camp and forced to move their gear any distance on their own. I sometimes forget what it is like to deal with average people, given how much effort (and explicit non-effort) I put into surrounding myself with intelligent, competent, capable people. This was a stark reminder about that failure mode. I am not going to entirely exclude strangers from bus trips, but I will endeavor to ensure that some fraction of the people involved in future trips are people that I know and can rely on.

Due to my not realizing that I needed to ask, I ended up with a few passengers who needed to pick up will-call tickets. Getting the tickets took minutes. Getting out of the will-call parking lot took hours, mostly due to organizational failures among the parking volunteers there. At one point there was a straight hour+ delay for the whole lot for a shift change (while the main gate line kept moving at its usual pace). Later there was another hour lost for just an unlucky few rows of cars, including ours, because the volunteers filling and emptying the lines of cars were mis-prioritizing the lines due to a communication or planning failure. Approaching the volunteers to ask them to fix the problem resulted in a bunch of "that's not my area/problem" responses, much to our annoyance. In the end, I let my inner aggressive driver take over, drove around the cones, blocked two lanes with the bus and let a few vehicles out of the other unfairly stuck rows before I continued out myself. As we left the lot, we picked up our last inbound passenger, who had decided to abandon her friend stuck in a car in the lot; a strategy anyone in my bus except me could have utilized if we'd been willing to ignore the volunteers' instructions about staying together. Next year, I'm not going through will-call, will inform passengers of this ahead of time, and will gladly let them out in the gate line to make their own way if they get that far without telling me.