Burning Man Tips for the First Timers

There is no substitute to reading official Survival Guide but it does leaves out many things. So instead of writing my detailed trip report I thought about all the mistakes I’d made and converting them to tips. Here it goes…

  1. Sun shelter (things that look like REI Alcove) is absolutely essential if you just have a camping tent. I would however not recommend REI Alcove itself because it broke after withstanding 3 days of sandstorms. Obviously you also need nice camping chair to go with it.
  2. Regular tent stacks are not very useful to secure tents on playa. I didn’t believed that and my tent almost came out in sandstorms. The correct way to secure tent in playa is using something called “rebars”. You need 4 rebars for a regular camping tent, each 3” long and 1/2” wide. You need another 4 or 6 for sun shelter. Stores like Home Depot would cut the metal rod for you in these sizes. Of course, you will need big hammer as well to stack them (they don’t have pointy end). Finally, it’s a hazard to leave other end of these rusty metal rods open so you must stick a tennis ball or empty bottles on end of the rod that is sticking out.
  3. Sandstorms! In 2009 there were 3 full days of sandstorms. If you never seen one then here’s how it works: About 20-60 foot tall wall of sand that comes at you at anywhere between 10 miles to 40 miles an hour. The visibility typically drops to 5ft to 50ft and you see brownish sand everywhere around you. This can last for up to 8 hours straight. It actually looks cool and as a matter of fact I intentionally spent lots of time inside sandstorm taking photos (note: Many SLRs are not dust proof). Even on severe storm days almost everyone continued their activities as if it was normal weather. But they were prepared. Here’s what you need to be prepared:

    • You have to have sun glasses with minimum open space around lenses. I had Tifosi Ventoux and they worked kind of OK. A retainer is also essential not to loose them (remember there are no shops to buy extra pair).
    • Mask for the nose and mouth. I used Buff bandana so I can pull it up all the way to sunglasses. Next time I would also be using this, this or this mask so I can be absolutely worry free about staying longer out in dust storms.
    • Hat with cord and visor. This will allow you to walk heads down while visor protects your face. I used this hat and it’s absolutely the best hat I’ve ever owned. Added advantage of this hat is that it’s veil can be put in the direction of wind.
  4. As a first timer I found that 4 nights provides a very good breadth and depth for the experience. The reason it’s perfect is because you have to carry less food and water, not worry too much about getting shower and you still get to see nearly everything that’s out there. I would strongly recommend against staying less than 3 nights.
  5. Make a stop at Reno at least for a night before heading towards Black Rock City. Besides mini-Las Vegas style environment, you can also visit REI, Walmart and Walgreens to get the gear, water, grocery and so on. Pepermill Resort is where I stayed overnight because it’s cheapest awesome hotel in Reno.
  6. A compass is very useful to have to get on the right street when coming back in the night far away from playa.
  7. If you have 3-season camping tent you are probably in trouble. These tents usually have mesh in the walls for ventilation and they have rain fly to protect against rain. This arrangement however is pretty useless to protect against sandstorms. On a typical stormy day I would get about half inch layer of sand inside my 3 season tent and I had to spend an hour every night cleaning things up. Make sure you have duct tapes and things to cover up. Everything outside tent should be tied to rebars so it doesn’t fly away with storms.
  8. Weather at burning man is 110F+. It’s normally not possible to sleep inside the tent after 10 AM. It’s not unusual to stay up until 3 AM. Nights are cold and you will need a fleece jacket. I’d 30 degree rated bag which was bit warmer but worked fine. BTW, try to bring sleeping bag liner to avoid it getting sweaty.
  9. As a first timer it might be hard to understand culture of gifts. For example, someone I don’t know at all would give me something and I would be confused if I should really take it. This can spoil the experience for the giver and the taker. Here’s how it works: If someone gives you a gift, take it with a smile without hesitation and give them a gift in return. It’s that simple. The only thing to remember is to bring bunch of gifts that you can easily carry around. Here are some of the examples of gifts: Custom stickers with your favorite quotes, necklaces, bead jewelry, things that glows, Trillion Dollars Notes, candies, custom printed postcards and so on. A single major mistake first timers make is not to bring gifts to give away.
  10. Bicycles would be your savior. If you can’t bring from home then rent or steal from Reno. BRC is really huge and you would be lucky if you could walk just one street a day. Most events that I was interested usually were many miles apart and it’s impossible to make it on time without bicycle. Besides you really don’t want to get tired after walking 10 miles just to attend couple of events.
  11. As soon as you enter gate you will be handed a map and booklet of events. The map is easy to understand because of it’s semi-circle streets. Any location is specified by using hand of clock and name of the street. The 6 o’clock is the center while 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock are two ends of semi-circle. The street names are different every year depending on the theme.
  12. There is NO assigned camping sites at Burning Man (except for theme camps). Normally all except outer two streets are occupied within first couple of days. When I arrived on Wednesday evening I decided to keep as much distance from outer road as possible because that’s where all the cars keep passing by. But I did not wanted to be too inside because the view of vast playa on the outer street is awesome. I also wanted to stay in middle so distance to get on any side is minimized. Always consider if your neighbors have enough space around their tent to put picnic table or chairs or grills or another car. The best space I found on Wednesday night was at 7:15 and Kinship.
  13. If someone asks you “which camp are you in?” then that usually means “what is the name of your camp?”. You can consult with your neighbor to decide on some name for group camp and put on the sign. You can also tell the location such as 7:15 & Kinship like other first timers do.
  14. The iPhone & AT&T did worked with full 4 bars at Black Rock City in 2009. It’s really really a good choice to turn it off and resist temptation to tweet/facebook for your entire stay.
  15. Here’s one of the most disgusting part of my Burning Man experience: The place I choose to camp was up-winds in the path of potty patties. That means every time wind blew even a little it would smell really really bad. It was horrible. Fortunately I came to my tent only to sleep when smell was gone. It’s really worth to make sure you avoid such smelly spaces.
  16. Don’t wear jeans at Burning Man! Many places that do not allow jeans believe that they are too “casual” for them but at Burning Man you don’t want to wear jeans because they would be too “formal”! I wore my normal jeans on first night and felt so out of place and formal that it was embarrassing. If you must wear jeans then take your old jeans, paint them or tear them or whatever. Shorts are semi-casual options at Burning Man.
  17. The list of events at Burning Man is overwhelming. You do not have to go crazy to attend as many events as possible and it’s best to chose no more than 3 events per day to attend. It’s good idea to reserve one day just sit back at your tent and look at vast playa in mild warm wind :).
  18. Cooking at Burning Man can get tricky because of sandstorms. I’d bought my camping stove which didn’t work out in storms. Fortunately more prepared folks did cooking in their camps and gave away lots of free food. I’d also bought some non-perishable stuff like bananas, milk powder, Sahale snacks, bars, chips and so on. One last option for food is to go back to town via bus or car but that might ruin your experience. Fortunately I did not had that option because I didn’t had car and I never found the bus. One good outcome was that I lost few pounds! Next time I might just buy or rent a grill because it work better in dust storms.
  19. I estimated 1.5 gallon of water per day per person and it worked out well for me.
  20. You can meet and greet your neighbors without feeling awkward. When you cook meal, offer some to them. Always have at least two gifts to give away to your two neighbors while departing. Example of gifts are some sketch you made while at Burning Man or other art work or a poem or your favorite book or some photo you took.
  21. Yes, you do need kitchen sink! You will need it to brush teeth, wash hands etc. It’s not OK to spill water with soap on playa floor but if your sink is small and soap biodegradable then you would be ok to collect water in it and then go to outer street to flung it away
  22. Most people do not shower at Burning Man (or so I think). There are few elaborate large camps that set up showers and some even offer them to others as well. But in general, don’t expect showers. Alternative is wet towel to wipe off of your body.
  23. Many camps on inner circle serves free drinks to anyone who wants but you need to bring your own cup. It helps a lot if you have a cup with lid.
  24. There is a place everybody refers to as “The Temple”. It’s located beyond The Man and many first timers would even miss it because they usually don’t go beyond The Man (it’s a LONG walk too). The Temple is truly sacred in many aspects without being connected to even the concept of religion. It’s humbling and even moving to spend a day at the temple. The Temple burns on next day after The Man burns and more spectacularly.
  25. Burning Man usually has 35,000+ people which causes 2 to 4 hours of traffic jams while leaving. While it’s fun to see the parade of every RV ever made, the time with least traffic to leave Burning Man is on Saturday night after The Man burns. But the flip side is that you will miss even more spectacular burn of The Temple which is on Sunday night. Another flip side of leaving on Saturday night is that you run huge risk of falling sleep while driving. When I left on Saturday night I saw at least 3 accidents on the way and so I decided to just pull over and sleep anyway. For my next time, I would be leaving on Monday late afternoon.

Finally here are pictures from my trip which hopefully would give some idea about what to expect.

Integrating RSS And Calendar Essay Available Now

The idea of wrapping calendar information in to the RSS feed may sound very appealing. Almost every website owned by some kind of group or organization has their event calendar. The thought that you can aggregate them in to your "Calendar Aggregator" is just so geekily cool. What if people started putting up their weekend plans through some kind of RSS-Calendar and you can subscribe to them in your calendar program! I dig through dozens of W3C and other specs and half a dozen of implementation to find out what has been done so far and why it hasn't happened yet. The result of my findings and possible solution are summarized in my essay in some reader friendly writing.

Coolest New York Shows In Run

These are the some of the select broadway/off-broadway shows currently running in New York. Many of them ends soon. If you live in area, do check them out!

GoogleWhack - This small production comedy had been consistently sold out in UK and Australia. Even if it hadn't been, its pretty geeky enough for not to check it out :). We will be going to this show tonight! Ends December.

Forever Tango - Looks extremely cool. Seven couple who tango in their own styles from Argentine. Ends Nov 28.

Cookin' - A terrific show. Korean crew creates awesome beats and music from mere kitchen appliances besides other jaw dropping stuff in the show. Absolutely recommended.

Blue Man Show - If you want to see just one off-Broadway show in New York, this would be it. We went to this one last December and its an awesomely creative show which you might enjoy every moment of it (and it doesn't have intermission). Its difficult to describe what this show is about but one can escape describing it by calling higher form of modern art, just like its music. The show that's being currently running has new "material" though.

Slava's Snow Show - While except for closing sequence it wasn't ultra cool, it sure was different. One might think its kids show but when we went to see it, we hardly observed more than couple of kids in audience (and show was sold out).

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - This is the most impressive, most awesome and the coolest live concert I've ever been too. To miss them in live concert would be practically a sin. With hundreds of colorful spotlights, and another few hundreds of freaking lasers, and some cool fireworks right on the stage and a band of more than 20 musicians and singers and with very diversified styles, they simply doesn't have a match.

Steven Wright Comedy Show - For a long time I considered Steve Wright as the most gifted comedian I'd known. His ability to make up original random unrelated witty one-liners which he can keep throwing at you one after another for the entire length of show is amazing. He hasn't doing many shows since last few years but finally New York Comedy Festival provides a chance to hear him live!

Also as a side tip, many (but not all) broadway show tickets you can buy at heavily discounted prices by entering secret codes. Sources to check out for this are TheaterMania.com, BroadwayBox.com, entertainment-link.com and NY Times TicketWatch.

Hackers Conference @ NYC Starts

The Fifth HOPE conference featuring talks, workshops, movies and other events from several well known hackers including Steve Wozniak, Cult of Dead Cow, John Draper and so on is already started at NYC today (July 9, 2004). I'd read lot about many of these people dedicated to pure hacking in early years in the book Hackers and now its a chance to actually hear them! The conference has 70+ talks which itself is pretty long list even to browse through. Here are my picks from the list:

  • Bypassing Corporate Restrictions from the Inside -Saturday 2000
  • The Fifth HOPE Closing Ceremonies - Sunday 1900
  • Hack Nano - Friday 2000
  • Hacking CDMA PRLs - Sunday 1300
  • Hacking More of the Invisible World - Friday 1200
  • Hacking the Grid - Saturday 1500
  • An Introduction to Dissembler - Saturday 1330
  • Lockpicking - Saturday 1100
  • Phreaking In The Early Days - Saturday 1000
  • Pirate Radio: Running a Station and Staying on the Air - Friday 2300
  • Saturday Keynote: Steve Wozniak - Saturday 1300
  • Social Engineering - Sunday 1600
  • Urban Exploring: Hacking the Physical World - Sunday 1300
  • Wireless and WiFi: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Friday 1300

Venus Transit Tomorrow

This one is not a spectacular but its interesting because it's rare and because of history. Specifically, in old times (pre 1900s), people used this rare event to measure distance between Earth and Sun. Infect astronomers didn't knew this distance from a long time, so they invented so-called "1 Astronomical Unit (AU)" when they want to refer to this distance. In old times, everything was measured relative to AU, for example Venus is 0.7AU away from Sun. Venus Transit helped to resole this. Plus it also helped to figure out Sun's diameter. Now just out of curiosity, I thought, how would Venus transit could help in determining Sun-Earth distance and Sun's diameter? Answer is simple enough: Have two people watched it from different latitudes on Earth, make a triangle, use simple trigonometry and you get the distance! Nasa has put up a detailed explanation of little math in involved in this clever technique. Then This is, of course, still less accurate then modern ways of radars and satellites. Venus orbits around Sun in just 0.6 years. Then one would think why transits are so rare? Well, answer is, Venus's orbit isn't in the same plane as Earth, so it's pretty rare for Sun-Venus-Earth to get in one straight line, usually every little over hundres years or so. Apart from that, this transit won't visually appeal to most but if you had those special safe glasses to view sun eclipse, you might have a look between 11:05AM to 11:25AM on US East Coast on June 8, 2004. More info at Exploratorium and astronomy.no.

Chinese New Year Festivities

While my wife would be celebrating Chinese New Year on more native land of Hong Kong, there would be quite a few events happening in NEw York city. The big parade is on Sunday 25th in Chinatown with dragons and lions, all red and gold, along with other events. Chinatown-Online gives nice little info on traditions of Chinese New Year and other festivities dates.

The major deal of New Year is, of course, lavish food festivities. There is a suprisingly large number of restaurants in NYC which will be offering special New Year meals, but here are some select few places to get the Year of the Monkey off to a good start (Chanoodle is the most recommended):

  • Chanoodle - (212) 349-1495 - 79 Mulberry Street (Canal Street), Chinatown
  • Congee - (212) 965-5028 - 98 Bowery (Near Hester Street)
  • Dim Sum Go Go - (212) 732-0797 - 5 East Broadway (Chatham Square)
  • Funky Broome - (212) 941-8628 - 176 Mott Street (Broome Street)
  • Joe's Ginger - 212) 966-6613 - 113 Mott Street (Near Hester Street)
  • Ping's Seafood - (212) 602-9988 - 22 Mott Street (Near Mosco Street)
  • Sunrise 27 - 212) 219-8498 - 27 Division Street (Near Market Street)

(Courtesy: NYTimes) However my personal choice would be the Rainbow platter at Penang, the Malaysian restaurant on Rt. 10. Have a good new year! Sing Dan Fai Lok!

Venus with Crescent Moon

If you live on East Coast and if you looked in to West in last few hours you might have seen a real bright blob of light. It's so bright and has "burning aura" (literally looks like flames) around it that I thought it will soon fall down as huge shooting star. So I just fired up my copy of TheSky software to see what's going on and came out with some neat surprise. Well, this is Venus and for next month or so it's gonna be visible long after sunsets and would stay pretty well above horizon (which is not very usual for Venus). With it's current magnitude of -4.0 that's way way too bright for normal night sky standards and it's gonna be even more brighter. If you trace path of Venus, it seems Venus and Moon both comes really really close (almost touching) on 23nd Feb, 2004 at around 17:34 which also happens to be Sunset time! And the beauty of the whole scene during this Sunset is that it would be really nice crescent moon. So watch out and put this date and time on your calendar!

Leonid Meteor Shower This Tuesday

This event is slowing down every year and so for some people it would be a reason not to care and for others it would be a reason to care even more, because next year it will be more slower :). But it's still nice to see shooting stars with some predictability. This year, the peak time on East coast would be on 19th November between 12:00 to 2:30AM which is little earlier then past years. But again my wishes have already came true this year so don't have lots of wishes to make :). Nasa has really cool graphical estimator for pick intensity for most cities in the world. For times on West coast and more details, check out this press release. Just don't expect something like that image of meteor shower on this site!

Barenaked Ladies Live!

Barenaked Ladies will be performing live at New York on 22nd Oct. These guys concerts (there's no female members in the band - for the unawares) are among the most fun live events, so don't delay in getting tickets! Even more, these are the few of rare artists who prefer to perform live and then put the song in a album rather then other way around. I didn't thought they would be doing any tours. Pinch me if I'm still asleep 🙂

Evanescence @ Webster Hall, NYC

Evanescence will be performing live at Webster Hall on 16th Sep in New York City as part of their tour. This is little unusual because even the Webster Hall is kind of the top dance club in the City, I never heard any concerts happening there. But probably thats what makes this cool. Check for tickets and other tour locations. But beaware, tickets are being distributed by the worst ticketing site in the world.