“…but when I first started, they walked up to it with a torch. They didn’t do all this shit.”

The general consensus in the Burner community right now is that the “lottery” ticketing scheme was a hope-crushing train wreck of epic proportions, and there has been no shortage of words spewed about it over the last few days. The system was supposedly intended to minimize scalping, but if anything it encouraged it. With as many as 70% of the tickets sold now in the hands of scalpers (or at least in the hands of those who stand to do far better financially by scalping them than by selling them back through STEP), it raises some questions about the “true” market value of Burning Man tickets.

Some have suggested, now that Burning Man tickets are a commodity (sorta), that scalpers like any speculators just help ferret out the equilibrium price. Could BMORG sell out the event at $1000+ per ticket? Maybe. Probably, at least once. The problem is that Burning Man is not like a Cirque show, Broadway play, or Don Henley concert, where the experience being sold is the same no matter who shows up.

Now is the hundred thousand dollar choreographed pyrotechnic extravaganza that burn night has become cool? Of course, but it’s also completely unnecessary, and is not why we go through all the trouble of camping in a remote desert for a week. They do fireworks in Long Beach, for fuck’s sake. The Burning Man experience is created by the participants; BMORG is there to facilitate its creation, but they have fairly little to do with it. If tickets were to sell for three or four times what they officially sell for now, it would force the demographics even further in the direction of rich middle-aged white yuppies (incidentally the same people who pay to see Cirque shows, Broadway Plays, and Don Henley concerts) and I have my doubts as to what kind of free-spirited, self-reliant, and radically creative culture would materialize among such a crowd.

This is why Burning Man tickets are not really a commodity. A gallon of gasoline will burn the same way whether it costs 99 cents or 99 dollars, but at a certain point the quality of the Burning Man experience starts to decline as ticket prices increase. Eventually what will be left is a contrived spectacle for the wealthy with as much soul and genuineness as a coked-up Universal Studios theme park.

Admittedly, Burning Man costs a lot of money to run. Nine miles of trash fence, thousands of porta-potties, and month long cleanup efforts don’t pay for themselves. But preserving the “radical inclusiveness” that fosters the renegade, youthful, and artistic culture of the event requires that ticket prices be kept significantly lower than the demand that an over-hyped vision of some DayGlo bohemian utopia in the desert apparently generates. Even if BMORG is still selling every ticket, at some point the event ceases to be Burning Man.

What happens when too many rich people hear about a place called paradise and try to make it their own? I think Don Henley wrote a song about that.

-Adam (Would-be second year burner)

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Resuming operations

The disposable L1 rocket project was shelved about 4 months ago, mostly due to summer wandering, and being too broke to prepare for Burning Man and pursue EX concurrently. But now that the Burn is over, and a steadier source of income has been secured, it’s back to business.

After glassing the fins to the motor mount, and adding several wraps to the body tube, the trick was going to be cutting the fin slots. I rigged up a DIY router table for all of 8 dollars, which consisted of a 3/4″ nut epoxied to a 1×6 board with a hole drilled in it. The nut fit the threads on my Dremel tool well enough to work. I spring-clipped a piece of Select Pine from Home Depot to the base to act as a guide. The cuts did not end up as straight as I would have liked, however, due to my guide clip being positioned on the end of the tube that was being cut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stupidity). With each new cut, the end of the tube collapsed a little more, allowing it to roll, so by the 4th cut the cumulative error had precluded the fins interfacing properly with the slots. I had to open up the 3rd and 4th slots up by hand to make them fit.

I managed to break the tip off of the nose cone while sanding it, again — JB Weld is not ideal for forming nose cone tips. What finally worked was mixing chopped fiberglass with 5 minute epoxy and forming it to the tip of the cone with rolled up printer paper. The result should be nothing less than lethal on a high speed ballistic trajectory.*

*Not a stated design goal.


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What goes in

I have decided to start an experimental diet. The defining general rule is that I shall not eat any meat that I shall have not myself hunted or caught or raised, and killed.

This will involve ceasing all consumption of farm-raised meat, and greatly reducing meat intake overall. There are several reasons that I have decided to give this a shot, and although I was tempted to simply respond to questions about it with a smug and concise Mary Poppins answer (which I still reserve the right to do in conversation), I decided to enumerate them here. In no particular order they are:

1) Health. If not a lack of credible doubt, there is at least an abundance of evidence suggesting that eating typical quantities of meat, especially industrial farm raised meat, is physiologically bad for you. Notably, it increases risk of heart disease and cancer. Anecdotes and personal experience also suggest that eating less meat makes you smell (and taste) better, and upon simple reflection this makes sense.

2) Separation from the industrial meat farming system. The processes and conditions of raising and slaughtering most of the meat our society consumes are revolting. Most people that I have encountered can only enjoy eating meat if they put out of their minds where it came from, and this does not even require appealing to a sense of “animal rights”. Something about the image of an industrial feedlot strikes us as inherently unsanitary and unhealthy, and I don’t think we should attempt to ignore this. We should not eat things that we find revolting. This should be intuitive.

3) Moral accountability. If the prevalence of negativity toward hunting is any indication, I suspect that there would be far more vegetarians in the western world if people had to kill the animals that provided their meals themselves. This may be simply because they find the mechanics of slaughter unpleasant, much as I find cleaning toilets unpleasant, but most omnivorous types handle bloody raw meat on a regular basis so I doubt this is the real issue. More likely, they imagine themselves feeling sentimental (and probably guilty) about taking the life of an animal with two eyes and a brain. This is no-doubt related to the disconnect that exists in the popular imagination between our food and its sources. People see cuts of meat as food. They do not see animals as cuts of meat. So when a guiltless meat-eating individual expresses shock or disgust at the idea of hunting or fishing, it is either because they do not mentally connect the concepts of killing and eating, or because they are raging hypocrites. With the dots forcibly connected, I wonder whether more people would change their views on killing for food, or their views on eating meat.

For my part, I do not believe that I should have other people do violence on my behalf that I would not be willing to do myself, whether that be dropping a bomb, throwing a switch, or pulling a trigger while looking a man or animal straight in the eye.

4) Incentive to hunt and fish. There are two main parts to this. First, I think it is prudent for everyone, man, woman, rural, or urban, to know how to survive without the umbilical of civilization supplying one’s needs. Health and moral issues aside, fish and game are invaluable resources in a survival situation, and knowing how to utilize them simply makes you a more robust organism.

The second part is somewhat more visceral. Fight Club illustrates some of the psychology involved, as does “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Birthright: Part II (wherein Worf teaches a group of young Klingons raised by benevolent Romulan captors how to be self-reliant and proud of their cultural and biological heritage). In short, modern society provides very limited exercise for men’s traditional (and I believe instinctive) roles as hunters and warriors, and even attempts to cast shame upon them. Some may see this as a positive step forward for society, but I see it as damaging. In an age where we possess atomic weapons and the means to exploit entire ecosystems into extinction with relative ease, discretion and conservation are of paramount importance. However, the industrial revolution did not undo the entire evolutionary history of masculine psychology. Violence is as deeply rooted in the male psyche as it is in nature itself, and to deny that is to sell men out of their cultural and biological heritage. Sitting in front of an X-Box is quickly becoming the only acceptable way for gen-Y males to indulge these impulses, to the point that the most common relationship complaint I hear from women is that their men seem almost more interested in video games than they are in them. I have to ask, in the context of the world they live in, is it any damn wonder? Video games are to the emasculation of the American male as antibiotics are to feedlot husbandry. They’re a substitute for something that we aren’t getting, and they’re a poor one. “Educated” society insists that violence is inherently bad and that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for desiring to partake in it (even as we consume more meat than at any point in our national history, and continue to condone a state of perpetual overseas warfare). But as we turn out generations of men, each less self-actualized than the one before it, at what point do we re-evaluate our progressive ideas about boys and girls and the behaviors that we are encouraging and suppressing. Men’s sense of identity, self-worth, and confidence are wrapped up in this. Their minds are deficient in some essential nutrient that has been eschewed by civilization, and Tyler Durden and Worf think they know what it is. I think they’re right.

5) Entertainment value. Also known as kicks, grins, and why-the-hell-not? I enjoy conducting lifestyle experiments, and it gives me an excuse to do fun things like make comprehensive spreadsheets of my carb, fat, and protein intake. Also, my mother had the audacity to say that she once again liked my haircut, so I had to adopt a freaky new-age diet to make up for it. It was either that or pierce my lip.

Verbal discussions about this diet plan so far have involved challenges to individual points, as any one of these goals alone (except perhaps number 3) would not necessarily indicate this plan as the best means to accomplish it. This is why I wanted to set forth all of my motivations in one place, and hopefully, it will be apparent that this plan is the most appropriate solution overall.

At present, I am comfortable with the idea of killing for food, but only in an intellectual sense. I have never had to kill my own food, so what do I really know about it? I have enough first hand experience to know where I stand on the issue of killing for pure sport versus practical purpose, however, so I’m not expecting any particular surprises or reversals of opinion, but I’m open to the possibility.

Let’s see how this all goes.


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Factor of Safety (“It’s over 9000…!”)

If the military built their rockets to your specs they could reuse them after detonating their warheads.
-Matt Dolan

And so this new project goes off track. Matt and I have always had a penchant for over-building things — ever since our potato-cannon days almost fifteen years ago. And I think this has been entirely prudent, given our fascination with things that can be dangerous in the event of a structural failure. It also stems from the farmer mentality of “build it right the first time, and you won’t have to build it again.” As true of barns as of anything else. I will also add to that adage, “and whatever it is, you might someday need to use it to hoist an engine out of a truck.” This explains our Two-Ton Pullup Bar from college.

In this case, however, the design goal was specifically that the vehicle be cheap and easy to build. As it’s purpose would be to test less-than-proven rocket motors, I did not want to be heartbroken (nor out very much money) if it were torn to shreds. But once I start applying fiberglass to things, I just can’t seem to stop.

The nose cone had to be made out of fiberglass, as I, non lathe-owning citizen that I am, had no cheaper or less time consuming way to fabricate one.
The body was to be made out of a 2-inch cardboard mailer tube from the post office with nothing else done to it. But what the hell… as long as you have all the epoxy out, you might as well strengthen that up.
AND of course, if I’m going to glass the body tube, I’m going to have to glass the fins.
And pretty soon, my quasi-disposable test rocket doubles in price, and becomes something I could use to qualify L1. Which of course I know I’m going to do because, hey I’ve got the rocket. Why not? And in the desert heat I will talk myself into spending more money that I don’t have.


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Fun with Bondo

The next step toward finishing the Infinity Cycle was hiding the pits and valleys of my crap fiberglassing job with body filler. For those who have never used Bondo before, a word to the wise: It sets up really really fast, and a little goes a long way. My naive assumption was that I could spread it over the fin section all at once, and squeegee it off before it hardened. As it turns out, I barely had time to apply the Bondo at all before it solidified into a faux-stucco covering the lower half of the rocket. Sanding required an entire afternoon.

On another rocket related note, I just noticed that the Inverse Engineering guys posted my K450 static test to their website. Sweet.


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Burning Man shakedown run, number one (with rockets)

Took a short trip to Lucerne Dry Lake for RocStock / NSL 2011, partly to watch rockets, and partly to get ourselves prepared for Burning Man later this summer. I didn’t go with my full compliment of rocketry gear, just the still-incomplete Infinity Cycle (with it’s smashing fiberglass and JB-Weld finish) in case I decided it was worth the 25 dollar registration fee to stand 50 yards from my rocket while someone else pushed the button. It ended up not mattering, because by Saturday afternoon the winds were gusting at what felt like 40+ mph, and were steadily getting stronger. After some impressive displays of weathercocking (and I mean Patriot missile style angles), and no sign that the wind was going to let up, the RSOs-that-be shut down the range.

The forecast was more of the same through the night and the next day. Figuring that we’d learned all we could about the failure modes of duct tape+canvass+conduit shade structures, and not wishing to spend the next 16 hours getting sunburned and sand-blasted for no good reason, we decided to pack it up.

I did score a fistfull of composite motors for later fun with the Infinity Cycle, however. We’re heading to Lucerne again, soon, for another Burning Man trial run — this time with a hurricane compliant shade structure, and my own red button.


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“Fear and self-consciousness are the most serious psychological hindrances in life. Awed by reports of great achievements of historic personalities, most people become perfectionists. They ‘know’ beforehand that their work cannot be worthwhile because they can ‘never’ match historical standards. The result is a paralysis of any creative attempt . . . Every school should build up an elementary curriculum with exercises that do not allow comparison of the student’s self-expression with the work of a ‘genius!’ The student must gain a range of experiences through his own experiments, form his own judgments, develop his own abilities before he studies the historically great. Then the student will discover in himself something resembling a sixth sense of which he had not been conscious before, a coordinating creative ability not to copy from, but to use indigenously. No matter how he employs this power later on, whether he uses it as painter, designer, lawyer, doctor, housewife, or bookkeeper, he will have gained a sense of joyous confidence in his own performance.”

(L. Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion)

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Infinity Cycle air worthiness test

Or, “Finally launching that damned fiberglass rocket”.

Matt suggested naming it the Infinity Cycle, and I loved that — so it was.

If it had been any heavier, it would have impacted the ground before the ejection charge popped, although I’m willing to take credit for our accidentally perfect delay. The rocket landed almost at our feet in 20+ mph wind.


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The jungle is dark

Quick animated sketch. My feelings about suddenly finding myself without a PHP programmer sitting behind me…

(GIF version here for those dear misguided iPad using friends of mine.)

See, my professional web design life used to involve a lot of “Cody, I need this to do this when I do this“, and five minutes later it would be done. Now I have to do it myself, and that five minutes easily becomes two days. Good PHP programmers do not get the credit that they deserve.


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K450 Static Test

After about a week’s worth of frustration trying to build/acquire the tools and materials, the static test went without a hitch.

Reviewing the video, the igniter took less than 4 seconds to light, but with my thumb on the button, it felt like 5 minutes.

Sweet victory.


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