How the Fence Began

Do yall know who invented Burning Man’s trash fence in 1995? Lawrence Breed — inventor of the world’s first computer animation language and system, and also the playa’s longest-running art piece besides the Man himself: Chaotick, the flaming tether ball.

“In 1996, the first trash fence was tested at Burning Man. Concieved by Larry Breed (playa name Ember), several hundred yards of 24" high netting was set up down-wind on the north side of the encampment to catch wind-blown trash. The Black Rock is visible to the right in the background of this photo.” - Danger Ranger (Photo by from Breed’s collection)
“In 1995-96, the first trash fence was tested at Burning Man. Concieved by Larry Breed (playa name Ember), several hundred yards of 24″ high netting was set up down-wind on the north side of the encampment to catch wind-blown trash. The Black Rock is visible to the right in the background of this photo.” – Danger Ranger (Photo by from Breed’s collection)

Danger Ranger, Vanessa Kuemmerle, Burning Man co-founder John Law, and other Cacophony organizers had been tearing their hair out over the sad reality of trash blowing from the Black Rock City site downwind and off into the desert during their Zone Trip. One of the Cacophony Society’s main uh, guidelines, is to leave everything better than you found it.

So Breed, called “Ember,” was and is a genius computer scientist who, with a friend, overheard these managerial woes and brought out and road-tested 75 feet of trash-catching orange fence to make sure it worked.

Breed presented his winning example of hard-plastic gatekeeping to the Operations team, who were understandably beside themselves with joy. The trash fence was and still is one of the greatest ideas in Burning Man leave-no-trace history.

The fence is also an iconic piece of Burning Man visual continuity. But this year … this year … there’s blue string. Not orange string to go with the orange fence, but some blue string. As in, not orange. Some of us, particularly Stinger, are freaked out about the blue string.

There was much talk about the addition of blue string to the fence this year.
There was much talk about the addition of blue string to the fence this year. (Photo by John Curley)

On Monday, while the Fence was being built, this writer sat in the Dispatch booth at the saloon, wrangling dusty radios and telling the Lawrence-Breed-invented-the-trash-fence-and-helped-invent-APL story to so many people that official DPW photographer-blogger John Curley — who missed his annual Fence Day photography spree because delays in arrival happen in the DPW — made us write it up here.

Do yall know what APL is? We didn’t either until we searched on it when John Law first told us about Breed being a part of our proto-DPW history.

At Stanford in 1961, Breed invented the world’s first computer and animation language and system, using it for Stanford football games to program a 100-foot-by-100-foot array of colored square cards.

Breed then corresponded with a Harvard professor named Kenneth Iverson who had invented proto-APL as a mathematical notation for algorithms.

Breed and his crew transformed Iverson’s mathematics into a computer-programming language source code devised to work with mathematics with an emphasis on array processing. They dubbed it APL (short for “a programming language”), turning it into a widely-used programming language like no other, and implementing it en machina starting with the IBM 7090 in 1965. You make spreadsheets because of Breed and co.’s APL implementation.

Then, if that’s not enough for you, in 1972, Breed and Francis Bates III wrote one of Earth’s first worldwide email systems, which they called “Mailbox.”

More than two decades later, in the non-default world of Black Rock City, Breed became an oldest-of-schools Burning Man attendee and Cacophony Society member who helped with the original Black Rock Gazette newspaper as well as later co-founding the Black Rock Beacon.

Lawrence Breed now. Most of us in DPW have never met him.
Lawrence Breed now. Most of us in DPW have never met him.

Danger Ranger didn’t even know any of all this about how Ember pretty much helped uh, invent the internet until last night when we told him at the Black Rock Saloon.

Danger just knew Breed/Ember as the guy who invented the trash fence, as well as the flaming tether ball and a half dozen genius Cacophonist-on-playa, possibly-world-helping inventions like the greywater-obliterating Evapotron, or “Gray-B-Gon” (complete with open-source online instructions).

No really, check out the Gray-B-Gon — especially if you or someone you know has a theme camp with greywater.

Burning Man setup means a constant stream of stories proving you never know who you could be talking to under that messy tutu.

The 2015 version of the trash fence is up (photo by John Curley)
The 2015 version of the trash fence is up (photo by John Curley)

CHANGING GEARS

Fence yesterday? Dawn Patrol was led by Just George and Cowboy Carl, as always — two proud former military men who became cowboys of sorts. They are kind and crusty-fatherly super-men who could easily be models for action figures, who represent pretty much the pinnacle of proper masculinity.

Yes we are swooning over Just George, who makes us do pushups, and over Cowboy Carl, who taught us how to scatter herds of cattle standing in the middle of the road by rolling your truck window down and banging on the door.

If a group behaves like its alphas, then these two may be a large reason why DPW is such a draw. The world has too many assholes in it, and Just George and Cowboy Carl are here to protect us from acting too much like them, and to teach us cheerfully to protect others and the earth in turn — from assholes, and from trash blowing past us to where we can’t get to it to pick it up.

Cowboy Carl and Just George (photo by John Curley, 2013)
Cowboy Carl and Just George (photo by John Curley, 2013)

The trucks had been loved up on by auto shop, loaded with fence materials, and made ready to roll the day before. Fluffers were awake by 3am; “dawn patrol” worker teams left the trailer park at 4am.

Crews ate a quick bite on the Black Rock shoreline and got to work as the sun rose pink over the fire-smoke mist. Another equally large wave of DPW crewmembers left for work at 7am.

All day long, the radios crackled with nonstop trash-fence action and beaten deadlines. Milestones were announced over the repeater over background cascades of “woo” noises. We found Bachmann Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business” stuck in our heads on repeat.

By 8:30am, the pounders had finished. That’s zero-eight-thirty, in Just George language. By 1:45 pm, fence was done.

Another record.

Of course, it’s only another record because pre-event DPW staff and volunteer count has grown by a few hundred people. A decade and a half ago, when there were only 30-40 of us in the DPW, putting up the trash fence took Cowboy Carl and his team two weeks.

Suggestion by suggestion, and learned lesson by learned lesson, this largely leaderless group of freaks learned together to build and strike a temporary city, all by ourselves, together. Not with ease so much as with collaboration and a crap-ton of meetings. Chaos with a thin layer of organization.

amen dude ... amen.
amen dude … amen.

Things get done much more quickly when there are fewer power relationships to contend with. Even hard labor seems easier in an anarchist city.

Good times are had most days by most people in the DPW — which is also different now, because we know enough not to accidentally overwork and underfeed a thin crew any more.

And we have an unassuming, DPW-orange fence — invented by a secret internet genius, helmed by cowboy servicemen, and constructed annually by a dusty cast of black-clad hundreds — to catch most of the trash.

*

 

Follow Summer Burkes and John Curley on Twitter.

 

Coyote Nose: Astro-not!

Was reading an article about Burning Man the other day where the writer remarks on how serious the participants can be about Black Rock City’s principle of “Leave No Trace”. He mentions a happening at a bar where someone flicks a cigarette butt down and the instant scolding he gets from his campmates. The writer also mentions how impressed he is with this because the playa was already protected with AstroTurf. Participants were so concerned with leaving no trace that they would never let it hit the ground even if it had a protective barrier on it.

Upon reading this it occurred to me that people can think that putting down yards of AstroTurf in their camp will safeguard it from MOOP.

This year’s public service announcement:

AstroTurf is MOOP!!

AstroTurf is some of the worst and most difficult to get rid of MOOP ever, and more and more camps are using it.

AstroTurf shreds and sheds worse than a dried up Christmas tree, and when you finally pull it up after an event’s worth of trampling and occasional soakings, there’s a billion little green plastic grass blades embedded into the hard pan playa. And this can stretch for a block’s worth sometimes.

The Playa Restoration crew dubbed this spot "AstroTurf camp."
The Playa Restoration crew dubbed this spot “AstroTurf camp.”

For understandable reasons, AstroTurf is exponentially growing in popularity. It gives your camp a lush and dust-free floor, and I’m betting that many believe that it doubles as a MOOP catcher. Turns out that it’s a MOOP nightmare!

We all need to get the word out far and wide that AstroTurf is right up there with boa feathers, wood chips, and pistachio nut shells as “Worst MOOP Ever”.

Leave no trace – leave no couch – leave no AstroTurf!!
Never let it hit your pack job.

ASTRO – NOT!

Coyote Nose

Burners Without Borders Helps Clean Padre Island Shooting Range

bwb corpus christiBurners Without Borders (BWB) is a community led, grassroots group that encourages innovative civic participation that creates positive change locally.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, Burners Without Borders Corpus Christi — made up of Patrick Brown and his friends — recently stepped up efforts to clean a stretch of Padre Island after having started the initiative about a year ago. Partick was quoted on KRISTV as saying:

There were places in this area where you could actually like, literally wade through shotgun shells.

They heard about the makeshift shotgun range from the folks at National Sea Shore. He then got permission from the General Land Office to clean the area up. The group had their first clean up in February.

During those first cleanups we removed about 600 pounds of shotgun shells, said Brown.

At the time Brown only had eight people helping him, and they were able to clear out most of the area. But now, five months later, it’s all trashed up again. Brown says his group will meet in a few weeks to plan another cleanup of the area. The alternative to a community-based solution was to have police patrol the area to prevent people from littering the place with shells, at the cost of taxpayer money and law enforcement distracted from more important issues.

It is very exciting to see this local BWB group bring one of the Burning Man’s Ten Principles, Leave No Trace, to their local community and making an impact.

Would you like to get involved? Burners Without Borders was founded and continues to grow because of people just like you.

About Burners Without Borders

Burners Without Borders was born in Biloxi, Mississippi during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort. When the hurricane struck during the Burning Man event that year, several groups of volunteers traveled directly from Black Rock City to the ravaged area, employing the Burning Man principles of civic responsibility, communal effort, participation, radical self-reliance and gifting, in a coordinated effort to fill in where government relief efforts were falling short.

Since then, Burners Without Borders has grown to facilitate volunteerism all over the world for anyone interested in gifting their time and talents to a variety of causes, from disaster relief to community building to beach clean-ups. BWB volunteers have provided assistance in places such as Peru, Haiti, Japan, Alabama, and now in Corpus Christi, Texas, while their annual grant program helps would-be volunteers to realize their vision of making a difference in their communities.

If you would like to get involved, please contact BWB through the Burners Without Borders website.

Charlie Dolman Keynote Speaker at the Project Management Institute Conference

Charlie speaking at the conferenceCharlie Dolman, Burning Man’s Event Operations Director, was recently invited by the Project Management Institute to be the Opening Keynote Speaker at their conference in San Diego. The Project Management Institute provides project management practitioners and organizations with standards that describe good practices and provides globally recognized credentials in their field.

Of course, the first question that comes to mind is what can attendees at a project management conference learn from Burning Man, and how could it make them better project managers? Well, Charlie asked the audience … what does it take to build a city in the desert? A lot of spreadsheets! overview

Organizing Burning Man requires monumental schedule, budget, legal, safety, and risk considerations. As Burning Man’s Event Operations Director, Charlie wanted to share his unique perspective and insights, from project management essentials to lessons learned in the dust.

The conference attendees wanted to hear about the Burning Man event itself and what it looks like from a project management point of view. So Charlie told them about the pre-event build process, including the Golden Spike ritual, surveying the city, and how building the 9.2-mile long trash fence is a cooperative effort, completed by a hardy crew in less than one day.

moop mapHe described the elements that go into creating Black Rock City, including the street grid with signs and addresses, port-o-potties, an airport, big art, a Department of Mutant Vehicles. He discussed the nuances of working with a volunteer workforce, the challenges of our mandate to Leave No Trace of Black Rock City after the event has concluded, and the prolific growth of Burning Man culture through the Regional Network.

What did Charlie think about this chance to share his experience with project management professionals?

“It was great to have the opportunity to speak to professional project managers about Burning Man. Sharing the thing you love with other interested and professional folks is brilliant fun. There were some great questions and some surprise curve balls too! Overall the experience was great!”

Education is Everything: Better Behavior Through Learning

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

Here’s what I remember being surprised by the most during my first visit to Black Rock City, in 1998: No garbage cans.

I had come utterly unprepared, and had little idea what going to Burning Man meant. Traveling separately from my only other friend who was going, I grabbed a spot on the Green Tortoise, packed a couple of bags, and made my way to the playa.

Danger Ranger, Burning Man Cultural Ambassador, 2013 (photo by Mark Hammon)
Danger Ranger, Burning Man Cultural Ambassador, 2013 (photo by Mark Hammon)

Even today, I frequently recall wandering the Esplanade during Burning Man 1998, a wad of garbage in my hand, and simply not grokking why there was no place to throw my trash. Having failed to read the Survival Guide, that just didn’t make any sense to me. Not that I was the kind of person to blithely toss crap on the ground, but I had no idea what to do. Eventually, I found a nook in some wooden structure crammed with others’ refuse, and jammed mine in alongside.

That was more than 15 years ago. But just a few weeks ago, I was walking through my local farmer’s market with some trash in my hand and no obvious place to put it. I spotted a cigarette butt in a small bin underneath the leg of a merchant’s Easy-Up, and mistakenly thought I was in luck. The merchant was not amused, harshly letting me know the bin was no garbage can: it was a weight holding down the Easy-Up. (more…)

Burning Man passes its site inspection. 2014 is a GO!

HURRAH! It’s a red-letter day for all you MOOP maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire: Our Leave No Trace efforts have made it possible for Burning Man to happen again in 2014.

Your inspection team. Photo by Bubblegique.
Your inspection team. Photo by Bubblegique.

On Thursday, November 14, the DPW Playa Restoration All-Stars regrouped on the Black Rock Desert, meeting with the Bureau of Land Management to conduct the annual inspection of our site. If you didn’t know, everything we do hinges on this one moment: If we don’t pass our inspection, the BLM may not allow us to continue holding Burning Man on this public land.

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MOOP Map Live, Day 7: The Green Streak Ends

Greetings MOOP maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire! Here in Gerlach, the Playa Restoration All-Star team is being blown across the sweeping expanse of the Black Rock Desert by winds that have gusted as high as 50mph.

Luckily for Black Rock City, these rockstar Restoration experts are sticking to the task at hand, grabbing every last bit of MOOP, and still managing to look great doing it.

Burning Man Playa Restoration 2013, Day 15.
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MOOP Map Live, Day 6: The Outer Limits

Burning Man Playa Restoration 2013, Day 8.

Hello out there all you MOOP maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire! Here in the Black Rock Desert, your Playa Restoration team is in the final rounds of what has been a truly epic season. With just days left before we head back to the real world, we have swept throughout the Black Rock City grid, throughout the inner playa and up through the Man to the Temple. The pace has been quick and efficient, and the Restoration moopers have covered an impressive amount of ground.
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