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AFTERBURN REPORT 2001

Database Team

The Database Team is a small group of Burning Man volunteers who build and maintain the databases necessary to keep Burning Man's data organized and flowing. Our job is to make the Burning Man staff's life easier. The team has been together since late 1999, and is currently organized as a "domain" under the Burning Man Tech Team.




Our databases support a number of internal Burning Man departments. These databases include:

  • Contacts- Participant mailing list database - 45,000+ names from 50 states and countries
  • Sales- Merchandise and ticket order processing - almost 40,000 invoices
  • Volunteers- Volunteer questionnaire, roster, and team management
  • Theme Camp/Art- Theme Camp, Art Installation, Pyro, and Theme Art registration
  • *Media- Media "Press Here" online registration and tracking
  • *Scholarships- Burning Man's Scholarship application repository
  • *PlayaInfo Schedule- On-line scheduler for PlayaInfo shifts for the event
  • *DMV- Department of Mutant Vehicles - online pre-registration
  • *Snailmail- Participant snailmail change-of-address web form
  • Task Matrix- Online Tech Team to-do list
  • Agenda Builder- Staff meeting agenda organizer
*New for 2001

Some of our work in 2001 included: programmed Flambé and Survival Guide mailing list exports, revisions to the theme camp and art installation questionnaires, integration with the PlayaNet/ PlayaDirectory project, VPN work for remote database access, playa Palm Pilot database access, integration work with the Extranet project, improved user interface for the Contacts and Sales databases, participant list de-dupe automation, new "Short Form" Theme Camp questionnaire for unmapped camps, work to coordinate the new Black Rock Arts Foundation mailing list database and contact management with our existing files, improved automatic database backups, preliminary work to allow participant editing of their theme camp and art installation registration, work to allow volunteers to change their contact info in the Volunteers database, discussions on several strategies for remote Volunteer Coordinator database access, several Volunteer Coordinator training sessions on the Volunteers DB, and routine database administration.

Looking forward in the coming year, the Database Group has several goals:
  • Database Migration (see below)
  • Completion of a Login feature for participant editing of contact info, theme camp, etc.
  • Support of the Extranet and PlayaDirectory teams' data needs
  • Continued refinement of online web forms (Theme Camp, Volunteers, Scholarship, etc.)
  • Further improvements in data import and easy mailing list exports
  • Possible addition of inventory tracking and sales reporting to existing databases
  • Better database documentation and procedures for staff and future volunteers





Migration

Much like the settlers of the old West, we have grown weary of our comfortable but cramped life, and yearn for the greener pastures of the new frontier. All of the databases described above are running happily in FileMaker, but there is a constant pressure to migrate them to a more robust, industry-standard platform. Several Burning Man programmers have been recommending some flavor of SQL. The Extranet team has settled on PostgreSQL. The biggest immediate benefit will be the ability to access our data from outside the office more easily (i.e. by web browser instead of FileMaker running slowly over the VPN). This is a huge undertaking. The first steps are to catalog our existing FileMaker databases, diagram what they store and how they overlap (architecture), and prioritize which files to migrate first. The diagram below gives a sense of the big picture.