AFTERBURN REPORT 2004
Technical Support needs continue to grow with the expansion of the already bustling San Francisco office, acquisition of additional properties in Nevada, and an extremely busy summer season in the Gerlach office. The team welcomed the arrival of a new member in San Francisco during 2004, who focused on day-to-day needs of technical, desktop, and general office operations, enabling the rest of the department to focus on their core responsibilities.
The San Francisco office is still largely a Macintosh shop, with a number of Windows-based machines in use. For most of the staff and shared workstations, the transition from Mac OS 9 to OS X was completed, with the exception of a few older machines that can't run the newer operating system, along with one stubborn holdout who's a board member, so what can you do? Our San Francisco office backup system was rebuilt, and the Accounting department obtained a new server for their closed, Windows-based network.
The installation of a T1 line to our office in Gerlach in April 2004 paved the way for significant technological improvements. The connection has been very solid, with only two connection drops for less then 10 hours total in 8 months. Both drops happened during low usage times and resulted from issues with the microwave link from the Reno area to the Empire area.
The Gerlach office network and phones were rewired with ethernet for computers and phones. The freezing winters in the area prevented much wiring work from happening early in the year, but the project was basically completed before the summer rush. Servers were built for use in the Gerlach office for functions like a firewall, a file server, and a print server, so internal resources could be shared. Scripts and automated data synchronizations are continually being added to keep current data available throughout the network. Several new computers were built and some purchased for general staff usage. Many staff members working in Gerlach over the summer do not have their own computers, so they rely on shared workstations to reach the outside world. Many of the computers previously in use were very outdated, and most were stripped for spare parts in newer systems. Spare parts are always needed when the nearest computer store is a 2-hour drive away!
Work continued to beef up the technology available at other Nevada properties, as well. Four CAT5 lines were installed between the Gerlach office and the Black Rock Saloon so that phones and internet could be utilized in the saloon. Wireless and wired networks were installed in the Black Rock Saloon for general staff usage. The Starband connection for both Gerlach and Black Rock Station was also maintained. We have discovered that signal degradation becomes a big problem when the outside winter temperature drops below 10 degrees F. We are planning for alternative connectivity in 2005.
The 2004 event confronted the Tech Support team with more on-site requirements than previous years. For the first time ever, our high-speed internet connection was extended to the Box Office to support ticket purchases and real-time updates from our ticketing system. A tower was installed next to the Box Office at the Gate in Black Rock City. Five different antennas were installed for 802.11 connectivity and phones at the top of this tower, and then servers were installed inside for the internet connection and for ticketing usage. A Vonage phone and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) were connected to provide safer power conditioning and a live phone line for the box office. A cell phone and high-power cordless phone were in place for backup if the internet connection ever dropped.
The connection from the Box Office was also extended to the Airport and to our technical building in Center Camp. Installers encountered some delays in the Airport and technical building installations, as the facilities and power were not ready on schedule. In addition, the team dealt with damage due to power spikes from the power grid. Plans are in place to have UPS and power conditioners in place for key on-playa computer systems next year.
The T1 in Gerlach is used year-round by staff, but it carries heavy traffic only 4 months of the year. The availability of surplus bandwidth contributed to the decision to donate connectivity to the town of Gerlach via a wireless network. Many of the residents lacked familiarity with wireless network technology, but more are slowly joining the network with help from local Burning Man staff. The connectivity itself poses some challenges. The design of 802.11b/g/a networks favors small office or home office environments, with a range not more than 50 feet. The wireless network in Gerlach has no users within 50 feet. Most are several hundred feet from the connection point, and the farthest is 4000 feet away. To compensate for the distance, many residents need an external antenna on their house, and a specific network card to connect to the network, even while using repeaters. Debuggers have discovered that repeaters work only with other repeaters from the same company, so custom repeaters are being built that are actually computers with antennas high in the air in strategic locations, to build up the network connectivity all through the town.
Ludwig Klopfer, San Francisco Tech Support
Chris (Taz) Petrell, Nevada Tech Support