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AFTERBURN REPORT 2007

TECHNOLOGY TEAM

There is rarely a dull moment for the Burning Man Technology Department, and when those moments come, we smile and wave at them as they quickly pass by. In the days after the event in 2006, our website was hacked through a recently discovered security exploit in the eplaya bulletin board system software. While the rest of us were doing laundry and shaking playa dust out of everything, our intrepid Sys Admin team was working to isolate the problem and rebuild our website. The team smoothly managed a major move of almost all our server systems to a new collocation facility in the fall, then began integrating some much needed hardware upgrades in the new year. After many months of collaboration with InTicketing (our ticketing partner), members of our Sys Admin team contributed significantly to the numerous volume testing efforts that took place prior to the extremely successful beginning of online ticket sales in January. This past spring, our email services were migrated to a shiny new server (complete with blinky lights).

The Engineering Team continues to see growing needs for custom development and system implementation projects for the organization. Two web developers joined our team on a part-time basis, and one team member expanded his role and skill set, to further support, develop, and refine our numerous Plone systems. Since then, after years of striving to implement and migrate all systems to Plone-based solutions, an approach which was challenging due to the evolution of the toolset and finding skilled resources, the decision was made to explore other existing software solutions in order to more quickly meet the needs of the organization. As such, during the summer, the team rolled out 4 new WordPress blogs and are currently investigating other tools for long-standing technical issues.

Our Database Team kept busy fine tuning our numerous FileMaker databases, investigating discrepancies in the theme camp database, and supporting several mailings throughout the year. A focused effort was made over the summer to further document many of our database processes and immediately following the 2007 event, the team created a new database to support the Special Events team.

The Web Team continues rock with longstanding volunteers and many talented new folks joining us each year. Work this past year focused on standardizing and supporting our new blogs and blog authors, keeping special events information up to date, archiving the JRS, putting some polish on our Gerlach weather page, producing the 2006 Afterburn report (which was verrrry late for a myriad of reasons, but not due to lack of html coders and support from the web team, and cranking out a long-awaited Environment Section for the website. One other highlight from the team is evolution of our biweekly evening meetings into the Web Team Dinner Parties… because, well, we eat a lot and it’s more fun than just calling them meetings.

There are over 50 individuals who are in the San Francisco or Gerlach Burning Man offices and working on our Nevada Properties on a somewhat regular basis. Our Tech Support Team is there when things break and in general helps to ensure that everyone has working computers, printers, and all sorts of technology necessary in order to get the job done. In addition to individual needs, we support a handful of shared workspaces for use by visiting staff and volunteers, and lend the occasional geeky hand to members of staff who do not have regular office hours. The Tech Support Team also handles technology purchases and asset tracking, and had a huge task at the end of 2006 when, after years of our technical operations running on duct-tape, band-aids and mostly donated or used equipment, the department was given the go-ahead to acquire a significant number of new technology assets. The deployment and integration of these new assets was mostly completed before the 2007 event, but a few items are on the schedule for the fall.

For the most part, the Burning Man organization utilizes Macintosh client and (some) server technologies. For many years, our Accounting Department has had special technical support needs, as a PC-based team that relies on Quickbooks software systems. In the spring of 2007, after years of relying on volunteer technical support for their needs, part-time tech support was brought in dedicated to supporting their infrastructure, with the goal of migrating as much of their operations to Macintosh systems as possible and integrating systems and documentation with the larger Technology Department.

It’s quite a task to deal with incoming crisis situations, keep track of outstanding issues and priorities, and gather more details and information while keeping our customers informed on the status of problems and keeping all our supporting user documentation up to date and available. In order to make sure that these important tasks get done, in January we extended the role of one of our team members to help manage our development projects, and this spring brought back a project manager (who had worked with the team a few years ago supporting the Extranet project) to act as our HelpDesk Project Manager.

To gear up for the event season in Nevada, we switched our contract to a different ISP, essentially eliminating the middlemen that had existed in our previous arrangement. Over the summer, working with the new ISP technical lead, we invested in a carrier quality microwave dish to serve as the backbone for the on playa wireless network and secured their assistance in getting a link with increased bandwidth out to Black Rock City. For the second year in a row during the July 4th week, the Nevada and Technical Operations team hosted ‘Geek Week’ on the playa for network testing of our infrastructure and any volunteer or art projects who wanted to test out their gear and/or collaborate on wifi projects. Despite some delays in getting the new microwave gear, the network testing was successful, and the geek community surrounding the project continues to grow. After many years of use and unsatisfactory connection quality with our previous system, late in the summer a new satellite Internet connection was setup for our Black Rock Station production facility. One of our main goals for next year is to install a communications tower in Gerlach, to help strengthen our wireless signal for the town of Gerlach and for the playa, and eventually out to Black Rock Station.

Technology Department management kept very busy keeping track of all these (and many more) projects, ensuring team and vendor contracts and staffing is in place, and providing organizational oversight and prioritization for almost all technology related projects. In addition, we provided significant consultative advice on the process and contract relations with InTicketing surrounding the launch of online ticket sales. For the next year, the goals are to solidify and strengthen the development team, and further tighten our project management and quality assurance processes so that department leadership can more actively evaluate high-level solutions for the organization and strengthen relations and collaborations with technology business friends in our community.

Submitted by Heather Gallagher (CameraGirl)
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Click here to read the 2006 Technology Report