The Burning Man Database Team is the part of the Burning Man technology infrastructure responsible for all of the databases that make the event happen each year. We are in charge of creating, maintaining and massaging the databases and the systems used to insert and extract data into and out of them.

Our main databases are:

  • PeopleDB – Burning Man’s Staff and Volunteer Database
  • Contacts & Sales DB – Tracking Mailing Addresses and Ticket Sales
  • Theme Camps & Art Installations – Theme Camp & Art Installation Registration & Placement
  • DMV – Mutant Vehicle Registration
  • MediaDB (2001-2004) – Press Registration
  • Scholarships – Burning Man Scholarship Applicants
  • Snail Mail Bucket – Gathering mailing address changes

Last year a considerable amount of effort went into improving the PeopleDB. We identified all known outstanding issues with the database, systematically prioritizing and addressing each one. This was an extensive process requiring feedback from the various users of the PeopleDB, as well as from the database’s original developer. Some of the issues have been deferred under the assumption that the PeopleDB will be re-implemented in Plone this year (see plans for 2004).

We also updated each of the web forms for 2003. This required gathering input from the various departments, implementing changes in Lasso script (the scripting language used to produce most of our web forms) code, and then testing each form’s email generation and data storage behavior. Lasso script and the systems required to make it functional are somewhat difficult to work with and, we’ve found, a bit unreliable, so this process took a lot longer than we think it should have. This is one of the main motivators for migrating away from the FileMaker platform (see plans for 2004). The web questionnaires which feed directly into our databases are:

  • Scholarships – URL is season specific and changes yearly
  • Snail mail bucket
  • Theme camps – URL is season specific and changes yearly
  • Art installations – URL is season specific and changes yearly
  • MediaDB
  • DMV – URL is season specific and changes yearly
  • Volunteer questionnaire

Many smaller tasks also were completed throughout the year. We increased automation and efficiency of processes on the database web servers, ensuring that they boot up cleanly, execute the proper services on boot, and are as secure as possible. We improved database backup systems, increasing the reliability and redundancy of the data storage process. We printed the staff directory for the annual staff meeting using the data in the PeopleDB, creating a customized FileMaker layout for this purpose. And we enabled secure access to the FileMaker server by remote volunteer coordinators.

Finally, the database team extracted mailing addresses from our contacts database to support various mailings that we do throughout the year, such as the ticket postcard, Flambé Lounge postcards, Survival Guides, etc. This generally involves using specific criteria (such as ZIP code) to narrow down our huge list of ticket buyers into useful, relevant data..

We have ambitious goals for the coming year, which include migrating away from the FileMaker Pro platform to a Zope / Plone-based system running on Debian Linux. This move will increase the reliability, scalability and usability of our main databases, as well as greatly simplify the granting of remote access to this data.

Submitted by,
David Brenneman
Database Administrator