At the 2007 Staff Retreat, the Technology Department was given a unique opportunity to provide some in-depth insight into the team, our department structure, and the websites, systems, development projects, networks and the users that we support. We took advantage of this opportunity to dust off, clean up, and in some cases create thorough system and network diagrams. We also compiled a list of our annual recurring projects, special one-time projects, and projects in the pipeline. By the time we were finished sharing our story, even we were impressed with the large number of dynamic technologies that we keep operational at the heart of the organization. All this work is done with comparatively limited resources and a dedicated posse of staff and volunteers. It’s also fair to say that we were, and consistently continue to be, overwhelmed by the number of systems that we need to improve upon or replace.

With so many geeks and so many systems and so many users, there are often questions, some of which can be easily answered. As such, last Fall we rolled out the Tech Support Center on our Extranet. For our staff, this provides one-stop shopping for commonly asked Tech Support and Technology related questions, helping them to help themselves and/or direct their inquiries appropriately. Several other departments are now creating similar resources for common interdepartmental and staff needs.

We were very happy that, years after working closely with our ticketing partner, the starting day of online ticket sales continues to run smoothly. The Technology Department and most of the office still comes into work early that day, ready to spring into action if need be … and we still celebrate the day of the ticket launch in what’s become the traditional way: by wearing our pajamas all day.

The engineering team increased its focus on customer relations and improved documentation throughout our system development lifecycle. As we’re slowly revamping and replacing inherited custom developed tools, we’re committed to streamlining the user experience and producing great software that works.

As of this writing, our department is in the midst of several significant projects. We are currently evaluating, selecting and migrating some of our interactive forms to a new web framework. We have started down a long road to implement LDAP as a centralized login and team membership directory. The team is working on internal testing of a potential new staff and team calendar solution. We are working to upgrade our Black Rock City Extranet as part of a large project to improve the usability of that tool and migrate a good portion of our volunteer database functionality to it.

In the past year we transitioned the part-time database team support role from our previous FileMaker consultant to one of our team members, augmented by a formalized relationship for ‘heavy lifting’ support from some of our Burner friends at Beezwax, an external FileMaker consulting company. So far we haven’t had to bug them too much, but it’s nice to know we’ve got help if we need it.

The systems administration team have been busy installing new firewall devices, backup servers, and other servers in our growing farm of hardware and wires. While we invested in some of this hardware at the end of the previous year, it often takes months and months of planning, communication and cleanup to migrate services onto the new machines. Regardless, after years of working with donated equipment and bubble gum and duct tape, these are the challenges that we are glad to have.

In 2008, our on playa wireless network was the best ever. This was partially because we were using most of the same gear as we had in 2007, and had a strong team of returning geeks on the playa. Not to belittle the heroic efforts of our team, but the biggest contribution overall this year had to be our new communications tower in Gerlach.

In addition to the usual end-of-year contract negotiations and budget process, we will be researching and evaluating the implementation of a VOIP PBX system as part of our move to a new office in San Francisco, and possibly combining that with an upgraded system in Gerlach and Black Rock City.

Submitted by Heather Gallagher (CameraGirl)
Technology Department Dominatrix