The main purpose of technical support in Burning Man’s Gerlach, Nevada office, or anywhere for that matter, is to allow others to get their jobs done. This role can entail anything from assisting people on an office computer to use the Internet, to check their email, or to print documents. These tasks get a little more complicated when users work on their own computers, as setups and operating systems differ. Users in Burning Man offices can plug into an Ethernet connection or connect via wireless network. Supporting most users is a pretty simple but time-consuming task, depending on the users’ skills and the problems they need help to resolve. One problem before the event in 2005 was insufficient technical support to accommodate the influx of staff to Gerlach in the early summer. For 2006, an additional support person will work out of the Gerlach office for several weeks before the event.
Burning Man’s Gerlach office houses multiple servers that are used most heavily around the event, but they are also used and maintained all year. Log files are monitored; scripts and cron jobs are routinely added to help support staff keep an eye on things. These systems do not handle public data like the Burning Man website. Instead, they store files, back up data, and to allow Internet access by staff. The network includes one printer for shared use around the event. The rest of the year, people working in the office have their own printers. In early 2005, the main shared printer fell and couldn’t get up, so a new one was ordered. The down time caused frustrations for some arriving staff, and this need will be handled earlier in 2006 to make sure at least one working shared printer is always available for staff use.
Computers are available in the Gerlach office and the Black Rock Saloon for general staff usage. Many seasonal staff members do not have their own computers, so they rely on office computers to get their jobs done. Others want access to check their email and keep a link with the outside world. Each year, the tech support team buys parts and assembles computers to meet these demands. In early 2005, a few new computers were purchased for use in Gerlach. Many of the existing computers were very outdated, and they have been removed or stripped for spare parts. Spare parts are always needed when the nearest computer store is a 4-hour drive away!
Burning Man provides extensive WiFi connectivity to the town of Gerlach, so tech support must sometimes help residents experiencing connectivity problems. Most problems result not from the WiFi network but from something on the user’s end of things. Supporting a whole community takes a lot time, and most people are very understanding, as the high-speed connection is provided free of charge to them.
Each year the office and facilities continue to evolve. A couple of office phone lines were added in the Black Rock Saloon, and several phones moved to new locations in the office as desks were rearranged. Many phones lines get moved during the winter months, when the main office occupies a small, easily heated room. In 2006, a new phone system may be needed, as staff used all the capacity of the current one in both 2004 and 2005.
Each year, tech support improves understanding of the changing tasks related to the event, the organization, and the properties in Nevada to plan changes for the next year. Preparations for the event in 2005 benefited from a much improved understanding of requirements to make things work, and going forward it can only get better!
During 2005, Burning Man’s San Francisco office expanded into the downstairs floor of the headquarters building, and this move brought with it the need for an extension of the network infrastructure. Wires were run, connections were made, a wireless access point was installed, and a sweaty, dirty time was had by all. The task wasn’t quite as much fun as it may sound.
Remote Desktop software was rolled out to facilitate user support in the growing office and to automate routine maintenance tasks such as software, security, and virus scan upgrades. In addition, this tool enabled additional technical support to reach staff in the Nevada office when necessary.
Another exciting evolution in office technology is the replacement of the old photocopier with a more capable model. The newer model can scan and email documents to individuals and serves as another printer for the busy office.
The addition of a new downstairs conference room was the impetus for beginning work on a revamped remote-participation system. Besides allowing people to call in to participate in conferences, this system will include options for webcasting, videoconferencing, and shared whiteboards, among other technologies.
In spring of 2005, Burning Man received a large amount of donated technology and office equipment from a decommissioned data center. The equipment included rack-mounted UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies), many of which went into service as battery backups for various on-playa systems. Work continues to sort through and catalog all the equipment, but a newly created and evolving technology asset management system will be invaluable in that task. This system will be implemented and tested initially by the tech team, with the goal of eventually making it useful for the entire organization’s asset management needs.
With a large amount of recently donated equipment and a continuing increase in technology usage on the playa, a fair amount of gear had to be shipped to Nevada from headquarters, and some of it had to travel back to San Francisco post-event. The newly implemented asset management system and tags were used to track the equipment allocation and transportation. Setup experienced a few small delays while parts and people were en route, but overall on-playa operations went fairly smoothly, thanks to the tireless wireless hackery of some dedicated volunteers and staff.
Respectfully submitted by,
Ludwig Klopfer, San Francisco Tech Support
Chris (Taz) Petrell, Nevada Tech Support