The Technical Support team works on purchasing, implementing, and maintaining a wide variety of technical tools for the San Francisco and Gerlach offices and on-playa infrastructure operations. The team endeavors help ensure that Burning Man staff have the functioning technology resources needed to do their jobs. The team also provides a great deal of technology support to citizens of the town of Gerlach and surrounding areas at no cost to the end users.
San Francisco Tech Support’s year began with the introduction of several new pieces of desktop and/or laptop hardware for grateful users, many of whom had been patiently making do with obsolete equipment for quite a while. We assisted the Systems Administratorsin the ongoing task of rolling out several new servers as well.
The wireless access points in the San Francisco office were replaced with more reliable and secure units, which should make internet access less troublesome for visitors and staff alike. A new office Xserve provides file services supplementing the Extranets, as well as migration capabilities and automation of software installations and upgrades.
A new part-time member dedicated to supporting the Accounting Department joined the team, because that department must run Windows machines, and previously their technology has been something of an island unto itself. This new support and shared cross-platform procedures have begun to bring all the office technology together.
Historically, there has been a significant amount of seasonal equipment sharing between the San Francisco office and Nevada. That required a lot of preparation and shipping to and from Gerlach. Purchasing new equipment this year allowed us to ship some things to Nevada that will be stored there in the off-season, relieving us of the fairly large task of cleaning playa dust off of things and reinstalling them.
Support duties on the playa were well distributed among department staff, so most of us weren’t drastically overworked. Our new tech support manager has been helpful in coordinating and focusing efforts where they’re most needed.
An office internet connection outage occurred towards the end of the event. It was determined to be an undetected AT&T equipment failure upstream from us, and fortunately it was repaired just before the reopening of the office after the event.
In an effort to improve the Technical Support for the San Francisco office, a project manager was brought in halfway through the year. Efforts in Technical Support were focused on:
- One-on-one meetings with office staff members to identify their current issues and collect feedback for improving processes
- Prioritization of tasks to minimize interruption of work by customers
- Technical focus on these high-priority tasks with increased turnaround on resolving issues
- Centralized method for documenting and tracking issues (the Collector)
We saw an increase in the quality of customer service, and still have opportunity for improvement in many areas.
New for this year was the creation of the Tech Support Center. This space on our Extranet is a compilation of current support documentation and information on how to get help in specific areas (email, database, questionnaires, etc). Our goal is to help people help themselves and offer one-stop shopping for answers to technical questions. We will continue adding content to keep it up to date and ensure that is a valuable tool. For this upcoming year, we will create a Tech Ops Center, based on the Tech Support Center, which will be focused on documentation and information pertaining to the Tech Ops team.
2007 was a good year for Burning Man’s Technical Support in Nevada, in that not as much support was needed as in past years. Again we added additional staff to assist with technology during the event season, which helped greatly. With the extra staff more tasks could be completed at the same time. There are several different directions that require technical support: the Gerlach office, the Black Rock Saloon, on the playa for event preparation, and Black Rock Station. Having the extra pair of hands allowed the tasks to be broken down and completed in a timely manner.
In the Black Rock Saloon we have our public computer area, and another small area in the media (TV) room. In 2007 we added a few more computers to the public computer area. After the event we added several more VoIP phones, and most nights after work all of them would be in use. The added communication keeps the crew happy while they are living in the remote town for several months. For next year, more computers and phones will be added.
In 2007 several extra printers were acquired from the donation piles in the San Francisco office and transported to Nevada. These were deployed in both the office and the saloon. They all worked great before the event, but most were hauled out to the event for use in Black Rock City and came back dead due to the dust. We will probably get more printers again next year and leave them in Gerlach so they don’t have to be transported. It is challenging to fix the printers as it takes a skilled worker many hours to fix a broken laser jet. It will be a task for the winter support personnel to see if any of the existing printers are worth bringing back to life.
The phone system used in the Gerlach office allows 6 outgoing lines and 16 internal extensions. As we expand the size of the event, sometimes having only 6 lines for phone calls gets challenging. So far it has all worked out that everyone’s been very patient when the lines are tied up. The system is aging though, and often calls drop for no apparent reason. Each year we end up replacing about 5 of the handsets because the old ones have failed. Gerlach is a very dusty town, being on the edge of the Black Rock Desert, and lot of technology fails because of the dust. In 2007 we pushed more people to use the VoIP phones in the saloon to lessen the load in the office. The office is a small place, and for a growing event, it is better to have an overflow location for the staff that do not need to be regularly in the office.
This year, as all years, has been a learning experience. After each event we write reports to gather our thoughts and make improvements for the upcoming year. Each year has been getting better and easier as we learn lessons and make changes to improve the overall event. This year by adding and training more staff we have had more of a team, and next year we’ll have an even stronger, more efficient team.
Ludwig Klopfer, San Francisco Technical Support
Chris Petrell (Taz), Nevada Technical Lead
Ian Starr (Bliss), Project Manager