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The Big Hangup At Burning Man Is Cell Phones 167

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-a-message dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "L. J. Williamson writes in the LA Times that with no running water, no plumbing, and no electrical outlets Burning Man isn't the kind of place to expect full bars on your smartphone and for many of the participants that's a big part of its charm. 'If you want to partake in the true Burning Man experience, you should leave your phone at home,' says Mark Hansen. In past years, the closest cellular towers, designed to serve the nearby towns of Empire (population 206) and Gerlach (population 217), would quickly get overwhelmed each August when Black Rock City (population 50,000 or so) rose from the featureless playa. Although Burning Man attracts a sizable Silicon Valley contingent including tech giants like Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin — the feeling of being 'unplugged' has become an integral part of the Burning Man experience. But another part of the event is an intrepid, DIY ethos, and in that spirit, David Burgess, co-creator of OpenBTS, an open-source cellular network software, brought a homemade in 2008, an 'almost comical' setup that created a working cellular network that routed a few hundred calls over a 48-hour period. In each subsequent year, Burgess has improved the system's reach and expects to have about three-quarters of this year's event covered. Burning Man proved an ideal test bed for development of Burgess' system, which he has since made available for use in other areas without cellular networks. 'People who have a lot of experience in international aid say Burning Man is a very good simulation of a well-organized refugee camp,' says Burgess. 'Because there's no infrastructure, it forces us to contend with a lot of problems that our rural customers have to contend with in very remote places.'"
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The Big Hangup At Burning Man Is Cell Phones

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    "The big hangup are"?
  • Vanity (Score:5, Funny)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:21PM (#44678721) Homepage
    What good is it going to "Burning Man" if nobody knows you're there? People can't survive a week without facebook and twitter, that's just being unreasonable. People need validation! And likes! And the fact that it's hard to get cell service just makes you even more special to have gotten your photos out! Imagine the look on your workmates' faces when you call..."Guess where I am!" If this were an underground event, nobody would bother attending. Where's the fun in nobody knowing that you're there?
    • What good is reading tech news if you don't post comments on slashdot to show everybody how awesome you are for being interested in tech news! People can't survive a week without slashdot, that's just being unreasonable. People need validation! And up-mods! Imagine the look on your workmates' face when they see that you posted a comment in response to a scientific article! If there weren't a comment site for tech news, nobody would bother reading it! What's the fun of reading tech news if no one knows

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Seumas (6865)

      I'd think the biggest hangup would be the stank of commercialized hippy and deadbeat.

  • And so as it becomes yuppified and "me too!" and too popular, there will be a sub-sub-culture for the folks that really know what is going on and why they should be there.

    The same has happened with Rainbow Gatherings, and will happen with events like DefCon.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      That happened over 15 years ago.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Somebody must've talked about Fight Club.

    • by Skynyrd (25155) on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:19PM (#44679235) Homepage

      And so as it becomes yuppified and "me too!" and too popular, there will be a sub-sub-culture for the folks that really know what is going on and why they should be there.

      Many of us who have been going for a long time have stepped away as the event changed. It isn't the same as it was, so we've decided to walk away from the event.
      I'm not saying it isn't fun, or I'm too cool for it, but it no longer appeals to me.

      My Facebook feed has slowed by 50%, so I still seem to have a bunch of friends who are going - but I'm getting photos and updates from the desert. That part I don't understand; I loved being off the grid for a week or three.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 26, 2013 @04:40PM (#44680067)

        I know you know you better than I know you but have you ever considered that the event changed less than you have? There's a lot of things I liked even 10 years ago and when I try to revisit them I think they suck. More and more I've come to the realization that what has changed really isn't that much worse and what I like that hasn't changed just doesn't appeal to me anymore. I've never been to burning man but I've done other counter culture events and I can see how much I've changed in them.

        • by Skynyrd (25155)

          I know you know you better than I know you but have you ever considered that the event changed less than you have? There's a lot of things I liked even 10 years ago and when I try to revisit them I think they suck. More and more I've come to the realization that what has changed really isn't that much worse and what I like that hasn't changed just doesn't appeal to me anymore. I've never been to burning man but I've done other counter culture events and I can see how much I've changed in them.

          The event has changed, drastically.
          My first year, there were 8,000 people on the playa. The ethic of "no spectators" was strong. Very strong. Of course some people had less to contribute than others, myself included. I understood what I was supposed to do, but not to the degree. My next many years, I was much more involved in creating things for the community. One year I took a month off, and worked for the DPW - I worked on the crew (of 4 people) who made the giant spheres surrounding the man in '99. Other

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      It used to be about the music, man!

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:24PM (#44678763)

    If you have tethering you should turn it on, so others can mooch off your service. That way you can lower the cell traffic, and use your cell phone as a hand warmer.

    • If you have tethering you should turn it on, so others can mooch off your service. That way you can lower the cell traffic, and use your cell phone as a hand warmer.

      Just make sure you hook it up to a nice sized solar panel so you don't run out of juice during the day... and charge up a battery, as I'm sure actual cell service spikes at around dusk.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:24PM (#44678769)

    Trust fund rebels can't get a signal on their iStuff.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I enjoy [x] and you should enjoy [x] the way I do if you really want to enjoy [x], man.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      The parent comment is said to every female at every rave worldwide, EXACTLY verbatim.
  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:33PM (#44678839) Homepage Journal

    at Burning Man, you're a fucking poser and really shouldn't even be there.

    • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:39PM (#44678897)

      But if none of the poseurs showed up, the festival would be empty and then were would we be?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        But if none of the poseurs showed up, the festival would be empty and then were would we be?

        At Bonnaroo?

    • by RoTNCoRE (744518)

      How "radically inclusive" of you!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:55PM (#44679043)

      Burning Man stands for absolutely nothing other than privileged, usually white people who want to go waste a lot of time while being very conscious of the fact that this supposedly makes them cool. It's silly to try to label a subsect of Burners as posers when posing is one of the main reasons for going to Burning Man. I write this as someone who lived in San Francisco for several years, and had burners as roommates and dates. If people at Burning Man used their talents to actually do something constructive, I would be a huge supporter of it -- but I would guess most people would stop going.

      • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:46PM (#44679487) Homepage Journal

        Burning Man stands for absolutely nothing other than privileged, usually white people who want to go waste a lot of time while being very conscious of the fact that this supposedly makes them cool.

        Yeah...bad time to be a white person. I mean, what are they all thinking...having time off and disposable income and wasting it on themselves rather than sharing it with the more deserving people who are having to do without.

        Geez...the bastards.

        • by sootman (158191)

          "For 200 years, the best thing you could be was a white guy with a few bucks in the bank. I come along, *pfft,*, fuck you, party's over."

          - Richard Jeni

      • by GonzoPhysicist (1231558) on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:50PM (#44679533)
        Actually "people at Burning Man us[ing] their talents to actually do something constructive" is how the whole thing works. Where do you think all the art, events, bars, DJs, classes, and other fun stuff comes from? They weren't paid to be there.
        While it is true that there are those that come to mooch off all this creativity and culture, but one of the central tenets is being part of the community and contributing to it.
      • by LoRdTAW (99712)

        What does being white have to do with anything? Seriously, I want to know.

      • Funny. Everyone I know who goes to Burning Man is using their talents to do something constructive, both while there and while not. It ranges from artists to computer geeks to lawyers. Then again, not everyone thinks that having a house in suburbia is being productive, or that doing anything but the 9-5 grind is required to be an upstanding citizen.

        Quite frankly, I don't understand the Burning Man hate. If anything, it sounds like the standard neckbeard whining about anything that lots of people do: I can't

      • Burning Man stands for absolutely nothing other than privileged, usually white people who want to go waste a lot of time while being very conscious of the fact that this supposedly makes them cool.

        Ah, that must be it, based on what, a few photos that you've seen on the web and your own insecurities about anyone different?

        The Burning Man people that I know are generally hippie types who go to oggle naked people, run around naked, and do lots of hallucinogens. I've never seen anything about privilege, only general weirdness.

      • by Tom (822)

        If people at Burning Man used their talents to actually do something constructive

        Most of what makes up culture is non-constructive. Religion, art, social events of all kinds, customs and traditions, stories, songs, the list goes on.

      • by dr.g (158917)

        At least they're off my fucking lawn.

      • by metrix007 (200091)

        Yawn....another racist who views themselves as progressive and educated. Ironic.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Enjoy you're expression like I do or you're a poser!
      WHAAA WAAAAAaaaa. whine!

    • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:25PM (#44679289)

      I would just like to add that I was into that band before they got popular and went all commercial, and I don't even *own* a TV.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What would be really interesting is a cell phone network at Burning Man that allowed you to make calls ONLY within BRC. People could come and get a SIM card and number and put it into an unlocked phone (ideally, a burner phone ;-). This would facilitate communication between both people you come to the event with and people you meet there. Plus, you could designate special numbers that do interesting things...like call 777-7777 to connect to a random number call 111-1111 to be connected with the next person

      • I take it you haven't RTFA. Try it sometime. Especially the OpenBTS stuff where the cell phone network is being run by participants at the Burning Man festival.

        Most of what you think would be interesting or cool is in fact being done there. The guys running the cell phone network are just a bunch of geeks who think cell phone technology should be something more than what big corporations are cramming down your throat, and are doing some really interesting things with it.

        When you connect to the OpenBTS network, you are assigned a "new number" that is intended to be used only internally. Phone calls are limited to 5 minutes in length, and incoming phone calls only get through for people who you've personally placed an outgoing phone call (presumably because it is likely a child/parent/sibling or significant other that you are worried about and want to have then call you back).

        They do provide network (aka internet) access, but that is very limited as well.

        I don't know about the other fun stuff, but the developers of this network said they included several "Easter eggs" in the system as well just for fun. The software they are using is open sourced and has been used in places other than the Burning Man as well. That is the part I'm even more impressed with, as they are using their experiences at Burning Man to not only better themselves, but to help the rest of the world as well and giving back the rest of the year too.

  • when all you're wearing is a feather boa?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Burning Man is a very good simulation of a well-organized refugee camp

    I always wondered why Burning Man seemed uninviting to anyone with a real job. If I want to go camping, I turn off my phone and throw some gear in my car and head out of town. What exactly is good about going camping with 50,000 random [drug|STD|paranoia]-ridden strangers?

    • by Hatta (162192) on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:13PM (#44679185) Journal

      On the contrary, it seems like Burning Man is uninviting to anyone who doesn't have a real job. Who else can afford tickets? My sense is that a lot of burners are professionals the other 51 weeks of the year. Burning Man is a huge release from all the conformity they deal with the rest of the year. They get one week out of the year to feel cool, so they make it as extreme as possible.

  • be a killer application for a 60k person party spread out over 7 square miles. They're too focused on the ways the technology can detract from what they're doing instead of finding ways to enhance it.

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:54PM (#44679033)
    Today's burning man is about as counter-culture as a midnight madness sale at Walmart. The only difference is Walmart doesn't charge admission.
    • Today's burning man is about as counter-culture as a midnight madness sale at Walmart. The only difference is Walmart doesn't charge admission.

      But The Man's culture is counter to the counter-culture culture, man!

  • by cliffjumper222 (229876) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:54PM (#44679037)

    Do these guys have a license to transmit in the cellular bands?

    • Re:FCC License? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Erbo (384) <obreerbo&gmail,com> on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:05PM (#44679123) Homepage Journal
      From the last linked article: "GSM operates on licensed bandwidth, so for any U.S. installation, the OpenBTS crew always obtains a FCC license and works with the local carrier to coordinate frequency use." As they should.

      (Speaking of radios and frequency coordination, I've wondered how big a presence amateur radio has at Burning Man. It seems like it'd be a natural fit.)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        (Speaking of radios and frequency coordination, I've wondered how big a presence amateur radio has at Burning Man. It seems like it'd be a natural fit.)

        http://hamradionation.com/browse_vidfeeders.php?tag=burningman

        Dahdahdididit didididahdah

      • From the last linked article: "GSM operates on licensed bandwidth, so for any U.S. installation, the OpenBTS crew always obtains a FCC license and works with the local carrier to coordinate frequency use."

        They sold out to the man, man.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why would you press so many keys on your keyboard, when two clicks with the mouse would have both answered your question AND kept you from looking like a lazy fool? :P

      The answer is clearly "yes" for anyone who actually cares.

    • Do these guys have a license to transmit in the cellular bands?

      You've never been to Burning Man, have you?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I can't speak for these guys in particular of course, but the FCC actually makes it pretty easy to get a temporary license for limited-power transmissions in a particular area, for experimental use.

      This technique has been used for similar setups at remote hacker camps. If you're far away from civilization it's not a big deal.

      Lots of info (too much info?) here: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=222cd91db0980b4e6c3c7049e409c6b5&rgn=div5&view=text&node=47:1.0.1.1.6&idno=47 [ecfr.gov]

      • by Teancum (67324)

        The OpenBTS guys also had the amazing luck (at least when they started) that the area of the Burning Man festival (Blackrock City) didn't have any commercial cell phone providers in the area, so the FCC was a whole lot more forgiving. The technical details [sourceforge.net] include the actual FCC license for the event [sourceforge.net]. Yes, they were and are licensed to perform this activity. These guys are real pros at doing this kind of thing, especially since they've been doing it for several years now.

  • Cell Phones (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mullen (14656) on Monday August 26, 2013 @02:59PM (#44679069)

    This article is so horribly written that it makes my head hurt.

    First off, the Tech Titans that go to Burning Man fly in private jets and stay in "Pay to Play" camps. Not to be a Burning Man snob, they are not getting the Burning Man experience. Also, most of them stay a day or so and then leave.

    The OpenBTS network that is setup is a closed private Cell Phone network (This is covered in the FAQ). You have to have a GSM phone, type in special codes to get it to work and there are a number of restrictions to using the network. As the article stated, calling out is limited and calling in very limited. It's great for sending TXT messages, but the coverage is spotty at best.

    OpenBTS only supports GSM, not CDMA (Verizon and Sprint), so that means not everyone can use it. Verizon kinda works out there, but TXT is the only thing flowing in or out (With long delays) since there are still too many people out there for the local cell phone infrastructure.

    There is wireless at Burning Man, but really only at Center Camp and after about 8:00a, it gets crushed with users. Trust me, no one is checking Facebook or Instagram at Burning Man.

    This whole, "OMG, CELL PHONES AT BURNING MAN IS GOING TO RUIN BURNING MAN" is completely over blown. Just about everyone turns off their phones at the gates and leaves them off all week. Burning Man was and still is a completely different world for one week.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Burning Man was and still is a completely different world for one week.

      No cell phones. So Burning Man is still a completely different world from what?

      Some of us can actually remember what things were like more than 25 years ago. Kids today...geez.

      • by epyT-R (613989)

        not just about remembering it, but experiencing it again, which is quite nice.

        • You're not experiencing the act of unplugging. You're just going to an organized event in the desert. Even if YOU personally unplug, people can still send you "emergency" messages that the Black Rock Rangers will try to deliver to you, just like the desk attendant at a hotel/spa/resort.

          Burning Man is for people who like the idea of roughing it, but are either too lazy, or too afraid to take the risk of cutting themselves off completely. If you're not going for the drug culture or "to be seen," I can't re

          • You're not experiencing the act of unplugging. You're just going to an organized event in the desert. Even if YOU personally unplug, people can still send you "emergency" messages that the Black Rock Rangers will try to deliver to you, just like the desk attendant at a hotel/spa/resort.

            Burning Man is for people who like the idea of roughing it, but are either too lazy, or too afraid to take the risk of cutting themselves off completely. If you're not going for the drug culture or "to be seen," I can't really see the attraction - you can get a much cheaper experience unplugging if you go backpacking in a national park.

            Right this moment I could get more "off the grid" than your average Burner by turning off my cell phone and computer. If you tell everyone where you're going and leave them a point of contact, that takes the fun away!

            It's about so much more than getting 'off the grid', or drugs or being seen, it's about spending time with bizarre and interesting people, seeing things you wouldn't see elsewhere, experiencing time with yourself and others in an extreme environment that isn't anywhere else. And a million other things, BM isn't just one thing (how can a city of 50 thousand people ever be that simple), it's a bunch of things with a bunch of draws.

          • by greg1104 (461138)

            you can get a much cheaper experience unplugging if you go backpacking in a national park.

            You can get an even cheaper experience by simply unplugging.

    • by Skynyrd (25155)

      Trust me, no one is checking Facebook or Instagram at Burning Man.

      This whole, "OMG, CELL PHONES AT BURNING MAN IS GOING TO RUIN BURNING MAN" is completely over blown. Just about everyone turns off their phones at the gates and leaves them off all week. Burning Man was and still is a completely different world for one week.

      Your first statement is not true. I'm getting a fairly constant flow of photos and updates from friends out there now. Most for them work for the BORG, so they have a hard line data connection.

      But yeah, most people turn off their phone.

      • by Mullen (14656)

        Your first statement is not true. I'm getting a fairly constant flow of photos and updates from friends out there now. Most for them work for the BORG, so they have a hard line data connection.

        But yeah, most people turn off their phone.

        The reason you get pictures from them is because the BORG has its own WiFi network that no one else can use. They can snap pictures and they do get out, everyone else, this is not true.

    • by pspahn (1175617)

      Just about everyone turns off their phones at the gates and leaves them off all week.

      Pretty sure they aren't doing that because they want to "disconnect" for the week. They are turning them off for the week because they aren't going to be of any use. You said it yourself, after 8am, it "gets crushed with users".

      Honestly, I would rather pay $400 for a good video montage of people at Burning Man sitting around a fire ignoring each other with faces glued to their iThings, than pay $400 to go camping with 50,000 people.

    • by Animats (122034)

      First off, the Tech Titans that go to Burning Man fly in private jets and stay in "Pay to Play" camps.

      Nine air charter companies now serve Burning Man. No waiting in line with the peons, either. The temporary airport (88NV) has its own ticket gate.

      If you really need a phone, get an Iridium phone. Reception should be great; the whole sky is visible on the playa.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        If you really need a phone, get an Iridium phone. Reception should be great; the whole sky is visible on the playa.

        Or use your own device with one of the more obscure wireless networking technologies to a satellite uplink... finally a reason to use hughesnet. Enjoy the latency!

  • And cellphone coverage spotty. The teenagers nightmare. You have to talk to the peole you are traveling with then or read a[n] [e]book.
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Monday August 26, 2013 @03:36PM (#44679373)

    I've never attended and I'm not in that "demographic", but some of my friends are. The word I've always heard is that it's now overrun with cops, curiosity-seeking yuppies, and even the organizers have taken the revenue-generating route.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Oscar Wilde, visiting San Francisco on a lecture, was heard to quip of a Bohemian Club affair, "I have never seen so many well-dressed, well-fed, business-like-looking Bohemians in the whole course of my life."

    • Not really the same anymore, is it?

      Nothing is ever the same. Get used to it. B-)

  • Burning Man is a very good simulation of a well-organized refugee camp.
  • Every single person that I've ever met that has attended burning man has been an insipid, self absorbed, liberal yuppie that thinks living in a straw bail house would be great, though they've never actually been in one. It's to the point where if I'm at a party and someone starts talking about their last trip to burning man I leave. Terrorists, please, there some areas of the country that we'd be ok with you crashing airplanes into. Please check with us next time.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Every single person that I've ever met that has attended burning man has been an insipid, self absorbed, liberal yuppie that thinks living in a straw bail house would be great, though they've never actually been in one.

      Odds are they can spell the common four-letter word "bale" correctly. Why don't you go do what you wrote?

    • by doom (14564)

      Every single person that I've ever met that has attended burning man has been an insipid, self absorbed, liberal yuppie

      Just like all your other friends, eh?

  • And in case you didn't know... Juggalos do not like wi-fi: (#10)

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/things-i-learned-at-the-gathering-of-the-juggalos [buzzfeed.com]

  • How do they interconnect their local GSM network with the other operators? Anyone can inject calls into mobile operator networks?
    • by amorsen (7485)

      They do not really interconnect. They do not accept incoming calls. They probably do not show the original number on caller ID when dialing out, although that can be done with caller ID spoofing in many cases.

  • It seems to me that in a city of 50,000 there is a need for local and 911 calling services.

    What would it take to truck out some local towers with very limited links to the bigger world but
    with local calling functionality? The value is people could find each other and also be notified
    if needed. Local DNS and local event only hosted web services....

    I have yet to see this as an interesting "diminished service" strategy but it
    makes sense as a local and regional disaster planning resource plan. In
    the ca

    • It seems to me that in a city of 50,000 there is a need for local and 911 calling services.

      Fun fact: before 1994 or so, no cities got above 50,000 or so in size due to the natural and rapid attrition of people dying with no wireless access to emergency services.

      • by Dthief (1700318)
        yeah, none of those cities had land-lines either.....
        • yeah, none of those cities had land-lines either.....

          Indeed, when people went out to parks and so on, they were DIEING IN THE STREETS. Oh the humanity. How did we survive without cellphones.

  • Years ago, when everybody had a feature phone that couldn't connect to WiFi, OpenBTS would have been interesting. But now, every smartphone can connect to high-speed WiFi and run a VoIP app.

    OpenBTS doesn't do the connectivity back to the rest of the world... "The kind folks at the Burning Man NOC provide us our Internet connectivity." Those are the guys we should hear from. The rest is just a matter of putting a dozen $40 DD-WRT routers on poles, acting as bridges, or in a mesh routing configuration, an

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