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2008 Nose Fish
Afterburn Report

Burning Man 2008 was a great one for Nose Fish. We gave away over 4000 otter pops and generally had a wonderful time.

We welcomed some new camp members this year:

  • Steve, whose striped sherbet one-piece was as popular as his incredible upside-down bike.
  • Laura, whose great sense of humor and unflappable positive attitude were appreciated by all.
  • Mary and Joe Williams, whose costumed antics were delightful and whose dedication to having a good time was inspiring.
  • Paul and Ginger, whose gracious contributions of extraordinary meals were, well, one of the most biscuity parts of our collective Burning Man experience, but I get ahead of myself...

The Biscuity and the Watery

I suppose the best place to start is right in the middle. Otherwise, it just won't make sense.

Some time around the middle of the week, we were sitting around in the morning, wondering if there were any parts of our bodies that didn't already have dust in or on them, when Paul and Ginger spontaneously made and served what I can only call the best biscuits on the planet. They can only be called that because I haven't been to any other planets, but I'm pretty sure none of the nearby planets have biscuits this good either. Raisins, cashews, lightly browned. We ate them hungrily -- and the second batch too. From that point on, when we wanted an adjective to describe something good, we used "biscuity." But, only if it was really good.

  • That feeling you get right after taking a zero-impact shower: biscuity.
  • The feeling you get handing out otter pops to people so hot the pops sublimate as they enter their mouth? Biscuity.
  • The feeling you get when someone offers you schwag you'd be too embarased to re-gift? Not so biscuity.

On another morning, Mary Williams was enjoying a sweet, powdered coffee drink (leech flavored? I can't quite remember) and I tried some of hers. It was too sweet for me. So I mixed one with less of the powder and was enjoying it. I offered her some to try and she replied "It's good. It's kinda on the watery side of good." And, thankfully, we then had an adjective for the other end of the spectrum. Far, far away from biscuity. Not so far that you'd couldn't still imagine a cashew and raisin biscuit, but far enough that you really wished you had a cashew and raisin biscuit, instead of... well, whatever the watery merde was that was keeping you from enjoying the biscuity side of Burning Man at that moment.

So, now, without further watery introductory wordage...

The Biscuity Bits

Some of the best parts of Burning Man this year were:
3:00 Plaza Tour
The dust storm on Monday delayed the 3:00 plaza tour until Tuesday, but it was worth the wait. We had a huge group of people take the tour and each camp participated, except one camp that hadn't arrived yet. It was really fun this year, and useful because one or two camps needed items (they got them!) There were some great camps in the Plaza again this year. One of my favorites was the Red Eye diner, who had a large menu of items which were all actually just grilled cheese sandwiches. But, the skill with which their menu was obfuscated was impressive. I was there with some camp-mates having an afternoon snack and we were teasing a noob, suggesting this sandwich or that one. After several minutes, she busted out laughing "Oh, I get it! They're all grilled cheese sandwiches!" But, they were really good! Bad Idea theater was their usual Awesome Selves again. This year they had delicious pickled eggs!

Otter Pops
We had a fantastic time handing out otter pops. We'd wait until the hot part of the day and hand out nearly a thousand. At the beginning of the week we'd give each person two halves. Later in the week each person got one half. We tried to bring otter pops to the folks working in Arctica each day -- they loved it. We also collected otter moop. Our goal was not to have any otter pop wrappers hit the playa. If people dropped a piece of otter pop, we picked that up too. We were shooting for zero-impact otter popping, and I think we got pretty close. Photo by Andrea: Scissors Boy (aka Joe) on the left, Spank (aka John D) on the right, demonstrating the proper otter pop cutting technique.

Many thanks to Ellyn for coordinating with the Nevada State Health Department for the permit that allowed us to give away Otter Pops. Many thanks also to Greg for purchasing a freezer and bringing it up to Burning Man to freeze and keep frozen the thousands of Otter Pops we ultimately gave away. Also, many thanks to Paul for bringing up 50lbs of dry ice, without which we would not have been able to freeze many of the thousands of otter pops that came up unfrozen. He also helped us pre-cool many otter pops with salt water. And lots of camp members brought up cases of otter pops (Andrea, Tom & Ellyn, Mary and Joe, Greg).

Paul and Ginger's Fantastic Foods
Paul and Ginger somehow didn't get the memo about the crappy food in our camp. Because, instead of going along with "the program" of canned or plastic wrapped foods, frozen pre-cooked foods and cheetos, they actually brought amazingly good food, in mass quantities, and prepared it for us all to enjoy. I suppose it is worth mentioning that Chris Pirazzi (creator of the MEZ Screen) deletes the memo every year and instead brings sumptuous food, and shares it with us. This year, Paul and Ginger prepared a fantastic salmon dinner, with salad and desert one night. Another night they prepared an awesome pot of chili, again with salad and desert. I think there were some other side dishes, but my brain kinda shut down when the food started coming and well, all I remember was a lot of laughing, raising glasses to their collective health, and something about body paint not tasting as good unless it was on a body... And, on two separate days there were marvelous biscuits. One morning it was crab cakes! Crab cakes!! Who knew crabs even knew how to bake?! Wow! They were so good. Two rounds and there were these dream-like smiles on people's faces, like they'd died and gone to burning man and were served hot crab cakes in the morning, but without the dying part. All I can say is that when Paul and Ginger offer to make dinner, somehow it isn't difficult to bring the camp together at the same time. Go figure.

The MEZ Screen
The MEZ Screen was a major attraction again this year, like all previous years. It operated flawlessly this year and was very popular whenever it was running. There were new "popsicle" pixels as well as some new effects. Chris sets up and operates the MEZ screen with almost no help. Even when it fell over on him and he was crying out in pain, we knew he wanted to take care of it himself. At least, that's what Tom said. This year Chris brought a wide variety of music to play and we had two powered speakers. Deluxe! I remember several nights sitting up on the Nosefish Dome Deck watching people dance in front of the MEZ Screen -- its a perfect place to observe.

Shade Cover
The shade cover was up very early and it gave us a nice place to get out of the sun. It wasn't that useful during a dust storm (see "Watery Bits" below), but the rest of the time it was nice. In particular, Franziska, John and I were there early and got the shade structure up by Friday. Neighbors from all around came by to visit and get out of the sun. It was a quintessential Burning Man experience -- an instant community of really nice people sharing resources. People brought cool things to drink and eat and we all sat in the shade and shade and had a wonderful time. Photo by Steve.

Domes, Dome Decks and Signs
Our main dome, which we had intended to turn into the "Americana Lounge" had a deck on top. The deck was a really nice place to observe Burning Man and the 3:00 plaza. We never did set up the lounge. It turns out that the American Dream as manifested by the Americana Lounge was an empty promise. But, lots of people enjoyed the deck. We saw lots of people up there all week, including someone who meditated there every morning.

We actually had to move the main dome, with the deck on top, because it was assembled in the wrong place. We needed to swap places with the MEZ screen because our neighbors had a lot of lights in their camp. But, in true Burning Man fashion, we were able to get help from a dozen neighbors and camp members and we just picked up the dome and move it in about 30 seconds. So easy. Of course, after they all left, I had to take the entire dome structure apart and rebuild it because it was facing the wrong direction. Oh well.

Michael Marx's signs were absolutely awesome! We had a great big one zip-tied to the main dome and it looked great all week! He actually drew a series of funny popsicle flavor signs like the one at right and I laid them out using Comic Life, with text. Chris Pirazzi had them printed in Thailand. The airlines lost them, but they were found before we left so all was well. (Drawing Michael Marx, layout and text Howard; Text: Everyone's calling for a PHONESICLE! Now with less EARWAX!)

Tom the Curmudgeon
Tom out-curmudgeoned himself this year. Really, it was the least he could do. I really admire skillz like his. I mean, he can sit in a chair like nobody's business. And sleeping? You wanna talk sleeping? He's a master. Even when he's not sleeping, he's got more ways to not do anything than I ever knew there were. There his 'Yea, sure, I'll be right there...' maneuver. But, nothing can compare with the brilliant minimalism of his one word deferral: 'OK' -- He says it and just for a moment, you think he's actually going to get up. Then you realize its more like the prompt in a Basic interpreter. It is marginally better than "Syntax error" in that you know he understood you. But, you're not actually any closer to a working program that does something useful. That kind of brilliance doesn't come easy. He's been honing his curmudgeoning for years, but this year he had a breakthrough and frankly, I felt honored just to be in his glowing presence... as long as I was upwind.

Impact Girl, A Model of Efficiency
Impact Girl has been in our camp for years. She's always willing to lend a hand. But, she's also a model of efficiency. Her entire burning man experience is contained in a few fliptop boxes plus her bike. For breakfast she pours canned espresso shots over her cereal. I think nobody embodies the "less is more" spirit more than her, unless we're talking about work, in which case Tom has it cornered. I think that some guys mistake her for a fragile flower in the desert. But, she didn't get her playa name because she's pretty or delicate. She bolted down the Desert Nose with a pneumatic impact wrench in the blazing sun in years past, climbing all over the two-story geodesic structure she also helped to assemble. And this year, she was right there during a wind storm later in the week when we had to take down/slash/tie down tarps around our shade structure. Solid, competent and ready to work. Really, everyone in our camp is competent and ready to help. I just figured it was time to embarrass her.

Art in the 3:00 Plaza
The planned art project for the 3:00 plaza didn't arrive this year -- apparently the artist had some problems either getting to Burning Man or completing their project. I never did find out. But, on Monday the folks over at "Cave of the Echo People" across the plaza got the word that their art piece, Reflection, was going to be the new art installation for the center of the plaza. So, on Monday, during an intense dust storm, they moved Reflection to the center of the plaza. I helped, as did a few other folks. It was surreal. We could not see anything but the pieces we were working on and each other. The camps around us might as well have been on a different planet enjoying watery biscuits -- we could not see any of them. I think this was one of my favorite experiences at Burning Man this year. I experienced a kind of camaraderie that seems only to happen when things are difficult and people have to work together to succeed (or survive). In this case it was making (well, relocating) an art installation during a dust storm. It was a rare and wonderful experience.

The Watery Bits

The playa didn't get a lot of rain last winter, so the playa surface was very soft this year. In fact, it was so soft...


  • The playa was so soft, we didn't have to pound rebar stakes in. We just held them upright and gravity did the rest.

  • The playa was so soft, I fell off my bike and didn't realize it until I noticed that all the art projects were mounted in the sky

  • The playa was so soft, I dropped my keys and a minute later they were still slowing down before coming to a halt under five inches of fine tan powder.

  • The playa was so soft, you caused a dust cloud every time you sneezed, which caused other people to sneeze, and well, by Saturday the vicious cycle led to a dust storm so bad it delayed the burn. Please people, cover your face when you sneeze!

Well, the soft playa surface made biking very difficult. So, it was a good thing we got to know our neighbors, because we spent a fair amount of time with them.

In fact, on Monday, there was a terrible dust storm. It showed us that our basic shade structure and domes are insufficient. We had no shelter from the blowing wind and dust. Franziska, John and I sheltered in the Bad Idea Theater kitchen. Some of our camp members sat in their cars or tents. Some just sat outside, with full dust storm gear on. It lasted for hours and it sucked. We had another storm just like it on Saturday. Next year we will have to have some kind of enclosed structure in which to shelter from such onslaughts of dust and wind. Photo by Steve.

Another problem with the soft playa was that it rendered our fishcycle almost useless. The fishcycle was a four-wheeled bicycle from which we'd planned to hand out otter pops. But, it had four small wheels with tires about 1.5 inches wide. The vehicle itself weighed about 300 lbs, and with four people averaging 160 lbs each, the total weight was about 1000lbs... on four little wheels. They just sunk into the soft playa and it was really hard to get it moving. We did take it out a couple of times, but the riders dared not slow down for fear of getting completely stuck. We spent a lot of time and money buying and preparing the fishcycle. In the end, its greatest benefit was to block the empty space between our kitchen and the front of our camp, to keep people from using our camp as a road. But, it made a damn good roadblock and we were all proud of it! (Photo by Beth or Greg)

Franziska, John and I left Saturday during the major dust storm. We had almost four feet visibility as we were driving out of the city. We just followed the car in front of us. I don't know how they managed to find the gate, but they did, and so did we. Unfortunately, we had car trouble getting home. About one mile from the California border our transmission failed. The Fishtank was heavily loaded, with stuff on top too. So, AAA wasn't sure if they could even tow us. They did though. They towed us 97 miles to a Big O tire in Sacramento, about 1 mile from Mary and Joe's place, where we spent the night. The next day they towed us 107 miles to our mechanic in San Francisco. We paid $70 for the extra 7 miles. In retrospect, it costs more than $70 in gasoline to drive from Reno to San Francisco in the Fishtank. Hmmm... Despite the biscuity economics, it was a fairly watery experience.

A Few More Tidbits

The MEZ screen was a big hit again this year. Chris always enhances it each year. This year the computer he uses to drive the MEZ died a few days before Burning Man. He purchased a new laptop and madly ported the MEZ software to it. He finished, but just barely in time. The MEZ worked perfectly and was enjoyed by thousands of people.

One morning I was out by the MEZ screen in front of our camp and saw a man looking in the dust for something. I inquired and he said he'd lost his keys. Nose Fish has a special playa rake with a long magnetic bar on the back and I offered it to him. It happened to be leaning against Tom and Ellyn's van (which is used as a projection booth). He used it and found his keys in less than a minute. In retrospect it was one of those classic playa moments. You actually need something, and it isn't far away. I mean, how else was I going to get that rake moved from one side of Tom's car to the other without doing it myself. Classic!

Early in the week the LNT folks came by to visit and check out our camp. We didn't actually apply for Camp of the Day before Burning Man this year, but they brought the forms by and I filled them out on the spot. We had a pretty good set-up this year for LNT. Ellyn was our LNT Guru and Greg was our recycling guru again. We don't have czars -- we have gurus. It fits with our philosophy of letting other people do the work. The guru tells you what should be done and you find someone else to do it. But, we had a pretty clean camp this year. While the LNT folks were visiting us our table had some loose items on it. The wind picked up all of a sudden and in a moment we all dove on the table to hold down the loose items. It would have left a much better impression if we had been wearing underwear I suppose.

Final Word

Well, it was a biscuity year for Nose Fish. We had our camp's private decompression party at Tom and Ellyn's place again, with excellent Persian food. We all lusted after Steve's electric car prototype and we enjoyed some excellent absinthe. We're full of ideas for 2009 and we're hoping everyone can make it. We only had Beth this year for a couple of days, but it was great to have her there at least a little bit.

Thanks to all our new camp members and to all our existing camp members, for making this year so good. And to all our camp members who didn't come this year, please come next year -- we miss you!

It would be a watery afterburn if it didn't end on a biscuity note:

For sale: one slightly dusty quadracycle

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