The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Learn from the Burn

Located on the flattest American desert 90 miles north of Reno, Nev., a temporary community gathers for Burning Man. They thrive for seven days on art and psychedelia’mdash;and the guy in a chicken suit could either be a pauper or founder of Google.

On Oct. 4, various art installations will be on display at the Los Angeles Decompression Music ‘amp; Arts Festival for which tickets and info is available at The fest half-wittingly sums the vibes and contour of Out There.

Cock ‘N’ Waffles seems like a ‘No skin, No service’ kind-of theme camp. The cooks are only wearing shirts’mdash;their throbbing monsters dangerously close to the food’mdash;so going bottomless is an obligation one easily feels.

I’m sitting on their Persian rug, four days into Burning Man, head-to-toe in playa (or really white desert). They serve me an unappetizing waffle on a plate, topped with turkey slices and melted cheddar doused with Aunt Jemima.

‘Hands are the best utensils we have,’ says the guy serving it to me, his penis one foot away from my hair. I grab it and chomp down’mdash;on the waffle’mdash;and my brain surges; my neck hairs go static. Out here, food is carnal bliss.

As a veteran Burner, I came this year in search of scientific art installations as a cheap way of courting familial acknowledgement and acceptance.

‘The world needs its trash collectors.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with that profession, but it tended to deflate all my aspirations, having heard it at such a young age.

My grandfather told me that. Rather than joining the sanitation industry, he began a multi-million dollar company called the MacNeal-Schwendler Corporation, which develops software simulating the functionality of complex engineering designs.

Add to this my dad and uncle (both aerospace engineers) and my cousins (military science) and my sister (studying biomedical engineering), and I’m potentially looking at a family that can travel, build nukes, and create artificial hearts on Mars.

As the black sheep, surviving a week of desert dwelling is about the only thing I can claim’mdash;but even that’s an overstatement. Twelve hours into my arrival, after hunkering down in a friend’s RV while a dust storm passed (for 8 hours), I had a dehydration attack.

I combated every glass of hard alcohol with a glass of wine. So after back pains, mood swings, and a long vomit trail behind me, I was hooked to an IV in Med Camp.

Determined as I was, idiocy found me again.

To make up for it, I bike across the wide desert land’mdash;past loons and geniuses gyrating in an all-out bacchanal’mdash;to my first science-based art installation called the Hydrogen Economy.

There are people surrounding a 16-foot polycarbonate cylinder popping bubbles with what looks to be cattle prods. The igniter sticks are orange-tipped with heat, and the bubbles within the cylinder are filled either with hydrogen, oxygen, or propane.

‘Depending on the gas inside, it will either be a bright red flame or a puffy white flame or a loud bang,’ says Hydrogen Economy visionary Brett Levine. A nearby participant-control panel with two valves on it determines the mixture being blown into the bubbles.

When Levine, a thirty-something False Profit Labs scientist, dissects the mechanics for me, he’s shirtless wearing hot pink pants and a pink top hat with silver paint swirled beneath his eyes.

‘There’s an alarm indicating the percentage of combustible gas in the chamber relative to air,’ he says. Were the concentration of hydrogen to get anything lower than 2 percent, the Hydrogen Economy becomes a 16-foot tall pipe bomb.

So we move on and tour another False Profit Labs creation: PyroCardium.

Levine walks me towards a Statue of Liberty-size crown of PVC piping with a mini dance floor circumference. ‘It basically senses your heartbeat, sends it to a computer, which then translates into an algorithm that pulsates the flame effects,’ he says.

Fireballs spit from the top of each pipe, imitating my heart thanks to the pulse oximeter clipped to my finger. Two sets of twenty individually adjustable flame effects burst as I use breathing techniques to slow and speed up my heart rate like a rhythmic volcano.

‘It’s called a Venturi flame,’ Levine tells me. ‘If you’ve seen a camping stove, or anything that has a blue flame in it, it has a little hole that lets in air and it mixes with the propane as it’s coming out.’

A mutant vehicle of singing Hare Krishna monks pass by, kicking up dust, as I walk Levine back to his camp for dinner.

That night, me and a couple of East Coast buddies get our butterfly wings, glow sticks and headlights on before partying until dawn. Walking past other campsites, you get an idea of how pleasingly strange and diverse this city is.

One of our friends, Ji, stops flabbergasted in front of a drivable arachnid taller than a lamppost appropriately named ‘The Beast.’ Its eight metallic legs move one direction, and an axel beneath it enables tight pivots. (Run for the hills!)

Shortly after, a sphere bumps into Ji like a blind dog. It grumbles like a shopping cart and R2-D2, emitting electric blue lights as it backs off and meets with four similar orbs rolling through the desert.

We track them to a pedal-powered art car, deemed the Mothership, with four men sitting around a large democratic wheel as the spheres collect around them. Meet project Orb Swarm.

‘Out here we use remote controls because there’s too many people’mdash;too hectic. But our artistic vision is for them to be autonomous,’ says John Foote, a volunteer for the project, as he explains the tech specs of the rolling orbs.

Imagine a hamster ball with motors inside and a large battery acting as a ballast. While one motor spins, the battery keeps its center causing the metal shell to roll. Another motor tilts the battery to steer the shell.

‘Eventually we’ll teach them full machine choreography so we could do things like algorithmic flocking,’ Foote explains. (Remember the Orc leader in ‘Lord of the Rings’ and how each CGI Orc followed him whilst storming Gondor? That’s an artificial swarm behavior.)

‘This way we can be in camp and have a beer while they’re out performing,’ he mused.

Compared with last year’s Burn, four orbs have GPS locators as well gyros and navigational processors talking back to the central computer.

‘Some of these things you can just order out of the catalogue,’ says Mike Prados, a ‘kind-of’ project leader with droopy shoulders and mid-tempo clarity. ‘A lot require custom circuit boards and machining.’ In total, it takes about 10 hours and $2500 to make one orb.

Luckily, Burning Man funds a number of art installations’mdash;this year’s annual budget was $500,000. People go a long way to see shit blown up. Or crushed, like the interactive control armature ‘The Hand of the Man,’ which empowers participants with the controls of a car-crushing robotic hand.

So perhaps being a black sheep has perks. Burning Man’s like the Electric Light Parade to the nth degree, except you return to your default world a little stronger and smarter than before.

While my family may be more interested in colonizing Mars than Tetris blocks the size of city buildings (it was out there), at least the knack for education, discovery, and, hopefully, self-exploration serves as our ballast. ]:-)

What is Sudoku?

It’s a global sensation! Sudoku is a number-placement puzzle that is

mentally challenging, easy to learn and highly addictive. Within the game, no column, row or box can contain a repeated number, hence the name.

How to play:

Solution on page 10


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