07/6/14

What’s the big deal with the Black Rock Observatory?

by Anthony Lanni

 

Like many of us in the Desert Wizards, I’ve been talking about the Black Rock Observatory a lot lately; posting about the kickstarter, asking people to share, etc. At the height of it, one of my friends asked me why I’m so excited about it.

BROnMRAC

Well, where do I begin. Oh, yes… when I was 7 or 8, and I fell in love with space.

I wanted to be an astronaut.

I got a subscription to a NASA publicity junket that sent me patches and pictures from Voyagers 1&2, SpaceLab, and the great telescopes.

I learned all the Greek myths, and the names of the constellations.

I had a glow in the dark map of the sky on my ceiling, with all the names of stars and constellations, where I could look at it before I fell asleep.

I watched Star Wars.

I started reading science fiction: Bradbury, and Asimov, and E.E. Doc Smith, and Jose Farmer, and Niven, and countless others.

I watched Star Trek: TOS with my father, 5pm on channel 5 every Saturday and Sunday.

I toured a mock-up of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, and got to watch the beginnings of the shuttle program, both triumphs and tragedies.

I watched Star Trek: TNG with my friends in college.

I still read every bit of science fiction I can get my hands on. I write it, too.

I subscribe to 9 different channels on YouTube about science.

I am, now and always, a space and science and science fiction geek. I love this stuff. And I’m really excited to share it with people that share my interest, and with those that are just learning to love it, and even those with only a passing interest.

So yeah, I’m talking about this project a lot; it’s important to me, as all the things we love are important to us. And holy cow is it cool.

06/18/14

Kickstarter Launch for Black Rock Observatory


We’re building an astronomical observatory for Burning Man 2014 and beyond, complete with giant telescope and science exhibits! The Black Rock Observatory will be a mobile observatory dedicated to the celebration of art and science and built to show the public the joy, immediacy and beauty of our solar system and universe.

The observatory consists of two 21’ domes designed by 2013 temple architect Gregg Fleishman and built by the Desert Wizards of Mars. At night, participants will be invited from miles away by high powered lasers pointing out planets and distant targets from an open sky planetarium. Our 20″ telescope will resolve the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and five of its moons, Martian polar ice caps, outer planets, and distant galaxies and nebulae! We also have an extensive daytime program in store including meteorites, white light and h-alpha solar telescopes, pinhole viewers and a radio telescope.

Our planetarium will be a place where travelers can rest their weary feet and dazzle the brain. An outpost for the curious and intrepid, we want to give the sky back to those who have forgotten it belongs to them. We want to give them views of the night sky they can explore again after Exodus by simply looking up and connecting.

Please check out and share our Kickstarter – funding ends July 17th!

05/28/14

First BRO Fundraising Event Held at Mount Wilson Observatory

by Scott Kelley

 
If you are not a hiker or a science geek, you may not know that one of our local Los Angeles peaks holds a number of prominent astronomical observatories. I’m talking about Mt. Wilson. You know, the one above Pasadena with all the antennas sprouting off of it.

Photo from summitpost.org

Mount Wilson

Back in 1904 when LA was just a little town of about 250,000, our skies were very dark and an our inversion layer (that traps the smog) made it an ideal place for an observatory. These days most of the real science is done with the solar and interferometry scopes. But the big 60″ and 100″ scopes are still there. And get this, YOU CAN RENT THEM OUT!

Photo by Tom Varden

Photo by Tom Varden

So our intrepid leader somehow scored a Saturday night with no moon for Black Rock Observatory crew and supporters. We met at the gate and were escorted under the strict watch of our session director. After walking up the stairs to instrument level, there it is, BOOM, a giant telescope.

Photo by Scott Kelley

Photo by Scott Kelley

We had about five hours total with the 60″ scope and the close by 16″ scope that is used for educational outreach. The smaller scope seemed to me to have better images of the planets, but not the nebula.

Photo by Cathleen Cotter

Photo by Cathleen Cotter

Some folks were a little surprised that the images don’t look like those giant super saturated pics from a book. But you are also looking directly at the light from that distant object. No computers or other funny business. Straight from the stars, across hundreds of light years, into the scope, into your pupil, down the optic nerve to be burned into your brain forever. Or at least until your puny carbon based life body crumbles back to star dust.

bauhaus-ziggy-stardust

05/14/14

What makes us Wizards?

by Charles White

 

Arthur C. Clark once said, “Any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

This one sentence has done much to define who we are, because today we have so much advanced technology that we are able to open doors, turn on lights, start music, and do many other things from very far away at the simple push of a button.

Yet there is more to being a wizard than just technology… there is wisdom.

The author J. R. R. Tolkien wrote of five wizards whom the Elves considered “the Wise Ones.”

But wait, there is more… kindness.

In Gandalf the Grey we see his great kindness towards the Hobbits, the Elves, and the Humans in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Author L. Frank Baum wrote about a fellow with a very long name of Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs (which was shortened to “Wizard of Oz”).  The Wizard of Oz was a kind and simple man from Nebraska, who had no magical powers except for his knowledge of technology, and his kindness was shown throughout the movie and the books.

But wait, there is more still…

In many cases throughout fiction, most every wizard ends up in a situation where they are at the limits of their powers. They must suddenly devise a solution on the spot and in the nick of time.  They invent solutions using methods in magic, or technology.

If you consider all these traits I have talked about above, then you can understand why the “Desert Wizards of Mars” is so appropriate a title for those who participate on the three projects to date; the Human Spirit, the Mars Rover Art Car, and the Black Rock Observatory.

I have seen amazing uses of technology, and devised inventions as well, among all the people who volunteer on these projects.  But the most important and touching aspect of the Desert Wizards is their unabashed use of kindness.

People are willing to help not just in building these projects, but also in helping clean up, fix things, and do projects that are not even related to the project at hand.  The Wizards prepare food and cook for each other.  We laugh together, we cry together.  We care for the welfare of each of us.

This is what truly makes the Desert Wizard of Mars such a great bunch of people to be surrounded by during these events.  And to me, it is funny to note that the Desert Wizards of Mars does not really exist when we are all apart.  It is only when we gather, put our minds together, raise our power tool magic wands and build things, that our sorcery is apparent.

We are Desert Wizards! …and Mars awaits us.

05/5/14

Interactive Art and Science

by Phoenix della Mare

 

I’ve always found it interesting watching children play, particularly the ways they move and manipulate the world to understand it. A few years ago, I worked at a children’s museum that would teach science through interactive exhibits. I loved seeing their faces light up as they would spend hours playing with the various exhibits. I worked at a smaller museum, but there are museums that do the same thing on a larger scale. The best example that I know of is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Spending a day in this museum, you can see children of all ages delight and learn through manipulation. More importantly this is about how interactive art, and specifically the Mars Rover Art Car, can engage children and excite them in STEM disciplines.

It’s hard to get most children excited about abstract concepts. It’s something that children don’t necessarily understand at a young age. Children start learning the ability to understand abstracts between the ages of 7-12, most falling in the median age of 9.5. Before that, most children start to understand the world through manipulation. How can they move this or touch that.

It’s during these early years that interactive art with a STEM bent can stoke a young child’s imagination. They’re capable of seeing concepts that you learn about in the hard sciences. Dropping a ball down the stairs, for instance, then doing the same with balls of two different sizes, to start teaching a rudimentary understanding of gravity. Playing with a Rube Goldberg machine at an interactive science museum… these are things that can engage younger children.

If a child can go up to something and see it, play with it, it can go a long way in getting a child to understand the hard sciences. It starts a child’s brain to begin to understand the physical principles that govern the world. In an era where some people still believe we live in a geocentric universe, making science more digestible to children is an ideal way to get them interested.

So, where do pieces like the Mars Rover Art Car come in?

It can easily act as an intermediary to showing children what engineering and science can create. They can appreciate in a real and physical sense what the hard sciences have to teach them. It’s part of what museums like the Exploratorium have done for many years.

The more that we create interactive art with a science bent, the more we can get children enthused about science.

04/21/14

The Sweat Lodge and the Ten Principles

by Anthony Lanni

 

This weekend Mark Donovan and I were fortunate enough to be invited by Charles White to join him for a Sweat Lodge ceremony led by Charles’ uncle, Robertjohn. For those of you who weren’t aware, the Admiral has a strong Native American heritage, and as I ruminated on the experience yesterday I realized just why Charles has such an affinity for Burning Man culture, and why he has become the Admiral for all of us in the Desert Wizards.

I’m not going to talk very much about the ceremony itself; suffice it to say that I have been looking forward to participating in a sweat lodge ceremony since I was a late teenager. What I do want to talk about is the amazing crossover of ideals that I experienced, particularly with regard for the 10 Principles of Burning Man.

First off, I would like to mention that I had plans for Saturday night already laid out when Charles posted a message asking if anyone was interested in joining him. First principle I experienced: Immediacy. I knew this was not a common opportunity, and so I messaged Charles immediately. When he responded to the affirmative, I had to scramble to get my other plans shifted to Sunday night. Absolutely worth it.

Mark and I were both nervous about our Participation, since we had never done a sweat before, and didn’t know what we might do wrong or to offend. When we arrived we eagerly offered to help out wherever we could, and ended up carrying firewood. During that work we had a good conversation with a tribe member named Eddie, who told us not to worry; there would always be someone to guide us through.

When it came time to participate in the rituals of the sweat, neither of us knew what to do. As Eddie said, that was not an issue; Uncle Robertjohn and the rest of the circle, though they may not know it by name, firmly practice the principle of Radical Inclusion. They welcome outsiders, first timers, members of other tribes; anyone who has a genuine interest in participating is welcome.

Everyone formed a circle before the sweat, and Uncle Robertjohn encouraged each of us to speak out in turn, introducing ourselves and saying why were were there. He did the same thing during the sweat, asking people to express themselves, and encouraging them to dig deeper when they were hesitant. It was one of the truest forms of Radical Self-expression I’ve seen, and it was both inspirational and amazing.

Many of the other principles came out when Robertjohn spoke. He has an incredible ability to speak deep truths, and do so in a manner that is often funny and always easy to understand. In his words I heard him talk about Civic Responsibility, not just to the people in your communities but to the environment and, indeed, to the entire universe. The principle of Communal Effort was evident not only in Robertjohn’s words, but also in the actions of the people who participated, as everyone helped clean up, make sure the lodge was cared for, and contributed to the meal we had afterwards. I could point out that everyone’s contributions to the meal firmly fell into the principle of Gifting, but in reality that was only a part of it; the entire ceremony was a gift from every person to every other person, as each gave in his or her own way. They also cautioned us to Leave No Trace, to make sure that we took everything we brought with us back out again.

There is an 11th principle that Athena Demos put on the cards she handed out at Bequinox: the “Los Angeles Bonus Principle”, Gratitude. Robertjohn talked about thanks quite a bit, how we should give thanks to everything that is for being part of us, being part of our creation and our lives. I would like to express my gratitude to Charles for having me and Mark along with him. It’s no surprise that Charles loves Burning Man and us Burners so much, that he so easily lives the 10 Principles; it is the heritage of his culture, a culture that dates back thousands of years.

And I, for one, feel privileged to be a part of it. Though the Desert Wizards, through Burning Man, through the Ten Principles and our friendships and our wild ideas and practical reasoning and spirited discussions and massive, massive love, we are continuing a tradition so ancient as to be unfathomable, but so modern as to be indisputable.

As Charles said this weekend: You may not understand this, but I love you.

04/4/14

The Pulse Cube

by Mark Donovan

 

The inspiration for this piece was a series of  “light objects” that the collective Numen/For Use created several years ago culminating in a cube that “breathed” on exhibit in the Rizzordi Art Foundation, St Petersburg Russia, in 2011.

The Pulse Cube. Photo by Mark Donovan

The Pulse Cube. Photo by Mark Donovan

I saw a video clip of the cube and knew right away that it would be at home on the playa. I have done quite a bit of woodworking, but never ventured into the world of purely aesthetic art before. My struggle is not the creative aspect of purely aesthetic art, but the making of things that have no real function (Engineer, sorry!). My curiosity was piqued when I attended my first burn last summer with Camp Tsunami and the Desert Wizards of Mars and was blown away by some of the art there. Even more inspiring were the reactions and interactions that people seemed to be having while looking at it all.

When Rachel Willman mentioned BEquinox and the LA League of Arts grants my thoughts immediately turned back to the exhibit. It would be a really fun and challenging build… this could be the perfect opportunity to make something unique for a community that would appreciate it, and contribute to the making of some good memories in the community.

The Pulse Cube by Mark Donovan

The Pulse Cube by Mark Donovan

It was inspiring to see the way people’s eyes lit up and to hear the exclamations of excitement and surprise to one another as they poked and prodded the sides and watched the pattern change inside the cube. One of the best things about the weekend for me was watching people transition from a fast walk to slow their pace as they drew nearer the cube, then stop altogether, then circle back to walk 360 degrees around it with a big smile on their face. Talking to them and hearing their impressions and their personal stories was easily the most fulfilling part of the weekend.

We liked the interaction with the people and the interesting conversations that the piece helped precipitate, and were happy with how quick the setup was. We did learn, however, that we should have built the sides of the cube a little bit sturdier; a few nights of exposure to the forgetful muscles of the occasional inebriate took their toll and we had a few cracks that will need to be repaired if it is to make its way to burning man this year! The hydraulic system that was designed to flex the sides of the cube did not move them as much as we anticipated, either, and there are already plans in the for a design that will have a larger range of motion while preventing accidental damage to the piece this summer. Hope to see you out there!

–  Charles White introduces The Pulse Cube, Mars Rover Art Car, and Black Rock Observatory.

 

03/31/14

Black Rock Observatory: Yes, We Have a Model!

by Pat Rapp

 

The Desert Wizards of Mars are making great progress on Black Rock Observatory, the newest project for the crew that is known for its ability to create art that gets people excited about science. If you haven’t been over to blackrockobservatory.com yet, or are not yet following the project on facebook, prepare to be amazed. Black Rock Observatory (BRO) will be coming to Burning Man 2014, bringing the gift of the universe to the citizens of Black Rock City. The plan includes an architectural design by Gregg Fleishman, architect of the Temple of Whollyness, which appeared at Burning Man 2013. On Saturday, March 29, a group of seven Wizards got together to build a 1/6 scale model of the Black Rock Observatory. The model included about 300 pieces of 3-ply and 5-ply ultra thin birch. The router cut pieces each replicate what will be the full size components of the dome.

Architect Gregg Fleishman and Lead Artist Tom Varden lay out the pieces of the BRO model. Photo by Michael Tupá Engel.

Architect Gregg Fleishman and Lead Artist Tom Varden lay out the pieces of the BRO model. Photo by Michael Tupá Engel.

 

The BRO will be assembled on the playa using rubber mallets to fit the pieces together like a giant puzzle; no other tools will be required. Once assembled, the BRO will be a fully functioning observatory that will enable the residents of Black Rock City to see stars, planets, and deep sky objects.

Desert Wizards assembling the model observatory. Photo by Charles White.

 

Follow us over the next few months and watch this come together. Black Rock Observatory is going to be a beautiful site on the playa.

03/27/14

Bequinox 2014

by Anthony Lanni

 

This last weekend was the second annual Bequinox, the Los Angeles Regional Burn event. A little background:

Bequinox was conceived after the Fire Marshall at L.A. Decompression told the L.A. League of Arts that there couldn’t be a burn at Decom, due to fire hazard. With the Seraphim structure built, and the plan for the reveal of the Human Spirit in place, the leaders of LALA decided that Los Angeles deserved–nay, needed a burn. A campground was found in Joshua Tree that would allow us to burn a structure, and Bequinox was born.

This year was, if anything, better than the inaugural Bequinox. Starting Thursday night, Los Angeles Burners began to arrive and set up, and by the time I arrived Friday afternoon our little version of Black Rock City was all in place. Conversation Camp and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the Effigy we were to burn and the Mars Rover Art Car, all were up and ready to go. For the rest of that night until early Sunday morning, I wandered through the camp, drinking, dancing, mooping, everything a Burner does.

Home again, exhausted, I took a couple of days to reflect on the experience. Among the camps, the art displayed, the food and drinks shared, the costumes (and lack thereof), the music and dancing and singing and everything else, one thing came through to me:

These are not the things that make the Burning Man community great.

The thing that makes the community great is the community itself. Among all the activities of the weekend, among all the laughter and partying and drinking and wildness, the best time I had came Saturday afternoon, sitting in a lawn chair under the tarp my brothers and I set up for shelter.

You know that feeling; it’s midafternoon, you spent all night partying and when you got up you spent a few hours wandering around the city. Now, you’re back at camp, maybe napping or reading a book or sewing EL wire on tonight’s costume, recharging for the evening to come.

I was reading. My brothers were sleeping. Somewhere in a nearby camp a couple was making love.

And, slowly, one by one, people began to join me. First a brother; then the girl camping next door. Another girl, from the camp on the other side, and then one of her friends. My other brother. One by one, our little shelter became full of people, chatting and laughing.

And I realized, right then, that this was what Burning Man is all about. It’s about people connecting, making friends, the human connection. All the sharing, the radical inclusion, the projects, the Temple and the Burn; they all bring us together, show us that each and every one of us is connected to the other, all friends whether we’ve met yet or not.

And I love you all.

02/26/14

MRAC Takes On LA Decompression Party

by Phoenix della Mare

 

In the Burning Man community we have a cycle, much like the seasons. Unlike our seasons which change due to weather patterns and our relative distance to the sun, Burning Man’s seasons are: build-up to the event, the event, and recovery.

Events related to Burning Man occur within this cycle. There are a series of pre-Burning Man events such as Precompression, Burnal Equinox, fundraisers for various theme camps and art projects, and so on.

And then there’s the post-event event, the thing we call Decompression. It’s a chance to have one last hurrah and wind down from the year’s Burning Man event. It generally takes place about a month after Burning Man (depending on region). The main Decompression event that is put on by the Burning Man Project is in San Francisco, but most regions have a decompression event. This allows artists to bring out their projects one more time and share it with their local community. For people who cannot attend Burning Man, this is a great way to participate. For people returning from Burning Man, the regional decompression gives them a chance to share their work again.

I generally go to the San Francisco Decompression party. I’ve made the trip to Santa Cruz for their Decompression party, as well. These are both local to me so they are easier to get to.

Last year I decided to make a bit more of a trip. I went to LA Decompression to help out where I could with the Mars Rover Art Car, which was nicely placed between the Human Spirit and the Flow Arts stage, not too far away from the entrance.

LA Decom was much larger than I expected. It ran the length of LA Historical Park, not too far away from Little Tokyo and Chinatown in Los Angeles. The size of the event was impressive, considering that San Francisco Decom is only a few blocks long. For someone used to smaller scale events, LA Decom can be a bit overwhelming.

The amount of interest in the MRAC was truly awesome. In the time that I was there, we had quite a few people who came over to check it out. They asked various questions which were answered by the members of the crew. The overall vibe was chill and Camp Envy shenanigans were happening as the MRAC was streamed over the Camp Envy website.

While my health made it difficult for me to stay as long as I had wanted (I learned some important lessons so I won’t repeat the same mistakes again), going and supporting MRAC at LA Decompression was a lot of fun. The people were great to talk to. Overall, it was a great time.

And I’m curious about the thoughts of others who were there. Feel free to send me your thoughts about MRAC at LA Decom, Burning Man or any other local events to risingphoenix13@gmail.com. I might just collect them for a future post.