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A Wi-Fi/VoIP Phone Booth In the Burning Man Desert 214

Brad Templeton writes "I, (of EFF/ClariNet/rec.humor.funny) along with Brent Chapman (Majordomo/Building Internet Firewalls) and the satellite dish of John Gilmore (EFF/Cygnus/Cypherpunks/etc.) put together an engaging hack -- a battery-powered free phone booth using 802.11, VoIP and a satellite IP uplink. This was placed in the desert at the Burning Man arts festival deep in the remote Nevada Black Rock playa, exactly where you wouldn't expect a working phone booth to be. With cheap VoIP people were able to call all over the world. The reactions of people to such incongruous technology were great fun and emotional as well. There's a page about the phone including details of building it and live experiences including totally non-gratuitous photos of naked people using technology. (There, that ought to stress-test my new server!)"
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A Wi-Fi/VoIP Phone Booth In the Burning Man Desert

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  • by rpbailey1642 ( 766298 ) <robert.b.pratt@g ... com minus distro> on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:19PM (#10304858)
    ...including totally non-gratuitous photos of naked people using technology. (There, that ought to stress-test my new server!)"

    Mmmm, you had me at naked.

    • Warning: one of the photos contains somebody in a furry suit.

      There, that oughta help throttle back the server, at least for types who might be viewing the page.
    • He must be talking about []
    • I thought that one of the rules of Burning Man was that you aren't supposed to run around photographing people.
      • From the What is Burning Man FAQ []:

        Q. What is the policy on taking pictures?
        A. Film and video cameras are forbidden without permission. All video cameras must be registered and tagged. This is to protect the privacy of participants and artists alike. Use Agreement forms for personal video cameras will be available upon arrival at the Gate, the Greeter's Station or Playa Info. If you are considering filming or videotaping for professional purposes, you must have a commercial agreement on file with the Med

  • Free porn? (Score:5, Funny)

    by shfted! ( 600189 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:20PM (#10304863) Journal
    There's a page about the phone including details of building it and live experiences including totally non-gratuitous photos of naked people using technology. (There, that ought to stress-test my new server!)"

    Never underestimate the power of horny nerds.

    But I gotta ask... would this lower my 1-900 bills?

    • by AKnightCowboy ( 608632 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:29PM (#10304933)
      Never underestimate the power of horny nerds.

      Because one major thing the Internet lacks is unlimited access to free pornography. Just this morning I was thinking to myself: "Self... wouldn't it be cool if some entrepreneur put pictures of naked women on the Internet? Then we wouldn't have to visit those skanky adult bookstores in the seedy district anymore."

      Who am I kidding though... if pornography was available on the Internet, how would we keep children from gaining access to it? Our entire society could collapse.

  • As if... (Score:5, Funny)

    by alexcampbell ( 709969 ) <> on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:20PM (#10304865) Homepage
    "including totally non-gratuitous photos of naked people using technology"
    As if photos of naked people could ever be gratuitous to Slashdot readers!
  • Cool (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pHatidic ( 163975 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:20PM (#10304867)
    If you want to read a great story about Burning Man then read this [], from Kuro5hin. One of the best stories from that site in a while.
    • Re:Cool (Score:3, Informative)

      by WiPEOUT ( 20036 )
      Just don't overlook that this story is just that... fiction.
      • Anyone which finds it informative that an article from the Onion is fictional doesn't have the common sense to deserve oxygen.
    • by geekotourist ( 80163 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:28AM (#10305262) Journal
      From the ever accurate Onion [] newspaper (but article hidden in the premium section now):

      "GERLACH, NV -- The Burning Man festival, a prominent artistic and countercultural event that draws tens of thousands of people to the Nevada desert annually, is in danger of cancellation this week because "no one had their shit together enough to even make it," organizers said Tuesday. "Jesus Christ, this is pathetic," said event coordinator Ethan Moon as he angrily gestured toward the empty Black Rock Desert basin expanse, known as the playa. "We've been promoting this thing all year. You can't start panhandling quarters for gas the week before the festival and expect to make it here in time, man."

      Moon listed some of the most common no-show excuses, among them oversleeping, forgetting to request time off work, faulty van-borrowing arrangements, a shortage of ochre body-paint, and the last-minute realization that transportation to the Burning Man festival requires money.

      ...Hippies were not the only counterculture group to miss the Burning Man festival. Portland-area Linux user and self-described cyber-conceptualist "Free" Lance Kaegle explained his absence in an instant message from his studio.

      "I was organizing this boss techno-art project called 'Off The Grid,'" Kaegle wrote. "We were going to set up computer terminals in various parts of the playa and have people use them. Then we'd feed the binary data from those terminals into this fractals program that [Silver Lake, CA software designer] Ricky [Thomas-Slater] wrote. Those fractals would be sent, on the fly, to a group of exiled Buddhist monks I befriended online. The monks would transform the fractals into a temporal sand painting, the making of which we would webcast live to everyone on the playa."

      Added Kaegle: "But I had to stop working on the monk thing to finish up this Pam's Country Crafts web site I'm working on. I really need the money..."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:20PM (#10304869)
    the naked people picture page got slashdotted.
  • congrats (Score:5, Funny)

    by mrpuffypants ( 444598 ) * <mrpuffypants&gmail,com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:21PM (#10304870)
    and it did. you're truly lucky. please, next time, don't have the connection for your server reside in a phone booth in the desert.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:21PM (#10304875)
    Failure at three comments.
    • Failure at three comments.

      At 31 it seems to be working fine.

    • Actually, I am curious about this. I wasn't here when the page went up. (My mother was desperately calling because her PVR had crashed. Don't we all sysadmin for our families blind over the phone?)

      But now that I come to it the traffic is indeed heavy but the load average is less than 1, so I am not sure what failed earlier on.
      • by grozzie2 ( 698656 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @02:00AM (#10305635)
        Lots of folks are under the mistaken impression that a /. attack takes out servers. It rarely does that. What it does do, is totally flood the incoming/outgoing network pipe. If your server is on the far side of a t-1 or equivalent connection, the connection doesn't stand a chance, and the episode ends up being just like a distributed syn flood, all the incoming connections, but not enough bandwidth to deliver the responses. *nix boxes tend to survive fine, some flavours of windows boxes will do the bsod in this case, tcpip stack blows buffers in ring0 driver code. OTOH, if you are sitting in a data center with a 100 mbit connection to the upstream router, which has gigabit feeds to the internet, you should have no problem withstanding the onslaught of the /. crowd.

        I will admit, on a new server, this is a pretty slick trick to stress test the whole system. Just suggest nudie pics available to the /. crowd, sit back, and watch to see if the upstream routers can deal with the loads. It's a far better way to see if your upstream providers have problems than sitting back and waiting till there's real business/money on the line. I've got a new load balanced cluster going live for a client in a couple weeks, probly gonna steal a page from your book here, I've always known the /. test was a good one, never thought to spice the blurb with the hint of nudie pics.

  • Voip (Score:2, Interesting)

    The problem with VoIP is that whenever the power goes out, your phone cannot work. If you have a regular phone (as in anything not cordless or doesn't need charging) then the phone company powers the phone through the line. If you get solar power... then it might be a very interesting idea indeed.
    • Re:Voip (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jpmkm ( 160526 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @01:19AM (#10305498) Homepage
      Could this have anything less to do with the article? Did you just see 'voip' in the title and decide to karma whore? These guys are way the fuck out in the desert. They don't have a landline phone that the phone company powers. This is more than they previously had.
    • My phone line currently runs through my cable along with my TV and Internet. That's why they added a UPS to the line. Basically my entire house is VOIP because they cut it off at the box rather than at the phone. But I still get a dial-tone when the power is out because the UPS is there to save my arse.

      That's basically when the phone comany does anyway. They have lots of batteries connected to the lines to provide juice for when THEIR power goes out.
    • Well, Burning Man (BM? yuck) would be a great place to test out solar powered VoiP. Other parts of the country (much of the SE comes to mind) that wouldn't work so well. Too many cloudy days.

      But I really don't care how they power it - solar, pedal while you talk. gerbils, nukes... I just love the idea of functional phone booths where a phone booth should not be. If it can be completely wireless, so much the better!

      And finally, I think Solar VoiP would make a great band name. Feel free toe use it so lo
      • It is an all too common myth that solar doesn't work when there are clouds.

        In fact photovoltaics and solar thermal systems like solar hot-water heaters work fine even with fairly heavy cloud cover.

        I live in the very cloudy PNW and there are plenty of solar powered emergency phones and other various equipment all over the place. Those little solar powered path lights at home depot work just fine here too even when we're having one of our several week periods of overcast skies.

        You do have to upsize your so
  • by zaxios ( 776027 ) <> on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:22PM (#10304882) Journal
    If I'm out of change, it's probably easier to go home and get some than walk deep into a Nevada desert for a free call. A good idea but some more thought could have gone into it, in my opinion.
  • Do the Math (Score:5, Funny)

    by serutan ( 259622 ) <(moc.nozakeeg) (ta) (guodpoons)> on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:26PM (#10304917) Homepage
    naked pictures + slashdot = horked server
  • by alan_dershowitz ( 586542 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:26PM (#10304921)
    Linking to public nudity pics on Slashdot is not advised. Guess I'll have to settle for "Burning Server".
  • by kLaNk ( 82409 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:29PM (#10304936)
    pictures of nudity at burning man? STAY AWAY!
  • by IamGarageGuy 2 ( 687655 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:29PM (#10304937) Journal
    A post to /. with reference to nudity. Just to stress test a server. What, are you sick? I don't care what you are running - it just can't be done. If this link lasts for more than 20 minutes, this guy should be given a medal and hired by the US government on the spot.
    • Here is a link for those of you who want to see the phone [] and don't mind that these particular photos show people wearing clothes. (I'm curious how this website stands up to being slashdotted. :-)


      • Here is a link for those of you who want to see the phone and don't mind that these particular photos show people wearing clothes.

        Although the chick in the blue TShirt might as well be wearing paint.

        (I'm curious how this website stands up to being slashdotted. :-)

        Apparently quite well. Brad's a VERY old net hand, and ran a commercial UPI/Reuters news relay service via NNTP. The man understands bandwidth. I doubt his server could handle the 500 million hits that CNN took September 11 and 12 in 2001,

  • If we ever really needed a telephone sanitizer... this would be it.
  • by Chuck Bucket ( 142633 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:38PM (#10304977) Homepage Journal
    "(There, that ought to stress-test my new serv-"

  • cool idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chuck Bucket ( 142633 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:42PM (#10304995) Homepage Journal
    Most ppl that I know that have gone to burning man focus on the lack of technology, or at least a misuse of current technology, as a gateway to experimentation. This turns that ideal on it's head...I wonder, did he stick around the phone, or just set it up and watch from a distance? I'd like to see the reactions of folks when they realize that the phone worked, and wasn't just a prop.

    • Re:cool idea (Score:4, Informative)

      by pixel.jonah ( 182967 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:14AM (#10305193)
      I think your estimation is 1/2 right: unlike say the rainbow gathering - the BM crowd is quite tech heavy - Space battle ships built on ram 3500 trucks with turreted fire cannons? giant 16' solar (and battery) powered tricycles? Extremly powerful lasers? yeah - some pretty cool s**t out there!
  • by ShatteredDream ( 636520 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:43PM (#10305003) Homepage
    One day I'd love to get a chance to go to Burning Man, especially seeing blurbs on Reason Online about how one of the editors went and loved it. Anyway, what I don't get is why people would see something like VoIP as an issue. VoIP/Wifi are of course made by corporations, but they aren't **run** by corporations necessarily.

    There seems to be too much of a false dichotomy that is present. Either you're an artsy, expressive person or you're one of those technology nerds that is cold to creativity. Maybe the worst nightmare to the artsy extremists is the idea that they don't have a monopoly on aesthetics anymore than the nerds on functionality. Would not the greatest triumph be a blending of beauty and functionality? Of course, harmonization of the two would naturally result in the nerds and artsy types having to meet half-way and *gasp* learn to communicate and appreciate each other.

    But then what do I know? I'm one of the only geeks in my CS department that can actually excel at human languages while suffering in my math skills. I picked up basic scheme programming in one or two classes and finished the projects quickly, and beat most of the math people because my brain is more used to switching between fairly starkly different logic paradigms. Going between English and Spanish requires more mental flexibility than from C->Java.

    At this point I just don't understand why people who pride themselves on how well-developed their intellects are would limit themselves instead of building on that so they could stay on top. I am just reminded of some of the math nerds, whose coding skills aren't as good as mine, said that a math minor should be a prereq. When I retorted, "fine then let's add a foreign language minor since that would be just as useful for helping programmers think flexibly" they just... shut up.

    Nerds, go to a coffee shop when local bands are jamming and maybe take an artsy chick out to a musical or something. Artsy types, try math, programming, anything to gain an appreciation for the value of logic. It'd do so many of you good.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      While I'm admit that knowledge of linguistics is lacking in most CS programs, I think your rant is more of an emotional reaction than anything in the article. Programming is generally building mathematical structures in your mind. Which is why most CS departments are crowded with the math nerds you are discussing. For several areas of AI though you need indepth knowledge of both languages and math, but it is easier to fake the language than the math. And those skilled at languages become lawyers, not ar
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:05AM (#10305148)
      Jesus you are a fucking prick who's stuck on themself. Plenty of CS majors are well-read, speak foreign languages, etc., but most of them don't put up page-long posts to Slashdot about how cool and well-rounded they are, and about how more people should be like them, and do the things they like to do.
    • by btempleton ( 149110 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:13AM (#10305187) Homepage
      Actually, a lot of Burning Man is about the marriage of art and technology. There's no fear of tech, and it's proof that there are lots of people who do combine technology and art. That's part of why I go. I do too many projects at Burning Man. Some are pure tech as art (like the phone.) Some are a mixture like digital photography. One I did this year was a star map, which while I used Photoshop to build it, was really 99% graphic arts. And many others are like this.
    • by metlin ( 258108 ) * on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:18AM (#10305214) Journal
      You raised a valid point, but I have just one problem with the artsy folks - they wear their non-technical fronts as something of an identity.

      I play in a band, and I'm the only technical person in it. However, the rest of them take PRIDE in the fact that they cannot, or rather, will not - do math or science.

      On the other hand, almost all the technical people I've seen make a conscious effort at *something* artsy or the other (languages, music, painting, dramatics, martial arts, etc) - something or the other, at the very least. And they are seldom proud of the fact that they cannot do artsy stuff - I've always wished that I could paint or do dramatics.

      That is a kind of defeatist attitude, especially since communiation has to be two way - it does not help if only the geeks made an effort to get into arts, there has to be cooperation from the other side, too.

      • I've noticed that reaction in art people.
        A fair sample of the CS people I know have a minor in humanities.

        Myself, I play music and have a german minor.

        German English requires shades of meaning that are inexpressible in code, thats for sure!
        Which is an interesting thought WRT AI, but I digreess.

        Your point seems to be more correct than not.
    • You claim that you excel at human languages, and yet in the same paragraph use a phrase such as "fairly starkly different logic paradigms."

      Give me a fricken break!
  • No solar power? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jeffs72 ( 711141 ) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:44PM (#10305013) Journal

    Preamble: I'd rtfa but the site is /.'d right now. I'm suprised to not see any mention of this thing being solar powered with a decent rechargable battery system attached.

    Call me crazy, but a wireless based phone booth in the middle of a desert just begs for solar power, then it's truely a portable, viable option for these types of gatherings, plus public beaches during vacation season, etc. Heck the department of natural resources could put them out on hiking trails and bring them back in during the winter

    But all that would require the thing to not require an electricty plug where ever you needed it. If you're going to go through the trouble of providing 120volts whats the point?

    • Re:No solar power? (Score:5, Informative)

      by btempleton ( 149110 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:20AM (#10305221) Homepage
      There was some mention as I recall about debating solar powering it. Part of the mystique of it was to look like a phone booth sticking out of the desert, yet with no wires, no power going into it. (Alas, we did have to expose a small 802.11 antenna.)

      So a solar panel could have been added but it would have been out of place on the image I wanted to create. Indeed, one way to do the panel would be just a bit more powerful than the phone needed, so to recharge the battery a bit, and then just die when the battery ran out, and start again at dawn.

      A traditional (superman) booth could have a panel on the roof that nobody would see, though a horizontal panel is not as efficient as one tilted to the latitude.
      • Disguise the solar panel as the top and sides of the phone booth. Or would that not give enough power? I would think even if it didnt give quite enough power, it might help the battery longevity. But what do I know? :-)
    • Re:No solar power? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Spy Hunter ( 317220 )
      They already make those []. They're called "call boxes" and they are placed every mile or so along many California freeways outside of cities, in case you get stranded. Pretty neat actually, though with cellphones being so common now they're sorta useless, and I'll bet they cost a lot of money that California shouldn't have spent.
  • Does this remind anybody else of the famous Mojave Desert Phone Booth? []

    A satellite/wi-fi booth seems cool, but somehow lacks something the old wired booth had.

  • by NMSpaz ( 34277 ) <> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:13AM (#10305184)
    Brad, Thanks for installing the booth. I didn't see it during the week, but I did come by your camp for the save-the-man protest, and you showed it to me and had me make a test call (nobody was home). I came back later and was able to get through to my parents who informed me that I had become a first-time uncle (of twins!). It was a great way to get the news. Thank you!
  • by woodsrunner ( 746751 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:18AM (#10305213) Journal
    What I want to know is what sort of satellite link did they use???

    I am only familiar with the Hughes Directway system and that has such a slow round trip that I doubt it would work for VoIP. Often times the uplinks are slower that a 14.4 modem on a bad wire... Are there better products on the market? I didn't see any mention of what they used. There was a cursory explaination that he tweaked the equipment to work with slower speeds, but how!?

    Does anyone know of a more reliable sat connection than the directway? Maybe something that uses Low Earth satellites rather than geosyncronous... or pose the threat of burning flesh of anyone walking in front of the transmitter?
  • When was the last time anyone printed a story about people going ape over a phonebooth..?

    Seriously though, it is kind of a neat achievement, I just think that the potential for a very ironic phone call to the fire department could erupt at any moment..
  • Cheap? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by freitasm ( 444970 )
    "...with cheap VoIP people were able to call all over the world."

    I'm sure the VoIP solution could be cheap to implement, but what about "...and a satellite IP uplink.".

    I think this last bit would make the cost of this solution go up a little, wouldn't it?
  • From the article: "I had a cell-phone like 802.11 phone"

    Anyone know what he is talking about? I looked around but cannot find anything like what Brad describes.

    Brad, I know you are lurking on these pages ... may I ask what were you referring to?
  • by MikeHunt69 ( 695265 ) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @03:43AM (#10305997) Journal
    Telstra have been putting solar powered public telephones in the Australian desert since the 70's. They are backed up by solar powered microwave stations every so often so it's completely wireless. It's also cheaper than running cables out into the desert for just a couple of phones..
    • But unless it's been done in the US don't you know it hasn't been done. John Glenn was just the first American in space -- people forget Yuri Gagarin.
  • Sure naked might get your attention, but that is far from what Burning Man is about. There are even some crossover between the open source software movement and the main form of Burning Man.

    While on the surface it would appear that Burning Man is a week long party where people walk around naked, that is only the surface and anyone who one experiences this level is missing out.

    No vending is allowed at the event, except for ice and coffee in center camp. There is something called the gift economy where ev
    • And if you look at the photo galleries you will see where I point out only a small percentage of the population goes unclothed. However, that doesn't mean that nude or interestingly costumed using a phone in the middle of the desert doesn't make for an interesting photo. It is true that because of this, there are more nude people in Burning Man photos than there are at Burning Man. But this should not be surprising.
  • Satellite downlinks have plenty of "bandwidth." The uplinks are usually more limited in "bandwidth," but you can still push reasonable voice quality thru most satellite uplinks.

    The issue, however, is LATENCY. With minimum 500ms round trip times (250ms up to the geosynchronous bird, 250ms back down), it could be very annoying to talk over such a link. It'll work, but the feeling of interactivity between you and your conversational partner will simply be missing.

    Have you ever heard NPR reporters in the m
  • Now that Brad has shown us how relatively easy it is, or at least decidedly do-able, I predict a gradual spread of free phones at BurningMan in even more incongruous situations.

    How about a mockup of a typical fifties American living room with a couch, a couple of easy chairs, a black and white TV playing Leave It To Beaver, and a coffee table with a fifties style black rotary dial phone that really works. All the electronics including power would be in the phone and the table, invisible. Now that would be

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