Geeks On Ice [Update]

Slashdot brings us a story about An Algorithm To End The Lines For Ice At Burning Man:

Any gathering of 65,000 people in the desert is going to require some major infrastructure to maintain health and sanity. At Burning Man, some of that infrastructure is devoted to a supply chain for ice. Writes Bennett Haselton,
The lines for ice bags at Burning Man could be cut from an hour long at peak times, to about five minutes, by making one small… Well, read the description below of how they do things now, and see if the same suggested change occurs to you. I’m curious whether it’s the kind of idea that is more obvious to students of computer science who think algorithmically, or if it’s something that could occur to anyone. Read on for the rest; Bennett’s idea for better triage may bring to mind a lot of other queuing situations and ways that time spent waiting in line could be more efficiently employed.

I skipped burning man this year but went for the first time in 2013. One of the only goods for sale at Burning Man is bags of ice — to keep your own food cool, or simply to refresh yourself, you can line up to buy bags of ice that are sold by Arctica camp out of the back of a refrigerated truck under a tent. Bags cost $3 apiece.

photo: Nellie Bowles

photo: Nellie Bowles

During peak times last year, the lines were up to an hour long. This year, so I heard, the lines on the first day were even worse, because two of the three distribution points were unable to open due to closed roads, so everybody lined up at the only sales tent that was operating.

Regardless of the conditions, the procedure when you get to the front of the line is the same. You specify how many bags of ice you want, and deposit cash in a container on the counter. Then a volunteer walks back to the ice truck to fetch one or more bags from the truck and brings them back to the counter. You collect your bags and continue on your way.

OK, before reading any further — based on what I just wrote, can you think of a way to speed up the line? No cheating — read the preceding paragraph and think of what you might do differently. Spoilers follow!

The thought that occurred to me almost immediately after I got my bag of ice, was: Why not just have the volunteers carry the bags of ice from the truck to the counter, before people place their order? As long as the line is moving, no bag of ice would sit on the counter long enough to melt. And then each transaction at the front of the line would be reduced to: Customer pays for bag(s), customer picks up bag(s) and leaves. By eliminating the time to walk back to the truck and fetch the bag(s), the system would significantly reduce the per-customer transaction time.

I’d asked a handful of Burning Man veterans about this, and they said that Arctica had tried this at one point, but was required to stop by Nevada health code regulations, which treated ice as a “food product” and therefore said that it could not be moved out onto the counter until an order has been placed. This sounded puzzling to me — don’t cafés place other “food products” out on a counter all the time, where they can be bought and picked up by customers? And for the ice bags, why would it matter in practice anyway — even if the state of Nevada is worried about germs starting to multiply as soon as the bag is removed from the refrigerated truck, the time the bag spends sitting on the counter is still negligible compared to the time the customer spends transporting it back to their own camp.

So I emailed the Nevada State Health Division to ask them what the regulations actually said, and if they would allow the ice vendors to load bags of ice onto their sales counter before they had been paid for by a customer. One of their Public Health Engineers replied and said, “I can assure you that we do not require the ice to remain in the truck until it is ordered” (and dryly added, “It is common for vendors to blame the health authority for imagined regulations”). Regarding the resulting long lines, he also advised me, in the spirit of Burning Man radical self-reliance (if not practicality), “You may consider bringing your own ice to the Playa rather than purchasing it from them.”

So that’s it. There’s no regulatory reason why the ice can’t be brought to the sales counter before it’s paid for — where it wouldn’t even have time to start melting, if there are customers eagerly waiting to carry it away — and no reason why the line couldn’t probably move 5 to 10 times faster as a result. (I emailed Arctica to ask if they would start having volunteers bring ice bags up to the counter before customers place their orders, and showed them the email from the Nevada Health Division saying it would be legal. I received a very friendly reply, mostly asking me who I was and why I was concerned about the issue; I said I had no stake in the matter except hoping to reduce the wait times and hence the aggravation and health risks for people waiting in line in the sun. I have not received a reply to any subsequent inquiries after that.)

In a previous article I’d theorized about an algorithm for speeding up the vehicle exodus at Burning Man. (Basically, have a “priority lane” where cars can exit at different times of day, depending on the last character on their license plate. So one hour where the priority lane is set aside for cars whose license plates end in “A”, another hour where the lane is used by cars with plates ending in “B”, and so on. This means that drivers who want to use the priority lane, can just wait for the designated hour, instead of spending five hours queueing up to leave.) That was intended more of an intellectual exercise, as a jumping-off point for a discussion about which algorithms would work best under different theoretical assumptions, and with only the small possibility that it might ever actually be implemented at the real event.

The call to speed up the ice lines is not an intellectual exercise. Unless there’s a non-obvious major problem with making this change, this is something that could be done the very next year, and would save people thousands of person-hours waiting in line in the sun.

arctica pricesMy other suggestion would be to have a “turbo” line even faster than the main one, designed for people to complete each sales transaction in seconds. Every customer in the “turbo” line would be required to have exact change (or be willing to overpay and let the vendor keep the change), and every customer would be required to have their cash fanned out in their hand like playing cards when they got to the front of the line. (A volunteer could walk up and down near the front of the line to verify that people already had their cash displayed properly.) A transaction at the front of the line would simply consist of, “Three dollars — bag”, or, “Six dollars — two bags”, where the customer shows their fanned-out money, dumps it into the cash receptacle, and picks up one or more bags from the counter.

With or without the “turbo” line, at first it might seem like it would take extra labor to keep a supply of ice bags moving constantly from the truck to the counter, but that’s not the case. For a given number of bags to be sold, every bag has to be moved from the truck, to the counter, exactly one time. So the total amount of labor is always going to be the same, for a fixed number of ice bags. To have a steady supply of ice moving quickly from the truck to the counter, you might need to have more volunteers working at the same time, but that just means that rather than having 5 volunteers with one-hour shifts spaced throughout the day, you’d have those same volunteers working simultaneously to keep the bags moving.

arctica sunsetWith the lines moving that much more quickly, what if the ice bags run out halfway through the day? Hopefully the vendor can just send the trucks back out to fetch more bags of ice to be brought back in and sold in the afternoon. But even if they can’t — even if, for some reason, the number of ice bags sold per day has to be fixed at X — you’ve still done an enormous amount of good by reducing the wait time from 30-45 minutes to 5 minutes. Because you still sell the same number of ice bags, but you’ve eliminated the pointless deadweight loss of all the time the customers were previously wasting in line.

And if the vendors can bring in more ice whenever their existing stock sells out much faster, that’s a win too — regardless of whether they’re selling the ice for profit or just for altruistic motives. If they’re selling ice to help people, then selling more ice is better. If they’re selling ice for profit, then selling more ice is better, too.

I’m being fairly pedantic here because I want to make it clear that I think that I think there’s no counterargument to be made to this, under any combination of reasonable assumptions — whether the vendors can bring in more ice or whether they’re stuck selling a fixed number of bags per day; whether the goal of selling the ice is for altruism or to make a profit. Bring the ice out before it’s paid for, shave the transaction time down to the bare minimum of the customer paying money and then grabbing their ice bags, and everyone will be grateful they don’t have to wait an hour in the sun.

And if you’re an adventurer thinking about going to Burning Man, my tips for making it (slightly) easier include bringing your own cooler (separate from any food storage cooler) so that you can buy a bag of ice each day, dump it in the cooler, and have your own supply of ice water. That’s well worth it, whether the wait time in the ice line is five minutes or an hour.

Makes perfect sense to me. So, will it happen?

Like many suggestions for improvements to Burning Man, the first response is “NO”. We’re told “we tried that and it didn’t work” and “the authorities won’t let us do it”. Kudos to Bennett for doing the work to fact check these statements: sure enough, they’re false. There is no regulatory reason for making Burners suffer in queues in the desert.

Having applied his brainpower to the Exodus and Arctica lines, perhaps Bennett can now turn his grey matter to the Will Crawl problems. Hint: mailing tickets to the 20% of Burners coming from outside the US will halve the number of people who have to go to Will Call. Fewer people should mean shorter lines.

Will BMOrg listen to the Burner community, and try something new to make things better for their customers?

[Update 10/21/14 2:53pm] I posted a link to this story at Arctica’s Facebook group and got an official response. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer was “NO” and “it’s been tried before”.

Not a new idea. It’s what we used to do. Surprise, ice melts quickly in the desert. Even sitting in the truck with the freezer unit pumping out 20 degrees, ice melts with the doors open. Not as bad as sitting on a hot metal table though. *That* is why it stays in the truck until it is sold. How melted do you like your ice? Would you rather wait a few minutes longer to get what you paid for or get a half-melted bag now? Our volunteers put a lot of effort into providing you the best product, in the most timely manner. If people come at peak times (opening & lunch), we’ll be busy. If they come at other times, there’s hardly a wait.

We also got “you can’t do it because of health regulations” as a comment on our Facebook page. Katie sayeth:

The line is caused by high and indecisive burners. So sayeth a line wrangler & slinger!

Video

Ice To A/C: Solar Power Air Conditioner

Rad.

Homemade AC Air Cooling unit produces very cold air. 42F air (in an 80F room). items needed: ice chest (hard-sided or styrofoam), pvc pipe, small fan and ice. (small solar panel is optional). great for space cooling. 3 ways to power it: a solar panel, a battery or an automobile (using 12v socket “cig. plug”). According to a top-rated AC company, this air cooler combines the durability of the “5 Gallon bucket air cooler” with the extra cooling power of the “styrofoam ice chest air cooler”. specs: fan: 12VDC 10w 0.8A. solar panel: 15 watt (1 amp). works best in semi-dry or dry climates. (drier air cools down easier/faster than humid). air temperature during testing 80F (4% relative humidity). block of ice lasted 5 hours (larger blocks can last up to 10). to run the cooler 100% off-grid check out my solar ice making/freezer vids.

Ice Stand Corrected

This one’s great. Makes perfect sense, it was a new tip for me. I was using ice trays the wrong way, now I know.

Spread the word, we need more ice on 4th of July weekend.

Re-blogged from Foodhack:

In fact, not only does hot water chill quicker, many people think it produces a better quality ice cube. And while ice is an afterthought for most folks, people who are serious about their beverages, alcoholic and otherwise, know that ice matters. After all, as it melts, it flavors what you’re drinking, whether said beverage is vodka or water.

A high-quality “boiled” ice cube vs. a regular “cold water” ice cube. Amazing, right?

Image by isr_Raviv/Instructables

Thanks to Burner Danceburgh AfterDark, who breaks it down in simple terms for us:

it’s got to be pretty hot water, up around boiling temp, near 200 when your average household water temp sis more in the 130-140 range. ANd you lose some to evaporation, which evaporates and condenses all over your freezer …

Back to the Foodhack story:

How Does This Even Work?

The phenomenon of hot water turning into ice faster than cold water is known as the Mpemba effect, named after a Tanzanian student who observed his hot ice cream mix freezing more rapidly than the cold version.

Separating homemade ice cream into ice cube trays also speeds up freezing.

Image by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats

recent study by Xi Zhang, Zengsheng Ma, and Chang Q Sun at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, helps shine some light on a possible reason why this phenomenon occurs.

A water molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom which are bound together by the sharing of electrons, known as a covalent bond. Water molecules are then connected to each other by intermolecular forces known as hydrogen bonds, which happens when a hydrogen atom from one water molecule is near an oxygen atom from another.

H2O: Just one big happy family.

Image via Lightbulb Books

As you can see from the above illustration, the three atoms together form an angle. A hydrogen bond is the result of this structure and is responsible for giving water its unique life-giving properties and its ability to expand when frozen.

According to the Nanyang study, these bonds are behind the Mpemba effect, when hydrogen bonds do their job and bring water molecules into close contact. However, the molecules have a natural repulsion to one another. This action by the hydrogen bonds makes the covalent bonds move apart and store energy.

As liquid is heated, the hydrogen bonds stretch and water molecules are forced to be farther apart. Correspondingly, the covalent bonds within the water atoms shrink and lose energy. This process is akin to cooling off.

On a molecular level, this water is already cooled off. Seriously.

Image via The Dabblist

Essentially, hot water already closely resembles cool water on a molecular level. The energy in hot water is wound up so tightly that when it is released, it cools and freezes faster than cold water.

How Much Faster Does Hot Water Freeze?

It’s hard to say. Water reaches its freezing point at 0° C (32° F), but the time it takes reach this point may vary. It’s difficult to estimate how much faster ice cubes will form with hot water because many variables must be considered—the initial temperature of the water, the volume of water, and the temperature of the freezer.

Where’s Iceman when you need him?

Image via Tim Graves

Regardless, heating filtered water to a boil will definitely speed up the freezing process. Some even say that hot water makes for cleaner and clearer ice cubes, while others swear by using ice coolers or various methods other than using hot water (including the slow freeze and DIY ice cube trays inside an insulated cooler).

One thing is clear: if you want your ice cubes sooner rather than later, throw it in the freezer as soon as you can pour it into the containers without melting the plastic.

If you live somewhere exceptionally chilly, you can just throw the boiling water off your balcony like these guys.

While you may not be able to instantaneously freeze water, you can perform an at-home experiment with two separate ice trays, and try this method out with cool and hot water. The worst thing that can happen is that you have two trays of ice cubes ready to be utilized.

Just a couple words of caution when using hot water for ice cubes—use BPA-free plastic trays, stainless steel, or silicone ones. Studies have shown that hot water can cause BPA leaching in certain plastics not rated as BPA-free.

 

Nikola Bregovic

Nikola Bregovic

Thanks Mpemba. The Royal Society had a competition to explain the effect, which 22,000 scientists entered. It was won by Nikola Bregovic of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

The history of the Mpemba, in fact, goes out the back of Bacon. That’s right Burners. Happy fourth.

http://www.rsc.org/mpemba-competition/mpemba-competition-history.asp


From Aristotle to Mpemba

The phenomenon by which, under certain conditions, hot water freezes faster than cold water has been observed by some of the world’s finest minds, and has been used in everyday life for centuries.

In the 4th Century BC, Aristotle observed that “The fact that the water has previously been warmed contributes to it’s freezing quickly: for so it cools sooner. Hence many people, when they want to cool water quickly, begin by putting it in the sun”.

Roger Bacon in the 13th Century  used the effect to advocate the scientific method in his Opus Majus, while in his 1620 Novum Organum, Francis Bacon wrote that “slightly tepid water freezes more easily than that which is utterly cold”. Rene Descartes also tried to solve the problem in 1637 and through the years, many scientists have attempted to explain it with little success.

mpeba

Erasto Mpemba

In 1963, the question was catapulted back into the public eye when a young Tanzanian boy called Erasto Mpemba noticed that if he put hot ice-cream mix into the freezer, it froze more quickly than the cooled ice-cream mix of his fellow classmates. 

Mpemba’s tenacity in the face of his teacher’s initial dismissal of his observations and the ridicule of his classmates prompted him to repeat the experiment with hot and cold water, and to stand up and ask visiting physics lecturer Denis Osborne about the phenomenon.

In 1969, Mpemba and Osborne published a paper together (See “Cool?” in the box below), and the effect became known as The Mpemba Effect. In August 2012 Osborne had the following to say about his work with Mpemba:

“In line with his question made in front of his school staff and peers, we tested and found that hot water in Pyrex beakers on polystyrene foam in a domestic freezer froze before cooler samples. We attributed this to convection creating a continuing hot top, noting that:

  1. If two systems are cooled, the water that starts hotter may freeze first, but we did not look for ice and measured the time as that until a thermocouple in the water read 0°C.
  2. A graph of ‘time to start freezing’ against initial temperature showed that the water starting at about 26°C took longest to freeze (water starting at 60°C took twice as long as water starting at 90°C).
  3. Thermocouples near top and bottom showed a temperature gradient in the water. A hot starter kept a hot top while its lower levels were cooler than for the cool starter.
  4. An oil film on the water surface delayed freezing for several hours, suggesting that without this film, most of the heat escaped from the top surface.
  5. Changes in volume due to evaporation were small; the latent heat of vaporization for all the water to cool to 0°C and start freezing accounted for less than 30% of the cooling.
  6. We used recently boiled water for all the trials, making dissolved air an unlikely factor.

We failed to check and report the ambient temperature in the freezer or its consistency during cooling. Lower ambient air temperatures might increase heat loss rates from the top surface, cause more rapid convection and increase the difference in freezing times.

Different mechanisms may assume more importance in different situations. We gave one example, with Mpemba’s initial discovery in mind, and we wrote: ‘rapid cooling of a system that starts hot may be accelerated if it establishes thermal contact with the case of the freezer cabinet through melting the layer of ice and frost on which it rests’.”

happyfourth

Happy 4th of July to all Burners around the world

Ice Ice Baby [Updates]

Maybe BMOrg thought that selling gifting scarves for $150 wouldn’t raise any eyebrows in the Burner community. Comments to our recent post Burning Man Project Now Selling Merchandise suggest otherwise. Predictably, the BMOrg cyber-army came out of the woodwork to try to deflect the heat from their beloved masters, by attacking our credibility. An ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy, where the attacker personally insults or tries to discredit their opponent, rather than making arguments with verifiable facts, references, or logic.

logical fallacies

Rather than continuing this debate in the comments to that post, let’s give it some more prominence for those who give a shit and wish to participate in the discussion. If you don’t care, you don’t have to read – the majority of content on this site is not critical of Burning Man, there’s 759 other posts here that you can check out. If you want to attack our credibility though, you better read this, and come back with some data (or point out some errors in ours) to add to the conversation. Warning: a lot of maths coming up!

To recap: I said I think it’s fine if they want to sell merchandise, the whole thing has become a massive money-making machine. A giant crowdsourced party, where they get all the music for free, 99% of the art for free, all of the art cars for free. They get to promote the hell out of it in every mainstream media outlet you can think of, and tell stories that “it’s not about money”, “it’s all for charity”, “it’s helping the world” and so on to make themselves look good. All on the back of the time, effort, and expenditure of Burners who trek across the world and across the desert to make this party what it is. We Burners are not even allowed to use the words Burning Man or photos of the event to raise funds to bring art, camps, and art cars there. Once there, Burning Man can and will profit endlessly from them.

What I have a problem with, is expressed well by Burner Jim in this comment:

Maybe Burning Man can get past the quasi hippie socialism mirage that it’s mired in and promote the freedom of true free market capitalism. The smoke and mirrors of Burning Man LLC is the true problem, not the free exchange of goods and services using money. Just like the capitalism of Wall Street isn’t the problem, it’s the fascism.

You can’t build an empire of altruism on falsehoods, tricks, and propaganda. Or, maybe you can – because it seems like they have – but you shouldn’t.

cooler-train-kuehlboxen-zug-arctica-buying-ice-burning-man-2007-friday-freitag-black-rock-desert-nevada-usa-dscn4397“There are only two things sold at Burning Man: ice and coffee” is a myth. They sell gasoline to the art cars, they sell propane. You can buy honey wagon “pump-n-dump” services for your RV. One year, they bussed me and a bunch of other suckers potential investors out from First Camp to pitch a real estate deal. Only one company has the monopoly on propane sales on the Playa, you’re not allowed to arrange your own supply. There is no information publicly available about how big the gasoline and propane sales are. They don’t tell us anything about the dollar value of ice sales either, we’ve had to infer it from their information that they sold 2, 140, 000 lbs of ice last year.

Here’s some of the case against us:

Boring said:

this site sells drama. Nothing against you doing that but when you post things like BM had a million in ice sales to make it appear they profit from this, and that is not true, one can see your slant is not for truth but drama.

Frosty the Snowman said:

Perhaps the fact that ice sales benefit local charities is not as widely known as Boring assumes. Presumably you’ll revise your story accordinglyhttp://www.burningman.com/participate/ice.html

Boring said:

That profits from ice and coffee sales go to local charities has always been the case and for BurnersXXX to not know this shows the lack of facts in the financials he totes. Same as Vogue paying to take photos on the plays, a statement never corrected by Scribe.

Why should Scribe correct Maid Marian’s statement? Was it false? Or did he just misquote her? I know he still has recordings of those interviews, though I haven’t personally heard them. To me, the fact that he hasn’t published a retraction, and we have no evidence that BMOrg ever asked for one, is indication that her statement is true.

According to the official Burning Man FAQ, profits from coffee sales go to the coffee staff, not local charities:

Profits from the café go directly to the commissary to sustain the onsite nutritional needs of our kick-ass staff

This is just one example of the apparent double counting in their financial reports, which claim a $1.3 million food spend AND account for the costs of the commissary separately (lumping them in with the ice and merchandise costs).

Anyway, I see no need to revise our stories – only to provide further details supporting them. These guys are missing the point. The WHOLE THING IS SUPPOSED TO GO TO CHARITIES NOW. They sell ice, they sell coffees, they sell scarves. So that they can donate to charity.

The “financials I tote” (tout?) are THEIR financials, FFS. Any “lack of facts” is because they’re not providing the facts: these are murky financials, not open, transparent accounts.

Is the Burning Man Project in charge of ice sales now, or is that a different set of books again? They say “all proceeds from ice sales go to local charities”, where is the accounting for that then? Why do they shy away from telling us about these good deeds, in specific terms instead of vague statements? What does “proceeds” mean: revenues? Profits? How is the ratio of ice sales:ice donations calculated? Is the only cost the ice, or does Arctica have to contribute to DPW, BLM, or anyone else? I don’t know, and they’re not telling.

The Afterburn reports have a whole section on ice sales. The only firm data is that in  2012  $13,000 in tips were donated to Burners Without Borders to help polar bears (WTF?!?) I can find no information about Burners Without Borders helping polar bears at all, let alone an accounting of how much of 2012’s $13,000 the charity actually passed through to the polar bears. http://www.burnerswithoutborders.org/projects-home

In a 2010 blog report, the now ousted old-timer Andie Grace shed some light on Burning Man’s sharing with charities:

Every year since 2003, Burning Man has used proceeds from ice sales at the event to make year-end donations to various charitable, art and service organizations in Northern Nevada and the San Francisco Bay Area. For 2010, we worked to increase the total dollar amount of our donations, committing a total of $159,850 for the year

…Below is a list of charitable donation recipients for 2010: 

Black Rock Arts Foundation
Black Rock Solar
Best Friend’s Animal Society (in memoriam Bill Carter)
The Crucible
Yick Wo School
Lawyers for Burners c/o Trip Knight
Leave No Trace
Surprise Valley Chamber of Commerce (Cedarville)
Nimby
Circuit Network
Dogpatch Neighborhood Association
Nevada Organizations
Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department
Gerlach High School
Gerlach Gen. Improve. Dist.
Gerlach-Empire Senior Citizens Palace
Crisis Call Center
Friends of the Black Rock
Nevada Museum of Art
Nevada State Museum
Historical Society of Dayton Valley
Sierra Arts Foundation
Bruka Theatre
Nevada Discovery Museum
Kiwanis Bike Project
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada
Lovelock/Pershing Organizations
COUNTY CHARITIES
Pershing County Government General Fund
PRIVATE CHARITIES
Pershing County Senior Center
Eagle Scholarship
Pershing County Community Center
Pershing County High School (Athletic Department)
Pershing County Domestic Violence Intervention
Pershing General Hospital & Nursing Care
Pershing County Humane Society
Lovelock Frontier Days
Lovelock Lion’s Club
Friends of the Library
Marzen House Museum
Kid’s, Horses & Rodeos
Lovelock Food Bank
Lovelock Boy Scouts Association
Lovelock Little League Association
Lovelock Chamber of Commerce
Pershing County Arts Council
Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary
Project Graduation

Note that #1 and #2 on the list are their own charities. No information is given on how much of the pie was sliced up for each recipient. There are 45 charities listed, making an average donation to each one of  $3552.

photo by Claudia Gold

photo by Claudia Gold

There is almost no information available about how much ice was sold in 2010, or any other year. In fact, bizarrely, the Afterburn ice reports for 2009 and 2010 are almost word-for-word identical – including the exact size of tips given to the cent, and warnings about specific safety incidents that gave them concern for “that year”. The 2011 report claims that 32 trucks of ice were emptied in 2010. 2011 was 43 trucks. From digging back all the way to the 2006 Afterburn Artica report, we learn that each truck is 21.15 tons of ice.

For 2013, we get our ice information from a posting on Facebook by Jennifer Spitfyre:

“Factoid for the day.. We at Arctica sold 2.14 million pounds of ice at Burning Man this year! Every single pound of that was hand carried by BRC volunteers from ice truck to BRC citizen’s hands! Big increase from last year where we sold 1.68 million pounds of ice!”…that’s 1070 tons of ice.”

Information about the price and dimensions of ice sales is not readily available either. Why all the secrets, BMOrg? Ice can be bought in single 5 lb bags, or a “6 for the price of 5” discount. In 2009 the prices were $3 and $15 respectively, if anyone has updated figures from 2013 (or can confirm that prices and bag sizes stayed fixed) please let us know. 

But, working on the assumption (for the sake of simplicity in argument) that all the ice sales were $15, for 6 x 5 lb bags of ice…yields $1,070,000 in ice sales. That’s (2,140,000 / 30) * 15, for those who care to follow my workings.

Let’s work this out a little further. 2010’s 32 trucks brought in 676.8 tons of ice, or 1,353,600 lbs. This netted donations of $159,850 (reported as $168,000 in the 2010 Afterburn report – the extra $8,150 of donations must have been in addition to the ice donations). Applying the same ratio, ie (2,140,000/1,353,600) * 159,850, 2013’s 2.14 million lbs should have led to a year-end donation to the community of $252,717. If the same 45 charities get the money, their share should now be up to $5,615 each.

How does $1 million of ice sales, end up as a quarter of a million in ice-related donations? I mean, I know it costs a lot to send each 80,000 lb semi-trailer of ice to the desert, but 75% overhead? It’s not like you’re paying the same for ice at Burning Man as you do at your local grocery store, ice is (understandably) expensive out there!

line arctica

all these people are waiting in line to conduct commerce

From the 2012 financials, the cost of ALL the coffees, ice, and merchandise was $369,132 (yes, it’s not just us saying “the Burning Man Project sells merchandise”, it’s right there in their own financial report). However, this doesn’t add up, because the amount of ice sold should be way more than this. Using the same calculation above with Arctica’s 2012 numbers, (1,680,000 / 30) * 15 gives us $840,000 in ice sales – netting $470,868 (after Arctica covers all their own costs, plus all the merchandising costs, and the costs of center camp). In 2012 the line item “Donations to local Nevada schools and organizations” is $238,976 – presumably, this is the donations from ice sales, and doesn’t include Black Rock Solar or BRAF’s activities. There’s a missing $231,892 for 2012! Maybe a lot of the ice brought in melted before it could be sold. A lot, being 27.6% of all the ice. Or maybe certain camps get their ice comped.

$238,976 in donations, compared with our estimate of 2012 revenues of $24, 045, 986, is slightly less than 1%. Meaning that 99% of all the money they take in is eaten up in salaries, travel costs, food, costumes…and profits.

I’m not making these numbers up. I’m going to a lot of effort to piece together a picture from their own published information. I shouldn’t have to do that, if it’s a non-profit they should be transparent. No-one is paying me for all  my time to do this: that’s why it really pisses me off when people say “BurnersXXX doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, “BurnersXXX should read the Afterburn reports” etc. You haters should read the fucking reports!

Burner Timothynh pointed us to Guidestar.org, a site that measures the performance of non-profits. Here’s what it has to say about the Burning Man Project:

  • This organization is registered with the IRS.
  • This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990-N.

Forms 990 filed with the IRS are not available for this organization.

I’ve ordered Guidestar’s detailed report on BRAF, which shares many directors with the Burning Man Project; look for us to dig deeper into this in a future post.

We questioned the Vogue photo shoot story originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian in this post here, after a high-level insider raised some doubts with me at a private function. After that, I personally asked Maid Marian to correct the details, and as yet she hasn’t – which indicates to me that the story is true, or perhaps the true story is BMOrg asked for the $150k and Vogue balked.

Yet again, BMOrg-allied online shills and trolls have come onto this site to attack our credibility, with weak ad hominem attacks instead of actual facts, numbers, or logical arguments. Maybe our detractors never got paid any money from BMOrg in their lives, but they sure do seem to be taking their side here. This is just a smoke screen to deflect our readers away from the real issue: the lack of transparency or activity from this 2-year old “new” charity, and the increasing commodification, commercialization, and mainstream media mass marketing of crowd-sourced Burner culture by BMOrg.

Is it OK to violate the principle of Decommodification, if it’s in the name of charity? Is that what these guys are trying to say? If so, then why can’t others also do that? Is this a case of “the ends justify the means”…with the “ends” here being the nebulous Burning Man Project motto of “Creative catalyst for culture in the world”? Or is it more a case of “one rule for the rulers, and one for the masses”?

I’m trying to say the Ten Principles are as whack as crack, and hamstrung by hypocrisy. The world’s “Largest Leave No Trace Event” burns a mind-blowing amount of fossil fuels, and leaves hundreds of miles of highway littered with trash afterwards. “Radical Inclusion” doesn’t extend to “Upper Class” people who want to enable those who can’t afford it, to attend the event by working for it in a role that suits their talents. “Gifting” is supposed to be unconditional, without expectation of anything in return: and yet, donate $150, they gift you a scarf. “Civic responsibility” doesn’t include providing open accounts to all the donors to the charity – supposedly, everyone who buys a ticket is now a supporter of the Burning Man Project, although so far, ticket purchases are not tax-deductible donations to an IRS-registered charity.

The Ten Principles were originally published to be a suggestion for Regional events, now they are becoming a cult-like doctrine to be used to brainwash people around the world who’ve never even been to the party. Larry Harvey repeatedly says “this event has never been anti-commercial”, and we’ve never claimed that it should be either. It’s clearly commercial, massively so. The problem is two-fold: one, the “smoke and mirrors” trying to pretend they’re not something which they so obviously are; and two, they want to be the ONLY ones who can ever make any money from it. It’s all taking and very little giving.

The non-profit Burning Man Project wants to help the world by spreading culture, and how do they do that? Shutting down others with nasty legal letters falsely claiming ownership of things that aren’t theirs, doing what they can to assimilate the “global” ecosystem into their borg only; and at the same time expanding their revenue streams in seemingly every direction at once. This is more the behavior of a for-profit business than a non-profit. As Burner David pointed out in the comments on this post in our Facebook group, over the last few years Burning Man has tried to clean out the “dead wood” accumulated over nearly 30 years of volunteer labor, and replace them with professional management. That’s fine, but the professional management needs to get the spirit of Burning Man, particularly now that the non-profit Burning Man Project owns the party and everything else. The party is created by the Burners: all the art, all the gifting, all the music. That’s how it has grown over decades to be the “counter-culture phenomenon” that it is today. The efficiency of the Burning Man charities to date has been less than stellar (if you don’t believe me, check out the Wall Street Journal). I, for one, don’t want to donate my charity dollars to an organization that is going to spend the money on lawsuits against Burners trying to raise money to bring art to share with everyone, at events exclusively monetized by them.

Here’s an idea for the Burning Man founders: forget this “transition” crap, just take this thing public. Donate 10% of revenues to charities. Provide audited quarterly accounts, let us know where the money has been spent. License the brand to regionals, to clothing designers, to artists. Make as much money as you possibly can, so that you can donate as much as you possibly can. Reap the rewards for your labors, and let the community share in that too.

I can predict the responses now…“if you don’t like it, start your own”!

radical inclusion cult[thanks Nomad Traveler for this pic!]