... seeking simple answers to complex problems, and in the process, disrupting the status quo in technology, art and neuroscience.

Monday, November 30, 2009

OPOC Engine

I have to agree, this IS a radically new type of engine. Click through to watch it run. It will be fun to see how it develops. Set your Google to alert.

A radically new type of engine - OPOC

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rice Paddy Art

Stunning crop art has sprung up across rice fields in Japan.

But this is no alien creation - the designs have been cleverly planted.

Farmers creating the huge displays use no ink or dye. Instead, different colours of rice plants have been precisely and strategically arranged and grown in the paddy fields.

As summer progresses and the plants shoot up, the detailed artwork begins to emerge.

A Sengoku warrior on horseback has been created from hundreds of thousands of rice plants, the colours created by using different varieties, in Inakadate in Japan.

The largest and finest work is grown in the Aomori village of Inakadate, 600 miles north of Toyko, where the tradition began in 1993.

The village has now earned a reputation for its agricultural artistry and this year the enormous pictures of Napoleon and a Sengoku-period warrior, both on horseback, are visible in a pair of fields adjacent to the town hall.

More than 150,000 vistors come to Inakadate, where just 8,700 people live, every summer to see the extraordinary murals.

Each year hundreds of volunteers and villagers plant four different varieties of rice in late May across huge swathes of paddy fields.

Napoleon on horseback can be seen from the skies, created by precision planting and months of planning between villagers and farmers in Inkadate

Fictional warrior Naoe Kanetsugu and his wife Osen appear in fields in the town of Yonezawa, Japan

And over the past few years, other villages have joined in with the plant designs.

Another famous rice paddy art venue is in the town of Yonezawa in the Yamagata prefecture.

This year's design shows the fictional 16th-century samurai warrior Naoe Kanetsugu and his wife, Osen, whose lives feature in television series Tenchijin.

Various artwork has popped up in other rice-farming areas of Japan this year, including designs of deer dancers.

Smaller works of crop art can be seen in other rice-farming areas of Japan such as this image of Doraemon and deer dancers

The farmers create the murals by planting little purple and yellow-leafed kodaimai rice along with their local green-leafed tsugaru roman variety to create the coloured patterns between planting and harvesting in September.

The murals in Inakadate cover 15,000 square metres of paddy fields.

From ground level, the designs are invisible, and viewers have to climb the mock castle tower of the village office to get a glimpse of the work.

Rice-paddy art was started there in 1993 as a local revitalization project, an idea that grew out of meetings of the village committee.

Closer to the image, the careful placement of thousands of rice plants in the paddy fields can be seen

The different varieties of rice plant grow alongside each other to create the masterpieces

In the first nine years, the village office workers and local farmers grew a simple design of Mount Iwaki every year.

But their ideas grew more complicated and attracted more attention.

In 2005 agreements between landowners allowed the creation of enormous rice paddy art.

A year later, organisers used computers to precisely plot planting of the four differently colored rice varieties that bring the images to life.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Whole Foods Health Care

As an employer, health care is an issue I've had to deal with for years, with increasing frustration.

The single biggest problem with health care is the de-coupling of payment from the patient in medical purchases. This started with government price and wage controls during World War II. In order to attract and keep talent without increasing pay, employers began providing health insurance. This created a layer of insulation between the need for health care and it's purchase decision. HMOs, co-ops and other government programs have all added more layers which just made things worse.

Many of you have heard me say, "Only insure risk you CAN'T afford to take". The natural exception would be if you are a worse than average risk, but we all at least TRY to live a healthy life, right?

The positive inverse of this rule is, "SELF-insure as much risk as you can". This allows YOU to keep the profit of the insurance company. It makes no sense to "insure" minor medical care such as eye or dental visits, unless you are a group of blind people with bad teeth - but then the insurance company would reject you anyway. The point is, stay connected with your purchase of health care as much as possible. Shop your doctors. YOU are the most likely person to control health costs.

John Mackey has reached the same conclusion at Whole Foods. And he's found an effective solution. He has not solved ALL of health care's problems. There is still litigation, end of life triage and defensive medicine to deal with. But he's made a start. THIS is the model we should be studying. Health care is NOT something with which the government should be involved.

Whole Foods Puts Its Mouth Where the Money Is - 02-01-10

Reason.tv on John Mackey's Health Care Solution

Let me know what YOU think!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Your body wasn’t built to last: a lesson from human mortality rates

02-17-12 Update - While Average Lifespans Increase, 114 Remains A Stubborn And Mysterious Upper Bound. Why?

Here's an interesting post on the topic on Gompertz Law of human mortality, dealing with predicted aging and the mathematics of telomeres.

It also links to a cute death calculator based on if you were born today, but it's missing the function most people would be interested in. The question to answer is, if you've ALREADY lived to a certain age, what are the odds you'll HOW much longer? The data's all there. We just need someone to code it up. Let me know if you find it somewhere in cyberspace.

GapMinder Data Visualization

Gompertz Law of human mortality

Thanks to Roamer, here's the link I was looking for...

Predicting Death

Plus the parent site is an excellent source for risk analysis of stories in the media...

Understand Uncertainty

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Life Lessons of Burning Man

It's been said, words can not do justice to the experience that is Burning Man. And it's true. I've tried, over and over. But here's a a guy who has at the very least framed it nicely - and I suspect hit it square on the head - at least for himself, Mark Morford. Not only is he an excellent word-smith, he GETS it! But your mileage may vary.

Now I'll get out of the way so you can read HIS take on Burning Man - EXCELLENT stuff...

The Life Lessons of Burning Man

Another good column on the topic - Thanks Mark.

The Truth About Burning Man

Friday, August 21, 2009

AfterBurn at PermaBurn

Can't make it to Burning Man?

Or don't want it to end after you do?

Go to the AfterBurn!

Yep. I just had it confirmed - PermaBurn is hosting a FREE week of camping after Burning Man. All Burners invited, whether you made it to the playa or not!

PermaBurn is only 85 miles west of the playa as the crow flies, but 135 miles through Alturus and Likely, or 150 miles directly from Reno.

There will be water for showers, porta-potties and all the space you need to decompress slowly.

Plus... Wednesday evening, September 9th will be the left-over playa pot-luck.

And... starting Friday night, September 12th, Fixation Station will have their Dragonfly art car and dance venue operational for a weekend of music.

So if you're a Burning Man orphan, you've been adopted! You can at least sneak in a weekend with other Burners and get some playa dust on you.

Or if you're not ready to quit dancing just because BLM says so, here's the place to continue.

What : AfterBurn at PermaBurn
When : September 7th thru September 13th (early and late camping is fine)
Where : Madeline, California - 60 miles north of Susanville
Entrance Fee : 0.00, nada, FREE!

Thanks to CyberBiker for providing this Google Map link..

PermaBurn Location on Google Map

If you haven't been out, there is 5 miles of gravel road, so you may have to dodge some rocks.

(click to expand)

How to get to PermaBurn...

How to get to the PermaBurn turnoff from Reno...

Take 395 60 miles north of Susanville to Madeline, California
(the 395 junction is just east of Susanville).

Go 6 miles north of Madeline on 395 to the 134.92 mile marker at 41 7'43" 120 30'0".

How to get to the PermaBurn turnoff from Gerlach...

Take highway 447 north which becomes highway 81 when you cross into California. Continue through Eagleville then turn left in Cedarville onto highway 299. Go west on highway 299 until it joins highway 395 just north of Alturas. Go south on highway 395 to Alturas (which is the biggest post-playa town and gas stop). Continue south on highway 395 through the town of Likely. About 5 miles south of Likely find the turnoff at the 134.92 mile marker at 41 7' 43" 120 30' 0''.

From either Reno or Gerlach, turn west off highway 395.

Watch for the orange or mylar tape from this point on. If you go to Google map you won't find any names on any of these roads.

This is where the five miles of dirt road starts...

Take a left to go south on this gravel road.

Go 0.1 miles till you reach the green gate. Open the gate if you have to and go through. Please remember to close it back.

Go 0.4 miles until you see a second green Gate on the right with orange tape.

Open the green gate and take a right. AND close it back, please. Thar BE cattle.

Cross the yellow cattle guard about 30 feet beyond the gate.

Go 2.4 miles.

You will see another yellow cattle guard and orange tape.

To the right, will be a sign for the reservoir.

You are at 41 6'45" 120 32' 6".

Go just BEYOND the cattle guard, and then take an immediate LEFT turn on the dirt road on the other side of the fence. Turn left just AFTER the cattle guard, not before!

Go 2.2 miles south and up the hill on this smaller dirt road.

At some points the road tilts pretty bad, and there are a few rocks protruding but a normal car can make it with care.

You will reach the top of the hill with three trees on the left, and then come down into the PermaBurn site.

Welcome to AfterBurn!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Half Dome the Hard Way - A Review

I do lots of hiking, but once a year I try to really challenge myself (and whomever will come with me), to a hike in the marathon class (20 plus miles on difficult ground).

For this year's hike, we picked Half Dome in Yosemite Park. But I didn't want to just do the standard up and back along with the crowd from the valley below. So we decided to start at Tenaya Lake up on Tioga pass. This would give a chance to see some of the back country as well as make a stop at Clouds Rest which was actually a thousand feet ABOVE Half Dome and a challenging climb all on it's own.

We were 45 minutes behind plan getting started because of the drive, and our schedule slipped all day from there. The delays were caused by trail-bed, grade and lack of enough training. Most of the trail-bed we saw was rocky. Some of it is down right horrible.

Cloud's Rest was a hard climb of just under 2000 feet from Tenaya Lake. It was about six miles with a fairly rocky path. It made for slow going. An and I had not done enough training hikes this summer. Travis apparently did more. He lead all the climbing all day.

01 Clark Mt

As we approached, the top, views started popping up. Clark Mountain in the distance was especially impressive. We also got a good view of Tenaya Lake behind us.

02 Fall Line Off the Edge of Cloud's Rest

03 The World of Granite and Tenaya Lake Behind Us (click to enlarge, then look closely)

We got to Cloud's Rest just before lunch and were rewarded with a spectacular view all around. The scale is well beyond our normal perception. Looking into those granite valleys will almost pull you in. Photos do not do it justice. You just have to go and see it for yourself.

04 Trav on Cloud's Rest

05 An on Cloud's Rest

After lunch we began a steep decline losing far more than we'd gained all morning. But the trail was pretty good and we completed four miles in just over an hour - the fastest section all day.

06 Half Dome from the Back

Then it was time to climb much of it back, which is a bit demoralizing. It was about 1700 feet in the very short distance of only two miles. This is the steepest climb I think I've ever done for that distance, and is topped off with the famous cable assent.

08 Closer

09 Steps

The first third is simply trail, but steep enough to force breaks to catch your breath, even at 8000 feet. The next third seemed like a thousand steps cut into the granite. Maybe it was only 800. I think it was the worst part of the whole day, at least until it began to yield more amazing views. Next was the final phase - even steeper than steps.

Other than visually challenging (read scary as hell), the cable climb was mostly waiting for the line to move, even though we didn't have a line to get started this late in the day (3:00 by then). It took 45 minutes to go that last 400 feet - almost straight up. I got a Charley-horse near the end, but I think it was caused by the earlier never-ending steps. A few minutes relaxing on top and it resolved.

The view off Half Dome is probably not what you'd expect. Other than a small section over by the cliffs, you can't see into the valley below. This is because, if you walk far enough over the "dome" to get a good look, the footing becomes steep and dangerous without a rope. So most people were hanging out by the cliffs which split the dome in half and are truly dramatic.

14 The Cliffs

By this time, it was 4:00 PM, which was exactly when I told Rita (our ride back to the car), we'd be back at the village in the valley. By the time we got off the dome it was even later. Even though I didn't think she would leave without us, I was a bit concerned because we couldn't make phone connection. Or maybe it was just an excuse to go for a run.

You see, I like running down hill. And with rocks, it becomes kind of a dance. Once we got off the steps, I left Trav and An behind and began my run. The first few miles went quickly, with only a few rocks to dodge. But on the flats before the falls, was DG (Decomposed Granite) as deep as beach sand. That took me down to a walk for about a mile.

Next came the mist trail below Nevada Falls, which is some of the nastiest rock path I have ever seen, especially the first mile. This was more of a tap-dance than a run. Finally I hit paved path and sprinted to the finish (except for the small up hill parts).

The day had been a great work-out, especially the last few miles. I found Rita about an hour before the other guys made it out, making a ten hour day for me. We headed back to Rita's house and her hot-tub.

So if you're looking for two of the most visually vivid summits in the United States, either of these will do. But be ready for a challenge.

Even if you only do one.

11-13-09 three more photos from Trav

On Cloud's Rest

Second Objective

The Stair-climber

Monday, August 03, 2009

Finally... Enjoying the Soup

A Welcoming Double-Rainbow

It was noted, the weather called for 30% chance of rain, so some of you stayed home. Others were busy with Burning Man prep and couldn't make the trip. But for a few dedicated Burners, it was a very entertaining weekend.

Yes. It DID rain. Actually, the worst rain was driving out near Honey Lake. There it POURED. At PermaBurn the ground was dry and the little rain we DID get was light and short. Plus, it produced a nice double rainbow.

Fire over the ridge

The bigger problem was the wind and lightning. The wind blew down a couple of tents. And the lightning started a fire behind the ridge. Fortunately, it was about ten miles away. In spite of the weather, we got the camp settled, a fire going and had a great first evening.

Soon to be center camp

Saturday morning more people arrived and we got the center camp shade set up and then had some breakfast.

Kim making breakfast



Bike for 3

Greg and Kim

Some of the group

That afternoon, the Poly camp got a great discussion group going contrasting Poly to "normal" relationships with surprisingly candid conversation.

Later on, "Help Me" BSDM camp whipped up a storm (literally and figuratively) - red backs and thunderstorms (did anyone get pics?).

This time the storms were friendly and mostly stayed at a distance. It was more of a lightning show all night with a warm wind, and a sprinkles here and there - a truly magical evening.

On Sunday morning an owner's meeting was held. It was agreed to host an "AfterBurn" as a gift for those leaving the playa after Burning Man. Water will be brought in for showers and there's plenty of room to shake out the tarps. It should be a great way to continue the party, then decompress more slowly for those that have more time to get home. Stand by for details...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stone Soup Reheated at PermaBurn!

I've been surprised by the number of requests to Reheat Stone Soup. I guess there IS need to express oneself in the solitude and privacy of a square mile the high desert sage!

Or else you guys just like to party!

Whatever the case, Stone Soup, the Reheat is ON!

By a clear majority, the camp-out is now set for Friday, July 31st, Saturday, August 1st and Sunday, August 2nd at PermaBurn, 60 miles north of Susanville. No need to RSVP. All you have to do is show up! We don't have time to get all the resources we had in June, so just bring what you have, and we'll do what we can. So far I've heard from the following camps. Stay tuned for updates...

Center Camp - Rose Palace Paula & Dave will be setting up a shade structure. Anyone have a table or two?

Camp Lazy Fucks - Returning from our mud bath, Blue and Brother as Camp Lazy Fucks will host the greeter camp at the very west end of the valley. I've heard Kathy is also returning to help them out again. Welcome to the greeters!

Reno Poly Camp - Actually, it's the Northern Nevada Polyamory Support group, and they will hold their August meeting at Stone Soup's Center Camp as well as hosting a Saturday evening pack-it-in, pack-it-out, lick-your-plate pot-luck at 6:00 PM. This will be preceded by, "An Introduction to Polyamory", at 4:00 PM. They will also lead discussions on alternate lifestyles during the weekend. Contact Teresa Werner with any question or contribution at... terwer42@yahoo.com

Help Me - "Help Me" BSDM camp will be back to give late night demonstrations. Prepare to be punished.

Finally, if you were at the event in June, you'll remember Marshall. He was the master of the fire, and kept it going in SPITE of the rain. Well, Sunday, August 2nd is his BIRTHDAY! If we convince him to return, we'll get a chance to thank him for all his effort by starting his birthday party at midnight on Saturday! So come and join the camp-out. It will be an excellent excuse to celebrate an excellent Burner! And get your vibe in tune for the playa!

What : Stone Soup Reheat 2009 Camp-out at PermaBurn
When : July 31st, Aug 1st & 2nd (early and late camping is fine)
Where : Madeline, California - 60 miles north of Susanville
Entrance Fee : 0.00, nada, FREE!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, click the "Stone Soup" label for this blog to read all the details and history.

Thanks to CyberBiker for providing this Google Map link..

Stone Soup 2009 - PermaBurn Location on Google Map

If you haven't been out, there is 5 miles of gravel road, some of it has dips that would challenge anything with a flat exit angle, such as a long over-hang RV. Last year there were trailers as long as 24 feet and one fully loaded Geo Metro, so any normal car will make it if you dodge a few rocks. High clearance or trucks, no problem at all. (05-1-20-09 much of the road has been graded since last year and virtually ANY vehicle can make it out by dodging a few rocks).

(click to expand)

How to get to PermaBurn...

Take 395 60 miles north of Susanville to Madeline, California
(the 395 junction is just east of Susanville).

Go 6 miles north of Madeline on 395 to the 134.92 mile marker at 41 7'43" 120 30'0".

Watch for the orange tape from this point on. If you go to Google map you won't find any names on any of these roads, but the mile marker is past Sage Hen and before South Fork Mountain Road. On the ground, the key is the mile marker and orange tape at each junction.

This is where the five miles of dirt road starts...

Take an immediate left at mile marker 134.92, onto the shortcut to a gravel road.

Take another left to go south on this gravel road.

Go 0.1 miles till you reach the green gate. Open the gate if you have to and go through. Please remember to close it back.

Go 0.4 miles until you see a second green Gate on the right with orange tape.

Open the green gate and take a right. AND close it back, please. Thar BE cattle.

Cross the yellow cattle guard about 30 feet beyond the gate.

Go 2.4 miles. (05-20-09 this section has been graded since last year).

You will see another yellow cattle guard and orange tape.

To the right, will be a sign for the reservoir.

You are at 41 6'45" 120 32' 6".

Go just BEYOND the cattle guard, and then take an immediate LEFT turn on the dirt road on the other side of the fence. Turn left just AFTER the cattle guard, not before!

Go 2.2 miles south and up the hill on this smaller dirt road.

At some points the road tilts pretty bad, and there are a few rocks protruding but a normal car can make it with care.

You will reach the top of the hill with three trees on the left, and then come down into the PermaBurn site. The last hundred yards (which was so bad last year) has been newly worked and is in much better condition.

The best camping is in this first valley.

Welcome to Permaburn!

Welcome to Stone Soup Reheated!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Poly Shade Design

(First storm 2008 - Note the standing waves in the sequential sections. An awning might have limited damage, and did in later version.)

Much of this content was first posted August 22, 2008, just before I left for the playa. 2008 turned out to be the worst week for wind storms I've experienced in my seven years at Burning Man. It was even worse than 2007. I learned a lot in only a few days. This post was updated in 2009 and finally again in 2016.

It's not obvious, but stress is the key to this design in using poly-plastic to create shade AND have it survive up to 80 MPH gusts - or not as the case may be.

The first element of stress is because PVC pipe only becomes somewhat rigid when bent into an arc and held in a plane. Yet it also flexes and kneels when the wind blows. Second, the canvass itself forms a stressed skin structure holding the PVC ribs in their plane. These stresses compliment each other, yet yield to the wind instead of breaking.

Technically this design is an ultra-light, bi-stressed poly shade structure - Poly Shade for short. I believe it's the cheapest, lightest method to shade almost 3000 square feet. It goes up fast and comes down even faster.

Several people have asked how they could build one. Below are detailed construction plans.

Design History

As I discovered with the Zen Hammock, PVC is an interesting building material. It's cheap, light, strong, flexible and can be easily worked. That's why, next to duct-tape, it's the most popular building material on the playa during Burning Man.

I decided to use PVC and Tyvek to hold up a LARGE shade structure in 2005. I planned for 70 feet long by 38 foot arch base. The PVC worked fine. The Tyvek didn't. We only got half of it up shading only 35 by 38 feet for a total of 1330 square feet.

Also that first year, I kept each rib in a plane by rigging with ropes. This was too complex and the ropes wore holes in the Tyvek fabric when buffeted by the wind.

In 2006 I switched from Tyvek to poly-tarp and dropped the rib to rib ropes. Instead, I used the fabric itself attached with ball-bungees to hold the ribs in a plane. This simplification turned it into a stressed-skin structure which worked well. I also spread the base to 40 feet which dropped the top of the ribs just enough to reach from the motor-home.

In 2006 we used five ribs and four sections of twelve foot wide tarps. This gave us a foot print of 40 feet by 50 feet (including PVC width), for over 2304 square feet of shade.

In 2007 I expanded the length one more section giving us just over 60 feet by 40 feet and 2880 square feet of shade. I also replaced the side PVC with simple rope anchors, but poly-stressed was about to take on a whole new meaning.

2007 had the worst and most consistent winds with the largest gusts of any year I've been at Burning Man (until 2008!). Once we finally got it up (wind problems), the structure flexed and kneeled in the wind all week. Thursday and Friday brought a thunderstorm each day. By the end of the week, one t-post broke off right at the playa and another had pulled out of the ground. Many of the grommets had pulled out and tarp was flapping in the wind. The design had been out to the limits.

The biggest problem was, because of the wind, we didn't get a good initial rig and the ribs were out of plane. The structure kneeled right away pulling grommets out. Once weakened, it just got worse. More rigid ribs would also have helped.

In 2008 I plan to increase the internal links from 4 to 20 feet on the end ribs and 4 to 10 feet on the rest of the ribs. I also plan to extend it one more section to over 72 feet giving us 3456 square feet of shade and making it finally larger than my original design.

If you've read my Burning Man blog post for 2008, you know 2008 was worse than even 2007 for wind, and it wasn't short-term thunderstorms that caused the problems. It was sustained strong winds for hours on end. Sunday's storm was moderate, but still pulled apart the first and second ribs on the windward south end.

I had used the new design with longer links so I didn't think I needed centering tape. Looks like I was wrong.  Ten or even twenty foot links can shift around with enough bouncing. And then they come apart at the weak point. We lashed things down as well as we could Monday morning just as the wind picked up again.

Monday's storm was far worse. It's 30 to 40 MPH winds went on for most of the day, all night and even into the next morning. They had to close the gate to Burning Man for six hours because of total white-out that evening.

(2008 Sunday / Monday Storm Damage)

By Tuesday morning there was little of the Poly Shade structure left standing. We took it all down except for three ribs which were still in fair condition. On Wednesday, we moved the few good tarps onto these empty rib sections. To help some of the camps in the sun, I also added an awning to the windward end. Not only did it provide extra shade, it seem to help keep the wind out of from under the structure, so it didn't jump as much when the next big storm hit on Saturday. Was this a clue?

My plan for 2009 is to return to the three rib design but on 16' centers as tarp weight does not seem to be a limit. The 20' links seem to just add more weight than rigidity. I will use 10' links and center-tape them as in earlier designs.

The biggest change will be awnings on both ends, plus four end ropes instead of three. This should hold the plane better. We'll see. Instead of joining the tarp sections with tie-wraps this year, I'll only join the corners. Then when on the playa, I'll thread a50' x 1/4" poly reef rope along each seam and tie it to the tarp corner at the anchor end. The other end will go over the center rib and allow for reefing of the awnings and to some degree the center sections as well.

I also plan to install the safety x-ropes from the top of EACH rib to the tire on a motor-home or other vehicle.  This should cut down on the "galloping" as well as insure the whole thing doesn't blow down playa.

Another line of defense against strong predicted winds is to add the ability to "reef" much of the canvas. My idea is to thread poly rope along the seams of the tarps in an "accordion" fashion so I can release the base of the awning tarps and pull and bunch them to the center rib.

My plan is to reef the trailing edge first, then the leading edge. This should reduce canvas by 50%. If it's going to be a bad blow, I could also release the end ropes and pull the ribs into the center rib using the reefing ropes. This should cut tarp area by a total of 75%. I'll let you know how all this works out.

Materials 2009 Design

Each  Description                                      Cost    Weight

8     5' steel t-posts                                  40      48
6    14" sections of 3/16" steel chain                  12
6    Chain QuickLinks                                   12

9    20' x 2 1/2" S40 PVC for ribs                     225      243
6    10' x 2" class 200 PVC for links 3 x 20'           45       36
6     4' x 1 1/2" class 200 PVC = 2 x 20' foundations   22
6     4' x 2" class 200 PVC = 2 x 20' foundations       34

16    12' x 16' Costco 10mm poly tarps                  144      112
72    8" Tie-wraps                                        4
300   8" Ball-bungees                                    75

6   1/4" poly X-ropes (6 x 25' = 150')                20
6   1/4" poly side-ropes (6 x 10' = 60')              10
6   1/4" poly reef-ropes (6 x 50' = 300')             40
8   3/8" poly end ropes (8 x 50' = 200')              16
8   Tension straps                                    80
10   Safety lights                                      40

Total $819    439 pounds

Site Tools

100' tape
Fence post pounder
Fence post puller

Foundation Prep

Drill a 3/8th inch hole in the top of the flange of 6 five foot steel t-posts. Use a screw link to add 14 inches of 1 1/4 inch chain to each flange. This is where the side-anchor ropes will attach.

Cut 6 each of 1 1/2 inch class 200 PVC four feet long. Cut the same using 2 inch class 200 PVC. One each of these sleeves will fit over each steel t-post creating two internal layers to distribute the stress and keep the rib from splitting out at the bottom. These three elements make up the "foundation".

Rib Prep

Each rib is made up of three 20 foot 2.5 inch S40 grade PVC pipes. An internal 10' "link" of 2 inch class 200 is used to distribute the stress at each joint. For the first three years, this link was four feet long. In 2009 I'm using 10 foot links. This should make the ribs more rigid but still light-weight.

Cut the six inch flange off of three 20 foot class 200 2 inch PVC sections. Cut them in half of as (just under) 10' internal links for the center ribs. Wrap six layers of duct tape at the center of each link, staggered over a five inches of pipe to form ramped peak of tape in the very center.

Black mark the center as well as 4 inches in from the non-flared end of each S40 rib section.

Load for transport - I had room to put them inside my motor-home but I had to crawl over top of them so load them last. If you load them on a roof as I did one year, note their total weight and the effect it has on handling. I could feel it. Also make sure the load is secure.

Tarp Prep

Drag out the tarps and grade for similar size along the 16 foot sides. Try different combinations until the corner grommets line up, as size is inconsistent with these cheap tarps. Alternate colored sides if you want a checker-board pattern when you're done.

Fold up tarps and strap with tension straps.

Load for transport.

Playa Construction

Pick a site where the center-line of the end anchor ropes will point to Gerlach if at all possible. That is where the most common winds come from. The point is to have the wind go up and over the awning structure instead of hitting the side.

Plot a line 92', 9" long with the ends as the end rope anchor points. At 30' in, swing a 20' arc about 90 degrees to the long line. Next sweep a 36' arc from the closest anchor point. Set a corner post where the two arcs cross. Repeat for each corner.

The center rib post should be midway between these corner posts at 16' 1.5" on each side. This should yield a rectangle just over 32' x 40' as a footprint for the structure. Measuring corner to corner at 51.22' to make sure it's on the square.

Drive in all rib posts vertically 16" or until firm, keeping chain above ground.

Drive in end anchor post at 50 degrees from the ground so the rope vector will be less than 90 degrees to the post, and therefor pull it IN to the ground.

Place 4 foot 1 1/2" and 2" foundations sleeves on all rib posts.

Assemble all ribs with 10' links.

First wrap the center of each link with 5 wraps of duct-tape beveled off along the sides of the wraps.

Mark small end of rib at joint 3" from the end. Using a wooden block, hammer ribs together until they approach the 3" mark. Duct-tape the outside of the rib joint to hold them in place until they are under stress. They will get tighter once the wind starts blowing.

There are lots of good knots. At times I've used a clove hitch, but most of the times just plenty of half-hitches.

Tie end ropes to end ribs at 15' and 25' from each end of the rib.

Add two X-ropes at one third points along the ribs (see Storm Management below).

Setting the Ribs

Place all ribs to the outside of the foot-print next to their posts ready to move into place. Drive the motor-home into the center of the footprint.

Raise and drape the first rib across the top of the motor-home.

With one person on top of the motor-home to stabilize the rib, one guy at least six feet tall to hold high, one guy to guide the end over the post, and up to two others for muscle, place the rib over foundation post on one side, and then the other.

Setting ribs is a tricky process. Using ropes, I actually placed one of these by myself once, but it's VERY difficult alone. With the right crew, it's quick and easy work. The key is cooperation. It's like lifting a piano - not as heavy, but more awkward. The rib seems to move on it's own like a huge snake until it's seated. The key is to work together, and don't ever leave just one guy holding all the force. These ribs can kick like a mule. It's not as bad as I make it sound - it's just a different kind of physical experience.

Back up motor-home to next rib position.

Repeat for all ribs.

Add a tension strap to each end rope and attach it to the anchor post, but leave it slack until tarps are in place.

Setting the Tarp

Wait for calm. This is important. Flapping tarps are difficult to bungee and pull tight. In the wind, you'll end up with a poor alignment and a weaker structure. I've done it.

Layout a tarp section for one of the center positions. Thread a 50' x 1/4" poly reef rope through each of the three seams. Pull the motor-home forward and drag the tarp section on top.

Line up tarp center seam with rib center mark to place first bungee. Or you can offset tarp to get more shade (or wind load) on one side or the other. Make sure any offset is the same on both ribs to keep things square.

Bungee from the center down each side pulling tarp tight as you go. If you can, work both ribs of the tarp at the same time to make sure it stays square. When a center section is done, secure the center end of the reef rope and thread the anchor end through the cooresponding seams of the awning tarp section which should be on the top of the end ropes. Secure the reef rope at the anchor end of the awning. Pull awning up on the motor-home and bungee to the end rib keeping it tight as before.

Repeat for both ends.

Add string lights to ribs inside structure to suit your taste.

Final Rig

Release lower end-ropes and pull to the side to drive in and park vehicles. I drive over an old tarp to use as a floor. Replace end-ropes.

Secure the two x-ropes of each rib to the tires of vehicles. Tying around the bottom of car tires works well if the rope angle won't rub the paint or wear against metal.

Adjust tension straps on end ropes to take any slack out of structure, but be careful that END RIBS REMAIN IN A PLANE and vertical. If the end ribs get out of plane, they will kneel in lighter winds and do more damage to the grommets.

Rig side ropes from tarps to post anchor chains making sure all slack is out of tarps.

Put PVC over end anchor posts for safety.

Add safety lights to end ropes at eye level and anchor posts.

Total playa construction should have taken about six hours.

Have a good Burn! :)

Storm Management

Depending on wind direction and strength, there are things you can do to improve safety and mitigate damage. Orienting the structure so the wind goes THROUGH the structure instead of against the side is the most helpful thing - (WRONG 2008 advice. Instead, use awnings to get the wind to go UP and OVER structure so that standing waves and oscillations don't start. This was learned in 2008 and is the approach I'll use in 2009).

If winds go over 30 MPH, you are likely to get "kneeling" where the ribs will deform, leave plane, and pull into an "S" shape in three dimensions. You'll know it when you see it.

Unless, the ribs are banging on something below, this will do little or no damage. The rib will pop back up on its own when the wind dies down.

If the wind goes over 40 MPH or you have bad gusting, you may get "galloping" where the ribs and tarps move in waves down the structure. This will tend to stress the posts, foundations, ribs, joints, grommets and tarps. I've even tied ribs down into kneeling position during bad storms to cut galloping and stress. (Let's see how awnings help this problem).

With bad galloping, I've seen the ribs jumping up their posts and off the playa more than a foot in bad storms. This is usually because the side rope grommets have pulled out or other damage has been done. Once things start breaking down, it just gets worse.

In 2007 one post broke off at the playa and another pulled out completely from galloping. In both cases, I added X-ropes to keep the rib secure and somewhat in position.

One important safety point to note is, if a post breaks or pulls out of the playa, it will want to jump out and may hit anything in the way (car, tent or someone's head).

Keep the area around the rib posts clear for this reason. Usually the rib (and post) will only jump a couple of feet and then dig into the dirt again. The tarps and bungees tend to hold it in form. But it's better to be safe and NOT take a nap next to one of these ribs in a storm. A tent will NOT slow it's kick much.

Rib De-construction

Tear-down goes much faster than construction.

Release end ropes. After a week in the wind, the ribs will probably sag over to the sides.

Hang on ribs and pop bungees off.

Fold and strap tarps.

Place one guy on top of motor-home to stabilize ribs as before, while up to four others lift them off of foundations. One person should grab and hold the PVC foundation sleeves down as the rib comes up so you don't have to lift as high to get them off. Watch your fingers as it pops off.

Another VERY important safety point here is these ribs may kick like a mule once they clear the post. Make sure AT LEAST two people have a firm grip until they are laid down.

Repeat for all ribs.

De-constructing the ribs can be difficult depending on how much pounding the wind did during the week. Use the motor-home to pull them apart. Tie a rope to the back of the motor-home and to one end of a rib. Tie the other end of the rib to one of the end posts. A timber knot or several half-hitches will usually do it. Drive the motor-home ahead slowly and they will generally pop apart. This process will take a while but works well and is safe if you stand well clear of the joint as it pops apart. One rib would NOT come apart after the storms of 2008. We broke two ropes and a STRAP trying. We finally sawed it in two.

Secure load for transport.

If you have any questions, please email so I can also update this post with your feedback.

And let me know how it works out if you give it a try.

2010 Version

In 2010 I made smaller ribs by only using two 20' PVC sections with only on 10' link.  this yielded only 25' wide base but also created a lower and more rigid structure which seem to stand up to the wind better.  The tarp awnings on each end also helped keep the wind from doing so much damage.  Well, once we got it in place.

As is common on the playa, the wind came up before we got all the tarps on.  We had to stop work.  And then it got worse.  By the next morning we had rain and a fair amount of tarp damage.  As soon as things dried out, we took the damaged tarps down and started over.  This time we got it stable before the next storm blew in.  Yep, it blew hard and rained again, but this time everything held up with no problems for the rest of the week.

This year (2011) I plan to use the same design except add on more rib for another 400 square feet of shade.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Materials for the 2011 Design

Each  Description                                      Cost    Weight

8     5' steel t-posts                                  40      48
6    14" sections of 3/16" steel chain                  12
6 Chain QuickLinks 12
2     5' steel t-posts (no chain) for end anchors       16      12
8 20' x 2 1/2" S40 PVC for ribs 200 216 6 10' x 2" class 200 PVC for links 3 x 20' 30 36 8 4' x 1 1/2" class 200 PVC = 2 x 20' foundations 29 8 4' x 2" class 200 PVC = 2 x 20' foundations 45 10 12' x 16' Costco 10mm poly tarps 100 70 48 8" Tie-wraps 5 96 8" Ball-bungees 30 6 1/4" poly X-ropes (6 x 25' = 150') 20 6 1/4" poly side-ropes (6 x 10' = 60') 14 6 1/2" poly end ropes (6 x 25' = 150') 18 6 Tension straps 60 10 Safety lights 40 Total $671 382 pounds

2011 Layout

Plot a line 88', 7.5" long with the ends as the end rope anchor points. At 20' in, swing a 12' 6" arc about 90 degrees to the long line. Next sweep a 23' 7" arc from the closest anchor point. Set a corner post where the two arcs cross. Repeat for each corner.

Repeat this process for four ribs at 16' 2.5" on each side and 12.5' from the center line. This should yield a rectangle of 48' 7.5" x 25' as a footprint for the structure. Measuring corner to corner at 54' 8" to make sure it's on the square.

2014 Layout

Another change we made this year was to "reef" the tarps during bad storms.  If you simply push the bungees together on both ends of the tarp, it gathers in the center where you can wrap bungees around the bundle.  It obviously provides no shelter in this configuration but will withstand very high winds with no damage.  Then just redeploy the next morning when the wind dies down.

One final change we made was to use three tarps on the smaller 40' ribs with the top tarp overlapping the side tarps by two feet on each side.  This worked very well when we got a half inch of rain in 2014.  The water shed nicely.

Let me know if you use this design or have any questions.

Rod Coleman

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Case-Shiller 100-Year Chart

(click to expand to full size)

Many of you have heard me talk about this chart at different times, so here it is. It's one of the best pieces of data on the housing bubble I've seen anywhere. It shows what happened, and more importantly, where "normal" is likely to be.

For what it's worth.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Girl Who Doesn't Age

The future is a wonderful place to live. We get to see things happening which were limited to science fiction when I was young.

Yes. The "baby" you see above is actually 16 years old, and actually DOES age but in an inconsistent way. So far, there are more questions than answers. But can you imagine? She may end being the Rosetta Stone medical science and aging. Or she may live to be a thousand years old.

Strange days...

Details from ABC...

Details from the New Scientist...