Thursday, September 09, 2004

Burn 2004



A cruelly hot sun beats down on the barren playa, scorching meat from bones and driving weaker souls to seek the comfort of makeshift structures. A lone natural philosopher and his beautiful, nubile love slave brave the heat and travel the desolate wastes searching ever deeper for the secrets beneath the workings of this mysterious universe...

Ahem, OK, that's going to get me way in trouble with feminists isn't it. So, lets try this again...

A cruelly hot sun beats down on the barren playa, scorching meat from bones and driving weaker souls to seek the comfort of makeshift structures. A lone artist and her not so nubile love slave brave the heat and travel the desolate wastes...

Burning Man was pretty darn fun this year. I had skipped the past two years because the dust storms of 2001 sucked so bad, but this year, though not at all dust free, was quite a bit better. We camped with the Singularity Point camp -- a rag tag group of futurists mostly from LA, SD, and the Bay area. I say "camped" but, really, since we're living out of the van, we just drove our home up and opened the doors. Poor CA had to spend the next few hours figuring out how to erect his tent in a dust storm, while our biggest concern was getting his stuff out of the van so we could use our kitchen. We had it pretty good as far as accommodations went.

As always, it's hard to describe Burning Man in any way that approaches coherence, but suffice it to say it was fun. Since this was my fifth burn since 1998 I have a good perspective on the continuing change in the flavor of the event. It is definitely heading towards more of a party atmosphere and less a forum for radical free expression. But it's still good. Most notably absent was the hippy element -- no doubt driven out by $200+ ticket prices. And there were far fewer painted bodies, though that was perhaps attributable to the slightly cool temperatures this year.

Among the many personal high points, I think I had the most fun talking with a couple of string theorists from Berkeley. They scheduled a discussion out by the man on Friday, and it attracted quite a crowd. I grilled them perhaps a little hard about their reasons for believing in string theory, but they handled it very well and even expressed a great deal of skepticism about the field themselves. I helped them answer some predictably whacky questions from the crowd, then left after inviting them over the following day to talk more privately -- they told me they were grad students, so I offered free food. On Saturday they came over to the Singularity Point and we made good use of the white boards that were set up. They did a really good job answering some questions I had about M-theory, notably where the standard model gauge and fermion fields come from in that model. After I pressed them a bit about just how messy and contorted it was they came to admit they didn't really like it either, and in fact were planning on leaving the field. One wanted to go into neuroscience and the other wants to write fiction. Heh, figures that the most reasonable string theory experts I run into are leaving the field. I then shifted gears with them and showed some of the stuff I've been working on. They were well versed enough in Clifford Algebra and gauge theory to get what I was doing and we had a good discussion, which was very refreshing. Although this was a private discussion between three of us, the Singularity Camp was open to a major street and a crowd gathered to watch the math get slung back and forth. I'm not sure what the interest was, since it's highly unlikely any but the three of us had a clue what was going up on the board, but I guess an academic discussion involving higher mathematics suits as an oddly attractive and unusual form of performance art. Anyway, we had to clear the room for the scheduled Singularity Point speaker, but it was a good discussion for me, in an unexpected locale.

The question remains whether I'll go to future burns. It is still a lot of fun. But, as I said, it's rather disappointingly turning into just a party. And, not only that, but as my lovely assistant shows below, the bastards keep making the man smaller.

Now who says burkhas can't be sexy?

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