Thanks for writing.
I am not looking for approval or a committee so much as trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. It's hard to develop ideas in a vacuum. I know other people are smarter or more thoughtful than I am, and as a group, hopefully, we are something more.
We all help build the city. And I want to build it in a direction that I like. And the Internet thing has thrown me a little because I think I need a more thoughtful idea of what The Internet means to me, what Burning Man is to me, and how the two could work together.
The Internet will eventually be everywhere in Black Rock City. But I do not want to thoughtlessly be a part of that. That I would do it for fun or as a contribution makes no difference than if I were being paid to do it. The end result to other people is the same. Other people can help build the city in any direction they want, no one should tell them no. But I want to be responsible for what changes I help bring to the city, and would no more deliver the Internet to 20 city blocks than I would make a private party space.
And since the Internet is already there in such a big way, my Internut would just be creating a digital ghetto. And creating a ghetto feels completely different than providing a basic community involvement or distributed playa info friend finding service where there was no Internet. Given the choice of the Internet to the Internut, I don't see many people choosing the Fake Internet. It'd be patronizing to make that choice for them and block the Internet from going through my hardware. But if I don't block it, then I am basically spending a lot of time helping build the city in a direction that I don't like.
There's a lot that can be done because it is cool or easy, but I do not be the one who does it. With the infrastructure from last year, a bank of 8 or 16 phones in Center Camp would cost less than $500, if you had to buy new hardware. Or one could bring a bunch of MicroCells, write sign up software, and pipe cellular service from many carriers to a small area in Center Camp. That's fine with me if someone else does it, but I don't want that to be my personal contribution to Black Rock City.
Here are the Nerdy Details:
Each node is a:
- Small motherboard ($63)
- 802.11 b/g wifi PCI card ($12)
- 802.11 a wifi uplink device ($50)
- 7db antenna ($7)
- 2x 12v 7ah SLA batteries ($28) (~30-48 hour battery life)
- Total cost for each node: $160 (excluding antenna mast and battery box)
Each node is a tripod made of 8' 3/4" aluminum poles with a 16' PVC pipe sticking through the center. The embedded computer is mounted on the PVC pipe just above the apex of the tripod (~8'). The wifi uplink device is mounted at the top of the PVC pipe (~16').
Place 12 nodes around the city:
- 7 on the Esplanade, facing every block.
- 3-4 in camps in the Center camp ring, or on bikes that we leave locked to the bike racks.
- 2 in small art cars that will roam the city
- Make a few additional nodes using off the shelf hardware (Linksys routers and netbooks or old computers) for theme camps that have AC power and want a node in their camp.
- Each node is a completely self contained unit. It has an internal webserver and email server. The uplink devices form a mesh network between the nodes. The nodes use the mesh network to synchronize with each other. Users connect to a node and do not directly send traffic over the mesh network (this vastly reduces the bandwidth and latency requirements for the mesh, since the total database being synchronized will be less that 5 megs).
Some nodes may not be able to talk to the others. The nodes on the roaming art cars may update these orphan nodes when they drive around. The users may also update these nodes as they walk around the city. It is expected that dead batteries, large art cars blocking wifi signals, bad hardware, and etc will cut the mesh network and temporarily isolate nodes from the rest of the city. Users will still be able to use them, but their data won't be synchronized with the entire city in real time.
- Reflash the uplink devices with OpenWRT and BATMAN to make a 5ghz 802.11a ad-hoc mesh network.
- Reflash the small motherboards with Linux and the Internut software:
-- A webserver that hosts a basic message board (more like post it notes with threaded comments).
-- An IMAP server that hosts a BRC-Only email service.
--- This email service is also accessible from the phone (or laptops) web browser
--- This email service is nearly zero configuration: just make up any user name you want, any password (it ignores passwords), and start sending and recieving messages with that name. Absolutely no security. Anyone can sign on as LarryHarvey and email other people.
--- There are several email (IMAP) folders that mirror the message board topics. If someone posts to EVENTS on the message board, or sends an email to EVENTS, a message will be added to everyones EVENTS folder. Folders would be something like Now, Volunteer, Events, Themecamps, and maybe ones for neighborhoods or Find Lost Friends or something.
To encourage immediecy I wrote an algorithm that lets people categorize emails or web posts as NOW. These posts would feature prominently on the website, and at the top of every email folder (no matter the category), and expire after some short interval, or be pushed down by other NOW posts. And the Events category would be sorted by their time and date, then disappear afterward. Volunteer opportunities would be sorted in the same way.
The total size of all the messages would be limited to about 5 megabytes. This is a lot, War and Peace is about 3 megabytes. This ensures that it will fit in a phones web browser offline storage area (used to synchronize orphaned nodes) and the Routerstations RAM and on-board Flash memory. This will also keep the email and web experience very fast.
OK. So I got very far along this path. It's very easy to write a web bulletin board and email server if you keep it very simple and don't have user sign up pages with email confirmations, passwords, password recovery, real moderation, and etc. All that stuff is usually more work than the part that people spend 95% of their time in.