A new adventure

If you’ve read this blog for even a year, you know that in my spare time I am a dirty freaking hippie who attends “burns,” which are regional events modeled on Burning Man.

Not only that, but since I am cursed with skills and competence I have risen in the ranks of leadership to Placement Lead, which means that when the 130+ theme camps register, I get to decide where they’re placed on the map.  And not only that, but because of the organization’s moving from its long-time venue a couple of years ago, we’ve been on new land three times in two years, which means that as Placement Lead I get to design the burn from the literal ground up.

I am not complaining.  It’s a huge amount of work, but it appeals to the ritualist in me to be able to take a piece of property and lay out boulevards and squares and byways that add up to a complete, explorable, community.

Here’s the new home for Alchemy (our fall burn):

—click to embiggen—

It’s a lovely farm, owned by a burner, in northwest Georgia.  As always, it’s not as flat as it looks from space, but it’s flat enough to be an exciting canvas.

For those keeping score, here are the things on my list of things to procrastinate:

I do hope I haven’t forgotten anything…

This week

This morning, I will begin laying out the map for Euphoria, the spring Burn here in Georgia.  You may recall the epic journey from last fall when I designed the burn from scratch and then had to place 3,000 hippies, all of whom wanted “flat land, next to the road, near the tree line, away from the sound camps.”  I did it, and it was fun, exhilarating even.

Now it’s time to do it again.  It’s a little easier this time, only 1,000 hippies, and only 43 camps instead of 130.  Plus, I already know what I’m doing.

The point is, this is the only writing you’re getting this morning.  I have to place All The Hippies.


Dale’s what??

So in my dream, the phrase DALE’S CLEATS flashed upon the screen.

I mean to say, what?

I felt vaguely that it might have something to do with the Backstreet Writers group that I am struggling to get off the ground down at Backstreet Arts, but how?  I’ve never owned a pair of cleats in my life, nor have I ever done anything remotely requiring cleats, even for a moment.

So… digging in?  Running fast?  Pivoting sharply?[1]

It didn’t end there.

A few moments later—in dreamtime, anyway—the phrase Christian auction salmon appeared.  (Both phrases seemed to be printed on the screen.  You know, the screen.)

Well OK then.  Now you’re just messing with me.  I’ll leave the guessing to the Lacanians in our midst and move on to what this phrase reminded me of: placement at a burn.

No, really, and it has nothing to do with Christians, auctions, or salmon. I already told you it was about a burn, remember?

Last fall when I was trying to wrangle a new piece of property into a proper burn, one of the banes of my existence was measuring the land accurately.  I bought a laser rangefinder and that helped, but things like exactly where the Effigy and Temple would go were driving me to distraction.

I had a couple of apps on my phone that claimed to help me pin down the latitude and longitude of wherever I was standing, and you might think that would be all I needed.  Hold that thought.

Anyway, after the burn was over, I discovered a new app: What3Words.  In theory it’s a cool concept: chop up the world into 3×3 meter squares, and assign three random English words to each square.  Why three and not two or even one?  Why not?

But here’s the thing: I already had apps that could pinpoint latitude and longitude down to four or five decimal places.  Why would What3Words be any more accurate?   It wasn’t, but hope springs eternal.

The problem, of course, is the technology I’m using: my phone.  It relies on cell towers and such to locate itself, and that system isn’t accurate enough.  At Alchemy, in Bowdon, GA, for example, we were so close to the Alabama border that some hippies’ cell phones kept switching to Central Daylight Savings time and back.  Consequently, the coordinates on my phone would change every time I went to the property.

The apps weren’t lying to me: they would tell me their accuracy was “within 14 m.,” for example.  Right now, I have one telling me that my location is 0.0005 miles from home while I am sitting in my study.  Not only that, a moment ago I was o.0002 miles from home, in another direction.  I haven’t moved.  You see the problem.

When I downloaded What3Words, I decided to test it out on the center of my labyrinth.  As usual, the results were disappointingly shapeshifty.  Just now, I got the four following combinations:[2]

  • sever.fits.amenity
  • endpoints.fade.bowling
  • relished.crucially.foraged
  • brisk.blackened.design

Not only that, but I don’t recognize any of those combinations as being any that I got on my first use a couple of months ago.

The actual location of the center of the labyrinth is 33.3760 N and -84.8035 W, and I know that because the satellite photo in Maps finally was taken in the winter and you can barely make out the labyrinth from space.  The what3words for that coordinate is perches.mermaid.pelting, which I do recognize as one of the options I got before.  The apps for latitude and longitude do not match those numbers.

So the phone and its attempts at geopositioning are the weak link in any system trying to map a space.  Of course, that’s usually not a problem. If I tell you that my labyrinth is at perches.mermaid.pelting, you’ll land close enough to find it.  (Or maybe not: see footnote 2.) But accurate?  No.

And here’s one pretty hysterical example: as I drove into Alchemy last October for early entry, I noticed that a bank of portapotties were in the middle of a camp’s marked area.  Hm, I thought, and then I rounded the bend and there was another set of portapotties smack dab in the middle of Camp Shameless.  They’re not that shameless, I thought.

When I tracked down the hippie in charge of portapotties, he said that when the portapottie company arrived earlier in the week, he used the latitude/longitude from the online map to show them where to place the banks of facilities.  Ah, I said, the map was visually accurate: if the portapotties were at the intersection of Boulevard One and Boulevard Four on the map, then that’s where they went.  But the coordinates, he kept insisting.  I finally got him to understand that while the coordinates might have been accurate, his phone was not.  He had to move every single bank of potties.

By the way, christian.auction.salmon is not on this planet.  However, curtain.auction.salmon is near Watson Lake, Yukon; chieftain.auction.salmon is near Contramaestre, Santiago de Cuba; and friction.auction.salmon is near Fermont, Quebec.


[1] Marc will no doubt have plenty to contribute on the subject.

[2] Those locations are, respectively, the Dancing Faun in the northwest corner of the labyrinth; near Thompson Falls, Montana (!); on the other side of the fence from the Dancing Faun; near Mount Isa, Queensland (!!)