Communal Storage

At Burning Man, I camp with Comfort & Joy. One of the many benefits of this camp is that they will transport totes to the playa for you; you are only responsible for getting yourself there. The stipulation is that everyone has to use this same tote.

27 Gallon ToteThere are many benefits to this strategy. These totes are very sturdy and stackable. They are easy to zip tie shut. They don’t break open. They can be stacked very high inside the truck without buckling or collapsing.

One downside is that you have to store them all year, along with your playa bike. In San Francisco, this can be a real challenge. Most people are paying as much as they can for a tiny space. San Francisco is a weird place. One weird thing about it is that it is not uncommon to see storage units renting at $10/sq ft across the street from studios renting for ten times that price. A friend and I talked about it and decided to split a storage unit to store this and other stuff.

This is the layout we decided on;

Storage Unit Layout

We decided to get a 5′ x 10′ unit which comes out to $125/month. We are going to use six of these shelves which fit perfectly for a space this size. This also leaves a roughly three foot walkway down the middle of the shelves.

ShelfThese shelves are perfectly sized to fit the 27 gallon totes we have to use for our camp. Then the Shiftpods and other large items can go on top of the shelves. Bikes can go in the walkway.

This plan gives us space for twenty-four totes plus probably half a dozen bikes and space above for more stuff. The rent breaks down to just about $5/tote. More likely, we will only fill the back few shelves in the short term and leave space in front for projects.


We will probably have a lot of extra space at first, so let me know if you want to jump in!

Burning Man Structure Ideas From The Expanse

There were a few really cool ideas for shelters and infrastructure in the new season of The Expanse that I wanted to talk about. All are variants of popular, existing styles of shelters in common use at Burning Man and elsewhere. All of these images are from episode 2, 3 or 4 of season four of The Expanse.

Let’s start with an aerial shot that shows all of the things I’ll be talking about…

Easy-Pack Geodesics

I was very interested in these geodesic domes which expand out of a container. The container then becomes the door, and contains various electronics, lights, and other accessories for use inside the dwelling. This is a very compelling Burning Man shelter design.

Not shown in The Expanse, but I would also add wheels to this so that one person could easily move it. Maybe the wheels could be on the top or the side so it stays in place once you set it up?

The 3v dome members strike me as unnecessarily complex. I would make them large enough to stretch almost across the container when packed. This would also drastically simplify construction. Something like a 1v icosahedron would be so much less structurally complex while also meaning all the members are the same length. Using identical members is so much easier than keeping track of which member goes where. Even something like an octohedron or just a cube would still look cool while providing excellent protection from any normal conditions. It would be really cool to see a lot of different geometric shapes set up together as shelters.

Check out my post on building microgrids for specifics on how to do power for a small unit like this. There is a lot of potential with this packable dome design for integrating solar and other great tech. I would also use a different material for the dome covering… maybe something like mylar or iridescent plastic glued to canvas or blackout fabric.

HMM I sense a new project coming on.

You can see the structure is placed on an elevated platform. This strikes me as unnecessary unless you’re in a wet climate or a location with pests. At Burning Man, neither of these things is present, so I think it would be fine to skip that step and place the structure on the ground, or incorporate a tarp/waterproof floor which attaches to the covering material.

Fancy Yurts

The second shelter design is a kind of hexayurt. It’s technically an octoyurt as it has eight sides, but it uses the same type of material and structure as a hexayurt. I especially like the geodesics at the top. These seem much simpler to assemble than the popular hexayurt roofs which require half a dozen people working together in order to put them up.

I also really like the windows on the side panels. Something like this would be super cool to use as a little dome window. Very meta while also being very functional.

Expansion Octagons

The third shelter design is a combination of the first two ideas; an octagon which extends in a line out of a container.

The front door is part of a container just like the domes above. The structure seems to extend out from the container, using fabric around a gantry to provide a large internal space. This leaves lots of room for equipment and infrastructure like power, batteries, lights, etc in the permanent front section.

This structure also incorporates the elevated platform into the gantry. Again, this seems unnecessary at Burning Man, but potentially helpful in wet or animal-prone environments.

It also seems that these can be connected together to form networks and larger structures. There are several examples in the show where these expansion octagons and connected together. Here are a couple…

This seems like a very inefficient use of space compared to the geodesics. These octagons are very large when packed, and don’t get much bigger when unpacked. In contrast, the geodesics pack much smaller and offer more inside space when unpacked.

Then again, setting up geodesics is complicated and takes a lot of work. These would just pop up and be done. There seem to be pros and cons to each design.

Simple Water Towers

Water pressure is complicated. At Comfort & Joy, we use a 1kw pump attached to a rented IBC tote which is on the ground. If there is no power, then there is no water. In our case, running water goes to three locations; the showers, the kitchen, and the water team. This could be dangerous if there are any issues with our power grid. We address that danger with the water team I mentioned. Their job is to constantly fill and place dozens of small 5g totes in locations around the camp. This means that even if the power and water infrastructure goes down, there is still lots of water available throughout the camp until the infrastructure is back up.

In The Expanse, there are lots of shots of IBC totes being placed on the roofs of shelters. This eliminates the need for a pump, and eliminates the risk of losing water if you lose power. This seems like an obvious solution to this problem which eliminates a lot of the complexity. It would mean that the water needs to be pumped up into the tote and then pumped out at strike, but the water rental people already do that, so this seems like a really good solution.

Queer Film History: Compare and contrast Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble

CJ Trowbridge


Queer Film History

Compare and contrast Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble

Pink Flamingos is an excellent example of John Waters’ early work. It is historically Queer in all four ways. Many of the characters are queer. The lead for example describes herself as a lesbian who has, “done everything,” and wants to, “kill everyone, now.” The film’s author and director is a gay man. The film is widely appreciated by a queer audience, and the film presents – albeit absurd – depictions of people contradicting societal norms in ways which appeal to queer people in the audience.

Female trouble is an excellent example of John Waters’ later work. This film is also historically queer in all four ways. It features an almost identical cast of mostly queer people. Its author and director is the same gay man. It is widely adored by queer audiences, and it appeals to queer audiences in a different way from how it appeals to straight audiences.

Both films are deliberately political, especially with regard to the media. I am reminded in both cases of the words of William Gibson, “terrorism is innately media-related.” This trope is touched on in both films. In Pink Flamingos, the antihero expresses laughter and dismissal of the idea that the media may potentially not carry the story of her murder of the marbles, going so far as to threaten the lives of the children of the reporters who are present, in order to obtain her desired coverage. In Female Trouble, the antihero artist proclaims that she will be on the cover of every paper in the country before asking who in the audience wants to be famous and to die for art, before shooting them dead.

I see the main difference in the two films as the character of the antihero. In Pink Flamingos, the main character is a drag queen who has a “son” and a “mother” in her retinue as well as a traveling companion. In the case of Female Trouble, the main character is a woman played by a drag queen. Though the characters are similar, they have this subtle difference.  Also, Divine plays herself in Pink Flamingos, or perhaps an idealized version of herself. In Female Trouble, she plays a character, Dawn Davenport. I think this subtle difference allows the character to expand a bit further than in Pink Flamingos.

In Female Trouble, the members of the antihero’s retinue are less a gang and more a set of believable friends and neighbors. In a way, the second film is more believable, while the first film feels far enough away from reality to be allegorical without being topical. Female Trouble could almost happen, while Pink Flamingos feels like fantasy. After the nightclub scene, I found myself wondering whether Female trouble was based on a true story. I never for a moment thought that about Pink Flamingos.

I loved both of these movies. I see the queer I am in Female Trouble, and I see the queer I would like to be in Pink Flamingos. I think both of these films are queer and historically significant, but I think they offer very different value and purpose to their respective queer audiences.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

  1. The Difference EngineI have waited a long time to read this book. I’ve also waited about a month since I finished reading it before writing this post. This book is a lot. It is considered the seminal work of the steampunk genre. In it, Gibson and Sterling present a world where Babbage found wide success with his Analytical Engine and ushered in the computer revolution in the early 1800s.

Babbage Analytical Engine

Babbage invented this device, the Analytical Engine in 1837. It was the first Turing-complete digital computer, a century before that phrase would even be invented. In reality, Babbage had very poor success because of a number of factors. If he had been more successful with his invention, the computer revolution might have happened over a century sooner. This book tells the story of a world where that is the case; a dark and messy early-industrial world of steam and gears and engines.

Behind the main story, another story progresses in the shadows. It sort of follows Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and the scale problem of computation attempting to describe itself. This idea isn’t really resolved in the story, but it is overcome by the end of the book, if not in specific terms. The idea is that no system of language or mathematics can completely describe itself. People are trying to develop smarter and faster machines which are self-aware, but the problem of imperfect and incomplete mathematics and language becomes a barrier to further development. This problem is also modeled in several parallel social conflicts in the story.

This is a very complex and involved narrative. It will take a lot of future reflection and re-reading to really come to terms with what it’s trying to accomplish and to understand the meaning behind this multilayered work.

Internship: Demographic meta-analysis of the Sierra College student body and disparately impacted success of its populations.

Executive Summary

During the fall 2019 semester, I completed a sociology internship at Sierra College. At some point in the last year, I had asked several professors which populations are the most impacted at Sierra College (Which group has the lowest success). I was surprised to learn that no one knew the answer. Further research led me to learn that there was no current way of searching the data for the answer to this question. I set out to create a list of all populations which could be filtered and sorted by success.

The school is responsible for improving conditions for impacted populations. Sierra College’s current approach to closing equity gaps is that three committees work separately on an arbitrary set of less than half of the demographics for which we are reporting success data. None of these committees focuses on intersectional identities. None of these committees is funded. None of these committees has any real power outside of making recommendations.

For nearly all of the most impacted groups, their identities are not addressed by this arbitrary structure, and their success metrics are getting worse, not better.

In many cases, the current system seems designed to hide the problems or make it difficult to see them. The college works hard to exclude third party experts from critical processes and to suppress important data related to the success of impacted populations.

What Is Disparate Impact?

Disparate impact means that people in some groups do not succeed to the same degree as people in other groups do, on average. Equity gaps measure how big the difference is between the lower success of some groups versus the higher success of some other group. In sociology, this is a major field of research. California recently passed new rules which base funding for schools on how well they close these gaps over time.

In sociology, we track several major impacted populations. We know for example that marginalized classes (such as people of color, women, transgender people, and others) will have disparate impact because these groups are suffering marginalization in society. Black people will be impacted versus white people. Women will be impacted versus men. Typically these differences are measured in terms of life expectancy, income, housing stability, etc. In this case we are measuring success at Sierra College for each group.

Who Is Most Impacted?

At some point in the last year, I asked several professors which populations are the most impacted at Sierra College. I was surprised to learn that no one knew the answer. Further research led me to learn that there was no current way of searching the data for the answer to this question. One could, for example, check the success of “gay black transgender students,” but there was no list of all the populations which could be sorted by their success metrics.

During the fall 2019 semester, I completed a sociology internship at Sierra College. The project was to build a new way of analyzing disparate impact. Over the course of the semester, I created a new database which contains all the public success data for all the groups which are large enough to be reported. A law called FERPA says that we can not report the success of populations with a size smaller than ten.

Initially, I tried to execute this analysis through the school’s research department. FERPA became a favorite roadblock which would be raised when I asked questions or asked for data. “[We can’t answer that because the answer could include data about groups with population sizes fewer than ten, so it would violate FERPA.]” When I followed up to suggest that we simply include the population size in the results, and remove any results where the size is less than ten, the response was that this would be infeasible. I quickly decided to simply conduct the meta-analysis myself.

Results and Methodology

My final report is available here. Demographics and population size are listed for all the populations, while success metrics are listed to the right. The data can be sorted by any value, and filters may be used in the search box. Additionally, I have also published the database as well as the tools I built in order to complete this project. Free tools such as SQLite Browser will allow anyone to query and analyze the database further.

The schools’ current equity strategy looks at identities from a non-intersectional  perspective. Sierra College has three committees working on student equity. One committee focuses on race, one committee focuses on gender, and one focuses on sexual orientation as well as gender-identity. None of these committees is funded or has any real power except to make recommendations. I want to repeat this point because it is the critical finding of this research. Sierra College’s current equity committees look at gender OR race OR sexual orientation/transgender. Sierra College’s current equity committees DO NOT look at gender AND race or gender AND sexual orientation. None of the equity committees look at the many other demographics such as foster youth status, income, veteran status, disabilities, homelessness, etc.

The system of looking only at one dimension of identity at a time while not comparing them to others or including multiple dimensions leaves huge blind spots for the people working on closing equity gaps. I see two main problems that come from this  blind spot;

  1. The first major problem arising from this blind spot is that we don’t know what we don’t know. For example, all ten of the most impacted populations are black, but eight of them are also former foster youth. This highly significant factor is not addressed by any of the current equity committees. There are programs for foster youth, and there are programs for black students, but there is no one whose job it is to look at improving conditions for black foster youth. It’s not surprising that for all ten of these populations, conditions are getting worse, not better.
  2. The second major problem is the lack of an intersectional approach to closing equity gaps. We pay a lot of attention to race, but the fact that the most significant factor for black students is an intersection with foster youth status was previously unknown. It’s worth mentioning that none of the equity committees looks at foster youth status. In fact, while the school reports eight dimensions of demographics for success data, the equity committees are looking at only four of them. Several of the state’s required metrics are not being reported at all. (More on that later.) Despite the fact that foster youth status is the most significant factor impacting success of black students, no one is empowered to work on the issues affecting specifically black foster youth students.

This is not just about black foster youth students. Throughout the meta-analysis, we see examples where complex intersectional identities show disparate impact which one-dimensional identities do not. We see hundreds of students whose intersectional identities are not addressed or even observed by the current one-dimensional system. For example;

  • The ten most impacted LGBT groups are all non-white
  • The ten most impacted female groups are all non-white
  • The ten most impacted low-income groups are 70% non-white

In all of these examples, almost all of the intersectional groups show success going down, while success for the corresponding one-dimensional identities is going up. This is a critical flaw in the current system. When white women and black women are categorized together, the average looks like women are doing ok with a 0% change this year. But in reality, black women are seeing low and decreasing success while white women are seeing high and increasing success. The average is inaccurate and ignores the fact that people have intersectional identities.

  • Success of multi-ethnic homosexuals (n=23) went down by 24% this year.
    • Success of homosexuals alone (n=249) only dropped 4%, buoyed by white homosexuals (n=131) which saw a 3% increase in success, while some white subgroups saw success increases as high as 29%.
  • Success of low-income black women who were foster youth went down by 31% this year.
    • Females overall (n=12,594) saw a 0% change in success this year, buoyed by more privileged groups.

My interviews with the equity committee members have highlighted another problem. Since these committees are not funded, they have to spend most of their time fundraising, and then typically, some time each year is dedicated to throwing an event to highlight the problems facing their communities. At no point in the year are these committees actually working directly on improving success. They are focused on community engagement, a prerequisite for success. If these committees were funded, they could focus on the actual work which they ostensibly exist to do, instead of focusing on fundraising. One idea that came up in interviews was that the committees could create proposals for projects or programs which would work to increase success. Then they could be funded by the district to execute these projects, since this is the basis of the district’s funding under the new funding formula.

The value of third-party experts can not be exaggerated in this work. One student organization, “Salaam Sierra” is lucky enough to have a chaplain who comes in to work with them. This person is aware of resources at Sierra and throughout the broader community, they retain institutional memory as members of the organization come and go, and they can advocate for the organization on campus and in the wider community. All student organizations, academic committees, and other groups focused on equity and success should have expert third party representatives to facilitate their work.

On broader issues as well, there are opportunities for third party experts to improve the success of students by partnering with student organizations and equity committees. Examples include;

  • Stand Up Placer, a nonprofit which has been operating for half a century in the local area. They are who the police call for crisis counselling and other services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
  • Whole Person Learning is a nonprofit service provider for former foster youth in Placer County. After race, this was the most significant factor impacting student success, and while there is theoretically some resources in the pipeline, there is no cohort or student organization on campus addressing the issues that affect this community.
  • Placer County is one of the few counties in the state with no LGBT center. The nearest equivalent is the Sacramento LGBT Center. Rainbow Alliance has already established relationships with its partner organizations at the other colleges in the area, and committees like Spectrum, New Legacy, and Gender Equity would benefit from partnering with organizations like the Sacramento LGBT center.
  • Placer Independent Resource Services is a nonprofit which advocates, empowers, educates and provides services for people with disabilities enabling them to control their alternatives for independent living.

We need independent third party experts to be invited and welcomed and included to participate in engagement centers and student organizations as well as academic senate committees and especially equity committees. Imagine that clubs for example must have not just a faculty adviser but also a community adviser; suddenly the black student union has a club structure which requires them to seek out a community activist or leader who can give them far more resources and support than whatever faculty member had time to be their adviser. As far as academic committees go, it’s unrealistic to expect that we have a committee for each of the 4,000+ impacted populations we are reporting on, but it’s not unreasonable to have a more intersectional set of third-party experts included in the process of addressing impacted success.

Let’s quickly illustrate a far-superior alternative to the current system. Imagine each of the current committees had a member tasked with working on each of the eight demographic dimensions. So now there is at least one person on the Gender Equity committee who is monitoring the success of each ethnic group. For example, not just women but black women and latin women and pacific islander women, etc. Another committee member could be charged with looking at Foster Youth status; how are women who were foster youth doing as compared to those who were not foster youth? Discussions between these two members would be far more attentive to intersectional challenges (while also suddenly addressing all ten of the most impacted populations) than the current model where both members are talking about women in the abstract, and potentially ignoring the fact that there is no woman who is without race or foster youth status.

Opportunities For Further Work

Perhaps the most important piece of future work on this topic could be incorporating more demographics data about student populations. In many cases, Sierra College is not even tracking critical demographics data about student populations. For example, a student is only counted as disabled if they ask for an accommodation which is subsequently approved by the college. A student who shows up for class in a wheelchair while struggling with severe depression but does not ask for any accommodation (or whose request for accommodation is denied) is not counted as disabled according to Sierra College. This needs to change.

Additionally, Sierra College is not currently reporting all the required success metrics as listed by the California Community Colleges. Specifically, there are enormous swathes of data missing from the public website. In some cases, metrics are omitted entirely. For example, there is no mention of the required metrics “number of students who complete nine or more career education units,” or, “number of student who have attained the regional living wage.” In other cases, entire years of information are simply left blank where the data is reported at all.

Additionally, many longitudinal metrics are falsely reported as static by the school. For example, we have no way of determining the success of students who come out as LGBT at Sierra College because the school does not update this critical longitudinal demographic data. Instead the school falsely reports these longitudinal values as static when students enroll, as though these metrics do not change. So a student who comes out as gay or transgender at Sierra will be counted as straight or cisgender for their entire career at Sierra. Since these are already deeply impacted populations, their suffering and marginalization is going completely unreported by the school. It’s not clear to what degree this false and inaccurate reporting may be deliberate. The problem has been raised by interested parties and stakeholders on multiple occasions in recent years, to no change from the school.

Filling in these data gaps and correcting deeply unjust metrics would make important work for future researchers and activists at Sierra College.

Lastly, the work of updating and publishing this data should be conducted by the school’s research department. Students should not have to take unpaid internships and work for months in order to answer basic research questions which the school should already be reporting through its well-funded research department which ostensibly exists for this purpose. Because of the claims made my the research department that this sort of work is unfeasible, and the fact that a student was able to conduct it without any internal access based solely on public data, I have also included all the tools I built to conduct this research so that there is no further excuse not to do this, and to allow other activists and students to conduct further research of their own.

Conclusion: My Suggestions

  1. We need more resource centers and engagement centers which are staffed more consistently and are available for students who need them.
    1. We need more resources and better training so that staff can actually explain them to people who need them.
  2. We need independent third party experts to be invited and welcomed and included to participate in engagement centers and student organizations as well as academic senate committees and especially equity committees.
  3. We need better outreach and research to honestly explore where the problems are and what the best solutions are.
  4. We need more intersectional cohorts. (ie. black foster youth, queer people of color, etc.) Many of the groups identified in this meta-analysis are more than large enough to form a cohort. This would allow students in these populations to build community ties with people like themselves. This is critical for success.
  5. We need to be funding equity committees and giving them actual power and permanent staff. These problems are not going to be solved by inviting untrained staff to volunteer on a toothless and unfunded committee.
    1. We need more equity committees. Having at least one for each of the demographics we are required to report would be a good start. These committees should have members looking outside their core demographic at other demographic intersections which constitute the many populations under the umbrella of their core demographic.
    2. Equity committees need training on intersectionality and on actually impacting success rather than simply engagement. These committees need to be working together and meeting more than biweekly, and doing more than planning fundraisers.

Data: Are Shiftpods Actually Cooler?

Key Findings;

  • Shiftpods are not significantly better than cheap alternatives.
  • No tent performs well in direct sun.
  • No matter what kind of tent you have, putting it under a shade structure is the most important thing for keeping it cool inside during the day.
  • Evaporative “swamp” coolers are not as helpful as simple ventilation.
  • Thermal mass batteries are a simple and very effective tool for normalizing temperature throughout the day.

The Experiment

Lots of people spend time in tents. As a Burner, I am one of them. There is a big problem which anyone who has ever slept in a tent can relate to. That problem is Thermodynamics.

Thermodynamics is a law of physics which basically says that the heat from the sun will eventually get into your tent. What this means for campers is that even on a day where the outside temperature only gets to 80, it’s going to be 100-120 degrees inside your tent. There are basically two ways to fight back against thermodynamics in this case; put barriers in the way which will slow but not stop the heat getting in, or put something in place to absorb or remove the heat.

For a Chemistry honors project, I am studying the effect of various techniques and materials on prolonging that magical sleeping time in the morning before the temperature inside the tent gets too high to keep sleeping.

I will also be comparing fancy expensive tents to the cheapest alternatives in order to see if fancy expensive tents are actually any better. In this case, I have chosen the very popular Shiftpod v2.0 to compare with a cheap tent of similar design from amazon. I have taken to referring to the blue fishing tent as “Blueshift” for simplicity’s sake.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is not the playa. We do have partly cloudy days here in Sacramento, so there may often be sudden spikes and dips in temperature. These cloud effects will reach both tents, so it will be interesting to see how they each fare with them.


This experiment was done in Sacramento, not at Burning Man. Results will vary but systemic error should be low, since both situations include similar variables such as humidity, sunlight, etc and impact from the different mitigation strategies. I’m planning to do a future version of this experiment at the playa during fourth of juplaya which includes more tent types such as a hexayurt and a pup tent.

The tents are not exactly the same size. There may be some differences in amount of heat reaching each tent. That said, Shiftpods are 1200% the price of the cheaper tent. If it’s worth that, this trivial difference should not matter.

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. I”m a starving student trying to pay for this expensive experiment. It doesn’t add to your cost if you choose to buy things with these links. I just get a small cut to help cover my costs. If you don’t want to use the affiliate links, you can open them in incognito or something like that in order to remove the tracking code.

Sensor Equipment

I am using a custom built multi-zone temperature logger to track the data. The full details of that can be found here.

Phase 1: The Naked Sun

For phase one of the trial, both tents will be in full sun. This photo shows them at 2pm the day before the data shown. They had a full 24 hours to adjust to the environmental conditions before experimental data collection began.
Like any tent, both the Shiftpod and the Blueshift will eventually get much hotter than the outside temperature when in full sun. The way to win at this stage is by staying cooler for longer. This means the occupant will be able to sleep longer and have a better experience with their tent.
In fact we see that the internal temperature of the Shiftpod hits 100 degrees more than an hour before the Blueshift does. At 9:30 in the morning, that crucial time for sleep, we see the Shiftpod more than 15 degrees warmer than the Blueshift. By 10:45, it has passed 100 degrees. The Blueshift doesn’t hit 100 until after 11:45.
Phase 1 Graphics
At this point, I suspected a possible reason for these surprising results. The Blueshift has a single layer of thin waterproof fabric, where the Shiftpod has a thick layer of air-tight insulating fabric. I suspected that this thick insulation could be trapping the heat where the Blueshift will let that heat escape.
This could explain the difference in temperatures, and imply that Shiftpod themselves intend users to take additional measures in order to reap potential benefits of the materials they use. Air conditioning for example would make that insulation helpful rather than harmful. This would also explain why Shiftpod has recently started giving away free “blast shields” or radiant barriers to go on top of the Shiftpods.
I decided to test this theory, so I added another phase to the experiment to compare the difference in temperature inside the tents from floor to ceiling. Here is what I found;
Phase 1 Adendum
As you can see, the temperature between the floor and ceiling in the Blueshift stays almost the same throughout the day. In contrast, we see the heat being trapped inside the Shiftpod. The temperature difference between the floor and ceiling of the Shiftpod varies by as much as ten degrees in the hours leading up to one-hundred degrees. This is very interesting information because if we are able to deal with that trapped heat, we could potentially see benefits from the Shiftpod’s insulation. This will be addressed in an upcoming phase (Phase 4) of the experiment.
In Naked Sun, the Blueshift is the clear winner for morning temperatures. This is the time and setting where the Shiftpod is supposed to shine. Instead we see it falling  behind its much cheaper cousin.

Phase 2: Loose Aluminet

Aluminet is a very interesting material which has found wide adoption among burners, just like Shiftpods. It’s both a radiant barrier and wind-permeable. This solves several interesting problems.

The idea of a radiant barrier is that heat and light will be reflected rather than absorbed, as would be the case with a tarp. The problem with past radiant barriers is that they were solid like a tarp, and with high winds, they become a sail that tries very hard to blow away. Many radiant barrier materials such as mylar are very delicate and will tear themselves to shreds with even the slightest wind.

Aluminet is made of a similar material to mylar, but it is reinforced and braided, so it forms a very strong barrier in the wind, which wind can actually pass through. It comes a wide range of opacities which allow different amounts of light through. I go with 80% Aluminet.

As I mentioned before, Shiftpod has recently started giving out free radiant barriers called “blast shields” which are basically just a non-breathable mylar -like material. The blast shield is basically a cheap and inferior alternative to Aluminet, and the fact that they are now giving them away for free seems to indicate that the makers of Shiftpod are aware of a potential design flaw in this very expensive tent.

Thermodynamics sometimes has a problem with both mylar and Aluminet, especially when they get dusty. Sure radiant barriers will reflect much of the light and heat, but dust will not. If the dust is touching the radiant barrier, then it doesn’t stop the heat from the dust conducting through the barrier and into the tent. Aluminet and mylar are not conductive barriers, only radiant barriers. This means that a dusty piece of Aluminet or mylar will conduct some heat through to anything they are physically touching. For this reason, if the radiant barrier is touching the tent, and it’s dusty, then it will not block as much heat as it would if it were several feet away from the tent, suspended from another structure. This will be expanded on in a future phase of the experiment.

Phase 2 Photo

This photo was taken in the afternoon. As you can see, the Aluminet is hanging from the two tents and tied to the fences. For the purposes of this experiment, the Aluminet is covering the east sides of the tents. This means it will block morning sun, and to a lesser degree the noon sun. The south and west sides of the tents are not covered. (This entire experiment focuses on the morning time.)

Phase 2 Graphics

The addition of Aluminet pulls the curves closer together, and we see the Shiftpod performing much better after an initial heating-up period. But the thickly insulated Shiftpod is still much warmer than the thin and breathable Blueshift. The Shiftpod has two humps when the sun is hitting it straight on, first thing in the morning and then again at mid-day. Between these times, the sun is hitting its edges at an angle. This seems to impact the heat absorption as shown above.

Once we pass noon, the Shiftpod’s thickly insulated roof absorbs the conducted heat from the loose Aluminet, and traps that heat inside the tent. In contrast, the Blueshift’s breathable and un-insulated roof lets the heat escape. Right at noon, we see the Shiftpod suddenly jumps to nearly twenty degrees warmer than the Blueshift. This could be the problem that the makers of Shiftpod were trying to solve by giving everyone free blast shields to block the mid-day sun from cooking their thickly insulated roofs. By comparing the first and second phase data, we see that adding a radiant barrier op top of the Shiftpod does mitigate this problem to a certain extent, but not completely. Eventually the heat gets through since the barrier is touching the roof.

Phase 3: Passive Thermal Mass Batteries

Water as a molecule has a lot of interesting properties. One of these properties is that it’s really good at storing heat energy. In fact, my understanding is that no known material has a higher density of heat storage than water.

This gave me the idea of placing lots of water inside the tent to store and release heat. This would theoretically have the effect of flattening out the temperature curves so that they are closer to the average value throughout the day. I decided to use four five-gallon buckets of water as my passive thermal mass battery. These buckets would be easy to transport and store, and even use as storage for other gear. You could also fill one or two of those large 27 gallon totes and use that as your battery, but that seems like overkill and it would be a lot of water.

As you can see in the photo below, I also put one of my temperature probes into one of the buckets to monitor the temperature of the water so we will see that in the graph.

In order to accurately compare the performance of the two tents, I decided to split this phase into three parts and compare each tent’s performance against the other, then both together. Therefore Phase 3A will test the performance of the Shiftpod with a 20 gallon passive thermal mass battery. During this phase, the Blueshift will just be normal and without any thermal mass battery. Then during Phase 3B, they will be switched. The thermal mass battery will be placed in the Blueshift, and the Shiftpod will just be normal. Then we can compare the performance of each with the addition of the batteries. Lastly, during Phase 3C, both tents will contain the same thermal mass batteries.

In order to get the most accurate data, I let the tents and their thermal mass batteries sit for a full 24 hours before collecting the data as shown. This way we can see the data once the batteries have been well adjusted to the conditions we are observing.

Phase 3A: Shiftpod Only

Phase 3A Photo

Phase 3A Graphics

I was a little surprised by this data. In the first graph above, we see that the thermal mass battery starts absorbing a great deal of heat long before we see a significant change in air temperature inside the Shiftpod. To really see the impact, compare the difference chart to previous phases of the experiment. Only in the pre-dawn hours does the Blueshift take the lead. I am amazed. With the simple addition of a passive thermal mass battery, the Shiftpod now performs better than the Blueshift all throughout the day.

Phase 3B: Blueshift Only

Now let’s look at the next part of the experiment, where the passive thermal mass battery is placed only in the Blueshift and the Shiftpod is just normal without any help from the batteries.

Phase 3B Graphics

We see that the difference curve swings the other way. This is not surprising since the Blueshift is not insulated. I think this test should be compared to the first test in the experiment since that’s the same conditions the Shiftpod is under during this test. In the first test, both tents eventually reached essentially the same temperature, and the Shiftpod was slightly warmer for most of the day. In this test,we see that both tents follow very similar curves, but that for most of the day, the Blueshift is a good 10-12 degrees cooler than the more expensive Shiftpod.

It’s interesting to note that we don’t see precisely the same effect from the previous test (3A) where the thermal mass battery absorbs the heat that would otherwise constitute the curve of it’s surrounding tent. Instead we see a gradual warming throughout the day, and a reduced warming in the surrounding tent.

Phase 3C: Both Together

Phase 3C Graphics

During this phase of the experiment, we saw that thermal mass batteries significantly improved the effectiveness of the Shiftpod, while not significantly improving the effectiveness of the Blueshift. Four buckets of water has a footprint of just a few square feet. You would barely notice these in the tent, and they seem to provide an enormous benefit. Probably you would see similar effects from filling an empty tote with water. This would be an interesting topic for a future experiment.

Phase 4: Active Thermal Mass Battery

In order to increase the efficacy of the thermal mass battery, it seems logical to test adding a fan, pump, and heat sink. This would mean you would need to supply constant power to it, but if it provides enough of a benefit, then this may be worthwhile. I removed three of the buckets for this phase of the experiment, using only five gallons of water in a single bucket. Expanding on this may prove worthwhile but at this point, connecting buckets would be complex. If we wanted to do a larger active battery, then probably a larger container would be more appropriate. This would also allow you to add ice to your container, etc in order to cool the tent even more.

Hanging this from the ceiling also has the added benefit of potentially mitigating that pesky heat-trapping effect in the Shiftpod.

Phase 4a Photo

Pictured above are a 240mm heat sink with two c. I hung the heat sink and fans from the roof of the Shiftpod and put the pump and hose into the bucket. Here is what it looked like in the early evening. (You can see the sun reaching behind the Aluminet to hit the Shiftpod from the afternoon side. This time of day is not part of the experiment.)

Here is the data on the active thermal mass battery in the Shiftpod only;

Phase 4A Graphics

As you can see, the smaller thermal mass battery just isn’t able to keep up. Being active seems to make little difference in terms of absorbing the heat in the tent. This is an unexpected result; very interesting data.

Because we see such a limited effect even with the insulated Shiftpod, and because the larger thermal mass battery had essentially no effect on the Blueshift, it does not seem worthwhile to test an active thermal mass battery in the Blueshift.

Phase 5: Ventilation

As you can see in previous experiments, the temperature inside the tent can be as much as twenty degrees hotter than the outside temperature for much of the day. This suggests a simple solution; ventilation. This can be a problem in dusty environments at Burning Man. In other environments, this may be a better option.

Ventilation & Dust mitigation

I did some experimentation this year at the burn based on Nikola Tesla’s patents for solid state check valves as well as the closely related concept of vortex filtration. The basic principle is that when you have a fluid such as the air, and there is something in suspension, such as the dust, you can encourage the dust to fall out of suspension by forcing the fluid to suddenly change directions.

My idea was to take a section of about eight or ten feet of aluminum duct and hang it so that at least a few feet were hanging loosely and free to flap around in the wind. The other end of the duct would go into the tent, where a powerful fan would suck air into the tent. I set up some other ducts (pic) to maintain constant slightly-negative pressure and pull the hot air out from the top of the tent. This meant that no dust would blow in through these other ducts. The theory was that because the outside piece of duct was free to flap around, the open end would never be facing into the wind. This means that when air is sucked into the duct and drawn into the tent, that air would have to change direction 180 degrees in order to get into the duct. This means the dust would fall out of that air. As far as I can tell, this worked perfectly. I would definitely recommend trying this at the burn.

Phase 5a: Ventilation (Shiftpod Only)

The basic idea is pretty simple. We will have a fan drawing the air out of the top of the tent at 200CFM 24/7. Then an open vent will allow fresh air to enter the tent. This means all the air in the tent will be replaced every five minutes. This is generally considered to be the ideal ratio for ventilation, especially with evaporative cooling as we will see in the next experiment.

Phase 5A Photo

As you can see above in the photo, I have used the same hose from the previous experiment as well as the same 200CFM fan. The direction of the airflow is out of the tent. You can see the duct drawing the hot air from the roof area of the Shiftpod and then pushing it outside the tent. A window is open to allow fresh air to enter the tent, replacing the hot air being pushed out. This photo is for simplicity’s sake, but having the open window be close to the exhaust duct doesn’t make sense. In the actual experiment, only the window opposite the exhaust duct was left open.

Phase 5A Graphics

As you can see, just like the passive thermal mass batteries in Phase 3A, ventilation swings the difference curve in the direction of the Shiftpod. Also just like Phase 3A, this puts the Shiftpod ahead by about ten degrees. Recall that with no assistance, the Shiftpod is a few degrees warmer than the Blueshift. Knowing that these two methods each impart a ten degree advantage plus the unaided difference, we will likely see large advantages when we pair these methods together in a later trial.

Phase 5B (Blueshift Only)

This is the same experiment with a 200CFM fan drawing the air from the center of the ceiling of the Blueshift and blowing it outside while fresh air comes in from another vent.

Phase 5b Photo

Here you can see the same fan and ducts going out through a window which is covered with cardboard for this experiment. Let’s see the data…

Phase 5B Graphics

As you can see, adding ventilation did make the Blueshift cooler than the Shiftpod, but only by a few degrees. I was surprised to see how little impact was measured in phase 5 of the experiment.

Phase 6: Hung Aluminet

From the beginning, I suspected this would be the most impactful phase of the experiment. The idea here is that the Aluminet is suspended a few feet away from the tents in order to eliminate any potential heat conduction between the radiant barrier and the tents. This seems like the most logical step to take in order to see a really dramatic change. This is where the Aluminet will really shine.

Flat top shade structures are expensive! But they don’t need to be. Check out this post about how I cut the cost in half and eliminated most of the hardware involved while still getting all the benefits of a normal flat top shade structure.

Phase 6 Graphics

As you can see, this material has a big impact versus the previous phase. The Shiftpod never hits one-hundred (as an average of its floor/ceiling temperature), though the temperature at the ceiling briefly does. The radiant barrier on the Shiftpod seems to really shine in this phase, with the highest temperature difference between Blueshift and Shiftpod we’ve seen so far.

Phase 7: Evaporative Cooling

Evaporative cooling (AKA swamp coolers) add humidity to the air in order to reduce its temperature. This works best in dry climates. The maximum temperature difference is a function of the dew point under the given conditions. This means the best case is a 40 degree temperature difference if there is 0% humidity, and less of an effect with higher humidity, with no effect at 100% humidity.

For this phase, I used the evaporative coolers I designed in this post. In both cases, the coolers burned about three gallons of water during the period shown.

Phase 7A: Shiftpod Only

Phase 7A Graphics

Based on comparison of the data from Phase 6 to Phase 7A, there does not appear to be any significant temperature difference in the Shiftpod with the addition of the evaporative cooler. On the day the data was collected, humidity was 68%. This is probably why there was no significant temperature difference. Despite that, the evaporative cooler did burn through three gallons of water during this period, so it was working and cooling the Shiftpod despite the unimpressive results.

These values would likely be different if there was a significantly lower humidity. This was a problem at the burn this year, where the humidity was uncharacteristically high, and evaporative coolers were not working very well.

Phase 7B: Blueshift Only

Phase 7B Graphics

As I suspected, evaporative cooling was basically useless in the Blueshift as well. This matches my experience from on-playa this year. By the end of build week, I threw my swamp coolers in my camp’s dumpster.

Phase 8: All Or Nothing

In this final phase of the experiment, each tent will take a turn with all or nothing. Based on comparing the results of Phases 5 and 7, there is no reason to include useless evaporative cooling in this phase. Instead, the more compelling phase 5 results will be included and simple ventilation will take the place of evaporative cooling. The more I think about it, the more sense this makes. If it’s twenty or more degrees cooler outside than inside, then simple ventilation is guaranteed to accomplish that or something close to it. This also parallels my playa experience, where ventilation is often the best and easiest option.

Phase 8A: Shiftpod Only

Phase 8A

For this phase, the Shiftpod will be under hung Aluminet with the 20 gallon passive thermal mass batteries, and ventilation. The Blueshift will have none of these things, and be sitting out under direct sun.

Phase 8A Graphics

Here we see the effectiveness of the ventilation system sucking the hot air out from the top of the inside of the Shiftpod. For much of the day, the ceiling is actually cooler than the floor.

Phase 8B: Blueshift Only

For this phase, the Blueshift will be under hung Aluminet with the 20 gallon passive thermal mass batteries, and ventilation. The Shiftpod will have none of these things, and be sitting out under direct sun.

Phase 8B Graphics

As with several previous phases, there seems to be a critical tipping point when the Shiftpod suddenly becomes much warmer. My going theory is that it is related to the angle of incidence of the sun. I found the results of this last phase very surprising. I would have expected the difference curve to be much flatter and to stay below zero all day.

Final Thoughts

In the naked sun or with loosely draped Aluminet, it’s actually hotter than the cheaper Blueshift. Both tents perform a lot better under a shade structure.

Simple ventilation is more effective and comfortable and less complicated than evaporative cooling.

The Shiftpod is over ten times the cost of the Blueshift. Does it perform ten times better? No. In general, the tents perform pretty similarly. The Shiftpod excels in a few situations with some help. If I was choosing a new tent today, I would pay more attention to getting a good shade structure than to getting any certain kind of tent.

Reaction Paper: Economic Systems

CJ Trowbridge


SOC 1: Intro to Sociology

Reaction Paper: Economic Systems

“The Fight For 15” is a flawed attempt to solve the problem of the decoupling of inflation from wages. Minimum wage is always stagnant, with occasional jumps, typically closer to a living wage. A living wage is a wage that is high enough for people to meet their basic needs and survive. This is not even considering their further needs in order to thrive, just basic survival. The problem is that there is always a delay between articulating a policy and adopting a policy. In the case of “The Fight For 15,” a static living wage was adopted as the eponymous condensing symbol. This was done in 2012. People are still fighting today for a wage which would let them survive in 2012. Meanwhile, inflation has continued to drive the cost of living ever higher, well beyond that rate.

Another problem is the sometimes legitimate resistance from people in the rural Midwest for example, where $15/hour is much higher than the cost of living. One solution does not work everywhere. In Oakland, where I spend most of my time these days, the cost of living is $18.73/hr. If “The Fight For 15” eventually succeeded, people in Oakland would be slightly less screwed than they are today, but still unable to survive.

There is another solution which does not receive a lot of attention, but which works well in my home state of Oregon. Different rates are established for different types of areas; urban, suburban, rural. Then each is automatically adjusted each year based on inflation. This means that for rural mountain towns, the minimum wage is lower than for busy urban centers. According to Living Wage Calculator, this has led to the minimum wage in various parts of Oregon being much closer to a living wage than wages in California. I think that stratifying the wages to match the local conditions is critical, as is adjusting the wages automatically on a regular basis according to increases in the cost of living.

As a gay man with a career in computer science and no children, I am very lucky. There are basically no jobs in my field making less than six figures. Family Budget Calculator reports that I will need less than half the average salary in my field in order to make ends meet. I will be fine, but most people will not. As someone with economic privilege, it is my duty to advocate for changes which improve conditions for the people who are losing out in our economic system.



DIY High-Precision Multi-Zone Temperature Logger

I was in need of high-precision multi-zone temperature logging gear for a chemistry honors project, and I found nothing online that would work well for my purpose, so I decided to put my CSCI46 skills to use and build my own.

The Hardware

I started with a NodeMCU which is basically a fancier but somehow also cheaper Arduino alternative which has wifi built-in. It works just like Arduino and you use the same Arduino IDE to program it.

I decided to use DS18b20 temperature probes which come in a waterproof five-pack with long cords. These also need a 4.7k ohm pull-up resistor which I will explain in a moment.

So one really cool thing about these temperature probes is that they work with the OneWire library. This means you could use hundreds of these probes and they would share only a single I/O pin on the Arduino. My implementation uses five, but you could easily use many more if you wanted to.

Expose about 1 cm of wire

Each temperature probe has three wires coming out; red, yellow, and black. Start by trimming the colored portions a bit so that there is around a centimeter of wire exposed. Then zip tie the probes together as shown, so that they won’t pull apart when in use. Next, twist each color together as shown. I used like-colored jumper wires to create clean and simple pins to plug into the Arduino, but however you want to accomplish that is fine;

Twist similar colored wires together

The next step is to incorporate the pull-up resistor. This needs to go between the red and yellow wires. I added extra zip ties just to be safe.

Pull-up bridges yellow and red wires.

Lastly, simply tape all of that up so it doesn’t come apart. My final product looked like this;

Final Product

The Code

You will need to download and install the Arduino IDE, the Temperature Sensor Library, the OneWire Library, and the CH341SER USB Driver for the NodeMCU Arduino. Then go into the IDE and add the following URL in the preferences section as an “Additional Boards Manager URL…”

Next, take a look at my final code, here;

Simply add your wifi ssid and password, and the code should work as-is. It will output the IP address it has gotten from the router to the Arduino console. A best practice is to simply set this as a static IP on your router. Then, it will not change, and you will always be able to find the device.

The Data

Navigating to the URL of the device’s IP will present a comma-delimited, quotation encapsulated set of values for each sensor. There is no way to tell which sensor is which based on the hardware. The sensors have a built-in serial number, and the OneWire library knows which sensor is which. The list served at the URL will always show the values in the same order on that basis.

So we simply need to determine which sensor corresponds to which value. You will need to observe the sensor data and then place a warm hand on each sensor, noting which value changes temperature. I used tape and a sharpie to label each cord (1,2,3,4,5) so I would know which sensor corresponded to each value in the list the device serves at its URL.

Lastly, I wrote a cron script which runs on my Synology NAS and fetches the values from the device every minute, and writes them to a CSV file. This means that I can later look back and simply import the values into an excel spreadsheet.

Reaction Paper: Criminal Justice System

CJ Trowbridge

SOC 1: Intro to Sociology


Reaction Paper: Criminal Justice System

The modern American “criminal justice system” has for centuries been an institution of deliberate systemic oppression. This purpose was greatly expanded in recent decades through the drug wars and through the ignorant actions of armchair broken windows theorists like Joe Biden. This system is designed based on profit incentives. These incentives lead to no consideration of whether it is a good or effective system for reducing crime or reforming inmates, only how it can make more money for its greedy masters. There may be a way to reform this broken and toxic system, but not apparently from the inside; radical change is needed. From school-to-prison pipelines, to mass incarceration of minorities through laws restricting personal liberties, to convict lease and sharecropping, the American “criminal justice system” has for centuries been a deliberate tool of oppression intended to leverage minority groups as commodities for the profit of evil private corporations.

During the 2016 election cycle, the biggest bet analysts gave for investors who thought Trump would win is to invest in private prison companies like The Geo Group, which he was predicted to greatly expand if elected. This turned out to be an accurate and timely prediction. In the weeks following his election, the stock price of Geo Group more than doubled.

According to the Kingdon Three-Stream Policy Window Model, there are three necessary streams that must be satisfied in society in order for policy change to occur as an incremental solution for a social problem. The first stream is the problem stream. A troubling social condition must be outlined and clearly identified and articulated. This view must also be shared by expert claims makers as well as by enough members of the public that it reaches a critical mass and receives media attention.

Second, clear policy changes need to be outlined and supported by the expert claims makers. In contrast to the evil corporate conservative think tanks who are churning out model legislation to hurt minorities, social justice advocates must work with lawmakers to craft legislation which creates positive change. These policy changes may then be discussed by policy makers in view of the press and under the lens of the media-awareness and social-pressure related to the first stream as outlined above.

Third, attitudes of politicians must be changed. This can happen through lobbying directly or indirectly. It can happen as a result of effectively leveraging the first two streams to create a large critical mass of both support and pressure to create change. Only at this point can the policy changes become law, and solutions can be removed from the whim of future bad-actor policy-makers like Trump.

Cheap Flat-Top Shade Structure (Alternate Design)

Shade structures are perhaps the most important and powerful way of improving temperature conditions in a tent on playa or elsewhere. The value of a shade structure to someone who is trying to sleep can not be overstated.

The Traditional Way

A lot of people buy and build complex and expensive shade structures. Typically these are made using five-way joints with feet and ten foot sections of one inch emt conduit (or here). These are typically covered with tarps and ratcheted down.

Traditional flat top shade structure

Parts List

10′ by 20′ Total Cost: $382.98

Another Approach

At the burn this year, my friend Giorgio suggested putting up a flat top using rebar instead of feet and aluminet instead of tarp. This would mean far fewer parts, no need to ratchet strap it down since it won’t catch wind, and much easier to transport. I used paracord to tie down the aluminet which worked perfectly.

I simply pounded rebar into the ground, leaving about a foot above ground. I tied paracord to the eye bolt and dropped it through the aluminet’s grommet and then into the end of the emt conduit. This is fine since the cord is not bearing any load. It’s basically just there to keep the eye bolt from falling out if the aluminet flaps a bit. The wind blows straight through the aluminet so the force on the paracord is minimal. The other end of the conduit goes onto the rebar. The paracord is tied off on some lag bolts (This is overkill. There is probably a more elegant and less complex solution here). Below is a picture of this set up in my back yard as part of my chem honors project.

Parts List

10′ by 20′ Total Cost: $158.29

Less Than Half The Price

Wow so this design is less than half the price of the traditional model and comes with far less to haul in to camp. I will definitely use this design from now on! Here’s what it looks like in my back yard…

Shiftpod and Blueshift Under Aluminet