Burning Man Technology

4 09 2011

It’s that time of year again when the stores are depleted of all water containers and about a week before the car washes are ankle deep in white playa mud as the burners wash off Black Rock City.  I’ve always said that it’s an experience that everyone should have at least once, certainly if you’re local.  One inescapable reality is the playful use of technology by the participants.

This is truly garage-band-esque, be it techno or steampunk or “omigodihavenoidea”.  There’s not much money involved since the normal mode is to see it consumed by fire.  At any rate, whatever goes out, isn’t coming back in the same shape (cars included) and everything must come back off the playa.  Reno is not only the major staging area for folks making the 100 mile trek, but it’s also where many of the projects are actually built.  I have no way of knowing how many are currently buzzing with activity, or have since succumbed to the full life cycle of burns past.  But I know that there are projects going on year ’round because they often advertise for help with certain things like welding or circuitry.  Unfortunately, I should have had some real pictures of some of the camps, but I am unable to access my network hard drive that I have all my personal pictures on.  And now isn’t the time to badger a burner that’s going to be hurrying to get out there.

Ironically, the Reno Gazette Journal had an article today on Hobson Square and a startup (International Arts Megacrew) that is hard at play there.  They are taking it seriously and mean to make a business out of it.  Good Luck to them, I know it’s going to be fun.  I’ll have to stop by in a couple of weeks after they have re-hydrated.

If it’s high tech fire effects with dance and musical performance art that you like (and it’s hard not to like when done this well), then check out Controlled Burn.  I’m not finding many youtube videos with the fire cannons in full effect so you’ll just have to make a date to see them.  Often they perform downtown during Artown and at the Nevada Museum of Art among other (outdoor) venues.

So if you aren’t already out enjoying Labor Day, then get off the computer and go enjoy the lovely late summer.  It will be snowing soon enough.

Thanks for reading.


Nevada Discovery Museum set to Open soon.

22 08 2011

I had the opportunity to go to the pre-opening of the Nevada Discovery Museum on this last Friday night.  It was the official turn over of the “keys” from Q&D Construction (kudos to a job well done) to the museum curator.  Many of the donors and volunteers, and of course, their children, were able to tour the facility for the first time and see fruition of years of hard work.

My first impression was how clean and new everything looked.  Even from the landscaping and parking areas to the entrance and the atrium, gone are the remnants of decay from the long unused building.  The last time I was inside was a little more than a year ago.  It was but a concrete husk and the technology committee I volunteered with was trying to lay out and future proof the infratstructure.  It looked like tweakers had been at it for years removing every scrap of copper and old plumbing.  More like American Flats without the spraypaint than the City Hall I remember.   What a difference a year makes under the guidance of such veterans in the construction business and the museum BOD with such vision.

The museum is focused stimulating the tween and earlier crowd, although I think my wife and I both enjoyed the exhibits just as well.  The main floor of the museum still has a large open atrium and now it’s dominated by a mobile of hanging “clouds” surrounded by nets because the whole structure is actually a climbing maze.  There is also a real glider that is nosed into the upper level that the kids can work the flaps and ailerons.  The clouds represent the water source for Tahoe and the Truckee River exhibit on the main floor.  Here is a scaled version of our local ecosystem replete with NV Energy hydro power plants and Derby Dam.   Surrounding the atrium are themed rooms that are both educational and just plain fun.  From local history to future power supplies, the kids can touch, feel, hear and play with the exhibits.  There are picnic and party rooms available as well as rooms for doing arts and crafts and other more specific “experiments”.

I am not going to spoil all the exhibits for you because I want to see you down there.  The museum wasn’t yet at 100% so I can’t wait to go back myself as some of the more advanced rooms like the Compass Room are yet to open.  There is still work to be done on some of the other exhibits and the restaurant is not yet open.  Had I been more on top of my game I would have ticket prices but there are group discounts and season passes available.  This operation isn’t a money maker and depends on volunteers to keep the flow smooth, so treat those in the blue aprons with gratitude.  All the volunteers and anyone working with children do submit to a background check and facility has been built with the children’s safety as a first concern.

The opening will be in September so listen up for the date.  Your kids may just be in the know before you are.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll see you down at the Discovery Museum.

Oh, Fry’s, Where Art Thou? Reno’s calling.

11 08 2011


For those of you that have never been to Fry’s, well, you’re missing out.  You don’t have to be an uber-geek to enjoy the Fry’s vast line of electronics gadgetry, they also have a plethora of more mundane products like refrigerators and massage chairs (highly recommend!).  More than just a shopping experience, Fry’s does a good job of tying into the history of the area each store is located in.  The Roseville store has a large locomotive crashing through the side of the building similar to the spaceship in Burbank on the left.  More than just window dressing, Fry’s usually keeps the atmosphere inside also in theme, with little aliens and giant Van der Graaf generators to make loud ozone (static electricity generator creates lightning inside a faraday cage).  Fry’s is a mainstay to the tech community because they have a large selection of items you can’t find other than online or in a catalog.  You can touch and feel that which you are looking for.  They have several lines of computer parts to build your own, or you can peruse their multiple aisles of actual computers on display.  It’s like Best Buy on steroids.  They usually have what you are looking for, although I couldn’t find an Arduino kit last time I went.

I could try and relate their history, but they do a good job on their Store History website that includes each stores theme.


“Fry’s Electronics, Inc. was founded in 1985 in Sunnyvale, California in a 20,000 square-foot location by the three Fry brothers, John, Randy, and Dave; and Kathy Kolder. Fry’s is a closely-held private company, and all of the founders are actively involved in the daily operation of the business.

Fry’s was founded as a Silicon Valley retail electronics store to provide a one-stop-shopping environment for the Hi-Tech Professional. Fry’s continues to keep hi-tech professionals supplied with products representing the latest technological trends and advances in the personal computer marketplace. Fry’s retails over 50,000 electronic items within each store, now totaling 34. There are currently 8 stores in Northern California, 9 stores in Southern California, 8 stores in Texas, 2 stores in Arizona, 2 stores in Georgia, and 1 store each in Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The stores range in size from 50,000 to over 180,000 square feet. Fry’s also provides customers with added shopping opportunities via its online center at Fry’s.com.”

We have a burgeoning need for Fry’s in Reno.  There is no competition.  I am not the only one that has to make the “Roseville Run” often.  Just last week I ran into another Reno techie at their lunch counter in Roseville (although there is a great and inexpensive Indian buffet around the corner) and we discussed the possibility of car pooling next round.  I think we should  just plan a once a month bus charter for the fun of it and gather other techies for a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour…


Reno’s got balls.

10 08 2011

Silver Legacy (courtesy of RenosCasinos)

Some of the architectural features of the Reno skyline include 2 enormous dome structures.  Domes are very difficult to design and build.  These domes define the cities silhouette like the twin towers were such an integral part of the Big Apple visual effect.

The largest dome is located downtown at the Silver Legacy Casino.  It houses the silver mining derrick and the inside of the dome is used as an echo chamber to emphasize the cumulus cloud light show on the ceiling.  It gives the entire casino floor a sense that they are soon to be engulfed in a crashing thunder storm.

The smaller dome is about 2 blocks away at the National Bowling Stadium.  This 172 seat dome houses a 4 story IMAX (IWERKS) theater on the fifth floor above the bowling lanes.   I can only remember a brief time when they had public movies, but the theater is open for private parties and business meetings and can accommodate up to 70mm films.

There is one more ball, a rather animated affair.  I haven’t found his name yet, so I’ll call him Kilroy.

Nevada Discovery Museum at the Aces ballpark

8 08 2011

Archie poses with fans.

I was wrong, I’ll publicly admit.  After watching year after year how the Moana ball stadium struggled to get 100 paid admission tickets sold, I didn’t think this town had any stomach for a semi-pro team in the Aces.   I love playing softball, but have never enjoyed watching the game.  I foresaw disaster for the stakeholders.  I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.

The Nevada Discover Museum will be opening in a few short weeks.  They are doing community outreach now, building excitement for the children’s exploratory museum that is transforming the old city hall building.  They teamed with the Reno Aces to offer $10 tickets to yesterday’s game that included a NVDM T-shirt.  I jumped at the offer for a couple of reasons, I wanted to support the museum and I’m ashamed to say, had yet to visit the ballpark for a game.  Standing on the parking garage tower roof just isn’t the same, although it does bring back memories of the All Star game in Cleveland in ’97 but that’s a story for another day (my advise is to not fly into a town on All Star game day and expect to get a rental car or hotel -luckily U-Haul and the Athletic Club were available ).  I was stressed over 2 consecutive summer classes in addition to a full work load that gave me zero opportunities to relax so I gladly chose this event to decompress a little.  And what a great choice I’ve been missing.

Aces Ballpark at Night

The ballpark looks awesome.  The integration of the Freight House district was genius. The ability to chow down in AC comfort while watching the game was great.  The dance club was also vacant at 6:30 on Sunday as I would have guessed, but the other restaurants and bars looked to be fairly busy, including the “horseshoe” (bean bags and holes) pits.   The amenities all around the park are fabulous, from 2 Bocce Ball courts and Volleyball with a private BBQ/Bar area wasn’t being used last night, but certainly looked fun.  Even the General Admission area had plenty of picnic tables, a private terrace and is apparently sponsored by Captain Morgan (served under General Reno).  There is a kids play area including bounce house at this end of the stadium as well.  The NVDM volunteers had tables out with lincoln log/buckey balls for the children to play with.  I must say, even on this far end of the park, as in all the other sections I toured, the view was phenomenal.  The only thing I didn’t like were the $4 waters (thanks to the volunteers at the Trauma Intervention Program for handing out water bottles), and the tacos are definitely better than the cheesesteaks.

The Aces are at the top of their division (last nights game notwithstanding) and are looking good for fall ball and the playoffs.  Too often we get stuck behind the computer screens and fretting over the next deadline (or the ones recently passed).  Take four hours and get yourself down to the ballpark, even if you don’t like watching ball.  There is so much going on you may not even notice the game.  I hope the Aces will accept my apology and I’ll see you down there more often.

Thanks for reading.  And keep your eyes open for the opening of the Nevada Discovery Museum.  I’ll leave you with this teaser photo of the worlds largest climbing wall going up on the “Fitz” next to the Arch.

The Fitz Climbing Wall

Warehousing and Logistics Tech, and Robots?

6 08 2011

The fact that the area is a hotspot for warehousing goes without saying.  I know, I know, I’ve mentioned it before.  It is the surviving economic mainstay with decline in gaming and tourism revenues for Northern Nevada.  Now, you might be thinking that there is no high tech connection but let me assure you there is.

In the last several years, in reaction to the upswell of internet purchasing, Nevada has become a mecca for internet retailers like Zappos out of Las Vegas.  Our central location on the West Coast, inexpensive buildings,  good rail lines and no inventory tax have drawn the operations of several companies here.

Now, surely you don’t think that Wal-Mart’s newest distro hub and Amazon.com built these brand new million+ sqft warehouses and stocked it with outdated IT.  Oh, no no no.  Even the independent warehousing operations like Hopkins Distribution are now integrating RFID into their operations.

As an RFID engineer I understand the importance of this “new” technology and how it is transforming logistics and supply chain management.  However slowly, we are coming much closer to item level tagging in many industries although still pallet level is much more common in warehousing.  Depending on the companies needs they may have a distributed antenna array that provides RFID services as well as the ability to add WiFi and components from carriers like Sprint, Verizon and ATT.  We can talk about these possibilities later.  I’ve designed and installed dozens, if you have any specific questions feel free to ask.  But that’s not why I’m blogging today.  Listen to this story about high tech warehousing:

I was taking Dr. Rogers MBA class on Supply Chain Management last Fall.  We were invited to take a tour of the recently turned up inventory system at Soap.com (and Diapers.com).  I was blown away at the process.  An order comes in via the popular web site.  While the order queues up waiting for a “picker” (a human that fills the shipping box), a fleet of robots goes out onto the floor and starts collecting all the pieces of the order, by the pallet.  By the time the picker is ready, there is a line of robots waiting for him with everything he needs to complete the order.  The picker opens the appropriate sized box and retrieves the first item from the first robot.  He knows it’s the right item because there’s a laser on the platform pointing out the correct box  on the pallet.  In case of question, the pickers computer screen also shows a picture of the object.  Picker places the object in the box and off the robot goes to shelve the pallet on the warehouse floor and pick up his next command.  By the time the picker has placed item #1 in the box, the second robot is standing in front of him with item #2.  When the order is complete the box is weighed to ensure the correct items were inside a label is printed and off it goes to shipping via another robot.

Sounds too futuristic almost, doesn’t it.  It’s real, and it’s effective.  They have more or less eliminated the human lifting, and much of the delay from searching for the right product.  They are very proud of their turnaround time as well they should be.

If you want to watch a robot picker in action, go see MARS at UNR, in the Mathewson Knowledge Center.  There in the bookstacks is a place to watch the action.  It’s impressive.

Wireless Tech in Northern Nevada and the Sierras pt. 3

1 08 2011

In this third installment focusing on the Wireless technology sector in the region I want draw attention to several of the local small businesses that have supported the community for years.

Sierra Electronics has been installing various radio systems in vehicles since 1964.  The Public Safety sector is one of their major customer sector but they are not exclusive and have offices for walk-ins off Glendale as well as in Elko.  They specialize in Motorola 2 way radios, but can do far more.  They offer services like wireless data, dispatch, paging, and system rentals.  They can also assist with your FCC licensing.  And if you really need connectivity at Burning Man then they also have satellite phones.

Another success story is High Sierra Communications.  Dave has been building a microwave backhaul network around the region that can get you a T1 just about anywhere at prices that defy reason.  Plus his team is vigilant in the upkeep of their facilities and responsive to outages, even in the middle of winter when access is via snowcat only.  And as a bonus his homepage, linked above, has several live cameras on these mountaintops.

Speaking of snowcats, we have a great couple of guys in Bill and Ernie that combined may have 80 years of experience getting to the tops of these mountains in winter.   I will do a future blog on the snowcat scene because we have a burgeoning industry that deserves that I should do a little more homework before discussing.


Well, that’s it for today, I have family coming through and Sushi’s on the menu.  Thanks for your time.


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