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How sysadmins can best understand Burning Man

So, you've heard about Burning Man. It has probably been described to you as either a hippie festival, where rich white people go to act cool, naked chicks, or a drug-crazed dance party in the desert. All of those descriptions are wrong..ish. Burning Man is a lot of things and can't be summarized in a sound bite. I've never been to Burning Man, but a lot of my friends are burners, most of whom are involved in organizing their own group that attends, or volunteer directly with the organization itself.

Imagine 50,000 people (really!) showing up for a 1-week event. You essentially have to build a city and then remove it. As it is a federal land, they have to "leave no trace" (leave it as clean as they found it). That's a lot of infrastructure to build and projects to coordinate.

We, as sysadmins, love infrastructure and are often facinated by how large projects are managed. Burning Man is a great example.

There is a documentary called Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock which not only explains the history and experience that is Burning Man, but it goes into a lot of "behind the scenes" details of how the project management and infrastructure management is done.

You can watch the documentary many ways:

There is a 4 minute trailer on (warning: autoplay)

The reviews on IMDB are pretty good. One noteworthy says:

I cannot say enough about the job these filmmakers did and the monumental task they took on in making this film. First, Burning Man is a topic that has been incredibly marginalized by the media to the point of becoming a recurring joke in The Simpsons (although the director of the Simpsons is at Burning Man every year), and second, to those who DO know about it, its such a sensitive topic and so hard to deliver something that will please the core group.

Well, these guys did it, and in style I must say. This doc is witty, fast moving, and most importantly profoundly informational and moving without seeming too close to the material.

I give mad props to anyone that can manage super huge projects so well. I found the documentary a powerful look at an amazing organization. Plus, you get to see a lot of amazing art and music.

I highly recommend this documentary.

Update: The post originally said the land is a national park. It is not. It is federal land. (Thanks to Mike for the correction!)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli


Black Rock Canyon is not a national park, it is managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management:

I'm pretty confident that you would not be able to hold a Burning Man-style event in a national park. BLM lands are managed much differently, and allow more commercial and recreational uses.

Thanks for the correction, Mike! I've updated the post.