Why do some foods taste absolutely AWESOME on playa? (a theory)

(I originally posted this to our camp mailing list, but I figured that the wider population of the internet may also be interested)

A couple of things prompted me thinking about this, and I shared my thoughts with Leah tonight and she’s been thinking the same kind of things.

We’ve observed that some food on playa is absolutely THE BEST THING EVER to enter our mouth holes while some things are a bit more meh than they should be. Basically,  we’re theorising that human taste buds change at Burning Man when compared to the default world.

A while ago we saw Heston Blumenthal trying to fix airline food, where he conducted an experiment where at sea level and then in a compartment that was pressurized to the altitude of a plane he had different concentrations of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami to taste.

So, let’s look at the differences in altitude and humidity between home,
playa and an airplane:


Home: within a few hundred ft of sealevel.
Black Rock Desert: 3,907ft (from wikipedia)
Airplane cabin: 6,000ft (Boeing 787) to 6,900ft (Boeing 767) (or much closer to sea level if you’ve got a private jet)


Home: 40-80% (inside/outside my house right now)
Airplane: 12-15%
Burning Man: 24% (average for August), low teens during the day (10-15% midday to midnight)

The result of the altitude and humidity for airplanes was:

  • threshold for tasting sweet is increased
    (i.e. need more sweetness to taste it)
  • threshold for tasting sour decreased
    (i.e. more sensitive to sour)
  • threshold for tasting bitter decreased
    (i.e. more sensitive to bitter)
  • threshold for tasting salt is increased
    (i.e. you need more salt)
  • umami was unchanged

This would explain why I always add salt to airplane food, why at one
point corn chips with vegemite was the best thing ever on playa and why
there’s this odd bacon obsession amongst so many.

This also explains why there may be a preference for less hoppy beers on
playa (or, if you’re me, a desire to try some insanely hopped ones to
see if I can notice an intensity increase).

Also, it’s one of the few places I can stomach US sodas (HFCS being
instant diabetes, but ginger ale on playa/in a plane is kinda nice).

One suggestion (and Heston tried this on flights) is nasal
douching… and I’m actually pretty keen to clean out the nose before
eating on playa because as we all know, playa up your nose is a fact of

I’d be pretty interested to conduct some experiments both in normal
conditions and on playa with various concentrations of sweet, sour,
bitter, salty and umami and note down at what concentrations the flavor
is noticed.

I’m thinking:

  • sweet – sugar
  • sour – lemon juice? (store bought so it should be consistent)
  • bitter – not sure here, all i can think of is hops or Bitters
  • salty – salt :)
  • umami – liquid smoke?

Although it may require some experimentation to find what the minimum
concentrations are. Once we’ve worked these out, should be able to do
tasting and take notes when not on playa and then recreate it all on
playa and compare results.


HOWTO: Build a Monorail

At linux.conf.au 2012 I gave a lightning talk on our Burning man 2010 art installation the Nowhere2Nowhere monorail. I finally extracted the video of just my lightning talk and threw it up on youtube for easy viewing:

Stand Development

On advice from one of the guys at Vanbar (the “local” – meaning still a drive away, but at least in the same city – place for photographic chemicals) I tried stand development for the roll of Efke 25 I had shot at Burning Man.

Stand development differs from normal B&W film development in that a) it takes longer and b) you don’t agitate. You just leave the film sitting in the chemicals for a while…. in this case, one hour. I used Rodinal, which is a pretty nice, easy to use and versatile developer (incidentally, it’s also the oldest photographic chemical still sold and in use – patented in 1891).

Anyway, I got some good images out of it (I think). Here are some from a roll of Lucky 100SHD I shot:
Lebanese Doughnuts @ Oasis Bakery
going riding

and here’s some from the Efke 25 that I shot at Burning Man:
Jay and Suzanne washing up
Mel & Ellery
Yazz and Suzanne

Kodak Ektar 100 – fun with colour negative film

I’ve been writing a bit about my adventures with Black & White film and developing myself. I haven’t (yet) developed my own colour negative (C41 process) film. I do hope to do so at some point in the future – even though I can get the local lab to do it for $4 a roll, it’s nice to be able to do this yourself.

When I was young, I also took photos. I still use that camera sometimes too. Recently I’ve been scanning in the first ever slide film I shot – a roll of Kodachrome when I was 8 years old. I do like the look of Kodachrome, and am sad that it’s going away.

Last year, when I was in the US for Burning Man, I got introduced to Kodak Ektar 100. With the promise of colours that remind you of Kodachrome, I grabbed a bunch and headed to San Francisco and then Burning Man.

I liked the look of a bunch of stuff I shot. For example:

San Francisco beach at dusk

Golden Gate Bridge

Pier 39San Francisco in late afternoon

Barbie Death Camp


Sun peeking under the man

Recently, on my trip to Hong Kong, I shot some too. The above was all shot with an old Ricoh SLR, when I was in Hong Kong I used my Nikon F80 and the 50mm f1.8 lens.

One of my favourites was of this little statue:
Statues in walkways

In Hong Kong a lot of buildings are interconnected so you can walk between them without having to go outside (where it’s hot and humid). There are bits of sculpture in the buildings around the Rackspace office. This is one near the hotel I was staying with. During the morning and afternoons, these walkways are filled with people, exactly like streets…. but a floor above and indoors.

I’m adding more shots from Hong Kong to my Flickr Photstream as the days go on.

I really like this film. I even don’t mind it for people… the first was the test shot (have I loaded correctly, things winding, wonder if this shot will work) in the hotel lobby in San Francisco. Leah:


I should learn to scan better (I have since, this was probably the first image I scanned using my scanner, certainly the first Ektar frame). Another two people images I like on Ektar are:

Amy in WhiteChristine with spoon!

Dare I say that I always seem to find the Ektar colours to be relaxed? I like it. The blues really shine through. Reds are also really nice (heck, I even love the yellow), and I plan to go and investigate how I can combine these colours in interesting ways on film.

Photos of Burning Man: Getting to Black Rock City

This year was my first burn. More amazing than I could have imagined. I think it was day two when Brian caught me saying “so, next year what we’re going to do…”

Due to the harsh environmental conditions, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of taking my digital gear (it ain’t cheap) and had the idea of handing cameras to people and having a kind of communal photo album (planning for a larger scale implementation of this next year). So… I went purely film. Several older and smaller compact 35mm cameras that I picked up either for nothing or next to (no loss if lost or dead!) plus a Ricoh SLR was my arsenal.

Now… that means I need film.

I mainly shot the new Kodak Ektar 100 and a Kodak Ektachrome E100VS. For the smaller, cheap 35mm ones, I just used some Fuji Superia.

trees in Portland

Trees in Portland

Firstly though, there was a stop in Portland to a) recover from jetlag and b) hang out with Eric, Wendy and their dogs. I do like Portland, quite a lot actually. While there, managed to get some work done, fiddle with some SPARC hardware that Eric has, enjoy excellent vegan ice cream, enjoy awesome vegan food (both at home and out) and walk around both downtown and up in the hills. Portland (and Oregon) is certainly pretty.

trees in seattle

Trees in Seattle

Before heading to Burning Man, I was in Seattle, where Leah joined me to prep for (and then go to) Burning man.

Then Leah and I were in San Francisco for a day. This is when I started shooting exclusively film for the first time in… well.. Since 2002 (I got my first digital camera for linux.conf.au in 2003)


Leah enjoying going around San Francisco

We actually did some touristy things… so I saw a bit more of San Francisco than I have before. One issue with mostly being around San Francisco just before/after the MySQL Users Conference is a severe lack of time/energy to go for much exploring. Preparing is exhausting, and afterwards I just want to really chill out – usually heading out to some forest or down to Santa Cruz or just hanging out with cool people.

Across the Golden gate

Going over the Golden Gate Bridge

One of the most surprising things was running into David while just walking down the street. Although knew he was in town, and we’d planned to all go down to Burning Man together, actually running into somebody in the street always surprises me.

I’m pretty sure this was the first time that I went across the Golden Gate Bridge. Seen it, taken photos of it, used said photos as my desktop background, but this was the first time going across it and looking back on the city. Manual focus, moving bus: epic amounts of fun… I’d kinda forgotten how much fun this could be.

Sun going down in San Francisco

Sun going down in San Francisco

There are things I like about San Francisco, but if I had to call somewhere in the US home, Seattle and Portland are both much higher on the list. Maybe it’s because of the wonderful coffee of Seattle, or the laid backness and awesome vegan food of Portland or if I’m just delusional and think it’d be possible to catch a Nirvana gig in Seattle.

In the evening in San Francisco we met up with David again and went down to the beach. It was pretty. Somehow, I deluded myself into thinking “ISO 100 Film, no tripod, cold, sunset…. Photo time!” I did get one I quite like too:

The Sun setting over the water, San Francisco

The Sun setting over the water, San Francisco

After what can only be described as a “I love side impact airbags” car crash on the way back to the Hotel (everybody okay: shaken, not stirred. also not our fault), headed back for a stiff drink, some sleep and eagerly awaiting the drive to Reno and then Black Rock City.

Waiting in line to get into Black Rock City (for many, many hours)

Waiting in line to get into Black Rock City (for many, many hours)

It was not a short wait once we got to the gate. We did, however, not too long after sunrise, make it to camp. I have no idea where I shot this from… but it was before we got to camp (or at least the first photo of us helping to set up):

People arriving at Black Rock City: first thing in the morning

People arriving at Black Rock City: first thing in the morning

More to come… including setup of Pi Camp!