Burning Man 2013 Honorarium Project / Impossible Triangle Now Made Possible

Thank you Solar Snow Koan

We had a little problem with our solar supply chain at the last minute, which meant we might have to cart our batteries all over the playa to charge them or deploy a smelly, noisy generator.  Thanks to the excellent networking skills of Terry Dovidio,  Snow Koan Solar came to our rescue, supplying us with these handsome panels and a charge controller.

Here’s Adam from Snow Koan, doing the installation for us.  Thanks so much guys.  It still amazes me that this thing was powered directly from the sun.

Installing the Electrical Boxes

In perhaps the most nuanced GIF of the series, here’s half the crew, doing the things they do.

Dewb’s in the foreground, fussily trying to cram everything into one of the boxes.  For a variety of reasons, they boxes were much tighter than anyone would have liked.  Dewb persevered for what seemed like days, but made them work.

At the far side of the base, Surly attaches a box while Jesse feeds him the right fasteners.  It is very important to feed Surly the fasteners, or he will reject them and toss them wherever he sees fit.  You can make a small fortune following Surly around with a magnetic rake, FWIW.

At the top, by now I’m sure you’ve noticed Ronny doing something sketchy.   However, on closer inspection, he is just taking a sip from his water bottle.  Damn you Ronny, I thought I had something to tease you about!

One more shot, mostly of Surly.  I have no idea what operation requires a long screwdriver, impact wrench, ratchet driver, spanner and a pry bar.  Oh, right, the electrical boxes didn’t fit around the bolts when assembled.  I wonder who designed those.  Anyhow, Jesse seems impressed.

Lighting and Infrastructure Into the Wee Hours

At this late hour, the Penrose Triangle team is hard at work on a number of infrastructure needs.  Previously, the work on the base was in full swing. With most of the main components of the base worked out, the base arm of the triangle sits bolted into place. The two side arms are resting on the side, waiting to get fit with lighting track and wiring.


Each section needs special attention with respect to the kind of wiring that needs to take place. With the bottom/base arm and one of the cubes in place, the team makes sure that the transition between the track on the cube and the arm are smooth.


Here you get a good look at the base and see how exactly the triangle will stay vertical and stable. The sculpture could stand on it’s own  given it’s geometry and foot print, but the playa conditions, wind and climbing participants require a far more stable footing. The white line you see scribbled on the steel base in the photo below is the level at which the playa will be. The rest will be buried underground for added stability. Note also that the beams on the floor only follow the form of the base but do not include all the cross beams as indicated on the foot layout plan. That is part of the work going on right now. Much grinding, much welding…


You’ll also notice (apart from that beautiful white powder coat!!) the aluminum track in the side. All of the lighting strips will rest in this track. IT COVERS EVERY SURFACE! Seriously there is a lot of lighting on this thing and as such, the track is set on most surfaces at specific angles to maximize the lighting effects.  Those strips of white material in the background is just some of the heat shrink that will be needed to reseal every LED strip once it’s been cut to the appropriate size. There are a lot of ends to tie up.


Here is the site of one of the junction boxes that will live in the corner of each of the three cubes.  There are so many details on this sculpture that will go unnoticed because of the way it’s designed.  This spider web of cable will be hidden within seamlessly constructed junction boxes. Delivering programming and power to every light is going to take a lot of wire:


Steel tubing does not come with neat little holes for wires. Every place where a plate hits the pipe has to be drilled out to allow the wiring to go through. Here are we see a section of plate welded and powder coated, the hole is then drilled and deburred. Finally, wiring is fed through:


Here’s a strip of lighting attached to one of the custom circuit boards detailed in my Light Hardware post.  Right now there is extensive testing on the wiring and power strategy on the structure. After every member section is wired up, it has to be tested before replicating on all other analogous parts. This is one of the strips getting ready to be hooked up.


A closer look at one of those custom circuit boards in action.  That is a lot of soldering for what amounts to one the end of one lighting strip among so many.


As the wiring and testing continues, problems arise. Strips don’t work as expected, don’t work to satisfaction or just don’t work period. Everything has to be tested and corrected before it can be implemented throughout. One cube receives a massive amount of attention and testing before the team can move on. A cube sits in the back, waiting for the Ok while Dewb works out the kinks with Drew’s helpful advice:


Meanwhile,  Surly addresses the power situation. All those lights are not going to light themselves. Making do what is available. If it doesn’t work, figure it out, make it work:


As I was walking out the door, I was working out some details of our camping situation with Blake Courtney (OH YEAH, EVERYONE HAS TO FIGURE OUT HOW THEY ARE GOING TO LIVE OUT THERE) . I have the luxury of getting to step back and work out my personal situation while the rest of the team continues to work on this. While chatting with Blake, testing continues  in the background. Suddenly one of the strips that is half draped along the top of a corner of the cube fully lights up. Blake gets a big smile on his face and exclaims “There’s lights on it!” I started laughing loudly. I thought I was laughing with him, but he wasn’t joking.  He says “No seriously, after all this time, I can finally see some light on that thing. I don’t care that it’s just sitting there.”  That sort of snapped me back to the reality of this project. It’s been a long time and taken a lot of effort to go from a small plastic sculpture to an idea to a large, hand made steel sculpture. Every new milestone is an achievement. Lately, the pace has picked up as the base is built out, the structure is powder coated, lighting is independently tested and finally mounted to the sculpture. It’s good to see it happen step by step and I am very excited to see the vision realized in such grand detail.  I get the sense that this will be my favorite art project on the playa. I hope and I am sorta banking on the idea that I won’t be the only one to feel that way.  A lot of people at home and abroad have contributed with advice, kickstarter donations and nose-to-the-grind-stone labor. I can’t help but think, personally, that this thing will not let them down.


Like every other night as of late, the work continues. There is a lot going on at this moment and the work continues as more people from the community and assorted friends and family show up to help. Tonight’s going to be a(nother) long night…

Lighting Hardware

In the Kickstarter video, Blake (Hooch) mentioned that the Penrose Triangle would be lit by individually addressable color changing LEDs. This facet of the lighting will aid in creating some interesting visuals, not the least of which is creating effects that will bring out the illusion of an actual penrose triangle. This lighting set up creates a whole host of electrical and computational challenges. While the Blakes have been handling the structural set up of the sculpture, an entire electrical design/hardware team has been keeping pretty busy. The set up of these lights is such that it requires a lot of custom wiring and circuit boards to get going. Here are three renderings of just one of the types of circuit boards being made:


I stopped by the Artisan’s Asylum the other night to check in on Jacob and Dewb as they started laying out all of the lights and building these circuit boards now that they’ve been manufactured and delivered. Here’s one side of one of these boards:


It’s worth mentioning that these boards are only about one and three quarter inches long and one and a third inches wide. The team has a lot of soldering to do on these boards:


The triangle will be lit by 24 five meter strands of color changing LEDs. When I stopped in, Jacob and Dewb were affixing the strips of LEDs to a single bar. This enables the lighting team to connect the lights and start running their programs while the sculpture itself continues to take shape.


There are 120 meters (nearly 400 feet) lights on this table:


A few comical trips up a shaky ladder type situation and the lights are hung!


Dewb connects one of the strands to test a rudimentary lighting protocol. As you can see, the strips are hanging from a pretty high ceiling but there is still quite a bit more LED strip spooled on that table!


It worked. All hooked up to the computer and it’s time to move on to some more software and wiring configurations. There was a good bit of progress but even at 3AM, there was another detour before breaking for the day.


The Artisan’s Asylum is an invaluable source for the kinds of collaboration that this project needs to succeed. However late at night, there is always a good chance someone with experience will be around to provide some much needed expertise. Here, Drew helps guide Dewb through the design of yet another wiring configuration/PCB board design:


After a lot of discussion about needs and available resources, the guys settled on a strong footing for the next PCB board design. A quick cell phone snapshot of the white board and that’s a wrap for the night.