Fortune Teller's Tent (2015)

The Fortune Teller mutant vehicle application was accepted by Burning Man DMV. This is what was proposed:

This Mutant Vehicle would incorporate the more effective elements of 2013's Cargo Crate while ditching the cheesier ones. In particular, the base vehicle will be better camouflaged inside and out, using a thematic Fortune Teller's tent motif. The radical illumination from 2013 kicked ass though, and that will be carried forward and expanded upon further for 2015. In addition, it will add the interactive elements of having in-vehicle tarot card and palm readings. The accuracy of these readings is not guaranteed.

The drawing above is conceptual but is intended to convey the essence of the proposed mutant vehicle. In particlar, the color of the outer fabric is not known, and will not be known pending approval of the DMV application. Should this application be approved, a mad hunt will ensue for copius quantities of fortune-teller-tent-like material.

One of the more successful elements of the 2013 cargo crate was the array of 1400 individually-addressable RGB LED pixels, all under realtime control using an embedded microcontroller. This core lighting system will be reused in 2015 with some additional enhancements.

Here's a photo of what was proposed:

Here's how it looked upon completion:

And here's how it looked after a week in the desert:

The Build Process

So, it helped a lot that I was starting with 2013's Cargo Crate vehicle. Still, I grossly underestimate the amount of time and effort it would take to convert the Cargo Crate to a fortune teller's tent. But first thing first, time to reassemble the frame.

Originally I was going to hand-paint the sign by projecting the design onto a piece of wood with an overhead projector, but along the way I learned about Mod Podge, which is amazing stuff. Kinda has the consistency of white glue, but you can transfer regular laser printer toner directly onto wood. The process is easy and the imperfections give a nice fatigued/weatherbeaten look. I did a test print on one of my trash can lids and then did up a couple signs.

My old 17-channel fire cannon controller circuit, which later got repurposed for the Burning Man Box Office sign, got repurposed again to provide marquee-style chase lighting. The hardware runs on 12 volts DC, so the bulbs are regular automative taillight bulbs.

For fun, I decided to make some new inserts for the sign, so I could change the signage easily.

After first attending Burning Man in 2006, I decided that I needed to learn how to weld, and how to sew. The welding part happened two years ago when building the frame. Since that time I've welded up all sorts of stuff. It's remarkably rewarding and I'm getting better at it. I have a lot of respect for people who can weld thin metal well. It's a lot easier to do the thicker stuff. Anyway, so this year was my year to learn how to sew. Found a lady on Craigslist who gives lessons, bought a sewing machine, and just sorta went to town.

The material was all bought on the cheap up in the LA Garment District. It's not every day you sew eighteen-foot hems!

Hmm. Needs pleats.

The buttonhole thing didn't work. I ended up sewing little tabs on every place I needed a ziptie attachment. Big pain in the ass. That alone probably took a days or two.

The roof panels took way longer than expected and I'm still not all that happy with how they turned out. They were supported by steel cables, so in theory I just had to cut, hem, and make attachment points for triangular pieces. But the cables sag and the material stretches, so the dimensions are all a little wonky, and it just ended up taking longer than expected. Once that was done, it was time to make a bunch of panels to hide the interior of the golf cart as much as possible.

I sorta punted on the seat and bought a big Indian print from The Black in OB. Worked out great.

At some point somebody came up with the idea of having a little fortune teller's table in the back. Awesome idea. The table came out great. I was going to mount the crystal ball in a little holder with lights underneath. Unfortunately in the course of doing that, the crystal ball was ruined and I was fast running out of time. So no crystal ball. So sad.

Another unexpected time-sink. Even though all the lights were recycled from last time, it still was necessary to string them all up, make a new power distribution harness, test the thing, replace bad pixels, etc.

Ok! All systems go. Lights all work, panels all fit. Take a victory lap up and down the alley, and then it was time to disassemble everything for transport to the playa.

And when I say disassemble, I'm not joking. I made the side pieces of the frame low enough to hide the wheels. Unfortunately, it also means that the frame bottoms out on any kind of incline, so there's no way to drive it up a ramp onto a trailer. Also, the frame is about 3 inches too wide to fit inside the rental trailer I've been using. For this reason, this mutant vehicle has to be completely disassembled for transport to the playa. And for this reason, it won't be back in this form. I hope to use it at the OB Christmas Parade, and then cut up the metal and repurpose it for something else.

Everything takes longer on the playa. If it's windy like it was this year, you have to take frequent breaks. Also, I worked quite a bit pre-event, and that dictated when I was able to work on the vehicle. Assembly took three sessions, each lasting 3-5 hours.

So, with each passing year, I take fewer and fewer photos at the event. I'm choosing to interpret this as me learning how to be more in-the-moment. I also don't have any video of the lights in action. Ironically, this actually started out as a software project. I wanted an excuse to do some LED programming. As it happened, I ran out of time and ended up re-using the lighting sequences from 2013's Cargo Crate. You can see as video here. Many of the more stroboscropic effects happen much faster than video refresh rate, so this doesn't really do it justice.

I also regret not having any photos with the four corner banners. As windy as this year was, the banners were always flying high and looked really great. They kept snagging on stuff, so I ended up taking the masts down early in the event week. Drove a lot during the week. That little 12hp motor only burned about 5 gallons of gas. Here you can see the aftermath. The playa sure tears things up. Disassembly took about 6 or 7 hours.

Strangest laundry on the block.