I had been wanting to get out of town and my friend Chris Nelson suggested I ride back to Berkeley with him for Labor Day weekend. He pointed out that Balsa Man was happening and we started brainstorming how we could contribute to the event. Balsa Man is an annual event in its fourth year. It’s a micro scale Burning Man that happens on Baker Beach, the original site of Burning Man. It features a 1/16th scale balsa man and people are invited to bring other to-scale art to burn along with the man.Â
For the last few years, Burning Man has scheduled a flyover by an imaging satellite to take pictures of the camp. This year, it was GEOEYE-1 Thursday morning which you can see in Google Earth. Chris and I talked about doing kite photography to emulate this at Balsa Man. I thought flying a kite with enough lift could prove difficult, but I remembered a Make project that used a tall pole for similar results.
We purchased a 23′ extendable painter’s pole from Home Depot and grabbed gold paper, cardboard, letters, and balsa from the craft store. Our camera was an old Canon point-and-shoot capable of running the custom CHDK firmware. CHDK lets you write custom camera control scripts. Chris built a long extension cable and set the camera to take a picture every time USB power was applied (pictured in-hand above). He set up a timelapse script so we had an alternative to manual shooting as well. The camera was mounted to the pole using my camera clamp which has proven useful year after year. We would be shooting blind, but in the future, we might spend the money to do live shooting with something like an Eye-Fi. We tested out the pole in the yard to get a feel for the shooting style and discovered just how wobbly it could get.
Our final preparation for the event was securing a 1/16th scale liquor bar and tiny glasses.
When we got to Baker Beach, the federal park agents had already arrived and were shooing people away from the event. We took a few trial photos there before moving on to the backup location. The backup ended up working fine; we were able to burn the man. Unfortunately the late start meant most of the photos were taken in the dark. We brought Chris’s boombox bag as a launch soundtrack and played appropriate songs like “Space Junk“. The satellite eventually broke loose at the end of the event, which we attributed to, “There’s usually a lot less wind in space.”
Balsa Man was a fun event and a large group of our friends were able to make it. We ended the night with Indian pizza at Zante Pizza and Indian Cuisine (I highly recommend it). The satellite was a success and we’ll probably employ the pole cam in a future event.
You can see more images from BalSat-1’s flight in the Flickr set and other photos from Balsa Man in the Group Pool.