Baitcon XX

Twenty Years of Ice Cream

The Berkshires, June 2009

A fairly limited-view set of pix; several other collections are linked at the LJ community.

[Small images here link to larger ones like you'd expect]

It had been rainy for something over two weeks before the target weekend, convincing some folks that Seattle and Boston had swapped weather patterns and we would never see the sun again. But wonder of wonders, as I loaded up and took off to join up with the rest of the crew that Thursday morning I started seeing little patches of blue sky. Maybe we wouldn't get soaked this weekend after all.

And it was gorgeous by the time we arrived at the site.

Only a few minor spits of rain hampered the weekend in general.

Reaching the mountaintop compound was not without its little misadventures, however. That same steep section of the approach road noted in '08 was still rather moist, and I was loaded heavy with plenty of pressure in the tires and most of the weight in the rear. Not exactly set up for effective sand-squirting. So the pitch gave me more trouble than last year -- this time I couldn't get up it at all, as I'd reach a certain point and the front wheels just started spinning no matter how delicately I tried to feather the go-pedal.

The answer was to unload half the stuff at the sharp turn before the steep section, after which I managed to claw my way up over the hump and continue on, unload what I had and go back down for the rest.

Another palliative would likely have been letting lots of air out of the front tires to give them a big squashy footprint. In fact we did this on someone else's Prius later in the weekend, sort of as an experiment, and that made the difference. Note, however, that sand/gravel is really the ONLY circumstance in which softer tires generally give more traction. Everywhere else, they want to be at sidewall or better.

[I have no idea where the anomalous breadcrumb track above the actual path taken came from. A gamma-ray burst from the planet Mongo or something, same thing that causes unintended acceleration in Toyotas.]

The van, with rear wheel drive and a serious Tetris-job of heavyish *stuff* packed in over the business end, had no trouble at all.

Once mostly unloaded, the next thing to look at was the new power infrastructure. The Mountain Folks had bought a new generator to replace a pair of relatively wheezy old unreliable ones, and it had just been put in place in the power shed. With various fairly sketchy means added to keep the trailer from rolling out and down the hill.

This is a three-cylinder *diesel* rig, and thus vibrates *a lot*. It is, however, quite efficient as these things go.

Someone had welded a bracket for the distribution box onto the top of the floating frame carrying both engine and generator, which amplified the axial vibration even more, thus rapidly throwing the distro box back and forth so hard and fast that it kept tripping its own breakers just from the shaking -- not from any excess loads we were putting on it. Definitely needs a rework, probably with a flexible coupling from the generator leading to a distro re-mounted onto the less-moving trailer chassis.

Shoving a soft item like a random work glove in under the box lid helped a little, as the lid would otherwise rattle loudly and likely added to the resonance of the whole assemblage. But we had to reset the bloody thing quite a few times over the weekend.

We went to great lengths to balance power demand, using various types of 240V to 120V transformers to put equal load on the gennie output legs while running our whole mix of freezers and fridges. Here's the Amazing Massive Toroid being rigged to supply all the ice cream freezers and premix fridges. The main walk-in fridge in the kitchen also got its own separate upgrade with a 2:1 stepdown feeding that compressor too.

One of my personal goals was to make vehicle parking even more efficient. With between 150 - 200 people showing up carpooling is loudly and frequently encouraged, but even making an average over two people per vehicle that's still a lot of cars. The clearing down the hill intended as a parking lot isn't all that big, so some tight packing is always in order.

The first task was to go patrol the entire lot and bow-saw out all the random small cut-off tree stumps sticking up near the periphery, which came close to causing some tire damage the previous year. This was a lot of grubby work kneeling low on the ground, while getting sprinkled on by a passing shower or two, but it got done and there was no place left in the usable real estate where a car would wind up hopping over a poking-up object. This would likely make space-packing easier as I wouldn't have to guide cars around little hazards while slotting them in.

This is part of it -- just a semi-grassy cleared area with a little gravel thrown down, and just enough width through most of it to put a row of cars along each side. That's one of the Abode's utility cars just going by on the approach road.

The other objective was more and better lighting. Traditionally, people continue arriving all of Friday night and into the wee hours of Saturday morning, so having light all night to see where the parking entrance is and where to park is all good especially for any first-timers. This year I found some inordinately large compact-fluorescent lamps that draw about 65 watts but throw light claimed as equivalent to 300W incandescent, and since this area is far enough from the main generator that running power down to it is somewhat infeasible, it all needs to run off portable sources.

This was an early deployment experiment into what I would later term redneck outdoor lighting, the investigation and expansion of which proved very useful at other events.

The "remote" inverter, running from a deep-cycle battery in the cooler and tucked under a quick-n-dirty rain cover. With about a kilowatt-hour on tap and only a shade over 100W of load, this could run by itself all night. During the day I hauled this up-slope a short way to let it charge directly from the car's 12V system. The rest of setup involved running long cables and getting lights hung high enough in various trees to throw across large areas. Some very minimal branch trimming was needed to prevent leaves from shading the key throw directions.

The parking area wraps around a little wooded hill which is graced by this amazing big moss-covered rock.

After rigging everything and getting it ready, I went back up to the main compound where plenty of other work was happening. Tarp and canopy rigging, signage deployment [including quite far afield on the approach roads], pre-washing of hundreds of dishes ...

... pantry organization ...

... and lots of food prep, far into the night. And of course in the meantime, plenty of people showing up to pitch their own camps.

Meaning that they had to come up to the reception area, unload, and then go park. We kept either myself or a few other vehicle-clueful people on duty down at the parking area, to point people toward the best spot and the most space-efficient way to either head in or back in. Or for those uncertain about their dimensions or how to back with mirrors, offer to take the helm and do it for them. In other words, Baitcon with optional valet parking.

By the next day, the parking area had transformed into a dense mass of cars. At the top was the little "attendant station" set up at my car, also the source for the other half of the lighting power as well as where I slept. With the next day's run of battery-recharging using the Prius as a generator, letting some of the engine heat out by jamming the hood open with a stick seemed appropriate.

The packing job was serviceable, but not what anyone would call perfect. We still got upwards of 80 cars into here, with full parallel access and nobody parked in, except for one person who specified "bury me, 'sokay" and one other minor oops for someone else who had to depart early and had wound up just barely blocked in.

Most people understood what we were after, and did their best to help the cause. A very few appeared to resent being instructed about *anything* concerning their cars or driving, blew off our crew's well-intentioned intervention, and frankly screwed things up for several other people as a result. However, with most people hip to the idea we're going to try it as a do-it-yourself participatory effort in 2010.

If the idea isn't fairly obvious from the diagram here, click it for a detailed instructions page that will help you take up a minimal parking footprint and thus help all of your fellow attendees. There are a couple of useful immediate-area maps in there too. Does New York exert a force field trying to prevent you from re-entering, or does gravity just suck?

That morning I noticed that oddly, someone *else* had "watermarked" my hood with my own logo in the early dew.

But really, enough about cars and parking for now.

Plenty of other fun goes on at Baitcon. Here's Saturday morning's visual pop quiz: What is it? Bizarre telephone wiring? An old computer backplane? A plant of some sort? Click the picture to see.

A whole lot of hair-braiding went on, in fact, including for our esteemed namesake host who actually found a little time to relax here and there.

The silks rig returned, and people lined up for quite some time to get a little coached tryout on some of the basics.

Meanwhile, ice-cream making proceeded apace. Seventy-something separate and distinct flavors, some of them, uh, *very* distinct. The LN2 flowed freely but still frugally, with the main dewars safely stashed out of harm's way and sunlight in the truck and intermediate batches decanted into small dewars for porting over to the mixing area. One dewar is named "Zod", and as someone would get down on the tarp with a bucket and spoon and brace themselves for some vigorous mixing, the phrase given was "kneel before Zod".

I took a stroll down the approach road a ways past the sharp bend, and found an old barely-readable marker for the Mass / NY state line which the site practically straddles.

Eventually it was time for dinner back at the main compound, and everyone lined up at the serving area.

The cooks for that round of food looked on with amusement, and a profound and satisfying sense of a job well done.

Later, of course, it was time for Ice Cream. Bait's voice is normally fairly powerful, but he used a bullhorn for extra clarity over that distance and that many people while reeling off the traditional info about the "running of the flavors" and getting everyone to *clear out* of the area under the main pavilion for the moment.

And we ran, and then we ate. And ran and ate some more. Because when an almost-annual event has achieved an honest "20 years of ice cream", that's some serious stuff.

Many pleasantly full bellies implies that the content had to come from somewhere, and a while later an incredible pile of emptied and washed yogurt tubs bore testimony to our processing and storage methodologies.

Compare that tumbled chaos with some of the same pile later [orig pic from coraline], getting a final drying and ready to be packed up for another year. Reuse of plastic yogurt tubs is raised to a high art here, including arcane knowledge about lid fit and interoperability across brands and long-term robustness.

People could pick a variety of activities for the remainder of the evening, perhaps just mellowing out around the fire ...

... or contra dancing in the far pavilion.

There were a lot of folks from the MIT square dance organization present as well, so a couple of squares formed too. Then Bait wanted to form a hexagon with six couples and try to make some calls work, to much hilarity while they tried to figure it out.

And of course the inevitable sound issues will draw a whirling cloud of those with enough technical knowledge to be dangerous, which may or may not lead to a solution but almost certainly some horrendous photography.

As usual, the luna moths were everywhere. I found this one as I headed back down to the car to go to bed; it was beating itself senseless against the big CFL still shining atop the roof and I got it to just sit and rest for a little while. Other people got better pictures of these things, but not necessarily *in hand*.

A delicate mist accompanied Sunday morning, painting a surreal picture of light around everything.

My trade-show-schwag "internet society" folding chair had broken one corner fitting, and a quick attempted fix with parts from the tool shed wasn't quite working as intended.

An amusing bit of SLR manhood-sizing.

Despite only being equipped with a small point-n-shoot, that doesn't say I can't play Creepy Camera Guy sometimes too.

Later on, there were some silks performances. Phiz have been been working hard on more fun duets.

This year's big new thing seemed to be PowerRisers springy-stilts, on which several people have become quite good and more began learning this afternoon right here.

Enough to try some really silly stuff while on them.

Late Sunday night, the dregs of a diminished but not zero remaining attendance in a mellow hang-out mode. It was actually kind of chilly, and eventually many people moved into the "living room" shed around the wood stove.

With the con extending into Monday this time around, even though some people had to get back earlier it was nice that others didn't have to worry about packing out until the next day. I found that an easy way to estimate how many people were still left was to go count the cars in the parking area, and hand that number off to the cooks which let them plan much more closely.

Departures and preliminary cleanup sort of commingled over the next day, eventually leaving the core crew to finish up. Since the bulk of that work doesn't happen until the last day, most of us decided to go out for a nice relaxing dinner down in town.

When we got back, we found that the generator had cut out again but this time for a more insidious reason. Now the breaker wouldn't stay on at all, and some testing showed that one phase of the drop wire from the power shed to the kitchen had somehow completely *shorted* itself to neutral. Zero ohms.

This wasn't entirely unexpected, as the whole span of wire had some issues with trees landing on it a year and some back. Remembering that we had found random long rolls of single 6 or 8 gauge wire in the supply shed, we did a hasty fix in the dark by rerouting the offending phase strung along the *ground* and in through the kitchen door [little pink arrows], with the minor disadvantage that the rest of the departing people had to run their cars over it to load out. We dressed it down as flat as we could.

The Abode staff was made aware of this and later in the day showed up with a whole new span of drop wire to run in place of the old one. The "hippie electrical crew" apparently expected to have to do this at some point anyway, given the abuse the old drop wire had taken, but possibly not quite this soon. It was still mildly weird that it had failed on our watch *and* while all the electrically-clueful personnel were offsite at dinner, but then again the gennie had been pushing substantial zoobs through this thing for three solid days.

They had it up and rigged by late afternoon and only needed a brief outage to cut over to the new span, and cleanup/loadout had proceeded pretty normally around all this anyway.

_H*   100512