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Matt's Blog

A Most Stupendous & Audacious Undertaking

Ephemerisle Adventures
Epehemrisle is truly maturing.  I recently came back from our four-day floating-city-building adventure with a warm glow from new connections, new accomplishments, and the excitement of an ad-hoc community coming together and *working well*

Some thoughts in no particular order:

- I love the people who showed up.  The people really made the event.  We had a great mix, from hardcore engineers to yoga instructors. 

- Having a more complex city design that focused everyone's attention onto a central area was great.  It had a much stronger community feeling than the lines of houseboats from past years.  In the evenings, the central focus was intense and wonderful.  The only downside was that it was hard to have more than one loud event going on at the same time.  Maybe in the future we can create an S or T shaped city with two community areas. 

notephemerisle city v1.1

We made some effort to put the quiet boats at one corner of the city, but that effort was not well-coordinated and we ended up with quiet boats next to loud boats.  Next time it will be better.

The city's flexible design allowed us to accommodate other boats in a semi-ad-hoc fashion.  It also allowed us to not have to reach total consensus about the city structure -- so long as we had a group of people committed to comprising the core of the city, we could accommodate all kinds of changes over time.

- Ad-hoc decision making went relatively smoothly.  The nature of the people at the event definitely helped with that -- the boat captains were all rational, reasonable, and flexible.  It did also help that there was a small group of decision-makers that collectively could speak for most of the houseboats at the event.  These were mainly people who had rented multiple houseboats. 

- We really need to learn how to anchor the city properly as we build it.  We've screwed this up every year so far, and a little planning would definitely help.

- The community platform came together extremely well.  Ratha's rapid assembly system allowed a team to assemble a 20x24ft floating platform capable of holding around 50 people in only five hours or so. 

Not-Ephemerisle 2011  Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- The game board / cuddle tent that Kate and I built worked really well.  It was very popular and in frequent use throughout the event.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011  Not-Ephemerisle 2011

Sadly one of the balls Kate made for the board was lost by careless players, and the other one was too nice to put in there (see below) so I borrowed a contact juggling ball from one of the other attendees.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- My pool noodle sculpture designed to highlight the motion of the waves only worked for a few hours before being damaged.  In part this is because I threw this project together in about four hours; I could have done some things to make it more durable.  Joe's pool noodle tetrahedron (on the right) was a lot of fun.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- What to do about the drunk?  One first time attendee had way too much alcohol and passed out.  We had to watch him to make sure he didn't injure or drown himself, and eventually a nurse who was attending the festival decided his state was serious enough to merit taking him to shore for ambulance pickup at 1am.  Generally people out at the festival are very good at taking care of themselves, and we don't have a system of rangers like Burning Man does.  I resented having to spend time on a perfectly good Friday night dealing with the situation.  I do know however that there are people who enjoy keeping events like this safe for people who do stupid things or don't know their boundaries, so perhaps it's just a matter of finding the right volunteers to handle this.  It does raise the question of what sort of expectations people should have about the event -- I would not want people thinking that they could just show up and be taken care of.  I like the spirit of true radical self-reliance that pervades the event, and I wouldn't want to lose that.  I think that self-reliance bar helps create the culture at the event that I enjoy.

- There is some debate about growing the event further.  Current attendance is around 200.  Some people think that if we grow it much further, it will lose its character.  I think that potential danger is outweighed by the possibility of introducing more cool people to the event.  I think that due to the limited resources available (you have to build your own land!!), we will not experience a period of explosive growth like Burning Man did in the 1990s.  It will be difficult to grow at all with the current strategy.  We already rent out all the houseboats in the region.  Some alternatives:
-- Convince more boat owners to come.  I do think we'd want to be somewhat careful in doing this; we want boaters who care about seasteading and community-building as opposed to ones who are just coming to get drunk and party. 
-- Get really good at building floating platforms.  This is somewhat limited in that we would still need a way of getting the platforms to the event, and we'd have to eventually purchase a barge instead of continuing to squeeze heavy construction materials onto houseboats. 
-- Buy/rent a barge.  Surely there must be some ratty barges somewhere that we can buy or borrow to expand our footprint.
-- Invest in inflatable platforms.  One of the attendees was telling me that the technology exists to build very heavy-duty inflatable floating platforms.  Storage and transport of such platforms would be very easy relative to other alternatives.

The connection from Ephemerisle to seasteading is more symbolic than literal.  The engineering problems faced on the open ocean are very different from what we're tackling.  Even the social ad-hocracy issues we have explored will be at a very different scale out on the open ocean.  To some degree the event is just a chance for a bunch of smart and resourceful people to solve interesting problems in an unfamiliar domain while community-building, and that in and of itself has value.  However, I do feel that the event helps us psychologically wrap our minds around what life at sea might actually be like.