If you’ve been to a few hacker camps then you’re aware they are not the products of giant corporate entities but volunteer run community groups. You may even have volunteered yourself, and done all sorts of interesting tasks that go towards the running of the camp. But few of you will have been on the orga team of a camp, the people who put in the hard work of making it happen from start to finish. Julius ter Pelkwijk has, and at the 2018 Electromagnetic Field camp in the UK he gave us an insight into the experience.
Of course, Julius isn’t a member of the EMF orga, instead the camp that gave him the experience was last year’s SHA2017 in the Netherlands. This was over twice the size of EMF 2018, on the Dutch polder at Scoutinglandgoed Zeewolde, a scout camp in a forest next to a dyke, and while from our perspective it was a huge success, it was fascinating to pull back the curtain and hear from the other side of the event.
At the start of the process in early 2016, the volunteer team for SHA2017 was assembled. Effort was organized into 33 teams covering all aspects of the camp. After a trial camping trip they settled upon Scoutinglandgoed Zeewolde as the venue, and then it was time for a ton of legal paperwork. Municipality, venue, vendors, suppliers; it seemed everything called for forms and contracts. There were radio licences and laser show licences. In the Netherlands you need a licence to be a parking marshal on a public road, something which of the 60 volunteers only three people were able to obtain.
Meanwhile another task was ensuring that the global community knew about the event, getting materials to every hacker camp worldwide and ensuring that the ticket sale date was well publicised. As the event started to take shape the physical planning became under way, but there was plenty of last-minute bike-shedding. He gave us an example of the Finnish sauna, which at first was to be a tent but was deemed a safety hazard, then was to be a portable wooden structure that was turned down due to having a charcoal fire (refer to our write-up linked above for an inventive solution to campfire problems), and finally appearing on the site as a rented all-in-one sauna with electric power.
SHA even has its own currency; coins that are purchased at vending machines and used to pay for things like beer and food. The plastic coins were a major headache, with a first supplier canceling 5 days prior to the event because of hacking fears, followed by a last-minute substitution of another supplier. The replacement machines lacked capacity and kept jamming, requiring constant attention from team members.
Having seen the orga team in action at events we can anticipate the next segment, during the event itself they have little time to enjoy it as there is so much work to do. Hackaday got a mention at this point, because during a hastily snatched interview over a beer with your scribe the suggestion was made that sharing the experience with a future camp would be a valuable talk. We’d like to thank Julius for following up on it at EMF.
Afterwards, beyond the several days of clearing the field, there was a long process of administration. Accounting for everything and dealing with paperwork become a large undertaking. Taxes, unsold stock, lost-and-found, and a few speeding tickets. But surprisingly, Julius says he would do it again. We hope if he does that he gets more time to enjoy the event.
Check out his talk below. SHA2017 was an excellent event, and we’ll never make the mistake of taking a great hacker camp for granted!