Reporting From BornHack 2021: Hacker Camps Making It Through The Pandemic

In a normal summer we would be spoiled for choice here in Europe when it came to our community’s events, with one big camp and a host of smaller ones near and far. Only the most hardcore of travelers manage to make it to all of them, but it’s usually possible to take in at least one or two over the season. But of course, this isn’t a normal summer. Many of us may now be vaccinated against COVID-19, but we remain in the grip of a global pandemic. The massive Dutch MCH camp was postponed until 2022, and most of the smaller camps have fallen by the wayside due to uncertainty. But one hacker camp carried on.

BornHack in Denmark was the world’s only in-person summer hacker event of 2020, and on its return last week made it the only such event in Europe for 2021. Having secured a ticket earlier in the year when they went on sale, I navigated the tricky world of cross-border European travel in a pandemic to make my way to the Hylkedam scout camp on the Danish isle of Fyn for a week in the company of hackers from all over Northern Europe. BornHack had achieved the impossible again, and it was time to enjoy a much-needed week at a hacker camp.

Safely Gathering In A Danish Forest

Hylkedam lies in a dense forest accessed from the main road by roughly half a mile of dirt track, which widens out into the main BornHack field. It’s here that I found the orga and info desk, as well as most of the villages. A short walk away down the site’s tracks and paths are the bar, the noisy and quiet fields, as well as the speaker’s tent and the scouting buildings which house the camp’s many workshops.

First order as always was check-in, worthy of remark this time because of the requirement for proof of vaccination or COVID test. The atmosphere was more relaxed than had been the case last year with extreme social distancing and hygiene, but there was still an emphasis on the camp not becoming a spreader event. With 310 people on site it was more than twice the size of its predecessor, so this was something the orga took very seriously indeed.

As the only opportunity for hackers to spend a while in a field this summer, the event had attracted attendees from across the Scandinavian countries as well as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and even a very few Americans and Brits like me. Villages were evenly spread between countries, groups, coding languages, and hackerspaces, so there was a good variety of places to wander by and say hello

OZ1H4CK, a very unusual callsign indeed.
The BornHack amateur radio station.

For the radio amateurs among us there was a special event station with the unusual callsign OZ1H4CK, and by night we were treated to flame and laser shows courtesy of Dimitri Modderman whose work has become a fixture at hacker camps over the years.

The lively bar served the impressive range of Danish beer styles we’ve grown used to and the catering came courtesy of an excellent East Asian food truck, so all our needs were served as we lazed away our days in hammocks sending slow-scan TV meme pictures to each other over our PMR446 radios.

A hacker camp is about relaxing and hanging out with your friends, but of course it’s also about a full programme of talks and workshops. Some of them I made it to in person such as Anne Ogborn’s SWI Prolog workshop, while others I caught up with on YouTube. Here follows a selection for your viewing pleasure.

Hacker Camp Talks

First up is Jørgen Kragh Jakobsen, whose Open source tools for IC developement takes the viewer through the very basics of chip design and the process of preparing a new device for production. It’s split into two parts by the vagaries of BornHack’s streaming system, so here’s part one and then part two.

Then there was Mikkel Mikjær Christensen with The Danish Comet – The first Danish microcomputer! , an in-depth look at a line of Danish-made computers from the 1970s and 1980s. We’ve mentioned his work in passing before, and the depth of his knowledge and painstaking research on the subject of retrocomputing is second to none.

Meanwhile we all have some idea of how the Internet works, but there’s still plenty to learn from William Ben Embarek’s Start your own ISP (Or just learn how an ISP works). Mark-Jan Bastian’s Power Supply stability and risks should appeal to any hardware engineer who’s faced a PSU challenge. And [Moem]’s Ubuntu Touch for the casual user is a reminder that the mobile OS is still alive and kicking.

Badges Amid a Chip Shortage

A little more than a prototyping board: the BornHack 2021 badge.
A little more than just a prototyping board: the BornHack 2021 badge.

As well as being a year still in the midst of a global pandemic, 2021 is also notable as the year of the semiconductor shortage. BornHack badge designer Thomas Flummer thus elected to produce a BornHack badge without components this year, but it’s far from simply a fancy prototyping board. Instead he’s produced a Shitty Add-On prototyping board, based upon the likelihood that most attendees would be likely to have either the 2019 or 2020 BornHack badges with them.

The design has both through-hole and SMD prototyping areas, with a centrally placed SAO connector footprint whose lines are brought out to prototyping pads. There were a variety of discrete components available at the badge hacking tent, with which some minimal blinkies and a few more impressive projects were created. We think he made the right call, because there was much potential for supply chain problems to interfere with the delivery of a more complex badge.

A Chance To Get Away From It All

The real value in a camp like BornHack, especially so during the pandemic, is the rare chance it offers to see friends again after so long in isolation. Hanging out together, going swimming in the Baltic, and taking a trip to Lego House, are all things denied for so long and which the vaccine means we can now do with a modicum of safety. Finally there’s the place itself, as I mentioned earlier Hylkedam lies in a dense forest, but that doesn’t adequately describe how peaceful and beautiful some parts of the site are. It’s easy to leave the camp behind and take off into the woods, and a slight concern about ticks notwithstanding, there are plenty of quiet corners in which to relax. Getting to this camp involves quite a trek, but the friendly welcome from the Danes and the attractiveness of the surroundings mean that it’s a fixture on my itinerary.

14 thoughts on “Reporting From BornHack 2021: Hacker Camps Making It Through The Pandemic

  1. “BornHack in Denmark was the world’s only in-person summer hacker event of 2020, and on its return last week made it the only such event in Europe for 2021.”

    That is not true. Sommerhack (https://sommerhack.dk/) was held in 2020, and this year’s event starts tomorrow.

    1. Glad to hear so many camps took place. Just out of interest, how big were they?

      Seriously though, we aren’t hearing about them, they aren’t getting out into the wider community. If you know the orga from these camps, *please* tell them to get in touch.

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