It’s tempting despite news of stubbornly higher-than-ideal COVID infection figures, to imagine that just maybe the world might be returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic normality. Where this is being written we’re a largely vaccinated population long out of lockdown, and though perhaps some of the pandemic pronouncements of our politicians are a bit suspect we’re cautiously able to enjoy most of life’s essentials. Visiting the supermarket and having a beer might be one thing, but the effect of the pandemic is still being felt in our community’s gatherings. BornHack went ahead this summer, but the headline MCH hacker camp was put off until 2022 and the upcoming CCC Congress in Germany is once more to be a virtual event.
But some events manage to put together the right mix of precaution and size. Such was the case with ETH0, a hacker camp which I was happy to attend last weekend.
Can A COVID-Safe Hacker Camp Go Indoors?
Into this uncertain world of real-world hacker events stepped the Dutch organisation ETH0 with their autumn weekend camp in an indoor camping barn in a village near the German border on the eastern side of the country. It may not be the largest of events but it’s still a challenging move to host a gathering in late 2021, so how did they manage? I made the trip to this pleasant part of Europe aflame with the turning leaves of a mild late autumn, to find out
We had been warned to expect an event at which pandemic precautions had been taken seriously, and this was immediately evident on arrival as all attendees had to produce a European QR code proof of vaccine and take a lateral-flow COVID test before being allowed entry. Once inside the precautions continued, this was a masks-on event at which the doors and windows were left open to assure ventilation, so we were in for a weekend wrapped up against the chill of the evening. To make extra-certain we repeated the test on day two, a precaution which fortunately revealed no infected attendees. It was in this respect an event like no other, however it’s understood that not all attendees were in robust enough health to risk exposure so when considered in terms of protecting them it made sense.
Retrocomputers, Pixelflood, and Socialising
In what has been an unusual year by any measure, this event had something in common with BornHack 2021 before it. The atmosphere was less of feverish hacking and signature projects, and more of a rare chance to escape our bubbles, meet friends, and socialise in an atmosphere of Club-Mate, camaraderie, and playing with tech. Standing around a roaring bonfire in the dark eating toasted sandwiches and drinking Grolsch beer with one’s friends is just what’s needed when the world around you has more stress than it should.
There seemed to be a strong showing among the retrocomputer enthusiasts, with unexpectedly an emphasis on PC hardware from the 386 to Pentium era. Trying to surf 2021’s web on a Pentium luggable running Windows 95 was much more fun than it sounds for example, a reminder of how much what would have been an object of extreme desire in the mid-90s has aged. As it turns out, it’s surprisingly difficult to find any remotely recent browser that supports that OS, so for future reference Web Rendering Proxy is your friend.
As might be expected there was a pixelflood server running, and a lively group settled down to do battle over display real-estate. The sight of an elderly PowerBook G4 holding its own against the big guns keeping a PowerPC logo on the screen was something to behold, but as is so often the case there was plenty to learn about extracting the most performance from a given piece of network code by talking to the participants. The event had attracted a good cross-section of visitors from several European countries who brought plenty of distractions, and unusually for a hacker camp it hadn’t assembled a programme of talks. Given the small size of the event this was less of an omission than it might have at first seemed, so for once we’re not bringing you a list of highlights.
So at the end of a relaxed weekend we parted company, and I set off on my journey home as an itinerant scribe. Another hacker event had beaten the pandemic, and I consider myself lucky to have made it. My thanks to the ETH0 orga and my fellow attendees, and let’s hope as 2022 rolls around the world regains some of its pre-pandemic form.