Hacker Camps Post-Pandemic, Electromagnetic Field 2022

After a four-year hiatus and a cancelled event, it was time earlier this month for British and European hackers to return to their field in Herefordshire. A special field, Eastnor Castle Deer Park, venue for the Electromagnetic Field 2022 hacker camp. I packed up an oversized rucksack and my folding bike, and set off to enjoy a few days in the company of my fellow geeks.

As the first of the large European hacker camps since 2019 there was both an excitement and a slight trepidation in finally hanging out with several thousand people, even if mostly outdoors. The UK has a good COVID vaccine uptake and the camp organisers requested that attendees test themselves before travelling to Eastnor, but after two years of precautions and the pandemic still being with us there’s still some risk to take into account. Happily they were able to strike a decent balance between precautions and event progress, and we were able to proceed with a fairly normal hacker camp.

Plenty Of Talks, But They’re Not Online Yet

Sadly the extensive programme of talks has yet to make it onto YouTube or media.ccc.de at the time of writing, so the section I’d normally devote to them may have to wait for another time. Thus this write-up is more about the social aspect than the action.

Eastnor Castle Deer Park lies in a secluded Herefordshire valley, and the entry is vla a small estate road that treats you to an unfolding vista as you approach, of the marquees and other structures nestled among the trees. The usual queue for a wristband and you’re in, with the minor inconvenience of a trek trough the site to wherever your village lies. This year I was with my hackerspace in the Milton Keynes Makerspace village, next to one of the estate roads at the side of the valley and clustered round a tent with the commendable purpose of distributing free cups of very high quality tea. My tent up, I was ready to tour the site, and renew some friendships after so long apart.

Noisy Ducks, Electronic Junk, And Tonic Wine

The site is quite a long one running north-south and has a gentle east-to-west downhill slope. Most of the public structures were arranged along the bottom of the slope along its length, with the various camping zones and villages spread out along the slope and to the far end. Back in 2018, the quiet camping had been alongside a set of picturesque ponds which turned out to be inhabited by particularly noisy ducks — this year the quiet campers would be moved, and the noisiest part of the camp would take their place.

The EMF hardware swap
The EMF hardware swap, all the good stuff to pick over!

The weekend fell prey to some of the more annoying British weather, thus with a few bright spots it was mostly damp. If you heard the Hackaday Podcast interviews I made on the field you’ll have gained a flavour of the event as I ran around with my laptop and microphone.

The effect of the pandemic was visible in a slightly more subdued air around the villages, it appeared that the action was less spread around the field than it had been in previous years.  I visited the copper telephone network, the radio amateurs, and the Hacky Racers, but the vibe in the villages was definitely more social than technical. I shared an early-morning coffee with South London Makerspace as they continued their tradition of providing free breakfast, learned the difference between the Scottish and Irish versions of Buckfast tonic wine with the Scottish Consulate, and hung out with my friends from across the UK hackerspace scene. There was no spam from Fizzpop! in Birmingham this year, but their fire pit made for a great place to warm up on a damp night in early June.

A particular highlight for me was a hardware swap table, nestled under a gazebo in the centre of the camp. The idea was simple, bring your surplus hardware and leave it there for others to pick over and take away. Take something away and leave a donation to the British Red Cross. The result was a compelling opportunity to root through a pile of awesome junk, and yes, to take some of it home with me. I acquired a pile of early Raspberry Pi boards, a Psion handheld computer, an original Beagleboard, a Sega Game Gear, and a few more choice items, and I wasn’t the only one to have such luck. I hope this makes a return at future camps.

More Polished Than Post-Apocalyptic

lasers over Null Sector
The laser show kicked ass, but Null Sector seemed too polished for me.

If you read our 2018 report you’d have seen me waxing lyrical about Null Sector, a post-apocalyptic night-spot-meets-tech-bazaar-on-the-outer-planets made from a load of freight containers and a lot imaginative prop making that was probably one of the coolest places on earth. Null Sector returned in 2022 with a larger more ambitious space, in which gone was the post-apocalyptic dank, and in came an almost clinical industrial laboratory look. There was plenty of old industrial switchgear on the walls and clever use of those flat-screen monochrome CRTs that have been all over AliExpress for a while, alongside a selection of appropriately avant-garde immersive artworks and games. It was beautifully done and made probably one of the most polished of pop-up nightclubs ever to grace a festival field, but for me the polish went some way to obliterate what made it so cool the first time around. Sadly I was no longer a cyborg holo-scribe from Hack-a-stardate stuck on a partially terraformed asteroid waiting for the next space tug to take me off-world, instead I was a middle-aged geek standing in a flash nightclub in a field. At least it seemed to be spot on for EMF’s party animals though, which is I guess the whole point.

Where Do Hacker Camps Go Next?

So that was EMF, more subdued than previous ones but a well-deserved respite in a Herefordshire field after a few years away. Not the same as previous EMFs — was it the pandemic or was I witnessing a move away from the more raw edge of the past? It was left to a friend to deliver a verdict that I think sums it up best: they made the observation that it seemed as though there were more people there to be attendees than participants. At various times the event has been described in the press as the UK’s version of Burning Man, and while I don’t think that is the case I do think that hacker camps can all find themselves at a crossroads. Do they want to be a gathering of hackers, or a spectacle?

21 thoughts on “Hacker Camps Post-Pandemic, Electromagnetic Field 2022

  1. Can you point to which governmental or medical organization has stated that the pandemic is over? Cuz it’s not over, and it’s irresponsible at best to, as a media outlet, claim the pandemic is over. Words matter

    1. That is entirely down to how you define it – could easily argue the Spanish Influenza pandemic of centuries past now is still going – as that same virus’ descendants do still go round every year, and if you tested folks in hospital for it you’d get several thousand cases most likely, but they are largely not in hospital for it.

      Covid is at least in the UK where vaccine have been available for ages and the population has mostly taken it up is similarly dead as a pandemic – the virus and its kids are never going away entirely but the impact they can have at this stage is very much in the standard cold and flu type impact range – can’t stay scared and try to live in the isolated bubbles forever.

      (Also COVID while far from nice to get even before vaccines was rather over hyped as killing machine – absolutely understandable as to why it was, you don’t get everyone to make an effort if they are told for you (a healthy younger person) the odds of any harm coming to you are similar to winning the lottery. But for the folks more at risk and the health services having to deal with the spike of cases lowering the spread mattered!)

      1. 407 deaths in the last 7 day period reported (ending June 26) in England, which is a 22% increase over the prior week (and that’s just those who died within 28 days of a positive covid test, disregarding all whose covid went untested as well as those who survived longer than the 28 days). I know we’d all like the pandemic to be over, but you yourself admitted that for those who aren’t healthy and young, it’s still a real risk of major harm or death.

        1. That is however as you point out just those that died with a positive test vaguely recently – guess what its a virus that is going around and we are still checking for it actively, those same folks were likely dying of many other things and exposed to a great number of tiny (and irrelevant to healthy folk) viral and bacterial loads – they would likely test positive for just about every vaguely common virus!!! Their system is already compromised, and despite the best efforts everyone trying to help them, the air their breath, the food they eat will always have a little of something nasty in it, and their body being so compromised/stressed that tiny tiny viral load that wouldn’t harm 99.9% of the population will get them well enough to at least test positive, even if its got nothing to do with what killed them…

          You can’t eliminate them all perfectly even in a real clean room, and those are too impossible to actually be workable for general healthcare anyway – for those that are not young and/or healthy living has a higher risk of harm and death at all times from all things than those that are, it is simply the way life works…

          If you look at excess death stats, the fairest measure of what is going on as its such a large sample size with minimal biases and even in the heart of the pandemic you are not seeing a really huge uptick and now its very much normal. Not saying there wasn’t one, or its insignificant, or it wasn’t worth taking COVID seriously, as there is no dening its nasty enough and the knock on effects of more hospitalizations etc would be and still are worse still.

          But by now in any nation that has good uptake of the vaccine its well past time to stop being so damn paranoid about this one virus – the folks that are at serious risk have to be careful of way more than this one thing, and will be that way for how ever long their condition lasts and everyone else is going to get a snuffle they won’t be able to tell without tests from other illness…

          (Worth pointing out I do have ongoing health issues, so despite being younger I’m more at risk than most – not to a massive extent the way some folks with other conditions can be, but still meaningful)

          1. Oh or of course the other extreme that still somehow counts in these stupid stats is they died of misadventure in some other more rapid way, and just happened to have enough virus in them to test positive, doesn’t mean they even felt under the weather…

      2. Also, “Deaths involving COVID-19 increased in groups aged 55 years and over and decreased in those aged 45 to 54 years. Deaths remained similar in groups aged under 45 years. The number of deaths involving COVID-19 increased in five out of nine English regions.”

        Source: Office for National Statistics, National Records of Scotland, and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency


        1. I know were veering way off subject, but I really cant understand why we’re still calling it COVID 19 ? Surely it’s proper name must be more like COVID 19.12.83.V. 91.3 … or something like that by now? It’s like calling Ubuntu 20.04 ‘Linux’. Very annoying.

    2. Did you by any chance read the article?

      “but after two years of precautions and the pandemic still being with us”

      Doesn’t look as though I’m saying it’s over. Because it isn’t.

      1. I would imagine that the reaction is to the use of “POST-PANDEMIC” in the title.

        (I don’t object. I’m in the camp that is choosing to proceed with daily life as if we are “post-pandemic”. Got Covid in late 2020 while all were social distancing and wearing masks. It was unpleasant but, thankfully, quite survivable. Still have readily detectable anti-bodies per university study 4 months ago, corroborated by tests performed by “blood bank” 8 weeks ago. So I tend to believe that I’ve been exposed, probably multiple times since recovery and my immune system is working as designed…so far. YMMV.)

          1. Except you would have had no contact with them had they not also chosen to start living life again, so its on them as much as you.

            And unless they are seriously ill and having to avoid ANY illness (in which case they wouldn’t be interacting with you) or a moron* who thinks Vaccine are evil/more dangerous they are not going to know they caught covid this time round over any other sniffle without testing – your immune system reacts in very much the same way to all the common flu virus if its got any antibodies, and that is assuming they even get to the stage of feeling sick at all!!!!

          2. Anti-bodies are the fast actors. If they do their job, the invading, familiar-enough virus is taken out before it gets a chance to substantially replicate. An immune system that is challenged to action against a particular invader can mount a strong and early enough defense to greatly reduce the likelihood that the host will be able to spread the virus.

            Such is life in the real world. I’m taking a risk exposing my body to the unwashed masses and vaccinated spreaders. I’m fully aware of that. But, I have no reasonable expectation that I am spreading the virus.

            I test weekly for Covid-19, Influenza-A and Influenza-B. I know with the certainty that is available that I have not become re-infected with covid or contracted flu in the 9 months since that testing began. I also took a rapid test at home when I felt a bit sluggish and people near me were testing postive for covid. I have chosen to attend large conferences, even though unvaccinated. Sure, it cost me money for daily testing, but I neither contracted nor spread covid at such events and because of “the rules” (predicated on natural immunity claimed inferior to vaccine induced immunity) I have evidence to support that assertion.

            I have been vaccinated against many things: vaccines that I needed because I didn’t yet have immunity. I am not and never will be an anti-vaxxer. I am a supporter of true science and evidence based medicine.

            Ascribe, if you choose, the worst possible motivations for my actions or convince yourself that my attitudes can only be carried by an ignorant, science-denying, inbred hillbilly, but the best evidence I have available indicates that I’ve made a reasonable and fair choice.

            Having said all of that, be assured that I am still not as certain as I perceive you to be.

    3. stop making life choices based on fear. and definitely stop trying to attack people for living the life they have. im aure we would all be perfectly “safe” laying in a hermetically sealed coffin and doing nothing but being pumped in propaganda through the built in screen, but what kind of life is that?
      i’d rather die living life than succumb to fear mongering any day of the week.
      btw, if you were actually worried about people dying, you would be harping on about fentanyl and the massive amount of lives it has taken, Tom Petty and Prince included. There is literally only a maximum of 1 or 2 degrees of separation regarding people who have died of an accidental overdose due to the plethora of drugs laced with it. more deaths than covid any day of the week. so please stop spouting what the propaganda tells you to regurgitate and use your brain.

      please, if you want to live in fear, keep it to yourself, or sack up and face life head on.

  2. It was a great event. I used EMF camp as an excuse to visit my lockpicking friends in the UK. The first few days were nice weather, this sadly wouldn’t last for the whole event. At the high points we had 20 to 30 people in the lockpicking village and we taught north of 50. Many lessons learned and I’ll take the improvements to MCH in form of Copy Paste Improve.

    My biggest lesson is not to rush the trip home after the event. Switching from left driving to right driving, at night, is far from ideal. Furthermore, always have the Event program at hand so you can more easily share the reason of stay if customs asks. They didn’t get my story on EMF, camping conferences, hackers, and technology. But it got sorted in the end.

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