After three years, it’s odd to think back to those few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic morphed from something on the news into an immediate and ever-present threat which kept us isolating for so long. For me, some of the last moments of normality were a trip to the Netherlands for Hacker Hotel, a hacker event in the comfort of a resort hotel. Now three years later and after two cancelled events, Hacker Hotel is back, and I made the same journey to Garderen to hang out for a weekend with a bunch of hacker friends over some good Dutch beer and a lot of bitterballen.
Hackers Take A Bit Of Getting Used To
The event takes place in the Westcord Hotel de Veluwe, somewhere more accustomed to hosting business retreats and well-heeled tourists than several hundred hackers. In past years this has manifested itself as some unease from the hotel management at some of our hijinks. After all who outside our community would understand reading as many RFID room keys as possible to reverse engineer them, or picking the lock on the Club-Mate fridge after hours and leaving it locked with all the cash for the drinks ready for the barman to find?
It seems now they’re accustomed to our ways, and welcome us as a group who book the entire place and leave it spotless afterwards. The hotel has become one of my happy places, a welcome retreat in the dead of winter, and I was extremely glad to be back again.
The nature of an event in a hotel means that its focus coalesces around three main areas rather than a large number of villages. These are the bar, the hardware hacking area, and the talks. I freely admit that i always prefer to catch event talks online and the security-heavy talks which seem to be a feature of this event are less my cup of tea, so my time was mostly spent hanging out with my fellow hardware hackers.
There were the usual lines of tables with people’s projects, as well as a full surface mount assembly station with pick-and-place machine and IR oven. I never quite found out what it was there to assemble, but kudos for bringing it along. Highlights for me were lighting, the many [Brainsmoke] LED sculptures, an addressable flappy display, a teleprinter, Yvo de Hass’s robotised Robo Rally game which I hope to cover properly some time in the future, and [Boekenwurm]’s knitted LED strings into 3D shapes.
Plenty Of Talks To Take Your Fancy
At the time of writing not all the talks are online, and of those, a third are in Dutch. All is not lost however, because among those accessible to Anglophones are sure to be one or two you’d want to watch. I picked out Niko Dekens with OSINT Past Present Future, a very accessible look at how an OSINT professional does their job, and IJskimo with Nothing but the truth, or How to Lie Better and get Lied To Less. This event has less in the way of hardware and a heavier emphasis on infosec and allied fields, probably another reason I spent most of my time hanging out in the hacking area.
Finally to the bar, where there were those Dutch beers and bar snacks. The best conversations happen in the pub, and this one is like the comfiest of British watering holes. Hang out with your friends and tell tall tales just like at home, but here there’s enough computing power for a small space programme on the table. In the evening, we had probably the best pub quiz on the other side of the English channel, at which when an op-amp circuits round came up my friends discovered the value of having an engineer from the analogue age at the table. Nice to know I still got it!
At the end, the sad moment of packing up and hitting the rails back home came, as it must. The Veluwe in winter has been as enticing as ever, and I’m sorry to leave. Hacker Hotel has done what it always does though, which is provide a welcome recharge in the middle of winter, and the chance to look forward to the summer. It’s been a long time, and it’s good to be back.