A Treasure Trove In An English Field

This is being written in a tent in a field in Herefordshire, one of the English counties that borders Wales. It’s the site of Electromagnetic Field, this year’s large European hacker camp, and outside my tent the sky is lit by a laser light show to the sound of electronic music. I’m home.

One of the many fun parts of EMF is its swap table. A gazebo to which you can bring your junk, and from which you can take away other people’s junk. It’s an irresistible destination which turns a casual walk into half an hour pawing through the mess in search of treasure, and along the way it provides an interesting insight into technological progress. What is considered junk in 2024?

Something for everyone

As always, the items on offer range from universal treasures of the I-can’t-believe-they-put that-there variety, through this-is-treasure-to-someone-I’m-sure items, to absolute junk. Some things pass around the camp like legends; I wasn’t there when someone dropped off a box of LED panels for example, but I’ve heard the story relayed in hushed tones several times since, and even seen some of the precious haul. A friend snagged a still-current AMD processor and some Noctua server fans as another example, and I’m told that amazingly someone deposited a Playstation 5. But these are the exceptions, in most cases the junk is either very specific to something, or much more mundane. I saw someone snag an audio effects unit that may or may not work, and there are PC expansion cards and outdated memory modules aplenty.

Finally, there is the absolute junk, which some might even call e-waste but I’ll be a little more charitable about. Mains cables, VGA cables, and outdated computer books. Need to learn about some 1990s web technology? We’ve got you covered.

Perhaps most fascinating is what the junk tells us about the march of technology. There are bins full of VoIP telephones, symptomatic of the move to mobile devices even in the office. As an aside I saw a hackerspace member in his twenties using a phone hooked up to the camp’s copper phone network walk away with the handset clamped to his ear and yank the device off the table; it’s obvious that wired handsets are a thing of the past when adults no longer know how to use them. And someone dropped off an entire digital video distribution system probably from a hotel or similar, a huge box of satellite TV receivers and some very specialised rack modules with 2008 date codes on the chips. We don’t watch linear TV any more, hotel customers want streaming.

Amid all this treasure, what did I walk away with? As I have grown older I have restricted my urge to acquire, so I’m very wary at these places. Even so, there were a few things that caught my eye, a pair of Sennheiser headphones with a damaged cord, a small set of computer speakers — mainly because we don’t have anything in our village on which to play music — and because I couldn’t quite resist it, a microcassette recorder. As each new box arrives the hardware hackers swarm over it like flies though, so who knows what treasures I’ll be tempted by over the rest of the camp.

12 thoughts on “A Treasure Trove In An English Field

  1. I think I need to attend next year just to move on some of the vast amounts of cra… err *treasure* from my inventing shed that I can’t bring myself to throw away.

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