Imagine a weekend of opulence in which you meet your companion at the railway station and whisk away across the continent in a 190mph express train for a relaxing couple of days enjoying the ambience of a luxury resort hotel in the fresh surroundings of a woodland in midwinter. Break out the Martinis, it’s a scene of elegance and sophistication from a byegone era! This is the general idea of Hacker Hotel 2019, and I had a wonderful time!
On a recent February weekend I broke out the Club-Mate instead stea of a Martini. My companion for the Eurostar and Thalys trip was my local hackspace friend Matt “Gasman” Westcott with his keytar in a bulky suitcase for a chiptune gig, and we were heading for the Netherlands. It’s a pivot from the summer’s hacker camps as over 200 hackers fill a resort hotel for the weekend, scoring comfortable beds instead of dust or mud!
There is joy in the hearts of British and European hardware and software hackers and makers, for this is an EMF Camp year. Every couple of years, our community comes together for three summer days in a field somewhere, and thanks to a huge amount of work from its organizers and a ton of volunteers, enjoys an entertaining, stimulating, and engrossing hacker camp.
One of the features of a really good hacker camp are the electric vehicles. Not full-on electric cars, but personal camp transport. Because only the technically inept walk, right? From Hitchin’s Big Hak to TOG’s duck, with an assortment of motorized armchairs and beer crates thrown in, these allow the full creativity of the hardware community free rein through the medium of overdriven motors and cheap Chinese motor controllers.
This year at EMF Camp there will be an added dimension that should bring out a new wave of vehicles, there will be a Hacky Racers event. Novelty electric vehicles will compete for on-track glory, will parade around the camp, and will no doubt also sometimes release magic smoke. There is still plenty of time to enter, so if you’re going to EMF, get building!
We have an interest in these little electric vehicles, not least because there may well be a Hackaday-branded machine on the tarmac. We’d like to feature some of them over the weeks running up to the event, so if you are building one and have a write-up handy, please tell us about it in the comments. Charge your batteries, and we’ll see you there!
There are a series of stages to coming down from a festival. After the hectic rush of travel there are the several days of catching up on lost sleep and picking up the threads of your life again, then once a semblance of order has been regained there’s that few weeks of emptiness. Your life will never be the same again, it’s all so mundane.
It’s now a couple of weeks since the SHACamp 2017 hacker festival in the Netherlands was in full swing, and the write-up below has slowly taken shape over that time amid the other work of being a Hackaday scribe and editor. It’s early morning here in Southern England as I write this, so on the equivalent day while I was at SHACamp at this time I would have been carrying a large pack of stickers for distribution on the swapping table through the rising sunlight of a camp still largely asleep after the previous night’s revelry. Past our German and Dutch immediate neighbours, down the ramp from the dyke, the cardboard tent depot on my left and the food court on my right, to the information tent. Greet the bleary-eyed volunteer at the end of their graveyard shift, and spread plenty of Hackaday and Tindie stickers on the table for the masses. And then? Find a coffee, and sally forth into the field for another day among one of the most stimulating communities on Earth. My community. Your community.
The sticker table is a good place to start if you wish to get a handle on a large hacker camp. On it you will find the logos of a cross-section of the diverse organisations and groups present. There are a few commercial ones like my Jolly Wrenchers and Tindie the puppy, there are some from voluntary organisations or interest groups, but mostly they are the logos of a continent’s — even the wider world’s in some cases — hackspaces and makerspaces. Here you see the breadth of the attendees, as the logos of spaces from thousands of miles away you’ve never encountered before mingle. This isn’t quite a global gathering, but there is a sense of global community around it.
How Do You Describe a Hacker Camp?
So before I take you through my experience of SHA, it’s best to start by describing a hacker camp in more general terms. When I’m describing a camp like SHA to the kind of people who don’t read Hackaday, I put it as similar to the music festivals they are used to but without the bands. Instead the audience provides the entertainment through the work they bring to the event or do at the event, and through a comprehensive program of talks and lectures. Oh — and this is the bit that makes their eyes open wide — every structure on site from the smallest one-man tent to the largest marquee has mains power and high-speed Internet. Sometimes people grasp what SHA is from this description, sometimes they don’t.
Different groups, be they individual hackspaces, people from a particular country, or other special interest groups, congregate in villages, collections of tents, marquees, and gazebos in which they set up whatever cool stuff they’ve brought along. My tent with its Hackaday flag was in a village composed of a mix of British hackspaces up on the dyke, which [Michael] from MK Makerspace had marked with a sign consisting of a huge BS1363A mains plug. More than one person pointed out it would have been better lying flat on the ground with pins in the air, ready to catch an unwary Monty Python foot.
If you’re a fan of outdoor hacker camps, or if you’re a SHACamp attendee who’s still coming down from the event high, you may already know about the upcoming BornHack 2017 hacker camp on the Danish island of Bornholm, from the 22nd to the 29th of this month. It’s a smaller camp than many of the others on the calendar, but it makes up for that with a quite reasonable ticket price, a much longer duration, and a location that is a destination in itself.
Today we have news of the BornHack badge announcement, and though the details are a little sketchy it’s safe to say that there should be plenty there to keep attendees occupied. The irregularly-shaped PCB contains a Silicon Labs “Happy Gecko” EFM32 ARM Cortex M0 microcontroller, a 128×64 pixel OLED display, and the usual array of I/O lines. There is no information about its connectivity as it seems the BornHack folks prefer to run a teaser campaign, but we’d be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of wireless module on the reverse.
Barring a transportation miracle it’s unlikely that any of the Hackaday team will be making it to BornHack, but that’s our loss. It may not be one of the larger camps, but it looks to offer no less of the atmosphere you’d expect from a European hacker camp. At the time of writing there are still BornHack tickets to be had, so head on over to their website if you fancy a week at a hacker camp on a Danish island.
The badge has become one of the defining features of a modern hacker camp, a wearable electronic device that serves as both event computer and platform for some mild software and hardware hacking. Some events have had astoundingly sophisticated badges while others are more simple affairs, and the phenomenon has even spawned an ecosystem of unofficial badges which have nothing to do with the event in question.
The SHACamp 2017 badge is the latest to come the way of a Hackaday writer, and certainly contains enough to be taken as representative of the state of hacker camp badges in 2017. It doesn’t have a star turn like CCCCamp 2015’s software defined radio, instead it’s an extremely handy little computer in its own right.
It’s always an exciting moment when an event schedule is released, and since events in our community don’t come much larger than this August’s SHA Camp in the Netherlands, you can imagine that the announcement of their schedule of lectures of talks is something of an event in itself. The event runs over five days, and you can browse the schedule itself to make your picks.
The SHA team have made their own picks, but with so many stages and speakers they are only a tiny selection. Running a Hackaday eye over the schedule, here are the ones that caught our eye.
If you are a regular at European hardware hacker camps, you may have encountered the chiptune extravaganza performances of [Gasman], otherwise known as [Matt Westcott]. Hie lecture, Zero to chiptune in one hour, will create, from scratch, a chiptune cover version of a pop song chosen by the audience, all on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
One of the final lectures of the event comes from [Niek Blankers], and will describe in detail the SHA2017 badge. How it was designed, and showcasing what some of the attendees will by then have managed to do with it.
Finally, if you want to see a Hackaday scribe talking about fun and games with little plastic bags of parts, you could do worse than seeking out From Project To Kit, all you will need to know about turning your personal electronic projects into a kit business.
Watch this space for more from SHA Camp as we get it. Meanwhile you can take a look at our coverage of the SHA2017 badge launch.
Just getting to Shenzhen is an adventure for a different post, but the Hackaday crew made it and spent our first full day in the city last Thursday.
Unlike Wednesday’s experience in Hong Kong, most people you run into do not speak English and the signs generally don’t have English words on them. This makes getting around hard in that it’s difficult to figure out where it is you’re going. It’s equally tough to convey the destination to a taxi driver or translate it into public transportation. I was able to get to the Software Industrial Base via taxi because I had saved the Chinese character address on my phone and showed it to the cab driver. But when the trip ended I had trouble figuring out how much to pay… the meter reads 10 Yuan but there is an additional charge of a few Yuan which I only realized in retrospect. But my driver was very nice about this and helped me with change and a smile.
Visiting Seeed Studio
Seeed Studio sign as you walk in
Shenzhen Industrial Software Base
Huge Makerfaire Banners
You might think finding the correct building would be simple. But the Shenzhen Industrial Software Base is a huge complex of similar buildings. A friendly security guard looked at my saved address and used the squares in the sidewalk as a map to non-verbally get me headed the right way. Seeed Studio, our hosts for SZMF, have a beautiful new office which is industrial-modern in its decor. There are glass-walled conference rooms but the majority of the space is open in design as it wraps around the exterior of half a floor in the six or seven story building.
Hitting the Markets
After doing some planning for the Hackaday workshop the next day, [Chris] from Seeed offered to take us to the electronics markets. How do you pass up that offer? We first stopped off at a Korean restaurant for lunch, then hopped a slightly-crowded cab to meet [Matt] and [Alek] who were already at the market.
Booth after booth
Rice Ice Cream (purple flavor… yum!)
Triangle LED modules form pyramid displays
The Huaqiangbei markets are multi-story buildings filled with booths. We first went into the wrong one, which turned out to be the used equipment building. Vendors specialize in refurbishing electronics. There were floors and floors of booths filled with equipment — often three tiers or more of laptop computers (open and running) wrapping each booth which were about the footprint of a king-sized bed.
Back on track we made it to a brand new building which was seemingly built already completely packed with booths. The place has everything, generally divided up by floor. The top two floors are mostly LEDs of every kind, or drivers for them. We were on the hunt for addressable LEDs, but there didn’t seem to be any legendary bargains available. This may have been an issue of volume because I later heard from a friend that he acquired 25-meters of 12V WS2812 strips for a song.
Next it was the hunt for the “baby phone”. This is an Android phone built to look like a miniature iPhone. They’re cute. The blocks, and blocks, and blocks of walking, backtracking, running into acquaintances who joined the hunt, and finally ascending shady stairs and dingy aisles did pay off. Ta-da, [Sophi’s] new phone!
We hopped the subway to get back from the markets. I love trying out public transportation in different cities and this didn’t disappoint. The stations are so clean, and after 85 degrees F and 80 percent humidity all day the air conditioning is heavenly.
You purchase a token which is a green plastic disc about the size of two american quarters stacked on top of one another. Very light weight and very tech-oriented. Each is an RFID (or some other non-contact) tag. Tap it on your way in, drop it in the slot on your way out. Midway during our return trip we realized we were changing the location for Hackaday’s Saturday Shenzhen Meetup. We got off the train, rode the other way, switched lines, and popped out in a beautiful part of Shenzhen. Everything in this city seems to be new and under construction. NYPD Pizza is in the middle of a very partially completed complex but has the hip, trendy, divebar-neveau that made for an awesome meetup. Check back on that yarn which deserves it’s own post.
A bit exhausted, we made it back to the hotel for a bit of dinner and relaxation. But who could pass up the opportunity to head to an outdoor BBQ party marking the end of Hacker Camp? This creation, started by Hackaday Alumni and Dangerous Prototypes founder [Ian Lesnet], invites engineers and hardware creators to come tour Shenzhen and pick up as much manufacturing knowledge as possible in between epic evenings of socializing.
Dripping wet BBQ Party
Again, figuring out where to go is really hard! We jumped on the subway and made it to the correct stop, but getting to the BBQ alley in what feels like a residential neighborhood required a aimless wandering, and bumping into two different people who had already been to the party.
Party in an Alley
Hot hot hot
Showing off hardware
Soldering station lets you program your own features
The atmosphere was sticky and blazing hot. Everyone was dripping with sweat and drinking a very large beverage. Check out this hi-res album for the proof. There were a few restaurants, an open-air bar, and a bodega with bombers of Tsingtao for under a buck (USD). To me it seemed to be a dead end street, but every few minutes a honking motorbike was waddled through the shoulder-to-shoulder crush of sweaty bodies. Hardened ex-pats and locals drank beer from glasses, but the foreign visitors seemed to stick with bottles.
This definitely registered as one of the most exciting days of my life. I love the adventure. The city feels safe and friendly — but travel (especially at night) adds a thrill.