Something To Look Forward To: MCH2021 Call For Participation

As we stare dejectedly at our screens and consider what might have been during the 2020 summer that didn’t quite happen, here’s a little something to look forward to in a future where the COVID-19 pandemic will with any luck be much less of a threat. We have have had precious little in the way of events in 2020, but the call for participation has been announced for one of the largest planned for 2021. MCH2021 will be big European summer camp of next year, and is scheduled for the 6th to the 10th of August at Scoutinglandgoed Zeewolde in the Netherlands province of Flevoland. It will be the latest in a long line of such events going back to 1989, and with such a track record we know it’s going to be a good one.

We know that among our community are many people who’ll be interested in going to MCH, and that each and every one of you will have some fascinating insights that others would love to hear about. The challenge of the MCH orga is to bestow upon you the courage to stand up in front of your peers and talk about it, and from our experience here at Hackaday we’d say that an event such as this one makes for a very good place to give speaking a try. As always they’re interested in all the cool stuff that comes from our diverse community, but to help you along they’ve suggested a theme. Recent events have it’s fair to say presented a challenge to the world, and in that light they state that “we are especially looking for content that is about our ability to recover from extreme events of whatever nature”. We look forward to seeing you there.

Running A Successful Hacker Camp In A Pandemic: BornHack 2020

You could say 2020 is The Year That Didn’t Happen, or perhaps even The Year That Everything Happened Online. All the international cons and camps have been cancelled, and we’ve spent our time instead seeing our friends in Jitsi, or Zoom.

But there was one camp that wasn’t cancelled. The yearly Danish hacker camp BornHack has gone ahead this year with significantly reduced numbers and amid social distancing, turning it from what is normally one of the smaller and more intimate events into the only real-world event of 2020.

I bought my ticket early in the year and long before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, so on a sunny day in August I found myself in my car with my friend Dani from FizzPop hackerspace in Birmingham taking the ferry for the long drive through the Netherlands and Germany to Denmark.

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Playing The Pixelflut

Every hacker gathering needs as many pixels as its hackers can get their hands on. Get a group together and you’ll be blinded by the amount of light on display. (We propose “a blinkenlights” as the taxonomic name for such a group.) At a large gathering, what better way to show of your elite hacking ability than a “competition” over who can paint an LED canvas the best? Enter Pixelflut, the multiplayer drawing canvas.

Pixelflut has been around since at least 2012, but it came to this author’s attention after editor [Jenny List] noted it in her review of SHA 2017. What was that beguiling display behind the central bar? It turns out it was a display driven by a server running Pixelflut. A Pixelflut server exposes a display which can be drawn on by sending commands over the network in an extremely simple protocol. There are just four ASCII commands supported by every server — essentially get pixel, set pixel, screen size, and help — so implementing either a client or server is a snap, and that’s sort of the point.

While the original implementations appear to be written by [defnull] at the link at the top, in some sense Pixelflut is more of a common protocol than an implementation. In a sense, one “plays” one of a variety of Pixelflut minigames. When there is a display in a shared space the game is who can control the most area by drawing the fastest, either by being clever or by consuming as much bandwidth as possible.

Then there is the game of who can write the fastest more battle-hardened server possible in order to handle all that traffic without collapsing. To give a sense of scale, one installation at 36c3 reported that a truly gargantuan 0.5 petabytes of data were spent at a peak of rate of more than 30 gigabits/second, just painting pixels! That’s bound to bog down all but the most lithe server implementation. (“Flut” is “flood” in German.)

While hacker camps may be on pause for the foreseeable future, writing a performant Pixelflut client or server seems like an excellent way to sharpen one’s skills while we wait for their return. For a video example check out the embed after the break. Have a favorite implementation? Tell us about it in the comments!

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From Hacker Hotel 2020: Badges, Sharks, Tentacles, Old-School Hacking, And Much More

The North Sea in a winter storm is a spectacular sight, one of foam-crested waves and squalls driven on the gale. It’s not a place to spend a lot of time if you are a land-lubber, so to cross it twice in a few weeks must mean there is something very much worth seeing on its other side.

More of that exotic cruise ship lifestyle.
More of that exotic cruise ship lifestyle.

But one of the best antidotes to February weather in the European hacker community was Hacker Hotel 2020. Around 350 people came from all the countries of the northwest of the continent to the comfort and hospitality of the Westcord Hotel de Veluwe in the eastern Netherlands, to experience a hacker camp with all the convenience and luxury of a resort hotel rather than a muddy field.

Three days in this environment results in a camp that’s just a bit special, and one that’s very much worth a visit if your range extends this far.

An Upscale Hotel Gets The Hacker Treatment

The Hacker Hotel badge 2020 has many hidden depths
The Hacker Hotel badge 2020 has many hidden depths

Our small party of Brits arrived a day early, on a damp Thursday morning ready to lend a hand with the set-up. Slowly an upscale business conference centre was transformed into a hacker camp venue, with conference rooms turned into lecture halls, lighting and video equipment in place and 3-phase power cables snaking along the skirting boards. A large hardware hacking area was set up in one wing of the building, then the EventInfra people came in and laid out a hacker-camp-grade wireless and wired network that delivered connectivity everywhere. The contrast between the two worlds is significant, but together they make for a unique experience.

One by one, hackers arrived from all points of the compass, bearing crates of the usual cool stuff. An amateur TV satellite earth station, a brace of oversized delta 3D printers, a coin-pushing game that’s familiar from other camps. And smaller projects; little roving robots, indoor-sized multirotors, and several crates of outdated Chinese photo-frames that it’s said can be hacked to run a Linux distro.

This is the lifeblood of a hacker camp, but of course the signature piece of hardware for any hacker camp is its badge. In this Hacker Hotel 2020 didn’t disappoint, with a beautifully designed Ancient Egyptian-themed badge that concealed an array of puzzles across multiple levels. We’ll cover the badge in detail in a separate piece, but suffice to say that it is something of a tour de force. For now let’s jump into all of people and activities on offer at the con.

Continue reading “From Hacker Hotel 2020: Badges, Sharks, Tentacles, Old-School Hacking, And Much More”

Eth0 Autumn 2019: Tiny Camp, Creative Badge

The Dutch organisation eth0 has run a series of informal small camps over the years, never with an attendance too far into three figures, and without pre-planned events or entertainment. What happens is at the instigation of the attendees, and the result is a weekend of much closer socialising and working together on projects than the large camps where you spend your time running around to catch everything.

The largest of hacker camps offer all the lights, robots, tschunk, and techno music you can stomach; they can be a blast but also overwhelming. I made my way eth0 over the past week weekend, enjoying the more intimate size and coming away having made friendships from spending time with great people at a large private camping hostel near Lichtenvoorde. This is in the far east of the country near the German border, to which in the company of a British hardware hacker friend I traveled in the tiny European hatchback. Netherlands roads are so easy to navigate!

A prototype tensegrity structure. Image: Igor Nikolic.
A prototype tensegrity structure. Image: Igor Nikolic.

At the event was the usual array of activities, though since it was a restricted photography affair I’m short on wider shots that would include people. This year’s hit came from surplus flipdot displays from retired German buses, with plenty of glitches as their quirks were figured out by our friends Nilkas Fauth and Jan Henrik. Something tells me I’ll be seeing a lot of those fluorescent circles in the future.

I’d brought along the nucleus of a textile village, and RevSpace in the Hague had added their embroidery machine to my overlocker and sewing machines. Its operator was Boekenwuurm from Hackalot in Eindhoven who was kind enough to embroider a Wrencher for me, and now I want one of these 600-Euro machines even if I can’t afford one. She and RevSpace’s Igor Nikolic were experimenting with inflatables and tensegrity structures, creating prototypes with an eye to more impressive installations at future camps.

An entertaining tale of a couple of days hanging out with friends in the Netherlands countryside could probably be spun into a reasonable tale, but there was something more interesting still at this camp. It had a badge, courtesy of the prolific badge.team Dutch badge crew. It didn’t come with their trademark ESP32 firmware though, instead in keeping with the budget of the event it was a prototyping board on which attendees could create their own badges. What came forth from that was extremely impressive, and continued after the event.

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Name A Hacker Camp

Many of us look forward to visiting a summer hacker camp, as an opportunity to immerse ourselves in some of the coolest and most stimulating stuff that comes out of our community. The names trip off the tongue, ToorCamp, CCCamp, EMFcamp, BornHack, and more.

There’s one major event that doesn’t trip off the tongue in the same way though, because though it’s one of the oldest in our calendar it doesn’t have the same name every time. Since the end of the 1980s the Netherlands has seen a sequence of  hacker camps with three letter names such as HAR, OHM, and SHA. Every four years these events delight and amaze us, and every four years they need a new name. Do you think you can help them pick one for 2021?

There are a few ground rules to observe, for the would-be coiner of a new moniker. The tradition is of a three-letter acronym, usually one with a meaning somewhere in technology, and so far always containing the letter H somewhere to stand for “Hack” in some form. The idea is that it should somehow encapsulate the spirit of hacker camp culture rather than simply be three words containing “Hack”. HAR for example was Hacking At Random, OHM was Observe Hack Make, and SHA was Still Hacking Anyway. So if you can dream up a TLA within those parameters, there is a group of hackers in the Netherlands who might like to hear from you. We suspect that HAD is already taken.

If you want to know more about the Netherlands camps, read our review of SHA, in 2017.

Header image: [Renze]. “Met Elkaar Hacken” means something close to “Hack together”.

BornHack 2019, A Laid-Back Hacker Camp In A Danish Forest

This is a fantastic summer for hacker camps and I was very happy to make it to BornHack this year. This week-long camp attracts hackers from all over Europe and the mix of a few hundred friends and soon-to-be friends who gathered on the Danish island of Fyn delivered a unique experience for the curious traveller.

The camp takes place at the Hylkedam Danish scout camp, located in a forest amid the rolling Danish famland not too far from the small town of Gelsted. It’s a few kilometres from a motorway junction, but easy enough to find after the long haul up from the UK via the Channel Tunnel. As an aside, every bored cop between France and the Danish border wanted to stop my 20-year-old right-hand-drive Volkswagen on UK plates, but soon lost interest after walking up to the passenger side and finding no driver. It seems Brits are considered harmless, which is good to hear. Continue reading “BornHack 2019, A Laid-Back Hacker Camp In A Danish Forest”