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 And smaller projects; little roving robots, indoor-sized multirotors, and several crates of outdated Chinese photo-frames that it’s said can be hacked to run a Linux distro.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”

BornHack Tease Us With Their Badge

Every August for the past four years, there has been a summer hacker camp on the Danish island of Bornholm, that may be a relatively new kid on the block but is slowly evolving into one of the summer’s essential stop-offs. This year for the first time they are moving to a larger site in an easier-to-reach part of the country, and in the usual build-up to the event they have released a teaser image of their badge.

Of course, you will want to know a little more about it than the picture can convey, so the BornHack folks were kind enough to give us a few more details. At its heart is a Silicon Labs Happy Gecko EFM32HG322F64G microcontroller, the same 25 MHz ultra-low-power ARM Cortex M0+ part that has featured in the previous BornHack offerings. Power comes from a pair of AA cells, and it sports a 240 x 240 pixel colour IPS display and an SD card holder. Connectivity is via USB and an infra-red interface for badge-to-badge communication, and human interface is via a mini joystick switch. Finally, it has a six-way v1.69bis Shitty Addon connector.

By some standards this is a relatively modest offering, but by using an evolution of their hardware from previous years as well as the same proven Geckoboot bootloader they are far more likely to deliver a satisfactory user experience than had they opted for a more ambitious design. We’ll be attending the camp, so we’ll report on the finished article once we have it.

BornHack will run from the 8th to the 15th of August, on the Danish island of Funen. There are a range of tickets still available, from single day visits to the whole week for 1200 DKK (about €160, or $181). Compared to some other events on our community’s calendar, we think that represents a bargain.

The Smallest Hacker Camps Are The Most Satisfying, And You Can Do One Too

Two of my friends and I crammed into a small and aged European hatchback, drove all day along hundreds of miles of motorway, and finally through a succession of ever smaller roads. We were heading for a set of GPS co-ordinates in the north of Scotland, along with all of our camping gear.

There’s nothing like the hacker camp we’re looking for. After heading down a lane barely wider than the car, we drove through a farmyard with a sheepdog lying in the middle of the road (the reclining mutt seemed unconcerned as we edge the car around). We had arrived at GampGND, one of Europe’s smallest hacker camps.

Continue reading “The Smallest Hacker Camps Are The Most Satisfying, And You Can Do One Too”

Mid-Winter Hacker Camp In Civilised Surroundings

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!

What follows is my experience from this weekend. Join me below and find out why you simply can’t miss the next one! Continue reading “Mid-Winter Hacker Camp In Civilised Surroundings”