What Goes Into A Hacker Camp

Long-time readers of Hackaday will know that we attend quite a few events, including summer hacker camps. Here in Europe this year there are two large events, the British Electromagnetic Field, and the Dutch MCH, or May Contain Hackers. These events are put together by volunteers from within the community, and as part of the MCH setup I noticed they needed drivers for their off-site logistics. I have a licence to drive medium-sized trucks in Europe so it seemed like a perfect fit. I traveled early on the first set-up day to the Dutch city of Utrecht, and found myself behind the wheel of a large Volkswagen box van. My brief career as a trucker had begun!

An Empty Field Of Dreams

A field with a few tents and a blue sky
The tents stand in isolation at the end of day one.

The Netherlands is a relatively small country and the MCH site at Zeewolde is roughly in its centre, so while the traffic could be heavy the distances weren’t large by American or even British standards. There were however a wide variety of loads waiting for me and my fellow driver, and a few obstacles such as the hottest days of the year and angry Dutch farmers blockading the roads. If you’re interested in the logistics behind a large hacker camp then our journeys provided an insight that maybe wandering around the field doesn’t quite deliver.

Arriving on site on the first day gives a perspective on how much of the infrastructure comes from specialist contractors and thus isn’t delivered by the hackers. Articulated trucks from the marquee company were disgorging the main tents, with their crews expertly assembling them in record time. The toilets and showers were arriving as self-contained hook lift container units, and yet more contractors were delivering fencing or tables and chairs. I can add the power infrastructure to this list, but due I’m told to delays at another event this wasn’t on site on the first day. Continue reading “What Goes Into A Hacker Camp”

The Hackaday Summer Camp Survival Guide

It’s a feature of summer for us, the round of hacker camps in which members of our community gather in fields and spend a few days relaxing and doing what we do best. This summer I’ll have been to four of them by September, one of which was unexpected because a last-minute ticket came my way. For Hackaday they’re a chance to connect with our readers and maybe see come of the coolest stuff in person.

If you consult the wiki for your hacker camp of choice then you’ll usually find a page of tips about what to bring. Starting with a tent and a sleeping bag and probably going on to sunscreen, a hat, and maybe how to avoid dehydration. I’d probably add spare toilet paper and disinfectant spray in case the toilets are nightmarish. All very practical stuff, but expressed in a dry list format that doesn’t really tell you what to expect. A hacker camp can be overwhelming if you’ve not been to one before, so how do you get the best out of it? Here are a few tips based on our experience. Continue reading “The Hackaday Summer Camp Survival Guide”

An illuminated MCH2022 sign composed of large LED letters

Mutually Crafted Happiness: How MCH2022 Happened

Just a few days ago, MCH2022, a six day long hacker camp in Netherlands, has concluded – bringing about three thousand hackers together to hang out. It was my first trip to a large hacker camp like this, as I’ve only been to smaller ones, and this story is coming from someone who’s only now encountering the complexity and intricacy of one. This is the story of how it’s run on the inside.

MCH2022 is the successor of a hacker camp series in the Netherlands – you might’ve heard of the the previous one, SHA, organized in 2017. The “MCH” part officially stands for May Contain Hackers – and those, it absolutely did contain. An event for hackers of all kinds to rest, meet each other, and hang out – long overdue, and in fact, delayed for a year due to the everpresent pandemic. This wasn’t a conference-like event where you’d expect a schedule, catering and entertainment – a lot of what made MCH cool was each hacker’s unique input.

Just like many other camps similar to this, it was a volunteer-organized event – there’s no company standing behind it, save for a few sponsors with no influence on decisionmaking; it’s an event by hackers, for hackers. The Netherlands has a healthy culture of hackerspaces, with plenty of cooperation between them, and forming a self-organized network of volunteers, that cooperation works magic. Continue reading “Mutually Crafted Happiness: How MCH2022 Happened”

Hacker Camps Are Back. To Get You In The Mood, Here’s A Story From 1997

The past couple of years of the COVID pandemic have been rough in some unexpected ways, and it’s clear that our world will never be quite the same as it was beforehand. In our community, the hackerspaces are open again, and while the pandemic hasn’t gone away this year shows the promise of hosting the first major hacker camps to be held since 2019. We’re sure a number of you will be making your way to them. To give a taste of what is to come we’ve got a rare glimpse into hacker camps past.

The Netherlands events are held every four years outside pandemic disruptions, and we’re going back as far as 1997 for HIP, or Hacking In Progress, where [Christine Karman] kept a daily diary of the event. 25 years later it’s both a familiar account of a hacker camp and an interesting glimpse into a time when for much of the wider population an Internet connection was still a novelty. Continue reading “Hacker Camps Are Back. To Get You In The Mood, Here’s A Story From 1997”

Reporting From BornHack 2021: Hacker Camps Making It Through The Pandemic

In a normal summer we would be spoiled for choice here in Europe when it came to our community’s events, with one big camp and a host of smaller ones near and far. Only the most hardcore of travelers manage to make it to all of them, but it’s usually possible to take in at least one or two over the season. But of course, this isn’t a normal summer. Many of us may now be vaccinated against COVID-19, but we remain in the grip of a global pandemic. The massive Dutch MCH camp was postponed until 2022, and most of the smaller camps have fallen by the wayside due to uncertainty. But one hacker camp carried on.

BornHack in Denmark was the world’s only in-person summer hacker event of 2020, and on its return last week made it the only such event in Europe for 2021. Having secured a ticket earlier in the year when they went on sale, I navigated the tricky world of cross-border European travel in a pandemic to make my way to the Hylkedam scout camp on the Danish isle of Fyn for a week in the company of hackers from all over Northern Europe. BornHack had achieved the impossible again, and it was time to enjoy a much-needed week at a hacker camp.

Continue reading “Reporting From BornHack 2021: Hacker Camps Making It Through The Pandemic”

May (No Longer) Contain Hackers: MCH 2021 Has Been Cancelled

In a sad but unsurprising turn of events, MCH, this summer’s large hacker camp in the Netherlands, has been cancelled. Organising a large event in a pandemic would inevitably carry some risk, and despite optimism that the European vaccine strategy might have delivered a safe environment by the summer that risk was evidently too high for the event organisers IFCAT to take on. Our community’s events come from within the community itself rather than from commercial promoters, and the financial liability of committing to hire the site and infrastructure would have been too high to bear had the event succumbed to the pandemic. Tickets already purchased will be refunded, and they leave us with a crumb of solace by promising that alternatives will be considered. We understand their decision, and thank them for trying.

As with all such events the behind-the-scenes work for MCH has already started. The badge has been revealed in prototype form, the call for participation has been completed, and the various other event team planning will no doubt be well  under way. This work is unlikely to be wasted, and we hope that it will bear fruit at the next Dutch event whenever that may be.

It would have been nice to think that by now we could be seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but despite the sterling work of scientists, healthcare workers, and epidemiologists, it seems we still have a a way to go before we’ll once more be hanging out together drinking Club-Mate in the company of thousands of others. If the pandemic is weighing upon you, take care of yourselves.

The First Hacker Camp To Show Up On Google Maps

Our summer gatherings at hacker camps are fleeting and ephemeral, anticipated for months but over far too quickly. Afterwards we have only our memories, and perhaps the occasional Hackaday write-up. We think BornHack 2020 in Denmark was the only hacker camp that wasn’t forced to go online-only by the pandemic last year, and now as far as we know it has also become the only one ever that has left its mark for the wider world by being captured for posterity by Google Earth.

Visible in the forest is the sparsely populated and socially distanced main field of what was a considerably smaller camp than normal, as well as in separate clearings the speakers tent and the loud field. Perhaps it doesn’t help as much in explaining to outsiders what a hacker camp is as might a picture of one of the larger ones, but it does at least serve as a visible reminder that we weren’t quite snuffed out last year.

It’s a moment of nostalgia to see BornHack 2020 on Google Maps for those of us who were there, but perhaps the point of all this is to take a moment to consider the likely prospects for similar events in 2021 given the pandemic. Both the British EMF Camp and American Toorcamp had to cancel their events last year and should return in 2022, there’s no word as yet about 2021 from the Serbian BalCCon or the Italian IHC,¬† our latest update on Luxembourg’s HaxoGreen is that it’s still slated to go ahead with its move to 2021, and currently both BornHack and the Dutch MCH are expecting to run as normal this summer.

In the grip of a savage third wave of the pandemic where this is being written, it’s by no means a foregone conclusion that 2020’s cancellations may not repeat themselves. International borders remain difficult to cross without exacting quarantine requirements. If you make it to a camp this year you may be one of the lucky few, and in the increasingly likely event that we don’t, we’ll be suitably envious. Don’t loose hope, we shall all meet again… eventually.

If you fancy a closer look at BornHack 2020, have a read of our write-up.