My Space

If I could name one thing which has been the most transformative for our community over the last couple of decades, it would have to be the proliferation of hackerspaces. Ostensibly a place which provides access to tools and machinery, these organisations have become so much more. They bring together like-minded people, and from such a meeting of minds have come a plethora of high quality projects, events, and other good things.

Just What Is A Hackerspace?

A workshop with benches that have small vehickes in various stages of construction on them.
A Hacky Racer takes shape in the MK Makerspace workshop

Hackerspaces loosely come in many forms, from co-working spaces or libraries who have invested in a 3D printer and imagine themselves to be a hackerspace, through to anarchist collectives in abandoned warehouses who support their city’s alternative communities with technology. For me, hackerspaces must be community organisations rather than for-profit ones, so for the purposes of this article I’m not referring to closely-allied commercial spaces such as FabLabs.

So a good hackerspace for me is a group of tech enthusiasts who’ve come together, probably formed a non-profit association, and rented a dilapidated basement or industrial unit somewhere. The tools and machines inside aren’t shiny and new but they mostly work, and round that fridge stocked with Club-Mate you’ll find a community of friends, people who don’t think it’s odd to always want to know how things work. In a good hackerspace you’ll have found your place, and you can be much more than you would have been alone.

I visit plenty of hackerspaces across Europe as I wander the continent on an Interrail pass. I’m a member of three of them at the moment, though my main home in the UK is at Milton Keynes Makerspace. I’ve sat on recycled sofas drinking caffeinated beverages in more cities than I can count, and along the way I’ve seen close-up the many different ways a hackerspace can be run. I’ve seen spaces falling apart at the seams, I’ve seen ones a little too regimented for my taste, and others with too much of an emphasis on radical ideology, but mostly I’ve seen spaces that get it about right and I feel at home in. So perhaps it’s time to sit down and talk about what I think makes a good hackerspace. What is my space?

Continue reading “My Space”

To Give Is Better Than To Receive

Better to give a talk at a hacker event, that is. Or in your hackerspace, or even just to a bunch of fellow nerds whenever you can. When you give the talk, don’t be afraid to make it too “easy” to understand. Making a tough topic comprehensible is often the sign that you really understand it, after all, and it’s also a fantastic service to the audience. And also don’t be afraid that your talk isn’t “hard core” enough, because with a diverse enough crowd, there will absolutely be folks for whom it’s still entirely new, and they’ll be thankful.

These were the conclusions I got from talking to a whole range of people at Chaos Communication Camp the weekend before last, and it’s one of the great opportunities when you go to an event like this. At Camp, there were a number of simultaneous stages, and with so many talks that new ones are still being released. That meant that everyone had their chance to say their bit, and many many did.

And that’s great. Because it’s obvious that getting the work done, or diving deep into a particular topic, is part of the hacker experience, but it’s also equally important to share what you’ve gained with the rest of the community. The principle of spreading the knowledge is a cornerstone of our culture, and getting people up to talk about what they’ve learned is the manifestation of this cultural value. If you know something, say something!

Of course, when you’re not at a conference, you could be writing up your hacks and sending them in to the tips line (hint, hint!). That’ll work too.

Privacy And Photography, We Need To Talk

One of the fun aspects of our global community is that there are plenty of events at which we can meet up, hang out, and do cool stuff together. They may be in a Las Vegas convention center, a slightly muddy field in England, or a bar in Berlin, but those of us with a consuming interest in technology and making things have a habit of finding each other. Our events all have their own cultures which make each one slightly different from others.

The German events, for example, seem very political to my eyes — with earnest blue-haired young women seeking to make their mark as activists, while the British ones are a little more laid-back and full of middle-aged engineers seeking the bar. There are some cultural things which go beyond the superficial though and extend into the way the events are run, and it’s one of these which I think it’s time we had a chat about.

Our Community Takes Privacy Seriously

The relevant section about photography in the SHA2017 code of conduct.
The relevant section about photography in the SHA2017 code of conduct.

The hacker community differs from the general public in many ways, one of which is that we tend to have a much greater understanding of privacy in the online age. The Average Joe will happily sign up to the latest social media craze without a care in the world, while we quickly identify it as a huge data slurp in which the end user is the product rather than the customer.

The work of privacy activists in our community in spotting privacy overreaches may pass unnoticed by outsiders, but over the years it’s scored some big wins that benefit everyone. Part of this interest in privacy appears at our events; it’s very much not done to take a photograph of someone at a hacker event without their consent. This will usually be clearly stated in the code of conduct, and thus if taking a picture featuring someone it’s imperative to make damn sure they’re OK with it. Continue reading “Privacy And Photography, We Need To Talk”

Chaos And Camping

In a field somewhere north of Berlin right now, around 5,500 hackers and their family members are blinking, coding, building, giving talks, and simply hanging out. Once every four years, the German hacker scene gathers and gets burned by the day star, despite the ample warnings to apply copious sunscreen.

CCCamp is a must-attend-it-to-get-it type event, but it’s also chock-full of talks on numerous stages, and these you can see from the comfort of your own home without even getting a mosquito bite! We loved [Harald Welte]’s complete guide to the mysterious world of eSIMS, for instance.

What’s most amazing about Camp, though, is that it brings together hackers of all ages and interests. Someone with a tape-measure direction-finding radio, probably participating in the foxhunt, just walked behind another group learning yoga. There is UV tape art and a stinky diesel train. Old greybeards mingle with kids, all playing with the bubble machines. Two folks are playing bocce with old hard drives. I think one camp was working on an autonomous model boat.

Everyone brings what they’re interested in, shares it, and helps anyone else get started if they’re interested. It’s a hacker paradise, even if just for a few days every four years.

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Hackaday Links: May 8, 2022

Russia’s loose cannon of a space boss is sending mixed messages about the future of the International Space Station. Among the conflicting statements from Director-General Dmitry Rogozin, the Roscosmos version of Eric Cartman, is that “the decision has been made” to pull out of the ISS over international sanctions on Russia thanks to its war on Ukraine. But exactly when would this happen? Good question. Rogozin said the agency would honor its commitment to give a year’s notice before pulling out, which based on the current 2024 end-of-mission projections, means we might hear something definitive sometime next year. Then again, Rogozin also said last week that Roscosmos would be testing a one-orbit rendezvous technique with the ISS in 2023 or 2024; it currently takes a Soyuz about four orbits to catch up to the ISS. So which is it? Your guess is as good as anyones at this point.

At what point does falsifying test data on your products stop being a “pattern of malfeasance” and become just the company culture? Apparently, something other than the 40 years that Mitsubishi Electric has allegedly been doctoring test results on some of their transformers. The company has confessed to the testing issue, and also to “improper design” of the transformers, going back to the 1980s and covering about 40% of the roughly 8,400 transformers it made and shipped worldwide. The tests that were falsified were to see if the transformers could hold up thermally and withstand overvoltage conditions. The good news is, unless you’re a power systems engineer, these aren’t transformers you’d use in any of your designs — they’re multi-ton, multi-story beasts that run the grid. The bad news is, they’re the kind of transformers used to run the grid, so nobody’s stuff will work if one of these fails. There’s no indication whether any of the sketchy units have failed, but the company is “considering” contacting owners and making any repairs that are necessary.

For your viewing pleasure, you might want to catch the upcoming documentary series called “A League of Extraordinary Makers.” The five-part series seeks to explain the maker movement to the world, and features quite a few of the luminaries of our culture, including Anouk Wipprecht, Bunnie Huang, Jimmy DiResta, and the gang at Makers Asylum in Mumbai, which we assume would include Anool Mahidharia. It looks like the series will focus on the real-world impact of hacking, like the oxygen concentrators hacked up by Makers Asylum for COVID-19 response, and the influence the movement has had on the wider culture. Judging by the trailer below, it looks pretty interesting. Seems like it’ll be released on YouTube as well as other channels this weekend, so check it out.

But, if you’re looking for something to watch that doesn’t require as much commitment, you might want to check out this look at the crawler-transporter that NASA uses to move rockets to the launch pad. We’ve all probably seen these massive beasts before, moving at a snail’s pace along a gravel path with a couple of billion dollars worth of rocket stacked up and teetering precariously on top. What’s really cool is that these things are about as old as the Space Race itself, and still going strong. We suppose it’s easier to make a vehicle last almost 60 years when you only ever drive it at half a normal walking speed.

And finally, if you’re wondering what your outdoor cat gets up to when you’re not around — actually, strike that; it’s usually pretty obvious what they’ve been up to by the “presents” they bring home to you. But if you’re curious about the impact your murder floof is having on the local ecosystem, this Norwegian study of the “catscape” should be right up your alley. They GPS-tagged 92 outdoor cats — which they dryly but hilariously describe as “non-feral and food-subsidized” — and created maps of both the ranges of individual animals, plus a “population-level utilization distribution,” which we think is a euphemism for “kill zone.” Surprisingly, the population studied spent almost 80% of their time within 50 meters of home, which makes sense — after all, they know where those food subsidies are coming from.

Mitigating Con Deprivation: Disobey 2020

While the Coronavirus-induced lockdown surely makes life easier for the socially anxious and awkward ones among us, it also takes away the one thing that provides a feeling of belonging and home: conferences. Luckily, there are plenty of videos of past events available online, helping to bypass the time until we can mingle among like-minded folks again. To put one additional option on the list, one event you probably never even heard of is Disobey, Finland’s annual security conference that took place for its fifth time in Helsinki earlier this year, and they recently published the playlist of this year’s talks on their YouTube channel.

With slightly under 1500 hackers, makers, and generally curious people attending this year, Disobey is still on the smaller side of conferences, but comes with everything you’d expect: talks, workshops, CTF challenges, and a puzzle-ridden badge. Labeling itself as “The Nordic Security Event”, its main focus is indeed on computer and network security, and most of the talks are presented by professional security researchers, oftentimes Red Teamers, telling about some of their real-world work.

In general, every talk that teaches something new, discusses important matters, or simply provides food for thought and new insight is worth watching, but we also don’t want to give everything away here either. The conference’s program page offers some outline of all the talks if you want to check some more information up front. But still, we can’t just mention a random conference and not give at least some examples with few details on what to expect from it either, so let’s do that.

Continue reading “Mitigating Con Deprivation: Disobey 2020”

My Career As A Spammer, And Other Stories From The Sneakernet

A large hacker camp is in microcosm a city, it has all the services you might expect to find in a larger settlement in the wider world. There is a telecommunication system, shops, bars, a health centre, waste disposal services, a power grid, and at some camps, a postal system. At Electromagnetic Field, the postal system was provided by the Sneakernet, a select group of volunteers including your Hackaday scribe under the direction of the postmaster Julius ter Pelkwijk. I even had the fun of delivering some chopped pork and ham. (More on that later.) Continue reading “My Career As A Spammer, And Other Stories From The Sneakernet”