Six years ago I started writing this blog when I went to the What The Hack camp in Netherlands. Last week I went to the Chaos Computer Club camp in Finowfurt, Germany. I was hoping for a similar experience of a few days of camping near a 100BASE-TX switch, talking to interesting people, listening to talks and having a good time in general.
As it turned out, the thing both camps had most in common was the weather. Rain was a constant threat to men and equipment and there were a few tent-uprooting gusts (for a while there was a missing tent listed on the Lost & Found Wiki page). Learning from the What The Hack flooding experience I avoided local gravitational minima when setting up so the level of water in my tent never rose above the sleeping mat. Still, the rain and low temperatures (not much above 283 K in the evenings) made for less then enjoyable environment.
While I can hardly blame the organizers for the weather there were things the could be improved significantly organizational-wise. The most annoying thing perhaps was the fact that a couple of us had to tear down and move tents (not that much fun when you have an incoming storm) because the place we were previously shown has turned out to be reserved, although after moving it turned out it wasn't. Infrastructure in general seemed lacking. While there was a vacant 230 V socket within the reach, I couldn't get an UTP line to my tent. Considering wireless Ethernet was unusable as usual, it was actually quite hard to get on-line. Even the communal areas had a distinct lack of switches so the only way to get the daily Internet fix was in one of the lecture halls (where the shielding allowed a bit more reliable wireless link), in the hack center (a short walk away) or asking for a free switch port at one of the villages. While obviously secondary in priority, toilets and showers could also use some quantitative and qualitative improvement. And I could do without the water you have been drinking for the past few days turned out to contain dangerous bacteria notice on the IRC channel.
However there was one part of the infrastructure that was absolutely breathtaking: the various installations around the camp that were turned on after nightfall were fantastic. My photographs here really don't do them justice. The abandoned military airfield with parked aircraft and hardened shelters, combined with disco balls, LEDs, old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs, lasers and some serious fog machine usage made for really awesome displays. Not to mention flocks of similarly decorated quadrocopters that took off as soon as the wind calmed down a little.
Perhaps it was this atmosphere, or maybe it was just me remembering WTH better than it actually was, but the atmosphere of this camp seemed to be more focused on wild partying (including drunk groups wandering the streets at night) than a gathering of hackers. While I did make a few interesting acquaintances, I more often than not felt unwelcome when I offered a friendly hello and a question about this or that interesting project. This is something I'm not used to at events like this. Another thing I am not used to was the number of press reporters wandering around. You could hardly look into a random direction without seeing a TV camera or someone trying to do an interview. Could it be that people were reluctant to talk because of that?
Anyway, this report could hardly be completed without a mention of the r0ket, the shiny computerized name badge that was given to every participant of the camp. It's a successor to the Sputnik badge that was presented at 23C3 and inherited all of its 2.4 GHz mesh-networking features in addition to the the new periphery. It came with a read-protected firmware that only loaded signed binaries (iDevice style) and you had the option of either attempting to extract the secret keys or flashing the firmware with a custom-compiled one. I chose the former and had lots of fun trying to exploit a heap-based buffer overflow in the font rendering routing. Although I ultimately failed to get the keys I learned a lot about the ARM architecture and this particular NXP-made microcontroller.
In the end, the camp was a bit of disappointment for me. I carried a lot of tools and equipment there in the hope of using it on some interesting project, which didn't pop up. But not all was bad though. The hacker space program theme was inspiring and presentations from the various groups building serious rockets and rocket engines in their back yards were impressive. It's just that somehow the atmosphere down in the camp didn't exactly reflect the mood on the stage. It might have been just the depressing weather getting the best of me though, and I would be happy to try camping with fellow hackers again at the next opportunity.