28th Chaos Communication Congress is much more than just the things that are neatly listed on the Fahrplan. If the safety personnel would allow it, the halls and walkways would be filled to the top with all sorts of more-or-less identifiable hardware, interspersed with empty bottles of a certain caffeinated drink. Some of it was there just for display or for sale in kit form, some was being actively developed or disassembled and some was a target for scheduled and ad-hoc workshops. Sharing ideas by participating in this chaos is a big part of the congress.
Hacked Brother KH930 knitting machine by Fabienne
This year I had the feeling that there were many more low-level hardware projects going on than last year. As with previous events there was a large hardware hacking area in the basement, but portable oscilloscopes, multimeters and soldering irons were a common sight also in the hackcenter and the hallways. Arduino workshops were absolutely packed and I escaped from the room each time they started to run away from the crowd. The well-known Linux distributions and other free software groups occupying their usual places at the Berliner Congress Center almost felt pushed aside.
The r0ket badge, introduced at the CCC camp, was back. The version 2.0 with some minor improvements was available half-assembled at the info desk for 30 € and was sold-out in minutes. There was also a new official firmware image available with which you could play Tetris on a big green LED display at the hackcenter and control a few other things around the congress. In combination with the tiny joystick that practically guaranteed a sore thumb for everyone.
Speaking of sore body parts, a special kind of attraction was the PainStation, an exhibit from the Computerspiele Museum. It's a Pong clone where missed balls result in pain being inflicted on your hand through heat, electric shocks and a mechanical whip. Since you had to sign a disclaimer to play with it I guess it wasn't very forgiving. I didn't give it a try under the excuse that I'm already being shocked frequently enough in my profession. Considering that in the end one third of medical emergencies at the congress had a connection to this machine maybe that wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Jure and I spent some time trying to find a problem that this little device would solve. It's a TP-Link TL-WR703N, a tiny portable wireless router that is capable of running OpenWRT. For around $20 you get a MIPS system with 4 MB of flash and 32 MB of RAM storage, 802.11 radio, wired Ethernet, USB, serial and at least one GPIO port. Certainly something worth considering when the next idea comes around that needs Internet connectivity in a small package.
Next on the list of tiny things is the MC HCK, a very basic open hardware ARM Cortex M0 board that is little more than a microcontroller on a PCB that fits into the USB socket. I thought it's hard to get more basic than an Arduino, but this certainly proved me wrong. Simon (who also let us borrow the TP-Link board above) is trying to get it down to $5 per board.
I should also mention, that I had a nice chat with a developer from the Sigrok project. They are developing a portable logic analyzer software that works with a wide range of different hardware devices. I've been missing a good logic analyzer and I got some good advice on which hardware capture device works best with Sigrok.
Congratulations go to the Network and Phone Operation Centers. Wi-Fi was working surprisingly well this year and I mostly didn't have problems keeping a link up for IRC chat or an occasional website load. It was slow but stable except in Saal 1 when it filled up. Eventphone GSM network also worked the few times I attempted to use it. Only an occasionally a General error popped up on my N900. The only complaint would go to this year's Wiki, which had a somewhat unusable theme and was down a lot.
By the way, I learned that stability of the 802.11 link in this environment depends largely on what drivers you use. On my aging Eee 901 with the Atheros chip for instance, the ath5k driver that comes with recent kernels can barely keep the link up for a few seconds before dropping it and forgetting all the iwconfig settings. On the other hand the old madwifi worked almost perfectly.
All summed up, this was one of the best congresses I've attended. There was always something to do and it never happened, as it did occasionally at the previous events, that there wasn't an interesting talk on the schedule or interesting people to talk with. Unfortunately I didn't manage to prepare a lightning talk about my 433 MHz receiver project before the trip to Berlin and once I was there everything went by so fast I didn't even manage to finish my slides.
Again, thank you CCC and all of the Angel volunteers for the wonderful event and see you next year!