On Sunday the latest iteration of the Chaos Communication Congress concluded and now, a few days later, I feel that I have paid back enough of my sleep debt to be able to write a coherent wrap-up post.
As you probably heard, the Congress moved from Berlin to Hamburg in search of a bigger venue, as the Berlin Congress Center was getting increasingly crowded. At least for our small delegation from Kiberpipa this complicated travel arrangement a bit, since it turned out that Hamburg does not have any cheap airline connections from our corner of the world. So we had to opt for a day of car and train travel. Actually, I always enjoyed traveling on German ICE trains, looking out the window at 300 km/h with a cup of coffee in my hand. Although for next year we certainly need to find a way that does not include driving in a sleep-deprived caffeine haze as the last leg of the journey home.
All fears that the new venue will somehow negatively affect the Congress have not been realized. The Congress Center Hamburg certainly is huge - four floors with intermediate ones in between, one huge auditorium and two somewhat smaller lecture rooms. The place was so large in fact that I regularly got lost and made a few extra circles around a building to find an assembly or a workshop I was looking for. The size made the name Ten Forward for the lounge at the top of the building quite appropriate.
Even though more than 6000 tickets were sold, the place was not crowded. You could always find a couch to sit in and a power socket for your laptop. Except for the more popular talks in the smaller lecture rooms where you sometimes still had to be half and hour early to get a seat. Oh, and the huge queue on the first day (getting a wrist band on day 0 was definitely a good idea). But despite that, the organization team deserves all respect for keeping such an enormous event running so smoothly. Apparently one tenth of the visitors also volunteered as angels which I just find amazing and I think it throws a very good light on the kind of crowd that gathers each year at these Congresses.
Network conditions were on the same level and it should suffice to say that Wi-Fi was truly ubiquitous and my old EeePC 901 had no problems connecting to it. This was the first congress where I didn't feel the need to jack into an Ethernet port to download something. Also worth mentioning was the rumor of dropping IPv4 connectivity next year, which will be interesting if true. Definitely a good excuse to get all of my machines reachable from IPv6 by the end of the next year.
As far as talks were concerned, I really enjoyed those that I attended. It might be that some of the speakers opted to stay in Berlin for BerlinSides or EHSM, and while I would love to attend some of the talks there, I also didn't feel like there was a lack of talks on some particular interesting topic in Hamburg this year. Here are some of the more memorable from the top of my head: Natalie Silvanovich gave a wonderful talk about reverse engineering Tamagotchis, from decapping chips to dumping ROMs and IR protocols. Ang Cui and Michael Costello showed plenty of ways some one can install spyware on your Cisco IP phone and gave a nice overview of the security of the Unix-like system that runs on them. Two talks concerning weird machines are also well worth a look: it turns out that Turing-completeness can be found just about everywhere these days, you just have to look close enough. The talk about real-world RSA factorization convinced me it's time to get a larger GPG key. Finally, it would be interesting to try low-cost chip microprobing, although a suitable microscope doesn't seem to be that cheap.
Again, this short list doesn't do the whole Fahrplan justice. There were also a lot of ad-hoc organized meet-ups and workshops and these fours days were just not enough to peek into all corners of the Congress. I myself will be slowly going through the back-log of video recordings of events I missed for the next few weeks at least. It's also worth mentioning that a lot of talks were presented by female speakers. While that might not mean much and I was told that I am not supposed to have an opinion on this topic, it does give one data point against criticisms that this community is hostile to women.
Also missing from the list of technical talks above is the keynote and other talks connected to this year's motto, Not my department (a quote from a satire about Wernher von Braun I believe, who supposedly didn't care where his rockets fell since that was not his department). The main topics discussed were government surveillance and whistle-blowing and the general message was that people should take a broader look at what the effects of their work on the society is. It's important to occasionally take a step back and see if your work is being used for things that you would otherwise object to. All of the talks in English were about the situation in the United States though. It will be interesting to check some of the translated German talks on this topic as well.
To conclude, the Congress was as awesome as ever and I couldn't wish for a better way to spend last days of this year and I couldn't care less that I slept through the midnight on New Year's Eve because of it. The sheer amount of people I meet trying their best to make tomorrow a better place always manages to fill me with optimism that lasts for months afterwards. Presenting a talk this year made it a somewhat different experience but the feedback I got made all of the extra hours of sleep I lost well worth it, plus it made me appreciate all of the effort going into the Congress so much more. Thanks for everything and see you next year!