„Safe Harbour, good morning!“
„Hello, here’s Barbara speaking. Just asking when the next ferry is leaving to SHA.“
„It is currently on the SHA site. In about 15 minutes it should be with you.“
„Great, thank you!“
If you wonder, if there is a Safe Harbour existing at all somewhere in the world: Yes, there is. I can confirm this. It is located in the Netherlands, about 1,5 hours by train from Amsterdam and what you read above was my typical morning conversation for last five days with the Safe Harbour crew at SHA.
I was attending „Still Hacking Anyway“ (#SHA2017), a campsite conference organized for and by hackers. It was the biggest outdoor hacker event worldwide this summer and it is usually organized every four years in the Netherlands. 4000 people from more than 50 different nations attended it in 2017 and I was one of them.
On the boat I met a female hacker from Hannover in Germany called MapC. She picked me up by the ferry and brought me to the SHA in a cosy, comfortable boat with nice seats. It was her 2nd ferry ride she did on her own, after a briefing from the harbour team. She was part of the „angel“ team, which means she was one of the volunteers that are helping all over the place to make this event happen. Without angels, it would not work at all. It is the same volunteering system that is also in action at the Chaos Communication Congress taking place every year around christmas. Everybody can help – and I saw even kids helping out at SHA.
The sun was just going down, and when we reached the SHA Safe Harbour, our motor started to stop. Nick Farr was waiting there on the bridge for us, helping us with a rope and bringing the boat to its final destination. Next to him: Phil Zimmermann, the inventor of PGP technology, who just finished his talk about cryptowars 2.0. I did talk to Phil, until Nick brought me with a nice logistics car with a unicorn on top of it to the entrance to grab my booklet. Then we continued driving to my village.
Yes, you hear right: village. The whole campsite was organized in villages and clusters. My community was located at Lamarr Field (named after Hedi Lamarr) and was part of the cluster „Chaos West“. When I got off the logistics car, I had this feeling that I arrived at home. I was overwhelmed by the warm, welcoming atmosphere and my heart was already lost to all these funny, little weird experiences and those kindness of all the people that surrounded me that it took me no second to share these emotions with everybody else I met. This feeling did not go away one single moment, it just got more intense and more awesome every minute that I spent at the campsite, so that I feel really sad, now, being back „home“ again.
I was so impressed by the fact that villages where actually built up and they had water, power and internet connection. To be more precise: An internet connection with 100 gigabit or even faster (2.5 kilometer UTP, 3 kilometer Fiber). At the campsite there is normally orginially nothing. Nine days before the event a crew of people started with the build up, and from day 0 till day 5 the community continues. The power generators were accompanied by an 42V smart grid that showed how sustainable energy can be used at festivals and camps.
In my village, the tents were decorated by solar-powered LEDs – which had the use case that you can see the cords at night and you are not falling over them while heading into your tent for sleeping. There were enough showers and toilets all over the place and even the community kitchen had running water to cook. The „Chaos West“ community cooked some hot vegetarian meal every night and you could support them by buying a token. There was a Pizza Village around, and the Italian embassy cooked noodles. Everybody was bringing his/her own tableware and nobody ever died hungry. The official food court was a nice supplement, but I do not know anybody at the campsite who would have survived with just eating the stuff that was sold there.
So far, so good. So what the hell do hackers do all day? Well, they hack. They try things. They invent. They solder. They discuss. They build wireless radio antennas with empty beer cans. They put roles on a car tent and drive it by remote control. They put roles on couches and drive them by remote control. They put roles on chairs and drive them by remote control. They build cars out of empty Club Maté cases and drive around with them. They build a sound system that could be carried around the whole place and played a different sound each squaremeter. Or they take and build a sauna in a barrel (no joke!).
They also do programme software for their SHA badges which were an extra nice thing that was organized for us. It was a hand-made electronic badge that every visitor received which could show custom information on an e-ink display. It had a wifi connection and you could solder LEDs on top of it. At day 3 there was some ransomware available for the badge, alongside some games like Tetris and a lot of other fancy stuff which could be found in the badge store.
And, yes, there were more than 300 talks and workshops as well that someone could attend during the day until midnight in six different tents (I did give a talk and a workshop myself, but I will write about that in a separate blog article – one of them obviously had to do with words ^^). Then there was a music lounge with live bands and Djs every night. The music lounge was built with lots of love, the disco ball and the lasers in action were overwhelming. I did listen to Moldovers concert and the DJ gig of Sarah Farina, but the music lounge was not the only place where music was played. It was everywhere. At „Chaos West“ we had regularly Djs playing at night, the soundsystem was huge and the smoking machine did its best. On one day a huge fire & music show took place that was done with tesla transformers. It was impressive. When I went back on the boat that day, people were making comparisons between SHA and „burning man festival“. I did understand why.
Everytime I was on the ferry I met some very interesting, fascinating people. One of them was the speaker Lindsey that came all the way down from Australia to SHA to talk about her successful campaign #notmydebt. In her talk „Resisting Algorithms of Mass Destruction“ she told the story of how big data was becoming the holy grail for the Australian government looking for immediate savings. Then I saw a talk by Jelena about „Cybersecurity and hospitals“, one about car hacking, and that was it for me at the event. But back „home“ today, I already watched some more, because of „home sickness“. All talks where the speakers agreed to stream and record are shared here: https://media.ccc.de/b/conferences/sha2017
So, to finally wrap it up: I enjoyed „Still Hacking Anyway“ (SHA) a lot. I especially loved: The welcoming atmosphere. The smiles I saw in everybody’s faces. The level of craziness. The attitude „we can do it.“ The way how self-organization worked. And did I talk about the Safe Harbour? Well, yes. Thank you. See you in 4 years.
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