Hacker Camp 2009 Impressions

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

In many ways it is as if we never left. 2 years ago I sat at a picnic table under a tarp on the Polish-German border on the site of a former East German military base with a couple of thousand hackers and general purpose nerds.  2 years later here I sit, this time somewhere in the Netherlands, in the infamous Metalab tent filled with Vienna’s creative and hilarious geek crew.  To my left and right, tiny laptops connected to several layers of wires. In front of me, beyond a few more piles of wires and what looks like a virtual reality unit from the 80’s, several pale and half-asleep campers are tending to the Austrian breakfast.  It’s 12:36pm. 2007, 2009, its as if we just unpaused after the last camp.

It is always difficult to properly describe the scale and degree of amazing these gatherings are. I’ve only been a member of the community since 2005, but in these few years I’ve fallen in love with the attitude, atmosphere, and insanity of hacker camp and hacker gatherings in general. Yet when it comes up in conversation with those who have never experienced it, my words are met with giggles and eyes rolling, again- how to explain what happens here?

Last night as I stopped by the Italian embassy tent, I was greeted, as per tradition, by Italian hackers with grappa and cookies. Earlier they were surely cooking pasta in huge vats right next to their own huge pile of wires and laptops.  As I attempted to drink the powerful drink, cheering from the Austrian village caught my attention. Overhead, some kind of balloon creation consisting of mass quantities of glow sticks and a well designed frame powerful by 3 oversized helium balloons.  2 members of the lab climb atop the circa 1980’s Austria Telecom phonebooth to get a better vantage point for holding the rope the balloons are tethered to. In the semi-dark, hordes of hackers stop to cheer on the flying contraption, some calling on the rope holders to “set it free!”  Eventually nature takes control and the cord snaps, the flying spaghetti monster fights its way through a line of trees and floats up into the night sky like some kind of rainbow creature heading towards the moon. More cheers, campers move on to the next big tent and whatever project those people are working on.

Blinking lights, house music, machines copying themselves, French hackers making crepes, and the last remaining imaginary soviet republic with its own tent embassy, the list of creative or uncreative ideas is neverending here.  I spent much of my second day walking from tent to tent asking different groups about their healthcare system.  I ran into enthusiastic Scandinavians, a Brazilian sitting between tents on his laptop, a Slovak on his way to the bar, and a friendly Romanian gentleman who has found the perfect shade trees under which to position his tents.  As he and I discuss the healthcare system in Romania, hacker children splash around in the small lake around which the camp is set up.  Just behind us is the rather un-camp-like American house, where a group of American hackers are housed, I can hear their loud conversations about some technical topics I don’t understand.  I’m told the American hacker house makes good breakfasts, something to keep in mind for my last few days here.

It is now 1pm. The sun is blazing and even more people are filing into this tent. They’re coming to watch the replicator machine replicate itself. It is behind me and the constant buzz buzz sound of plastic being cut or drilled or whatever that thing does, it provides great writing music.  Time to load up on water, grab my mobile internet device and camera, and head out to see how camp looks after yet another night of beautiful madness.

On the EU Elections

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

I wrote a piece for the Guardian on the Dutch vote during last week’s European Parliamentary elections. Here’s an excerpt:

The headlines on Friday morning in Amsterdam looked not unlike those in the international press around the world: “Far right wins big in Holland”. This was followed by a few paragraphs of analysis, or at least background as to why a leader who says he won’t even show up for work if he is elected could progress in a party in a country that some people still consider as a beacon of open-mindedness.

Yet no matter how big the font or how many exclamation points they use, the power of the far-right voters in the Netherlands is not the only development in 2009. What failed to get much more than a two-line afterthought in all these reports over the weekend is that the Freedom party (PVV) was not the only party to have made gains for the Dutch. Among them, the D66, a progressive-liberal party that has historically championed issues like gay marriage, euthanasia, legalised prostitution and the decriminalisation of drugs, also gained seats. While the PVV

Labor Shortage Dutch Style

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

On line at the grocery store, I read the big sign in the window: Seeking new colleagues to join our team.? Around the block at the caf? there’s a small paper in the window that reads: seeking wait staff.? The restaurant next door is full to the brim with customers everyday and employs only 2 servers and 1 cook, the entire staff looks overwhelmed.

No matter where I look in the service industry, the Netherlands seems to be lacking workers. Yet at the same time, I can think of many university students who would never take such jobs.? I’m also reminded of my fellow university graduates who are seeking work in the field of their studies and would not take up work in a restaurant or a grocery store.

All this to make the un-scientific observation that there could be some type of labor shortage in this part of Europe. And it is getting worse.

Meanwhile I read about the situation of detained refugees in Belgium, who are currently on hunger strike.? Belgium’s politics and economic reality is certainly not identical to the Netherlands, but I still think it says something about where this entire region is within the discussion of the right to work and immigration policy. For the neverending obsession with keeping people out, I’m wondering who they’re going to turn to when no one in the country will take essential jobs.

Some Nations Plan

by bicyclemark 3 Comments

While my specialty is critical thinking, especially when it comes to global issues; sometimes nations do things that I both agree with and am impressed by.

The Netherlands is working on something I believe is very logical and necessary — planning how to manage rising sea levels and global warming in the coming 100 years. They’ve planned in the past (1950’s) to manage the sea and their bodies of water in such a way that people are safe and can also enjoy the fruits of their water.? But as has become very apparent, the plans made 50 years ago are insufficient when you consider what we know now about the increasing speed that these changes take place. So instead of waiting for a major disaster, they’re devising a plan and dedicating big money to preparing NOW.

For the real details I recommend mr. Amsterdamize himself, who does a good job of laying out, in understandable terms, what the government is doing so far and what the ultimate outcome will be. Like myself, I think Marc finds it a strange contrast, going from watching the news about the gulf coast of the US scrambling to get out of the way of storms to reading about the Dutch government, planning for any storms or water disasters in the next 100 years.