I just returned from a week in the woods at ToorCamp 2014—the bi-annual American Hacker Camp where hackers, makers, breakers and shakers descend on Neah Bay, Washington.
This year’s event was much more laid back from the previous ToorCamp in 2012, but that is a good thing; people seemed much busier working on projects and more interested in talking than cranking up the music and going crazy, but there was still a healthy amount of that, as well.
The caliber of talks was excellent, as usual, with a wide range of topics and the workshops were quite a bit of fun. This year, I brought my son and we built a microscope for a smartphone together in a workshop, then he spent hours combing the beach looking for specimens to look at under his newly created invention.
I attended a Raspberry Pi workshop where we learned to connect our Pis to the outside world, integrating sensors and bringing in data from the environment, which was a blast and gave me ideas for more projects.
In addition to the formally planned talks and workshops, there were a lot of projects being worked on throughout the camp. The ShadyTel group, who last year setup ad hoc GSM cell service throughout the camp, this year went old school and delivered land lines to people’s camps when ordered, leading to 4 miles of wires being deployed around the camp.
At the DorkBotPDX camp, we had a hillbilly hot tub in place that heated water through a radiator over a campfire, which became quite popular as the evenings progressed.
Another person in our camp brought a beehive, which had sensors in place to detect and count activity of the bees. The sensors were turned into audio and we amplified it across the camp. We literally listened to the flight of the bees!
More Human Than Human
Amal Graafstra was back this year doing more RFID implants. I talked with him quite a bit and was really impressed with how far he has come in his work. He also did a talk at the camp, which was excellent. He started out his work when he saw that there was no group or body providing information on how to safely do RFID implants.
He has since been working with doctors and piercers alike to develop safe procedures and providing educational resources for how to work with RFID and other sensor implants. Here is a video I took of him doing an implant at ToorCamp:
Internet of People
On the second night, we all gathered in the dome to watch the powerful Aaron Swartz documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy”, which set a rather somber tone given that some at the camp knew him really well.
Most at the camp share Aaron’s vision, a future where technology is used to make the world a better place. We are then also reminded the dangers that technology invokes when it alters the way we live and how we interact with each other.
We hear a lot about the Internet of Things, but often fail to remember that these “things” are connected to people; fallible, fragile people with their own emotions, biases and views that can be expressed or exploited with technology.
A lot of conversations during the talks and around the fire were about how to build technology and do so lawfully, ranging from use of encryption, radio waves and hardware. With a combination of antiquated laws and policies being passed by governments to regulate technology out of knee-jerk reactions, many times without a full understanding of the technology they are seeking to regulate.
Security researchers, in particular, are nervous about what the future brings when the very research they conduct to help make technology safer can be used against them—not only ending their careers but also their lives with draconian prison sentences and harassment by law enforcement.
Creative technologists and researchers need freedom: freedom to think, freedom to create and freedom to discuss ideas. ToorCamp in many ways provides this freedom to discuss ideas around the campfire without the need for encryption, anonymity or artifice.
The worst thing about ToorCamp is that in only happens every two years. I hope to see you all there in 2016!