Having arrived home from EMF Camp 2018 late on Monday evening and taken time to recuperate and gather ourselves, it's about time we started to tell you guys about it. Other members of the team will no doubt go into more technical depth and talk about their various projects and talks. I will stick to the basics of the event and speak from a first timers perspective.
What is EMF Camp?...
EMF Camp is a festival held every other year. It's focus is on technology but there are a few more traditional making opportunities. The entire event is run by a core of around 40 people who give thousands of hours of their time to make the event happen. All are unpaid volunteers. Quite simply, heroes.
No one works at the event, instead, paying-festival-goers volunteer for shifts in various parts of the festival to keep everything running smoothly.
The entire thing is not for profit, really, no one takes a penny out other than paying for the facilities put in place.
Groups arrive and set up 'villages' with their various installations, expertise, projects and other stuff. This year our camp, made up of Think Engineer and various friends of the company and its people, was the Cyber Vikings and we brought a laser harp we'd made for the event which proved very popular. The camping area is dotted with power supplies and data points.
There's also huge big-top stages (three this year) for talks. Anyone who would like to do a talk can apply. This year our very own Andrejus Kostarevus gave a fascinating talk on hacking websites (for educational purposes only). It was great! I wont go into much detail because I'm sure Andrejus would like to write that experience up himself. Watch this space for that, suffice to say, it was good.
Additionally there are numerous workshop tents. People arrange workshops about all sorts of subjects. Most are free to attend, those where some raw material is required sometimes have a small charge to cover that.
Then there are workshops sometimes run in peoples villages which are constant, all weekend. One of which this year was a team of blacksmiths offering sessions where you could make something. I myself found this very interesting so I signed up to make a fire poker. There were silversmiths, escape rooms, sound systems and so many more I can't mention.
Last but by no means least, there is the NULL sector. That's, erm, hard to describe. In short it's the 'official' party area. Lots of very loud music, lasers, odd rooms (shipping containers) with interesting installations in them and people dancing and generally enjoying the night time.
What happens at EMF Camp?
People make things, get creative and enjoy each others technological prowess, senses of humor and creative installations. The atmosphere is incredible, largely because everyone is extremely respectful to their peers working jobs within the event and everyone working in the event is very respectful of their peers enjoying the mood. Everyone is not only equal, but actually the same in that respect.
Who Goes to EMF Camp?
Anyone, quite simply. If your into making (with an emphasis on tech) and you can enjoy, or at least stomach three or four nights in a tent (motor homes and caravans welcome), it's for you. I'm not actually that techy and I had one of the best weekends away I can remember.
I arrived at the offices in Reading around 9,30 am.
I had a quick appointment across town so myself and Steve nipped off for that while Rich organised.
We rushed back just in time for myself and Rich to go and collect the rented van. (that's a lie, we were so late it wasn't funny but there you go). Enterprise were fast and efficient so that went well and we got back to the office in reasonable time.
Well, almost, you see, we're above the shops on a pedestrian street so we found a loading bay several hundred yards from the office and over numerous trips we got a laser harp, tools, spares, camping equipment, laptops and I can't remember what else into the van and set off to collect more camping equipment from others who were travelling independently.
Eventually we set off, fully loaded, to the festival. We were about 2 hours behind schedule but met no traffic or problems and arrived exactly 2 hours after planned. We were helpfully allowed to take the van to the camp site since we had a large installation so we unloaded the van into a great big pile and then got it off the site.
We had arrived the day before the event started but about 50% of people had done the same so it was already beginning to feel exciting.
We set up our village (Cyber Vikings) near a tardis (that's power. Portaloo type things with power distribution and networking which are dotted around the entire site). Everyone had small and simple tents so they went up, our village's marquee was halfway up when we arrived since some people had arrived before us and by the time I'd put my tent up and set up it had been completed.
The next step was the laser harp. I wont say too much about this because this because those who actually designed it might well want to talk about that. Long story short, you can can make a reliable working laser harp with cheap, Chinese laser pointers as long as you're prepared to buy about 3 times as many lasers as you need and reject the least bright and least straight ones. The harp worked pretty much flawlessly throughout the weekend. A smoke machine made beams visible and we had a constant flow of people wanting to try it throughout the hours of darkness. Children in particular seemed to love it.
(Thanks to Footleg (@drfootleg) for the opening clip of his son playing.)
Andrejus had the unenviable honor of opening stage A at 10am on the Saturday. His talk, about finding and exploiting weaknesses in websites was, therefore, the first talk I attended. It was fantastic to say the least although that is all I will say, Andrejus is the man to write that one up properly.
Other talks I saw which stood out included understanding and making good cider by Jenny List, ANPR systems by mc.fly, Mustafa Al-Bassam and Jake Davis of LulzSec talking about their ban from using encryption and all sorts of other impossible parts of their “Serious Crime Prevention Order” and a tech-centric comedy talk by Lydia Nicholas, Scary Boots, Cerys Bradley and Anna Ploszajski.
There were too many to list but those stood out to me.
I also found some blacksmiths offering short tuition sessions in which I made a fire poker. I've long since been fascinated by blacksmithing so that was a bit of a treat.
The Hacky racers, a bunch of lunatics in electric buggies careening around a track of hay bails was great fun. This was especially entertaining because of some questionable design features, steering and suspension geometry which all made it that much better.
There was a pulse jet set up in a safe spot beyond a lake which was run up a few times during the weekend. That was something special.
Not to mention all the fascinating gadgets and installations to be seen just by wandering about.
On the Sunday evening the bar had to stop selling beer at 11pm. No problem, someone said, we'll give it away. Myself and Steve made good use of that opportunity to consume free beer, a lot of it, which made packing up and leaving on Monday morning a painful, if self inflicted, experience.
If you ever have a chance to attend EMF Camp you simply must. Having experienced it I will do everything in my power to ensure I never miss one again.