EMF camp

From Friday 31st – 2nd September I attended EMFcamp – a festival for hackers and makers. It’s a self organised festival with lots of workshops and talks, quite similar to an unconference with everyone being able host workshops or events. The majority of people were part of Fablabs or Hackspaces throughout Britain, but curious kinds and international makers attended too. Everyone camped in villages (groups by location or shared activity) or zones in a field near Willen in Milton Keynes. Tents were hooked up to electricity via the ingenious dataklos (basically portaloos refunctioned to contain multi sockets and ethernet access points) and the entire site had super fast, reliable wifi. There were two pararel talks and one workshop space at a time where things were discussed and made from 11 till 10PM every day (talk schedule). Just imagine the creativity and super inspiring talks! Amongst the talks I really enjoyed were ‘Feed Toby! What happens when 93,000 people feed your dog over the internet’ by Nat Morris, ‘Programming is terrible. Lessons learned from a life wasted’ by Tef and ‘Everything you never wanted to know about bees’ by Jonty Wareing. Watching Quadcopters (Universal Air) and following the flight of an high altitude balloon (Adam Greig) on the Nexus7 was fun too! Such a shame the festival is planned to be only every second year – hopefully the success of the first one will change their minds :)

Things I learnt

1. Locksport is fun and very inclusive! Every age can give it a go – all you need is a ‘tentioner’, a piece of steel that slots into the lock to apply turning pressure similar to a key, and a hook to press down the pins inside the lock one by one to free the lock’s cylinder. (Locksport International)

2. Blacksmithing is bloody hard. Two blacksmiths Ian and Rich taught 4 people in 1.5 hours how to make an S-hook. Below is what it looked like. It’s a bit wonky with character, and I certainly would not trust it with high load: Not only did I let the ends go too hot resulting their in their removal but I also managed to burn the final ends, which means that the steel is less strong and much shorter than it maybe should have been.

How do I know when it’s too hot? Removing the piece from the fire, it’s not red cherry red but sparkles yellow and sizzles instead. If the tips aren’t taken off it forms a carbon crust on the outside of the bar -as seen below – but I couldn’t really take those off ;) Respect to everyone who can sculpt with steel, but it’s fascinating in how simple the tools (hammer, emboss etc) seem to be but how versatile shapes can be created with them.

3. Geocaches can come as small as that! On Sunday morning Gausie and Nartandyou took a handful of people on a geocaching walk. I’d of course heard of it, but never done one myself. On our one hour walk we found 4 out of 5 caches. The smallest one was a ‘nano’ cache, often magnetic and not bigger than a centimeter diagonally, it contains a tiny scroll of paper for cashers to leave their name.

4. Drawable music exists! Drawdio is a soft pencil with a battery and a speaker which let’s you create musical sounds by using your body as a conductor.  Depending on the length of the graphite line the lower the sound. Super simple, simply loving the idea.

5. Women used to be the first programmers. Hannah Dee, in her talk ‘Where have all the women gone?’, gave a brief history of programming and the role of women. Over the years the numbers of women in engineering and programming as declined to about 10 %, even hackspaces are struggling to achieve a 15% membership rate. As reasons, Hannah not only mentioned a ‘leaky pipeline’, ‘priming’ or the ‘stereotype thread’ as reasons but also mentioned that more female friendly working conditions would benefit everyone not just because multi gendered teams work better.

6. The challenges of how to build a community is the same as in design or civil scientist projects. The common challenges are: how do we reach and motivate people? Do the findings suffer from novice knowledge and cheaper equipment? How can accuracy be ensured? What do we focus on, e.g Air Quality consists of many different measurable elements? Martin Dittus in his talk ‘Communal Sensor Networks, A review of global DIY environmental monitoring activities’  called out for more documentation of learning and sharing design patterns.

7. The NHS IT is so bad because it’s restricted by a paper driven bureaucratic system and rigid management. If you’ve moved in Britain or changed your GP it’s common to recite your allergies, family’s history record and inform them of any chronic deseases. Carl Reynolds in his talk ‘How to make NHS IT less bad’ mentioned that bugs don’t get fixed, stuff gets transcribed to paper and that nurses and doctors learn to accommodate bad interfaces probably all in the name of ‘patient data protection’ and ‘once upon a time we paid lots of money for it’. Change in the NHS is particularly slow, that’s why NHS hackdays are brilliant to create alternative applications using the NHS’s data.

8. There are people who grow up with Esperanto as their first language and that there are quite a few different music styles and lyrics with Esperanto. ‘Introduction to Esperanto’ – Gavan Fantom

Stuff I’d love to see next time

Offline makers, who shape things with their hands, stand up and share your skills and learning (absolutely applies to me too). This time there were only 2 knitting and 1 crochet group. What about wood turners, jewellery makers, bicycle fanatics, textile or print makers? Obvious and signposted zones for machinery or workspaces would be great!

Have circuit boards future equivalents to Nanodes, Arduinos and Raspberry pies for sale and run workshops to get novices like me to program them.

More music! Have dedicated spaces with proper sound systems for people to DJ and dance, letting people show off their light and glow projects.

A few more glimpses from EMF camp (or on google +)


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