your correspondent before...
...and after HIP.
||... done that|
NTK's live report from HIP '97 "starts" Saturday.
(Although you should bear in mind that I'm catching the 0650 out of Heathrow that day, so I'm probably going to be Mr Zombie for the duration.)
Nonetheless, do come and say hi to the undead. I look like the above, I'm (no doubt) wearing a 'STAY ASLEEP' t-shirt, I'll be struggling with a tent, and, with a bit of luck, should have a camcorder + laptop with me. Come and tell me your opinions on crypto and other stuff for a BBC video diary!
Privacy guaranteed, dammit!
-----> ENDS <-----
This is the strangest, most upsetting comformance of the most hard-core techiness with the most organised counter-cultural presence that I could possibly imagine. It really is the geek glastonbury. I'm watching the most concrete actualisation of the computer underground I've ever seen. So you'll excuse if me I am, for want of a better phrase, freaked.
Overview: campsite, about 45 minutes out of Amsterdam, in the middle of unwooded nowhere. Around 1500-2000 people, around 500 tents, round 1000 PCs. A mini-economy of food shops and technical support desks. On entering the campsite, your first assumption (well, not *your* first assumption, but you know what I mean) would be that these are this an encampment of Linus Torvalds fanatics - Torvalds being some kind of Dutch rock star, possibly just deceased - maybe even killed by this Bill Gates character. A *lot* of tents have banners devoted to either rapt Linux praise, or virulent anti-Microsoft propaganda. You pass a new "#linux - www.rtfm.ru" or "Satan Inside"-style t-shirt every few seconds. Some of these kids look like they've been running a candle-lit vigil for Linus ever since they installed RedHat.
Ironically, the only sign of an on-site grave I could find was a mock epitaph to Bill Gates near the centre of the camp. "Where do you want to go today?", asks the engraving - a genuinely chilling rhetorical question in the context of the afterlife. The graveside is littered with offering - curiously few of them complimentary.
And what have I seen, what have I heard? I've chatted to the guy who cracked PGP 5.0 (before you ask - it's Windows swapfile stuff : the passphrase is stored in memory in plaintext), and a man who's running a Web show where he answers questions from chatting users while wandering around with a headcam. I've been shown the Dutch Mafia's Website (they have a cyber.cafe in the red light district), and seen the head of the Dutch criminal investigation agency (with his full white beard and gnomish good looks, he appears for all the world like Just Another Perl Hacker - or maybe he's just great at blending in). I've listened to a woman in an wheelchair document her fight against the Scientologists (and how almost every other ISP in the country united behind her). I've gotten so stoned I've temporarily forgotten what my face even is. I've seen the most spectacularly pale adenoidal adolescents fry before my eyes in the raging sun, and watched euro and yank geek girls skinny dipping in the HIP river. I am, definitively, in overload.
Drug-induced paranoiac states aside, it's HIPnet that is still making my blood run cold. Just the idea that the hundreds of tents that pepper the sprawling campsite are wired to the Net is cool/creepy enough. Actually wandering around the canvas-covered machines is, I would say almost physically disorienting. Your mind just flip-flops: PCs-in tents!-laptops-in tents!-hub routers-in tents!. I managed to fight off my increasing sense of alienation by - of course - joining in, but even assimilation was pretty culturally gut-wrenching, though. You visit a tent in the centre of the camp, andd pick up an IP address on a clothes-peg from a surly tattooed sysop. Then you blag a RJ45 lead and mains cable from your neighbours' tent. And then you pass on the connection to your neighbour, and tell him where to pick up his IP peg. Unreconstructed seventies-style socialism works. Needless to say, when Netscape kicked up for the first time under canvas, this little Thatcher's child had a tear in his eye.
Yours, trying to sleep while - and I swear this is true - listening to the sounds of Quake Deathmatchs, the buzz of mosquitoes, the chatter of keyboards, gentled thrummed guitar rock eurotrash, and quietly, in the distance, a single acapella rendition of the "Age of Aquarius",
Frankly, in this atmosphere, I feel guilty that I'm not improvising a soldering iron out of a cigarette lighter and blue-tack flux. Well, not to worry. If there's anything that HIP'97 has taught me, it's that I'm a software kind of guy. Next time, for instance, I'm hiring a sub-contractor to do my tent.
Today the show went on. I saw very little of the official events. I'm supposed to be doing a Video Diary on public key encryption for the BBC, so I spent the bulk of today pestering citizens for their escrow opinions. Yeah, I know - this should blast This Life off the 1998 top slot, shouldn't it? It wasn't so bad: people were amenable, and I looked so much like a cyborg with the camcorder, mike and phones that I think many people assumed they were talking to the HIPCAR remote-sensing robot.
Eric Hughes, founder of the cypherpunks, is a software person. Picked out from the vast 'nam style encampment of the cypherpunks and egged on by me to give his favourite crypto slogan, he finally admitted a soft spot for the barest entry in the canon - "Cypherpunks write code". It's a good template for the driving force behind the whole HIP feel: all through the weekend, cypherpunks wrote code, network gurus troubleshot, drivers drove, tentmeisters camped, hackers hacked, crackers cracked. Everyone did what they were very, very good at. I finally tracked down how I managed to get 60Kbps out of my tent: someone had designed and implemented a IP protocol system for a 8 Megabit microwave link between here and ... God knows where. CERN? MAE-East? Mars? Even the 15 year old German kids wandering around the place had a role. Their role was to go 'kool' and whistle whenever anything worked. It was obvious, but someone had to say it, and they were the guys to make it happen.
Being on the outer zone events lets you see another side to HIP. Mostly, it's a side that's full of telejournalists filming one another. This happened twice to me. First I was stopped by photographers wanting to take pictures of my T-shirt. Everyone got this; there seemed to be three different teams pursuing the same brilliantly original idea. T-shirt logos are the .sig files of HIP, and photo hacks, faced with instant opinion, know better than to not rip them off. Later, I was interviewed by Dutch digital journalist about my opinions of the mysterious 'free telephone call feature' that had spontaneously befallen all the local payphones. Her partner suggested that it was an ingenuous trawl for suspects by the local PTT. What could I say? I upped the ante, and claimed responsibilty on behalf of the National Security Agency.
The rest of the zone makes for interesting coverage. Once you've mentally picked off all the genuine hackers, crackers and teen wannabes at HIP, you're left with some pretty colourful chaff. Ex-military guys, porn ISP resellers with histories on four continents, dazed women of a certain age who live on boats, zippies on borrowed time, bosnians with air-miles, euro-artists, camp followers, headhunters and the Feds. No reason why they're all represented. Just the scent, I guess.
Excuse me. They've just mixing into the dance-floor a voice-perfect Michael Jackson parodist singing something about changing his PC for a Mac. The network tables in this room are inches away from the dance floor. As it should be; and now they're playing Firestarter - a dangerous anthem to end a hacking festival with. Some of the German kids are already burning stuff in the south camp. Kool.
More observations? Well, it couldn't happen here. Not without going back in time and giving Cliff Stanford ecstacy in a crucial moment in Demon's early days. So, who cares? HOPE's cranky NY, HIP's hippie holland. We've got our own tunes to play.
Here's to 2001. And to code.