Some of the audience that piled into the big tent for the first event of the day.
Day 12. The What The Hack conference started today on a campground near Bostel, Holland. It's so very hard to describe these things to people who haven't actually seen one of them. But suffice to say that when you're here, there's a mood that's very recognizable to anyone who believes in magic. There is a chemistry in the air that makes you believe any goal is achievable, any problem fixable, a virtually infinite number of people exist to learn from and interact with. I always sense that feeling whenever I see the community taking form as tents go up and things start to work. We may be in the middle of nowhere in this country but you would never guess it from all of the activity going on and all of the amenities we've made available. Net connectivity isn't a problem, there are four tracks of speakers from morning into the night, food of all sorts is being prepared for the thousands of people camped out here, and we have the freedom to be as attached or detached as we wish.
I realized today that I have five phones on me. It's really gotten out of control. I have my normal GSM phone which is a triband using my U.S. SIM. Then I've got the Liechtenstein SIM that I've been using for all my incoming calls at a cut rate. On top of that I've got my CDMA phone from the States which is absolutely useless anywhere else but came in really handy when I was a few miles out on the boat and will be useful again when I arrive on the West Coast in September. Then there's the satellite phone that I've used for one "Off The Hook" show already in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I imagine it will be coming in handy again several times before this trip is over. Add to that the most recent addition: the special DECT phone that conference organizers were nice enough to give me so that I can be reached here at the conference without using any kind of bill incurring phone device. It's also possible to call anywhere in the world for free on one of these phones if you call to an area covered by an Asterisk PBX. All of this isn't even counting my computer, cameras, and other devices. So for being out in the wilderness, I really have an absolutely absurd amount of contraptions.
I helped with the opening keynote to the conference, something I seem to have been part of for all of the outdoor events here in Holland. And it's always inspirational to me to see all the new and old faces in the crowd, as eager as I am to converse, interact, learn, and build. That's what will be happening in these fields for the next few days and as Rop and I mentioned at the talk, people will meet at this event and start projects that will be legendary by the time the next one rolls around.
One thing that's traditional at these gatherings is a certain degree of rain. That's just what happens in this part of the world and it doesn't dampen our spirits in the least. Those of us who were sleeping in our tents this morning were awoken by the sound of thunder and heavy rain at around 6:00 am. Fortunately there were no leaks in my tent and the storm passed after about an hour. It was a great way to start the day and the conference which has been running quite smoothly ever since.
One very strange thing they do here is not take actual money for any of the food or drinks. Instead you exchange your euros for little plastic chips and these are then used for actual transactions. A yellow chip is 50 cents, a green one is one euro, and a pink one is two and a half euros. How bizarre is it to go to a bar and order a glass of wine and hand the bartender green and yellow pieces of plastic as payment and not get your ass kicked? I'm quite enjoying it.
It's been incredibly difficult so far to get around as I keep getting ambushed by journalists wanting to do interviews. I'd forgotten about that aspect of these events and having all these phones I'm reachable at certainly doesn't help. At one time I was told to be somewhere at 4:00 pm for a radio interview so I went to Radio Sub Ether, the official radio station of the camp. In the middle of the interview I started doing there, I got a call from the people I was actually supposed to be having an interview with who apparently were radio people who weren't at the radio station! So I had managed to add on yet another interview simply by not knowing where to go. It's a bit of a hassle but still easily definable as fun.
The campground is absolutely huge and there's so much I have yet to explore. Every waking hour has been taken up with either attending talks or hanging out with people I haven't seen in a while or those I've just met. The energy level continues to rise. I'm impressed with the number of young people here as well as those who have been in the scene forever. It gives me a lot of hope that we're actually listening to each other and not simply all caught up in our own little worlds. It's really easy for hackers to do that. One thing I tried to stress at my talk today was the importance of our reaching out not only to each other but to those who have absolutely no connection to the hacker world and possibly not even to technology in any significant way. So many people out there have an ability and an appreciation for curiosity and exploration. We can provide the means of connecting these people together and I see that happening more and more. I hope to be as inspired by this event as I've been by all the others.
Sleep is something that I'm not experiencing an awful lot of - there will be time for that later. A bunch of us stayed out late watching for satellites, playing with Bernie's green laser, and just having some great conversations. Tomorrow we'll be taping next week's "Off The Wall" and I hope to get some interviews for "Speakers' World."