Events / Guest posts

A dispatch from Hamburg’s Chaos Communication Congress

Grab a Club-Mate and catch a glimpse of what this epic hacker conference is all about.

From the 32C3 Conference in Hamburg. (Photo by Adelle Lin)
This is a guest post by Adelle Lin, maker of unicorns and other things.
32c3 is sort of like a cross between the HOPE Conference and Burning Man, but without the dust storms.

The 32nd Chaos Communication Congress (32c3) held in Hamburg, Germany, was themed “Gated Communities.” This was my first Congress and I was excited to be a presenter there. Flying out of Newark airport, I found myself in the company of five other Congress-goers from Brooklyn, two of whom were fellow NYC Resistors — Caroline Sinders and Matthew Borgatti — who would also be giving talks.
Reaching Hamburg, we rendezvoused with a few other Resistors and Code Liberation ladies before getting our Congress bracelets and hitting the event. Admittedly, I did not know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised that we were greeted immediately not by conference rooms but various digital artworks.
The first room we walked into gave us a choice of crossing through a sea of hackers sitting under fabric stalactites and a projection tunnel that led to the next room, which was similar but had a series of vacuum tubes that were able to pass messages and made a fun shooting noise. There was an LED screen made of recycled Club-Mate bottles and also an automated My Little Pony sewing machine. A series of escalators and stairs spawned off gathering halls that led to four conference rooms where the talks were being held.

The first talk by our group was by Trammell Hudson, with whom I would be co-presenting with on day two. His talk was on the “Thunderstrike 2” malware which can spread its attack through Thunderbolt-connected accessories using Option ROMs and any Mac connected to it at boot. The infected Mac could then pass on the attack to other accessories, and the chain continues.
Matthew Borgatti’s talk, which was close to midnight and called, “My Robot Will Crush You With Its Soft Delicate Hands!” presented soft-robotics in an insightful and delightful manner, demonstrating how we can use biomimicry and cheap materials to create useful medical and spatial devices.
Hudson and I presented “Vector retrogaming” on hacking vintage vector-display monitors to play original Atari vector games through MAME emulators and also how to create new vector-art using Processing, which will spawn into a Code Liberation class as well as a demo night at Babycastles.
Caroline Sinders presented her performance piece at a talk titled “When algorithms fail in our personal lives” on the ways people relate to and understand the complex interweaving of social media platforms, often allowing instances of harassment and grief to go unpenalized.

Other talks ranged from public libraries to commercial EEG products, but one of notable ones for me was the on “Computational Meta-Psychology” by Joscha Bach. It was quite a dense philosophical framing of our minds in terms of AI computations.
Back broke down four orders of religious beliefs and explained that people should optimize for agreements with their peers. However, nerds don’t understand the world in terms of right or wrong but truths. He summarizes that we are a story our brain tells itself and advises that we should not teach our children to see in absolutes but to relate our journeys and facilitate their own exploration.
After all, “knowledge is always changing, it is a moving frontier,” he said.
The founders of Tor also gave a series of talks, one of which was more of introduction called “Tor onion services: more useful than you think.” They debunked the myth of the Dark Web being a separate entity and explained how hidden services really work — it really comes down to being about transport encryption, a way for information to reach its destination more safely. Using Tor allows for alternate access to sites that we take for granted, such as Facebook, in countries where servers can be less trusted and introduces encrypted chat apps like Ricochet.

No conference in Germany would be complete without a dance floor, and 32C3 really served one up for me.
One of the conference halls transformed into a pretty convincing nightclub featuring a series of deconstructed caravans with a variety of themes such as a quaint home with backyard laundry hangings, a diner, an ’80s fashion studio, etc. One even had wings attached.
There were a couple of bars and a some nice options of Club-Mate cocktails and I got to sample the locally renowned Tschunk — sort of like a mojito but with Club-Mate replacing the soda water. An Egyptian-esque sculptural wall that had the usual lasers and some edge-projection mapping provided a great backdrop for chatting and dancing into the night. Thus the days and people of the Congress blended into the night haze of smoke, and pulsating beats.

Series: Brooklyn

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