Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Oggcamp 12 - The open movement goes from strength to strength

Oggcamp12 is the fourth meetup of the Oggcamp unconference, this time held in Liverpool at the John Moore University School of Design.

Trystan Lea of Open Energy Monitor and I, travelled there together from Trystan’s house in rural Snowdonia, where I had overnighted after driving up from London.

Liverpool and the North West has a strong tech community, as anyone coming up from the South East will soon learn and appreciate. Trystan and I had previously attended the Liverpool BarCamp held last November at doesLiverpool, so it was good to meet up with old and new friends, from the Merseyside tech community.

As an event, Oggcamp12 was sold out, with 400 or so people packing the main auditorium for the opening talk.  Following on from the unconference format, there were two additional presentation rooms for parallel sessions, and new for this year, an open hardware jam gathering on the third floor.

Each year, Oggcamp attracts new followers and new presentations, and it was good to see the extent and mix of the talks being offered.  For anyone attending Oggcamp each year, it is a great opportunity to meet up with friends from previous gatherings, and catch up on what is happening generally in the open community. It’s not just Linux and open software, over the 4 years it has spread out to include open hardware, the Maker community, and a platform for presenting some of the wider thinkings of the open tech community.

There is so much going on at Oggcamp, so everbody comes away from Oggcamp with their own ideas and memories of what they saw and did.  I found it particularly difficult to choose between some of the excellent talks running in the parallel sessions, and so probably missed a lot of good material – including Stephen Fry’s video link-up presentation – doh! However, I did get to see most of Alan O’Donohoe’s (@teknoteacher) most inspirational talk on getting kids to code in schools, and a fascinating talk on the workings of the Enigma Machine.

The official hotel for Oggcamp was the Adelphi near Lime St. Station, but I missed out on the special deal and ended up in a satisfactory B&B in a very run-down neighbourhood to the north of the city centre.  A £5 cab ride to the city centre on the Saturday night, allowed us to pig-out on pizza before going on to the Adelphi for the evening of entertainment.  It was held in a large function room in the basement of the Adelphi, whilst at least 2 or 3 weddings were happening a floor above in the main hotel spaces.  You can tell a good scouse wedding – when at least 2 cop vans and an ambulance turn up at 11pm.  Musical entertainment was by @methoddan and his band, and this invoked some wonderful freestyle dancing, amongst the otherwise reticent geek community.  My only gripe about the evening was that the beer was either off, or crap (Tetley’s Extra) and the bar staff were a bit sullen. I stuck to bottled Bulmers cider all evening, apart from the point when I accidently ordered a Tetley’s, thinking “how bad can it be...?”

Sunday proceedings started around 11am, and having rather ignored the hardware workshop on the Saturday, I thought I’d better make the most of it on Sunday. Last year, the hardware consisted of just 3 offerings, myself with Nanode, some guys with a 3D printer and another lonely hardware guy.  This year about a dozen different organisations pitched up, and we had offerings including Textile repurposing and computer controlled embroidery,  doesLiverpool with Bubbilino, 3D printing, Raspberry Pi, Howduino with breadboard Arduinos and Fignition – a DIY Forth computer kit based on the ATmega328.

My contribution this year was a talk on the Saturday afternoon about the Nanode project plus some examples of projects where Nanode had been used in the last year – including the Malet St Gardens Sound Sculpture by Public Interventions, and the Air Quality Egg.

This was followed up on Sunday with a hardware workshop session where I built up one of the new WiNode kits, as used in the Malet St arts project, proved the wireless range from the 3rd floor workshop to the far corner of the JMU grounds (about 100m), and rigged up a Sharp motion and distance sensor so that those readings could be sent up to the Open Energy Monitor server.

OggCamp has become an annual phenomenon, and is growing from strength to strength. It offers an informal  forum for the open tech community, allowing community networking, presentations and entertainment all washed down with lots of beer and music.  Oggcamp doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s just a bit of fun for those who don’t get out much.

Thanks to all the Oggcamp organising committee, and the Crew for all their hard work over the last 12 months, and this weekend, for putting on such an inspiring event. – see you all in 2013! 

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