Electromagnetic Field 2018

September 6, 2018 - Geekiness

Electromagnetic Field is a massively friendly not-for-profit hacker and maker camp which happens every two years. I went in 2012 and spoke about women in tech, and I went again in 2016 and spoke about doing robotics with kids. This year I’ve been trying to do a bit less work and get a bit less stressed, so I decided not to submit a talk or workshop. Then my mate Ben put out a call for installations for a cyberpunk zone and I ended up pitching an idea for a display to sit behind the bar. This installation took – as you might imagine – longer than anticipated to pull together.

After a late-evening arrival on the Thursday and a night spent in a tent at 7° with a very thin sleeping bag, I was not 100% ready for festival land. Turns out that being sober and cold in a field full of people and ducks makes it hard to get to sleep. My first action (post coffee) on the Friday morning involved asking a friend to pull into Argos on their way in, so I could have a bit more padding and insulation.

On the Friday I spent most of the day putting together my installation in the Null Sector cyberpunk zone, and generally helping out in Null Sector with carrying, lifting and general tidying up. This was a new element of the festival, made up of a bunch of shipping containers with installations, robots, flame throwers and other cyberpunky goodness. This provided a DJ area and an additional bar to the festival, as well as a night market (night one) and an electronics exchange (night two) and a generally cool place to hang out (all nights). My installation was in the bar, which opened a little later than anticipated.

me standing at the door of the bar saying to all who pass “This will be a bar soon, but we’re still trying to fix the ethernet to the till”.

I’m not going to write anything about my installation in this post as I think it deserves a bit more of an in-depth description in a post of its own. After dark, with lasers and flamethrowers and so on, Null Sector really looked impressive.

Dancers in the Null Sector lit up with lasers, flamethrowers and EL wire.

Other than the prep and debugging in Null Sector I didn’t see much of the main festival on the Friday. I did do a couple of talks though, and the first talk I went to was also one of my favourites of the whole weekend. It had all the ingredients of a fine EMFCamp presentation. Cute robotic elements, anecdotes, how-to details, tales of unsuccessful iterations, and a live demo which pretty-much worked but was at times baffling. You can watch the talk here:

Libby Miller talking about building a telepresence robot out of an Ikea lamp – github link

Throughout the weekend the Hacky Racers were running, a bunch of modified small electric vehicles (at least I think they were all electric…). These raced around a straw bale track – I think a lot of different people were involved in driving each one. They had enduro races, time trials and all sorts of contests. Surprisingly fast at times, and very entertaining. It would have been easy to spend an afternoon just watching, if there weren’t a million and one other things to look at and play with.

One of the Saturday workshops I did was a soft circuits workshop with the excellent Helen Leigh, author of the soon to be published book “The Crafty Kid’s Guide to DIY Electronics“. The workshop was a build from the book, making a light-up emoji sparkle heart. I didn’t get my official EMFCamp badge to work so spent most of the rest of the festival wearing this lightup sparkle heart instead of a badge. I’ve been following Helen on Twitter since the last EMF and I can’t wait to read her book and buy it for all my age-appropriate relatives (and probably myself, first).

Helen and I with my sparkly heart emoji

On the Saturday night there was a screening of the film Hackers, which I had never seen before; I think that means I’m probably not as much of a geek as I thought I was. Seen it now though. Great film. A++++ will watch again. HACK THE PLANET.

Every year I’ve been to EMF I’ve just missed out on the Titanium Spork workshop by Richard Sewell. This year I made it – I got there half an hour early and was the last person to get in. Then I spent 2.5 hours drawing, thinking, cutting in cardboard, cutting in titanium, then a whole load of hammering. At the end, I had my own piece of cutlery. SPORK. Since I got back I have said “Do you want to see my spork?” to about 20 people.

SPORK and @jarkman

On the final night I spent much of the time in Null Sector dancing to the DJ’ing of Chemical Adam – he did another of my favourite talks from the weekend, on somatosensory music, body hacking and beyond. I thought – based on the sheer nuts value of his talk – that the DJ set would be likely to be pretty mad too. Spoiler alert, it was good but not completely bonkers. Take that as you will. Lots of us danced to it.

After the music stopped – bang on 11, as that’s when the licence said it had to, I hung around playing embarrassingly anatomically dynamic computer games with a bunch of Aberystwyth graduates, which was a really pleasant way to round off a lovely evening and a great festival. I’m already looking forward to 2020.

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