Hacking in the Country – Hacklands

This weekend I headed out into the Kent countryside, together with my eldest son, with a boot piled full of tech gadgets, a couple of tents, sleeping bags, a groundsheet and some blankets (it is summer in England after all). I wasn’t at all sure what to expect, but I knew there would be some familiar faces there, and lots to learn – and learn lots I did.


The surroundings for the Hacklands Festival were fantastic (thank you James), with plenty of space, and surrounding fields with assorted forms of noise generating wetware, and there was enough new technology to keep even the most hard-core geek happy, some gadget highlights for me were:

  • An extensive play with the Oculus Rift VR headsets. Notes to self: Best to be sitting down for the roller coaster rides; also ensure stomach is empty before hand. Having lots of people on hand to ‘spot’ for the person when they are moving around is handy – that or having a very large, flat lawn :)
  • The Parrot Drone and the SkyController lead to lots of discussions about drones and positive uses for them. A lot of what we talked about you can read on https://www.firstclassdrones.ca/. the general consensus was that the Parrot is amazingly easy and fun to fly (not that that stops it getting flown into a tree ;) )
  • The Estimote Beacons SDK caught my attention, and lead me to investigate the Estimote Stickers. Beacons seem much more practically usable than Geofencing (see Andrew Frederick’s explanation), especially for home applications. I definitely want to check out the Stickers SDK for a bit of homehacking.

But hacklands wasn’t all about the tech, it was about the people and the experience, which were both great. Two nights of fantastic music – from classical piano, to LJ Rich‘s multi-sensory music, and the hilarity of the Vinyl and Traktor driven (no, this one, not that one) dual-channel silent disco, and many, many notable conversations. There were some great talks too, from memorising music to James Tagg’s talk on AI, which has put his book “Are the Androids Dreaming Yet?” on to my “must read” list. It is going to take a while to digest it all, but some immediate thoughts-to-action for me:

  • Start to create music again. In my teen years I worked as a computer music composer, and loved it. Somewhere that fell by the wayside. Given the amazing music making technology around now, it feels like time to revive that skill. Techno-business culture separates music from work, which is odd given that most tech business are heavily populated by closet musicians, and that in most cultures music and the work place are intertwined.
  • Small hacks/apps to nudge the world better, especially in the area of mental health; More on that soon – it is the largest addressable health issue in the UK right now, and I believe that technology is both a massive part of the problem and a massive part of the solution.
  • Hacking the house. The first wave of home-hacking did much to improve the building where I spend most of my life. There are a few specific projects that would improve the living quarters for the residents (human and feathered), so now I have a son who can build and assemble JeeNodes, it is time to crack on with a few of those.
  • Exercise. Always ends up too low on my doing list. Having Amanda Stollery around was a good reminder that it can be gentle and fun, and rather than another thing undone on the to do list.

I also left feeling motivated to turn my recent research on talking Chickens (language and networks), and on the Embodied Mind (and why you are not a computer) into deliverable talks, and to pull it into some sort of publishable form. It was also a nudge to go along to one of the many locally active hackspaces, including the hackspace in Farnborough, or the facilities at ConnectTVT, or the Reading hackspace, rLab), so there are no excuses for not carrying on the hacking…


There was more, so much more too, but I’ll leave that to the pictures. Many, many thanks to Helen, Lloyd and everyone who helped to make Hacklands what it was :- incredibly enjoyable, memorable and uplifting: A happy space.


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