/ Quinn Norton / 7 am Sun, Dec 30 2012
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  • The LED dawn at 29c3, the 29th Chaos Communication Congress

    The LED dawn at 29c3, the 29th Chaos Communication Congress

    Dawn is breaking over last day of the annual Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany. CCC is the meeting of the Chaos Computer Club (also CCC), a group of German hackers hanging out together since 1981. Congress (as it is also known) is one of the great gatherings of tribes in the hacker world -- which, in the time it has existed, has gone from being a tiny, sometimes gothy and mathematically inclined subculture to being a big, elitist community whose work, values, and aesthetics touch the lives of billions of people. CCC has grown and flowered with the community.

    The mad and beautiful landscape of the conference this year covers four floors of a Hamburg conference center like and electrical/human forest undergrowth. The topics range as wildly as technology itself. Sessions include the mathematics of factoring (cracking) RSA encryption, the state of the surveillance state in Russia, SCADA vulnerabilities, often in critical infrastructure, Romantic poets, and massively hacking tamagotchis. The halls and "assembly" areas for affinity groups all full of the interests of hacker culture: coding tables, hackerspaces, lockpicking, blinky lights, food hacking, etc. The undercurrents and background noise of the conference saturate in the hallway track. Legal crackdowns and the rising surveillance states crowd on in on us from outside, old fights over misogyny, sex and violence, and exclusion riddle the event from within. And through it, also the revitalization of friendships that are, in some cases, four days wide but decades deep. The starts and ends of countless projects, some of which will amuse us all, some fail, and others that will in time shape the world.

    The hacker community that comes together at CCC is an extraordinary thing, physical and ethereal, a communion of wizards and fools, often trading roles through the day.

    This year's theme is Not My Department, ominously lifted from Tom Lehrer's song about Wernher von Braun and the nuclear age. It's a self-conscious choice, a sign of growing awareness that this community is poised to sit in a position of strange power in the 21st century -- without yet knowing what kind of ethics should accompany that position. A nest of geeks whose real-world influence has grown out of all proportion in the last 30 years, these hackers, coders, and makers are struggling with the weird machine they have created in the heart of the world.


    Nearly all the talks are available on Youtube within a day of being completed -- follow along at home, and on Twitter at the #29c3 hashtag. But for the hallway track, there is only here.

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