By Annalee NewitzPosted 12.30.2006 at 1:33 pm 1 Comment
Everyone at the Chaos Communication Congress wants to participate in hands-on experiments as much as possible. That's why the worshop areas in the Berlin Convention Center -- both the officially labeled "Workshop" and all the ad-hoc arrangements everywhere on tables and floors -- are some of the most popular spots here at CCC. Although it would be impossible for me to summarize every cool project I've seen here, I'll offer you a few highlights so you can plan your next long weekend around them.
1. Christian Daniel and Thomas Kleffel gave an excellent presentation on the new European digital television broadcast standard known as DVB-T. Eventually all TVs in Europe will receive TV signals through DVB set top boxes that de-scramble the digital signals send over the air, and already DVB has taken over in Germany. Daniel and Kleffel built their own DVB transmitter and explained it to an engrossed audience (at left, Daniel with the transmitter). According to Daniel, it's quite easy to inject your own data into the signal and take over somebody else's set top box. This is particularly spooky, he added, because most set top boxes can be reprogrammed remotely in a permanent way. (You can find out how to build a DVB transmitter and experiment with your own set top box here.) As Seth Schoen of the Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out in his talk later that day, it's crucial to start hacking DVB now, before it has been locked down with DRM.
2. There's nothing like learning a made-up natural language when you've already mastered several computer languages, and Lojban was what everybody wanted to know more about at CCC. Lojban is a constructed langauge or "conlang," and its main properties are beauty and complete adherence to the rules of logic. Lojban is an outgrowth of Loglan, a logical language developed in the 1950s. Today Lojban has several thousand speakers -- including one named Alexander Koch (at left) who took over the Workshop area in the Conference Center basement to teach us how to have rudamentary but completely unambiguous conversations. Want to learn Lojban? As Koch put it, "Lojban is the hacker's spoken language." Check out the book "What is Lojban?" and learn more.
3. During one of the five-minute "lightning talks," SJ from the US nonprofit One Laptop Per Child introduced the new version of the so-called "$100 computer." It looks fantastic, and is the perfect size and durability for tiny humans. He said his organization will be handing 5 million of them to children in five countries next year, with the idea that if they work in remote, rural regions they can work almost anywhere. Showing off the computer and grinning, he said, "Kids who try these never want to give them back. They know exactly what they want to do with them." SJ asked the audience to help improve the devices by submitting proposals for games, stories, and software appropriate for teaching kids. Why not help improve the computers yourself by coming up with your own project and volunteering to build it?
4. On the first day of the convention, Fabienne Serriere spent two hours teaching people how to make their backpacks into wifi-sensing devices by modifying a wifi detector and sewing it into a backpack strap. It was the ultimate blend of home economics and home electronics, and the workshop attendees loved it. Want to build your own, so that you can glow when passing through the 2.4 ghz range of the spectrum? Find out how to do it here.
These projects should amuse you for days on end, and if you need more you can always come to CCC next year. --Annalee Newitz