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35th Chaos Communication Congress

Chaos Communication Congress is a huge, amazing meetup of hackers, artists, makers, activists, anarchists, and other like-minded people. I just returned from the 35th edition, held in Leipzig, Germany. It was the 3rd Congress I attended, and as always I was hugely impressed by the feeling of being a part of greater community. This is a completely different event than commercial IT conferences and you can tell that these people are here to work together and help each other, not only talk about what they are doing for their employer.

I took a lot of photos, although I was careful not to include any people in the picture – the congress rules say you are not allowed to take people's photos without their consent. There is a lot to photograph on CCC other than people, though :)

You can find most of the main talks recorded at I watched too many talks to list here, but I will describe some that I liked best.

Planes and Ships and Saving Lives was a talk by Mission Lifeline, one of the last organizations out there rescuing the refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

They talked a lot about both the political problems they were facing trying to get the European governments to respect basic human rights and not leave people out to die at sea. The technology was also mentioned – having to manage laptops and other devices on a ship is somewhat harder than doing the same thing on land. For instance, they manage all the laptops using Ansible, so that they can quickly configure a new laptop if one fails. They also keep really good documentation, in case they need to do some troubleshooting while at sea with weak (if any) Internet connection.

For me, the definite highlight of the whole CCC was the live call during this talk. We connected with the SeaWatch 3 crew that rescued 30 people a week before, and were still looking for a port that would take them in. "A lot of people" were negotiating on their behalf, but no luck so far.

Tactical Embodiment was given by Angela Washko, an activist exploring various online spaces that are hostile to women. She was presenting The Game: The Game, a visual novel game about the pick-up artist community, where you could experience how is it to be a target of PUA gurus' pick-up methods. The game is very well researched, and everything the characters do is based on their "training materials" from real life. The end result is pretty unsettling and difficult to watch (a lot of creepy behaviours ranging from unwelcome advances to outright sexual harassment) but very valuable.

Among more technical talks there was Space Ops 101. That talk was a detailed (but still pretty accessible) description of how a satellite is launched and operated from the ground. I learned many interesting details about different orbits, launch phases, problems and recovery, mission planning, and decommissioning a satellite after it reaches end of life.

Recently, I'm playing with FPGA chips (programmable circuits, designing your own processor, etc.), and right now there is an open source FPGA revolution going on (with the IceStorm toolchain), so it was great to see all these people making FPGA tools and boards on CCC. I bought an IceBreaker board, and I would like to recommend Snakes and Rabbits - How CCC shaped an open hardware success, in which two indie hardware makers talk about building open source hardware.

At Taming the Chaos, I learned about current work in securing software written in C. The author is part of CHERI project that aims to create "hardened" processors that would detect common C out-of-bounds pointer bugs. He also talked about creating formal, executable specificiations for processor ISAs (instruction set architectures).

Ultimate Mars Rover Talk is definitely worth watching. The talk is about Mars Curiosity rover, what software it's running, and how it's operating on Mars surface. By the way: the "Ultimate (…) Talk" series is pretty great. If you're not afraid of low-level details, last year's Ultimate Apollo Guidance Computer will leave you speechless.

Finally, A Christmas Carol - The Spectres of the Past, Present, and Future is an impressive summary of various Meltdown and Spectre exploits. The "main character" is visited by three Spectres and they came to a rather scary conclusion: these kind of attacks will probably keep us busy for a very long time.