Night and Day: Inside Nerdcore Central

Let me put it this way: generally speaking there are things implicit and things explicit -- and at the hackmeeting the overwhelming majority of things to know and find out were implicit. It is in the nature of the self-organised event with flat, or, rather no hierarchies that those things that matter do usually not come with a large banner in human readable code that explains everything. There is not really a spokesperson, there are few figureheads, even fame is implicit, is something to be known and shared between insiders. What is to be found out is mostly based on direct human relationships. Everything else is largely a question of the 'vibe'.

The situation is this: there is a large former factory hall where they have put rows of long tables and chairs. In one corner there is a bar, on the opposite end a sound system with a lot of free music and the AmaroK player for everyone to play with. Now you find yourself a place somewhere at one of those tables and squeeze in between people already there and then you beg for an empty power plug socket; and if you are really lucky there is also a free ethernet socket for the cable which you have wisely brought with you, because otherwise you ared doomed to use the very unreliable WLAN. And then you go, you just hack away, you do what you are doing anyway. The rest depends on how you are configured within the network of human relationships.

I came to sit next to Meinhard who had just hitchhiked around Europe and has written a blog about it We share also some friends we found out, such as Patrice Riemens and others who just had met at the Yaxwe meeting in Pula. In 2004 I ad participated there in the Transnational hackmeeting. Meinhard's main project is Ecobytes which provides hosting services for 'or activists, artists, individuals and small businesses supporting our idea'.

One of the busiest people was Giorgo who was sitting just opposite me but separated through a little tower of three computers and a monitor. He was using one of the boxes to set up darkice an audio streaming software. The idea was to stream all the talks locally and also externally, the challenge to dump all the audio not just in one big endless file but split up nicely already into manageable files. Giorgo was installing, debugging, encoding day and night. When he helped me with my network set-up on my computer I learned 3 new commands within 45 seconds or so. When I spoke to him he emphasised the communicative aspects of free software. He is basically interested in making the technology work but there is also a reason external to the technology itself: it is about communication. He said that most people still didnt know all the possibilities to communicate by using free software and he saw it as his task to create examples and show people the various possibilities inherent to free software.

This is, I think, a special feature of the Italian hackscene. Here, hacking and political issues in general and free speech in particular are going closely together. Apart from Indymedia who were there, at least as long as we believe the various people wearing their t-shirts, there were a number of initiatives devoted to copyleft and anticopyright ideas, announcing local IP numbers for file sharing almost as if in the tradition of a public domain party. Near the entrance a book stall had positioned itself from the excellent Eléuthera publishing company. They are distributing books from, among others, Ippolita collective, founded by Baku, whom I met. They describe themselves as "a group of people working about hacker ethics, free software, media-activism : a meeting place for reality pirates, an independent server, a community of writers." Their first book, which came out in 2005, was called "OPEN NON È FREE Comunità digitali tra etica hacker e mercato globale". Just recently their second written work appeared, Luci e Ombre Di Google which is about "the future and past of the metadata industry". Written by hackers with a political angle, those sure must be interesting books. And, just to give another example, Freaknet distributed a DVD with many materials from Ngvision an audivisual platform for political media work. One of their very recent projects was to attack Vivienne Westwood at the Milano fashion week by presenting shit shaped chocolate cookies to her and gaining entrance by posing as the new fashion label serpica nero. Westwood, by the way, ate the cookie witout getting the 'merde' reference, she was only worried it might contain Marijuana, which it didn't.

As a sort of special intermezzo suddenly someone made an announcement via the loudspeakers that from now on a new system was going to be operated regarding network access, 'human dhcp'. For those less tech savvy, dhcp is a service whereby IP numbers get assigned to clients automatically. This basically means that you just need to create a physical connection to the local gateway and you are 'on'. 'Human Dhcp' meant that we all had to get up and form an queue and give our computer-name and in returnh get a hand assigned IP number. Some foreign visitors simply couldn't believe it why this had to be done manually, and the explanation which someone from Freaknet gave was that "this is the time to get up and talk to someone".

Oh yes, and before I forget, it was lovely to get to know more people of Freaknet ( Those guys cant sit still for a minute. Not only did they distribute the above mentioned DVD, and sold many t-shirts, they also presented a real hack, the project 'sucast'. Italian 'su' means 'your'. On the internal network they set up a server which allowed people to upload their videos via a web-interface. The software then more or less automatically arranged the uploaded videos in tiles. People could also interact by clicking on the links of the uploaded videos which started them. Thus, Sucast is a sort of collective VJ software based on the dynebolic distro and tools. At any event with many people who produce audiovisual stuff Sucast could be massive fun. However, some degraded hacker types ;-) uploaded some quite nasty porn, but that was taken off quickly.

Before and after the Sucast demonstration acracia also known as Tatiana de la O did some excellent VJ-ing adding some political content and poetry to the event. She also showed me her latest project, a mash-up of a mash-up of emotional blogs which is, in her own words, an equalisation of information (like you 'equalise' music). Tatiana is running her own blog but maybe we can convince her to join us here as she is a great fan of, guess whom, Doll Yoko.

By the time Tatiana was VJ-ing the main hall was teeming with people. The light had been dimmed and the volume turned up, there was a realy party atmosphere, just the only difference that people were still hacking away on their keyboards rather than dancing. At this point I could not help but noticing a certain awkwardness about the nerds. I mean this 'awkward' in a totally friendly way. They are just strange people. Imagine, it is long past midnight, everybody is having beer, wine, spliffs, the music is loud and driving, but people are still hunched over keyboards and black screens with green fonts, sticking their heads together over difficult problems. The more I look around I discover that quite a few people have brought modified hardware with them, from transparent cases to no cases at all to a mainboard in an aquarium -- is this some expression of hardware sexuality? Other people have variously designed wifi-areals or are playing with arduino boards adding to the cyberpunk carnevalesque atmosphere.

In this situation I am introduced to xoanino, an ex-cracker. Some liberal intellectuals think they need to make this distinction between hacker=good and cracker=bad, but in their own eyes some of the crackers, people who remove the copy protection from commercial software, are the real Robin Hoods of the computer age. Remember, before there was free software, who has not used a cracked Photoshop or MS Word? Cracking was a service to the community, let's face it, no fake moral indignation here. One of xoanino's most famous cracks was the popular audio software Cubase. How many emergeing house and techno bedroom rockers has he helped thereby to be able to create their tracks? Yet, he does not pretend he did this coming from any anti-copyright political stance. It was all about being better than the other guy, who wrote the copy protection. The Cubase crack he had done in particular because the guy who had written the protection software had claimed that it was unbreakable. Naturally, such a claim couldn't be left standing. This of course happened deep in the past, another century, even Millennium. Now also xoanino is using Linux and officially free software and is working as a security consultant.

As the night went on, I went to the flat where I had been put up. It must have been 3.30 as I left and when I looked back over my shoulder the majority of people didnt look like they were going to sleep any time soon. There was no noticable diminuation of the level of activity.

The next day I gave my talk, which went well (maybe more about that separately), followed by Andy Mueller Maguhn. Andy is not only one of the veterans of the Chaos Computer Club but has also served in various capacities as an input giver, from his position as user-elected representative on the ICANN board to official German working groups on government level where he tried to make a meaningful contribution to policy making. Considering this background it seems even more significant that Andy is angry. I have not seen such an angry Andy Mueller-Maguhn in a long time. In his talk he emphasised the need for 'postgovernmental organisations' as he could not see any meaningful way of working with current governments any longer, as assessment which must have been shaped by experiences with the new coalition government in Germany where the security agenda dominates policy. Andy is right to point out that it is not just about the current Minister of the Interior and that who ever would become his susccessor was likely to follow a similar line. With the whole onslaught on privacy the CCC is now the last organisation in Germany openly running a Tor server for anonymous internet usage. Andy was strongly advocating independent self managed infrastructures, asking "where are ower own satellites"? He fears that even our governments, in times of a crisis, could decide to shut down the internet. Then hackers would be challenged to really have independently working infrastructures.

The last speaker at the end of a long day was Emmanuel Goldstein, founder of the 2600 hacker club and magazine. It was really interesting to hear, from a historical point of view, how everything started in the 1980ies, but the overlong speech which mainly dealt with the hacker folklore from the past had a certain tiring effect on me. Meanwhile many people had left already because of a train strike and a big demonstration in Bologna the next day. So, after some emotional goodbyes I called it quits, yet I am confident I will see this extended 'family' again.


night and day

great narrative armin ... now i REALLY wanna read yr hacker book!

the implicit/explicit knowledge/learning distinction is maybe at the heart of many gatherings .. it reminds me of a description in a fascinating book, 'Blackfoot Physics', by physicist david peat

he talks about going to an indig ceremony in north america (cant remember which tribe/nation hosting) ..anyway, for days there is a lot of ppl setten up temporary spaces/teepees, cooking food, socialising, etc ..but no recognisable (to a non-indig person) ceremonial events, like dance, tribal costumes, exchange of gifts, speeches... so after 2 or 3 days he asks one of the elders when the ceremony is going to start, and is told that "this IS the ceremony"

heyaaaaaaaaaaaaaa from valerino/xoanino

hi armin !
what a good time we had there in pisa, and what a nice person you are :)
great article, looking forward to see your book published, i'll buy it for sure!

anyway .... little correction to your article. maybe i was a little too drunk while we talked, but....
it was another software i cracked for a little "arm-race" with the developer. it was bleem, a playstation emulator.
you can find about the issue googling for "bleem xoanino ucf" or "bleem xoanon ucf" can't remember ... i always used xoanon and xoanino as nicknames, now i use "valerino" only :) for the cubase thing, google "xoanon cubase" :)

bye bye, and hope to see/hear you again!