GaelHack recap

And now we have a (wonderfully detailed) guest post from Jon on what we got up to at GaelHack last June.

In January of this year discussion started on the Irish hackerspace mailing list about the feasibility of holding the first hackerspace conference in Ireland. Hacker camps and conferences around the world have become a great way for the community to exchange ideas through talks and workshops, usually over the course of a few days where attendees are encouraged to help create a hacker village through staying overnight within or around the conference, which helps to create a vibrant and fun atmosphere for all.

A few dates and venues were discussed online as well as deciding on a name for the conference. A few names were in the running but eventually the event was named GaelHack and after reconnaissance visits by some hackerspace members to potential venues Mount Melleray Scout centre County Waterford was eventually chosen. This venue checked quite a few boxes for the event. For one thing accommodation was exceptionally cheap both onsite and in the nearby hotel. Also the venue contains numerous rooms and hallways ideal for hosting different workshops. Finally with it being a scouting centre there was of course a campsite right beside it.

Mount Melleray is not very accessible through public transport and so to get there most of us made our way by car and car sharing was the way to go. On the way down this gave some of us a chance to meet and get to know other GaelHack attendees and hear about different hacker and maker interests.

As this was GaelHacks first year, and the conference this year was to be a small affair all of the talks and workshops would be held in the main room. When we arrived from our long trip down we observed a few cables and the 3G configuration hanging out the window so we guessed the guys from TOG were already setting up the internet connection and servers for the network to be used over the coming days.

After a tour of the venue and we had checked in to our respective dorm rooms, hotel rooms, pitched tents (and hammocks!) it was time for some refreshment. Luckily there was a great country pub down the road from the centre and so of course most of us decided to pay it a visit.

A refreshing pint in the local establishment
After a few drinks in the local there was lots of banter and great discussion between hackerspace members on the various experiences in setting up spaces in Ireland. And as it happens, the latest addition to the hackerspace community is the SouthEast Makerspace based in Waterford who were also represented.

After the pub some of us decided to walk back up the dark country road and took the opportunity to stop and watch the ISS spin across the sky! With little light pollution it made for perfect viewing.

The main event started Saturday morning more or less on schedule and more hackerspace members from Nexus ( Cork ) and MiLkLabs (Limerick) arrive to join the Mount Mellory hackerspace crew. After everyone registered the talks began in earnest. Dan from TOG gave a very informative talk on amateur radio covering a wide (ahem) spectrum of material from HAM and military radio to morse code.

This was followed by Gabriela from MilkLabs who gave a brilliant overview of urban gardening and how various open source technology can be used to assist in the GIY* community.

We then took a brief break for lunch which was another chance for people to socialise and chat about the conference and our own hackerspaces or hacker interests.

After lunch the early part of the afternoon started with peann’s Web Application Security presentation which covered various different web application penetration testing approaches and tools used. This followed with some discussion and a chance for attendees to ask questions on the various tools and approaches covered.

Around about this point in the day we noticed an issue with the internet connection and a few had already gone outside to redeploy the antenna at a greater height to help improve the 3G connection for the conference. There was some debate as to which way to direct the antenna to get the best connection, but given that we were in quite a remote location this proved to be somewhat difficult to determine. And so there was much raising of poles to get best height possible which was an entertaining education in itself.

A couple of guys bent over a trailer from which towers a tall antenna
The situation was eventually resolved but we did continue to experience connection problems off and on for the rest of the day.

After the 3G fun outside a short lightning talk session was held where anyone could stand up for five minutes and give a very quick presentation or talk on just about anything they are passionate about, on a project they are working on or need help with. The topics were quite diverse, from open source hardware and wireless security to publishing your own book online.

This was followed by another brilliant security talk by Kevin McClone on Digital Forensics. The focus was on the different approaches and tools Kevin uses as part of his role in helping companies in the private sector protect themselves against security breaches and in investigating material on various devices.

RFID technology and security was up next with Dan from TOG again showing his knowledge in this area to the conference. As well as a great overview of RFID technology and its uses he also provided some shocking examples of security vulnerabilities in this area.

Finally the topic of Lockpicking was the last talk and workshop of the day and was by Martin Mitchell. Martin gave a detailed overview of the various lock technologies and their respective vulnerabilities and demonstrated how interesting a skill and area it is. This was followed by a workshop in which we all had a chance to learn more about the tools used and learn some patience in approaching the problem of lockpicking in hand.

After the day was over it was time for another visit to the local pub to chat about the day and to talk about what we would like to see in future GaelHack events. We also chatted to the pub landlord who was eager to learn more about the hackerspace community and was delighted to see it happening just up the road from his pub! In fact at the end of the night he made a few runs and gave the remaining stragglers all a lift back to the centre.

Sunday started a little later than scheduled but once again we had Dan showing the group how they can make use of setting up satellite dishes and making use of free TV. Finally Robert Fitzsimons gave a great one hour introduction to soldering covering the basics, tools and practice needed before jumping in to some basic kit that he had provided for us.

We ended the morning with a brief meeting where everyone who attended had a chance to discuss what they had learned and how as a community irish hackerspaces and the hacker and maker community at large can contribute and help ensure GaelHack becomes bigger and better over the coming years.

Group shot of many of the attendees of the first GaelHack
If you’d like to get involved in organising and running GaelHack (including scouting out potential locations near you), please get in touch through the mailing list.