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Amal Graafstra
Amal Graafstra

Editor’s Note: Amal Graafstra was one of hundreds of people who attended ToorCamp, a summer camp for geeks earlier this month on the Washington coast. The author of the book RFID Toys and a “double RFID implantee,” Graafstra documents the experience in this guest post.

A whole gaggle of hackers, makers, breakers, and shakers gathered on the shores of Neah Bay, on the Washington state coast, for ToorCamp 2014. A hacker conference/camping trip that only happens every two years, ToorCamp is a combination of giddy fun and sand in your shorts.

When I went camping as a child, arrival at the campground suddenly meant I could play with fire, consume mass quantities of “camp food,” turn marshmallows into burning catapult ammunition, and generally wreak havoc on everything in my proximity — man, beast, and nature in general. ToorCamp is exactly like that, but replace burning marshmallows flying through the air with tiny drones, and exchange the general havoc for, well… there was still general havoc, and that’s one of the great things about ToorCamp.

Two years ago, the 2012 event was the second ToorCamp ever, and my first introduction to the idea that you could go camping and bring your giant laser, set up a pop-up GSM network, and solder some wires to a PCB while listening to waves crash on the beach. This year, I felt like a veteran. I brought proper food this time, I knew to bring firewood, and I planned ahead and brought my wifi repeater setup so I could get internet access from my tent.


The drones were out in full force this year and ranged in size from a few inches across to a couple feet. There were so many that someone thought of bringing a marine radar system to keep track of them in flight.


Aerial drones weren’t the only semi-autonomous machines at camp — there was also a drone boat!


This year, ShadyTel ditched the idea of setting up a GSM network and went totally retro. Everyone was encouraged to bring an analog telephone, and more than 5 miles of twisted copper was run all over camp.


There’s nothing quite like having an old school telephone network run copper right to your tent!


Of course, things quickly got out of hand.


If you’ve ever wondered if a musical singing tesla coil placed 15 feet from analog telephone lines would cause any interference on the line, the answer is yes.


Two years ago, I offered RFID implants at ToorCamp, as detailed in my posts on GeekWire at the time. The implantation station was a bigger hit this time around, with 15 implants installed!


The implantations had to be coordinated with the nearby pressure-cooker popcorn popper.


This thing basically roasted the popcorn seeds at extremely high temperatures and pressures in a tiny vessel. This kept the seeds from actually popping once they were ready. Then, when the time was right, the release lever was pulled and all the seeds popped at once, shooting out of the end of the cooker with all the ferocity and noise of a cannon firing.

Between coffee can forges being constructed and smart phone camera microscope scaffolds being erected, there was one thing I simply didn’t expect to see… a hot tub truck.



Constructed out of tarp in the back of a pickup truck, and heated using radiator tubing over a fire, the hot tub truck was surprisingly comfortable and, well, when the sun went down, clothes came off. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Once darkness fell, the lasers came out in full force. There were mounted lasers, hand held lasers, and laser projectors shooting out from tents which animated various designs on nearby trees and people.


All in all, I’m glad ToorCamp only happens every other year. The fact that it doesn’t happen annually urges you take full advantage of everything there is to do and see, and enough time goes by in 2 years that you start to miss the fact that 300+ people had to share just two showers for 4 days. There are a lot of cons you can go to each and every year. They are held in various hotels, convention centers, and other equally uninspiring venues, but ToorCamp is an honest to goodness camp, full of adventurous people with ingenious gadgets and quirky campitude. If you’ve never been, start planning now for ToorCamp 2016. You won’t regret it.

Follow Amal Graafstra on Twitter @amal and find out more on his site.

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