Sampling an Electromagnetic Field

June 13th, 2024 by
A Viewdata terminal with the EMF Schedule

A Viewdata terminal with the EMF Schedule

We went to Electromagnetic Field 2024 as a silver sponsor. Whilst there we found a lot of fantastic fun things and missed a vast number of others. The really amazing part of the festival was the massive variety of things the participants brought with them. Lock picking and blacksmithing courses were available. Geodesic domes were very popular and courses on how to build them were at the Maths Village. At least one dome integrated with the API from the bar, so the lighting changed colour based on what type of drinks were currently being ordered.

If you thought that ethernet and IP was a bit too modern there was a fully functioning DECT cordless phone network and you could access the live schedule information over ViewData (Prestel/Minitel).

We missed at least 98% of the talks. Fascinating ones we did see included a comprehensive explanation of the attempt to backdoor ssh with xzutils by Dr Matthew Garrett. Dr Matthew Bothwell gave a guide to Astrophysics for Supervillains covering things like ‘what happens if I crash the moon into the earth?’ (answer: you get a moon). Tim Hunkin of the Secret Life of Machines gave a short history of electric shocks and Ian B Dunne played the Theramin and musical saw. Much to our surprise, this was quite listenable.

Sadly the magic smoke came out of the Tesla Coil before the end so we had to make do with fire and lasers in additional to a traditional light show around the DJ area in the Null zone.

But this is a short summary, there was a fantastic kids creche, swap shop, night market for created things, crochet, hand built guitars, paper rockets, active satellite tracking, a 5km run, a fully stocked bar, a manual version of flappy bird to play and and and [approximately 100,000 further words cut to keep this post merely far beyond reasonable]

The now notorious swap shop gets a special mention. Not only did it have extremely dangerous materials like Linux install CDs from the late 1990s that may permanently corrupt young minds but some things that are rather harder to get hold of.

Warning sign from the swap shop asking not to drop off radioactive sources.

When we saw the warning sign we had to find out what incident motivated the creation.

It has a direct entry on wikipedia and is going to cause a lot of festivals to have to update their terms and conditions to prohibit bringing radioactive materials to the site. Fortunately an attendee was familiar with safe disposal procedure and quickly removed the offending sources.

The last and arguably best thing at Electromagnic Field was an incredibly secretive project, the Great Camp Hexpansion Question ( This was a series of locations (mostly, but not all static) where you could plug the quest markers into the official badge which would record you’d found them. A cross between a scavenger hunt and a technology preview it encouraged wandering and looking around the whole camp to find many cool things that were tucked away.

GCHQ location

GCHQ location marker

We asked the organisers if this was an official GCHQ sanctioned project. They said no. But that’s what you’d expect GCHQ would say.