The Circle of HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) Conference Wrapup

Chelsea Manning speaking at the 2018 Circle of HOPE Conference

This was my eighth Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) Conference; I've presented talks at four conferences, and have assisted the A/V and Lighting teams in various ways over many years (writeups of past conferences and talks here). These remarkable, volunteer-run conferences, held every two years, feature knowledge, sharing, beauty, joy, community, and--always--a dose of chaos. The conferences are always inspiring, and--this year's alt-right trolls aside--I think this was the best HOPE yet, although you wouldn't know that if you only read about the conference on Twitter.

I was there all three days of the conference, went to probably a dozen talks in all three rooms, walked around the exhibits area, talked to many former and current students running the A/V, and other friends who are involved in running the conference. And I wouldn't have even known the level of controversy if I wasn't also active on twitter. What happened? Some alt-right trolls came in and disrupted the conference and intimidated a few attendees. None of that is good, of course, and the volunteer HOPE staff could have dealt with the situation better.  But I agree with the core idea of the conference organizers in that the answer to hate speech is more speech--not banning the wearing of certain hats (or people wearing them) as some people are demanding on twitter. 

Here's a pretty good summary of the situation, a support of HOPE and way forward by @JairusKhan on twitter (the whole thread starts here). Two important key phrases for me from Mr. Khan's thread was that after the incident "...HOPE should be considered under attack by [alt-right] agent provocateurs.", and ending with "But the reason why this all happened isn't because Nazis think #hopeconf is a safe space. It's because HOPE is where the people fighting Nazis are sharpening their swords.": 


I'm pretty much in agreement with Mr. Khan, and I don't have a lot to add, but I hope people will understand that this deplorable situation--intentionally caused by few people determined to disrupt-was a pretty small negative part of a conference that was otherwise overwhelmingly positive.

Of course one of the highlights of the conference for me was an inspiring talk from Chelsea Manning (photo above). She clearly, like many of us, was more comfortable as a geek in the shadows than as a public figure.  But she is now embracing her current role and bravely standing up to the many who hate and attack her. I was very inspired listening to her. 

I also enjoyed pretty much every talk I attended, all of which will be online soon (click on any photo to enlarge):

In the closing ceremonies (which I watched online yesterday since I was helping strike the other rooms while it was happening live), HOPE ringleader Emmanuel Goldstein, no stranger to controversy, seemed exhausted by the situation and afterwards even seemed to be questioning whether to even continue onwards.  I've long respected the way Emmanuel handles controversy; I think back to the way he and the HOPE core team handled a remarkable appearance in The Next HOPE in 2010 by Adrian Lamo, who had a major role in Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning going to prison (my writeup and photos of that appearance here). Lamo was widely hated by many at the conference, but in the Q&A part of the talk, Emmanuel, as moderator, demanded respect for Lamo while still allowing challenging questions to be asked.  This was remarkable and inspiring and to me represents the way forward.  Those who are currently attacking HOPE on twitter should keep this spirit in mind. Don't let the trolls divide us, let's rally around our community and overwhelm the hate with love and understanding. If trolls want to attend the conference and act respectfully, let them--they might even learn something. In this environment, we all need HOPE more than ever.


Behind the Scenes at Walt Disney World’s Starbright Holidays Drones Show at Disney Springs

I stayed after IAAPA in Orlando to see the launch of the GOES-R weather satellite (my camera phone video here) and also caught the opening night of the very cool Starbright Holidays drone show.  It only runs through January 8, go see it if you can.  Disney has released a  behind the scenes video:

And while not the best viewing location, we watched from the drone launch area over in the parking lot by Cirque du Soleil.  I didn't have my good camera with me but it's pretty impressive watching these drones take off like a swarm of bees and even more impressive watching them come in for landing.  Here's a little camera phone video I shot of the launch area and posted on twitter:

Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return in Sante Fe - Wow!!!

I took time out of storm chasing my way to and from Infocomm to stop by Sante Fe, New Mexico and see Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return.  And holy crap am I glad I did!  

I've worked in live entertainment technology for about 30 years now, and for more than a decade I've overseen much of the technology for our high-tech haunted hotel attraction the Gravesend Inn.  So I'm a fan of weird, immersive, interactive arty attractions, and I've seen literally hundreds and hundreds of projects and installations.  Since I know this field literally inside and out, when I see most things like this, I "get" within a few minutes, check out the workmanship and then I've kind of done it.  But for the House of Eternal Return I spent over an hour, took a break, and then went back in and spent another hour until it started getting too crowded and I had to meet a friend for lunch.  The House of Eternal Return is simply one of the most astonishing attractions of any kind I've ever seen; it's sprawling, beautiful, and endlessly surprising and creative, all while being accessible and without a whiff of the pretension that ruins so many art projects for me.

Meow Wolf is an interesting "arts production company" that has been doing projects in Sante Fe for many years.  With backing from George R R Martin, Sante Fe, and a crowdfunding campaign, the company took over an old bowling alley and opened House of Eternal Return in March of this year. 

After paying $18 to get in, you enter the space after watching a brief and somewhat confusing video.  And then immediately inside the door is a mailbox with a note that's worth reading (click any photo to enlarge):

And then you see a house (which is large but actually something like 2/3 size):

As soon as you enter, you realize that each room of the house is actually a portal to somewhere else:

And from there, each portal leads off into another world, with endless connections, and surprises.  Here's a gallery of a few of the places.  If it seems like a jumbled order that's about right:

My full set of photos is here.

Since this is ostensibly a technology blog, I should talk tech as well.  There's some sold, basic interactive technology (light elevator light curtains to open doors), and several interactive musical pieces that use either mallets or lasers as actuators. But the real charm of the thing is just the sprawling, labyrinthine nature of the place.

If you are within even a couple states of New Mexico, I totally recommend seeing this amazing attraction. I got there when it opened on a Saturday which was nice, because by the afternoon it was quite busy with kids.  I would recommend one of the late nights for a more adult performance, but any time you can spend here is well worth it.

Black Egg's Social Galaxy at Samsung 837

For my last show control class of the semester, we did a field trip to very cool project my former student Michael Sauder had worked on: the Black Egg's Social Galaxy at the Samsung 837 experience store in Manhattan's meat packing district.  The "store" is interesting, since nothing is sold there, but instead is a venue for events, product demonstration, and technical support. 

The Social Galaxy is a temporary art piece in the store, entirely composed of Samsung displays. When you enter, they ask your instagram account (mine is jhuntingtonnyc).  Your pictures and keywords are then sucked into the system and displayed and spoken down the tunnel.  When the next person comes in, your pictures are moved down the tunnel, and so on.  It's pretty cool and keeps getting extended, but it's not going to be there forever so I suggest seeing it soon.