A Weekend at OggCamp August 2017 in Canterbury, United Kingdom

Imagine a technical conference with a twist – all the talks are delivered by the delegates. In other words, the talks are delivered by the normal everyday people who have turned up at the event. Amazing as it seems this idea is not new, this format of conference is known as an “unconference”.

One such unconference is known as “OggCamp” and it occurs every year in the UK. You turn up to face a blank conference schedule and a bunch of post-it notes with a marker pen. To offer a talk is simply a matter of writing it on a post-it and placing it under your preferred slot as below…

The unconference takes shape... ticks signify votes for talks offered on post-it notes.
The unconference takes shape… ticks signify votes for talks offered on post-it notes.

There are a variety of talks “slots” so some pople talked for 20 minutes, some for 45 minutes and there was a special slot for “lightning talks” – no, not talks about the atomoshperic electrical disturbances :) they are… well check the image caption below for an explanation.

Lightning talks are short talks lasting no more than 5 minutes with only one audience question allowed. It's an oppurtunity for some "off-the-wall" topics but the ones here are all pretty standard :)
Lightning talks are short talks lasting no more than 5 minutes with only one audience question allowed. It’s an oppurtunity for some “off-the-wall” topics but the ones here are all pretty standard :)

I went to the most recent OggCamp in Canterbury and this article blogs my experience about it.

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Firstly, I cannot write this article without mentioning the amazing host city of Canterbury – it has such amazing character and some of the streets look like they are out of Harry Potter. There are names like Sun Street, Mercer Lane (a “mercer” is an old English word meaning “trader in textiles”), Butchery Lane and St Radiguns Street.

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There is the famous Canterbury Cathedral of course (which incidentally seems like a sister cathedral to the one in Winchester) but arrayed around it are various Roman-era walls and forts through and under which modern 21st century roads still run! It was a eye-opener driving into the city for the first time. We had really good weather that weekend and I must have done ~5 hours of walking around the city and venue at Canterbury University. Of note is one metal bridge over the river Stour between where I was staying and the city centre – I have coined it the “Bat bridge” because during the evening I was treated to a frenzy of flying bats making the most of a plentiful supply of insects hovering in clouds under the trees!

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Back to OggCamp – the talks mainly feature on what is known as “free culture” – what that means is any creative work that is shared in an open or free manner. One famous example is the Linux operating system but there are a wide ranging as are the talks.

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The stand-out talks to me were one guy who made his own programmable dance floor made up of hundreds of home-brew LED lights with a ping-pong ball acting as a diffuser. Another was a project called matrix.org which seeks to create a two-way bridge between different forms of communication networks (eg. Slack and Telegram). Yet another was on how to keep mentally healthy in a digital world.

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The attendee’s tend to be an interesting lot too – there are  children, semi-retired people, slightly awkward middle-class white male nerds and among them are some friendly, pleasant and really likable dudes (hello Tom if he’s reading this! I watched “Logan’s Run” and “Ex Machina” as you recommended). This to me is one of the reasons to go – to be among decent quality people of a like mind who share some deep interest in this amazing free culture movement. The sharing of ideas and cheerful chats over a beer, lunch or just a coffee while waiting for a talk to start.

My talk went well with it being shown in the main auditorium (photo below) so I had a massive projector screen and premium sound system with which to showcase our work on Project Nemo.

The translation project talk was not all my own work. I have to credit the project leader, “DragonSpike” for his support and time in my preparation for the talk – he not only spent time helping me refine my slides but also put together a special game-play video to showcase the translation work of the International Edition. I salute you sir! Check out the project blog for his thoughts and musings on the project.

Here is my mid-flow talking about Project Nemo. If AC3 were real, I would have Rena, Erich, Fi and Cynthia sitting in the colour-coded seats behind me. Dision would have been invited but the military prison would not have given him a day release :/
Here is me mid-flow talking about Project Nemo. If AC3 were real, I would have Rena, Erich, Fi and Cynthia sitting in the colour-coded seats behind me. Dision would have been invited but the military prison would not have given him a day release pass :/

One observation about OggCamp is that I was encouraged to see female attendees and some non-white folks too – I feel this is important to promote these kinds of events and culture as “open to all” and hopefully to discourage a homogeneous population.

Canterbury University campus grounds - this looks like the kind of place they would film an episode of Star Trek: The Next  Generation
Canterbury University campus grounds – this looks like the kind of place they would film an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

The venue was excellent – it was Canterbury University. All the three talk rooms were close to each other and accomodated everyone who wanted to attend. Each had good working audio-video and there was always a crew member on hand in every talk. Very well-run and professional indeed.

I also discovered that the canteen was opened just for the event and we benefited from a hot meal both days – yumza!

In terms of people numbers, I think I detected a smaller number of folks compared to the last one I went to in Oxford. I would estimate 150 people. I think the location was a factor and the fact that some of the bigger names in the podcast/Opensource scene (eg. Linux Outlaws, LUGRadio) were not in attendance.

So a big, big thanks to John “The Nice Guy” Spriggs, Mark Johnson and the rest of the crew at OggCamp for such an amazing event. <austrian accent>”I’ll be back.”</austrian accent>

All in all a very enjoyable weekend and I want to thank my AirBnB host Paul for making a comfortable stay for me. Check out his property if you’re ever staying in Canterbury.