Homecamp 4

DC power, electricity monitoring, gas monitoring, data gathering, solar panels, hardware hacking, software hacking, behaviour change, open source, home energy, energy visualisations, cows…

Just some of the things we talked about this weekend at Homecamp 4 at the Centre for Creative Collaboration near King’s Cross in London.

A two-day event this year, Homecamp 4 (thanks to organiser Ken Boak) brought together hardware hackers, software hackers, home automation fans, energy and sustainability people, designers, and loads of enthusiasm and energy for sharing skills and experiences. And, thanks to the generous sponsorship by Amee and the support of Manager Debbie Davies at C4CC, we had lovely breakfasts, lunches, and Saturday evening drinks.


Saturday morning was dedicated to a series of presentations that had been scheduled in advance. It kicked off with a fascinating presentation by Simon Daniel from Moixa (inventor of the Palm folding keyboard and the USB rechargeable batteries) about how we could, and should, power all our lighting and computing at home off a couple of solar panels. By storing the solar power in batteries and then using it as DC power, rather than converting it to AC power, we’d not only avoid unsightly power bricks on everything, but we’d double the efficiency of the solar energy over converting it to the usual AC power to match our ordinary home electricity circuits and then convert it back to DC for consumption by LED lighting, laptops, mobile phones, and the like.

Simon from Moixa

Another interesting point he made was that most young people either don’t own their own homes or they’re not likely to stay in their current house for the next 15 years so they’re unlikely to invest in solar panels. So the company is working out a way to produce essentially portable solar panel, battery, and control packages that could be installed (and transported when you move house) as easily as Sky.

Next up was James Smith from Amee to demo what you can do with the Amee API. Amee collect data about energy consumption and carbon emissions, most of which is publicly available but usually not in a form that’s easy to consume. A team of scientists search out data from all over the world about the carbon emissions of anything you can think of. The team reviews the data, corrects any errors they find, and then turns the data into code. Developers can then write applications that use the data through the Amee API.

James from Amee

James and Chris Adams, also from Amee, demo’d how to use one of the toolkits that Amee provides to developers to show how quick it is to generate a web form that calculates the carbon emissions of cows from ‘enteric fermentation’ (burping and farting, to you and me). His favourite Amee hack, though, was to display the carbon emissions of setting fire to things in Minecraft.

After a brief pitch by Casper Koomen from Amsterdam about Pachube, and an update from organiser Ken on his Nanode (previously seen, discussed, and built at Oggcamp 11!), Trystan Lea and Glyn Hudson (from North Wales) described and demo’d their neat open source, Arduino-based energy monitoring project, the OpenEnergyMonitor (first presented at Homecamp 2).

After a novel but tasty free lunch of Vietnamese baguettes, the afternoon proceeded in a more unconference-style format. In a mix of formal presentations and informal discussions, we had talks on a range of topics, including getting your hardware ideas produced commercially, home energy monitoring experiences and visualisations, home-grown wind turbines, 3D printing, and I gave a short introduction/overview on the psychology of energy behaviour change. Most talks got several questions and I was really pleased that my talk, despite having a fairly different focus from many of the others, generated quite a lot of interest and discussion both at the time and over the rest of the weekend.

Evidence I was there!

The Saturday evening pub was unfortunately closed for a private party so Tony and I encouraged everyone back to the lovely Harrison Bar where we were staying and had already eaten a good dinner and noticed an interesting list of beers. If you like ginger beer, I recommend the Crabbie’s Ginger Beer (4%).

Sunday took on a more hackday feel and the attendees either hacked on Nanodes and similar hardware, played with software APIs, or wandered/sat around discussing cool ideas.


In all it was a very fun weekend. We had some great conversations and met some very cool people. Hopefully, there’ll be a Homecamp 5.


During the weekend, Tony and I, ever on the lookout for interesting content for the Ubuntu-UK Podcast, interviewed James about Amee, and Tristan and Glynn about their OpenEnergyMonitor project. Look out for them in upcoming episodes of UUPC.

Photos thanks to Tony Whitmore

OggCamp (2009)

Two weekends ago, I, with the rest of the Ubuntu-UK Podcast team and the Linux Outlaws podcast team, was in Wolverhampton to run a new one-day open source community unconference called OggCamp.

A few people have asked “why Wolverhampton?”. Which is a fair question considering that four of the organisers live in Hampshire, one in the South-West, one in Liverpool, and one in Bonn.

Well, Wolverhampton is the location of the annual LugRadio Live open source community conference. The organisers of LugRadio Live (the LugRadio podcast presenters) are, or were, based in Wolverhampton. While there are many things you could say about Wolverhampton, one thing that always impressed me was that, to attend LugRadio Live, people flew to Wolverhampton from all over the UK, from all over Europe, all over the States, and even from Hong Kong and Australia at times (see my blog post about past LRLs for more).

Last year, after four hugely popular LugRadio Live events, including one in San Francisco sponsored by Google, the team announced that the fortnightly LugRadio podcast was going to end, and so the fifth LugRadio Live (in July 2008) would be the last ever LugRadio Live.

And then, under pressure from Popular Demand, they agreed to do another last ever LugRadio Live – in October 2009. This last ever LugRadio Live, though, would only be one day, the Saturday, like their first ever LugRadio Live. Which left a whole Sunday to fill. Which is where OggCamp comes in.

The Connaught Hotel Welcomes OggCampWhen we decided to organise OggCamp, we had no idea how it would go down. We figured that, between the two podcasts (Ubuntu-UK Podcast and Linux Outlaws) we’d had enough positive feedback that we could get at least 50 people along. Because it would be the day after LRL, there was a chance that enough LRL attendees would stick around for the day on Sunday and coming to OggCamp too. To make extra sure of that, we decided to hold OggCamp in the official LRL hotel (so that the geeks could just roll out of bed and into OggCamp), and to make the event free to attend.

In the end, about 130 people came to OggCamp. Which was brilliant!

The sight of people queuing up three flights of stairs to come in at 10.30 on the Sunday morning left us briefly gob-smacked.

We kicked off at about 11am with a quick introduction from all the presenters in which we explained how there was no pre-arranged schedule and that to sign up for a talk you just had to write it on a sticky note (large notes for full-hour talks; half-sized notes for half-hour talks) and stick it in a slot in the grid on the wall.

First up was Andy Stanford-Clark who did a brand new talk, specially written for OggCamp (and completed the night before while the rest of us were at the LRL kareoke party), about the geekier details of his Twittering House (the stuff the BBC didn’t get!). By midday, the schedule was getting pretty full (something of a relief!) and the planned topics included web services, how to prove identity on the Net, how to encourage young people to use Open Source Software, politics and geeks (from ORG), translating Playstation 2 games, and how to explain programming to non-programmers!

At 3pm, everyone gathered in the main room to watch a live joint recording of the Ubuntu-UK Podcast and Linux Outlaws. This started with a live raffle draw (surely a first in open source events?) for some very cool prizes donated by our sponsors, including a couple of Viglen MPC-Ls, some Ubuntu laptop bags and hoodies, an O’Reilly book, and an Arduino Mega. After the raffle, we did two segments: one about producing media using Open Source Software, and one about whether or not the Open Source community spreads itself too thin by creating so many different distributions. The segments included a lot of audience interaction, and also real-time twittering from the audience on to the TwitterFall screen behind us on-stage.

The live show was something that we had been nervous about because six is a large number of people to be talking anyway but also because the two podcasts (UUPC and LO) are quite different in style so we had no idea how well we would integrate. The two podcasts released their own versions of the live show during the following week and, if you’re keen, you can compare and contrast the two: UUPC (family friendly) and LO (includes the naughty words). I don’t think either podcast did much editing of content, which drew this comment from a UUPC listener.

So, all in all, I think we can say that OggCamp was a success. 🙂

It was certainly a lot of fun – if exhausting!

We also sold enough raffle tickets and OggCamp limited edition souvenir mugs to financially break even on the whole event. Which was good from our point of view. And there has been a load of positive feedback from the attendees, including questions about whether we’ll do it again next year. Although we’ve tried to not to commit to anything, by now I think we can safely say that there is likely to be another OggCamp next year.

(For more photos, see the OggCamp group on Flickr.)