Alpine Hackers Internet hook-up
No Internet in your rural French idyll? Well a group of eco-geeks who set out to prove there are semi-sophisticated workarounds that can deliver, has semi-solved your problem, and that while sitting in a tent in the Alpes Maritimes.
The new counter-culture whose credo resembles that of the peace and love generation of the 60s is represented by the Toulouse Hacker Space Factory which has shown how with a little ingenuity and much make -do, one can hook-up to the Internet and mobile networks even while bivouacking in a green and electronics-free environment.
The hackers — challenged by their peers — decided to show their mettle as they camped out in remote Beuil in the heart of the Mercantour natural park, many kilometres from EDF power pylons and France Telecom signals.
According to an Owni report the zone blanche or no signal areas familiar to rural dwellers frustrated in their bids to join the Facebook/Skype/email generation, can be overcome. All it takes, if you live in the admittedly few parts of France without broadband access, is a mixture of peace, love, DIY and high tech.
Over the summer Philippe Langlois, founder of TMP/LAB Hackerspace, and fellow IT fans set out to put a theory to the test: could dedicated computer nerds and hackers be eco–friendly, green, ‘développement durable’– compliant and still enjoy the fruits of modern technology?
He gathered a group of colleagues, family and friends and took off to the Alpes Maritimes to test out alternatives. The challenge: no power grid, no phone networks and primitive rural living conditions, all as it happens, available at the festival A Pado Loup near Beuil.
“We set out to test and question the relevance of digital technologies given the constraints of a natural rural environment and to do so in an environment of like minded souls and other fans of ‘making do’ assorted DIYers, alternative media, arts and greenies of todays’ alternative culture,” he told an Owni reporter.
The A Pado Loup festival ran from August 12 – 22 in the Mercantour natural park. But this was not some utopian fad nor even a first for the Toulouse group, who say they, like many of their confrères. are keenly aware of the global environment, and the social, political and energy issues of the day.
At Pado Loup the team found that everything is made of wood and constructed out of local materials by campers keen to use their DIY skills.
Bilou the 50-year-old festival host is surrounded by swarms of children, cousins, brothers, sisters and friends who lend a hand at a festival focused on vegetarian food, eco-toilets, solar showers, rainwater harvesters, composting, solar panels and recycling. An ideal environment then for these urban hackers determined to show they can connect in a zone where ironically all the other festival-goers have come to disconnect.
The hackers set about converting a small greenhouse into their hacklab for the duration. Their equipment included two solar panels connected to a car battery providing a somewhat precarious source to power the electronics. Two Tetalab group members are responsibile for managing the power supply while others set up a WiFi connection. In addition the group are told they may not exceed 70 watts of electricity consumption in establishing the hookup. Pado Loup is definitely a zone blanche or “white zone” when it comes to basic infrastructure. National power and telecoms operators steer well clear of areas of difficult access because of cost. So to obtain a network connection the group use a WiFi antenna sited on the roof of the main house which connects to a neighbour several kilometres away. He in turn uses a satellite link for his Internet connection. During the experiment the relay is managed locally by the greenhouse team who admit that an alternative but more expensive solution would have involved a temporary contract for direct satellite access .
The Toulouse team reported that despite the DIY, solar panel energy source, and similar workarounds, they succeeded in establishing eco-friendly, low-impact Internet contact, tap web radios and report to the geek world on their experiment.
It is unclear whether the team is considering a turnkey service to other isolated country dwellers missing their dose of electronic interaction, but at least they have shown it can be done.
Story: Ken Pottinger
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