This is probably one of the most amazing experiences I have had in my life. Mainly thanks to the people that were present, and the format of the conference itself. This was no ordinary conference, where you spend hours for just one week listening to updates about research and networking with as many people as possible. Dinacon is actually running over six weeks, and there were (are – it is still running until July!) not just academics and scientists in presence. Here you instead had an amazing collection of hackers, engineers, scientists, artists, educators and a lot of other professions. The point was to make something, to interact with others, learn from them, get help from them and support other people in their projects.
My goal was to try and get a LoRa system working (if you do not know what it is, check out this link) for my acoustic and environmental monitoring stations. This would enable us to transfer some of our data back to a server, at a low cost and low power consumption. Whereas it can’t transfer our audio files (they are too large) we could get summary data that ensures we know the stations are still running and get some updates about what is going on. I arrived to Koh Lon being super ill, I had a fever for several days that had just passed and still had a bacteria infection in my throat – but work goes on as they say.
First of all, I was pretty lost before I even arrived. I had spent a lot of time reading up on LoRa and LoRaWan but still did not have a clear idea of how to get this system running. I ordered some components, not even knowing if these were the correct components. First of all, you need a server (or gateway – that receives data from multiple clients), and you need at least one client (node – the one that collects and then send data on). I arrived with some adafruit RFM9X components with antennas for the clients, and I had a Dragino LoRa/GPS hat and an Adafruit LoRa/GPS hat to try to use as servers. I spent a lot of time reading up on how to get this working, but the majority if instructions were only for using a Raspberry Pi as the server, not as both a server and a client and that is the set up we needed! In addition, it turns out that the code to get these to run is written in C++, and I have never coded in C++ and at the time did not even know what a make file was or what “making” the files meant. I has some excellent help from Saad Chinoy in the start who helped with explaining some of these things, without making me feel stupid or as if I should know this already. We did get the system to start running after a day or so, but it kept on crashing, not even a little crash. Both the server and the client would freeze up after a message or two and you couldn’t stop the running or it, or get it to respond even through SHH. I spent days staring at code, and with help form others trying solutions to no avail. I spent a day or two having a break from it as well to try and clear my brain and figure out the issue. Normally whilst engaging in a side project or helping others with theirs. In the end, a man called Harold Tay spent several hours just bouncing ideas and trialing code. I had googled the same issue so many times, without any returns online – how was it possible that such a major issue had never happened to anyone else? Well, as I was searching for the mysterious answer, a line describing what the different GPIO pins on the RFM9X does flashed past and something clicked – “the IRQ is not enabled on the Raspberry PI”. We had already tried something with this several days earlier, to no avail, but at this stage I had learned what an h file and we had an h file that defined what some of these pins were doing. So instead of going into the make file, I accessed the h file and disabled this pin. All of a sudden, the client was running without issue! The server was more of a problem and took a couple of more days to solve. The last day on the conference, whilst coding aboard Diva the ship, with some help from Brian Huang and Alex Rogers we finally figured out how to enable the server to also run without the IRQ defined, whilst sending the correct type of data. I would probably have figured this out in the end, but it would have taken several weeks or even months. So I would like to thank everyone at the conference for the input, help, support and for making it ok to ask for help.
I also got up to other things than coding, and saw so many inspirational things! I slept in a tarp for the whole nine days because I concluded that me and the hammock were not going to get on so the ground was better (actually very comfortable). The first morning I woke up with loads of hornbills flying around. The second night I got attacked by a lot of frogs, but they calmed down on their “love” for the frog researcher after that. I woke up between 6-8am every morning, by myself, and excited about getting to work. I crocheted for the first time in 20 years and made a dragon’s tail for a robot, as well as an ant. The bikini pouch saw the light of day, finally, with the use of some second hand ties and the Dinacon sewing machine. I made a small little bag out of the tie remains. I learnt how to make coconut rope and now know how to open a coconut with only a stone. I helped create a rainwater collection system. I helped someone that wanted to learn how to swim and saw them go from being uncomfortable to not being scared of the water – a remarkable thing to witness. I have been to workshops on geobacteria batteries, seen presentations from artists and their artwork and met educators that do their best to inspire the future generations. I have seen people that never stop creating and seem to use every minute of every day to make things or do things. People that appear to put in 48hrs in a day where I can only squeeze out 24. I saw at least three different types of camera traps created by different people, a pirate flag with a light up eye got soldered together, saw a plant sensory system set up and collecting data and a robot arm making intricate drawings. I once had this discussion with Mo Donnelly, that researchers and artists are probably two of the few careers where you have the freedom to constantly create and come up with ideas – the two fields are more similar than some people realize, without creativity us academics will end up running out of things to explore. Allow people to come up with those crazy ideas, they might fail, but sooner or later they will figure out a way around the issue – or straight through it, and it is what drives our society forward.
Most of all I met people from all around the world, in a loving, caring and non-judgmental environment. Andrew and Tasneem have I believe, pulled of a conference like no other.