What: CyberCamps is a technology-centered summer camp, aimed at children 7-16 (though almost any kid brandishing money will be admitted.) All references from here on will document my experiences; keep in mind that other campus locations will be different.

Cybercamps teaches Robotics, Animation, Programming, Web Design/Flash Animation, Game Design, and Graphics & Animation.

Where: Cybercamps is Everywhere. Or at least, Cybercamps has nodes spread out over 40+ college campii around the United States. I stayed for two weeks on the John's Hopkins University campus.

Why?!?: Because it's fun (in theory), that's why! Well, the main purpose is to have a parent pay $1,000 for their child(ren) to be absent from the house for a week while learning the same material that can be obtained from a twenty-dollar book.

Who: There were five staff people at the camp: Two alpha geeks, Karl (Programming Guru) and Digi (Graphics geek). A third, lesser male staff member, Jimmy, taught Animation. Jimmy commuted, unlike the other three main staff members, and in general kept to himself. He did, however, set up a Silicon Graphics workstation. Pity it was so old. One female, Alicia, served as Social Mistress, encouraging the kids to actually do what was wanted of them. Mostly, she failed, and by the second week, stopped trying. Needless to say, we all liked her much more then.

That, however, is four (my education has at least taught me to count). This brings us to Stephanie, a.k.a. Queen B. Queen B describes her attitude, nothing more. A teacher by fall/winter/spring, she was the administrator. She had little power, but enforced it often. She was the hand (finger? fingenail-gunk? hangnail? She was there, but we didn't know WHY, and we all cherished the moments she wasn't.) of the Olympusian CyberCamps Central Office, the Place That Made the Rules.

When: The camp is offered as one-week sessions; three sessions per summer.

Campers can stay overnight (at an added expense) or, if they live close enough, can commute. I stayed overnight. Staying overnight has benefits, such as:

  • Increased time on computers
  • TV (I mostly watched Whose Line Is It Anyway, until one of the (male) counselors rented Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)
  • Having roommates - this can be good or bad. I got lucky and found someone with whom I had some meaningful conversations with in the second week. The first week, my roommate was, at least tolerable.

How: A computer lab, containing some 30 Dell POSs and one lonely 400 MHz PowerMac, provided the campers with their main entertainments. Such programs as Dreamweaver 3, Flash 5, Visual C++ 6.0, Animation Master, and DarkBASIC were the 'work' programs.

My Experiences: Ah. The good part. Continuing How, despite contrary claims by the camp propaganda, only one game was provided: a space-combat game known as Continuum. I turned out to be the best one there, due to my experience with Escape Velocity. The dearth of games was cured by me in the second week, however, when two copies of Starcraft were brought in, and a "krakz proggie" downloaded, enabling eight machines to communicate through a gloriously large T3 connection. Well, OK, through the 10/100BASE-T Ethernet hub. It was still a nice LAN.

The staff members Karl and Digi opposed Starcraft, citing the "rules" against "any first-person violence, simulated or real." I carefully pointed to the First Person Shooters being contructed by the campers in Game Design, and then invited them to play. They didn't complain much after that, being rather busy trying to defend a Detector-less base against a Dark Templar drop. Heh. All will bow to Wonko. Five years of playing Starcraft allowed me to kick ass there, too.

Digi brought a PS2 and Dance Dance Revolution the first week, and Tekken Tag the second. Residential campers got much more time to play with this than the commuters did.

Overall, the camp was fair. Expensive, aimed at beginning users/norms rather than the "experienced" geek. It was fun to meet with people who share the same kinds of interests as myself, but I would not foot the bill.

The camp was newly-arrived at this location, and I got to refine the roughness a bit, being in the first week of camp. The second week was much more fun, from an activities point of view, than the first. Less playing-outside-for-an-hour-in-96-degree-heat-until-Little-Johnny-dies-of-heat-exhaustion-while-Queen B-stays-inside and more of playing-Starcraft-in-the-air-conditioned-computer-lab.

The rules were much more relaxed the second week, which saved me from having to tell my parents how anal the rules were AGAIN; this time, I actually told them that it got better!
Perhaps the best example of this would be the cafeteria: It was located across the street from the computer lab, and yet 30 campers would all have to wait for the slowest eater to finish, after which we would crowd around the mini-conveyor belt that carried our trays & plates into the kitchen for us. We had to do this so that we could all be accompanied by a staff member to walk 50 feet across the street.

Now, considering that this was a technology-centered camp, where the administrators KNEW that they would be catering to geeks, it seems rather silly that they would even attempt to set up web filtering software. Well, needless to say, the filtering software was shut down by yours truly on the second day of camp.

Due to the SMTP and Continuum server being hosted on the same machine that ran the filter, the webserver was located in the computer lab, along with the rest of the computers. Bad move. First I figured out how the thing worked: The software (server-side-only software known as BESS) would inspect all outgoing HTTP requests, and inspect the webpage attempting to be viewed. If it deemed that either the URL or content was "unsuitable", it would cancel the request and return blockpage.html This HTML document contained a template that informed the unfortunate child that " We're sorry, but the page http://www.goatse.cx has been blocked under your organization's filtering criteria under the following categories: Discrimination, Violence, Loophole.

Fair enough. A few kids were actually stupid enough to try to visit our stretchy-anused friend at goatse.cx, but two transgressions sealed the fate of the ill-begotten software:

  1. The software would sabotage all downloads. This included QuickTime 6, preventing me from watching the MacWorld keynote live. I placed a bounty on the source code.
  2. The software then was insolent enough to block rumortracker.com (a website that lists Macintosh rumor sites) as Pornography, thus preventing me from finding out what was going on at the Expo. I did the deed myself.

So, now I knew how the filter worked. My first attempt was the obvious thing: modify the blockpage.html source file to redirect to the offending page. That, however, didn't work, because the redirect itself got filtered. A more subtle trick, a single frame, the source of which points to the offending webpage, did not slip through the net either. Hmmmmm. The 'ware is more clever than I thought, I mused. But you can ALWAYS rely on human stupidity! With those encouraging words ringing through my mind, I tried the knob, so to speak: I opened up the filtering application, ticked the box marked Turn web filtering OFF and went merrily on my way to a less-censored Internet.

I will wrap up this rambling semi-demi-rant soon, as you no doubt can by now see the glorious horizontal rule that marks the end of a writeup, but I have one more atrocity to comment on: Throughout my two weeks at this camp, there was a species so foul, so...disturbing...inhabiting the same building as our innocent camp as to make me want to cry: a Christian Ministries group. A group of adults teaching children to drag others kicking and screaming to the shallow end of the gene pool, wearing shirts that said: If you dig a little deeper, you'll see that Evolution Is Dead above a picture of a dinosaur fossil, with the message The creator still has room in his heart for you. I must admit, I was stunned. I didn't think anyone could actually be so misguided.

I was wrong...

I will, at a later time, node the following things:
Curriculum of Cybercamps
History of Cybercamps
James (Jim) "Crowe" Mattingly, my roommate.

but for now, this is good.

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