Defcon 25.

Aug 01 2017

Well, I'm finally back from Defcon 25 and writing up my notes while in the throes of con drop before too much of the experience fades from memory.  Suffice it to say that I have opinions about last weekend, which I will attempt to write as concisely as I can.  I don't like being negative about things because my experience is my own, and I much prefer that people have their own experiences and make up their own minds about things.  However, I would be lying if I painted a rosy picture of my attendence of the largest hacker convention on the planet this year.  I did not have a good time, I was not the only one, I learned just about nothing new, and it left me with very few fun (or even good) tales to regale people with.  It also felt like the weekend flew by - three days came and went before I knew it, which is both a little disorienting and not actually a bad thing when looking at the thirty thousand foot view.

After a protracted period of getting ready, most of which involved fighting with trying to get my designated burner phone reactivated after sitting for a year in the box I was finally ready to hit the road.  You can, in fact, purchase functional SIM cards for just about any cellular provider from eBay and buy a pre-paid plan.  Upon arriving in Las Vegas and accepting the 106 degree punch in the face, I hailed a shuttle to my hotel and climbed aboard.  This year, Vlad found us lodgings within easy walking distance of Caesar's Palace, where Defcon had moved to this year.  I hauled my kit upstairs, ordered a pizza, and plopped myself down to read and relax for the first time in a couple of days.

I'd love to tell you how much fun I had at Defcon and give you detailed write-ups of all the talks I went to (taken from copious handwritten notes, of course), but I didn't make it to a single talk, and was able to visit only one village (the Biohacking Village) twice.  Mind you, this was after waiting in line for roughly two hours and not getting into the talks I'd originally come to see.  Not that the talks I wound up seeing weren't interesting, they were, but they weren't what I was trying to attend.  In addition, the Biohacking Village (that I know of) and other village rooms (that I only heard about and thus cannot confirm firsthand) have made a practice of flushing the room (throwing everybody out) to prevent camping, so as to keep the lines moving and thus making sure that most everybody in line gets into something.  The lines for just about every talk I saw were around the corner, sometimes two corners, and most of the way down the hallways.  I didn't bother trying to get into the talks in the main tracks.  Unsurprisingly, go ahead and laugh, I kept getting lost in the labyrinthine hallways of Caesar's Palace.  Possibly much to your surprise, many people who actually have a sense of direction kept getting lost there, too.  Some of the maps posted on the corners and at the infobooths gave incorrect directions to various locations.  Many of the Goons I spoke to didn't know where things were, either.  I don't blame them for it at all; a few admitted to me that they had no idea where anything was, either, so I don't feel alone in my frustration.  I can't speak to how well organized Defcon was this year because I'm not in a position to know what was going on.  What I do know is that Caesar's Palace is very difficult to navigate, and if I'd known how hard it would be I would have gone up a couple of days early specifically to sneak around and learn where everything was ahead of time.

Of course I made sure to hit up the yearly concert series on Friday night.  Unfortunately I missed Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine due to getting a bit of a late start on the evening and standing in line for a period of time that I did not keep track of.  Dual Core put on an amazing show, per usual.  I did not expect to see an ASL interpreter from Deaf-Con signing alongside during their performance, an interesting change of events to be sure.  Something felt off about MC Frontalot's performance last weekend... live drummer Beard Science was certainly a competant percussionist who held up the show nicely, but something wasn't there this time.  It may not have been Front's performance but my own frustration with and alienation from Defcon as an entity this year.  I left shortly after YT Cracker's set began for the Silent Disco.  The Defcon Silent Disco started life as a protest of all of the exclusive "you need to know somebody to know somebody who will give you another badge to hang around your neck" parties that Defcon has become known for, many of which are organized and funded by large-ish security companies.  My preparations amounted to a pair of wired earbuds and uploading another 30 gigs of music I haven't listened to yet to my phone.  I had a fairly good time at the Silent Disco until the party was shut down for reasons that remain opaque shortly before 0030 hours PST8PDT.  I spent the rest of the night wandering around, listening to music and taking in the Las Vegas mystique.. it really is a beautiful city, an artificial oasis in the middle of desert.

The next day I tried attending Queercon yet again at Defcon.  I say "tried" due to the fact that, as with previous years, I found it just about impossible to talk to anybody other than the bartender.  I've always found Queercon to be a very insular sub-group of people at Defcon and resolved this year to do my best to make friends, but failed miserably in the attempt.  After spending a couple of hours at their con suite on Saturday I gave up and headed for one of the chillout rooms to hack around a little.  Later that weekend I had the opportunity to talk to several friends I'd run into who have been having much the same experiences at Queercon, this year included.  One person I spoke to characterized it as being similar to the "You are insufficiently queer" vibe of the Bay Area community, and another person skipped out on Defcon entirely as a result and by all reports had a much better time running around Las Vegas.

In all probability, I will not be returning to Defcon unless I am specifically asked to go.  If my dayjob wants me to attend I probably will if they're paying, but I'll also make it known that I'd much rather go to a smaller con.  If my friends ask me to attend, I probably will if nothing else comes up because we don't get to see each other much anymore.  One old friend didn't bother buying a con badge at all and hung out at poolside all weekend, and probably had a much better time.  As for the vendors' room, you can only buy so much locksport gear and talk yourself out of picking up weird and rare computers to add to one's collection so many times before it just gets old.  It's also damnably hard to find gifts for non-hackers at Defcon - again, you can only buy so many sets of lockpicks before you run out of options.  The usual touristy stuff in Las Vegas isn't much to write home about, like the half-gallon beer mugs and the pseudo-James Bond shirts that read "Shotz... Tequlia Shotz..."

As it turned out I got up way the hell too early to catch my shuttle back to McKarren Airport to go home.  By that, I mean 0800 was too early to get up for an 1130 pickup.  I wound up eating at an overpriced buffet in my hotel as a change of pace from the overpriced cafe' in my hotel which had curiously good bagel sandwiches.  The next couple of hours were spent hanging around reading, window shopping at the hideously expensive clothing stores and drinking coffee.  The flight back wasn't anything to write home about, traffic from SFO to home a bit moreso due to rush hour congestion.  Re-inserting myself into everyday life when I got home took the form of unpacking my suitcase, the bar in the bedroom closet collapsing (which necessitated pulling everything that had fallen out of the closet to re-hang it), and rushing Lyssa to the nearest urgent care facility to get stitches following a kitchen accident.  As I type these notes (they're not even a blog post yet) I'm sitting in my office ripping the music CDs I bought at Defcon and suffering from the malady popularly known as "con drop," wherein the readjustment period following a convention or conference manifests a lack of motivation, exhaustion (regardless of how much one slept the night before (ten hours, for the record)), and an inability to concentrate

I did get to talk to a couple of new people while at Defcon this year, a couple of them folks that I've wanted to meet for a while (purely by accident, as happens).  Later this week I'm going to send out a couple of e-mails and see who responds.

I wish I had more to say about Defcon this year.  I certainly wish that I could say that I had an amazing time there and came back feeling inspired and I'll be spending every night for the next week hacking on a new project but that isn't the case.  I spent seven or eight hours on Friday and Saturday wandering around, quite lost and unable to find my way to something as simple as the vendors' room or a con suite of one or more of the sub-parts of Defcon and, to be honest, waiting around for hours only to find that I can't get into a talk I really wanted to see was more than a bit exhausting.  I've no pictures to post; due to Defcon's privacy policy I didn't take any at the con but I do have some from my walks around the city kicking around in my phones.  The gear I did pick up is mostly radio equipment, with the odd bit of locksport restock.  One or two more things than usual happened this year at Defcon that, after some consideration I've decided not to talk about to respect the privacy of everybody involved and hopefully keep options open in the future.  In truth, I've been feeling less and less like a part of Defcon over the past couple of years but didn't want to put anything in writing about it.  It's not an uncommon thing, I've found, for people to "retire" from Defcon for greener pastures, smaller cons, somewhat less hazardous networks, and different social atmospheres and dynamics.  This might be my time to do so.