Last weekend the twelfth Hackers On Planet Earth conference, subtitled The Circle of HOPE was held at the Hotel Pennsylvania by 2600 Magazine. As with most years, I made my cross-country pilgrimage to New York City to attend. I flew out on Thursday morning with the eventual goal of making it to my hotel early enough that I could order in, relax a bit, and get to sleep early to shake the inevitable jet lag so I could be somewhat functional the next day. Modulo the usual difficulty in catching a ride from JFK, I made good time and accomplished a decent amount of war driving along the way. There isn't much to remark on until the next day...
I attended the first two talks of the day, Tech Warrior Camp at Standing Rock given by a colleague of mine from some time ago about her time spent at Standing Rock working with water defenders, the lessons learned during the effort, and the lengths that people will go to in the hope of sabotaging an effort. Suffice it to say that evidence suppression is ideal for covering up the fact that an organizer was framed. The second talk I watched was Torrent More Pharmaceutical Drugs: File Sharing Still Saves Lives, given by a representative of the Four Thieves Vinegar Collective. They're still hard at work figuring out how to make drugs accessible to people who can't afford them (case in point the drug Daraprim, which is used to treat parasitic infections in people suffering from AIDS costs about $2us to manufacture but is sold for $750us a dose even though it is not patented, placing it out of reach of many people in need). In comparison, a lethal dose of fentanyl (2mg) costs about $15us on the street, usually disguised as heroin. This seems to be common for many pharmaceuticals so they're doing something about it. This article (local mirror) gives an excellent summary of that particular talk, so I'll spare you reiterating the whole thing. In case you want to take a look at their work, namely, greyprints for fabbing your own chemical reactor to synthesize antibiotics. I've taken the liberty of mirroring the files here:
- FTVCMasonReactor.zip (SHA-1: cceabf7491e3d50c464ef7377433efa01654ff5f)
- FTVCMasonReactor.zip.torrent (SHA-1: 6432757816b8c1fde54275650d36abf4107a0c1f) (right-click, save file as)
- EpiPencil.zip (SHA-1: a1b5e1c8567e22807320fc29d3b33c9245ac326a)
- EpiPencil.zip.torrent (SHA-1: fa0cbfab47022b051430ccbfbab806c9c256afc9) (right-click, save file as)
Speaking of health care, here is where my weekend took a sudden turn: After the 4TVC talk, I jumped into the express elevator down to the basement of the Hotel Penn to catch another talk in the ballroom with approximately sixteen other people. As one might reasonably expect, the ride was long, difficult, hot, humid, and somewhat unpleasant. I took three steps after exiting the elevator and just about collapsed.
Here's the thing: I've had asthma for years but it's always been well controlled. Well enough controlled that I often go months between needing to use my rescue inhaler. I also have an agent network monitoring the AQI wherever I happen to be, and the air quality in New York City was noticeably suboptimal (averaging 82 the entire weekend of HOPE). So, it was surmised that all of the above factors stacked together triggered the worst asthma attack I've had in a very long time. And, due to the fact that I hadn't needed my rescue inhaler in several months, it was discovered in due course that I had forgotten to pack my rescue inhaler entirely. HOPE security got me upstairs to the security desk while they sent someone back to my hotel room to go through my stuff to see if I'd put my inhaler in my luggage. I hadn't. A borrowed rescue inhaler worked only briefly before I started having trouble breathing again. The decision was made to dial 911 and you can pretty much imagine how that went. Suffice it to say that I cooled my heels in the ER for something like eight hours, during which time I was given a nebulizer treatment, a ten-lead EKG (no, Dr. Cardiologist, I do not have a heart arrhythmia, I have a backup), and a prescription for a replacement inhaler.
One other thing: The reason I didn't stay in the Hotel Penn this year (in fact, none of the crew I was running with did) is due to the fact that the rooms are two orders of magnatude less nice than the lobby is. It's really not a very good hotel. Through the course of the weekend I ran into other people whose various respiratory ailments were giving them trouble, many of whom were staying at the Hotel Penn this year. I suspect that there is something environmental in the hotel itself which is problematic; it is quite an old building, so there's been plenty of time for things to take a turn for the worse. I leave it to others to investigate this possibility.
Friday evening was spent having dinner with Hasufin, Johanna, and a mutual aquaintence, resting in my hotel room, and going out for a pleasant evening at St. Vitas' Bar in Brooklyn. Seemingly decorated in an 80's LeVayan Satanist aesthetic, it reminded me a great deal of the goth clubs I usd to attend when I was younger. The prices there are quite reasonable, I paid $13us for a double and there is no cover charge to attend the Underworld Dance Party (though it is a 21+ event). Unfortunately, for medical reasons neither Hasufin nor I spent any time dancing but we did have a grand time hanging out.
Saturday morning, I headed back to HOPE and napped for a bit on one of the hammocks in the chillout room because, while I had forced myself to get up early I had time to kill and really needed some extra rest. I ran into one of the con staff members who'd helped me out the day before and we wound up hanging out for a couple of hours talking. We also went up to catch a talk given by an old friend.. due to the shenanagains that happened at HOPE that day, I'll not go into detail because the people in question crave any kind of attention at all, and it is my Will to deny them that. The talk entitled the $500 Billion Broadband Scandal was interesting, well researched and, I'm sorry to say, accurate. I worked in telecom for a while I can corroborate most of what Kushnick presented simply because I saw it happening each and every day. I still have mixed feelings about Jonah Bossewitch's talk Surveillance Psychiatry and the Mad Underground because he seemed to make equal numbers of points that I agree and disagree with. Psychiatry has done some seriously questionable things in the past, I cannot deny that. Psychiatry has also made it possible for many people to live significantly better lives (in terms of being both functional as well as quality of life) through application of theraputic techniques, drug therapies, and other methodologies. I happen to disagree with much of the conflation of past abuses in the field with therapies overall, it does people who are now receiving the care they need a great disservice.
I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with a few folks from the 412/724 crew (image credit: Seele), mostly catching up after a year of not seeing each other and eating lunch across the street. We did a bit of shopping in Manhattan after lunch (coupled with some war walking and Open Streetmapping), then went our separate ways for a time. Scant seconds later, I ran into an old friend who was in the area for a class and we wound up going out for dinner and talking for several hours about the stuff we were working on, did a little impromptu urban exploration, and then headed back to the Hotel Penn to camp out on the mezzanine and let the good times roll.
Thank you, everybody at HOPE who was kind, helpful, and demonstrated human warmth and compassion. I sincerely hope that I can repay that kindness in the future.
To pre-emptively answer a question that's going around the community, yes, something very bad happened at HOPE on Saturday night. I don't know a whole lot about it, only what a couple of people have said to me but I don't have any first hand knowledge of what it was. Yes, paramedics were called. Yes, it was very serious. No, I don't know who it was. If HOPE staff is going to talk about it, they're going to talk about it.
For various reasons I didn't get back to my hotel room until 0500 Sunday morning, so rather than attend any sessions Sunday morning I decided to sleep in. I don't regret doing so. I met an old friend for lunch that I'd missed on Friday afternoon and then headed for the Networked Authoritarianism talk. I ran into an old friend again at that talk and we wound up hanging out for the rest of HOPE. Out of morbid curiosity we headed to the EMP, CME, and the Electronic Apocalypse talk which... well, you know what I think of the idea of an attack with an electromagnetic pulse. Suffice it to say that David Cripe's explanation of the physics of electromagnetic fields was interesting and concise enough that I was able to follow it after not studying physics for about twenty years. I'm skeptical of some of the specifics he gave but I don't have a strong enough background to say for sure if the countermeasures suggested were plausible. When the videos from this year's HOPE go up, I'll post a link and you can see for yourself. The last talk we attended that day was Online Monitoring of the Alt-Right, a talk which gave an excellent overview of how the alt-reich operates, organizes, and recruits. The video is online and is well worth your time so you know what's going on in the US right now.
My trip home was somewhat eventful. I had a layover in Phoenix, AZ which lasted a bit longer than expected. When my flight landed it was 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Certainly hot enough that the inside of my plane grew noticeably warmer once the environment control was shut off. After an hour or so wandering around PHX it was announced that my connecting flight would be delayed "an unknown amount of time" due to a mechanical fault, and "it wasn't known when another plane could be found." This meant that it could have taken anywhere from half an hour to some time the next day before I flew back to California so I started making phone calls and sending e-mails, just in case I was facing a night stuck in Arizona. Thankfully, it didn't come to that, and two hours later I was aloft once more and bound for home. Just like lighting a cigarette when you want the bus to arrive, start prepping for a night in an airport hotel and you'll probably get another flight out.
As before with HOPE and Defcon in the last decade or so, I didn't take any pictures while I was there due to the code of conduct and photography policies.
At present, some of the videos are streamable here at livestream.com, with more going up from time to time.
2600 Magazine talked about HOPE on the 25 July 2018 episode of Off the Hook. I suggest that you give it a listen.