punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Shmoocon 2006 - A review

Shmoocon 2006 - A review

First, I'd like it to be known that I did not hurt myself at Shmoocon. I had a lot of opportunities, and if you remember, I broke my foot last year on the handicapped ramp in front of a Silver Diner in Laurel. But, I am okay, and I had a pretty good time.

Friday, I went to work because there was no point taking a day off for this. I ended up leaving later than I had planned, which meant free pizza at work, and thanks to the new bar coding scheme in registration, there was never really any line. I was supposed to meet stodgycat there, but he got delayed.

The first thing I noticed was that the badges were large razor blades. No lie, they were stamped thin strips of a steel-like material that said "Shmoocon" on one side, "Visual Suspects" on the other. In the center the Shmoo logo was cut out. "This is a tort waiting to happen," said stodgycat. I cut a few chest hairs, but somehow avoided cutting open my fingers like other people were doing. Other free "schwag" was a nice bag/backpack, a nice pen, and two shmooballs, which were ping pong balls this year.

Again, not many people threw shmooballs. Beetle said that they got a whole bunch of ping pong balls, because last year's foam balls were hard to toss very far, with the added possibility of having ping pong ball guns. sadly, they found out there are not "industry standards" for ppb's, and the ones they got were too small for the ppb guns. They also thought about purchasing a ppg cannon running on pneumatic pressure, but the costs were too expensive, and the prototype of a handmade version was far too powerful and cumbersome. Beetle also said that the speakers were armed with paddles, but joked that most of the geeks onstage would hurt themselves more than the audience with them.

While waiting for stodgycat and the con to start, a nice guy who went by the name "Atlas" showed me how to set up wireless on Kubuntu. For a long time, I wished someone would just tell me how to do this, and he did! He showed me just enough to get it working on my wireless at home, too (even with all the encryption). Atlas, you are a cool dude, thanks!

Beetle presents... I think
Last year's con had 400. Beetle said this was a "what the heck, no more could possibly show up" number, and were surprised they sold out by the end of December. This year, they added a "why the hell not, let's double it," and sold out even earlier. They don't make money at this con, they actually showed us their balance sheet on Sunday. From years of helping run conventions, none of this surprised me. This con made $94k. By the end of the con, they spent $84k of that, but that doesn't include the expenses for the rest of the year, including travel, promotion, paying for damages, hotel "oh yeah, you owe us this" fees and whatnot. Morons always thought FanTek was just raking the money in, and balked at having to volunteer to assemble the newsletter or whatever. Bruce may have brought in a six-digit sum at the height of Evecon in the early 90s, but almost all of it went right out in expenses. Ever rent the whole hotel in a major city? Yeah. That stuff doesn't come free.

Anyway, the keynote speaker on Friday was Dan Geer, and he was a little... boring. But he did warn us he would be, and asked us to stop him at any point because if he wasn't told to shut up once in a while, he'd speak faster and faster. And he was right. But I was also too shy to stop him. He did say some stuff that was really poignant, like how if we don't start regulating security ourselves, corporations are going to rely more and more on certs, and certs are never a guarantee anyone knows anything about the subject that's practical in the real world (aka "paper tigers"). His major concern was how far removed the bureaucracy is from the front lines.

I hung out with stodgycat for a bit, and then we went to "Hack or Halo," which had a dozen or so people playing Halo, and no hackers. None. "Any hackers at a hacker con?" was asked aloud in amazement. I am thinking about telling the Shmoo group why this might be. First, they don't exactly tell you the rules or goals. Next, I don't think the type of people who participate in such events were there this year, and those that CAN hack know it, and don't exactly want to advertise it. Who would a hacking competition really appeal to?

Then the con ended for the day. This was a problem, their hours were like 10 to 10. At 10pm, it all shut down. This was brought up at the "0wn the Con" meeting on Sunday as well.

Fyodor on the Newest version of NMap
So, Saturday, stodgycat and I got up early to see Fyodor speak. This was the highlight of the con for me, and well worth it. He gave out the newest version of nmap and a PDF of his presentation. Fyodor is a remarkably good presenter, better than most I had seen. he showed us how he scanned Caldera and Playboy's IP space for servers, and how IDS detects such scanning (and how to avoid them). This was pretty valuable for me because this is what I do at work, and how I keep things safe at home. It also gave me a warning to tweak my IDS rules on my Linux gateway to non-defaults. Fyodor's working on a book, too, but complains his software gets updated so much, by the time he's done with one chapter, it's obsolete. I also learned a little about hping.

Then stodgycat and I ate at a Chinese restaurant, went to a dreadfully dull panel on reverse engineering, and then I stayed in the hotel room to get some rest (it was my weekend, after all). I was originally planning on going to the Fur nightclub excursion, but then takayla got bummed I didn't tell her (I had forgotten about it until I arrived at the con, they didn't mention it much this year on the web site) to invite her, so I realized I was unfair, and I didn't go. I didn't have appropriate clothing, anyway. So stodgycat went with cheesy_reads instead.

I spent most of this time at hack or Halo, then hung out in the hacker's Arcade, trying to drum up some conversation with others, but they seemed wary of me.

In fact, the whole damn con I was giving off some sort of, "Don't speak to me" vibe, which was unsettling. Like when I got the room, a head... guy named "Raul" was warmly shaking the hands of those standing in line, and making sure they were comfortable. He had a very suave accent, and was doing the friendly, "How are you doing? Good to hear, welcome back," or, "Is that your daughter? She is a delight, welcome to the Marriott." But every time he passed me? He looked at me and went right to the next person. When I got to the top of the line, the guy in front of me with a Maui tee shirt was told, "Carmen has just opened up for you, why don't you go check in. Do you need your bags carried? No? Okay, then [smile]. Have a very pleasant stay..." He got to me and said, curtly, "Karen is free," and pointed. So I went to Karen, who said, "I want your card now," like I was an idiot. No hello, or, "Can I have your last name?" When I gave her my card, I said my name was Larson, and she waved the card at me and said blankly, "I can see that..." She didn't ask for ID. She just gave me the keys, and then said, "next please?" I asked her were my room was. "Oh, just follow the green walls to the Park Tower elevators..." and then she was REALLY friendly to the people behind me like they were her long lost friends. The directions she gave me were completely wrong, I had to have a bellhop tell me that I was in the Central tower after I walked all around the hotel, lost as all hell. I also got blown off by a lot of hackers and staff, although some of the staff warmed up to me while I attempted to hack the prize crane, so I am chalking that up to shyness. Of course, stodgycat, with his mohawk and everything, got his fair share of rude stares.

As expected, stodgycat was the height of my experience, just like he was at Imaginecon. Here's a guy who complains of terminal shyness onstage, and yet can shout, "HI!!" to perfect strangers, scaring the crap out of my shyness. "HOW'R'YOU???" God, I wish I had that power. I am always worried about people reacting badly: "That ugly fat man said hi to me, I want to report sexual harassment and... and... assault with an ugly weapon, why not!" I guess when you have had people treat you with stunning cruelty as a kid, there's no "safe zone" because you know sometimes people CAN bear false witness just because they don't like your face.

Also, at cons, I am used to being known. I mean, I have been in fandom a long time, over 20 years. Half of that on stage or on a panel for something. Sitting down and not having people come to me and start talking is rather... lonely. So I have to work on that.

Fun crane!
I watched the crane get fixed, someone get 50,000 points of Pac Man, and the Mortal Kombat 4 monitor start to fail. Then they closed, and I went back up to the room, watched SNL, and slept until they returned. I had fully expected they would want the room alone, but instead, they took stuff back to the car and took a LONG time to get back, if you get my drift. Gotta hand it to a couple who know how to find space in a VW Beetle. :) But I am happy because how often do the parents of four kids find some alone time? And get to go clubbing for free?

Hacker Arcade

Sunday, I got up groggily. I had already packed the night before, and stodgycat wondered about his ethics as a future lawyer versus stealing stuff out of a hotel. We went and had breakfast at a Starbucks that was not a Starbucks (they looked like a Starbucks, but wouldn't take my gift card... they were a "franchise that paid for the corporate licensing" or some such nonsense). Then we went to a panel about 0wning the con, and I realized that these people really have it together. This panel went on long, and then the con ended.

We tried to get tee-shirts, but registration didn't reopen, and after 3pm, we left and went home.

So what did I think of the con? Relaxing. I wish there would have been more stuff I wanted to hear about, but learning wireless from Atlas as well as Fyodor's talk made the weekend well spent.

Sprinklers are NOT load bearing...
As a side note, many times at these types of venues, I feel "outclassed." I try to hang around people who are smarter and better than me at some skill so I can improve my own skills, but sometimes I get frustrated at how dumb I feel. It was very helpful to go WITH someone this time around, and I plan on going back next year.
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