August 5, 2002

Initial Impressions

Category: Personal — Biella @ 3:49 am

What happens when you take hackers out of their natural habitat (think: cool, dark, indoors) and place thousands of them close together over the course of three days within a hot, dry, and sunny environment? Defcon. Although the “Las Vegas habitat” is now a norm for this yearly ritual (this is the 10th con) sun, heat, and pools are not what instantly comes to mind when you think of “hacker.” The contrast of black clothing with the piercing sun, the suffocating heat against the chilled air conditioned indoors, and the technical talks mixed with spring break-like drinking atmosphere and Las Vegas mini-adventures made for endless visual amusements for the third of Biella’s summer 2002 Con Tour.

After an 8 hour drive through the desert we arrived at a resort-like hotel, the Alexis Park, which has 3 pools laid out between manicured greens surrounded by Spanish style architecture. After about 1 hour there, I began to ask myself was this vacation or research? Wait, I guess if it is vacation for those at Defcon, well, then de facto as a “participant”, it too was vacation for me. I felt the weirdness of my year attending all these cons, user group meetings, and hanging out online all collapse into this one moment on the hot pavement of the Alexis Park. Strangely enough, I also felt transported back to 1991, high school graduation, when my friends and I spent a couple of days at a hotel roaming around dazed, drunk or hungover, and really happy that our high school existence was over. There was a similar atmosphere of excitement and jubilation in the air … with some key differences, lots and lots of hackers, swimming, socializing, and especially hacking away on computers.

Our backyard was the Vegas strip composed of exploding volcanoes, flashing lights, cheap (and mostly gross buffets), pirate shows, beaming lights, and replicas of the most famous architectural monuments of the west, like the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty with you know, some little “extras”, like a roller coaster weaving through the already “wondrous” architectural wonder. Bizarre. It is a city where everything is so fake, so staged that it then becomes sooo unmistakably real. I know that sounds like a contradiction but that’s Vegas for you …

The raw physical sensation of my experience at Defcon was as if I were swallowing an endless series of sound and experience bytes which felt very different from my two previous cons, both of which seemed relatively tame in comparison to this one. And despite the constancy and diversity of bytes, it was still as if I only saw and experienced like 15% of what was going on. Compared to most people, I only knew a handful of people, but barely felt there was enough time to see the talks, attend the many, many unofficial events and parties, roam through the the gargantuan Las Vegas hotels, cool off in the pools, and hang out with friends. By Saturday, I felt drowned and drained, probably less because of the endless stream of bytes and more because of the relentless dry heat, which is about my least favorite climate in the world. The blaring heat and inescapable dryness violated every inch of my body, sucking out my life vitality, leaving me like an empty vacuous shell. Ok, I am exaggerating but there were times I could barely keep eyes open at all. On Saturday, I had to take two naps one during the afternoon and another in the middle of the night. It was also late on Saturday when I found out that one could actually watch the talks on t.v in the air conditioned comfort of your hotel room. Yep, that’s Defcon for you. Ahh, the natural hacker habitat was contained right there within the heat and sun of the desert day.

I am struggling right now on the car ride home as we are passing by the beautiful desert. I don’t think that I can stay up too much longer. I dunno, maybe my sleepiness then and now have less to do with the heat and more to do with a strange illness that one of the Defcon attendees diagnosed me with: “mind disease.” Hmm, still trying to figure that one out…