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Monthly Archives: August 2018

Right off the hop, let’s get this out of the way:  Yes, this is an homage to (or shameless theft of) the speech Colossus makes at the conclusion of the film Deadpool.  Still, there is some poignancy to how I was feeling when this thought occurred and that’s why I wanted to share it here.

This DEF CON was significant for me.  I’ve been attending the con for nearly 20 years now, but this one really seemed to impact me emotionally.  The reason:  it has become apparent that, as a whole, the conference is too large to “see it all” even if someone really, really dedicates themselves to that cause.  I realize that DEF CON has been growing by leaps and bounds.  And long-time veterans can take their pick of the year when it “wasn’t the same anymore” from a list that includes:

  • Outgrowing and leaving the Alexis Park
  • Stretching on the calendar into Thursday
  • Choosing venues that span across multiple hotels
  • Being back on the Strip in a grown-up venue where they don’t take kindly to shenanigans

…and, yes, all of these milestones did indeed change the nature of the con.  But, for me, something truly felt different this year with regard to how many activity areas there were, in the form of Villages, challenges, etc.  While it perhaps hasn’t truly been possible to see all of DEF CON in a single trip for a while now, I feel like this year was the first time that I truly heard a whole lot of voices from folk who weren’t mere observers but true interactive people, seeking to go hands-on with people and ideas and concepts that interested them.  When even those individuals were saying, “man, it’s like it’s not even possible to participate fully in DEF CON anymore,” and that is what made me a little sad.  Because it’s true.

Then I was fortunate to have a bite to eat on Sunday with my wife and one of our friends, Elissa Shevinsky.

As we dined at The Palm (Bruce and Wozzi’s place where head chef Kiko Ojeda does a really fine job creating everything save for the crab and romaine salad) and sipped cocktails, Elissa was quite chipper.  “I had a really successful time this weekend,” she pointed out.  “I had five top priority things to see and do, and I checked each item off that list.”

In that moment (as ridiculous as it may sound, such a vague platitude this is) her words really hit me.  For years, my philosophy at DEF CON has pretty much been “do absolutely everything… and then some.”  I would stop by every Village, try my hand at numerous contests, get to every party for either a brief appearance or stay to close the room down, and on top of all of this I was running multiple contests, events, and often giving talk presentations in Villages and/or on the main stages.  For me, any time I went up to my room at DEF CON, the Fear Of Missing Out™ would kick in almost immediately and I would steel myself with another whiskey and dash back to the elevators, eager to get downstairs again and on to the con floor.

I can’t do that anymore.  None of us can.  DEF CON is simply “too big” now, we admit to ourselves.

But Elissa’s theory works, even for those of us who have a list as long as our leg of stuff we would like to do and see.  The solution?  Prioritize your list… do this well before DEF CON starts.  It’s OK to have a nearly-endless agenda of things you’d like to do at the con, but at this point DEF CON is so massive that your satisfaction should come from successfully achieving your top four or five moments.

Maybe your moments are seeing three talk presentations that looked really interesting to you, spending time in a Village, and then participating in a particular contest.

Maybe your moments are going to a specific party, getting into the SkyTalks room, witnessing Drunk Hacker History, and having two very special dinners with friends you don’t usually get to see anymore.

Maybe your moments are five Goon duty shifts where you feel you’ve made a positive impact on other con-goers’ days.

Whatever your four or five moments are, let that become the standard by which you judge whether your DEF CON was a “success” or not.  None of us can do it all anymore.  It’s ok to still try.  (Just stick with the 3-2-1 rule at all times!)  But don’t let yourself feel down about all that you “missed” because you ran out of time.

If you achieve the four or five moments that you predetermined as your top priorities before you went to Vegas, then that DEF CON can go in the Win column for you.

Well, that’s another year in the books.  I thank absolutely everyone for a terrific and successful DEFCON Shoot!  The staff and RSO volunteers were indispensable and all credit goes to them as well as everybody who so marvelously brought amazing firearms and content to the range for everyone to share.  The cannon made a triumphant return, Joe’s full-auto collection had numerous specimens on site, and plenty of folk got to try a multi-shot rotary drum 40mm grenade launcher!

The theme this year (on badges, decoration elements, etc) was “resistance fighters who fought fascists” and we thought that was quite timely.

So, as always, everybody seemed to have a very good time and it was marvelous to see friends, listen to talks, and watch people compete in challenges like the dueling tree and crypto puzzle (folk are still working on that to see who can win this amazing 80% lower!)

One of the most hilarious moments of the Shoot was when Puking Monkey pulled a “Yo, dawg, I heard you liked cannons… so I shot a cannon out of my cannon!” for everybody.  😀

But one of my favorite parts of this year’s DEFCON Shoot came toward the end of the day.  To tell the story properly, however, we’ll have to reflect upon the conditions at the shoot site when we first arrived.  Many areas of public land which are used for recreational shooting are, as a lot of gun folk will know, subject to awful and unnecessary abuse.  My friend Karl documented as much on InRange TV and plenty of other news reports and anecdotal evidence shows just how thoughtless some firearms folk can be when no one’s looking.

The Indian Springs location (where we shot last year as well as this year) is sadly no exception.  Some bad apples have a long history of going out there and shooting at ridiculously inappropriate targets that make a mess and leave debris everywhere.  This was immediately visible as we arrived and were setting up…

We noticed assorted debris like target backer boards and old metal school lockers.  At least those are either bio-degradable or relatively self-contained and box-shaped items.  Plenty of things were not suited to being targets at all, however.  Mattresses and more, for example…

It’s a shame when folk take old appliances out to the desert because they shatter in so many ways when shot or blown up…

But perhaps the most horrendous offenders are consumer electronics, like TVs.  These not only shatter into loads of bits that will never biodegrade, but they also contain plenty of other materials that are harmful to the environment and require special hazardous disposal protocols for e-Waste when being thrown away properly.

I was very inspired by my attendees and volunteers at the DEFCON Shoot.  Almost right from the start, it was possible to see everyone there taking the time to at the very least police up much of the waste into more organized piles.  (This was as much to aid in the parking of cars as it was simply good practice… and no one had to be asked to do this.  The group of hackers just took it upon themselves without direction.)

In the middle of the day, I looked at the large group of folk (many of whom came from less free states or totally un-free countries) enjoying this public land and getting to shoot guns that they would never otherwise be able to handle… then I looked at the fold of bills in my pocket from individuals who arrived without pre-registering and instead opted to pay cash on-site.

Then I started googling.

There are a number of waste haulage firms in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.  But none of them said they would service a job so far outside of the city, up in a nowheresville like Indian Springs.  Eventually, on the verge of giving up, I asked one fellow very directly, “Look, you said that this job’s distance wouldn’t make it financially feasible… but I fear you may be underestimating this group’s willingness to incentivize you.  Exactly what kind of additional compensation would make this job viable to you?  Tell me a number.”

My jaw dropped when, after some brief consideration and a pause, the owner said it would cost possibly “as much as an additional $150” to come that distance.  I hired him and his crew immediately.

And, sure enough, after the conclusion of the DEFCON Shoot, Dennis and his team lead James and a crew of workers arrived on site and began to police up as much debris and junk as their vehicle could hold.  I told them that I was prepared to pay extra disposal fees for any TVs they could gather and that we’d cover the costs of a full 15 cubic yard truckload.

As the clean up haulers were working, a car from the town arrived and wanted to see what was going on.  (Both years that we’ve come around, locals have showed up during the Shoot itself to say hello and see what we’re about and they seem to generally like us and come to regard the “hacker bunch” as “those people who treat the place well and don’t make a mess” so that makes me very happy.)

But this was a cut above… I hope everyone can be very happy to learn that the locals who arrived offered thanks over and over again for the work being done in the area.  They commented on how much better it looks… and they remarked that they’d never seen anyone go to the effort of cleaning it up before.

Thank you all who came, who shared, who taught, who learned, and who made all this possible.  I’ll see you next summer.  For now, enjoy the rest of DEF CON!