All that is wrong with the world…

February 28, 2011

Too much sugar does not cause type 2 diabetes.

Filed under: Issues...the world...etc.. — Tags: , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 8:05 pm

As someone who generally drinks at least 1 liter a day of some kind of soda, I get tired of hearing that if I continue I am going to get diabetes. I’m fairly ignorant when it comes to health matters but then it seems most of the people trying to warn me are also. It may be likely that my diet is unhealthy and will lead to health problems later on, I wouldn’t deny that. However it is the specific myth that excess sugar will result in diabetes that I find annoying. I have tried looking into it fairly extensively in both general searching as well as various journals and nowhere have I found any definitive proof, or even enough evidence to imply a causal link between excess sugar intake and the development of type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore somewhat reliable sources of information such as the American Diabetes Association, WebMD and the Diabetes Be aWare campaign managed by the Singaporean government all state that it is a myth that excess sugar can lead to diabetes. What they do state is that excess sugar can lead to weight gain, which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So with there being exactly no evidence and possibly evidence to the contrary that excess sugar can cause diabetes, why did this become such a commonly held belief among people? It’s yet another fine example of people being unable or unwilling to do their own research. I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with their ignorance if they would at least consider investigating it rather than ignoring evidence and being offended at the very thought that I won’t take what they say for granted.

127 Hours: Was there any alternative?

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 6:27 pm

I watched 127 Hours before leaving NYC and couldn’t help but wonder if there could have been some alternative to amputation. It was a horrible horrible situation and part of my fantasizing there must have been an alternative comes from my disconnect from the reality of such a situation. The fact that the whole situation could have been avoided is irrelevant, I just wonder if there were other solutions to the problem as presented. With all the various camping equipment he had with him was it really not possible to MacGuyver something up? The first thing that came to my mind is perhaps the batteries could be exploded to chip away enough of the rock that he could move it or get free? I don’t know enough about chemistry or batteries to know if this is feasible, but I think I definitely would have tried. Blowing a chunk of my arm or burning it would be an acceptable risk when contrasted with having to amputate it.

What about the various ropes and pulleys he had? Was there no way to leverage enough force to move the rock even slightly? What about starting a fire to make smoke signals as a secondary measure? Surely the rope or the plastic from the flashlight are of the material that would burn in a way that would put off a lot of smoke? As isolated as he was that probably wouldn’t help, but again it was something he could try. I know that he tried everything he thought have but I’m just wondering, were there possible solutions he didn’t consider where the amputation could have been avoided? Just idle ramblings from someone who truly hopes never to be in such a situation.

February 27, 2011

Preliminary thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises

There have been a lot of interesting rumors about the next Batman movie, the poorly named The Dark Knight Rises in the last few weeks. For a long time both the Riddler and/or the Penguin have been fan favorites to be included which of cause all changed once Tom Hardy was announced to be playing Bane and Anne Hathaway to be playing Selina Kyle. For those not up to speed with the comics, Selina Kyle is also known as Catwoman. I have quite a few thoughts on what these castings and rumors may mean for the next Batman movie, so without further ado….

Bane

The most interesting thing to me is that we will be getting Bane as a villain. Bane is a very interesting casting choice and was a villain I would hope would appear in Nolan’s movies for quite a while. He is someone who is just as intelligent as Bruce Wayne although is a hell of a lot bigger, yet without the training. Growing up in prison being punished for his father’s crimes and turning into the hardest of the hard. He is used to ruling by fear and understands that this is how Batman controls Gotham and decides to take his place. He is an interesting character because it examines what Bruce Wayne may have become had things turned out differently…or how far innate capabilities extend.

To date, there has not been even a semi-accurate portrayal of bane outside of the comics. Batman and Robin had a juiced up roid raging slave in a gimp mask and the overrated Batman: Arkham Asylum and DCUO had an interpretation that wasn’t too far from that. The Batman and The Brave and the Bold animated series interpretations made the same mistakes as the live action interpretations ignoring everything that makes the character unique and interesting. Batman: TAS probably had the most accurate portrayal so far, although even this interpretation had the intelligence and cunning significantly toned down to the point it was a different character.

It’s a shame because Bane is one of the most interesting villains and someone I thought would fit into the realistic take on Batman perfectly. In his introduction he is shown studying Batman for months, screwing with his personal life to push batman to his emotional limit. Then releasing the inmates of Arkham to push him to his mental and physical limit. When Bane breaks the Bat it is not because he is stronger or a better fighter, it was because he studied and Batman and worked out what made him tick and then exploited that completely. No villain had managed to break Batman before perhaps save Joseph Blackfire and even then it wasn’t to the same extent. I think Bane as a direct adaptation from Knightfall would work well in the Nolan universe, not least because the appearance of Batman would cause some people to become obsessive and want to challenge him. Bane also has the distinction of being one of the completely sane villains in the Batman universe which makes him all the more fascinating.

The question is, what will Nolan do with Bane as a character? To date he hasn’t been respectful to a lot of characters either reducing them to pseudonyms or killing them off before they can actually develop. Bane was always a Hispanic villain which obviously won’t be the case with Tom Hardy being cast to portray him. The fact that Bane was raised in Latin America shaped a lot of the character so it is a shame to see that being lost. They won’t likely have the Venom or life in prison aspect in this new interpretation although perhaps they can keep some of the core characteristics by rewriting the character to have grown up in gangs or something.

Tom Hardy is only aiming to be around 196lbs which is just 4 more pounds than Bale was in Batman Begins. I haven’t seen Bronson yet but looking at this picture that has been making the rounds, Hardy can certainly beef up into an imposing figure. Given this it seems unlikely that Bane will be dwarfing Batman in size I hope that he will try and manipulate Batman into a weaker state mentally to then defeat him physically. Nolan likes Hardy as an actor so I don’t see the character being trivialized. At the same time it is probably too much to ask for the some elements of the Knightfall story arc. Though I do think that would play well…Batman being broken and having to overcome everything….The Dark Knight broken only to rise more powerful than before. As long as they treat the character with respect and have him as the challenge to Batman that he is, I’ll be fairly happy.

What about Venom? Venom was a very interesting concept in the comics and something that caused Bane to be that much more formidable physically. Batman is at the peak of physical perfection as is Bane, so with the addition of Venom Bane was able to surpass the natural limits of what a human can achieve and be able to outmatch Batman. Venom was also explored in the Batman: Venom story arc where after blaming himself for being unable to save a little girl from drowning due to not being strong enough to move a boulder, looks for solutions to enhance his strength. Both Batman and Bane ultimately rejected Venom as the mental numbing and addiction were not considered worth the increase in strength. I don’t think Venom would be too much of a stretch in Nolan’s universe. We already have drugs such as PCP in the real world that can enhance a person’s strength, so as long as the instant hulking up aspect was removed I don’t see why there would be a problem.

It also makes sense given that we know Hardy and Bale are going to be very very close in physical size. Given that Batman has the advantage of an armored suit that also grants additional strength, Bane would need to have some way of matching or surpassing that. Without Venom what could he possibly use? While I would love to see Venom in the nolanverse I would not be so upset if it doesn’t make an appearance. There are other solutions for Bane breaking Batman, such as Batman being physically injured for some reason and Bane taking advantage of that. I don’t think it is so important how Bane beats Batman physically so much as how he breaks him mentally, which is the entire reason he was able to beat him in the first place. It will be interesting to see what rumors develop regarding this.

Selina Kyle

The casting of Selina Kyle is the other interesting recently confirmed news, although I don’t find it terribly surprising. I always thought it likely that Catwoman would be in the next movie because she is one of the safer choices, fits nicely into the realistic take on batman as well as being a romantic or sexual interest for Bruce Wayne. It is important to note that the casting notice makes no mention of ‘Catwoman’ but only Selina Kyle, her alter ego. This could be similar to the casting notice for The Dark Knight which only mentioned Harvey Dent and not Two-Face at all. Of course the result of that is that we only got Two-Face for twenty minutes of screen time during which he was never referred to as such. I wrote above about my fear of Nolan diminishing Bane as a character and given how he has treated characters so far it is a well founded fear. It would be an interesting movie to just have Selina Kyle as a love interest for Bruce Wayne exploring her link to the Falcone family, which could be interfering with Batman’s work. Even so, to leave out the Catwoman aspect of the character except in the last few minutes would be a wasted opportunity.

I do wonder which interpretation of Selina Kyle/Catwoman will will get in TDKR. Will the origin of the character be completely rewritten as Nolan has done a few times? Or will it be mostly true to one of the comic interpretations? Nolan so far has borrowed a lot from Year One and The Long Halloween although I can’t see him using those comics as inspiration for Catwoman. Probably Selinas’s origin as a prostitute will be omitted as will hopefully the ridiculous costume with whiskers. What I would like to see is a Catwoman costume similar to the current incarnation as well as the cat burglar aspect. There are many possibilities here….they could go the Falcone daughter route and not have her be Catwoman at all…, or come from a poor background and thus cat burgling…or perhaps something more mundane, another vigilante working outside the law with different methods that Batman can’t criticize without examining himself.

What was far more interesting than it being reveled that Selina Kyle would be in the film was the casting of Anne Hathaway to play Selina Kyle. Hathaway is the last person many would have expected as Catwoman is known for being confident while sexually alluring…not something the star of the Princess Diaries is known for. The few films I have seen her in I haven’t though much of with her simply being an OK actor, although I am having a lot of trouble picturing her in the Catwoman role. It’s easier to imagine her just as Selina Kyle without the Catwoman aspect, a woman investigating her personal connection to the Falcone family, although that isn’t nearly as interesting.

If the movie does decide to have Selina Kyle play Catwoman then it will be interesting to see what Hathaway does with the role. She doesn’t seem to have the graceful agility and athleticism that Catwoman has although who knows what she will be capable of? Nolan has demonstrated he can get great performances out of actors that wouldn’t otherwise be expected, so we will have to see. People have made the point that Hathaway’s casting is comparable to Ledgers, although I think this is the case at all. Ledgers casting was so very unexpected that people honestly unable to imagine what his portrayal would be like. Hathaway is a popular mainstream choice at the moment and the curiosity that came with Ledgers casting doesn’t exist with Hathaway.

It’s possible that she may surprise us all and I hope so. Catwoman is a well known iconic character and to really shine in this movie as Catwoman she will need to be allowed to make it her own, unlike any other interpretation just as Ledger did with the Joker. If that isn’t the case then Catwoman’s appearance in the movie is likely going to be forgettable. The more I think about it I think they are going to omit Catwoman and just have Selina Kyle as a love interest for Bruce Wayne while she explores her links to the crime underworld. I’m also interested to see how Nolan handles Catwoman. Nolan so far has been terrible at handling women and creating good male/female chemistry. He tends to favor a majority male cast with women characters being quite in the background. It would be a mistake to do that with Selina Kyle which I’m sure he realizes, but can he pull off having Hathaway be sexy and alluring to fuel the intense chemistry that exists between Catwoman and Batman as in the comics? Only time will tell.

Hugo Strange, Talia al Ghul, Robin

For the longest time it was <a href="http://www.slashfilm.com/the-dark-knight-rises-story-revealed-prey-dr-hugo-strange/"rumored that Hugo Strange was going to be the main villain with a script based on the Prey storyline. This would have been an interesting choice and would make sense as the storyline includes Batman being hunted by the Police and the introduction of Catwoman as an antagonist. Given that Hugo Strange has not yet been cast it seems unlikely that they will be going this route. I much prefer Bane as a primary villain hopefully influenced by the Knightfall story arc, which is now at least a possibility with his casting.

Hugo Strange would have been an interesting villain, a brilliant mind able to pick apart Batman and deduce his identity although unable to match him physically, so manipulating others to satisfy that shortcoming. In fact had they gone with the Prey storyline it would have been possible that Bane would fill in the part of the Night Scourge…although I hope this is not the case as whenever Bane is used as a tool by someone else it diminishes the character.

Then recently there have been rumors of Talia appearing with the casting of Marion Cotillard. This is interesting to speculate on although I think it is quite unlikely. The introduction of Talia would seem out of place in Nolan’s universe as the League of Assassins was never properly expanded in Batman Begins. Would Talia now be in control of the league? Without Ra’s that just doesn’t seem as interesting. I suppose Talia could show up holding Batman accountable for the death of her father….but that would have to be a main plotline and with Bane and Catwoman in the mix it doesn’t seem likely. What I would really like to see are the Lazarus pits and for Ra’s to return. For Ra’s al Ghul to just be killed of trivializes the character (as with Two-Face) especially when the character is defined by his immortality. Nolan has demonstrated his ability to make sci-fi fairly realistic as shown in The Prestige and I do believe he is capable of introducing something like the Lazarus pits in a realistic way. The return of Ra’s could also tie in nicely with the Bane storyline as Bane was the only person other than Batman considered worthy enough to be Ra’s successor. I really hope they won’t have Bane simply show up representing the League without Ra’s playing any part.

The Robin rumors don’t even deserve attention. Nolan has said that Robin won’t appear due to Batman being too young in his films. I don’t think that has really changed much, although it would be interesting. The only issue I have with robin too appear is that he would need to be stretched over two films. Adopted in the first film as a child and then training and being Robin in the next. Having a child swinging around a huge metropolis and fighting criminals pushes suspension of disbelief a little too far. Robin would have to be at least 15 or so as per the Batman: TAS portrayal to believably take on adult men with guns.

Final Thoughts

I guess the main question is what will be the general storyline of The Dark Knight Rises? There are quite a few storylines involving Bane and Catwoman, many of which could be adapted without much change, and others yet that would not suffer terribly from minor changes. Nolan’s treatment of Batman characters is interesting. He often uses stellar origin comics for inspiration such as Year One and The Killing Joke but at the same time doesn’t respect the characters such as having Batman kill people or reducing Two-Face to the point that he did. Given this trend it seems probably elements of Knightfall may appear in TDKR but that the interpretation of Bane may not be true to the comics. It’s impossible to speculate with any degree of accuracy at the moment, there are a few key moments that I would to see on film. Obviously Bane actually breaking Batman’s back would be amazing to see although I don’t consider that too likely. What I would like to see and what I think would work well is Batman training himself again and getting his confidence back….such as having the confidence to jump from skyscrapers. Of course Nolan’s Batman doesn’t tend to swing between buildings but something similar would be nice to see.

I would hope we get to see perhaps part of Bane’s origin with the life in prison showing his character and just why he is a challenge to Batman. Then perhaps have Catwoman at the same time breaking the law in a morally gray way that makes it difficult for Batman to simply class her as a criminal. Perhaps have Bane causing mayhem to try and cement his standing and then have Catwoman and Batman unite to stop him, after which Gotham thanks Batman after realizing what a great hero he is. In which case the title would refer to Batman rising after being broken by Bane and also rising by being appreciated rather than scorned by Gotham. There is so much potential for the final Nolan Batman movie to be amazing, I just hope it isn’t at the expense of diminishing characters as he has done in both previous movies.

A lot of mention has also been made of the amount of villains in the next movie, although at present only Bane is a confirmed villain. It is unknown if Selina Kyle will play a villain, anti-hero or just a romantic interest. Even if the film ads in some gangsters and such I don’t think it will be too many. Batman Begins had 5 villains while The Dark Knight had about 7. The key was that many of them were minor roles that served the story without being the focus, and Nolan has shown that he can pull this off brilliantly. The only thing I would worry about is that Talia al Ghul, Selina Kyle and Bane are all too important to be reduced to subplots to serve a greater story. The crime families of Gotham or Scarecrow in TDK being reduced are fine, as they have been expanded enough to serve the story. I don’t see how it would be possible to adequately introduce the characters on screen if they only have a short amount of screen time and are being used to further another characters story arc.

I don’t know if there will be a psychology angle in TDKR, but I think it would be interesting. Assuming there is still a police taskforce whose objective is to capture Batman, a psychologist input could be interesting and serve the story well. It wouldn’t have to be Hugo Strange, but I don’t think I would have a problem if it was and we didn’t get a Hugo Strange story arc. Once the character is introduced he can be further developed in further films, or just a hint at his obsession would be sufficient. What I would hope to see is an exploration of the idea that the appearance of Batman inspired the appearance of other psychotic villains in Gotham. So far this has not been the case save for the Joker, as Scarecrow and Ra’s were in action before Batman appeared. It would be interesting if in the next film the appearance of various villains were implied to be a direct consequence of Batman and how he would react and deal with that.

While there are a lot of problems with Nolan’s Batman films in the sense of staying true to the characters, they have all been excellent films in their own right and I look forward to seeing how he will end his story of Batman. I just hope he isn’t stupid and selfish enough to having Batman end his career which would both be untrue to the character and lock out the possibility of future movies. At this point only time will tell, but here’s hoping for the best.

NOTE: The left part of the Catwoman image was taken from http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/rorschachsrants/news/?a=28446

Update 1 – March 1st 2011
So much of my speculation has become irrelevant since the next day Anne Hathaway revealed she will in fact play Catwoman. Meh.

February 17, 2011

Thoughts on Back to the Future The Game – Episode 2

Today the 2nd episode of BTTF:The Game was released which was a pleasant surprise. I had been interested to see how it would turn out giving my impressions of Episode 1. One of the first things I noticed that I didn’t last time was that the installer extracted files for the QT Toolkit. This seemed strange as I can’t imagine the toolkit is sued much in games, but perhaps it is.

So this episode started off with Marty and Doc having to evade a police officer. This was somewhat annoying as you had to move around a car several times and watch an animation of the officer and Doc marching backwards, which after 4 or 5 times became quite repetitive. It was after this where we went back to our own time that the timeline had been altered, although apparently only to the extent that the Tannen’s never left the McFly’s alone, resulting in the McFly kids moving away and protection money needing to be paid.

So, back to 1931 we did go. This seemed interesting as it was in the spirit of BTTF Part 2, although there really wasn’t enough of doing things while scenes from the first episode were in progress to maintain that feel and it ended up feeling like a longer stretch of Episode 1. I also noticed that while in the first game Marty’s pseudonym has been hardcoded as Michael Corleone yet here it seems to be hardcoded as Sonny Crocket. If you’re going to ignore the players choice and hardcode a name, why not do it consistently?

I also noticed the save ad load option is now prominently in the menu, although you can only save after key checkpoints which isn’t overly useful. There seemed to be some delays in this episode between initiating an action and watching the resulting animation. It could be something with my PC, but since Episode 1 still plays fine I think it is unlikely.

Due to the story in the game Marty starts to fade out and has to fix something to stop that happening. What I found odd was that he started to fade out wholly at once…I felt it would have been nice if it started with just his hand as in the movies. A minor thing, but it was the continuity of the minor things that helped to make the movies so great in my opinion.

One of the more aggravating things is that Marty still nervous, a great example of which is the fight with Biff’s gang. It isn’t the same Marty I know and love from the movies, and what’s more seems like a missed opportunity. No accusations of being chicken, no actual fighting of any sort. In fact, one of the lines of dialogue is “Can’t you pick on someone else, really?” which seems totally out of character. I suppose this isn’t going to change anytime soon though.

I finished the game in just slightly over two hours, taking a bit longer as it was not obvious that I had to taunt Kid Tannen at the end. This part of the game also had one of the most gratuitous uses of pocket space I have seen in a long time, where an entire barrel of booze manages to fit into Marty’s pocket, complete with the animation. It was an entertaining two hours but given the time Telltale has had to work on the game, I hoped it would be closer in characters and minor touches to the movies. Although I’m still hoping for a scene or puzzle involving a skateboard, be it makeshift or hoverboard.

I thought it would have been interesting to see more of the changed timeline instead of being stuck in 1931, although it appears the next episode will be in an entirely different timeline that we have seen yet. The end of the game was interesting and given what happened I am surprised the DeLorean didn’t disappear. Perhaps it is because it is a copy and somehow exists outside of the normal continuum? Something I wish had been expanded on further. Despite everything I am enjoying the game and look forward to the next episode, where it seems the story will really progress.

Thoughts on Futurama Season 6

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 3:20 pm

I actually meant to write this while I was in Granada, but with hanging out and working and then no laptop I never got around to it. Now more than half a year later I’m getting around to it when it is no longer relevant, but meh. I was very excited to hear that Futurama had been renewed after a 5 year hiatus since it seemed about as likely as Firefly being renew. Since it was Comedy Central that renewed the show this allowed for slightly more adult humor than on Fox. This is one of the things that stood out to me…it seemed to be nudity and sex just for the sake of it, while on Fox adult jokes had managed to be implied and be funnier at the same time.

The episodes were a lot better than the movies in my opinion. The movies were interesting and funny enough although they often seemed to miss the mark. Perhaps it was the writers just being out of practice, or perhaps more likely the show simply isn’t suited to a movie format. The D&D/LOTR paraody for example seemed like it would have been fine for an episode or two, but being stretched out over 4 episodes was just too much and felt strained.

So, let’s look at the episodes. Rebirth was a nice start to the series giving a plausible explanation after the conclusion of Into the Wild Green Yonder with some nice well deserved jabs at Fox. In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela was a nice story showing the lengths Zapp will go to for Leela’s respect, although I feel the childish sex humor mentioned above somewhat let it down. Attack of the Killer App managed to be a perfect parody of the typical Apple customer and Apple as a corporation which I liked. At the same time, it seemed a bit too obvious. I don’t know exactly why but The Simpsons or Futurama just don’t stand out when they do parodies…they always seem far too obvious without much thought behind them.

Speaking of which I felt The Duh-Vinci Code was one of the poorer episodes of the season. A shorter version of The DaVinci code with robots and aliens but short on humour. That Darn Katz! Was a nice paring of Amy and Nibbler with a few jokes, but again it just seemed like a mediocre episode somehow. Still this isn’t a bad thing as a mediocre episode of Futurama is far far better than much of the stuff on TV. The Prisoner of Benda was a fun little bodyswapping adventure….although how it is that Bender can switch with Humans is yet to be explained. I quite liked the Fry/Leela subplot where they went to disgusting lengths to prove they were not shallow.

Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences was a nice Lrrr-centric episode. There isn’t much more to say on it as Lrr is awesome by himself and that’s all that needs to be said. The Mutants Are Revolting was a nice 100th episode which resulted in the mutants being allowed to live on the surface. Futurama has always been good with continuity so it will be interesting to see if this has any effect on later episodes. The Futurama Holiday Spectacular was a nice additional episode although I somewhat missed the What If Machine premise.

Now for my favorite episodes. Two of my favorite episodes of Futurama were Jurrasic Bark and The Luck of the Fryrish. Very well written with real character development, pathos and just the right does of humor. Not since the early episodes of The Simpsons have there been such well written heartfelt animated shows. There were two episodes in season 6 that I felt came close but ended up falling short of the bar set by the previous episodes. Lethal Inspection was a heartfelt story with Bender realizing that he isn’t immortal (despite all the evidence to the contrary) and showing a softer side of Hermes. I really enjoyed this episode and don’t have anything bad to say about it and it’s probably my third or fourth favorite episode now.

The Late Philip J. Fry was an interesting episode. I really liked the subplot with Fry running late for Leela due to circumstances outside of his control and there being tension on the relationship because of it. It was interesting to see how the staff got on with their lives absent the Professor, Fry and Bender. The trek through time was interesting and I liked many of the different era’s be it a world of voluptuous educated insatiable women or a time when giraffes rule the land. This episode seemed to be equal parts The Farnsworth Parabox and Love and Rocket which was an impressive feat to pull off.

One aspect I really liked and that I have always appreciated in Futurama is the accurate use of scientific theories or hypothesizes. The idea that the Universe is the result of a Big Bounce effect is interesting, although it is quite disheartening to think we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over for eternity. Speaking of the science aspect, A Clockwork Origin is probably my favorite episode of the season. This episode tackled the Creationism Vs Evolution debate in a very intelligent manner and not just going for the easy Creationist bashing as is so often the case. I expected something similar with The Simpsons episode The Monkey Suit (S17) although that was quite a let down. Simultaneously acknowledging there are things we simply cannot prove with Science and never may be able to and that we can’t simply dismiss some ideas simply because they may seem ludicrous from one perspective was well done. It was a very pleasant surprise, and I can’t wait for the next season.

I’m very glad that Futurama is back, here’s hoping for six more awesome season. As a final thought, I will leave this link to some Futurama artwork. Some creepy, some interesting, some cute…all impressive.

February 11, 2011

Thoughts on my 2010 and looking forward

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 6:16 pm

I meant to post this much closer to the start of the year but it is still early enough to count. Last year was a very interesting year for me. As long as I have been traveling I feel that it was last year that I realized some further things about myself and about people in general as well as understanding some personal issues with greater clarity and gaining the motivation to accomplish my goals which I had been lacking for several years.

After leaving Germany I went to NYC with a firm goal of trying to establish my business. I had been living in Germany for over a year after going to be with a friend. This friend was very deer to me and after a lot of drama I felt like our friendship was in danger and in any event wanted or needed to be in close proximity to her. After more than a year of sorting out issues I really thought we had solidified things and we were ready for whatever may come next. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.

Anyway, after arriving in NYC in November and just getting settled in, really not doing anything towards setting up my business, I decided to go to New Orleans for NYE. Part of the reason was that I met my friend in NYC oh so many years ago in late December and didn’t want to be in NYC without her. Irrational, but there it is. The other reason is that being estrange from family and friends I often like to go somewhere for Christmas where I don’t know anyone, so I can force myself to go out and meet new people, which I did.

Staying a hostel I met a cool guy from San Diego and we hung out. I was quite grateful to him as I was completely broke, still waiting for money to come to me from Germany. Once again I was in an exciting place in the world while something interesting was going on without any money to enjoy it. Thanks to my new friend though, I was able to. After drinking hurricanes and watching fireworks on the Mississippi it was time to hit various clubs in the French Quarter. They were all pretty horrible or cost crazy amounts to get inside, but it was an interesting experience.

I had expected to be going back to NYC a few days after NYE was over but due to my lack of funds this was made impossible. I found some very cool people to stay with and ended up staying through Mardi Gras. Again which I had no money to do anything, although I did see a few parades which was fun. I got the impression however that New Orleans as a party town was severely overrated.

It was then time for me to leave the US or risk being there illegally, so off to Colombia I went, again with no money. I can’t even remember how I paid for the flight although I must have borrowed it from someone. During this time I managed to stay with some truly awesome people and see some local culture. I had a great time and 3 weeks later I was back to Florida.

My entry back into the US was the thing of dreams….I had no return ticket or proof of funds but was not asked any questions. The customs guard was smiling and stamped me in while wishing I enjoyed my stay. Amazing. Florida was interesting. I first stayed in Orlando with a guy who was overly friendly and loved debating although was not terribly good at it. It was strange for me as he was very friendly and hospitable but seemed a bit insecure about some things. I don’t think I was able to connect with him on the level he wanted which ended up making things kind of awkward.

Then I was off to Miami. I was quite excited to go to Miami as I had never been there and was interested to see the Cuban influence on the city. I was also interested to see what Spring Break would be like only having seen it in movies and TV shows. After walking for an hour at night at about 1am to my hosts place as I was told the busses were 24 hours I finally arrived. I got on really well with my host and ended up staying for around a month, which was an amazing help as I was still broke waiting for my German money.

I still had no money to get home to NYC and with spring break going on had no money to go out and revel in it. I did try, but by gosh it was not a fun experience. There were no parties on the beach…indeed, the beach closes at midnight. Everyone in the clubs seemed fake or stuck up unless you had money to flaunt. It seemed to just be normal going out, without anything special going on except many of the people were out of town. I mostly went to the Clevelander to take advantage of the lack of cover or sneaking in when they did have a cover and boy that was hard to meet people there.

There was another bar I went to that had cheap $1 beers where I met a few cool people, and the bouncer in particular was very cool. As I was out almost every night we started talking, and without even knowing me very well he lent me $20 so I would be OK. Thank you Billy, for being awesome.

It was also during this time that the end of my friendship with my best friend had started occurring. I had thought after Germany (in itself the result of a failed romantic relationship) we were OK. Back to being close friends and finally ridding the relationship of excess baggage. Only, this was not the case. I thought things were odd while we were talking via email as we just didn’t seem so close. I spent a few weeks making a card that I worked hard on which was barely acknowledged. There was no desire or interest to talk via Skype….I didn’t know what was going on.

After talking on MSN in Miami near the end of my time in Florida…I asked why it didn’t seem that we were close and was told that frankly, we weren’t that close. I couldn’t understand it and asked what happened since we used to be so close. Only to find out that we never really were. That was a horrible thing, to find out that the way I viewed the friendship was largely in my head. A delusion. I know that she cared about me to a great degree but…the fact that we weren’t the close friends I thought we were explained so much. So many times I was hurt by what was actually reasonable behavior for our friendship. I really couldn’t deal with this too well, as I had shaped many of my previous years around this friendship.

After my money finally came through I was able to return to NYC where I sent a letter formally ending our friendship. At least for a time, I think I left it open…I don’t know. Her reaction was amazing…understanding and respectful….but somehow this made me angrier…that she wasn’t fighting it more. I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly at this time. After being back in NYC for only a few weeks it was time to head out of the country again, so off to Costa Rica I went since it was the cheapest option. Of course before I went I ended up spilling Dr Pepper all over my laptop. Reaching for a glass and stumbling over a mouse in the dark ended in tragedy. The worst part was that I managed to clean my laptop and prevent damage…only to forget to disconnect it from the power and short it while cleaning it a second time. A stupid mistake.

I set my time in Costa Rica for two months as I wanted to ensure that I would have time to stay in the states after DEFCON. I knew that I couldn’t come back from Mexico, but if I had bothered to think my trip through at all I would have bought a cheap ticket to Mexico and traveled down to Costa Rica over two months. Still, it was an interesting experience. I stayed for a week in San Jose trying to work out what I would do with the lack of people to stay with and my lack of money. I managed to get a few nights free fixing computers but it was frustrating being unable to drink with everyone else.

While there I met a girl who was amazing. We talked and kissed and I hoped at the least we would continue to be friends. It was nice after recently ending an important friendship and longing for some sort of intimacy. Only she went somewhat insane and completely disappeared from Facebook.

A quick trip to Jaco which was not so enjoyable given unfriendly hostile reception and the place tending to be a bit of a dump, then it was back to San Jose. It was time to leave, and off to La Fortuna I went. Which was a pretty cool little town where I stayed due to it being cheap, and there being some girls that I got to make out with. Awesome. While in La Fortuna I met a girl who seemed very interested in me and we decided to travel to Monteverde together. It seemed we had the start of a friendship and she offered to host me when I came to California. Amazing. Except that while making plans to head to Peñas Blancas and onward to Nicaragua, they disappeared. I found out they left the next day with other people and I never heard from her again. The only reason for this I can suppose is that she didn’t like my opinions on some controversial topics, although she never even hinted at their being a problem. So be it.

Then an hour out of Monteverde while waiting for the bus to Peñas Blancas I met a very cool guy and girl, just friends who had met on the trip. We started talking and ended up going to San Juan del sur together and sharing a hostel. They went on to Granada and Ometepe ahead of me, but I knew I would see them soon. I struck up quite a friendship with the girl and while we seemed to hit things off…we don’t talk so much these days. Damn her busy schedule.

I stayed in San Juan del sur a few extra days as it was cheap before making my way to Granada. I was seriously low on money here, although it was nice to meet up with my friends again. The hostel I was staying at had a policy of paying upon leaving, so I was considering exploiting this due to feeling I didn’t have any other option. Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be necessary. I managed to get work doing some programming and got my almost 3 weeks food and board in exchange. This saved me, as by the time I got back to San Jose ready to catch my flight back I was down to $40.

It was just before and while in Granada time that my feelings of hurt and resentment had been building towards my friend. We had not really talked since I ended things in May except when it was necessary and I just kept feeling angry and hurt. How could have everything have been false….how could I have been so stupid….how could she let me think this for so long? So many decisions I had made had been based around something false. I could have been getting my PhD or putting more effort toward my Business instead of accommodating her so I could spend time with her. Time and effort that I didn’t feel was appreciated.

Without anyone to talk to and everything just built up and I sent her an angry letter to vent out. Part of me wanted to hurt her as I had been hurt…but also just to let her know that I was hurt. I couldn’t understand anything anymore. It was a horrible letter where I ended things, and we have not talked since. Since then my head has cleared and I regret it and hope that somehow we can make amends….but only time will tell.

In Tamarindo only a few days before catching my flight that I had my first cougar experience. I had been unable to get laid the last two months as every girl I met was either too religious or too young or too slutty or just plain unattractive. The few I did meet that I was attracted to weren’t interested. Which…became frustrating. Still, it was an experience and I have the feeling that Cancun is going to make up for my lack of action during Spring Break and in Central America in spades.

After getting back to NYC where I again got greeted with a smile and a stamp it was time to prepare for my HOPE. The conference turned out to be a letdown for me, but it was still an interesting experience and I met some interesting people, not least some real life superheroes. It was so nice to be back selling comedy tickets, hanging with people I knew and being able to explore my favorite city. I was still having money problems and having to dispute a claim on my card took a lot of time. First it was approved then my account was cancelled…it took two months before I actually got my money back.

After an interesting 2 weeks in NYC it was time to head to Las Vegas. I hadn’t been there since I started traveling so I was interested to see it from a different perspective, as well as to see what it was like after having gotten into the TV show of the same name. I went to DEFCON which was a letdown for many of the same reasons as HOPE but was likewise an interesting experience.

I stayed with some very cool people in the first two weeks but it was the last person I stayed with that was the most interesting. I was able to stay until I got my money sorted out but we also hit it off as good friends. It’s rare to find people these days who can actually make an argument that isn’t from emotion or pride. While staying with this person I also got to make many new friends and party a lot, which was cool. Beer pong is a fun game that needs to spread to more countries.

I still didn’t have my laptop but decided to try and get it fixed under warranty…which amazingly worked. After shorting it out and spilling soda on it, it was returned like new. Amazing! I was still a bit depressed around this time what with things ending badly with my friend and just being uncertain of where I was heading. I tried getting back in touch with the girl I had befriended in Costa Rica who I managed to track down….but she didn’t want anything to do with me. Alas, it was out of my hands. I had considered returning home but new it would take me a while to get back to the US, which I didn’t want to do. Thus I started my trek to Canada with the goal of getting a US visa which would come back to bite me due to my lack of research.

Going up the west coast was uneventful as I had been to L.A. before and just wanted to get out as quickly as possible. I met up with my cougar again though…I’ve never been bought dinner before a one night stand before. A very nice experience. Then on to San Francisco where I had wanted to stay a wee bit longer, but I was having trouble finding rides to Portland. I ended up being there during a blues festival which was interesting to see and hear some good music, but I was unable to meet anybody. It was in San Francisco I realized I could not get a US visa as I was not a resident in Canada. Why oh why can you only apply for a visa in a country where you are a resident? What a stupid rule. Anyway I decided to get my Canadian visa which is a simple process for me, then with that I can apply for my US visa. Frustrating and a longer process but still cheaper and more interesting than a going home and back.

I then managed to find a ride to Portland for free, which saved me. I was excited when I arrived just to see the similarities to Springfield, as I know that many parts of Springfield were based on Portland. Aside from the street names I didn’t see that much despite knowing there was still a lot in common, although it was interesting to picture that this was how Matt Groening possible envisioned Springfield.
Going through Portland and Seattle up to Vancouver was not too interesting, although I came to realize this section of the world is by far my least favorite area of the world. It seems to be filled with anarchists, ignorant feminists, homeopaths, conspiracy theorists, vegan nuts and all kinds of willfully ignorant people. In Seattle there is Bastyr University which receives federal funding while offering courses in homeopathy, which is appalling. I do understand that my perception was limited by the people I met but somehow I got the feeling it seemed to be the unmistakable character of these cities.

Vancouver was interesting in that it seemed entirely unremarkable. Just an average city with a large student population. I stayed with a few different people and then met a person I ended up staying with for quite a while. This person and her friends were as frustrating as they were interesting to me. Very good heartfelt people….but so ignorant that it was painful. After witnessing the G20 protests in Toronto they formed the opinion that all states are evil and became anarchists. They are convinced that violence in video games leads to violence in real life and that games like GTAIV lead to an increase in rape. Thinking that companies like Facebook control all of your data and your life despite that being contrary to laws and practice. So many things and I could not discuss it with them, because it would be me against about 15 people…which is fine, but I felt that I would upset them more than anything constructive being gained, so I refrained. I was running out of money again as well, which was lame. After borrowing nearly $1000 to my friend from Las Vegas and not hearing back, I was starting to get worried.

I met a girl while I stayed in Vancouver who seemed interested in me, and we met for coffee a few times and I then ended up staying with her after missing a train. $200 for a ticket that Via Rail stated was refundable only for their shitty and rude customer service to deny everything. It turned out this girl was asexual yet in an open relationship with a big guy. Interesting development and unlikely to get laid. We seemed to talk about some interesting things, although she didn’t know some things. When trying to introduce her to new concepts she dismissed them as she thought she already knew them and was then surprised when she didn’t. For example, thinking an XSS attack was importing buggy code from another domain.

Still, it was interesting to see how she dealt with her jealous man-child of a boyfriend who agreed to an open relationship in principle but was quite opposed to the idea when he thought we were involved in some way. Still, they cared for each other and are still just kids, so I think they’ll figure it out. It was during this time that I won a competition for new boots…which was amazing. I have been needing new boots for almost a year or perhaps more and was planning to steal them…but now had them for free. Only that my package arrived after I had already caught my train. Sitting in a train chair for 4.5 days is an experience I hope not to repeat. Still, with more time than money, what was I to do.

The whole reason for my going to Toronto was that I had found out to get my Canadian visa I had to leave Canada and come back, as it is awarded at customs. If I had researched this I could have saved myself money by jus going to Mexico and flying back to Canada when I had been awarded my visa. But then, I would have not had the experiences I had, so I don’t regret it in the least. The biggest problem was finding a notary republic. $40 for certifying photocopies is fucking bullshit and I would have expected better from Canada.

The worst part was that as per a website set up by the Canadian government there are several agencies or professionals that could certify my documents that would also be accepted by the agencies in my country. When actually trying to confront these people to certify my documents they wouldn’t do it, being too fucking scared. Even the RCMP refused to do it, dramatically stating they could not sign their lives away. I understand it might be customary for people to go to a notary but it isn’t required, and when people don’t have money to do that and the police can do it, then the police should fucking know that they can do it. I got a letter after complaining which confirmed that RCMP officers can certify identity documents but they are not told this. Great.

In my country we have justices of the peace which are free and when I have gone to embassy before JP’s are available for no more than $10. Except for the embassy in Canada where they only use JP’s, where each document must be on its own page…which for me would have set the cost to $120 for five pages. Luckily I ended up finding a Commissioner of Oaths who did everything for $7. Finally I had everything I needed. I decided to send everything by priority mail hoping I could then apply for my visa before the 17th of January, so I could get in to NYC to see the King Tut exhibition. Not realizing it takes 10 days process to send out my license information and at least 4 weeks for my Canadian visa. Which I thought was money wasted, but after 3 weeks when my package was listed as only having left the post office, I found out that they don’t deliver to P.O. boxes. I had thought I had wasted money and it was lost, but because of the salesman’s incompetence in not realizing this I received a check back for a full refund. I got the check when I was already in NYC…but it will be nice to have when I go back to Canada.

Given that I wasn’t going to get my visa anytime soon I decided to go to Montreal for NYE. I partly wanted to go as my ex best friends best friend lived there….and I guess I thought maybe if we ran into each other or she saw me then it might stimulate my friend to talk to me. Crazy and irrational…but there it was. I think around just before Christmas I sent a short letter apologizing and hoping we could talk at least….and as of yet have not received a reply. I broke down on the 1st after a terrible NYE and sent her another short message telling her where I was…still no reply. Now it is Mid February and I can’t decide if I should send her another message or wait…wait until a year has passed. I can’t help but feel the longer I wait the less likely it is we can patch things up.

Montreal was an interesting experience. I stayed with a group that was more like a community; as soon as I arrived I was invited to a Christmas Dinner which was amazing. It was cool hanging out with all these people who were friendly and fun….somehow witnessing everything I felt like an outside, which was reasonable as I didn’t know them that well. It occurred to me that I may always feel like this…always traveling and not letting anyone get close. It is strange because the decision is mine, but I can’t seem to take the leap of faith required to form interpersonal relationships.

While I was in Toronto I met a girl on a dating site who I have been talking with pretty regularly, which is exciting. We seem to be hitting it off and while I don’t think any romantic relationship is a possibility I think I have made a new friend, which is nice. I contacted a girl in Montreal as I was interested in meeting some more people while I was there…only for her to cancel when I asked if we could compromise on the meeting place. I didn’t really have money for the subway and didn’t want to walk for an hour to meet her…yet simply asking if it was possible to meet somewhere else caused her to cancel. Why must there be so many idiots in this world.

I had been planning to go back to Toronto, but given the problems with my visa I decided to risk going back to NYC. I am not meant to be let on the VWP unless I leave North America, but decided to take a chance. I bought a flight out of the US saying I was only coming in to take a flight and hoped it would work. The guy a caught a ride with seemed very strange when communicating via email but turned out to be friendly. Luckily it worked! I got into NYC, albeit only for 2 weeks. Still, it was long enough for me to see king tut and meet up with some friends. It was an interesting two weeks which I will write about in a separate entry when I get time.

I had considered staying in the US illegally as I had places I could stay, and given my previous times in and out of the US they don’t seem to have departure dates computerized, only going by passport stamps. I probably could have but at the last minute I didn’t want to take the risk and so came to Cancun. This works out nicely as I can hopefully have a proper spring break, see some ruins, a necessary trip to Belize and maybe go to Cuba before going back to the US. Now I am in Cancun about to get a job where I won’t have to worry about food or accommodation for a while and will be able to meet new people every night. I am starting to look forward to it, which is an unusual feeling for me.

I also have so much planned for this year. It’s already February and I haven’t done as much as I had hoped, but I know that I am going to. I will actually have a US visa so I can live in NYC properly without having to leave every 90 days. I will perfect my business plan and make every effort to find investors and get something off the ground. I’m going to amp up my writing a lot. Articles on OS X insecurity, Linux being far from ready as a complete desktop OS, Feminism, Pedophiles, Piracy, Eminem, Scientology and more. Above all else though, the most important thing is to fix things up with my friend. She is part of my family….and there is nothing more important than the people who matter to you. I’ve forgotten that in the past which I now have to try and fix.

I’m going to learn another language to a passable language. Spanish at the least since I have every opportunity to practice, but also hopefully Chinese if I can stick to it enough when I’m back in NYC. I’m going to get back into martial arts so that I am doing some kind of exercise, as just writing and reading isn’t sufficient. There is so much that I still want to learn and I want to at least make some effort this year. Physics, the finer points of writing shellcode, various political ideologies, a lot more modern history…so much. It will be a year to start making good use of the amazing Khan Academy.

Overall it was an interesting year where I learned a lot and continued to be surprised at how people react and what they are capable of. I was introduced to Shopsin’s, witnessed the end of 24 and Nip/Tuck and the premiere of Archer(best new comedy!), got to see Miami and Mardi Gras….saw almost the entire coast of the USA as well as Canada and most importantly regained some confidence. I am still fighting depression….but I feel that I am making progress towards my goals because I have started believing in them again, instead of just wondering what the point to anything is.

This year has not started off to brilliantly what with the NYC blizzards, the Arizona shooting, the flooding in Australian or my lame NYE. Even so I have a good feeling about this year. I am at a low point right now where I don’t even have shoes without holes in them (well, not with me) or money to support myself or even get back to the US. I’m not worried though. I’ve landed a job in Cancun and will put all my efforts into making my business succeed…making something of myself. Or die trying. As of the 11th I haven’t received my license information but hopefully it is on its way otherwise who knows how long I will be delayed. Even if I am delayed further….I know that it will be interesting and I will get everything eventually. This is going to be a good year, or at the least an interesting year.

February 10, 2011

Thoughts on Shutter Island

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , — allthatiswrong @ 3:28 am

I saw this movie about 5 weeks ago while I was in Montreal. I had heard mixed things about it but as I like Leo and had never seen a Scorsese film I didn’t like I had good expectations. How wrong I was. What a terrible terrible movie and I can’t understand how it was made by the same director or The Departed and Goodfellas. Many of the comments I had read on the movie stated something along the lines of if Scorsese was not the director the movie would have been rightly criticize and that is something I wholeheartedly agree with.

I had an idea from the previews that it might have been the type of movie where everything is not as it seems and there may be a twist or to. Alternatively I thought that it would be the story of something terrible going wrong on the island and the marshal being imprisoned to prevent exposure. If only that was the story. What the movie was instead was the idea of a reality not being what it seems. The same concept that had been dealt with by films such as Identity, Gothika and The Sixth Sense in far superior ways.

The main problem with this movie is that from the start subtlety is thrown out the window. If you’re going to do the type of film that draws the protagonists reality into doubt you have to do so carefully, always giving reasons to doubt not reasons to draw a conclusion straight away. That’s the problem with Shutter Island. When a US Marshall was forced to surrender his gun to a hospital it was not implausible. But as things continued and occurrences such as two orderlies restraining the marshal not being remarked on at all then the answer was clear. Given that the protagonist loses the suit less than halfway through the film and sleeps with the other patients…well nothing is left to the imagination.

By the time the big reveal comes it has already been painfully obvious to anyone watching the movie, making the hour leading up to that moment a waste of time. The cinematography and acting were fine, just the decision to make the twist so obvious from so early on ruined the film for me. Perhaps Scorsese was going for something that I missed or didn’t end up working. Or perhaps he just isn’t suited to making these types of movies. Even so, one bad movie out of over 20 amazing movies isn’t a bad track record and I hope he continues to maintain this average.

More thoughts on V: The Series

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 3:12 am

I wrote about V back in November after the series first launched. Despite the bad acting and lack of vision for the show, I thought a lot of interesting possibilities were opened up. We are now almost halfway through season 2 and things are not looking much better.

The series started by revealing Anna’s mother being kept prisoner somewhere in the ship for over a decade. It seems quite a stretch that no one would have discovered her given that Dianna was the previous queen who is thought to have died Even so, it’s nice to see Jane Badler on screen once again. It was then revealed that Erika was experimented on while she was pregnant with Tyler and that Tyler is missing many parts of his DNA. Right. I always find it annoying when in shows like this the hero ends up having some link to the villain despite that seems extremely unlikely.

The show then got incredibly bad very fast as Anna declared the human soul their most important goal and that they must learn how to remove it from humans before we could be conquered. Really? A race as advanced as the V’s is not able to dismiss the superstitious beliefs of a lesser race as baseless? I did like that the rebellion is expanding past the 5 people from the first group and starting to join forces with a more established force.

I originally thought the religion angle opened up some interesting possibility but it hasn’t been explored at all. Given that it isn’t being explored at all I have no idea why they even included a priest as a character let alone the interaction between Anna and the Pope. Likewise Chad Decker seems to be playing the same conflicted role in every episode never developing as a character or doing anything meaningful.

I think the skin aspect is still interesting and I hope to see it expanded. The fact that the hybrid baby was given a skin and now acts like a human baby down to making all the same sounds is interesting. We also know that being deskinned is extremely painful so the skin obviously bonds on some low level and is more than just a suit. It will be interesting to see what happens with the child and it is interesting to note the child is the main point in the promotions for the show.

One thing I can’t get past is the terrible CGI jaw effects. Just terrible and unnecessary. Some makeup and fake teeth would have been far more impressive. I do like a lot of the new cast that have been added…namely Oded Fehr and Jay Karnes(Dutch!). It’s also nice to Nicholas Lea (Krycek!) getting some more screentime. I really don’t have any idea where the show is going and given there are only 7 episodes left I fear it is going to be some more running around and trying not to get caught culminating in an attack that bring Anna’s wrath. Hopefully the show will be more complex than that as I would expect from the show runner of The 4400.

Update 1 – March 2nd 2011
Well, only a few episodes later and things have gotten worse. While I thought it was promising that Oded Fehr and Nicholas Lea were going to be regulars they were killed of quite quickly. I guess more than 3 capable actors just aren’t in this shows budget. Then having the priest be fired…now he just serves as the conscience for the team? If the show wasn’t going to examine the effect aliens would have on faith why have him be a priest at all? Now Erika has randomly been given control of the entire 5th column because Eli liked her…sure, I guess that’s believable. Although now she is a completely different character who has no trouble killing innocent people which of course puts her at odds with the priest. Aye.

The other stupid thing from the last episode is that the visitors main plan is to harvest human DNA. For which they have a big scary machine that actually extracts DNA from humans killing them in the process. Really? The visitors couldn’t just take a copy of the completed genome, or a few blood or hair samples? There is an excess of human DNA floating around….would such an advanced race really need to go through the whole cover live aboard program cover and then kill them in the process? Let’s see how much worse this show can get…

February 7, 2011

The Next Hope and DEFCON 18 – Part 2

Filed under: Security, Tech, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 6:25 pm

DEFCON 18

I was really really looking forward to DEFCON. This was the hacking conference. The HOPE conference was somewhat known to me, but DEFCON was the main one I had been looking forward to and the whole reason I bothered to go to Las Vegas. I was somewhat disappointed with how HOPE turned out and was expecting a lot more from DEFCON and had even been told by a few people at HOPE that DEFCON was indeed the more technical/sophisticated conference. While it was certainly an interesting experience it was still disappointing for much of the same reasons as I was disappointed with HOPE.

Thursday

After 8 hours of travel and getting in at about midnight I caught a taxi from the airport just to Decatur and Tropicana. A major intersection and not far away, and yet it cost $50. The taxi driver didn’t rip me off as taxis have premium prices especially from the airport late at night. I have no idea why they feel entitled to collect a tip.

I arrived at my hosts house and we got acquainted and talked for a bit until it was about 2am. I only got about 4 hours of sleep. Even so I woke up and then raced to the Rivera after catching the stupidly priced deuce bus. I got to the hotel in time but could not find the lobby for the shootout…I finally found it, and managed to catch a ride with a group heading to the shoot. These were the first people I’ve met from DEFCON which was interesting. It was interesting to note the difference between most DEFCON people I saw that morning and most of the people I had seen at HOPE. The guys at DEFCON seemed a whole lot more showy…Mohawks or at least hair die, military style fashions. Everything screamed hacker wannabe. I did see one woman with what anyone would interpret to be a Tetris tattoo, but was apparently pixels. If you get a tattoo that looks like Tetris but isn’t Tetris you can’t really be upset when people think it is Tetris.

After a conversationless ride to the shoot we had arrived. After a short safety talk we were free to shoot guns. I’d shot guns the last time I was in Las Vegas…, a Desert Eagle and an AK-47, which was fun. This time everybody had brought their guns to the shoot and there was a wide variety of guns to shot from. I think I shot various semi-automatic and automatic shotguns, rifles and pistols. Probably the most interesting was a gun that looked like a sniper rifle and had a scope, but was apparently not. It was quite fun to take out oranges at 100 feet or so with a single shot and see them explode.

The pricing was interesting…..some people were offering guns completely for free while others were charging at various prices. I shot a lot of AC’s guns staying close to him for no particular reason, and it wasn’t until the end that I found Joshua, who let me shoot quite a lot of guns for free. Considering how broke I was that really ensured I had a great time…Awesome! Joshua and a few others also provided many free drinks for anyone to take, which I thought was amazing….considering how broke I was it was absolutely fantastic. I went back with one of the guys who had been letting me shoot his guns and helped pack up…I could only afford to give him $20 when it should have probably been $30 or $40 based on his prices….but since I helped him pack up I can’t feel to bad.

After helping him pack up I decided to walk from the Riviera to New York New York to catch the bus home. The bus that runs up and down the strip is ridiculously expensive and not often faster than walking. What I had not expected was the tan I received. For being out in Red Rock for 3 hours or so then a walk home I was firmly bronzed and not in the least bit burned (or if at all very slightly…no peeling), which was nice.

I had to borrow money to make sure I had enough for the conference, and after my taxi rides to and from airports was quite short. A friend of mine lent me some money and put it in my bank account…it was when I went to go back on Thursday night to get the badge that I realized my ATM card had expired. A friend drove me to the hotel and was circling around…she would have lent me the money I was short but by the time she came back around the registration had closed. I rushed home and managed to transfer it to my card in time so I could withdraw it the next morning.

Friday

On Friday I got to the registration desk early enough, but there was still a line. It progressed fast enough given the length however so it wasn’t too annoying. What I thought was strange was that they ran out of lanyards and guidebooks, although I was lucky enough to get one of the last electronic badges. I can understand running out of electronic badges but why would you make less lanyards then badges? That just seems like a poor design decision. This badge seemed interesting as well although it seemed to do less at first glance. It had a small LCD screen that could be interacted with, which was mainly used by people trying to unlock a code to get access to the Ninja Party.

I decided to take my push scooter to get to the Riviera, partly to see how long it would take and partly because I am always interested in people’s reactions to me riding it. The scooter worked OK and it took me about 30 minutes to get to the strip and then 30 minutes to get down it. Not a much greater time difference when busses are factored in, but without the cost and with the benefit of exercise. The only negative thing was having to lug it around all day, but luckily I was able to leave it with the bellman and pick it up whenever I liked. This was awesome since I was not staying at the hotel, and came in handy when I wanted to use the pool later.

The Keynote which was marked as Top Secret and had a lot of people curious turned out to be something quite mundane, “Perspectives on Cyber Security and Cyber Warfare” which was basically just a summary and some speculation. Surely the Powershell or WPA Too talks would have been more fitting for a Keynote?

I just kind of wandered around for a bit after this, checking out the pool and various sections like CTF and such or trying to socialize with people in the smoking area, where I met a few cool people. The next talk I saw “Build a Lie Detector/Beat a Lie Detector” had a strange rap introduction that seemed out of place and was to hear the lyrics to. It then became essentially a history of the lie detector and a bit on why the machines were easy to fool. So very very basic….and seemed quite short only going for half an hour. Why was a talk like this given at DEFCON 18?

The next talk I saw was “The Law of Laptop Search and Seizure”. This talk seemed to just be highlighting the fact that you have no say in customs searching through your laptop when entering a country. It is an interesting issue and I would have been interested to hear possible solutions rather than just a summary.

I then saw “Air Traffic Control Insecurity 2.0” which I had thought would be about exposing problems with the networks they were on. For instance, were any connected to the internet? Instead the talk highlighted that there were some security problems such as a lack of encryption but given that they are on a closed network that you need authorization to access, it isn’t really a problem. Riiight. Then the talk was about the information that some planes broadcast and potential ways this could be abused, which was interesting to speculate about but note a risk practically.

At this point I was extremely sweaty and had to go home to change. Coming back on the scooter was a different experience, as it was very hard to go down the strip with crowds…and I’m pretty sure one person threw ice at me from a balcony. It was much hotter then as well, making it far less appealing. I underestimated the time it took to go home and come back, and didn’t get back to the conference until about 18:00. This was annoying as I had really wanted to see the Evilgrade and Driversploit talks. Although given that the Evilgrade talk was only 30 minutes long I think I got most of it from the slides.

It seems that many of the videos of the talks or at least audio are available on the DEFCON 18 Archive page, which is cool. Perhaps this is why people don’t care about talks so much except for the very few that are significant, as they can always catch up later. I think this is my lesson learned if I attend next year…I will just focus on CTF and various activities.

I went and saw the talk “Getting Root: Remote Viewing, Non-local Consciousness, Big Picture Hacking, and Knowing Who You Are”, although as it turned out to be spiritual crap, I left. I don’t think I even went as far as getting a seat….I just wanted to see a talk and it seemed more interesting than whatever Kaminsky was rambling on about…or did I?

I didn’t see any more talks that day mainly as the two or three left didn’t seem appealing, although I kind of wish I had seen the Internet Wars panel given that the other panels I saw were all quite entertaining. I thought I would check out the pool…which was basically empty, although nice to swim in the Las vegas summer. Of course my board shorts were falling down, but after trying to find a safety pin luckily the security desk had a whole tray full of them. Even though the pool closed at 10:30 or 11, I would have thought there would be more people. Especially since there was a pool party which just meant free DJ’ing. But no….empty apart from some showboating skinny gay dude with an unfairly hot girl. I had a look in one of the chillout rooms but it had the same electronic music and lack of life that was at HOPE, so given my lack of money I decided to go back home and see what the next day may bring.

It was then that I randomly saw a girl from HOPE walking past quickly following a keg…in which she invited me to follow. Then the leader from AlphaOne labs came who really didn’t seem too interested in talking…just shy I guess. We moved around a bit from room to room as they tried to find a place where they could check ID’s and be allowed to drink. Finally I gave up as nothing interesting was happening, so I decided to go home. During this time I had been talking to a girl who seemed very into me and I felt like I could have pursued her, somehow I was just not interested. The fact that I was not that attracted to her probably had some bearing on that. So ended a Friday night in Las Vegas at a hacker convention, managing to live up to all the nerdy stereotypes long associated with such a thing.

Saturday

I arrived too late to catch the “Exploiting SCADA” talk as it took just about an hour to get down half the strip on the deuce bus. Who would have thought? I had really wanted to see this as SCADA is a hot topic at the moment and something I don’t know much about. I wasn’t too worried given that there were many SCADA talks at the conference though.

I managed to see the “Jackpotting ATM’s” talk which was surprising as the line was huge and it looked like there was no way I could make it. I ended up being able to get in at the very end, and even managed to make my way down to the front which was awesome. I was excited about this talk as I knew it had been given at Blackhat and I had been disappointed with the DEFCON talks so far. ATM’s are an interesting subject, not least because they promise untapped cash to those who can hack them. Given many are notoriously insecure running a version of Windows or OS/2 it would be interesting to know if they are connected to the internet at all or what their private network is like and just how they are protected. Alas, the talk did not touch on that at all, but rather showed how if you can get physical access to the ATM motherboard how easy it can be to reprogram it. It was a very entertaining talk but honestly it isn’t anything new. It has always been the case that it’s pretty easy to take over a machine if you have physical access. The criminals who managed to reprogram ATM’s to spit out $100 notes instead of $20 notes or whatever was much more impressive.

I then wandered around a bit as the next talk I wanted to see was not for an hour. There was nothing happening at the pool so I ended up just wondering between the smoking area and display areas. One thing I did notice was that the EFF does not seem to understand the meaning of the word donation. There was a police shooting simulator that looked interesting to try, which you could only do if you made a $20 donation. As far as I understand it a donation can be any amount and not require anything in return. What the EF was doing was charging a $20 fee to play a very basic video game, which is just lame.

I then went and saw “From No Way to 0 Day” which seemed elementary. I had thought the focus would be on showing when DoS attacks which are often dismissed can actually be used to craft a privilege escalation exploit.. It didn’t really seem to cover this at all and was far more to do with basic attacks on the Linux kernel.

I managed to catch the “SCADA and ICS for Security Experts: How to avoid Cyberdouchery” talk. SCADA systems are something that have a lot of hype and as a result a lot of misinformation is being spread around. I don’t know that much about them and was interested to learn more and this seemed like a talk that would cover a lot of basic stuff, especially since I missed the talk in the morning. Well, no. This talk took about an hour to say that the problems are overhyped and don’t really exist (without bothering to address the arguments claiming the opposite) in different ways while avoiding ‘cyberdouchery’ boiled down to not hyping problems or blowing things out of proportion. It’s an interesting opinion but the talk may have been easier to respect had he explain why his opinion was contrary to the majority of other talks being given on SCADA issues.

I regretted not seeing the “WPA Too” talk instead as that talk was actually revealing a new attack technique for the first time. Of course no one was talking about it and I didn’t read the description carefully enough to notice. I think I was partly disillusioned by the wireless security talk at HOPE so I just dismissed it. Damn.

I think I went back to the pool at this time. I wondered around the display areas for a bit more and in the interests of socializing thought I would go to the pool. Of course no one was really socializing with each other and there was hardly anyone there. I had wanted to see the talk on “The Chinese Cyberarmy – An Archaeological Study from 2001 to 2010” which was unfortunately and interestingly cancelled. Wayne Huang had a lot of interesting talks and I didn’t get to see any of them…..

I ended up puttering around for another hour then went and saw “DEFCON Security Jam III: Now in 3D?”. This was an awesome talk and easily the most entertaining I had seen so far. It was just a panel of a lot of the regular staff/attendees whatever each sharing stories of fail with games and prizes such as bacon beer to be had and specially made waffles being given out to a few lucky people.

After this it was time for the Freakshow party held by IO labs. It had appeared that you needed a pass to get in but of course it was free for all attendees. Given that there was free beer and I had to show my badge to get in, I think I actually got some value from paying for the badge. It was quite a party, in the penthouse of the Riverra with gladiator style games and some dancing and mingling. People were smoking inside…we weren’t mean to but everyone has. Captain Crunch came up to admonish us and the 3 guys I was talking to at the time just dismissed him, not even knowing who he was. After I pointed out who he was they ran off to apologize….which was funny to me. I got a chance to talk to Captain Crunch himself which was nice and the flowing beer didn’t hurt.

During this time the ultra secret Ninja Party was still on my mind. Somehow I was confident I would be able to get entry as it just seemed like a big display. Riding in a limo bus with free drinks on the way was very nice. Once arriving they did appear to have some bouncers a list, but the people I made friends with at HOPE got me in without any issues. It seemed like if you had the smallest amount of streetsmarts you could get in, yet apparently all these “hackers” could only regurgitate textbook knowledge. Not the type of person I thought the word hacker ever applied to. At this point it was again time to head home, walking to New York New York and then catching my bus. I thought about scoping out the various casinos but without money, there didn’t seem much point.

Sunday

I woke up too late which wasn’t surprising given the night before. I was kind of annoyed I missed the handcuff talk, but it was too expected. I bought a monorail pass of a guy the day before for $1 and got didn’t realize it put me so far from the hotel. I had to walk from the Hilton and by the time I got there people were telling me it was 13:00. I thought I would then go and watch Samy Kamkar’s talk at which time I realized it was actually 12:30 and I was in some other talk. I rushed out to try and catch the Powershell talk but at 12:30 the line was already too long. I wanted to make sure I caught Samy’s talk so gave up.

Samy Kamkar’s talk, “How I Met Your Girlfriend” was very entertaining, easily the best talk I saw throughout the whole conference. The Security Jam and ATM talks were entertaining but didn’t really have interesting details of a new attack like this talk did. Samy Kumar is a fantastic public speaker as well as being a decent security research. Something sorely lacking at these conferences were people coming up with innovative attacks and presenting them in a decently.

There was nothing else to do until the closing ceremonies, so to the pool I did go. Finally, there were people in the pool, playing games even! A girl I originally met going to the shoot didn’t acknowledge me at all when I tried to say hello, although I managed to get back a guy from HOPE who whooped me in the gladiator games which was fun. It was a pretty fun time just relaxing in the water under the Las Vegas sun.

Finally, it was time to head back for the last talk I would see before the closing ceremonies, Sniper Forensics. Alas, it was cancelled and replaced with a Spot the Fed panel. I have no idea what happened to the Sniper Forensics talk for it to disappear from both HOPE and DEFCON but at least the slides are available. Odd. Spot the Fed was fun with just a lot of joking and guessing, although somehow it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Probably because the feds turned out to be analysts getting paid to go, not FBI agents scoping out threats undercover.

A bit more wandering around and then it was time for the closing ceremonies. It wasn’t too much of a big deal, just everyone being thanked and some prizes being awarded. Free stuff was being given out during although I didn’t get any. After wandering around a bit after everyone left I ended up with a random box of stuff….a motherboard, some music CD’s and a random cell phone data backup device. I also got a 8” floppy disc which I managed to swap for a lanyard, in the hope that I could sell my badge on eBay. Something I have yet to do.

Before leaving home I had a meeting with representatives from one of the big security companies who were present at DEFCON to talk about my business plan. This was very exciting for me, and they seemed eager to help. I last talked to them in September and have not made any progress, but as I finish writing this article I know that I need to get more on that.

That was it, DEFCON was now over. While walking home I stopped for a smoke outside a 7-11 and ran into some friends from HOPE who were happy to see me. We shared contact details and agreed to meet up when I was back in NYC. I arrived home where I just chilled out for the next week, still not having my laptop and deciding what to do while looking for accommodation. Then the rest of my adventures in Las Vegas began.

Conclusion

Much like HOPE, I had very high expectations for DEFCON. Perhaps a bit more as I was not entirely sure I would be able to attend, so when I was able to make it my excitement and expectations increased even more so. DEFCON was the much bigger convention than HOPE, the one where many famous attacks and discoveries had been presented and where many fun hijinks had ensued. Alas, DEFCON was nothing like I expected and I found many of the same criticisms I had of HOPE applied to DEFCON.

There was the same lack of knowledge from people attending and most talks being introductory rather than groundbreaking. I was surprised when I asked to borrow someone’s laptop to check my email, and they thought I was crazy for doing so. How could you take the risk, with all these hackers around? Apparently they had never heard of SSL and certificate authentication. To be fair there was a risk of a keylogger, but I thought it unlikely in this case. There just seems something wrong with people attending a computer security conference fearing magical hackers.

One of the more interesting things I noted about DEFCON was that I did not get checked for my badge. Not once. For a security conference that seems awfully lackluster. I could easily go to any talk I wanted and take full advantage of the conference without having to pay $140. I wonder if it has always been this way or if the goons were unusually slack this year.

The pool parties were quite pathetic, although I was very impressed with the Freakshow party put on by IO labs. The Ninja party was likewise impressive, although neither of these parties can really be attributed to the DEFCON organizers. One thing I did notice at DEFCON was there seemed to be a lot of attractive girls. As sexist as it is, I wonder if they were perhaps just girlfriends of the male attendees. To be fair, I didn’t end up seeing them in any talks or taking part in any of the games. It was a nice distraction from almost everyone getting a Mohawk. So many people with Mohawks…..so many wannabe hackers….so sad. To be fair, the EFF was doing a fundraising campaign offering Mohawks for a price, but many of the people already had them before coming to the conference. Aye.

Speaking of which, the EFF “donations” were really disappointing. If you want to raise money by charging fees for products or services do it. The whole point of a donation is that it is voluntary, not that you pay a fixed price for something.

I do wonder how much DEFCON has changed and if perhaps it is no longer as relevant as it once was. Dallas said during the closing ceremonies that this was the quietest DEFCON he had seen…..which perhaps explained why it wasn’t what I had imagined it to be. Perhaps the previous generation have all grown up, replaced by a generation of attendees with no understanding and a desire to be seen a certain way rather than actually acquire knowledge or skills.

While most of the talks I saw were introductory, there did appear to be quite a few technical talks and I may have just chosen poorly. The Powershell talk, WPA Too and the talk on Farmville all looked like they had innovative research to present and I plan on watching the videos at some point. I was quite disappointed that Wayne Huang had all of his talks pulled, as he looked like he had a lot of interesting stuff to say. Hopefully he will be able to present them next year. If I do go next year, I will make a point to only see key talks and spend more time with CTF or Wargames, although I’m not sure if Wargames are still happening as I don’t recall seeing them.

I do think the crowd at DEFCON is more technical than the crowd at HOPE, although they all tend to stick to socializing or competitions. Trying to discuss things with people outsides there was a clear difference between those who were competing and those who were trying to understand everything being said in the introductory talks.

I would like to make a special note of TheCotMan. What a fucking retard. I understand there are some idiots or troublemakers on the forums, but when people ask for help and have done research you don’t just ban them. He is the type of arrogant idiot that thinks he knows best and has heard it all before, when he has no fucking clue. Although given the average poster on the forum, the type who like to get Mohawks and call themselves hackers without understanding some simple key concepts, he seems to be with his peers.

I honestly don’t know if I will go again this year. I can’t say that it is worth a flight out to Las Vegas again, and given the lack of innovative talks and any kind of decent party, it isn’t really that appealing to me. On the other hand I have good friends in Las Vegas and have my laptop back now, so it could be a fun learning experience. If not, I will defiantly go to DEFCON 20 which should be a big celebration. Despite everything I did have a good time and am glad I went.

Comparison between HOPE and DEFCON

It was interesting to compare the differences between The Next HOPE and DEFCON 18. HOPE was far better organized with people always on staff if you had any questions, with something being available 24/7 during the conference. I liked that you could not enter the conference areas unless your badge was displayed. HOPE was much better prepared for crowds, having overflow rooms setup which projected whoever was speaking in the main room. There were more activity villages at HOPE, more talks, fun things to try like Segways and such. DEFCON didn’t have anything like this really.

On the other hand DEFCON had a much greater number of people, has the well known competitions such as CTF and Wargames and tends to attract a greater number of high profile speakers. DEFCON 18 was terribly organized with it being impossible to get to a room as the only route was a skinny hallway, and they had no overflow rooms or the like. Badges were not checked for once, and there was very little to do that didn’t cost money outside of talks.

One thing I did appreciate is that DEFCON makes videos, audio and slides of the talks available while HOPE charges for this. It isn’t a big issue as most of the talks can be found on youtube, but I think it is a nice gesture to allow people to view them for free. It is a nice gesture and representative of helping people to learn and acquire knowledge, something that is meant to characterize these communities.

I also liked that HOPE allows for preordering for a cheaper price, and it is really something that DEFCON should consider. Running out of lanyards but not badges for example is just ridiculous. Having a cheaper price for those who are regular attendees and having the option to avoid lines would also be quite nice. Perhaps also consider appointing a non douche forum moderator.

I do wonder where these conferences are heading, or if they are losing relevance. As the industry is paying far more attention to computer security the field is going to be restricted down to a much smaller number of professionals, simply because the need will decrease. What about the non computer security aspects such as phreaking, electronics, lockpicking and such? Well, it seemed to me that these are all supplementary and the main theme is still computer security. It will be interesting to see if there is a DEFCON 30, if hacking will go the way of phreaking, or if the culture will grow and adapt. Given my impression of the community as it stands today, I don’t think that is too likely. Which is sad.

The Next Hope and DEFCON 18 – Part 1

Filed under: Security, Tech, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 6:17 pm

So now just over six months since these conferences have ended I have managed to write up my thoughts on them. So much procrastination, traveling and other things to write. Still – better late than never. I’ve had a strong interest in computer security for at least the last 10 years and have dreamed of going to these conferences since at least that long. Of course, I could never afford the cost of an expensive overseas flight and accommodation and when I have been in the states before it was never in summer or on the west coast. This year however things worked out well, being in the right place at the right time.

I had such high expectations for these conferences. Surrounded by some of the most skilled and prominent people in the field, listening and learning from new talks being given, a chance to play some of the games going on and learn or prove myself in the process. There was certainly a lot to look forward to; unfortunately I found both conferences to be a huge disappointment. I found most of the people I interacted with to have a very poor understanding of even basic security concepts which was reflected in the fact that the majority of talks seemed introductory rather than groundbreaking; very few relied on a presumption of basic knowledge – something I thought would be common to the majority of attendees. I was also disappointed in the opinions held by many in response to certain issues such as piracy or the whole Bradley Manning case.

In any case, I have written about my experiences attending these conferences for the first time which some may find interesting. I will be posting it in two separate parts with the first being my experience at hope, followed by my experience at DEFCON and a comparison between the two conferences.

The Next Hope

Friday

I got to the Hotel Pennsylvania pretty much on time and waited in line to get my badge which really didn’t take long at all. The badge was interesting to observe although not having much of an understanding of electronics I couldn’t make much of it. Having never been to one of these conferences before, I had expected it to be a lot more active and packed with people than it was, while it was actually quite moderate. I wandered around for a bit as I was hoping there things would be a bit more social, but really nothing seemed to be going on.

I then decided to go and attend the first lecture, “Light, Color and Perception”. It was an interesting talk, although some of what was talked about was a bit over my head. Still, there were some interesting demonstrations and I learned a few new things.

After that, I decided to catch the talk on wireless security, “Wireless Security: Killing Livers, Making Enemies”. I had thought it would be these types of talks that were the reason I came to the conference. Unfortunately, this talk was a disappointment. It was incredibly basic and boiled down to rehashing that WEP is bad. I would have hoped that everyone in the conference would have at least known that, even if they didn’t understand the underlying details as to why. The talk mainly consisted of a few stories demonstrating how easy it is to fool people into joining rogue networks and why this was bad. There were no innovative ideas given for solutions and no talk of the more recent attacks. An hour of how you can screw with people who don’t know any better is not what I was expecting. I was pretty dissatisfied with the talk but thought it would be an exception and looked forward to some of the more technical talks that would have a bit more substance to them. I was mistaken.

I then decided to go and see the keynote which at the least should be interesting. It was by Dan Kaminsky, someone who I have never felt too highly of. He has always seemed to me to be a drama queen, being overly cocky without cause and often simply getting things wrong. I also can’t think much of a security expert who uses 5 letter long root passwords and fails to comprehend the threat of dll hijacking.

I felt he lived up to some of my perceptions during his talk, which was basically talking about the problems in languages that allow for bugs. This is a fairly well understood area of ongoing research and certainly did not seem the worthy subject of a Keynote. It was essentially a slideshow summary of the problem and what has been suggested by many people as solutions. Again, no groundbreaking new ideas or revelations, just a basic summary that a lot of people in attendance would/should have been familiar with.

I’m not too sure what I did at this time. I think I wondered around the mezzanine looking for the segways which had closed for the day. There was nothing really going on that seemed too interesting, so I may have gone home briefly.

The next talk I saw was “Tor and Internet Censorship”, which was actually interesting. I would have hoped that most people in the audience would be familiar with tor and the goals of the project and while the talk was a summary, it also revealed a lot more info on what the guys are trying to accomplish. It was interesting to hear how they deal with countries trying to block the software and the various cat and mouse games they are forced to play. In today’s world the importance of projects such as tor cannot be underrated and it was great to see them keeping in touch with the community and getting the message out.

After this I saw the “Easy Hacks on Telephone Entry Systems” talk, which I hoped would be interesting. I have very little knowledge of telephone infrastructure and still have not gotten around to playing around with Asterix to get a better idea. I had hoped I would be able to pick up some things from the talk even without having the background knowledge. Well, the talk didn’t require any background knowledge. The talk was basically showing that a lot of entry systems still use default passwords and/or have the access control panel only protected by a very flimsy piece of metal. It was interesting to learn those facts…, but it really should have been one of the 20 minute lightning talks. How it stretched out to an hour I don’t know.

After this, I went home as I was exhausted. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t stay for the hotel talks talk as that seems interesting, probably I had had enough talks for one day though and there was nothing in the mezzanine more appealing than sleep.

Saturday

The next day I arrived kind of late due to trying to work out why the bank had suspended my access to my funds I got there in time for most of the “Grand Theft Lazlow” talk. This talk was one of, if not the most disappointing of the talks I saw throughout all of HOPE and DEFCON. The guy was a developer for Rockstar Games and started talking about his views in piracy. Piracy is a complex area (precisely because it is NOT theft) but this guy would not acknowledge that, simply considering it completely wrong and actually pushing for greater restrictions. Many of the things he was saying were just ignorant and it was disheartening to hear the audience cheer.

An interesting moment was when someone got up to ask a question, making the point that $80 or so is too much to spend on a game without knowing the quality, so he will often pirate and buy the game if he felt it was worth it. Lazlows response was not to comment on the legitimacy of doing that but to accuse the guy of being a liar, to which the crowd cheered. This was meant to be a community of people capable in critical thinking and understanding new ideas, but that crowd was anything but.

Then it was time for the keynote which was said to be given by Julian Assange. At this time I was still catching up with the whole Wikileaks phenomenon so was surprised just how much the feds did want him and how big a thing it would be if he did show up. Obviously he didn’t end up showing and a talk was given by Jacob Applebaum from the Tor project covering why Wikileaks is important, and what they stand for.
Ironically I have not made up my mind on Wikileaks because there is so much contradicting information, and credible claims made against them.

The points given in the talk however were interesting, especially the points of privacy. All of the talk of no secrets reminded me of the Asimov story, The Dead Past, in which privacy is eliminated. Obviously the Wikileaks people are not calling for an end to personal privacy, but even so I find it hard to imagine a world in which governments as powerful as the US are completely transparent. Reason being, there is a lot of justification for a government to keeps things secret from its population, at least for a while.

The most interesting thing about the Keynote was not that Julian Assange did not appear as that is to be expected. It’s that he didn’t teleconference in, or even prerecord something. This is a hacker conference full of people supposedly ahead of the curve when it comes to many issues, not least of which is technology. It’s hard for me to believe there was no one able to set it up so he could talk, an action which would have sent a message all by itself. Was there really no one capable of setting up a webcast to go through anonymous proxies? We could have even gotten the guys from the Pirate Bay or something to host it, by the time a warrant would have been issued the webcast would have been long over. Or, maybe he had his own personal issues to deal with. In place of Assange Jacob Applebaum of the Tor project gave a great presentation and then made an amusingly dramatic exit.

The next talk I saw was “Modern Crimeware” which turned out to be a very basic explanation of how people make money through malware with botnets…not particularly interesting or enlightening. Again, I would expect most people in attendance to already understand this basic stuff. I was hoping for some interesting details on how “cyber-criminals” protect botnets or something….researchers at universities regularly publish far more interesting papers in this vein.

I then saw “Surfs Up” – a well presented and entertaining explanation of CSRF attacks but still a very basic explanation…., I mean, were talks like this presented at the last conference? Why are such introductory talks the norm? I don’t have anything against all these speakers as I think their presentations were fine for what they were, I just don’t understand why they were given at a HOPE conference.

The “Social Engineering” talk was interesting. It was a panel with a lot of famous faces, not least of which were Emmanuel Goldstein, Kevin Mitnick and Captain Crunch. It was interesting just to hear some of the stories these guys were telling and just how easy the technique still works to this day. Definitely an entertaining panel and honestly I wished there had been more like it.

The last talk I saw of the day was “Net Wars Over Free Speech, Freedom, and Secrecy or How to Understand the Hacker and Lulz Battle Against the Church of Scientology”. I was hoping this talk would highlight some of the attacks on free speech that have been instigated by Scientology in the name of religion – instead it was mainly a summary of some of the pranks Anonymous have pulled. Which anyone who keeps up with this type of news would have been aware of?

After that I was disappointed to see that the “Hacker Cinema” was not showing something entertaining or relevant, but rather a documentary. IIRC it was “Get Lamp” which was a documentary on something to do with the history of early text games (corrected due to commenter Pan) which just didn’t seem appealing at 11pm on a Saturday night in New York City.

I was hanging around with some of the other people I had met while we were looking for more information on Lazlow and maybe to see if some other games or something were going on. Nothing much was going on except for a party in the mezzanine with horrible, horrible video game music. So many people actually dancing to repetitive loops of Mario dying and hitting mushrooms. It was just so bad. Somehow, that seemed to say a lot. New York City was right outside on a Saturday night, but dancing to video game sounds was more preferable for many people. Aye

Sunday

Sunday was the last day of a conference that had so far been disappointing, but still had potential. I got there later than I expected…I think it was due to some problem with the trains. The first talk I saw was not until 13:00, and was “DMCA and ACTA vs Academic & Professional Research”. I was hoping this talk would give some insight into the ACTA treaty as I had not kept up with it and it has largely been kept secret. There was nothing on ACTA except that it was often mentioned in the same breath as the DMCA as being evil. The DMCA had been around for about 10 years so explaining it again resulted in this talk being yet another introductory talk.

The main problem I had with this talk is that the speakers would continual talk about the DMCA as being evil when the problem is not with the legislation. The problems in almost all of the examples given were from people or organizations misusing the DMCA. There was no mention of companies who would refuse to acknowledge counter-claims due to being too scared of being sued. There are actions you can take against this to stop further abuse; failing to realize that and take action does not mean that the DMCA is evil.

The next talk I saw was “Into the Black: DPRK Exploration”, which was slightly entertaining but hardly informative. The first 20 slides or so are just meant to be humorous and were skimmed through, with the rest basically dismissing every claim because North Korea doesn’t have its shit together. A fair argument, but it might have carried more weight if it wasn’t presented as just mocking the country. It’s hard to tell the talk was meant to be considered authoritative or speculation given the way it was presented.

While I was watching the DPRK talk I had no idea how significant the informant’s panel was and that Lamo would be there, so I only managed to catch the last 20 minutes of it or so. I never thought too highly of Lamo before, with his previous claims to fame for “hacking” seeming to be designed to give his as much media exposure as possible rather than actually contributing in any useful way. I didn’t know enough about the Wikileaks situation at the time to take sides but managed to get the gist of things. The main thing I noticed here was that most people were angry at him and insulting him, having made up their minds before he even attempted to defend his actions.

Regardless of if his actions were right or wrong, I do believe in this case he thought he was doing the right thing. What he did is not a simple issue and it made me sad to see everyone dismiss his actions as wrong without bothering to actually give the issue the thought it deserves. It was when question time came that I saw the real character of most of the attendees.

One girl asked him about restraining orders and his ex-girlfriends claims of abuse, which true or not have absolutely no relevance to the issue that was at hand. I expected more from this community than trying to discredit someone further because you disagree with their actions. Another attendee didn’t bother to ask a question but outright accused him of treason (which showed that persons ignorance, as per the definitions Lamo’s actions are closer to patriotism) only for everybody to cheer and applaud. I am still undecided on the entire issue as it is so very complex.

What I do think personally is that Lamo showed a lot of courage by joining in the panel and attempting to justify his actions, knowing the public opinion and abuse he would likely face. Most of the people in the audience would likely not have that courage or strength of will to do what they think is right, are more comfortable criticizing from behind the scenes.

That finished at about 3:30 or 4, and then it was some more hanging around with people in the mezzanine or outside. I had wanted to see the talk on Sniper Forensics but didn’t bother because it was going to be at DEFCON. Of course, it wasn’t, but it didn’t end up being given at HOPE either. Luckily I have my slides on the CD from DEFCON.

Closing Ceremonies

The closing ceremonies were interesting. They started very annoyingly as most of the seats were filled, and one fucking douchenozzle told me his seat was taken, when it was just his bag….and he wouldn’t let anyone sit the entire conference. I was planning to do something about that, but he left before I could learn his douche name.

I saw one girl who was basically ignoring the ceremonies, playing Scrabble on Facebook or tweeting about shoes the whole time on her iPad…yet she was continuously moving toward the front….why? Why worry about being at the front if you aren’t paying attention? Then there was a guy who kind of crept up behind me when I was leaning against a pillar, only to somehow swoop in when I left it for a few seconds. He was filming the entire thing and would just keep tapping me to move out of his way….apparently he was unable to speak or say please, despite him being fully capable of speech. I just don’t understand what it is with this crowd and the bizarre lack of social skills. The ceremonies themselves were fine….just what could be expected. Some prizes were awarded and thanks were given as well as talk of a possible next conference.

After that I didn’t feel like going home just yet, so volunteered for a few hours. After I started I heard talk of some prizes for the volunteers which kept me going. Several hours of lifting heavy cables, crates, lights and such…all for nothing. It was at least 4 hours or so of hot sweaty work and I was hoping for a copy of a book or something. Alas…nothing. Funnily enough I don’t really feel guilty about downloading the ebook.

Conclusion

That was the end of The Next HOPE, my first ever conference. I had always been interested in computer security and the associated underground culture. Ever since I saw the movie Hackers which was directly inspired by the 2600 community I had wanted to see what it was all about. Growing up where I did I never really had the opportunity to join in, but as I became a computer security professional and learned more about the community which I had always held in high esteem I couldn’t wait to one day go to one of these conferences and participate.

It was then all the more disappointing to go to a conference and witness in most people an inability to think originally or creatively and to accept popular ideas without giving them the critical analysis they need, that is required to have an opinion worth anything. For most of the talks to be introductory and retreading well known topics was also a disappointment. Where were the new discoveries, the innovative attacks or just the passionate discussions on matters important to our community and society?

One of the interesting things to note was how amazed people were that I could make the badge remain blue and just how incapable they were to figure it out themselves. The badge had LED’s which blinked intermittently in no discernible pattern. When you touched a sensor on the back, it would remain blue. So, in order to keep it as blue, you just had to keep the connection somehow. Yet, no one was able to figure out this very simple hack with people being puzzled at how I accomplished it.

I should also mention the disappointing views that manifested in the talks about piracy or governments or Adrian Lamo. I think at some point in the Informants talk someone made the comment that all nation states are a fundamentally bad thing to which everyone cheered…loudly. Apparently many people in the audience are naïve fucking anarchists, not the caliber of person I would have expected at a HOPE conference.

Club Matte also deserves a mention. This drink was disgusting but hyped up as being from Germany and what hackers in Germany were drinking. Having lived in Berlin for over a year recently I had never seen it before and it tasted like shit. At $4 a bottle it really wasn’t worth the price, yet people were buying it in droves. I can understand if it were to try something new, but people kept buying it to be seen as cool. To be seen as fitting in and being part of the scene. There is just something very sad about that.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was to see Kevin Mitnick and Captain Crunch in person…icons who in many ways shaped the culture and community. I have to wonder what they think of the current state of the communities. Both Mitnick and Crunch did what they did by thinking originally and looking for solutions to problems, the very opposite of just accepting whatever they are told which seems to characterize the current community.

Despite everything I did notice a very strong sense of community, a sense of unity that I had not seen before. What I wonder is has a community once defined by solving problems in innovative ways and creating things never envisioned simply become a hobby group for people who have an interest in technology? Perhaps my expectations were too high or I was looking for the wrong thing, but somehow I don’t think that’s it. I didn’t see a few talks such as the https fragile talk, which may have been technically interesting. Even so, seeing the views of people attending was discouraging. However for $50 it was worth it and I would do it again hoping for a better turn of events.

Update 1 – February 8th 2011
Corrected one typo and fixed the description of the movie Get Lamp.

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