A possibly Saiyan hacker with unapologetic affinity for Hackers, the movie, won my heart and my blog post in this TED talk.
I wanted to be a hacker when I was a teenager, but disliked the idea of jail. But, hackers had a convention. Conventions, for the uninitiated, are special gatherings where human culture is often suspended for multiple days in favor of small, private bacchanals and/or conversations the likes of which would make a strict Mormon cry and question his place in the world.
DefCon (In various Las Vegas, NV hotel-casinos but mostly the Alexis Park) was the first place I, a teenager from a 649-person town in southeast Idaho, had ever gone on my own. A funny thing: at early DefCons, reporters didn’t care if you looked like a crusty piece of teenaged angst, they assumed you were at DefCon because you were in tune with something they barely understood. If you had a badge, you were in, and you were interesting, and all the real hackers wouldn’t say shit to anyone, so my 16-21-year old camera-happy self was happy to babble second-hand inferences and other nonsense at the press. I tagged along with one journalist (journalist? who knows. No one really knows who is who there unless they already know them, it’s both Vegas and DefCon for chrissakes) who went by the moniker Selena Kyle and whose main desire was to have a meal with Bruce Schneier. She had lunch with him. She was short and pretty and the most well-spoken lady I’d ever met. I met someone else who went by Tananda and wore a tiger tail and introduced me to Rammstein in 1997 or 1998.
I got a hug from a beautiful news lady from Tech TV after having a fun conversation with her, picked up a hacker handle that no one but me remembers, stayed up for 5 days straight on odd combinations of food, alcohol, but mostly a shit-ton of caffeine, and whatever was put into whatever strange craft beer I had just accepted. Lot of home brewers at DefCon. Generally, I did things that no one I had ever met would believe, mostly conversation-based. DefCon changed my worldview in many ways, and I couldn’t think the same as Idahoans after I’d gone there, not that I ever really had.
At one point, I stepped into a fetish party whose hostess dressed in an elegant leather naughty nun outfit that was at least a few hundred bucks worth of classy. Cats o’ nine tails hung from a wall-mounted coat rack. Girls who looked like they stepped out of Ghost in the Shell nightclubs with ethernet twisted in their hair stunned me, along with theatre-quality makeup. Men wore black leather kilts and combat boots, or spook-looking suits and sunglasses. It was like stepping into a chapter of Neuromancer or Snow Crash. It was heaven to me. The people where I grew up were, to be frank, bland. This was a whole new thing. Another room was a deluxe hotel suite where they’d covered every available piece of wall space with transparent plastic to write on, sort of a computer science jam session like they have now everywhere.
These were Vegas suites, baby, the big ones with mirrors and multiple rooms that were, occasionally, bigger than the three-bedroom house I grew up in, or at least they looked and felt that way with 50 people in them. I had stayed in the standard one or two bed holiday inn room before that. I was personally poor, and notable about DefCon was that everyone was extremely generous if you looked like you didn’t have someone to be with or anything to eat or a place to sleep. I went there one year with no money, but a badge, and ate well the whole time just hanging out with people at their events and conversing. The whole thing blew my mind. I don’t know if it’s still like that, but hackers tended to be good-hearted people in my experience. Last, I met a bunch of actual Europeans, having grown up with only my mom’s Polish family from Chicago and a town full of Mormons, and was astonished by how open and reasonable they seemed to be. I decided I was European, at least a little bit, at that point. Or at least I identify that way. That or Native American, they have some things in common.
Anyway, this talk brought back some fond memories of debauchery and excess done for the sake of because why not by people with little respect for the law but, so far as I could tell, enormous respect for one another. Well, sometimes.
I used to wish someone at DefCon would take me under their wing and teach me to hack. But I was no good at math back then, so meh. I’m still not that great at math, but now there are all these cool lessons on the web for anyone who decides to try. Yay progress.