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<nettime> Defcon 24
Morlock Elloi on Fri, 12 Aug 2016 22:30:50 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Defcon 24


"So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

HST - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


The high water mark of Defcon was likely more than 10 years ago - it's nearly invisible today. The whole thing looked like a cargo cult effort to summon spirits of the rebellion long gone.

It's amazing that the cult goes on (is it due to the perfect banishment of actual politics from the US public life?)

The Scene

The conference attracted several sharply-defined groups which comprised the majority of the audience (15K or so), and relatively small number of unaffiliated individuals clearly lost in the crowd.

One group is perhaps best described as would-be motorcycle club members with fear of motorcycles (or lack of funds to procure one): long hair, beards, boots, pot, pot bellies, 40+. Almost exclusively white males, and they all looked alike.

Then there were kids, also almost exclusively white males, having all kinds of Star Trek-like paraphernalia, including wearable PCBs with flashing LEDs. They also all looked alike, and were having good time, as most of it was spent in the hopeless long queues, where one gets to inadvertently touch other people, probably more than for the rest of the year (Defcon staff was actively encouraging compression of the queues, so the touch was often substantial.) A friend noted that many of these will use the opportunity to buy sex, which could explain a lot.

LGBT groups were represented, and they were the most stylish ones, actually paying attention to the attire and haircuts (not just flashing LEDs). However, the styles were uniform, with little variations.

The scene was otherwise appropriately augmented with depraved non-Defcon masses being taxed for the bad math skills (it was ghastly to see that some Defcon attendees also partook in gambling.)

The Talks

The technical presentations were mostly of low quality and incredibly boring, with captive audience - you don't leave your seat when there are 2000 people in the line outside waiting for it. Crypto presentations, in particular, were clueless.

Many talks focused on what might be possible, in fuzzy terms, without concrete stuff.

Then there were outright lies, peddling related companies.

The ones that had working demos were unimpressive, except few that shattered the notion that there is such a thing as short-range radio: it's all about the size, of antenna, and ERP. Like BLE lock picking from 1/4 mile away.

If Defcon is the state of the hacking art, then hacking is dead. Reveling in fucking up a thermostat or similar achievement was depressing acknowledgment of the defeat: the industry got security hardened to the point where autodidacts can do less harm than a graffiti artist can harm a bridge. Individual efforts are thing of the past.

But Defcon is not the state of the hacking art. It's something else.

The not-so-technical (ideological, political, historical) talks were much better and more professional.

The talks were not the reason people came to Defcon and paid $240 in cash.

Maybe hundreds of people sitting in darkened rooms staring at their laptop screens (usually alone) did find some communal experience which made the trip worthwhile. Maybe being surrounded by others that look exactly like you 24 hours a day does produce a gratifying self-image reinforcement unavailable in the home town.

Identity politics wins, as usual.


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