Posts tagged ‘conference’

TED – the conference on Technology, Entertainment, and Design

I’ve just found out about an incredible conference called TED, which apparently puts lots of its talks on Google Video (and they’re surprisingly concise—about 20 minutes each). It seems to be just a collection of brilliant people with ideas that can change the world, talking about their stuff. and whether or not I agree with their premise, I find the talks fascinating. Here are a few of them:

  • Hans Rosling shows a way to represent data collected from different countries to see how the world changes
  • Richard Baraniuk discusses ways to make education cheaper and available to more people (assuming they are literate and have internet access, so there’s a bit of a barrier at the beginning)
  • Jeff Han shows off an incredible touch-screen interface
  • Aubrey de Grey, creator of the Methuselah Mouse Prize, gives his thoughts on how to greatly extend life expectancy (a bit Kurzweilian, but interesting nonetheless).
  • Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and evangelical atheist, discusses how we view the world and how this would change if we had different senses or were a different size.

It seems like going to TED would be a really neat experience, except that admission is $4400. I’ll have to settle for the videos, I suppose.

DEFCON summary

Coming back from DEFCON, I felt like Jack, coming down the beanstalk to announce that “there are giants in the sky! There are big, tall, terrible* giants in the sky!” I was introduced to a whole new world with new ways to look at everything. I had no idea most of that stuff was out there and accessible to me. Everyone seemed more knowledgable about every single topic, but it was exhilerating to see it all.

I met up with Matt, Dan, John, Eric, and two guys I hadn’t met (Chris and Andrew) in Vegas, and we all shared a room intended for 4 people. The first day, everything was delayed by 2 hours because the fire marshall forgot to approve our convention, or something. After that, however, there were talks running continuously from 10am until midnight (yes, you had to miss some talks if you wanted to eat meals). Although most of the stuff was about computer security (hex editors, phishing, the EFF, RFID spoofing, database rootkits, etc) there was a surprising amount of (non-computer) security stuff there too (lock picking, safe cracking, neurolinguistic programming, etc). There was also some (non-security) computer hacking stuff: hard drive repair, steganography, fuzzing, extreme programming, autonomous robotic BB-guns, the list goes on. Late at night, we went to the Hacker Jeopardy sessions. I’m now inclined to say that all game shows would be more interesting if they had strippers.

Here are some more highlights:

  • Dan Kaminsky (who is the hacker version of Judiciary Pag), gave an amazing talk about…um…everything. SSL, security problems with DNS, visual bindiffs, security problems with online banking. He’s incredibly relaxed, yet brilliant. His work is amazing, and he drinks beer throughout the talk. In fact, at the end during the question and answer part, he gave me a beer for suggesting the visual bindiff can be used to find duplications in your code! Usually I don’t like beer, but this one kind of tasted like victory. \/\/00T!
  • I got to talk to and shake hands with Cindy Cohn, director of the EFF. This was pretty special for me, because they’re one of the greatest organizations I can think of.
  • Lots of people were doing crazy hacking in the hotel: pay phones went missing. One of the elevators I rode in had the emergency phone open, and some guy karaoking Sinatra tunes out of it at us. Someone even managed to hack the Hacker Jeopardy display system during the game itself.
  • In theory, I learned how to pick locks (both normal picking and bump picking) at the Lockpicking Villiage. The weird thing was that they had a lockpicking contest, and apparently an 11 year old girl did rather well in it.
  • They have a Spot The Fed contest every year, where you try to find out which other conference-goers work for federal agencies (DoJ, FBI, USPS, Marines, Washington DC meter maids… any federal employee will do). This was pretty fun to see, but one story will always stick out: a woman brought a man up on stage and claimed he was a fed. She said she knew this because the night before, they hooked up, got drunk, had sex, and while he was asleep she went through his stuff and found his badge.
  • There were several games of a unique form of capture the flag going on: on the network was a computer with several security problems purposely put into it. The object of the game was for teams to hack into the box and then keep everyone else out. Not exciting to watch (just a bunch of people busily typing on their laptops), but a fun concept anyway.
  • I saw the wall of sheep, which is a computer with a packet sniffer and data mining system on it. It searched the network for unencrypted usernames and passwords, and then projected them up on the wall. A good reminder of how insecure most websites are.

So, DEFCON wasn’t as good as AAAI was, but I still had a great time and got my money’s worth. I’m not yet sure if I’ll be back next year, but I’m glad I went once. As the EFF panel mentioned, it’s really the only conference where the invited speakers can show up for the earliest talks at 10:00, unshaven, hung over, and still get a warm reception.

*Terrible: extreme in extent or degree; intense