August 3, 2005

What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas

Well, whatever I don't feel like writing about anyways. And so, the token events of my weekend in hell, retold...


It is really fun driving on long trips with addicts. Especially watching them squirm to fill their chemical dependencies. Err.. wait, not addictions. Just commitments to pleasure. The trip to Vegas is not a glamorous one, and at one point we were at a dead hault on a road between California and Nevada. As far as road names go, Nevada compensates for its lack of civilization with overly ridiculous road names, such as Zyzzx and 20 Mule Team Rd.

When you drive towards Vegas on I-15, you run into two mini-casino towns, appetizers to the main course of glitz that lies ahead. It was already dusk as we drove toward these cities, and each tiny, glowing oasis looked almost foolish against its backdrop of mountains and desolation. Of course Vegas stood out even more prominently, this splash of sparkle holding some of the most famous replicas of the world - the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Italian architecture of Venice, and even the fast paced city of New York, New York (Statue of Liberty included). A trip around the world at my fingertips! As we drove down the strip, the neon glitter just contrasted this city void of substance and value. My driving companions started to moan in pain, but I just stared at all the purty twinkling lights.

We got to the Alexis Park, dropped our bags off, and went out for sushi at some Japanese restaurant down the street. The service was not good, and it is beyond me how it took a mostly empty restaurant over an hour to make a few California rolls and throw some ripped peices of fish on a few spoonfulls of rice. Needless to say, the tip suffered.

After food, we went to a liquor store to purchase spirits for the night. It turns out that there is worse tequila out there than Steve's best bud, Jose. Of course I didn't mind, but the group consensus was that we should have splurged for the extra $8 alternative. Whatever, it all hurts to me. Any cheap option that does the job in low volume has my stamp of approval.


The first day of Defcon 13 started today. We all woke up early and went to hear Richard Thieme give a talk on Recapturing the Revolutionary Heart of Hacking. It was one of most inspirational talks I've been to. He described the evolution of the hacker and the traits that remain inherent despite the changing systems the hacker chooses to explore. He spoke of the future in technology and religion, citing historical examples and well chosen quotes that made his speech an exceptional opening to the conference.

Afterwards, we went to End-to-End Voice Encryption over GSM: A Different Approach, which was unfortunately unimpressive and didn't even have a developed tool. Christy and I went to a talk on Exploring Gender Differences in Hacking, which didn't shed any interesting light on the greater problem of an overwhelming female minority in technology and computing fields. We finished the day with Bypassing Authenticated Wireless Networks. The talk seemed pretty damn trivial, and I can't imagine their "tool" requiring much more than a short script that parses a tcpdump file, steals a user MAC and IP, and reroutes to a discovered gateway.

For dinner we went to the Excalibur for their Medieval banquet of umm.. Chinese, Mexican, and general American cuisine. MMmmmm? After plates of food and delicious whipped topping, we struck the casinos to throw our money back into the system. Nobody plays slots more efficiently than Steve Hanna, and nobody can boast returns like Ms. Christy Sauper. On a $0.75 investment, she got a $7.50 return. That's a 1000% cash increase! The night ended with an uneventful dip into the pool, which was a soup of cigarette butts, plastic cups, and dirty haxx0r germs. Delicious.

I found myself trying to fall asleep on the couch when random drunkie breaks into our hotel room (or maybe just opens an ajar door) to use the bathroom, then proceeds to argue with me about whose room it is. Luckily I convinced him that he was in fact not in the right place, and he went on his drugged way.


The interesting talks of the day included Attacking Web Services: The Next Generation of Vulnerable Apps, Intro to High Security Locks and Safes, Licensing Agreements 101: The Creative Commons License, and Top Ten Legal Issues in Computer Security.

After a gay trip to Hamburger Mary's for dinner, we all got ready for the black and white ball. The theme of the night was fishnet, glowsticks, and one terrible green dress. I downed the usual load of hard alcohol, filled up the flask, and got goth before heading to the party. Steve and I drank moonshine from some random guy while we waited outside to get in. What the hell were we thinking? Don't take drinks from strangers! I danced with Mr. Nasko for a good portion of the night, and likely made a fool of myself to anyone unfortunate enough to listen to my slurs and mumbles. I woke up back in the hotel room with no signs of sickness, slept a few hours, and was up and fresh by 6:30 the next morning.


The Meme Mining for Fun and Profit talk in the morning was one of my favorites of the conference. Broward Horne showed how his simple internet trend counting system could be used to track technology fads and influence investment decisions. The system was not fool-proof, but it was very simple and showed an impressive correlation in the examples he presented from technical markets.

After Defcon officially ended, the goons dyed two pools purple, and then proceeded to have fun swimming in them. Everyone continued to fight the leftover hangovers from the black and white ball. Chris left a trail of pocket change to the bathroom, a remnant of his many trips to worship the porcelain gods from the previous night. Before we knew it, it was 7pm at night, too late to make the trip back to California. We decided we'd just stay the evening, and make a quick run for it early in the morning.


Nevada doesn't like when people try leaving Las Vegas. We woke up early and checked out of Alexis Park at 5:45am, only to get lost on the freeway and go 15 miles in the wrong direction. Shortly after turning around, I got pulled over for speeding, talked my way out of a ticket ("Sorry... we're lost, I'm from Chicago trying to get back to California. We just want to get out of this city!"), and finally started making headway towards home. In the last city before desert and lack of human life, we stopped for gas and sustenance. While Chris and I went in to make an attempt at finding food, someone forgot to actually put gas in the car. I realized 20 minutes later the tank was in fact less full than what we had started with, and we drove another 40 or so miles in search of fuel, hitting Empty right after pulling off at an exit with an antique gas station that probably went out of commission in the 1970's. The air conditioner went off, Chris started whaling "We are gonna die in the desert", and I started driving at the more fuel-efficient 55 m.p.h. We eventually found the most expensive gas station in the state of Nevada, and pumped it slowly into our over-heated tank. Techno and espresso fueled me for 6 hours of driving time. Then someone took over and dumped me off in Livermore. I felt like I was literally racing to escape the grasps of hell, speeding away from a literal inferno of heat and smoke and the gluttony of those that happily dwell along the streets of Sin City. Now that I sit over 500 miles away, I can start a slow recovery.

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