July 24th, 2000

Welcome to my DEFCON overview. This is the first time I've tried anything like this, but I thought I'd take a hand at really giving a feeling for one of these events, because I've met too many people who think they know what they're about, and have never been to one.

The big problem with a lot of DEFCON wrap-ups, I think, is that they don't start early enough. When you're attending something as large and potentially encompassing as DEFCON, you want to mention or at least discuss what your feelings were before, during and after the con. The flaw in focusing just on during the con is that unless you completely geek out and go anti-social, you don't really have time to write about the events you're witnessing during that time.

So instead, let me talk a little starting today. It's July 24th, just before midnight. DEFCON is in 4 days, and I will be leaving on a plane on the evening of the 27th. I'm writing this from my home in Belmont, Massachusetts, about 4 miles away from Boston.

I've had a lot of names online over the years, but right now most people know me as simply Jason Scott, owner of TEXTFILES.COM and maybe SketchCow on EFnet. If you also know me as Sketch The Art Cow of TinyTIM, well now we're getting somewhere, and if you know me as The Slipped Disk, then we need to talk.

Last year was my first DEFCON, and also the first time I've ever been a speaker. I decided to be a speaker for two reasons: It gave me a chance to talk about my web site, which I knew would be of interest to at least a few people, and it got me in for free, instead of paying the $50 admission fee, which my any measurement is a lot to attend a convention. My talk went off wonderfully, and I got a lot of compliments and comments about it, so I was inspired to do it again.

Even though I've been in the BBS and Hacker "scenes" for many, many years, I'd always shunned this post-1990 cons because they made me nervous. I was one of the people who saw how kids even at tiny 2600 meetings were harassed, photographed, and generally singled out as targets, and these cons seemed to me to be just asking for trouble. This was a lot of my paranoid phase, which I have never outgrown but I've at least come to terms with it. I also don't drink or do drugs, which limits out a large amount of the usual activities at the cons that take place in hotels in middle america or the coasts. Just what I need; another large party where the amount of alcohol that's being drunk defines how good the con is going. Not for me.

DEFCON, however, is held in Las Vegas, and I have a love affair with that city. Any amount of concentrated study will reveal that the vast majority of casinos and hotels are controlled by a small cachet of folks who impose a bit of uniformity and aim-for-the-breadbasket "safety" across all the venues, but there's something else in the air. I almost call it a kind of freedom, although the word gets bandied about too much. Perhaps we should call it ... a catered extreme. There's a feeling you get in Vegas that you can't stay out too late, you can't overspend, you can't have too much fun, you can't easily shock and dismay. Yes, you can be a jerk and you can get yourself arrested or thrown out of places, but this is the exception, not the rule. Vegas can almost always take anything you try and give it. Everything's 24 hours, too, which completely remodels the entire way you live. During the last con, my sister came along, and I'd stumble into the shared room at the hotel and she'd go "Time for the tables!" and the next thing I'd know I'd be jammed in with 5 people going to Circus Circus at 3am. And by the time I stumbled back into the room, it'd be time for DEFCON again...

Let's talk a little about this year. Due to several interesting occurences, this year is going to be out of control for me, personally. A bunch of things have come together to really promise I won't forget this DEFCON, or this weekend. Here's the ingredients:

  • I'm getting married in Vegas next June. We're really into this idea but the planning is already underfoot and so when I go I've got an eye towards this place and that place I see as possible reception or bachelor party locations. It adds an interesting color.
  • I'm speaking again. The title of my talk is "TEXTFILES.COM: ONE YEAR LATER", and will be primarily about running my site, the interesting fights I've had, and some pieces of history about the BBS I used to run. I only have a nebulous idea of all I'm writing about. I better get cracking!
  • It turned out the flight from Boston to Vegas and back ($236) was so cheap, my friend Jim (Snuh, I call him) couldn't pass it up. Then our mutual friends Morgan (Pheesh) and Jim #2 (Jaded) convinced their jobs to pay for a trip. My friend Jason (Chuckles) had recently moved to L.A. and has indicated that he's interested in using this as an excuse to ride around in his nice new car he bought, so he's driving down. And my old, old friend Matt (Iskra) gave me such a good turn at the H2K conference that he's staying with us as a thank-you. Oh, and Jaded, Pheesh, and Snuh are all riding on the same flight as me. We're all going to stay in a couple rooms at the Candlewood, which was the only nearby open hotel we could choose from when we started all looking for a place to stay.
  • My fiancee' looked at the price and SHE wouldn't pass it up. So she's coming. Now, this would normally break a little-known rule of DEFCON, which is "Don't bring significant others who are not interested in Hacker Culture to DEFCON", but in fact she's staying in a complete other hotel, and her Mom (who is one happening lady) will be staying with her, and the two of them are going to go do Wedding planning and research. I might see a bit of her, and she's riding on the plane with the rest of us, but we're mostly not going to be in the same place for the event. But it'll add a flavor, and I'm sure I'll be roped into at least a dinner at some point.
  • By sheer absolute coincidence, the Classic Gaming Expo is being held in Vegas on the same weekend as DEFCON. This Expo is where all the big folks from the 70's/80's era of 8-bit gaming (Think Atari 2600, Colecovision, Intellivision, etc.) get together and have cool show stuff and generally do their thing. So we're going to make a major effort to show to that.

This could either be absolutely incredible, or a major disaster, but either way, like I said, unforgettable.

Tomorrow, my preparations.

July 25th, 2000

A day later, I've got a better idea of what my speech is going to be structured as. It's now a matter of printing out all the relevant law information and finding copies of some of those whopper e-mails I'd gotten for the past year. And did I get some! The key is not to turn the speech into me reading from a piece of paper. I like the vibrancy of speaking in front of people.

When I look at the videotape of my previous DEFCON speech, I'm most struck by how much I seemed to be stumbling around, looking for the right words when in fact I was trying to keep myself on the track of the written words on my speech paper I had in front of me. That said, people still told me it was enjoyable, but I hope that this time I'm a much clearer speaker.

One year at high school, I ran for class and then school president. It was a joke ticket all the way, but what I think was most important was that I learned the hard way that no preparation can kill you up there in front of an audience, especially an audience forced to be there like they were on election day. My first speech was off the cuff working from a list of ideas I'd written down. That worked. The second speech had no preparation and I still thought I could wing it. I got out 4 or 5 good sentences and stumbled badly. The feeling I had then, I don't want again.

Packing? Don't get me started. The basics are there, with the socks and the boxers and the initial pairs of pants, but I want to be able to be dressed for a whole range of events, such as DEFCON itself, speaking at DEFCON, hanging with the cDc (lots of cow stuff for that), going out to the Casino, and of course my Airplane Lounge Pants from Hell, because the trip is 5 hours and really boring. That brings up books, and getting out the right fun toys to bring without going overboard... man, I better pack well tomorrow night after work!

I also quit today, officially. I knew I was going to be ending my job sometime soon, but today was the day I actually submitted my resignation. I end my job on August 9th, so I'll still have to stumble back from DEFCON and back into work. Oh, well. This also means I've been spending no small amount of time at work making final DEFCON arrangements, so that at least works in my favor.

We think we've zeroed in on the good place to have a wedding: Mandalay Bay, at the north end of the strip. They've got a kick-ass chapel which we can bring our own Clergy into, a great set of rooms, a fair price, and room for our (large) wedding party. I'm excited about that. It also means that Nicole can do some more definite research with the place and know what she wants to get out of it. Mandalay Bay also has great restaurants, great locations, the whole deal. Looks like she knows what SHE's doing!

Snuh tells me he's packing, and getting there, and bought some new clothes for the trip. Pheesh and Jaded haven't checked in, although I had Snuh forward them the Defcon list of things to think about bringing. It's not a perfect list, but it gets the mind going.

Hey, I think I figured out what my reading material will be: I promised M0gel I was going to write the kick-assingest report on the entire run of Hogs of Entropy (HOE) for the last issue of that zine. I want it to be huge, a great work with some real historical views of the work. To do this, I need to read them all, all 1000+. Gotta do SOMETHING on the plane! Man, isn't work going to be surprised when I print all these things.

Packing, Packing. I know I should be more excited than I am, but there's so much to think about, work and home and getting ready, that I haven't had time to really let it sink in that I'm going back to Vegas. I can't believe that for some people Vegas is a chore. How could you not love that place? It's beyond me.

And now, sleep. It's just going to get more hectic.

July 26th, 2000

Hey, it happened. The excitement is here. Less than a day before I'm on a plane to Las Vegas and the Defcon/Classic Gaming Expo experience, and I'm all jumpy and excited. I specifically noted buying some supplies at my local supermarket and not being able to stand still, thinking of all that I have to do and where I'm going to find the time.

Work was mostly a blow-off, because I had to spend a lot of time creating the TEXTFILES.COM CD-ROM I'm giving away. It'd be too easy to just slap together the files into a tar archive and burn it. I made sure there wasn't extraneous data clogging up the archive and had to write a couple support files to explain what it is and how to use it. Hopefully my work will be worth it and by the end of DEFCON there'll be lots of copies of my site in people's hands. I hope their promise of a CD Burning station will come true. I'd love to get my CDs out that way.

Another couple of things I did at work involved printouts. Lots and lots of printouts. First, I made sure to print out relative hate and fan mail letters from my mailbox to read out. And I printed the first 75 files of Hogs of Entropy. Why? Because HOE is about to have their final issue and I've agreed to write a full retrospective of the files for Mogel. This will take a long time, but I hope to have it done mid-august.

Now, being a veteran if not of cons then of travelling has taught me that I WILL FORGET something I wish I had brought to the con. This is the nature of things. There's not much you can do but be methodical about it.

I've packed my Tuxedo, tons of shirts, shorts, pants, cow outfits, and similar hoo-hah into my massive suitcase, which only makes rare appearances since my fiancee' taught me to pack properly. I hope Snuh and the rest are all getting their stuff together as well. We're leaving tomorrow at 7pm! I can't wait!