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DEFCON Kids / ROOTZ Asylum

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  • DEFCON Kids / ROOTZ Asylum

    I am very sorry about hurting some feelings or letting down some friends as I write this. Nico, Dirk, CyFy, and their whole clan of helpers and supporters are great people who are doing good things.

    And I can no longer support their event.

    At least not in its current form. ROOTZ Asylum was an idea that was always controversial, but the organizers did so much to help adapt and flex and grow with the community in mind. And we appreciated that. This year, however, absolutely all of the concerns and worries that we had voiced in the past were (it felt to me) 100% ignored and all of our fears and foreboding came to fruition.

    The biggest two concerns in the past when ROOTZ (back then a.k.a. DEFCON Kids) was being planned were:

    1. it will make DEFCON be "more tame" because folk won't get all wild if kids are around

    2. it will result in kids who COULD be at DEFCON not going and instead just hanging in this separate room

    ... these two concerns were mostly allayed by creating a separate track room. Down a side hall slightly, this ROOTZ track was enough of a separation that the kids wouldn't see massive debauchery and nudity during the day and yet they could still visit any other part of DEF CON if they and their parents desired. This last point is the key point.

    Certain DEF CON speakers came to their track and give cool presentations, followed by encouragement for the kids to come to the Villages or the Contest areas, etc. The kids were still PART of DEFCON even though they had their own sanctuary area.

    This year all of that was thrown out the window.

    The ROOTZ Asylum was WAAAY separated from DEFCON proper. It was in a dark theater where the kids were mostly just receiving lectures (from what I saw) as opposed to being directly engaged with cool folks. Every talk and every message was about how following the rules and never breaking the law is paramount and how it's important to only ever be a "white hat hacker" etc etc etc.

    I'm willing to bet that less than 10% of any of the kids went over to DEFCON proper. Why would they? It was a bazillion miles away.

    Any speakers who were coming FROM the DEFCON area had their schedule blown to hell, as was the case with my TOOOL staff and Howard and I talking about Elevators.

    At this point, in its current form, ROOTZ Asylum -- while still doing great things for kids -- is siphoning off energy and people from DEFCON itself. It is siphoning off content and speakers. It is siphoning off attendees (kids and teens who are old enough to walk around DEFCON itself). It is siphoning off and fracturing the energy of the event.

    I love the idea of kid-focused cons. I have been to many and supported them. HacKidCon, BeamCamp, etc etc etc. These are all terrific. But if you want to be a 100% separate con, please, you can't take place during the same time as the world's biggest con.

    When the TOOOL folk were asked "come and give a talk to the kids" our answer has always been "why don't you just bring the kids HERE to the Village where -- you know -- all the material is already spread out and we're equipped to teach properly".

    We have even suggested EXTRA OPERATING HOURS for the Lockpick Village (and we'd encourage the other villages to follow suit) either before normal opening or after we would usually close. As far as I know, ROOTZ has not taken any of the Villages up on this. The always want people to pack up a box of just a few things and cart it over to their room.

    This was feasible (if undesirable) when they were a separate track. Now, as a wholly separate event and con, it is just unworkable.

    Please, ROOTZ organizers, either bring your event back into the fold of DEFCON overall or schedule it for a totally different time on the calendar.

    Again, I am so sorry if these words disappoint people.
    "I'll admit I had an OiNK account and frequented it quite often… What made OiNK a great place was that it was like the world's greatest record store… iTunes kind of feels like Sam Goody to me. I don't feel cool when I go there. I'm tired of seeing John Mayer's face pop up. I feel like I'm being hustled when I visit there, and I don't think their product is that great. DRM, low bit rate, etc... OiNK it existed because it filled a void of what people want."
    - Trent Reznor

  • #2
    Re: DEFCON Kids / ROOTZ Asylum

    Originally posted by Deviant Ollam View Post
    Again, I am so sorry if these words disappoint people.
    Maybe it was moved to a further location intentionally as part of their planning, due to parental concern ?
    Maybe parents don't like telling kids "no" and having it close to DEF CON is like putting candy at the check-out lanes in a grocery store.
    Maybe it was the only space available?

    It would be good to get some idea about what caused the location to be where it was, and if intentional and desired, what was the motivation. Maybe there is something we don't know about, and this was an attempt at solving it.

    Maybe your call can get organizers of ROOTZ Asylum to comment, and see if they are open to feedback, and if they are still planning to do things the same way if invited back next year.

    Maybe we can get comments from the kids that participated, and parents, too, if they are willing and able to let us know.

    It would be good to have the discussion public, so attendees (kids and their parents at ROOTZ, as well as adults at DEF CON proper) can see ideas, and maybe contribute their own thoughts.

    Thanks for your information Deviant!


    • #3
      Re: DEFCON Kids / ROOTZ Asylum

      OK, first background, because everyone has a perspective, and mine isn't as obvious as yours so I'll state it up front:

      I had a kid in r00tz this year, my wife was the parental guardian, and I spent the Con going back and forth (my employer pays for me to be there, so I have some level of ethical responsibility to use my con time to further research that will aid them).

      So my wife and daughter's time went roughly as follows:

      Thursday: Get badges, swag, poked around a couple of talks, spent some time in the chillout lounge, soldered the Larson scanner in HHV.
      Friday: Some time in roots (nice talk on the elevator hacking btw, it's going into my work talk, thanks!), some time in the vendor village, chillout, etc.).
      Saturday: Spent the day in the SE village doing SECTF4KIDS
      Sunday: Spent some time in r00tz and some in Defcon, went to the closing ceremonies

      Also I was in the r00tz signup line on Friday morning, and EVERY adult and kid already had their DC badge. So at least everyone there on Friday morning participated in linecon on Thursday.

      OK, so that's the perspective from which I write my opinions below, I tried to keep everything above this line as opinion free as I could :)

      Defcon to me has never been a monolithic event. You have people who attend the talks, people who go do contests in the contest areas, people who spend the whole con doing CTF and have their heads down the whole time. You have people who spend the majority of the con in the 1057 room working on the badge contests, this year you had teams doing amature film making. If some of the attendees want to spend their time in the r00tz track, where's the harm?

      For perspective, we're talking say 300 kids (not quite that many as I know they had chromebooks left over) and say 1.25 adults per kid, allowing for those of us who swapped out, and spent some of our time soloing DC and some with the kid. Now assuming we had ~15,000 attendees this year, that gives me 2.5% of the attendees, and I think it's probably a conservative guesstimate, given that at least in our case, we spent more time at the con there then r00tz was open, and I didn't calc for Thursday when the r00tz track wasn't running. Also my kid is 5 years old, so her battery runs out a bit earlier then older kids, who will almost certainly want to do something when r00tz track ended at 3pm.

      Also I think any loss in total group energy is made up for in the long term. I don't expect my daughter will stop attending DC when she turns 16. To me the r00tz program is a long term play to provide energetic new blood to defcon. I saw CyFi and her friends attacking goons while riding rascals. It was awesome. That's the sort of energy that will move DC forward.

      Now I certainly wouldn't complain if there was less walking to do between the r00tz room and the rest of Defcon. But I can't imagine we would have fit in the same space as they put us in last year, not with almost 300 kids. And the rest of the con needed all the space they could get this year, obviously. Maybe the powers that be can work out something for next year.

      One more thought - it appears as if Defcon as a whole is going to be more spread out next year, so we as a community should probably start thinking about how we manage a more dispersed conference. Maybe those ideas could help to assuage your concerns too, as I think it may just be a special case of a general problem going forward.

      Just my perspective as someone who kinda walked both sides of the line this year,



      • #4
        Re: DEFCON Kids / ROOTZ Asylum

        I am genuinely pleased to hear that (a) some parents were there together and thus could break off back and forth to and from ROOTZ and trade duties, and (b) parents were attending DEFCON proper even if they participated in ROOTZ as well.

        I've already spoken with the organizers and we had a brief but pretty poignant back-and-forth. I explained that i really did not want to hurt anyone with my words above and that i love the idea of their event overall. My main concern (hell, really my only concern) is its location. Being so far away contributes to the sprawl effect which makes DEFCON have no one central soul or focus. Anything that happens off-site or far away causes this feeling. Hell, some people even think that the Penn & Teller theater as a talk track causes some of this feeling.

        It was explained to me that the ROOTZ organizers wanted to keep their event in the same place (or similarly close) to where it was before and that logistically it was not possible. Thus, we realized, we are on the same side of this challenge.

        This is not a case of them wanting to be their own separate event, entirely removed from DEFCON. This was a logistical crunch. (When speaking to people on-site, that was not the message we received, hence my original rather stern words above.)

        Thus, in the future, I expect we will see an increased effort to have the ROOTZ Asylum room be a space within DEFCON proper once again and I'll be very pleased. And i'll continue to speak there, as will TOOOL, if the organizers still want to invite us.

        Hugs to anyone who was upset, and thanks to all who helped clarify things.
        "I'll admit I had an OiNK account and frequented it quite often… What made OiNK a great place was that it was like the world's greatest record store… iTunes kind of feels like Sam Goody to me. I don't feel cool when I go there. I'm tired of seeing John Mayer's face pop up. I feel like I'm being hustled when I visit there, and I don't think their product is that great. DRM, low bit rate, etc... OiNK it existed because it filled a void of what people want."
        - Trent Reznor


        • #5
          Re: DEFCON Kids / ROOTZ Asylum

          So, despite the kerfuffle about ROOTZ being at the ass-end of the universe, I'd like to see a better web presence for the ROOTZ materials and talks, on par with those of the rest of the concert. As the hacker father of two boys old enough that I *MIGHT* consider bringing them to DC23, I'd love to give them some materials to prepare with, let them watch past talks, etc.




          • #6
            Re: DEFCON Kids / ROOTZ Asylum

            Originally posted by SodaPhish View Post

            They said that they were planning on posting video of the talks online this year, so you should be able to obtain them for viewing from your usual streaming sources as soon as everyone recovers from post-DC hangovers (actual or metaphoric in nature).

            And if you have any questions you'd like to pose to a fellow parent who's not actually affiliated in any way, feel free to ask :)