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My fist DEFCON, a post-mortem and hopefully a roadmap for future n00bs

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  • My fist DEFCON, a post-mortem and hopefully a roadmap for future n00bs

    Ok, so DC23 was my first time in Las Vegas and my first DEFCON. I found out in February that I was going to get to go and got hotel reservations, etc. and started doing my recon. I got a good bit of information from the website and, after begrudgingly joining Twitter, got more intel there. I was able to get a LOT of info from this forum from folks like TheCotMan, astcell, Pwncess and many others. I made some notes on my trip on the questions that I asked as well as the ones that, for whatever reason, I didn't ask, and wanted to post my notes here in case someone else may benefit from them. I've been working to try to find some way to categorize | format | organize my thoughts for a couple of hours and each time I do I jack something up so, here in no real order is what I came up with:
    • All times noted below are local time in Las Vegas.
    • We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. There is a huge poster in the airport at the taxi stand showing what a taxi ride from the airport to local destinations *should* be. Note, this is before the additional fees that get tagged on, so be careful. The taxi driver from the airport to the hotel was a little shady (initially, the bill was almost $30). We called him on it and it was just over $20, he advised that he 'made a mistake' and adjusted the price. The ride from the hotel to the airport was $13 (plus fees, which made it almost $20).
    • We arrived at the hotel around 9:30pm on Wednesday evening. That gave us time to get settled in and wander around the venue a bit and then get some sleep for Thursday. This seemed to be a good plan. I had considered waiting and flying in on Thursday and am glad that I didn't. We finally got checked in and settled and headed downstairs for some recon. There were a few folks already lining up in the registration line that seemed to be having a good time. I opted to get some sleep and stand in line the following morning. I was concerned (based on posts from previous DEFCONs) that the line may be several hours but figured that I could wait in line all night (several hours) or get some sleep and wait in line well rested and opted for the latter.
    • We got in line to get badges at around 7:50am. There were already a couple of hundred people in front of us. The mood in the line was *very* cool and we had a lot of fun meeting folks and playing an informal game of 'spot the fed'. There was also a beachball being tossed around above our heads and several failed attempts at 'the wave'. All in all, I had a LOT of fun in the lines. We got through the line shortly before 10:00am and, at that time, the line was even longer than it was when we got in it but it was moving. They had large breaks in the lines (we decided that they were 'fire breaks' to make sure that there was a clear exit in case of emergency). The goons were guarding the breaks and letting large groups pass at a time. This gave the illusion that the line was moving faster than it was and seemed to contribute to the good mood of the folks in line. You can meet *A LOT* of people in line. I'm generally not a people person but had a really good time talking to random strangers in this case.
    • I heard a lot of people talking about registration running out of 'real' badges too early and paper badges being printed (i.e. not puzzles or hackable moment opportunities in the badge) at previous DEFCONs. Although they did run out of 'real' badges sometime on, I believe, Friday, the replacement badges were pretty cool too. I didn't get up close enough to one to see if they had the same puzzles as the 'real' badges but they were definitely cool.
    • We stayed in the Paris and walked between the Paris and Bally's a lot. I chose Paris (vs Bally's) basically because of a coin toss. I can't think of any logistical reason to choose one over the other but I may stay at Bally's next time just to see what the differences are. If memory serves, the Bally's rooms were slightly cheaper. There were some issues with crowded elevators at Bally's but I suspect that that will be resolved by DC24 (there's a lot of chatter about it).
    • There was a lot of talk on the forums about a refrigerator in the room. We had a small one (easily held a six pack and munchies) and didn't have to ask for it.
    • There was nowhere that I could find in the hotel to buy beer except in huge bottles (i.e., no quantity packs). We did walk around a bit though and found a couple of drugstores and ABC stores that had them. The refrigerator in the room happily stored a six pack of beer and munchables in the room.
    • A bio-break would be appropriate before you get in line. Any line.
    • Several folks brought cheap inflatable beach balls to toss around in the lines. The goons didn't seem to mind and this seemed like a cool idea.
    • Write your handle / name somewhere visible. I wrote mine on the clear protective cover for my badge (it was a vinyl record, pretty awesome imho). You'll be surprised at the number of folks that'll just walk up and say hi.
    • Was advised to introduce myself to at least 4 new people per day. I'm a bit of an introvert and one of my biggest concerns was meeting people. When I arrived though, I found it hard to meet *only* 4 people per day. In the registration line alone, I met more than that.

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  • #2
    Thanks for this feedback! It is uncommon for people that are new to DEF CON to provide such details on their experience, what worked, what didn't and what they suggest could change to make things better!

    I find such information instructional in understanding something about how people new to con see DEF CON, and see what information that "we" (people that have been to many) just take for granted and assume everyone already knows about something.

    If you have more comments, ideas or suggestions, please add more.

    If anyone else would like to contribute their thoughts on how they saw their first DEF CON and what they would like to see different, or change or list things they wished they knew, please follow-up with a reply to this thread.

    Thanks!
    -Cot

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    • #3
      TheCotMan , you are very welcome, thank you for all of the detailed responses that you gave, this seemed like the best and most appropriate way to reciprocate. I don't really have any recommendations for how to do it better at this point but that may be because I have a very limited reference. The only things that stood out was the rush of folks leaving the 'Welcome to DEFCON' talk and not really knowing where all of the events were. The goons responded quickly and re-routed traffic and moved (I believe) DC101 and I didn't see any repeats of that. I attributed the not knowing where everything was as much to not knowing what all was there and being pleasantly surprised to turn a corner and see another DEFCON log as anything else.

      One other thing that stood out is that, everywhere I've looked, everywhere I've asked, etc., people always say that everyone at DEFCON is approachable. I was leery of this when I arrived but Saturday night, Dark Tangent and a Goon were walking toward the elevators as I was coming out. Before I realized I was doing it I yelled out "Hey, Jeff". He turned around, greeted me (I had written my handle on my badge), shook my hand and asked how I was enjoying the con and then *listened* to my answer. He then asked if we had gone to or knew about a couple of the events that were going on at that time. Short story, it's not lip service, *everyone* there was approachable (I did the same thing to a number of other speakers and vendors with similar results). Can't wait until DC24!
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      • #4
        I've been going for 4 years and can't get myself to meeting new people unless one of my existing friends introduces us... I really need to get over that, I say I will every year, but as it is, con has so many people that I have to take breaks and go to my hotel room... :(

        Mad props for you meeting so many new people in your first year!

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        • #5
          Matir, we all feel your pain. You will soon find that ALL of us are more like you than you think. Th badge this year was big enough to write your resume on. Trust me, the first time you manage to sday hi to someone the floodgates will open.

          Maybe start with talking to staff or a goon. They are used to people approaching them all the time.

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          • #6
            Matir, other ideas attend the ToxicBBQ, Defcon Shoot, buy some beer/treats (doesn't have to be much) and go make some friend and one of the many line cons or take it to some goons (keep in mind they might be a bit leery of your intentions depending what it is/how it's packaged). Villages are another good place to just hang out, conversations usually start between other strangers and most of the time they are open discussions.

            Elevators are another great time to strike up a conversation. They might not lead to much conversation or friendship but it's a good short practice session right before the doors open on your floor and you can run away.

            Going somewhere, food outing, heading to fries for some tech, booze run? Announce to some con peoples in the elevator/village/hall and share a cab.

            ~L0g1c

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            • #7
              Originally posted by astcell View Post
              Maybe start with talking to staff or a goon. They are used to people approaching them all the time.
              If you (Matir or others) want to do this, and have a good chance of conversation, choose your goon wisely. If they are working the halls (directing traffic) on the way to an incident or to support something, or working a busy booth, they are probably going to be distracted with work, and unable to socialize much. However, there are other opportunities. Goons guarding the contests/events space, or other spaces are often just hanging out, at a place to make sure nobody attempts to exceed their access limits and enter a restricted space. They are more likely to have more time to hang out and talk, only occasionally having to interrupt conversation to tell someone an area is closed, and they should come back later when it is open.

              Another point? Though you can try to invest time in getting to know "rockstars" at DEF CON, you will be competing with other people for their attention as well. Having any kind of meaningful conversation with "RockStars" at DEF CON is difficult, unless they knew you before they were RockStars. A bit of advice? Find talented people that are not yet well known, but aspiring geniuses, likely to excel in their field of specialization, and hang out with them. You can learn a great deal more, and establish a relationship with them before they are well-known, and you may gain even more value spending time with them than a few seconds with one of "today's" rockstars. Additionally, if you have your own area of expertise, these talented people can gain from socializing with you, and allow both of you to establish a mutualistic symbiotic relationship.

              HTH,
              -Cot
              Last edited by TheCotMan; May 27th, 2016, 13:33.

              Comment


              • #8
                More ideas...
                - ask to barrow someones schedule/booklet (don't be weird and holding yours while you ask, put yours away and simply say "I forgot my booklet can I glance at yours for a minute").
                - If you see someone doing cool/weird things in the hall/villages/hangout ask them a question. In over a decade I can't think of a single time anyone has ever replied with "awhwahah go away" or " none of your business snoopy". They are openly working on this stuff in public places I think it's safe to assume your not the only one asking.
                - If you subscribe to booze buy the person behind you a drink in the con or at a con party.
                - If you partake in any of the villages currently and are knowledgeable about any of the topics offer to help/share your knowledge with a noob
                - Go find a defcon group activity such as the scavenger hunt, box bomb, Lost/1057 room and ask if they have any partial teams that need another person.

                I've literally made friends doing all of these things and still keep in contact with them today. They run up at the con to say high, call, buy me a drink to return a favor years ago, invite me/friends to dinner/parties, email.

                Heck this year you could of bought a record player and hung out in the hall and made 100 friends at least :P

                Be creative and have fun!

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Matir View Post
                  I've been going for 4 years and can't get myself to meeting new people unless one of my existing friends introduces us... I really need to get over that, I say I will every year, but as it is, con has so many people that I have to take breaks and go to my hotel room... :(

                  Mad props for you meeting so many new people in your first year!
                  I'm already booked at the Paris next year and I've set myself a reminder to Meet Matir at the con. If you find me first, I owe you a beer (or soda if matir < 21). If I find you first, you owe me a beer :)
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                  • #10
                    thanks for these terrific write-ups from new members of the community. I love reading them and seeing how people approach DEF CON these days.

                    my great suggestion if you're the type of person who doesn't have an easy time of meeting new folk, heh...

                    come to the DEFCON Shoot on Wednesday afternoon and stay for the campout Wednesday night! Small group, easy chatter vibe, then everyone goes back to the con on Thursday feeling ready to shower and be invigorated hanging out with the friends they made out in the desert. :-D
                    "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

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                    • #11
                      This is a fantastic post, thanks for sharing your experience. I have never attended, but have wanted to the last couple of years and it just wasn't possible. After reading this it just seems like too much fun to pass up any longer. I'm already planning the trip for next year, I just need to convince the wife I won't spend all my time at the conference. :wink:

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                      • #12
                        14_the_road , I struggled with whether or not to bring my wife (she's never been interested in anything tech related) and ended up bringing her. We got her a pass so that she'd have the option to go to the con-related stuff. Suffice it to say, we're (both) already booked for next year and she's looking to adding to her (now one badge) collection of DEFCON badges. She actually met a few other (what they called) DEFCON wives and seems excited about possibly seeing them again next year at DEFCON to compare war stories :)
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                        • #13
                          "i'm not technical" is a B.S. excuse... there's ALWAYS something for everyone at DEF CON. you have to WANT to have a bad time in order to have a bad time, really. case in point: i can teach a blind monkey to pick locks. no "techy" side of a personality is required.

                          same goes for the Tamper village... James Bond that shit up and learn to open seals and envelopes, etc.

                          scavenger hunt is fucking amazing and one barely needs any tech ability there, either.

                          or, she hangs by the pool during the day and socializes at night with you.

                          win/win/win/grin



                          "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

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Deviant Ollam View Post
                            "i'm not technical" is a B.S. excuse...

                            Nailed it.
                            --- If you're a snowflake, you're gonna have a bad time.
                            Have you ever BEEN to Defcon?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Quick follow-up to some of my previous posts and to ride the coattails of Deviant Ollam and dc0de regarding the non-technical being a BS excuse. DC23 was my first defcon and I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea what to expect. My wife, prior to DC23, had no interest in going other than it gave us a chance to hang out. Since DC23, she went with me to Derbycon and is already looking forward to DC24 and Derbycon 6 and has bought her own lockpick set (two, actually) and is reading Chris Hadnagy's book Social Engineering. Short story, I have to agree with both Deviant Ollam and dc0de that the non-technical excuse was / is BS.
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