26 July 2010

The Next HOPE

Last weekend was The Next HOPE (following from The Last HOPE) in New York City. HOPE stands for Hackers on Planet Earth and is a biennial conference put on by 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. The Wikileaks guy may or may not have shown up. Some online say he didn't. Someone else told me "oh yeah, he was sitting behind the Tesla stage drinking Club Mate all day Friday," so who knows. Apparently his keynote timeslot resulted in everything being timeshifted by one hour though. The physical security folks said he ran long. Though maybe it was a substitute who did so? I don't know. Kaminsky had another of the keynote slots, talking about SQL injection and the difference between programmer ways of thinking ("I'll just concatenate these strings here…") and programming-language-developer thinking ("We'll parameterize these, so they don't break anything…"). He made the very good point that the reason programmers ignore that parameterization stuff is that it's a pain in the neck to have to jump all around as you try to read the code figuring out "ok now insert first parameter…back up to code…second parameter…wait which one's the seventh parameter?" and outlined some ideas he has to make syntax programmers won't hate that can still fix the problem. And yeah, let's face it. Trying to escape every bad character is total Whack-A-Mole.

A group of librarians were here talking about how to get FOSS into libraries. They had a very important tip: brush your teeth. If you show up looking like a caricature of a hacker, it's a bit hard for the librarians to take you seriously. So, look like you've bathed since last Tuesday and know what a toothbrush is. Yes, they mentioned Evergreen.

Deb "freedeb" Nicholson from the Free Software Foundation spoke about why diversity is important to the growth of Free Software (hint: more diversity = more people!) and how to get there. In a similar vein, Nikki Neulist had a talk called "Hey, Don't Call That Guy A Noob: Toward a More Welcoming Hacker Community." She was talking about how new people provide new perspectives and if you're willing to just be helpful early on, they can end up really useful later. I think this is something we've tried to exemplify in the Ubuntu world, though I do still occasionally see some unwelcoming behaviour on IRC. Unfortunately, during her talk's Q&A, some guy thought it made sense to say tough cookies, this is our hacker culture and if your skin's not thick enough, you don't belong here. C4BL3FL4M3 and I started yelling at him from opposite sides of the room. How on Earth could "if you don't like our bad attitude, GTFO" fit in in a conversation about being welcoming? Why did he even attend if that's his attitude? Troll!

The Vintage Computing talk ended in me dragging a 14 year old I was showing around to the Borders across the street to buy her a copy of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution to give her more context about things like the Altair and the PDP-11.

There were talks on "Color, Light, and Perception" and "Cooking for Geeks." In the former, I learned that magenta does not exist as part of the white light spectrum. You will not find it with a prism. It's not a single wavelength of light but rather a trick in our brains when red and blue wavelengths overlap. I also learned about additive colours, which is what the RGB colour model we use for defining colours on a computer screen is based on. The reason I see white captions on a black background as red/blue-split (like when you look at 3D stuff without the glasses) when seeing it at an angle out of my glasses was also explained. Neat! The latter was about food science, a basic introduction to it, and a reference to there being more in the speaker's new book of the same title. Apparently the temperatures we're taught in food safety courses assume you're not hitting the coldest part of the meat, that your thermometer's wrong, and a bit more, so they're overestimated by a good 15°. Not that I eat meat or am interested in testing that. Time at temperature was brought up as well—the fact that reaching a temperature doesn't matter as much as maintaining that temperature for a decent amount of time. Various enzymes take various times to break down into something tasty. I think he said brussels sprouts were in the category of things that need to spend a good amount of time at high temperature to taste good. Someone should tell my mum this. Hers are too bitter.

I missed much of the "Simpson's Did It" talk, but I caught Mouse's segment where she talked about Mozart. Apparently "Miserere" by Gregorio Allegri was well-loved by the pope of his time. So well-loved, that he had analogue DRM on it! That is, no copies of the sheet music could be made without the pope's permission, period. Only two copies ever were, and they were for princes who had to promptly return them as soon as they finished. Additionally, the song could only be played during Easter week. What did Mozart do, knowing he couldn't get sheet music? Showed up, listened, memorised, and transcribed from memory. DRM broken! Thanks, Mozart!

If you want to write online about controversial topics and you find that your free speech is being harmed by those who do not want you to be heard sending false DMCA notices, you should know about Project DoD, a web host who is willing to send a counter-notice in response (apparently unlike most others). You still have the mandatory 10-day offline period while the counter-notice goes through, but at least it's not a permanent offline period. They're willing to fight for their clients. Lawyer Tiffany Rad (who was my carpool for the trip) and Chris Mooney were talking about this project of theirs.

I mentioned earlier taking a 14 year old around. She's a smart kid named Johannah, so I was introducing her to the other LinuxChix and other assorted cool people. I explained public key cryptography (the practical, not the mathematical theory) to her and showed her how to generate a GPG key. She's an Ubuntu user, so I got her uncle to pick up a copy of How Linux Works for her. It looks like an excellent book for her skill level. It starts out with basic command line stuff and goes on all the way through explaining bootloaders and system internals. Cool!

We attended a LinuxChix Lunch on Saturday, where the women who'd been there in 2002 for H2K2 were expressing surprise at how many women were present, saying LinuxChix would soon be obsolete. They said H2K2 had somewhere between 10 and 30 women total. Improvement was obvious. And by the way, yes, the hacking community does seem to have more women than the Free Software community. There was definitely a higher percentage of women here than even at SELF, which I've already said has more than I remember seeing at any other Linux event (uh, outside of LinuxChix events, obviously). Funny enough, when we got back, I ended up talking to some woman I'd never met who saw my panoramas on my screen and wanted to know how I took them. I told her about Hugin and Free Software and Ubuntu. Anyway, the "funny" bit is that one of the first things she said when asked how she liked the con (she'd never been to a hacker thing before, but her son was a speaker, so she showed up) was (paraphrased) "this is all very interesting, but I notice it's mostly male, and mostly Caucasian." Yeah…still got a ways to go.

I had a duty while I was there too. I was handing out postcards for Ohio LinuxFest to everyone I saw with a Tux, GNU, or distro logo on their shirt, laptop, or tattoo. There were a lot of Ubuntu users. At one point I thought I saw an Ubuntu laptop in front of me, but it was actually OSX.


Moose said...

You know, in my unhumble opinion you shoulda passed out OLF stuff to anyone. My laptops run Windows [yes, really] and MacOSX and they are packed full of FOSS. No Internet Exploder, but Firefox. No $soft Office, but Open Office. etc. etc. etc.

Please remember that Ohio LinuxFest has "linux" in the name but it's all about Open Source as a whole. :-)

Mackenzie said...

I also put a pile on the FSF table so that others interested who I didn't target could find them too.

Mackenzie said...

Plus, there were 8000 people and about 100 cards ;-) Had to prioritise somehow!

Evan said...

Mackenzie -- I stumbled onto your blog tonight; I run MARCH (Mid-Atlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists) -- we're the group that did the vintage computing demo + lecture at HOPE. It's wonderful that you got a 14-year-old interested in this topic! We have a bricks-and-mortar computer museum in Wall, N.J., if you'd like to visit .... Also (non-commercial plug) our next BIG event is the Vintage Computer Festival East 7.0, May 14-15, at our museum. evan@snarc.net

Mackenzie said...

Are you the one that asked whether I was "going for the Quaker look"? Johannah was with me at the time. We played Pong.

Evan said...

I don't remember, but that sounds like the kind of joke I'd make. If I said that and offended you, then I apologize.