DEFCON @ Stan.comment

We've done this a bunch of times. We know the drill by now. Get to the the airport, schlep a couple of hundred pounds of TV gear, argue with security about whether the camera needs to be fully field-disassembled to prove it's not explosive.

And then we're off to one trade show or another in Las Vegas. But this time, we're travelling light, because this is not your father's trade show. In fact, he probably wouldn't be caught dead at this one.

Dave Koehn and I are doing Def Con 5, one of the biggest and best-known hacker cons (that's short for "convention", I think) in the world.

Don't expect a long discussion here about the ethics of hacking, or about whether a guy who figures a way to log into the school computer and change his grades is a hacker or a cracker. What we find out almost as soon as we land is that hacking is a state of mind, and it covers a lot more than computers. More about that in a moment.

Our first surprise is the kid sitting behind us on the plane. He's flying to Vegas with his mom so he can go to Def Con. I ask her if she has any idea what this is all about, and she says she thinks it's good for kids to try new things. All right, then.

Our first good break comes right away. Hertz gets us into a very nice new Volvo S70. We buy the full-tank fuel option. It will prove quite handy within hours.

As we drive to the hotel, we tune the FM to 104.7 and hear what sounds like "house" music. You know, the repetitive techno-stuff that I hear sounds best following a couple of hits of something. The reason I mention the frequency is this: The FCC has never granted a license to anyone to broadcast at 104.7 in Las Vegas.

v-grab Turns out the signal's coming from the back of a mini-pickup, just in from L.A. Mobile pirate radio, with an antenna mast held together by duct tape and what looks like an old Boy Scout troop flagpole. We ask the guy in charge if he plans to do any announcing work, or just play the music. He's not sure. He hasn't slept in a couple of days.

We spot Enigma, a well-known hacker from Southern California. He's beat, too, and he's heading for some sleep. He needs it, because the action's just beginning.

v-grab Way down inside the Aladdin Hotel, the hackers are massing. Black is by far the preferred clothing color, while hair shades range across the rainbow. They have to find their own way to their meeting room, because hotel management has thoughtfully left them off the "daily events" sign. This is small solace to the group of telemarketers holding its own meeting across the hall. The squeaky-clean people at the telemarketing registration desk look pretty nervous about their neighbors. It is suggested with some seriousness that the hackers might do society a big favor by bringing down the telemarketers' get-together.

v-grab I'm curious as to how the Rules of Order apply at a convention of anarchists. Turns out it's pretty simple. Dark Tangent, the guy who started this thing, grabs the mic and achieves order by pitching cellular phones into the crowd. The man from the cell-phone industry tells me there's a good chance these are stolen phones. He also tells me every wired and wireless phone company is keeping an extra-close eye on its system this weekend, considering the recreational habits of this bunch.


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