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Hackers on Planet Earth 2008: ‘The Last HOPE’
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by Rob Williams on July 22, 2008 in Industry Events

The seventh HOPE conference was held this past weekend in NYC and I was there to take in the numerous talks. Such subjects covered were lock picking, Wikipedia’s evils, YouTube, FOIA, hardware hacking and a lot more. Special talks were also given by Steven Rambam, Steven Levy, Adam Savage and Jello Biafra.

Sun: Lazlow Jones, Adam Savage, YouTomb, Jello Biafra

Grand Theft Lazlow: Hacking the Media by Laughing at Them

Lazlow Jones is another speaker who’s been around the block and knows a thing or two. He’s been in radio for a number of years and has been a writer for just as long. He also happens to be one of the developers for Grand Theft Auto, all the way back to GTA III. Given that the series is a media favorite, this talk seemed entirely appropriate.

The fact of the matter is, as he pointed out, the media has a misconstrued vision of anything nowadays. Back to what was mentioned on the introduction page, the media loves to call any ‘cracker’ or criminal a hacker, and also happen to focus on completely inane things that should make no difference to anyone. He went on to even say that the most important media issue nowadays is celebrity vaginas, and “If Bin Laden had a vagina, the paparazzi would have found him by now”.

With celebrities worshipped the way they are, it’s no surprise that getting the truth into the news is very difficult. Nowadays, reality shows are the most popular form of entertainment on the TV, which is evident by the fact that TV news and even online news rate such news stories so highly, above far more important stories from around the world.

He went on to explain that most important issues are difficult to explain to people, which is one good reason that they are so often looked over. How many people truly understand what the DMCA is? Net neutrality? It’s hard to explain such issues to a non-techy person, so he suggests one way of explaining things is through comedy, which is one way that the GTA series has excelled over the years.

“It seems like these days, the only media that are holding the politician’s feet to the fire are comedians… so if that’s the way we need to go, then that’s the way we need to go.” He mentions that through comedy, the point can be put across, as long as it’s done with a straight mind and you are not blatantly favoring one side. It’s an interesting tactic, but there are countless YouTube videos out there from this presidential campaign alone to show that some people have the right idea.

Featured Speaker: Adam Savage

Adam Savage is of course one of the primary MythBusters on the popular Discovery show, but you might not immediately picture him as a hacker. Well, considering the amount of tinkering and building he does, he’s most-definitely a hacker, regardless of how you look at things.

His talk mainly focused on questions from the audience, but before he got into those he discussed how obsessive he can be, and boy, this man is obsessive. He has an odd attraction to the Maltese Falcon, and since there were only two of these built for the movie, neither of which he could easily acquire, it was his goal to create an exact duplicate.

The real Maltese Falcon is made of lead, and is incredibly heavy, so it took him more than one try. He tried to design one with brass, iron I believe, and using different techniques to get it as close to the original as possible. In the end, he’s still not entirely happy with his latest result, but that’s where the obsessiveness (and also perfectionism) comes into play. My question is, what does he plan to do with the FIVE Maltese Falcon’s he has lying around now?

YouTomb: A Free Culture Hack

YouTube has quickly become the go-to site for countless videos. You could spend hours upon hours simply searching around for different videos that pique your interest. But every-so-often, videos will be abruptly removed for various reasons, but mostly copyright infringement. YouTomb exists to let us know right away what videos have been removed and why.

The new service, being built as a joint venture between some folks at Harvard and MIT, scans all of Wikipedia (as fast as their server allows) and keeps track of all the videos scanned. As soon as a video goes down, for any reason, their main page will update and show which videos have been pulled out, and the reason.

It goes beyond the simple reporting, though. It shows off the ID of the video, who requested it to be removed, how long it was made available and also how many views it had prior to being removed. As I write this, I see numerous Top Gear episodes that have been removed by the BBC… some that were available for over 500 days!

Right now, their site shows off cool information, but they are looking into see if it would be possible (legally) to cache the videos uploaded, and then host them on their own site, effectively showing people the exact videos that were taken down. I have a feeling that such a thing would not be that possible, but as it stands, the information we do get is sufficient enough to keep an eye on things.

Featured Speaker: Jello Biafra

Jello has been a HOPE regular for the past five or six conferences and it’s always an experience to listen to him rant. He’s very left-wing and not afraid to speak his mind. He’s a former vocalist for the Dead Kennedy’s, a popular punk band (and a kick-ass one at that) from the early 1980’s. Their songs were also left-wing and focused on a variety of politics.

After the conference, Jello didn’t have DVD’s available (there were some disagreements somewhere down the line), so I don’t remember his speech word-for-word, nor will attempt to. During the speech however, he tackled numerous topics with common-sense ideas for improving the state of things. But as it seems, politicians seem to enjoy messing with things more than helping things lately, but it’s all a matter of opinion.

This talk and others will undoubtedly become available on the official HOPE website in the weeks to come, so I highly recommend checking it out once they become available. I can only write blurbs that usually cannot give true credit to where its due, and each one of the talks I’ve talked about today, I’d listen to again entirely without question.