[looks at calendar] Well, this is only four months late. Been too busy having other adventures. Sorry about that.
TL;DR version: I enjoyed the hell out of smart people sharing problems and solutions that I am not directly responsible for doing something about. Somebody else’s problems are the best problems.
So, as I mentioned previously, I made the somewhat last minute decision to attend DEFCON 2018. There was enough draw in the form of friends I knew were attending and, more importantly, available vacation time allowed me to actually attend. I’ve wanted to go since I first heard of DEFCON long ago but there’s only so much time in the year for all the adventures I might want to have. However, in the company of the former BBotE Ambassador of Chicago, Bill Weiss, and current BBotE Ambassador of Prescott, Dan Nowak, Black Blood of the Earth has been in attendance at DEFCON every year since 2011. While other people may have brought single bottles with them, Bill & Dan showed up with entire cases to keep their teams and all comers full of pep. So, in a way, I’ve been present in spirit.
But this year, in addition to the two they brought, my Lovely Assistant and I came with a third case as our luggage. You see, BBotE would be providing a special extra something to the cocktail repetoire for a Rift Recon‘s party. If you attended, you know how much fun those caffeinated cocktails were at 12am. I regret that there aren’t many pictures from this trip, but there are rules of decorum to be followed.
I have been informed that most people attend DEFCON primarily for the parties and just watch the sessions on youtube later. I was told I committed a rookie error by actually attending talks. “BAH!” I say. If I’d done that, I wouldn’t have had the chance to finally meet Aaron “I Should Have BLUE TEAM Tattooed On My Knuckles” Brown, AKA TheTarquin, in person after years of snarking at each other online. Aaron does infosec for Amazon at an interesting level where he gives the hard squint to new corporate acquisitions to see if it safe to plug them into the mothership. But that’s not what he was presenting on. He was here to talk about how H and H convey very different information to human brains versus computers and how you can use that for fun with and defend against homograph attacks. While I was there in person, you can watch his talk online and I highly recommend you do. It’s led me to have a lot of interesting conversations with my own IT, EECS, vision science, and philosophy folks, each from their different points of view.
In addition to the main talks, there are effectively conventions within the convention at DEFCON for specific topics called Villages. I was a little disappointed that the laser cutting village never even set up as I was looking forward to being VERY EDUCATIONAL to people there with an impromptu laser/product safety audit. Rumor has it that the company that was going to set up the village either broke something irreparable in transit or irreplaceable parts were confiscated by customs. The Social Engineering Village runs a competition to see if contestant can manage to talk their way to access to selected personnel in organizations purely through the power of bullshit (NOTE: there are some restrictions on how you can bullshit, Thou Shalt Not Impersonate Authority, which is my favorite gambit right out the window).
Then there’s Skytalks. If I have one important piece of DEFCON advice to give it is this: figure out what one Skytalk you absolutely want to see, plan your entire day for it, because much like anything at Disney you will be spending a significant amount of time in line for it. Unlike Disney, the experience will be rewarding and you will walk out the other end of the ride having learned something very interesting indeed. Chatham House Rules apply for Skytalks, so no recording, no photographs, and no bullshit which suits my own residual Q clearance habits just fine. So, while I won’t discuss the content of the presentation I enjoyed, let me just direct you to Faithleaks. Let your journey begin from there.
More dear to my heart was this long and grim talk about the state of the scientific journals and the shitty discourse/politics they end up supporting by muddying the waters of what “scientific consensus” is. Thankfully, it is a very funny presentation even if it feels a bit gallows humor at times as this team maps out the networks of sham journals, sham reviews, and even entire sham conferences, all driven by the publish or perish mentality. MORAL: if you make a data scientist cranky your organization will become their project.
And as threatened in this post, I did indeed act as a docent for an informal tour of the National Atomic Testing Museum. There was some trepidation from the folks at NATM at the idea of a couple dozen DEFCON attendees descending upon their museum. There have been Incidents™ in the years past related to DEFCON and Black Hat that the locals have a loooong memory for, but I promised that everyone would be on their best behavior. I am happy to say that we’re welcome to come back anytime. The fact that we may have broken a sales record in their gift shop could be a contributing factor.
While I don’t know if I’ll have the vacation time to go again in 2019, I can confidently say that I had fun and learned enough that it would be worth going again to take a vacation to someone else’s conference.
No, really this is good news. Because the prices increases of ~$20 per item are on the Steins of Science. Which means… STEINS OF SCIENCE ARE AVAILABLE AGAIN!!!
The Steins of Science were never cheap in the first place, what with them being modified brand new laboratory hardware and all, but last year I lost my reasonable but expensive pipeline of dewars and instead only had ridiculously expensive pipelines available to me. This would have increased the average price of a Stein of Science by almost $150 each. While they are more expensive than before, I will happily take only $20 more expensive. Not all of the steins varieties will return, but I can cope with that.
The tricky news is that I won’t be receiving them until Friday of this week. I have put listings on the website if you would like to pounce on one, have me ship it next Monday and hope for the best from the fine folks of the United States Postal Services to get it to you ASAP.
Seriously, I am so happy to have them back.
UPDATE: I went back and checked. This is the first price increase for anything in the store in 8 years. Not bad work if I do say so myself. Now, if only postage prices had remained so constant…
It’s that time of year again where people think about giving gifts and wonder what the hell they can buy that isn’t just another gift card. I am here to help. While it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you picked up a bottle of Black Blood of the Earth on the store side of the house, that’s not why we’re here today. Following in the traditions of my friend The Benchilada, I have taken the time to pull together my BIG SHILL 2018, where I have some products you might not have thought of. BRACE YOURSELF FOR SO MANY LINKS!
Let’s start with my friend Jen’s singular creation on Etsy. Jen is one of my favorite people because she is, among other things, an artist who is the curator of “The Worst Muse” list, AKA the horrible things Phil thinks of but has no idea how to turn into a real thing. If you have been lucky enough to see the 38th Cybercommandos unit insignia, the “Welcome to Neuschwabenland!” postcard, a variety of now out of print Li’l Bub merchandise, or most recently the Coffee Wave BBotE label, you have seen samples of her art. She finally, with arm twisting, made a store and there’s something you can buy directly from her. Folks, you can now give a butthole heart to anything. It is available in Fresh Pink and Chocolate Starfish.
- While I never got around to writing my DEFCON 2018 after action report, I do have a product I want to share. It’s not lockpicking sets (though I did see a few interesting ones of those). No, it’s a sticker for things that are not missiles. You need this sticker from Arsenio in your life. I bought a small stack of them and they are just as much fun to apply to things as XKCD’s “ACTUAL SIZE” stickers.
- Every year, I recommend people go check out what’s going on over at Topatoco. They are the one stop shopping source for the products of dozens upon dozens of creators of comics, podcasts, and music. I mean, c’mon people, you need to go here so you can post your toilet properly if nothing else.
- I know I have made this recommendation in person many times to many people, but I would appreciate if everyone would go buy a copy of Linda Simon’s “Dark Light: Electricity and Anxiety from the Telegraph to the X-ray” for themselves and at least one relative they have a hope of reclaiming from the Whole Foods bulletin boards. Without getting yourself a subscription to Fortean Times, this is a great introduction to how some pseudoscientific theories propagate through the decades; the hyperbolic claims and the unfounded fear change target over time but somehow the beliefs don’t.
- Next, if you weren’t already aware of them, allow me to introduce you to the collective works of Aaron Reynolds: Effin Birds, Swear Trek, and their t-shirt vendor of choice, Cotton Bureau. I own an “EVERYTHING’S FUCKED” shirt and Cotton Bureau’s tri-blend may be the most comfortable thing I own.
- Atomic Robo. If you’ve been paying attention to me at all for the last decade, you know that Atomic Robo is a delight. I’m happy this year that they’ve made another expansion in the Real Science Adventures to add “The Nicodemus Caper” to take the party back to the Byzantine nights of Constantinople. But did you know they have fine merch as well? I highly recommend getting a paired set of the Tesladyne Field Guide and the ULTRA Field Manual.
- The comic Romantically Apocalyptic has been a source of joy in my life since I first came across it in 2010. I recommend starting at the beginning, though I’m not sure jumping in at random places make the comic any less surreal. At the moment, there’s a whole bunch of bundles on sale on their store guaranteed to fill your life with more of Zee Captain.
- (WARNING: SPIDER CONTENT) Do you have the
#bugluv? Well, I have an opportunity for you. Allow me to introduce you to Jenn Rose and her Etsy, Cetonia Designs. Her store was actually my reminder that I needed to make my BIG SHILL 2018 post because she put new things up.
- Do you have Neanderthals ripping corporate assholes in half in your life? No? Well, Ben Templesmith is here to help. “Original Hate” is definitely worth your time and watching it drop into my inbox page by page as on of his Patreon backers has been a real treat. Now you can have it as a bound edition (don’t worry, more volumes are coming). And, really, poke around at all of Ben’s stuff.
- Lastly, I want to wave the flag for one of my favorite authors, Charlie Stross. He has a new book out in the Laundry Files series, The Labyrinth Index. I was originally handed the first book in this series, The Atrocity Archives, by a fellow Antartican, British Nick, who said it was perhaps the most Phil Book he’d ever read. He was right. If you haven’t taken any thing by Charlie for a spin, I highly recommend it as his brain is lovely and it will leave yours a few degrees off plum when he’s finished with it. But in a good way!
That’s all folks, though I made add to this list as time goes on! Go forth and consume!