The End of HOPE

Hackers On Planet Earth, 2600 Magazine’s periodic Hacker conference is preparing for it’s final gathering. Luckily, this isn’t because 2600 doesn’t want to run the conference anymore, but rather the historic home of HOPE, New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania, was slated for demolition, to be replaced by an office high-rise. Luckily, the 89-year-old hotel still has some friends, who don’t intend to let the developers tear down this historic structure without a fight.

Though I’ve been to New York on multiple occasions, I’m not familiar with the Hotel Pennsylvania, so I can’t really make any comments about the significance of the place. However, it is distressing how often we tear down older buildings. If the Hotel truly has structural issues, that’s one thing, but it doesn’t sound like that is the case. Due to the potential destruction of the Hotel, 2600 has chosen to name this year’s HOPE as The Last HOPE, indicating that if the Hotel Pennsylvania is destroyed, any new conferences will not carry on that same name. That is, of course, if they can find another venue they can afford.

Hackers On Planet Earth is a conference aimed at the True Hackers, people for whom technology is a passion. People for whom the desire to dig deep into the guts of technology and figure out how it works. It’s this tendency to dig into the inner workings of systems that has helped get the word so vilified, particularly as companies have tried to commoditize their technology. Ultimately, though, it’s the Hackers who tend to drive technology to the next level, the people who push technology and develop new technologies just for the sake of the technology. Many of these are people who have become socially active, after years of persecution because of their misunderstood love of technology.

Not that some Hackers haven’t broken laws. Stolen information, trespassed in computer systems, and (inadvertently or otherwise) caused denials-of-service. However, the response has often been blown way out of proportion by a media, and a populace who doesn’t understand the technology that now pervades their lives. In this week’s TWiT, Randall Schwartz (author of O’Reilley’s Learning Perl, among others) comments that in the state of Oregon the law is written such that it’s basically illegal to use a Computer for anything. Of course the laws are intended to only be used against “bad” people, but that’s kind of distressing when one takes into account the average person’s desire to provide “bad” with the same definition as “different”.

HOPE this year has some really interesting sessions. Steven Levy, author of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, is giving the Keynote. The nametags will have RFID tags, and giant screens will be present to indicate who is going where and with whom they’re socializing. Capture the Flag games, a Hackerspace Village, Segway Racing, and more. All of it promises to be an excellent time for those people who love to get their hands dirty on the guts of technology. Speakers will be covering topics from building an IDS, Botnets, Phishing, and a lot more.

I desperately want to go this year. I wanted to go last year, but it didn’t work out. This year, may well be my last chance. Had it not been for the wedding so recently, I’d be in a much better position financially to kip off to New York City for a few days, and attend. As it stands, I’m going to try to see what I can do to make this happen. With any luck, I’ll be seeing folks as HOPE.