Defcon 2017 – The Year of the Magic Tinfoil Hat

I had trouble connecting to Defcon until I made the hat.

The convention moved to Caesar’s this year, and the place is so big there was no way Defcon people could take it over. There were no pockets of public areas inundated with badge wearers, ordinary people looking at us nervously and scuttling away. We were diluted by the masses of tourists.

I’ve been to Defcon all of five times and I’m already bitching about the old days? Ridiculous! They have done an amazing job of growing this thing. There were no endless lines to buy badges, I got into all the panels I wanted to attend, and I saw more women then ever.

That said, the chillroom setup was odd. (SomaFM, one of my day jobs, provides music for this area.) It wasn’t even a room per se, more a huge hallway. One of the largest session room’s 20 or so exit doors opened into the space. We were at one end, a temporary cafeteria at the other, and an alcove far off to the right held tables and the chill space.

Every hour or so 1000 people poured out of the session room. Not very chill! Granted, this was great exposure for SomaFM and we got to meet a lot of listeners who might not have found us otherwise. Many smiles and head nods as the crowds passed by. Oh, and they played our music all over the convention center! One of my favorite moments was putting on a seven-minute song, running to the bathroom, and hearing that song playing in there. Heh!

It was fine, just different. All the regular events thrown into the air and landing all over the place in an unfamiliar hotel. I had a hard time finding the tinfoil hat making booth. Everything is so spread out in Vegas. Someone suggested a short cut outside through the pool area and there I was, all in black, dying in the heat, wandering confused as sexy women danced on platforms and big guys in American flag bathing suits played blackjack in the pool.

Eventually I found the booth–right across from the badge making tables–and also found my happy place. Something I understood and could actually do!

Seriously, as I wandered through car hacking village few minutes earlier a nice guy asked if I’d like to try hacking <insert some part of a car here> I was so flattered and happy he assumed I could and flustered and embarrassed that I couldn’t. But foil? That I can do!

The tinfoil hats were not meant to be merely fashionable, but to actually block signals. The organizers had a mannequin head which could test each hat’s effectiveness. I cleared my schedule for the rest of the afternoon and got to work. The guy making a hat next to me gave me helpful tips about the best way to block signals and also promoted his wife’s paranormal romance novel in a really sweet and sincere way. He asked if it was “okay” to give me a postcard. So cute!

I carefully planned my hat to be sturdy, signal-blocking, and also very wearable. I started with heavy-duty foil for the main structure and used the thinner stuff for the decorations. Now, you might not think my hat looks that great but keep in mind that most people were grabbing foil and smashing it onto their heads like swim caps. Mine has my initial on the front!

I stopped working reluctantly. There were so many more embellishments I could have added. I brought it to the mannequin for testing…and…he said I was in the top five!!

I marched from the room in triumph, foil-hatted head held high and my entire experience of the convention changed. It was like I’d transformed into an adorable puppy or a famous actress. People cheered. I got high-fives (which is a challenge because I’m bad at them.) People yelled, “That’s my favorite hat!” and “You should win!”

Giddy with my newfound fame, I stopped for a drink at the bar near the elevator to my room–50% Defcon people, half regular tourists.

“You wearing that to protect your brain from the hackers?” a tanned, older woman in a bright green tank top asked.

“Actually, yes,” I answered.

She nodded. “Well, good thing. They just hacked that sign over there.” She waved her beer towards the casino.

The rest of the night was freaking magical. Hosts of parties wanted to meet me. I gathered a posse. We danced. My hat stayed on my head perfectly. Bartenders remembered what I was drinking. I got access to back rooms. I brought one of my new friends to the front of a hundred-person line waiting to get into a party and just looked at the doorman and he let us in. WTF!?! Keep in mind: a few years ago I was so meanly denied entry to a Defcon party I cried. Another time, we tried to get into a pool party with our artist badges and the security guy just laughed. Sans hat, I got nothing.

At some point I began to get uncomfortable. My new friend was staring at me like I was a reality TV star. She asked me who I was. I started to feel bad for real TV stars and pretty people who get stared at all the time. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the power my magic hat had given me. Could I walk to the front of any line for the rest of my life if I had the confidence I had right then? Definitely not. It was all about the hat.

I ditched my new friends and slunk back to the room. The next morning I lay in bed and regarded the hat–suspiciously undamaged despite the long, wild night–with distrust. The whole evening–amazing as it was–felt like an elaborate and slightly confusing metaphor or life lesson. Though <headsmack> I’m a writer and try to smash every experience into a narrative. Heh. So here I go.

I create things. Sometimes these things amuse other people. That’s good–and kind of the point. I’m not a create-then-stick-in-a-drawer kind of person. However, the things and me are separate entities. I’ve got to have the confidence to promote and support my things, but they aren’t me–whether they succeed or fail to amuse and delight. Because frankly, most of my things fail in the same confusing way my hat succeeded. Right place/wrong place. Right audience/wrong audience. It isn’t really up to us creators how people react to what we do. We’ve got to like doing it, keep doing it, and hope that sometimes everything aligns.

I had a good night with my hat, and while I need a mild amount of WOO to keep going, I need to have a core confidence that can withstand failure and success.

It was proved that, without hat, I had no special powers when I went to the general store a few hours later (to get Gatorade for my “dehydration”) and Cory Doctorow was in line ahead of me. We made eye contact. I’ve met him a few times. I don’t expect him to remember me because he is either blessed or cursed with his own tin foil hat, and meets hundreds of people at Defcon and SXSW and EFF events.

I said hi. He was polite enough to say I looked familiar.

I’m glad the universe and Defcon gave me the chance to make people (including me) smile for one night, and tons of material for my fiction. Now, back to work! : )

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