I have recovered from the weekend and this seems like a good time to recap my own experience of Penguicon 2014, my first as part of the team.
I had been associated with Ohio Linux Fest for a few years, but Penguicon actually came first. In fact, I was recruited for OLF by Beth Lynn Eicher while at Penguicon where I had engaged with Jorge Castro of Canonical on the importance of working with Linux Users Groups. And while I enjoyed my work with OLF, I felt like I had done what I wanted to do there and that it was time to move on. So I contacted my friend James Hice and offered to “help” with the Tech Track. But sometime in February it became clear that I was “The Tech Track Guy”. Fortunately, I was not upset by this development since I had things in mind to do, and I have already indicated my willingness to continue in that role for another year. And I am excited that pretty much the whole Penguicon team is continuing, which makes the upcoming year exciting. I will no doubt have more to say on that as time goes by, but this is about 2014.
My focus is really on the Tech Track because I was responsible for that (I only attended one talk outside of it, in fact.) So my own recollection does not cover everything that went on over the weekend. And because we had approximately 70 hours of Tech Track programming I could not attend every talk in my own track. So when I got the complaint from others that they wanted to attend two talks that were scheduled opposite each other, I could sympathize, but frankly that is the kind of problem I will take any day of the week. The other “good” problem to have was that in many cases the rooms were packed. Penguicon had record attendance this year, which of course means we have to figure out how to do better next year. The host facility was excellent, the Westin Hotel in Southfield, Michigan, and everyone I talked to had good things to say about them. I hope we can go back next year.
I think this year was the best Tech Track in my memory at least, and the credit for that goes to our Con Chair, Nuri Gocay. Every time I asked how many talks he wanted, the answer was that there could not be too many Tech talks. We had two days-worth of slots (from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon) and by the end it was tricky just finding the rooms and equipment to make it happen, but we mostly managed to do it, and the result was about 70 hours of pretty good Tech programming. Our focus for the Tech track was on security and privacy issues raised by Edward Snowden, and we had some good programming to address different aspects of this. Michael Lucas did several talks that fit in here, including one on the proper way to set up sudo, and another on DNSSEC, and one on ssh key authentication. Michael is an author, and has written books on all of these which he sells from his site Tilted Windmill Press. He offered a special deal to Penguicon attendees that weekend to buy a bundle of all three e-books for $20, and I was happy to take advantage. I will happily have Michel back again as he really knows his stuff.
Then my friend Mark Stanislav from Duo Security gave us a talk on two-factor authentication. Mark is a great speaker and I always learn something from his talks. And Susan Sons ran the Cryptoparty, Penguicon Edition, with help from Eric Raymond, Chris Nehren, and John D. Bell. This provided a beginners guide to using encryption, and I was glad to have it. I also did a presentation with my friend Tony Bemus from the Sunday Morning Linux Review on the subject of Encryption which was well-received. People who have followed the series on this site already know the kinds of things we covered, such as using plugins for Thunderbird and G-Mail, but there are always people who haven’t seen this before and need the information.
Chris Krieger, another old friend, did a presentation on Securing Your Home Network with a Hardware Firewall. Chris focused on using PFSense, and I think I will be investigating this for my own series at some point. And for next year we suggested a presentation on snort. Mark Kikta did a presentation on Linux Dorking: Exploring the Basics of Linux From the Eyes of an Attacker, that was very good. Mark is yet another professional in the security industry, like Chris Krieger, Mark Stanislav, Michael Lucas, and Susan Sons, and that is what makes the presentations so good, in my view. You know you are getting the information from people who live this every day and know what they are talking about.
Aside from the purely technical aspects of security and privacy, we also addressed the policy aspects. Among our Guests of Honor this year was Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Cory Doctorow, noted author, was a Featured Guest. They addressed several aspects, but one notable panel was The NSA is Watching You: The Government, Surveillance, and You. We also had a Guest of Honor who covered multiple areas, YT Cracker. He was primarily a musical guest, but also has a background in hacking that let him contribute to panels in that area. And while I am on Guests of Honor, let me mention Ernie Cline, author of Ready Player One, Ed Mason from Gameface Labs, who showed off a virtual reality headset throughout the weekend in addition to joining panels, and Erika Carlson, a software developer who created Girl Develop It, a Detroit area group that focuses on helping girls become coders. It was an excellent group of GoHs.
There were some other things in the Tech Track worth mentioning, and in fact the Security and Privacy was probably less than 50% of the total here. Jorge Castro from Canonical gave a presentation on Ubuntu, and another on building a Steambox. We had an Ubuntu release party on Saturday night, put on by the Ubuntu MI Loco. Sunday Morning Linux Review did a live recording of their podcast, something that has become an annual event at Penguicon. And Ruth Suehle and Tom Callaway of Red Hat gave two presentations, one on Raspberry Pi Hacks which is the title of their recent book published by O’Reilly, and another on 3D printing using Linux.
In addition, there talks in HTML5, Python, Pascal, the Watson computer from IBM, programming for total noobs, and I could keep going. Just reporting on everything that went on would make this article way too long, and I have tried to focus on the things I actually attended. But the thing about Penguicon is that it also a Science Fiction convention, so that means you have literature panels, music session, costuming and cosplay, and everything involved there. And I believe Ruth Suehle from Red Hat won a contest for best costume. My one talk outside the Tech Track that I attended was a panel on the Future of Health Care, which is a personal interest for me, having worked for two hospitals in my career.
So I would encourage everyone to plan on attending Penguicon 2015. As soon as the date is confirmed I will surely be posting about it, but with the team we have I think it will be even bigger and better than 2014, and there is plenty there for everyone.