Thotcon 0x6 has come and gone

After a few years of swearing up and down, I finally made it to Thotcon. It was definitely an experience with good and bad.

Kinetic on Cybercrime

I found out about Thotcon a few years ago, but it always seemed to either conflict with my schedule, or I couldn’t get time off work for it. This year was different, so I bought myself a ticket and went. What I came into was an interesting mix of talks and socializing. Let’s start off though with the not so good aspects of it.

The whole idea of having to walk outside to get between tracks was one of the worst things about this convention, if only because you could not bring your booze outside. Yes the booze that you paid for, you had to chug or leave it behind when you went into the alley to get to the Turbo Talks in Track 2. Speaking f the Turbo Talks, I really felt that some of them that I saw, such as the one on the CFAA, and the one about Going Kinetic on Cyber-crime, should have been in Track 1 and some of the talks in Track 1 should have been limited down. I was disappointed in some of the Track 1 talks also, because they seemed to be more about trying to pimp the speaker, a “Hey, look at me, I am l33t,” and skipped around substance, or the speakers put in a lot of fluff to help stretch the time frame of the talk. Others probably will disagree with me, but I do know some other attendees felt the same way. Finally, the communication system inside the convention needed work. There were talks that were shifted between days or times near the last minute, which prevented people from seeing talks they had planned on. Day 2 they killed off the afternoon lunch break for Track 1an hour beforehand, moving all the talks up an hour. For myself this prevented me from seeing a talk in in Track 2 that I wanted to see because a talk in Track 1 was more important to me. Also, with no recordings of the talks, there was no way to catch up on missed ones.

While the venue itself was nice, the location was difficult. Being off the Brown Line meant the choices for public transportation were very limited, especially for those coming from the suburbs. This in itself stops some people from going to Thotcon, as the parking around the venue is difficult at best, and travel times there are tough to gauge.

Overall though, the convention was well organized. There was enough time between talks to not make one feel rushed, yet everything flowed. Registration on the first day was very smooth and problem free. Food in the venue was pretty good, and having a dedicated bar area upstairs of Track 1 and across the hall of Track 2 worked to keep noise down while the talks were going on. Also having video feeds in both bar areas was a nice way to allow people to keep track of what was going on. The awards presentations at the end of Day 2 went smooth and quick.

It was interesting to me that some of my favorite talks were non-technical in nature. The talks about the CFAA and how to get more active with the politicians were both amazing. The keynote by Jack Daniels was interesting, along with hearing the social engineering exploits of Jayson Street. The talk about taking down botnets and other cyber-crime operations was another favorite (pictured a the beginning of this article), as was the talk on the deep web. There were some talks I did walk out of, mostly because I found them either not what the abstract made them out to be, or just boring because they seemed to promote the speaker more than it being either a technical talk or call to arms talk.

Thotcon in general turned out to be a decent security (hacker) convention. Yes it has flaws, but the move to it being 2 days worked nicely. Don’t expect too much from it as far as deep technical talks (they decide dot not have workshops this year so they could have the main bar/socializing area), but instead figure you will get some tech, some policy and a nice overview of different topics. Definitely not a training convention as much as it is a call to arms for the infosec world convention.

Microsoft Surface. Hit and Miss.

Microsoft entered the tablet hardware business with the launch of the Surface line starting with the RT back in October. The timing on it for me was pretty good because my office was getting ready for a technology refresh, and I got to test it. Now, months later, what I call the new shiny syndrome has worn off.

When you look at what works and what doesn’t in the world of technology you come to realize a few things. First, so much is subjective. Second, people tend to dislike change. Third, change is inevitable. With this in mind, looking at the past 9 months with the Surface RT I have found a lot to like about it. There are pitfalls with it also, but it really is a solid tablet.

The Windows 8 interface is perfect for the RT. I find live tiles to be a great idea that matches and surpasses the widgets I have on my Android Tablet. iOS of course does not have anything like widgets or live tiles to compare to. The problem with the live tiles is the way they update, or at times don’t update. I find news stories to be on the older side half the time. I don’t get decent updates often enough for my liking. These problems though I have found to be true of widgets also.  There also is no intuitive way of stopping the live feed on the tiles.

Metro style apps are easy enough to get use to. Gestures for bringing up menus and doing things inside these apps are very consistent, which makes the learning curve a lot simpler than iOS or Android. The issue with Metro Style though is that same thing. If you are use to the way an app works on the other OSes, odds are you will have trouble finding the same features easily. Also the swipe down partially to bring up menus can be a bit trying at times, although not as difficult to master as the swipe completely down to close apps. If you don’t start from the right spot and go at the right speed, closing apps does not work, and I still find myself taking 3 or 4 swipes to close apps.

The biggest plus is the Office apps that come with the Surface RT, and with Outlook being added to that with the 8.1 Windows release, this just becomes better.

The biggest issues for me though come in the touch screen itself. I find it inaccurate. For instance, if I am on Facebook and want to share something on a friends timeline, I find myself going through the steps 4 or 5 times because I think I am tapping on share to friends timeline and it reads it as share to group. I find myself hitting links multiple times before it registers the tap also.

The soft keyboard which I have is decent, but also has its issues. I have found it losing responsiveness when typing, or registering the wrong key. In fact there is no rhyme or reason for this as the keyboard winds up either overly sensitive, or not registering my pressing at random. The Tablet itself will type normal for a moment, then buffer oddly and take 30 second or more to show the next stuff typed, which makes corrections rather difficult and causes delays in getting work done.

The weight and feel of the Surface are my final complaint about it. It shouldn’t feel as heavy as it does. Also the way it is shaped can leave hard marks in ones hand and cause pain if held for extended periods.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the tablet itself, and it gets used way more than my iPad. My ASUS Android tablet is still my primary tablet overall, but the Surface makes a nice backup. People seem to be worried about the amount of apps for the Windows RT environment, but honestly, I find most things I use a tablet for have an app, and most of them are available across the board. A decent free IRC app is all I have not been able to find so far. With the recent price cuts, I would recommend this to most people, although I am sure there are better devices out there from other manufacturers with Windows RT on it.

There are 3 tablets, which one I prefer

I have in my possession a Surface, an iPad, and an ASUS T300 Android Tablet. After having spent time with all three, I look at the pluses and minuses of them, from my perspective, which means that there are opinions in here that are just that, opinions.

Tablets are the new big thing. Everyone wants one, and plenty of companies are making them. Some tend to be designed for specific things (Nook, Kindle) while others make what seem like empty promises to me. I started out with a Nook Color e-reader not long after it came out. I had figured that it would be the tablet of choice for me. Problem was, the 7″ screen and lack of apps, especially free (Ad Supported) apps made me think of getting something else.

That something else came from my work. As we were getting iPads and starting to support them at client sites, they gave me one. this was for me to play with, learn about and use so I could support them. I enjoy the iPad experience. It is quick, and solid. I don’t like Apple, their holier than god and we know what is right for you attitude, and the lack of decent tech apps. Video playback on it has been nice on trips, but I am limited to the Apple formats, as usual.

The Surface is the newest of the Tablets I have. I really had high hopes for this machine, and maybe in the future it will reach those aspirations, but not at the moment. Right now, I deal with the frustration of not finding either the apps I use or an equivalent. Flip Toast is ok, but has bugs (They have told me they are working on fixing them). I can’t find decent Network tools, most apps that I can get free with Ads on other platforms, cost money, or are more expensive than they are on other platforms. Then there is also my Nook issue. I have the Nook app, or my Nook Color on everything else. My Library is there on all my other devices. Microsoft, which bought an 18% stake (IIRC) in Nook has no Nook App for Windows 8. In Fact if you search for Nook in the App Store, you get 2 choices as of writing this article, Kobo or Kindle. So much for partnerships. Don’t get me wrong, there is good about the Surface. Office works nicely, the hardware is responsive and the tile system looks nice. Plus there is the keyboard cover, which is pretty sweet.

Both the Surface and the iPad I got through my office for testing and learning purposes. We want to make decisions on what our sales and service techs are going to use going forward. Honestly, I would lean to the Surface, because of Office, and because of the ease at which it integrates into a Microsoft environment. I can access network shares easily (even though I cannot join an RT device to the domain), and it will do everything that our sales and service teams need. The iPad integration we were trying with a Mac server and we just could not get it to do what we wanted.

The ASUS Transformer T300 is a personal item. It was a birthday gift back in Sept. To tell the truth, I love it. Outside of Flipboard not being available for it, I have everything I want or need on it right now. Yes, I am using Pulse on it, but the lack of new sources I like, and the lack of aggregation from the social media world, makes Pulse a bit annoying, especially in regards to World/U.S. news. Still, I have everything else, including a free Office Suite (which is amazingly useful in its own right). The only drawback to the T300 as compared to the Prime, is the plastic back. I also got a 3rd party case/bluetooth keyboard for it which works as nicely as the Surface’s keyboard cover.

My recommendation right now to people would be the Android Tablet. The T300 does it all, and while a bit sluggish at times, is still is plenty responsive. There are more free apps available for it, and you are not tied into iTunes or Apple’s network. The Surface might be the thing in the future, bight right now, it doesn’t have enough to make it worthwhile, especially on price point. The T300 costs under $400 for a 32GB model. The iPad and Surface (with Type touch cover) are both at $600 for 32GB (Without the Cover the Surface is $499 for 32GB).