This past week I’ve spent 30 hours in planes and countless more hanging around in security lines, I’ve been heated to the point of melting, tired to the point of sleeping while standing and stressed to the point of immobility (mostly my fault due to not getting all the slides finished until the last minute)…and you know what…I wouldn’t change it for a damm thing. I consider myself ridiculously fortunate to be in a position where I am accepted to talk at conferences, and even more so when those conferences are not on home ground.
In the case of this past week I’d just come back from an amazing first-year conference in Minneapolis, BrrCon was the name…fitting for the winter months however mid-June thankfully was absent snow flurries and was replaced by a crowd of people I got the pleasure to spend time with…for which we have Chris Payne and his fantastic team to thank…from there a quick stop back in CO to change bags, hug Jen and then head to the airport.
Tel Aviv was the destination, Cyber Week and BSidesTLV were the intended stages I’d been invited to wave hands around on and all that was between us and there were several flights a bunch of security folks and a few bemused passengers…Chester was with me, so the sight of two bearded gents, one green/yellow and one ginger both sporting Vibram’s finest social engineering shoes caused more than a few puzzled looks.
Now, last year I rolled up to the airport only to have Air Canada deny me boarding 90 minutes before takeoff for no bloody good reason beyond being in the same bed as United when it came to the BS years back…thankfully El Al came to the rescue. This year British Airways took the two of us without batting an eyelid and plied us with tea, biscuits and ensured we made it to the UK and then onto Tel Aviv without any issues. (Thank you!)
So, midnight, Tel Aviv airport and apparently ½ the world decides to land at the same time…it’s a melting pot of cultures and kids, all of us heading in generally the same direction to have wonderfully long and engaging conversations with Israeli’s finest border folks…we roll up in line (this year it was mercifully not stretched back ½ way up the ramp…) our turn comes to face the renowned stoic guards…they take one look at Chester and I, our passports and then you can see the puzzlement of beard color/length does not match the pictures in the aforementioned documents….the obligatory “why are you here” being answered by Cyber Week is met with eyes of understanding…yes, you can see him thinking, strange people, computers and a conference of geeks from all over the world….problem solved, welcome to Israel have a temporary stamp (they now print one as opposed to putting one directly IN the passport) and off we go.
Customs next, at which point the pelican case with 48 4oz bottles of single malt from the collection having just been retrieved (perfectly intact) from the luggage roundabout might be an issue…nope, customs takes a glance at the odd foreigners assumes nobody in their right mind looking like those two would ever consider breaking the law…and let us past.
We made it! We are now in Israel!
Time to experience the wonders of humidity at 1am and taxis…Ah humidity, it’s like Atlanta on one of its most humid and soggy of days, it’s warmer it wetter and anything you wear IS going to end up damp, accept it and move on.
Taxis, no issues, all the folks in the last couple of trips have been great, be careful of fares, assume they have 6th senses as they navigate around people, cars, bikes and other things with generally greater speed than is comfortable and with a healthy disregard for central lines and other things that are on the road. Their acknowledgement that a zebra crossing with a human on it is sacred was a welcome thing and in stark contrast to many cities back home. Highly recommend downloading the local app that’s used to summon them at odd hours otherwise you can (and will) spend a lot of time with your hand out in traffic trying to hail one…
Hotels, we were fortunate that Cyber Week sorted the logistics out, they once again stored us in the Herod hotel…its on the beach front, by the marina and is just bloody fantastic. The walking trails along the beach got for miles in each direction and the main center of Tel Aviv is a quick 2 mile walk…caveat take water, you’ll sweat out a gallon, replace it!
Now, it’s not the USA, it’s not Europe it IS the Middle East so things don’t always look as pristine, as well kept, yes some of the paint is flaking on the outside of the walls, yes some of the houses and hotels look as if they need some TLC but this is the country you came too…embrace it, the people, the culture and the fact it DOES look “different” than home…get over it. (The logic for this quick paragraph was due to overhearing some conversations from others while at the conference…I think they missed their manicured lawns and suburbia hell.)
So, Cyber Week, Monday morning the bus comes (pre-arranged thanks to the conference team) grabs us all and deposits us about 20 minutes later at Tel Aviv University (TAU)…normally we’d walk up, say hi, check in and then grab badges etc. However today the boss was coming to talk with us, the PM of Israel was going to hang out at the conference, needless to say many people with many guns and many checks of everything we had… At this point those of us with green beards, ginger beards and anyone with a speaker badge was whisked through the line, handed to a man with a gun and x-rayed for things that tick etc. (For which I am both grateful AND guilt ridden for feeling like a cad for bypassing everyone else) They were very gracious and asked us politely if we had weapons, we explained no and didn’t mention laptops, lockpicks or other tools of the trade which might be considered harmful to others.
Then in, we had made it, we were at Cyber Week 2017, 7000 people, 250 speakers, 60 countries and team of amazing folks who set this up, organized EVERYONE and made sure things went smoothly, correctly and with enough coffee, cakes, food, biscuits and other goodies to keep the masses happy.
The conference itself is spread across the TAU campus, the main auditorium is something to behold when dressed up for the week, the other buildings are equally visually stimulating for their own reasons…we had sessions in the museum, in the building overlooking Tel Aviv and others…in all TAU took the best parts of the campus and exposed them all to us for which I am grateful.
The stages in all the locations were great, the organization, the logic flow and the maps, notes and all the necessary intelligence to make sure the right people got to the right places at the right time was there for us, laid out clearly and simply (if you took the 2 minutes to read it AND understand it.)
The conference for the most part was conducted in English, the talks, the speakers, the organizers and anyone that was around to help (including the teams keeping the coffee and cakes flowing) all spoke impeccable English for which I was again grateful, while at the same time felt guilty for not being able to converse back in Hebrew…one take away I have is if I make it back in 2018 I’m going to see if I can take a crash course in the language.
The mix of talks, tracks and speakers made for a diverse set of thoughts, opinions and usable content across the 4-5 days. The speakers almost without exception made themselves available to anyone wanting to talk with them, the continuous exchange of business cards, contacts and single malts across the days should provide ample discussions until everyone meets up again next year, and the vendors present were informative, civilized and didn’t intrude on the experience at all.
This year I was fortunate to be able to talk on stage three times officially and twice ad-hoc. Tuesday we examined hacking humans and I was fortunate to share the stage with someone I’ve held in a position of respect for many years…Chris Nickerson.
Tuesday after the humans I got asked if I’d hang out and talk at the mobility break out, again the nature of Cyber Week and the people there is to simply ask, the camaraderie and overall welcoming nature is such that you are drawn out of your shell, you want to be part of this and basically get to ride along with the energy that is present…so, hot, sweaty and with no clue what the heck to say I hung out with a room full of people talking about things with wheels, wings, tracks, tyres and flippers…much goodness.
Tues Evening, BSidesTLV speaker dinner, time to kick back, relax and generally catch up with people, oh and get introduced to the 46 layers of the Internet and “Einav Genad Galili” both fascinating and scary all in one YouTube video.
Tues night, 30 mins outside of TLV, sitting around a table with several of us relaxing, debating, unwinding and drinking single malts while enjoying four courses of smoked meats (with home made glazes, sauces and food…you really can’t ask for more!)
Wed, BSidesTLV…like other BSides with more coffee, damp heat and a 1001 personal fans…Chris (Nickerson) opened it, and Ian Amit closed it down, you couldn’t ask for better bookends to the conference and we ALL had a lot to live up to. Keren and the team were just amazing, the talks were bloody good and we managed to drink more coffee and single malts than I care to think…it IS worth pointing out that there were two suitcases of alcohol in the front row, much goodness, and well documented on social media. Anyone in a red shirt deserves a hug, a “Thank You” and probably a week off to recover!
Thursday, time to throw a hand grenade into the field of Artificial Intelligence…another great auditorium and some excellent debates over what is going to be the future of intelligence and machines and humans…hopefully the topics, the viewpoints and the general concepts will provide fertile ground for debates to continue through 2017 and 2018….
Thursday evening, Whisky museum and bar, a group of friends, 1000 bottle of whisky and an underground tunnel… Mexico, Turkey, Scotland, England, Israeli and American at the same table, enjoying the time we had and the conversations…that one will live in memory for a long time to come.
Then Friday, the airport again, too short a time, too many hours in a tin can with wings and so many fun questions for security (more on the way out than on the way in.) Now I find myself sitting on the plane, writing down my thoughts before I forget them because I want to both remember (and I’m getting old) and I want to share with others. I want to encourage people to go to far flung corners of this planet to talk, debate and share knowledge, I want people to basically suck it up on the plane for the simple pleasure of debating technology, sociology, consciousness and the meaning of this industry in person…I want people to do something other than gather in the US in July/August…we need to embrace the cultures around the world if we are to solve these issues and not have one county unwittingly stamp its authority over everything…long live diversity.
I am fortunate that I got to talk with students, professors, retired academia, military and government officials from all across the world, some to simply talk philosophy with, some to talk tactics, strategy, business, some to hopefully encourage them to come into this industry and do a better job than we have in straightening it out…I am also fortunate that I got to share knowledge, thoughts and ideas with people in a formal setting (stage) and informal (over drinks, round tables, over coffee, tea and food) for 4 solid days. There’s more that was done than documented here, those meetings and conversations I too enjoyed, and thank you, it was an honor to be able to share time.
I would not swap the time for anything and I have no regrets about the planes, the lines, queues or anything. I might ask that we do Cyber Week in the middle of the winter, but that’s only so I don’t leave a soggy trail of sweaty beads behind me wherever I go…small price to pay for stimulating conversations.
So, there’s Cyber Week wrapped up, a fantastic conference run by people of intellectual passion in a land of both beauty and conflict.
Thank you for having me out there!
NOTE: I’m going to put this in here before anyone says anything about how Israel has issues…yes, I know that, we all know that BUT I’ll retort with “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stone” until WE all get our houses in order and solve our OWN social, economic, human and “other” issues…you get the idea, I don’t condone, but then again I hope some of the stuff we talked this about this past week might work towards solving some of these issues. By this logic I know the only safe place to live is in my head, hence working on true AI and uploading consciousness… 😉