PumpCon III - A Review

By Netta "grayarea" Gilboa

This review was originally written at the request of Erik Bloodaxe to be published in Phrack. I decided to give him an exclusive on it rather than publishing it in Gray Areas too. After holding it up for over six months, Bloodaxe ended up printing my HoHoCon review which he felt was more timely. Therefore, this is the first time this review has seen the light of day. It also explains the reference to its publication in Phrack which I've left intact.

PumpCon went invitation only this year, which was probably a smart move. The Con got off to a bad start its first year, resulting in having the con attendees questioned by local NY police and the arrest of three of the attendees. The second year PumpCon moved to PA and there rooms were searched by PA police looking for stolen pay phones. In addition, it was later learned that the conference room had been located next door to a room rented by feds. They had listened in on the Con's conversations.

This year the con stayed in PA but moved to a different part of the city. It was also announced late, and the usual notice did not appear in Phrack or Computer Underground Digest. The invitation noted that no press was allowed and also that invites were selective and would weed out anyone who had behaved inappropriately last year, citing the example of puking in the conference room. I remember no one puking last year, although I did burst into tears there, so I figured that line was directed at me. I wasn't even going to bother to ask for an invite, and figured I would simply crash the Con, but C-Curve told me he had been invited and that I should at least ask first. And so I did. I sent in a request explaining that I wanted to attend to see my friends and that I would be willing not to write about it in Gray Areas magazine (which I publish). I got an invitation less than an hour later with a note that "you are not the kind of press I am worried about." In the end, no one was turned down, but PumpCon was free of the local riff-raff and spies we all agreed were there last year.

I kept pretty quiet about being invited and laughed as both ReDragon and Loki stated on #hack that I was not elite enough to be allowed to attend. On the first day of the Con a number of people on #hack wanted the hotel info and two people ended up dumping it on #hack. So much for keeping it private. I was asked by six people for the info myself, but took the invite idea seriously and refused to divulge it. Later I heard that TimeLord would have attended but did not even know that PumpCon III had been planned or held. I bet he's not the only one. If you don't hang on #hack, this might be the first time you are hearing of this Con.

PumpCon III (also known as "BustCon," "PimpCon," etc.) ended up drawing 57 attendees. I arrived Friday October 28th, 1994 at about 9 p.m. The first person I saw when I walked in was The Wing who was wearing kewl pointed boots that he had resting on Noelle's lap. Every so often the boots touched the corner of the couch. Then I saw Laughing Gas. I had a photograph I owed him with me so I grabbed a chair and sat in between him and The Wing. There was no place to put my feet, so I ended up resting them against the other corner of the couch. I looked up and saw Okinawa, Dark Tangent and a half dozen others. A few minutes later, hotel security walked by and hassled The Wing to move his feet. I wasn't told to move mine. Then two people put their feet on a coffee table and The Wing was spoken to a second time while the other guys and I were not. Overall the hotel was being great to us and they gave up worrying about our feet as our numbers grew. Not surprisingly, as they chilled so did we and I didn't see anyone else put their feet up for the rest of the weekend. I did score a hotel parking pass because they were not savvy enough to understand that although there were 57 of us there, in a few dozen cars, we were all staying in less than ten rooms.

Within an hour or two everyone else who was coming arrived and the Con quickly moved to people's rooms. I ended up in every room there but one that night. I ran into VaxBuster, CarlCory, iXOM, Lora, Gauss, Ophie, BH, Pet Sounds, Madcap, etc. One room had a person doing some social engineering of an operator going on and in another room pot was being smoked. Most people sat around talking and drinking. People were great to me this year except for one quick incident in the hallway as a very drunk ReDragon saw me and said he had talked to Okinawa and I was allowed to attend the Con but not to write about it. I felt really, really bad for Okinawa who had to listen to crap for allowing me to come. To his credit, Okinawa never even mentioned it to me and I gained a lot of respect for him from this and other actions.

As I live locally, I ended up taking a few people to my house, including Decker, Armitage, DiscoDan and Laughing Gas. We came back and sat around talking in Decker's room till around 3 a.m. I had my choice of a few places to crash since I wanted to hang out rather than going back home. I was going to sleep in Decker's room (where they gave me a sleeping bag to use even though I thought others in the room had more seniority), but at the last minute Stormbringer came in and offered me the other half of his bed and a pillow. Being a sucker for a pillow, as well as the chance to talk to Stormbringer alone, I said goodnight to the dozen or so people still talking in Decker's room and left.

Stormbringer and I talked for at least an hour and then he headed for the shower and I crawled into bed. Apparently I stole the covers. Another guy headed for sleep on the floor and a third guy and two girls got into the bed next to mine. It occured to me that I had the spot every hacker there would have killed for as I watched the three of them start to fool around. I closed my eyes as it was 4:30 or so and sleep sounded real, real good. They joked that I was uncomfortable at what I had seen and indicated it was okay if I watched. Having lived through the 70s, watching people have group sex in the bed next to me is no big deal. I hope they are not too insulted I slept instead. I hear I missed out on quite the three-way, including some lesbian sex. The next day Stormbringer (who also opted for sleep) complained jokingly about all the slurp slurp noises and moaning that kept waking him up. This was not the only room that sex had gone on in. Over the course of the weekend I knocked on a few doors where people had to get dressed to let us in.

The next morning we grouped up with a bunch of other people and ended up in the lobby. I met Seven Up and a friend of his who asked to see a copy of Gray Areas. I loaned him one and he read it so carefully and for so long that I lost track of it. We started to talk about getting some food and as Chinatown was 9 blocks away I suggested we grab some chinese and then sushi for dinner. Roadancer blew me away when he proposed we get sushi for both meals. We ended up in three cars, driving the 9 blocks, and trying to park at the busiest time of the week. Would you believe the meal took almost four hours? Parking was a trip as each car had a radio and we were able to talk with each other even when out of visual distance. The unlikely crew of Albatross, Roadancer, ReDragon, HiMeHaBu, C-Curve, Stormbringer, myself and two other girls ate a good sampling of Japanese delicacies. For some, it was the first time they had been in a Japanese restaurant. Eleet.

We got back to the Con late and headed in to the conference room that had been booked. No matter, the Con wasn't even close to getting started. It turns out no speakers had been planned and at the spur of the moment the $5 admission charge was collected (I got in phree) and some people were invited to speak. I was the third person asked and declined as everyone there knew about Gray Areas and at this point had either read it or not. PumpCon is a less serious Con (last year three of the six speakers did not show up), and so speakers get challenged more by the audience than they do at HoHoCon or DefCon where people expect serious discussion. I looked forward to seeing who was going to attempt to talk this year. A greeting card was passed around for people to send messages to Phiber Optik who was incarcerated for another few weeks. I never found out who bought the card but it was a nice touch. I was startled that even Phiber was disliked. One of the unsigned comments on the card said "Serves you right."

SevenUp was seated next to me and his friend came over and introduced himself as Pluvius. There was something distinctive about his voice and I don't know why I didn't catch on. But I knew something was not right as I had met Pluvius at Hope. I told this person he was not Pluvius as I had met the real one and he babbled something about there being many people who use that account. He named some other account and told me he uses that one too. The copy of the magazine he had been reading was nowhere in sight and he seemed very smug as he told me he was from BoW. I replied with "So what do you want, a medal?" and decided to just hit mental ignore. But a few minutes later this same person was introduced as Elite Entity, the keynote speaker.

Quite frankly, Elite could have been the coolest person to meet at PumpCon. We had once been friends and I liked a lot of things about him. But he blew it by repeatedly lying and playing with me. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised since Elite lives to play with people. His style on #hack is to befriend them, get their data and then distribute it later. He also uses many nicks and sites and if you won't talk to him as Elite, he'll create someone you will talk to in order to get you to tell him what he wants to know.

Elite's talk rambled. It was something about phones. I missed the beginning of it and so didn't catch the topic. I asked five people later and none knew either although they had heard the whole thing. To be fair to Elite, PumpCon is kind of like that no matter who is speaking or about what. Next Bernie S. spoke about cellular phones. I followed his talk but never intend to own one so it was of limited value. It was very interesting to note which hackers were clueless on the subject and which already owned phones and had specific needs. After that Paul B. spoke about lock picking. Again, this is not something I have much interest in although the overview about the history of locks and how they can all be defeated was fascinating. Midway through the talk I noticed a few people in the room who I respect had great interest in the technical details. I thought about a hacker friend who had been busted a few weeks before for an attempted break-in and I couldn't bear to sit and hear it anymore. It sounds great to hear about at a Con, but it's another matter entirely when the police are arresting you.

I left the room and as I walked out into the hallway I heard The Wing telling someone he didn't want to hear about lock picking either. A small group was in the hallway and the lobby and people began to think about making dinner plans.

After Paul's talk was over a break was announced and although three other speakers were anounced, they never materialized. Loki and iXOM had taken off for Hooters and never came back to speak and most people headed in separate directions anyway. I found Stormbringer and took him to a corner table to gossip about Elite Entity. I didn't even open my mouth to speak to Stormbringer after we were seated before Elite plops himself down next to me at our table. He asked if I was interviewing Stormbringer and I said that we were sitting there about to gossip about him. For the record, my interviews are done with a tape recorder and I give my interviewees way more privacy than interviewing them at a Con in front of everyone. So, Elite was going to listen in to our talk unless we moved and that was fine with me as I valued the opportunity to talk to Elite now that I knew it was actually him.

I tried to approach him seriously and told him one of the last things Merc had said to me before he got popped was that I should heal my friendship with Elite because Merc thought he was cool. Elite answered by denying he knew Merc and so I saw no point in continuing. Elite told me he stole the copy of Gray Areas because I had promised him one. I denied it but didn't argue the point as I wanted him to fuckin' read it after all the time he and I had spent talking about it.

I looked at the bar opposite me in the lobby and decided to get drunk. It could only improve the conversation which was headed nowhere fast. I got the first drink (on an empty stomach) and found myself feeling it after two sips. I ended up having three in a matter of minutes and then I ran out of cash. Some people came by and tried to get me to go for dinner with them but I decided to stay put. Xenophile was one of them and he promised to bring me back pizza. Later he not only did but said the people he ate with paid for it and it was their treat (thanks!). Okinawa then joined our table and bought me two drinks with what was left of the Con profits after paying for the room and giving Ophie $20 to act as MC. Ophie, by the way, was fantastic in this role and was surely the best speaker at PumpCon. She was also less drunk than last year and is probably glad not to be dissed in yet another PumpCon review in Phrack. Heh.

I ended up upstairs without Okinawa or Elite around. The room I was in had hotel porno on which was seriously censored and utterly plotless too. Some of the people in the room had never seen a porn flick and I felt really bad this was the first stuff they were seeing. At some point a vending machine was knocked over and looted for its contents twice and tons of chips and candy appeared. I was too drunk to note who brought it or who ate it. I had seen the same thing happen though at previous cons. It seems people come to cons without enough money to eat properly and so the vending machines become a source for food. I have said a few times that if the feds really want to stop hackers they should just send a few hundred redheads who put out into the scene. I now amend that to add that the redheads should bring chips, candy and pretzels.

Lots of people came in and out of the room I was in and I was taken to a few other rooms too. Apparently one of them had some hacking going on earlier in the day and people were commenting that they had seen root at NASA. Other than that, and ReDragon giving out the root password to his site (which he later had to change twice in the week following PumpCon), you could almost have forgotten it was a Con of hackers. The conversations were about anything but hacking for the most part. I was shown a hotel room door that said "DieNarc=Loki" or something similar in magic marker. I wondered who would do such a thing. About 24 hours later it occured to me it might have been Loki's password to one of his many accounts. Having a history of problems on IRC with Loki, I was eager to know who hated him so. Everyone I asked said Loki had many enemies and although he kicks and bans me and makes up lies about me on IRC and on conference calls, others have had worse dealings with him.

One of the coolest things about PumpCon was that it was so small and intimate that you couldn't avoid seeing people and it made a lot of people talk who would otherwise never have interacted. PumpCon broke down a lot of walls I think and showed that people could get along, on the surface at least. I thought about sleeping there again but I wasn't drunk anymore and the porn was really boring and other people were starting to take off. Home was less than an hour away and when Xenophile said he wanted a ride home, he was right on my way so I jumped at the chance and we left around midnight or so.

The next day on IRC I heard more destruction had gone on. Someone had spray painted "PumpCon '94" in big letters on the roof and someone had taken a key to Loki's car and written "Loki" on it. I must admit I laughed hard. It's horrible to see and hear about hackers who won't leave their peers alone and this act clearly crosses a line. But on the other hand, I have been to six Cons in the last year and this was the only such act I have heard about. Isn't it interesting that Loki sat on IRC and tried so hard to get rid of me and said I am not welcome at PumpCon but then it is his car, not mine, that got keyed? You'd think the guy would have learned something from it too, like not to be an IRC bully once he got home. But less than 24 hours after PumpCon Loki was on IRC calling me a child molester and a whore again. It's hard not to wish whoever had done it had slashed his tires too so it would have taken him a little longer to get home before he started in on me (and presumably on others) again.

As I left PumpCon, the last person I spoke to was ReDragon. I liked him and so I couldn't resist asking if he liked me any better now that he had met me in real life. He replied that he had no problem with me now and I went home feeling fine. A few days later ReDragon passed out gifs from PumpCon and I watched C-Curve explain on #hack that he had not intended for his gif to be posted all over the Net. I expressed great interest in obtaining these gifs as there was one of Elite Entity who I did not photograph myself. Elite started /msging me before I even had the photo not to publish it in Gray Areas. I laughed hard. This is a community where everyone acts as they please and when other people try to behave the same way they are intolerant. What ReDragon inadvertantly did to C-Curve was as bad as whatever he feared that I would come to PumpCon as press to do. And Elite wants the right to have my data and to play with me about who he really is and then wants me not to reveal it when I finally have something on him. I hadn't asked for the photo to publish it anyway. I guess it never occured to Elite that I might have wanted the picture because I am also an individual, in addition to being "press," and as such I might want a .gif of the guys I have sat on IRC and talked to a lot. There sure are a lot of gray areas in this community which often has no ethics, moral code or even a good road map.

PumpCon '94 came and went with out any busts and paved the way for a successful con in '95. Madcap still has a few t-shirts left with the words "Pumpcon III '94" on the front and some quotes from the Phrack article by The Mentor on the back. Armitage had a new shirt out too which says "I quit hacking, phreaking, cracking, spoofing, sniffing, scanning, boxing... it was the worst 15 minutes of my life." If you want one, Madcap and Armitage can be reached on #hack. So, sometimes, can I.