ShmooCon 2009

This past weekend, I went to ShmooCon and it went a little something like this…

Thursday: Drove to Portland, parked my car in a cheap parking lot. Took the Max to downtown and did a lot of wandering around. While passing a pay phone phone, I noticed an odd sign attached to it. It warned of an unnamed man who was suspected of jamming pay phones. Here it is:

pay phone stuffing

I guess the guy is referring to pay phone stuffing. I’ve never heard it called pay phone jamming before. Decades ago, a popular money making scheme was to stuff tissue up into coin slots. People using pay phones would never get their money back because it would land on the tissue instead. Later the thief would come back, pull out the tissue and be showered in free change! Supposedly that worked pretty great from the 50’s to the mid 90’s. I can’t see how it’d be very profitable today though. Maybe the sign is referring to something else. I love the picture of that old man, though. I should call the guy and get the story from him.

I got on the train and headed to the airport by midnight since that’s when the trains stop running. I spent the night in the airport, reading a new book part of the time (No Sanctuary by Richard Laymon) and doing as much sleeping as possible on their uncomfortable seats. Around 3ish, a cop came over and hassled me for a few minutes, but left me alone when I convinced him that I had a flight in a few hours.

Friday: Woke up around 4:30am or so and got checked in, went to my gate and looked for breakfast. I didn’t find anything good, though, so I waited til my layover in Denver where I found some McGriddles at McDonalds. Both of my flights had empty seats between me and the other person, which was nice. Got into DC around 5:00pm, took a subway to the hotel and wandered around for awhile, Twittering in hopes of meeting up with some people. I finally got spotted by vixen and Trevelyn, said our hellos and went in search of Altalp. Met RTF and RogueClown at some point before heading towards Altalp’s room.

Trevelyn, I-ball, our door

A few of us went across the street to eat at Chipotle’s. Then we went to the Podcaster’s Meetup and stood around until the end of the show, then talked to a few people there. Seems like more happened on Friday evening, but I can’t remember. I think it was between 9 and 10 that we all piled into a cab (minus Trevelyn and two of us in the front even though the cab driver insisted that wasn’t allowed) and went to the HacDC party, which was awesome. I met tons of people there and saw a few old acquaintances. Drank a lot (free drinks!) and played i-hacked’s Labyrinth game which was rigged up to a Wii fit board for controlling it. Pretty neat even though I sucked at it. The night came to an end when the fire alarm was pulled and everybody went outside. After about 15 or 20 minutes in the cold, we decided to go back to the hotel. We all got to sleep between 2 and 3.

Saturday: I woke up first, around 9am, which Trevelyn, i-ball and vixen close behind. Altalp continued to sleep while we went to McDonald’s for breakfast. Looking at a map from the Shmoocon program, we headed for what we thought would be a back route to sneak into the con for free. I tried buying a badge in November and their payment system failed so when I retried it was too late. That’s my justification for sneaking in. Turns out it was really easy to do. The hotel is enormous and there were several back ways in by just going up some stairs and sneaking across some empty conference room. (With lots of unguarded computer and sound equipment along the way.) At one point we took a wrong turn and ended up in a very busy employee area (a kitchen I think) where employees were all staring at us as we walked by, but none of them told us to leave. I think I got video of that.

Altalp made a really cool fake badge the night before, out of a piece of thin plastic which she cut into the shape of a badge with a razor and then imitated the markings with my red Sharpie. I made fun of it and her, saying that it would never fool anyone. But I guess I should admit that I was completely wrong and she didn’t get questioned once. A piece of plastic that she found in the lobby gained her free admittance for the entire weekend. Not to mention hilarious admiration from everyone she showed it to.

Altalp's fake badge

I-ball’s trick was pretty good too. He wore an official-looking button up blue shirt and a hat that said SECURITY on the front of it in big letters. I guess he was just walking in the doors, getting by on the assumption that he was someone official. (I think he told me he got an employee discount somewhere because of it too.) The getup looked pretty good, but around noon we were standing around and suddenly there were 3 or 4 Shmoocon staff surrounding us. I didn’t even notice them until one said to I-ball, “Excuse me, do you have a badge?” Being the true friend I am, I immediately walked away as fast as I could so they wouldn’t notice my missing badge too. Minutes later I signaled Trevelyn who was walking by, and we looked out the window and noticed I-ball heading down the escalator. He’d been kicked out. (But only until he snuck back in, in less conspicuous clothing.) We went downstairs to meet him and on the way out heard one of the door checkers talking about the guy wearing a security hat.

Before all that happened, I borrowed Trevelyn’s badge to go to the registration desk and get a wristband for the Saturday night party. I asked if I could have two of them since my friend needed one too. The lady said to me, “Your friend needs to come and get it himself or you need to figure out a way to social engineer me.” A challenge! About 10 minutes later I went back with I-ball’s sunglasses on and my hood up, saying to her in a loud, monotone voice, “Hello! I would like a badge for the party tonight! I’ve never been here before and this is my first time asking you for one!” She smiled and handed me a badge. I kick ass at social engineering!

I got the elevator extensions, but we never got to do anything hilarious with them. I started out by calling Verizon’s assignment office, who checked the hotel’s address to give me all the phone lines working there. Unfortunately they were all special circuits, so there was nothing to give me. So I called the hotel, said I was with Verizon and that I needed their elevator phone extensions. They were happy to help and I can’t remember if they even asked why I needed them. They sent their phone technician to the phone room, where all the numbers were written down. They ended up calling me back 15 minutes later with the numbers. Unfortunately the elevator phones weren’t speakerphones, so we couldn’t just call in and talk to people that got in. That would have been fun there. (If you’d like to try that out, though, here’s a page full of elevator phone numbers.)

We did some exploring in downstairs hallways which was clearly for employees only. But the few employees that passed us didn’t say anything to us. I’m guessing a lot of them didn’t speak English. We took tons of pictures and videos and Altalp scored a nice robe from a laundry room. (Had to find the thing to tie it with in a completely different room on a different floor.)

Tried to go on the roof, but that failed. We found the access door, but it was locked and there was no sign of a way to unlock it. There was a phone nearby which instructed us to call a certain number to have it unlocked. I called later from my cell phone and ended up talking to Loss Prevention about it. I said we simply wanted to go on the roof to dance around all crazy-like, but the grouchy guy on the other end of the phone said that would never happen. Sadly, he was right.

ATM admin screen

The hotel’s ATM was hax0red by someone by using the default password to get it into admin mode and playing around in the menus. There wasn’t much to do with it though. We also kept putting stickers on the ATMs, which warned that smiling into the ATM’s camera was a crime, punishable by something. Hevnsnt and Surbo later discovered that the entire cover of the ATM could be opened up, which they wrote about here. And where you can see a picture of our sticker, available for download from

The Blue Oyster

I made a sign for our door that read CACTUS. Later we noticed that the people down the hall put a sign on their door that said The Blue Oyster. (A awesome, obscure reference.) Altalp retaliated by putting some Post Its on their door which read Blue Oyster Sucks and Cactus Rules! We were hoping to start up a war with whoever was staying inside, but they didn’t play along. Though they did leave our extra signage up. On Sunday I added PostIts reading DOWN WITH BLUE OYSTER! and VIVA LA PLA! but I think they may have checked out by then.

Break glass for candy!

I think this is where our obsession with PostIts began. I don’t know why AltAlp even brought those with her, but those, combined with my Sharpies, kept us entertained for quite awhile. We traveled the halls, putting PostIts on everything we could find. Glass is Fragile was one that we put on a fire extinguisher door. Push for Killer Robots was stuck next to a room’s doorbell. I jumped up and stuck a Low Ceiling sign up on the ceiling and the whole Ye intruders betware, crushing death and grief… shtick on an access hatch on the ceiling. There were tons other others, but I can’t remember all of them. Oh yeah, Break Glass For Candy is one we put on a glass fire extinguisher door. I took pictures and I think there’s a few more in them. I think we did even more PostIts after Saturday’s party.

AltAlp's elevator chair

Oh yeah, the party. Altalp inexplicably drug a chair into our elevator as we were leaving to go to the party, I guess so she wouldn’t have to stand up for the entire 3 floors down. The elevator opened and we all walked out, leaving the giant chair inside. And who would roll up to that elevator to go upstairs but…a guy in a wheelchair. What are the odds of that? I think it was I-ball who suddenly grew a conscience and went back to take the chair out for him.

RTF's PostIt Work
RTF can make PostIts funny without even writing on them.

The party was about a mile away and the weather outside was amazing (50’s or 60’s, I think) so we walked. Had some insanely large slices of pizza on the way there, (a slice was big enough to feed my family for a week) and then went into the party. Unlike last night’s party, this one didn’t rule quite as much. It was overcrowded, the line to get drinks took forever to get through (free drinks though!), and the music was just loud enough to make conversation impossible. Trevelyn was the first to leave, after maybe 30 minutes. Altalp and I lasted maybe 45, before walking home. I-ball followed about 15 minutes after us, who I met when I went back outside to visit CVS.

I think the 4 of us walked around and did some more PostIts, then went down to the lobby to go down some escalators that descended into a completely dark room, figuring there must be something to explore down there. And holy crap, was there a lot to explore! I think we spent close to 2 hours exploring all these basement rooms, and didn’t see a single employee all night. It really made us realize out incredibly huge the hotel was. There were several enormous banquette rooms and a lot of small conference rooms too, lots of storage areas, eating areas, long hallways, and rooms that had no business being open for just anyone to walk into. Each room was full of new laughs for us. We played Frisbee with giant serving trays, Trevelyn danced on tables, we moved some walls around trying to create new rooms, we shut giant automatic doors, we tried to get a waxing machine started so we could drive around on it, and Trevelyn gave a great speech in front of a podium which I videotaped and I’ll put up on YouTube someday this week.


And then there was the network room. Several racks full of internet stuff with cat5 running into everything. Trevelyn made a pretty funny video about taking down Shmoocon’s network, but I should point out here that we put it back how it belonged afterwards. Then off in another room, where we had to duck under a concrete wall to get into, was the phone room!

Trevelyn, I-Ball, Altalp

Two walls, completely covered with giant banks of modular jacks and phone blocks with phone wire running everywhere. There was even a phone in the middle of the room to plug into them all. It’s just a good thing that we’re not the type of people to take advantage of a situation like that. Can you imagine?

One of the phone block walls

The hotel got really weird when we found an elevator down there that went DOWN. And we were already in the basement. We went down another 7 or 8 floors and ended up in what appeared to be freezing, abandoned hallways with more rooms for people to stay in. But then we found a garage that apparently opened up into the street when the giant metal doors were open. The cars in that garage had a layer of dust on them. I’m still a little confused how 7 floors below the earth is once again street level, but I guess the hotel is so huge that this is somehow possible. I wanted to walk around the hotel the next day to find out how, but never got around to it. I think we probably just walked into another dimension at some point, but luckily got back up to the basement level and eventually went back to our room. Those couple of hours exploring the hotel’s basement were awesome though. Made me glad we left the party.

As we found our way back out, we spotted a giant, framed USA Olympics picture filled with signatures. Noticing that there was ample room for more signatures, we used a Sharpie to fill in the extra space.

Signing the Olympic poster

I-ball and Trevelyn fell asleep shortly after that and Altalp and I hung out on our floor’s foyer, watching the drunk people occasionally pass by and making more evil plans for the remainder of the weekend. Skydog happened by and sat down to talk to us for awhile. I met him a few months ago at Defcon and found out that he was the one who had to fix my mess with Phreaknic’s hotel phones a few years ago. He told AltAlp all about it, and his version is so much funnier than mine. Later we made some PacMan art on the floor out of chair cushions, which made people passing by either laugh or give us WTF looks. Didn’t get to sleep until it started getting light out.


Oh yeah, around 2am or so, a message came across Twitter from hevnsnt saying, “I’m going to punch Brad Carter in the face the next time I see him.” Holy crap, what did I do?? This slightly worried me for awhile as I tried to figure out exactly which of our shenanigans had he pieced together enough to find out that I was somehow responsible. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out he was just kidding around. Luckily I didn’t break down and start confessing all the awful things we’d done to him that day.

Sunday: Slept until 10 or so, then got the hotel room packed up and checked out at 12:30. Trevelyn left us around 11am. Put our bags in vixen’s new room (she’s stayed an extra day) and went out to eat breakfast/lunch at a pizza place. Taxied back to the hotel, got our bags and sat in the closing ceremonies for awhile, long enough to see RTF win an award for his barcode design. Went to say goodbye to him and RogueClown, and to get them to sign Altalp’s PLA coffee mug. Me, I-ball and Altalp took the subway to the airport, where we all went our separate ways.

I thought I was wide awake on my flight, but when I started reading my book I kept drifting off, so I finally put it away and fell asleep for a large portion of that flight. Managed to finish up my book on the 2nd flight. Got to my house around 1am and went right to sleep. Bed felt pretty great after 3 days of sleeping on hotel room floors, in airports and on airplanes.

Hacker cons are great. There should be more of them that aren’t across the entire country. Here’s some more pictures on my Flickr page.

Ice Ice Baby


  • I’m just going to have to start carrying post its with me everywhere. Too funny! I also think that I want to go exploring more hotel basements. Who knew? When you said it went 7 floors past basement I kept expecting the secret labs and weapons lockers to show up ;)

  • Postits are great for people that have the urge to grafitti but are scared of the consequences.

  • Did it really go down 7 or 8 floors, or did it just go down one floor really slowly?

  • Pingback: Rob’s blog of posts » New Shmoo Revue

  • More importantly, how many shower caps and fruity bottles of lotion did you steal?


  • Not to burst your conspiricy bubble :-) but if I remember correctly, the Hotel was at the top of a Hill. I remember walking up quite a ways from the Metro. I don’t know if it was 7 floors worth of hill, but it was up there.

  • You must be a riot to hang out with!

  • i love you, and damnit i miss you guys :( come back to east coast!

  • Great recap.

    Maybe you managed to go 7 floors down and hit street level again because the hotel is on a giant hill? That might have been street level at that part of the hotel.

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