Reflections on DerbyCon

On September 30th, 2011, over 1000 people from a variety of backgrounds descended on Louisville, Kentucky to attend the first DerbyCon. DerbyCon is a security conference put together by three security professionals, Dave Kennedy, Martin Bos, and Adrian Crenshaw. Along with a sizable crew of security and administrative staff, they hosted an absolutely amazing conference.

During the three day conference, DerbyCon sported amazing speakers such as Kevin Mitnick, HD Moore, Chris Nickerson, and others. Talks covered topics such as physical penetration testing, lock picking, and network defense techniques. There were training sessions covering Physical Penetration, Metasploit, Social Engineering, and more. A lock pick village was available to both learn and show off your skills, as well as a hardware village where you could learn how to solder among other things. And, of course, there were late-night parties.

For me, this was my first official security conference. By all accounts, I couldn’t have chosen a better conference. All around me I heard unanimous praise for the conference, how it was planned, and how it was run. There were a few snafus here and there, but really nothing worth griping about.

The presentations I was able to attend were incredible and I came home with a ton of knowledge and new ideas. During the closing of the conference, Dave mentioned some ideas for next years conference such as a newbie track. This has inspired me to think about possibly presenting at next years conference. I have an idea already, something I’ve started working on. If all goes well, I’ll have something to present.

DerbyCon was definitely one of the highlights of my year. I’m already eager to return next year.

“Educate to Innovate”

About 2 weeks ago, the President gave a speech about a new program called “Educate to Innovate.” The program aims to improve education in the categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM. At the end of his speech, students from Oakton High School demonstrate their “Cougar Cannon,” a robot designed to scoop up and throw “moon rocks.” A video of the speech, and the demonstration, is below.

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I also want to keep an eye on those robots in case they try anything.”

As a lover of technology, I find it wonderful that the president is moving in this direction. I wrote, not too long ago, about my disappointment with our current educational system. When I was in school, there were always extra subjects we could engage in to expand our knowledge. In fact, the high school I attended was set up similar to that of a college, requiring that a number of extra credits, beyond the core classes, be taken. Often these were foreign languages or some form of a shop class. Fortunately, for me, the school also offered classes in programming and electronics.

I was invited back to the school by my former electronics teacher a few years after I graduated. The electronics program had expanded somewhat and they were involved in a program called FIRST Robotics, developed by Dean Kamen. Unfortunately, I had moved out of the area, so my involvement was extremely limited, but I did enjoy working with the students. The FIRST program is an excellent way to engage competitiveness along with education. Adults get to assist the students with the building and programming of the robot, guiding them along the process. Some of the design work was simply outstanding, and solutions to problems were truly intuitive.

One of the first “Educate to Innovate” projects is called “National Lab Day.” National Lab Day is a program designed to bring students, educators, and volunteers together to learn and have fun. Local communities, called “hubs,” are encouraged to meet regularly throughout the year. Each year, communities will gather to show off what they have learned and created. Labs range from computer science to biology, geology to physics, and more. In short, this sounds like an exciting project, one that I have signed up for as a volunteer.

I’m excited to see education become a priority once again. Seeing what my children learn in school is very disappointing at times. Sure, they’re younger and I know that basic skills are necessary, but it seems they are learning at a much slower pace than when I was in school. I don’t want to see them struggle later in life because they didn’t get the education they need and deserve. I encourage you to help out where you can, volunteer for National Lab Day, or find another educational program you can participate in. Never stop learning!


Education, then and now…

When I was going through grade school, we learned how to subtract by borrowing. We learned how to add by counting. It was ok to use your fingers to count when we started, and I still use them occasionally today.

Flash forward a few years and it seems like schools are teaching a whole new language. Is this the math I learned? Drawing counters? What makes this easier? Sure, I get that most people learn how to round to ten first before adding, and it definitely makes things easier and faster, but trying to teach that right from the get-go?

If I, someone who knows and excels in math, have trouble understanding these lessons, then how do the kids handle it? These seem to be such convoluted methods to get to the same answer! Take, for instance, this math paper from a Boing Boing employee’s daughter. Sure, I understand what they’re trying to do here, and it’s a trick we all learn. But starting out with this? Why?

My own children bring home math papers that use the oddest methods for adding and subtracting. My son brought home a math paper about subtraction and had trouble completing it. I tried to explain borrowing to him and he looked at me like I had two heads. Apparently borrowing is no longer taught, instead they use regrouping. They draw pictures to get the answer rather than using mathematics.

Yeah, yeah. In the end, they do subtract, but why the need to draw pictures? Do we not have enough fingers? Can we not use them to figure out every subtraction problem? Regrouping is basically borrowing, but the concept seems so much more convoluted and difficult to explain.

To make matters worse, I tried to explain why he needed to borrow/regroup. “You see, the top number is smaller than the bottom number, so if you subtract them, you’ll get a negative number.” He floored me by asking what a negative number was. Seriously? I tried explaining the number line and while he understood, he explained that the teacher never taught such things.

I fear for our youth’s future. These are simple concepts. What happens when they get to the difficult stuff? Will they start relying on calculators and computers to multiply and divide because it’s “difficult” and they’d have to draw really big pictures?

What is our education system coming to?