[ISN] Cool Cleveland Preview - Notacon
isn at c4i.org
Fri Apr 8 01:57:29 EDT 2005
By Lee E. Batdorff
Interview with Paul "Froggy" Schneider, leader of Notacon
Paul "Froggy" Schneider and wife Jodie "Tyger" Schneider are the
leaders of Notacon, one of a handful of "hacker conferences" in the
U.S. The second annual Notacon will be held this Fri 4/8 thru 4/10
with over 300 geeks expected to attend this year at the Lakeside
Holiday Inn in downtown Cleveland. This is over double the attendance
of last year's Notacon. The Schneiders, both employees and graduates
of Case Western Reserve University, lead a crew of 17 volunteers to
produce the event. Notacon started in Cleveland last year after
Rubi-Con, held annually in Detroit Mich., went defunct. Notacon is
among a select group of hackers' conferences nationwide including the
large Defcon in Las Vegas, HOPE in New York City (sponsored by the
hacker magazine 2600 of Middle Island N.Y.), LayerOne in Los Angeles,
and ShmooCon in D.C. While providing standard hacker fare of
technological presentations and group discussions, Schneider says
Notacon is also different from the other "cons" in that it attempts to
explore the deeper issues of how technology affects society, arts and
humanity. More than just a "nuts and bolts" set of technical
presentations, his goal is to challenge attendees to derive new
insights, questions and interests from the material presented. At the
same time, his ultimate desire to build a larger culture of sharing
and community among the regions technologists, musicians, artists and
This year's Notacon seminars include: Steering an Art Collective;
Living on the Edge: The Sources of Creativity for Security Wizards and
Hackers; The Evolution of a Tune: My Process of Arranging and
Composing in a Home Studio; Software Testing: The BLEEDING Edge!; Open
Source Entrepreneurialism; Amateur Radio Topics; Community Radio
Broadcasting; and Notacon Big-Book-O'-Fun: U.S. Copyright history and
the Creative Commons. This year's DJs are Midnight Mixer, Computo, and
Boston DJ team Sons of Liberty, plus during evenings there will be
games and movies described as "a crowd-pleasing collage of video
clips." Find more info on this three-day conference at
Cool Cleveland: What are hackers' conferences for?
Paul Schneider: Geeks often times have a hard time really finding a
"place" or community. Events such as this allow us to "let our hair
down", to use a tired cliche, and simply have a really good time. The
seriousness of the day's events is contrasted nicely at the end of the
day with non-stop games, activities and maybe a trip or two to the
How is Notacon different from the other hacker conferences?
Well, most hacker-type cons explore the mechanics of technology and
how it works; the nuts and bolts. At Notacon, we cover some of this
material, but we strive to find deeper issues involved: Knowledge and
insight implied by the technology being talked about, as opposed to a
discussion of the technology itself.
It's one thing to discuss how a Web site works that categorizes and
publishes funny links, it's another to do the analysis to discover
insight into what's been posted over the past years. An example is
Richard Thieme's talk which will address these issues. He is a former
Anglican priest who after 16 years in priestly service started
exploring technology and how it interacts with humanity, spirituality,
etc. More information about Mr. Thieme can be found at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Thieme and on his website.
The point is, while on the surface Notacon shares attributes from
other events like it, such as presentations, games and events, etc.,
we are subtly crafting it to promote the exploration of these other
issues that lie just beneath the surface. The goal is to get people
talking at a meaningful level about the material and to bring up new
questions, insights and answers among themselves. It really is about
community building without blaring out too loudly to everyone, "Hey,
we want everyone to build a community and get along!"
I believe when in the right environment, with the right material and
the right "vibe," this is possible and that attendees, presenters and
our staff pick up on it and see it through to its logical end.
Why have hackers' conferences in Cleveland?
Most hackers' conferences are either on the West or East coasts. There
are a lot of really great people and things happening in the Midwest
that cant be ignored. Theres a huge market for this kind of
information and entertainment that most people (with technical
interests) want to have. A lot of them dont want to have to fly to
New York City or Las Vegas to get it.
Also, for pragmatic reasons, I have lived in Cleveland all of my life
and have become familiar and accustomed to the Midwest. I think
Cleveland gets a bad rap most of the time. Hopefully, Notacon will
showcase Cleveland and what it has to offer to out-of-town visitors
with technical and amusement interests. This is challenging sometimes,
as there often isn't as much to do, in downtown at least, as I had
hoped for. Visiting downtown Cleveland on a weekend reminds one of an
Old West ghost town; it's honestly rather depressing for the average
20 to 35 year old. Events such as Notacon can at least bring back a
little life and vibrancy to what really can be a cool city.
What is important with this year's theme: Exploring community through
Each year we explore a different angle of how technology affect,
complement and contrast with society. Last year we focused on the arts
and technology. This year we are building upon that but focusing on
how community, both online and off, is influenced by the availability
of cheap and effortless communication. Likewise, we also hope to show
how sometimes technology can actually be a hindrance in fostering that
sense of togetherness.
What good are hackers for our future?
If we define "hackers" to refer to people that really care about free
information exchange and intellectual curiosity, then the answer is
self-explanatory. We need more people who can look at problems and
devise creative solutions to them. I believe we need people who are
willing and able to question authority and to question the direction
of society at large. Hackers are, in some ways, the best consumer
advocates. While I do not condone any illegal activities or behaviors,
I feel it is important that people are allowed the right to free
thought personally, socially, and academically.
Can the business community of Cleveland find advantages through
Absolutely, if they are willing to listen. However, what hackers have
to say isn't really specific to their stereotype. Business thrives
upon innovation and stability, and events such as Notacon draw out
people who are willing to attack both of these issues. Those with a
hacker mentality, for example, are willing to challenge established
practice and procedure in the interest of finding a better, more
secure or more efficient way of doing things. Developing these
critical skills is important to the healthy future of any business. Of
course, for obvious reasons it is difficult for employers to consider
a "hacker mindset" a valuable asset simply due to the stigma of the
word. Hence, I have trepidation in even using the word hacker at all.
Why is this conference called Notacon?
Notacon's name is a hacker's inside joke. It means it is "not another
con." Con as in conference.
How did you come by the nickname "Froggy"?
I have always been a creative person (and hence the theme of,
"bridging the gap between art and technology" last year). In high
school I did numerous theatrical productions. During my first
production, "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue, I became associated with
character's namesake, Staff Sgt. Froggy LeSeur, a British army
officer. "Froggy" became different and a way for me to stand out. It
just kind of stuck and I kept on with it. It became a way to market
myself in new and different ways. More importantly, it became my
online "handle." There are lots of Pauls in the world, but there was,
at least in my online microcosm of the old Cleveland Freenet and
Northeast Ohio BBS scene, only one Froggy.
What are the interests of the people who attend?
Those interested in an event like this come from two camps and two
separate mentalities: those who are solely interested in technology
and what it can do, and those who are interested in the impact that
technology has upon the world around us. Also, I believe there are two
other camps that intersect: those who are interested in more of the
"creative" and "artistic" aspects, and those who are more interested
in the utilitarian ideas and applications.
How does an organizer mix different groups together?
I think the key to creating a good mix is to provide a broad range of
topics along a technical continuum, if you will, such that everyone
has at least a few talks in which they have a good comfort level. From
there, they are able to branch out into presentations that are perhaps
a little more creative, or perhaps are focused on issues other than
the mechanics of the system being discussed as a whole. I think
Notacon does this well; our presentations are all over the map.
However, by having every talk attempt to fulfill an aspect of our
overall theme (this year's, of course, being "community and
technology") we can further address the relevancy of each presentation
such that attendees from these different mindsets can come to a
greater appreciation of topics that may be out of their current
What is the age and education level of the attendees?
I have never formally surveyed either of these, as one of the hallmark
events like these is privacy. However, from inspection, I say most
attendees are in their twenties to early thirties. It is common to see
everyone from high school students to those in the fifties or sixties
attend. A great thing about this culture, if you will, is the degree
to which age inclusively occurs.
Education-wise, if I had to guess, I would say, again, we're all over
the map. One constant, though, is those who attend want to learn.
Whether they be self taught, college students or PhDs, everyone has a
desire to learn about something they didn't know much about before.
How does age and education level of your attendees affect their
Events like these are designed to open eyes and, more importantly,
open dialogue between attendees who previously had no basis for
starting a discussion. Presentations and the questions they leave
unanswered are perfect catalysts for further reflection and
discussion. Hence, age and education level don't have as much of an
impact, since most of the motivation behind attending and
participating resides within attendees' personal desire to better
themselves. Of course, everyone attending expects to have a good time
as well, which is another important thing we try to provide. Learning
is a hell of a lot easier when you're having fun.
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