Jim Bidzos & his big, fat shrimp...tales from the RSA Conference

And it's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damned town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog
Jim Croce


There I was at the RSA conference with all of those hot, brooding code boys in long coats and sunglasses. This is where a gurrrl like me finds a guy who is interested in both physics and hacking; a moody boy with lots of facets. I must confess, this is quite the hunting ground for gurrrl geeks. Amazingly enough, I had forgotten all about the conference until one of my crypto friends who sports an EFF "Coding is not a Crime" bumper sticker on his car called and asked what time we should hook up. “Hook up where?” I asked. OOPS, I had forgotten about that…and I still had to get a press pass. I made a few calls, I knew people would be out of their offices and already at RSA, but figured if I could get the names of some of the biggies, I could say in that rushed-important-press-person way (like we press people use when we're on a deadline to wire in the story two minutes after we hang up the phone). The trick is to act like you're offended AND impatient.

They said to show up and someone might be able to help me. I made a comment that if I went all the way down there and no one was able to help me, well.... I gave them some names...acted impatient. They asked for my credentials, I flashed them my latest book that had nothing to do with security, but it got me in. I had no assignment, just expectations of yummy hacker boys. They made a copy of my driver's license — that made me really fucking uncomfortable. I was going to say something like, "Hey, don't do that," but they handed me my golden pass...and all the promise that it held. I instantly forgot my protests.

The security guard checked my badge, and said "Cute, the glasses are real cute," she was annoyed that I had taken my photo with my sunglasses on. I blew by her without much of a second thought. The RSA booth was filled. Noticing women with lots of cleavage poured into vintage Elizabethan clothing HANGING OUT in front of the booth, I didn’t wonder why the booth was filled. It certainly wasn't because of their products. Code boys…cleavage -- you don’t need a map to chart out that destination. All I knew was that the annoying Ren Faire people were mucking about, you just can’t ditch those people no matter how hard you try.

I ran into one of the busty beauties in the bathroom. I was painting some lipstick on, she was fluffing up her breasts. After asking a few questions — who thankfully didn’t answer me in a fucking phony English accent, I found the theme was something to do with Mary Queen of Scots and how she was beheaded because her encryption techniques were not up to par. Whatever. As I trolled the booths I noted quite a few of my crypto buddies were out and about. I had called Phil Zimmermann, creator of PGP, earlier on the phone to see if he'd be there, he promised to arrive in a few hours.

In the meantime, I ran into Kevin Mitnick — we share the same publisher, Wiley — John Draper, Kevin Poulsen and Steve Inness. Phil walked up around at about the same time. They had all never met, I did an introduction (where Kevin Poulsen took the only existing picture of Kevin Mitnick, John Draper and Phil Zimmermann together — scary considering it was a snapshot that Poulsen’s friend took commemorating his hacker triumphs with him picking locks that tipped off the Feds) and then dragged them, sans Poulsen; he had a booth to watch over — over to the EFF booth. Earlier that day I had my handsome assistant Mark McGothigan flinging Frisbees into the air where I shot them down with my handy Wiley (they had a booth there) yo-yo -- all in the name of cash for the EFF hat.

Later Draper — AKA Captain Crunch (nicknamed after the toy whistle from Cap'n Crunch; a whistle that eerily reproduced the 2600hz tone necessary to authorize phone calls), the wild Nana Second, some guy from the Federal Reserve, Steven Inness, Mark McGothigan and venture catalyst Jim Hurd went tripping around downtown San Jose to the various parties where there were far too many sales people, shitty food and not enough booze to keep me from driving. I finally had to say goodnight early to work on a deadline. It was quite a whirlwind experience I hoped I could duplicate in triplicate the next night.

The next day, I got there just in time for the official RSA party where there were plenty of luminaries and wandering press to be found -- and lots of action for us gurrrls if we were looking for it. Although, I have never been so creeped out by so many Federal employees wanting to drag me off to their hotel rooms. Ever since I had attracted FBI interest late last year when I got involved in the Dmitry Sklyarov case speaking out against the DOJ and the DMCA on CNN as WIRED Mag’s official spokesperson, I was avoiding Feds. Okay, so maybe I actually have some kind of Mata Hari fantasy about sleeping with one of them to get a hot scoop, but I could never go through with it — the buzz cuts, the cheap gray suits…I just really can’t see it. My friend and her husband were both propositioned by a Fed who asked them to come back to his hotel — and she’s five months pregnant! Anyhow, it was a strange party.

I had been drinking cosmos and talking with friends and having a great time when Phil Zimmermann and I were tempted away by a woman with an NSA badge who kept saying there was a private NSA party at the Fairmont. Both Phil and I were pretty curious about what an NSA party would be like. I assumed since they’re part of the government they’d have the best drugs provided by visiting undercover DEA agents who have longer hair than the regular Feds — at least that’s what I’d been told by my friends who had attended parties where Feds were present. Having been propositioned all night by Feds, I frankly didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that it would be good fodder.

So Phil and I tagged along behind this woman who seemed completely out of her mind and incoherently leading us to the wrong suites. I did, however, find the right room — I have a way of finding any party, even ones where I really don't belong, this just happened to be THAT kind of party. When we got there she tapped on the door, and a man who looked like a linebacker for an NFL team, wearing a velvet shirt that highlighted his weighty log-like arms answered the door. This guy could definitely bash your head in if you got out of line. The woman said we were with her, and we walked right in. I cleared the hall and went straight into the heart of the suite to meet the big man with the cumber bun. I assumed he was either a waiter who ate more food than he served, or the host.

He stood like the guardian of the big fat shrimps draped lazily over the crystal bowl -- big, fat shrimp at crotch level. I had been drinking too much -- it looked obscene, but clearly he was the master of his own shrimp domain. I went up and introduced myself — my press badge still readable. “Hello, you must be our host. My name is Sally Richards, and this is my friend Phil Zimmermann…” I turned around to introduce Phil, but Phil was clearly out of site and had actually left the room. I had taken such quick strides from the door that I wasn’t aware if he had ever been behind me. I reached out to shake the Shrimp Master’s hand, and he said, “This is a private party, you’ll have to leave.” He refused to shake my paw. I looked around for the crazy lady who had invited us with her and tried to point her out, with that "I’m with the band" kind of bravado, she was gone. It was just me and the Shrimp Master, he was standing tall and stern; he looked like a very unhappy man.

Well, at that point, I had no idea who the freak was. Mind you, even when I’m ill behaved, no one has ever thrown me out of a party. It’s actually not unusual for a company to connive interesting ways to make sure I attend their parties. Well, I laughed, “That’s funny,” I said, not knowing how to react, but finding the scenario actually very humorous -- I knew it would undoubtedly become good fodder for something. There were only about six people in the room, the food hardly looked touched and it must have been near 11PM; this guy couldn’t afford to throw out any warm bodies. “Really, you’ll have to leave,” he prompted once again. Well, I stood there puzzled for a moment and said, “Well, I guess my story will read "The host gave everyone professional-like blow jobs and a good time was had by all.” And then I walked back into the entryway where Phil was saying, “Shit, don’t you know who that is? If I had known whose party this was I never would have come.”

Later it was apparent to me that he knew who Phil was, I was clueless — and our host really thought we were there for his party and not this imaginary NSA party that maniacal NSA bitch had dreamed up to get us up there. Phil had thought she was just mistaken, but she was pretty and persuasive, obviously I wasn’t falling for her drunken innocent ploy. We had asked her four or five times…"NSA party, right?" So one really has to ask, Why did she want us there? How did we get in? Was she supposed to be there? Too many questions to answer on our own, and the bitch was gone.

Apparently Jim Bidzos (AKA Shrimp Master) was one of the original people responsible for Phil’s problems with the Feds over PGP — a battle that nearly put him into bankruptcy, but made him a cult hero in the land of code. We went back to the RSA party and Phil had to take off. Meanwhile, Draper was still hawking his new company and his latest project the CrunchBox (see http://www.shopip.com for details), I watched him with great wonder the night before trying to sell it to the guy from the Federal Reserve. Anyhow, I got a posse of cute crypto guys together and this one entrepreneur who had sold some company for $130M or something, and didn’t look — or act — a day over 25. So this guy heard about the whole Bidzos’ shrimp incident and began screaming from the top of his lungs in downtown San Jose — “I’m Jim Bidzos, suck my big, fat shrimp!” It was hilarious. Then he kissed me goodbye French style (one cheek, two cheek, not French as in tongue) and went tripping off into the darkness.

The last day of the conference — I had rolled into my driveway sometime around sunup and decided to sleep in until 10 to come back down to the conference. The floor was closed and they were already putting up the posters for the next conference. I gathered up a posse and we went over to the San Jose Tech Museum for lunch and then off to see the debate moderated by Newsweek Editor and Author Steven Levy. Speaking were John Perry Barlow (cofounder of the EFF (www.eff.org), Jim Burton (the attorney who is defending ElcomSoft against the Feds) and two conservative people who didn’t seem to know what the hell they were taking about — I won’t even bother penning their names because they were so fucking annoying. I have just finished a book where I dedicated a chapter to the DMCA, and had too much inside information to even begin buying what the two right wing clowns were saying. Too bad there wasn’t time Q&A, or I would ripped them new assholes, clearly they didn’t seem to be up to speed on the subject of the DMCA. I was all ready to jump into the fray, but they broke up and brought John Cleese, yes, THAT John Cleese on stage to do the closing comments about security and the state of technology.

There was an annoying high pitched "eeeeeeeeee" locked into the sound system that was making me feel like a drill inside my head was working its way out (via my eyes), so I opted for the green room backstage. Like most green rooms, it was not green, but that’s where I found John Perry Barlow whom I had interviewed for my upcoming book FutureNet about the state of the future of the Internet, and the rights we are currently losing by the boat load. A fluorescent light above us was humming away and making me grit my teeth. John was giggling like a little girl to Cleese’s jokes. Let it be said that Cleese really did his homework, the RSA people told me that he was constantly calling them to ask them questions to build material for his talk — he did a bang-up job. But, I was hung over and had a headache from too much RSA, hardly fertile grounds for British humor.

It was time for the madness to end. I had TMI (too much information) syndrome from all of the pitches being fed to me just from passing by the booths; I was tired of being pulled aside by magicians and origami masters only to be fed some vague connection to the product and what they were doing. I was tired of being propositioned by way too many Feds to count, and sales people who wanted to scan my fingerprint so they could show me how their software worked (yeah right, like that's going to happen! You can take a copy of my driver’s license, but fingerprints are off the record. All it takes is one well-placed latent fingerprint by the Feds at a murder scene of an important diplomat to get you life with no parole). It was just time for the conference to end. And for some bizarre reason, although I'm a vegetarian, I had a craving for Spam. I needed some water to rehydrate, I needed a fucking drink. My head throbbed. My mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton and I was craving meat, a meat PRODUCT — byproduct. I needed to get to a safe place to debrief. I needed my keyboard.

The conference officially ended about five minutes later. John Perry Barlow was making a hasty exit when he mentioned that Mitnick had called him up around seven that morning and they hadn’t really had a chance to talk, and had never met. I did my last intro and brought Kevin backstage where I made my own exit to the front stairs that dumped me out onto the streets of San Jose where I inhaled exhaust and was threatened by silent trolleys with plans to make me flat, and beautiful, buff police men wanting to play crossing guard. It always feels like the beginning of a role-playing game when a beautiful man in uniform wants to walk me across the street. The sun was too bright even for my sunglasses, specially made -- double dipped with green and brown tint to keep those rays out on such critical occasions. And no matter how beautiful the cop was, my head needed some serious caffeine therapy.

I gave Nana Second a lift to her friend’s house in Shallow Alto where I hastily retreated. I needed to get my clothes off and crawl into bed, hopefully without any Feds crawling in after me. She invited me to the New Hacker’s City party that evening, but I knew I would have to probably pass, as well as blow off the date with a cute hacker I had planned for that night. But, that’s life in Silicon Valley, what’s a poor geek gurrrl to do?