Of Generals and Hackers, Gates and Oracles and an Apple too!

My last post apart from being a while ago, was none too cheery. Now, I like to think nothing can really get my spirits down, so I'm not going to continue on that vein. For a while anyway. Instead, let me take you through some interesting events which over the last fifteen days have resulted in some rather cheerful and happy moments!

The RSA conference mentioned below is the world's largest computer security conference. RSA actually represents the first letters of the last names of 3 scientists - Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Len Adleman, who invented a computer algorithm which revolutionized every bit of computer security. No pun intended :). The algorithm itself, and now the company which licenses it is called RSA. It is the largest gathering of hackers in the world, with over 15000 attendees from around the world. Hackers as in the good guys who make sure no one filches money from your bank account, and not the malicious types as shown in movies.

(Above) Matrix style - live break-in into a computer network
(Below) RSA 07 graffiti board

(The malicious types attend Defcon in case you were wondering ;) Annyywaaayyy. Moving on.

Some good, others bad and a few definitely ugly

San Francisco, sometime in mid February. Right about my birthday actually. I had the opportunity to interact with Bill Gates, as part of his keynote activities at the RSA conference. Listening to a visionary, no matter how beloved (or infamous) in the media, is always an enlightening experience. Except that my own didn't stop with him. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle corporation was next. Now there couldn't be a more marked difference between the two. Arguably the 2 most famous billionaire programmers out there, they are unlike each other in their personal mannerisms, even though their professional course has taken them neck to neck, with each owning the first and second largest software companies in the world. Respectively. Bill for instance is the quintessential geek, tousled hair, owly-eyes and all that. Has a penchant for wearing what look like crumpled sweaters and shirts, with normal slacks and shoes. In his spare time, he plays bridge and likes to eat 'mutter-paneer'. Seriously. Ellison on the other hand was on the 'Sexiest man alive' list, with a penchant for flying MiG29 fighter jets, owning a baseball team, captaining (and almost losing his life on) his own yacht in the America cup, the most gruelling sea race in the world. And he prefers the Armani suits, the bentleys and all the rest which go with being the 7th or 8th richest in the world.

(Who needs gates anyway?)

But what is most fascinating about both is the vision and power which they radiate. In a meeting with about 70 people in a small conference room, the aura of control, and power was self evident. Articulately spewing well reasoned arguments for or against questions directed at them, it was easy to see how they created their own 'Reality Distortion Field' around themselves. I quite like this term which was coined by a journalist in the 80s about the big 3 of tech - Bill, Larry and Steve (Jobs of Apple). Being in the same room with them hearing them speak at such close quarters is .. interesting, to say the least.

Of course, there were a bunch of other famous people out there, most of whom would only be appreciated by people familiar with the technology industry - the R and S from RSA, Diffie and Hellman, and others formed the galaxy of panelists and speakers who descended into SF that week. Needless to say, I was charmed enough to land up at the conference venue at 8am and leave after each day of sessions et al around 11PM. Whew. Glad thats over. If you've ever been to SF on a weekday during peak traffic, you know what I mean. Of course, its nothing compared to the stories I've heard from Bombay :) The horrors of finding a place to park are bad enough without throwing traffic into the equation.

(A few of the greatest computer hackers in the world today. The one with white hippie hair is Whitfield Diffie, the Porsche driving Chief Security Officer at Sun inc. Next to him is Ron Rivest, professor emeritus of CS at MIT, Adi Shamir of Princeton/Technion Israel), and Martin Hellman, Professor Emeritus at Stanford)

Uhm, as to how I know he drives a porsche? Driving down Palo Alto one day, I stopped at a traffic light with Diffie in his black 911 right next to me. That white hair/beard and the fact that we were meters from Sun's HQ were enough :)

Enough of the techies already. Yes, I echoed that on the 5th day of the conference, exhausted and bleary. But the icing on the metaphorical cake was getting to hear General Colin Powell, formerly the most powerful democrat in the western world, and before that chief of the US Army. The introduction was just to keep things in sync. I know you know who he is :) Anyway. I was expecting a rather staid general, or diplomat who would be full of himself and would in some way try to use 9/11 in his talk. Well, I was right about the latter. But Gen. Powell is someone I now respect significantly more - the least of those reasons being his ability to extemporize a 45 minute speech flitted with just the right amount of humor, motivation, and a cold hard look at security and privacy in the modern age. One of the most articulate speakers I've EVER heard, he encompassed everything from his meanderings in Germany when he served with Elvis Presley, to anecdotes about how he resolved an island-takeover between Morocco and Spain in between playing with his grandchildren.

Well, just when the next work week was beginning, I stumbled across more famous people at various locations. The presidents of Stanford - both past and present, the second in command at Yale, the founder of Electronic Arts - of Need for Speed and Cricket fame, the woman who invented the Palmtop, a couple of lawyers who represented the bloggers against Apple inc's lawsuits - and won!, not to mention a couple of other luminaries who I'm too lazy to mention yet. Listening to a lot of these people, and interacting with them has been an experience I can only liken to drinking from a fire hose - a sensory information overload! There are some very interesting things happening in the SF bay area, and its been quite instructive to have been at the thick of them! As you can probably tell, I've been a technology buff ever since I was a 4 year old playing games on an old Commodore 64. The opportunity to have met people who I've read about all this time has been truly spectacular. Yes, I know, I'm getting emotional. No? :P

The New

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting for your viewing pleasure, my new Macbook Pro!

And the keyboard lights up at night.
(This photo is off a public site since my photography skills aren't that great!)

After much debate and research in getting myself a new computer, I finally settled on a Macbook Pro. It had been a while since I upgraded, what with school, work and everything else demanding my old laptop's full use. After spending an intense 7 days after placing an order, I finally received the 'book and I've now been using it for almost 2 weeks. Two Weeks! This is actually my first post with the new machine. Yayy.

And today's Holi too - the Indian festival of colors - although all I'm doing this year is munching home made goodies a friend brought from India yesterday. Perfect timing :)

Couple that with a bright and sunny day here in California, and you'd think life isn't all that bad at all!