BH USA 2019 Behind the scenes

Another good run at BlackHat came to an end. I always wanted to write about what goes behind the scenes. This year I was leading the AIH 4-day edition and then was supposed to do a talk on DevSecOps: What why and how. most of it is outlined however I wanted to focus on behind the scene.

I always thought about writing this one behind the scene post but never had a more adventurous trip so hence writing this down this time around.

So, to prepare for this in advance we reached Las Vegas on 30th July. one night to get back into the groove and then 31st onwards we were practicing the class. One trick that I have used so far is to not let the jetlag be settled for first few days. So, first 6-7 days I was up around 4am and done and dusted by around 8pm or so. That means I needed to find places to eat as close to the hotel as possible if needed leverage hotel dining facilities.

This marked 31 july and 1 august. 2nd august we did a light run and then went to the venue location to scout classes and locations and gauge commute timing etc. This always helps me in calming my nerves about entering an unknown space. Any trainer attempting larger trainings first time I would suggest using this one day before facility to get an idea of what you are dealing with. Now after this we took the remaining time out and had a good food and went to sleep early.

Day 1 of trainings is always hectic; I was up early and wanted to ensure all things are in order hence I was at the training venue around 7:30 am. I was not the only one up so early. class was supposed to start at 10am however other support staff in my class also arrived early so we were all set even before the first person walked in. I follow a simple rule of thumb I should be present before the first student walks in and I should be present when the last one walks out of the class.

The classes were largely uneventful besides some trouble shooting required which was handled as and when needed. This was largely due to the massive efforts spend beforehand on the lab where the labs were tested at capacity to ensure all challenges are working fine. All support staff has spent a considerable time on the labs so by the time we reached Vegas we knew exactly which challenges could be problematic and what kind of problems to be expected.

This year around the surprise was in the form on 1. a set of students with mac without apple store access. 2. a set of students with 4k screen where most rdp clients on Linux were failing. Both the issues were resolved by using slightly different software set.

Once the 4 days of training was over everyone took a breath of relief that a major chunk of work is over. any other year this would have been end of the work and relaxation time would have begun for most. however, this year we had a booth as well as I personally had a session too. however relaxing and ensuring proper rest is taken is also important. so, after the last day of training we relaxed a bit had proper conversations took some time out to interact with others. it was also pre BlackHat party which means lots of familiar faces at one place.

Ended up being awake till 4am and then sleeping for 4 hours. by the time I woke up at 8:30 am in morning I was clear I am not going to be able to make it to the keynote. I also wanted to take some more rest and then do final preps for my talk next day. I ended up watching the keynote on live stream. It was a good decision that I took time to watch the keynote coz I did indeed liked it a lot.

Once I was done with this, I took some time to catchup on sleep and then did a basic check and noted all things I wanted to tweak in the slides. By this time, it was already mid-day and we got a message about getting together for Indian Hackers pic a tradition we started few years back to take pics of all Indian hackers present in BlackHat USA.

Here are pics for this year

Once this was done, I wanted to check what have I gotten myself into and hence visited the room that I was scheduled to speak. That was fun movement coz nothing can prepare you for a massive room. and this room was big (not keynote big but big enough). this added some nervousness to my existing anxiety. I went in and checked the speaker co-ordination area and got the details that I need to be present in that place 1 hour prior to my talk. We had NSS party in the evening and once that is done, I was craving for good India food so found a good place and we all went for it.

Once back the anxiety took the better of me and I started counting things that can go wrong. resulted in working nearly whole night along with some of the other friends who were listening to my rants on various topics I was supposed to present on. around 5am I decided to take a quick nap of an hour or so.

When I woke up at 6am on 8th Aug 2019 things went haywire. The laptop refused to boot in one shot, and I was shown the dreaded folder with question mark icon. I thought okay some config issues let’s do the usual dance NVRAM and PRAM reset, and things would be good to go. but before that I tried one last time and it worked so kept the thoughts aside that I will handle with this once I am done with session.

As practice I was also charging my backup laptop. while I was exporting all the final version of video’s and presentations, I uploaded a copy on google drive and kept a separate copy on my pen drive as a backup. the slide deck was worked on in google doc, so it was anyways backed up.

around 8:30 I decided enough is enough instead of sitting alone and being anxious I should go to the speaker’s room and relax a bit. After getting ready I started my 15 min walk which felt like 30 minute’s walk coz of the ideas going in my head. before heading to speaker ops room, I thought I would take a long walk in my designated speaking room. today the room was near full and a walk around it made me appreciate the true size of the room (in short, I started shitting bricks).

Finally, I reached the speaker ops room and made myself known, found a quiet place started both laptop and decided to go through the slides one last time. as soon as I plugged my clicker and started it the laptop went blank. this was 9:35 am talk is at 11:00 am. one of the speaker ops representatives was around me and we started chatting how it’s important to have all of devices charged etc. she told me about a funny scenario that happened few years ago. that kind of helped me calm myself and I started with NVRAM and PRAM reset procedure to see if that helps. meantime I also started my backup MacBook. both PRAM and NVRAM reset gave no results. and my backup mac was showing me the prompt system restarting a patch applied. (I was using my own internet so was not worried about Wi-Fi issues but still situation was funny).

here I was at around 10:00 am fingers crossed waiting for one of the laptops to start responding and in the meantime looking at who is around and whose machine I can get and use as a last resort and what I would need on that machine. 10 minutes which were longest of my life I finally got my older MacBook working again. I decided to keep primary macbook out of picture now and focus on the backup and ensure its already.

Hence the prep started,
1. desktop cleaned up nothing except what’s done today on desktop
2. pptx copied over
3. video copied over
4. VLC configured to see if both video’s run.
5. Muting the speakers as I will be the one talking.

By this time, it was 10:25 and a speaker ops representative escorted me to the room, I was on the verge of paranoia and hence I preferred keeping laptop on and open in my hands throughout the time. Once I reached room, I was greeted by a familiar face Bruce Cowper, we have already interacted over email and hence was someone I was comfortable with. It was 10:40 last speaker finished early, so I got more time to settle in. We started talking and I casually informed him about the primary laptop dying, in the meantime setup folks arrived and I was setting the laptop up when the AV guy casually asks do you have a dongle or you need one and my immediate response was I don’t need it I have direct HDMI and his face had a massive look of confusion. that’s when I realized my primary is 2015 mac whereas my secondary is older 2012 MacBook. Next set of panic attack struck me, and I had to calm myself down and realized I bought all the extension cords with me. found the mini display to HDMI handed it to them.

by 10:50 I was done and setup on stage, this is the point when Bruce started talking random stuff and it took me 5 minutes to realize he was talking all those points just to calm me down. This is when my respect for Bruce as well as speaker ops team grew leaps and bounds. Once that was done, I was told about timer etc and then I did my talk

Fun afterwards

Now my parents don’t have a lot of clue of what I do so sometimes when I get appreciations, I would send them a link co-incidentally my company tweeted about my talk, so I send them the link over.

This is where fun starts. My father has his phone’s default language set to Hindi which means webpages are auto translated to Hindi. the same happened here with funny results

For those not well versed with Hindi. I will do a retranslation of the second part. @anantshri is now stone pelting. My father is immediately in a panic state and contacted my sister, we didn’t educate Anant for this. he is doing such things if he wanted to do this, he could have done it in India why go outside and defame the whole country. My sister then calmed him down and showed the video and then I was removed off the hook.

Sometimes such coincidences can bring out funny results.

Key takeaways

I don’t want to talk if the session was good or bad. I want to focus on what happened specially before and what saved me.

  1. Having backup copies of slides in different sources (cloud and Pen drive)
  2. Having 2 sets of laptops with near similar working environment
  3. Having connection cords etc for all laptop models
  4. Having prior knowledge of the room (this helped me to remain calm otherwise that would have added to the panic)

I hope this helps someone else calm the nerves down and prepare for the worst scenario.

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