The tale of my three days at the epicenter of the jailbreak community

I went to JailbreakCon full of good intentions. I was going to live tweet the event, I was going to write posts about every speak, and I was going to interview as many speakers as I could. As it turned out, I did none of that. Instead, I soaked in as much as I could from everyone around me. I did what I hadn’t done for a long time: I socialized!

When I say that I socialized, I’m not saying that I pretended to be friends with some people I mostly knew on Twitter. No, I actually lived with these people for three days, learned about their lives, their habits, and their personality. I learned about the real “them”, not the image they sometimes give of them on Twitter or IRC.

This is the story of my three days at the epicenter of the jailbreak community. You won’t learn anything here about the iOS 6 jailbreak, because what happens at JailbreakCon stays at JailbreakCon, but hopefully, you will get a glimpse a the other side of the jailbreak community…

It all started on Thursday morning when my wife dropped me off at the airport. The excitement was building up as I was just a few hours away from meeting the brains behind the jailbreak community. The excitement actually had plenty of time to build up since my plane happened to be a couple hours late. Armed with three episodes of Sons of Anarchy, I was equipped to cope with the waiting time. Finally, the plane took off then landed not long later in San Francisco. A quick hop on the Bart and there I was, downtown, checking in my hotel room. After resting and taking the mandatory shower, I used Uber to drive me to the Jailbreak House, where JailbreakCon organizer Craig Fox, and a few hackers, including pod2g, were staying.

Day 1: the Jailbreak House

As I ring the bell, I’m feeling a little nervous. I’ve wanted to meet Cyril (pod2g) for a while. I have an immense respect for him and his work, and the last thing I want is to appear like a douchey groupie. The door opens and I see him and a couple other guys. I say a quick “salut” (hello, in French) to Cyril, then proceed to introduce myself to everyone. P0sixninja (Joshua), NitoTV (Kevin), Pimskeks (Nikias), Josh Tucker, Aaron Ash, Dustin Howett, and more are here, chilling.

Craig makes me feel right at home by offering me a beer and showing me the insane amount of food he got for the barbecue. I can’t help thinking we could put an end to hunger in the world with all the food sitting before my eyes. Then Craig explains to me who’s coming and who’s not. Unfortunately, Saurik can’t make it tonight. It’s all good, I’ll get to meet him tomorrow.

Me and Cyril, aka pod2g

I then start to talk to Cyril. I am immediately struck by how friendly he is. We talk about just about anything: France, his trip in the US, his kids, his job, my wife, his girlfriend. Within a matter of minutes, I don’t see him as pod2g anymore, but I see him as Cyril, an unbelievably humble man who doesn’t seem to realize how much people idolize him.

A few more people come into the house. I introduce myself and ask them who they are. Holy shit! I just met Ryan Petrich and Grant Paul. These two are my favorite jailbreak developers, hands down. I had seen Ryan Petrich before (we were interviewed for the French television about Siri a few months ago) but I didn’t recognize him at first. As for Grant Paul (aka Chpwn), I would have never guessed who he was.

Wearing an oversized Facebook hoodie, Grant explained to me that he just finished a three-month internship at Facebook. Though he didn’t go into the details, he said he worked on the new Facebook app that launched not long ago. Grant Paul is a big believer in Facebook. As a matter of fact, he was wearing Facebook apparels every time I saw him during JailbreakCon. When asked if I could take a picture with him, Grant kindly declined saying he’s trying to keep a low profile these days, whatever that means. I couldn’t help telling him that he is one of my two favorite jailbreak devs and that Zephyr is my favorite jailbreak tweak. I think he heard that many times before.

As the group of people attending the barbecue gets bigger, there is one voice that seems to get louder than everybody else. It’s Kevin/NitoTV, the hacker mainly responsible for every Apple TV jailbreak. I had chatted with him a few times on Twitter before. I know he’s got some strong political beliefs so I’ll do my best to not go that way. Kevin is kinda loud, incredibly funny, and doesn’t seem to be able to quench his thirst, as he keeps going back to the fridge to open yet another beer. But don’t get me wrong, the guy can hold his alcohol. Did I mention he is funny as hell? Just like me, he can spend hours quoting lines of Anchorman and Office Space. This is a winner in my book!

Then all the sudden, as I turn around, I see Saurik coming in. Pretty much everybody in the room pissed their pants at that time. As you know, Saurik is highly regarded and respected in the community. As a matter of fact, he IS the community! I introduce myself as Sebastien Page. The name seems to ring a bell, but he asks for my Twitter username. When I tell him I run iDownloadBlog, he instantly makes the connection. Although he’s likely not a daily reader of the site, Saurik knows we do a great job, and he actually sometimes chimes in the comments section. Saurik came with his assistant, Britta. I talked to Britta before over email. She is one bright young woman that has an incredible importance in the running of Cydia and Saurik’s legal business entity, SaurikIT. As the only woman in the group, she tells me she’s used to it, and don’t feel uncomfortable at all.

Saurik and me

Everybody in this room wants a piece of Saurik. It’s understandable, because for all of us, he’s a legend. Some of the guys have met him before, but most of them haven’t. It was interesting to see Ryan Petrich, pod2g, and others line up to salute the man.

Later that night, Saurik, Dustin Howett, Grant Paul and more are gathered around a laptop, talking about things that are way over my head. Although I have no clue what they are talking about, I am watching this moment unfold before my eyes, appreciating and soaking in every minute of it. It’s kind of a magical moment to see these people working together with the ultimate goal to make the jailbreak community even better.

It’s getting late, most people are gone. It’s just a handful of us now. The braves that obviously don’t have better to do but keep drinking beers while talking about just about everything, but nothing in particular. Sometimes around 2am, I set up a Uber pickup to take me back to my room. I crash around 3am, exhausted.

Day 2: Hooligans and Mothership

On Friday, I woke up around 7am. I’m still exhausted but because my daughter has been waking me up so early for the past 9 months, my biological clock is set to wake me up at 7am, no matter what. I put some dirty clothes on, walk to Starbucks around the corner, unsuccessfully try to get some work done, and go back to my room to shower and get ready to meet the boys at the Jailbreak House.

Craig tells me that Mario (of JailbreakMatrix) can pick me up. Awesome! It’s going to save me $30. I had met Mario the night before but didn’t really get to talk to him. On the way to the house, we get to know each other more. I know right away we’re going to get along just fine.

The Jailbreak House smells like a frat boy house on a Sunday morning. It reeks of stale beer and testosterone. This is usually not my type of scene, but I’m loving it. Everybody’s here, more or less awake, typing things on their keyboard.

Just like he was yesterday, Josh Tucker is full of energy. Maybe even too much energy for such a slow morning. Or maybe he’s just the guy we need to get us motivated to actually do something today. It’s decided, we’re headed to the venue to make sure everything is ready. A 20-minute car ride later, we’re all there: Me, p0sixninja, Craig, pod2g, NitoTV, Josh Tucker, Mario, Alex Heath, Pimskeks, and other people.

P0sixninja, kindly posing for the picture

We hang out at the venue for a few hours making sure everything is on track for the D-day, tomorrow. We’re all exhausted and starving. We decide to go to Houlihan’s (or Hooligans, as I would call it), which is literally right next to the convention center. We’re a table of a dozen people. I’m feeling generous so when the check comes, I pick it up while pulling my iDB credit card out. The guys appreciate the gesture. I appreciate being able to do something for them.

Me, Tam, Alex, and Mario, on our way to Cupertino

We’re done with lunch at around 4pm and a few of us decide to take a trip to Cupertino to visit Apple’s HQ. Alex, Surenix, Mario and I drive there, just in time to buy a few t-shirts before the store closes. The car ride was the occasion for me to get to know Surenix better. He’s a talented young designer mostly known for his awesome themes, such as Ayecon. Surenix, or Thientam “Tam” Bach of his real name, is one of those fine folks you get along with right away. He’s funny, laid back, and just a cool dude all around.

We get to Cupertino shortly after 5pm to witness a massive wave of Apple employees leaving the office to go home. Most are driving, some are getting in line for the bus. We buy a few t-shirts and take the mandatory photos in front of the 1 Infinite Loop sign.

You need a badge to get in any of the buildings, but since I made it that far, I try to sneak in with a couple other employees. As they scan their badge to open the door, I walk right behind them. I make it passed the first door, but I won’t make it passed the second one as a security guard who inquired about my non-existing badge kindly asked me to leave. Oh well. We walked all around the Loop, took a few more pictures, and drove back to the Jailbreak House.

Once there, a few of us start drinking again, sending tweets, posting pictures and frenetically typing on the keyboards of our Macs. I manage to get something done for iDB, but not enough to warrant to call what I just did “work”. I’m just feeling lazy. I just want to hang out with the guys and have a good time.

David, in his badass jacket

I believe it is around that time that PlanetBeing (David) arrived at the house. You may remember PlanetBeing for his work on software unlocks back in the days, or for his work on MyWi 2 and IntelliScreenX most recently. From what pod2g told me, David was also an important piece of the puzzle in the latest untethered jailbreak. David may not strike you as the kind of guy who listens to punk rock music and wears a leather jacket with graffitis and metal spikes on it, yet he does.

It’s getting late and we decide to all go to meet actress Melissa Archer, a jailbreak fan who’s attending the convention, for dinner. Melissa’s hotel in by the Convention Center so we all go to that direction and end up having dinner at Hooligans, the same place we had lunch at earlier in the day. As 20 of us walk in the restaurant, we are told there isn’t any room for us.

Jailbreak fanatic and actress Melissa Archer

Then Melissa works her magic and gets us a giant table to accommodate all of us. I’m sitting at the very end of the table, right next to Surenix, which was the right occasion to talk to him about maybe doing some design work (maybe even an app?) for iDB. We’ll see where this goes.

The real Surenix

After dinner, people shuffle the seats and everybody is seating somewhere else. I end up at the other end of the table with Craig, Melissa, David, Cyril, and Kevin. This is when I started talking to David a little bit and learned more about him, what he does, where he lives, etc…

I’m exhausted, and to be honest, slightly drunk. The few shots that made the rounds didn’t help keeping me sober, but it’s all good, because I’m still behaving. It’s late. Time to go back to the Jailbreak House for one night cap.

Everyone’s over 21? Suuuuuure

Everybody is going to bed. At this point, I think it’s just me, David, and Kevin. Kevin offers to go out for a smoke, so David and I oblige. The two of them enter an uber geeky conversation that I can’t keep up with. At some point, Kevin tells the tale of his early days of hacking. He then suddenly looks at me and says “you’re not going to write about that, are you?” I reassure Kevin by letting him know I am not the TMZ of jailbreaking and pretty much everything he says will never leave this place. Remember, what happens at JailbreakCon stays at JailbreakCon!

It’s about 2am, I use Lyft, a crowdsourced service similar to Uber, to go back to my hotel. I brush my teeth, reply to a few emails and crash around 3am.

Day 3: JailbreakCon

Once again, I wake up at 7am, feeling slightly more shitty than the previous morning. I’m hangover, and the smoke I had last night doesn’t make things any better. I gobble down a handful of Advils. The event starts at 9am and I know I will not make it there on time. I start my daily routine of emails, Twitter, and RSS feed check. I’m hurting.

I then remember that I’m going to have my 3 minutes of fame at the event since I’m supposed to get on stage and introduce iDB to the 4 people there who might have not heard of it before. I scribble something on a piece of paper, throw it in my pocket, brush my teeth, take a shower, and go to Starbucks to get the mandatory grande skinny vanilla latte. In the meantime, I set up a Uber ride to come pick me up and drive me to the Convention Center.

I arrive there around 10am. I’m hurting. Cyril saved me a seat next to him. On my left is Steve (iH8sn0w) and his awesome mother, Nancy. Cyril and I chit chat a bit. I get up and walk around a bit and try to think about something else but the terrible headache I have. I realize that, at 32, I might be getting too old for the kind of night we had. Or maybe I just need more practice? Either way, I’m hurting.

Steve/iH8sn0w, proudly wearing the iDB colors

Two guys from a competing blog come say hello (hint: it’s not RedmondPie). I usually don’t care about competition because I think it’s a good thing. We all do things differently and that’s what make our sites interesting. But these guys have been ripping off the posts we publish on iDB for over a year, and although I called them out numerous time on it, they won’t care. I’m surprised they have the balls to come and introduce themselves. I resist the urge to punch them in the face and to tell them to go fuck themselves, but I do call them out again for ripping off my site all the time. Realizing that I’m in a feisty kinda mood, they fuck off.

During the day, while I’m talking to Reza from GeeksRiot in front of his table full of free WWJC merchandise, two guys come over, one of them already wearing a WWJC hoodie. The older guy tells the younger one to pick whatever he wants because it’s free. They seem a little desperate to get their hands on free stuff, no matter what it is. I find their behavior a bit odd but don’t give it much more thoughts. Later on, I found out they were Apple employees attending the event. They probably just wanted to blend in.

The day goes on quick but it’s still a very long day. Cyril and I look at the schedule and we realize the event is supposed to end at 9.30pm. That’s a 12 hour long event, something unheard of. Craig knows he made a mistake by making the event so long, and swears that next year, JailbreakCon will be over the course of two days.

At some point, I see PlanetBeing going into the Matrix. He’s on his laptop, completely sucked in the hundreds of lines of codes that are being displayed on his screen. He can’t seem to be bothered or distracted by anything. He’s definitely in the Matrix. Though I can’t tell, he might have found something interesting there.

The event is close to the end so I try to get as many pictures as I can with all prominent hackers and developers. Saurik, Britta, Ryan, Josh, and many more agree to pose with me for the mandatory picture that will owe me some massive bragging rights in the community. At some point, Saurik walks up to me and asks if he can take a picture of me. Well, well, well, looks like the tables have turned! As I found out though, he didn’t take a picture of me to use as his iPhone wallpaper, but to use for my contact entry in his phone. Now every time I call Saurik, I know a picture of me at JailbreakCon will show up on his phone. Neat! I ask Ryan Petrich if I can use the photo I took of him online. He says I can use any picture of him as long as it’s appropriate. I guess I won’t be able to photoshop a picture of him in a pink bikini then?

Ryan Petrich, surprisingly not wearing a bikini

It’s 10pm. The event is over and pretty much everybody is gone. Once again, we go to Hooligans for dinner. That’s the third meal we have had there in just two days. This restaurant isn’t particularly good, but it’s really convenient. During dinner, I get to know a bit more about Ryan Petrich. I think I managed to go through the whole dinner without telling him he is, along with Grant Paul, my favorite jailbreak developer.

After dinner, we all go back to our respective hotels. Everyone is dead tired, including me, although my headache has disappeared. I’m driven back to the Jailbreak House with the rest of the crew. From there, I use Side Car, a service similar to Lyft/Uber, to drive me back to my room. Once again, I crash at about 3am.

Day 4: back to normal

I woke up still exhausted on Sunday morning, around 7am. My flight isn’t until 4.20pm so I have plenty of time. Usually I’m the kind of guy who loves to have his alone time, but it’s been different for the last 3 days. I just want to be with my new friends all the time. So I brush my teeth, get in the shower, go to Starbucks, and get a Side Car ride to the Jailbreak House. I want to hang out with my friends as much as I can before I have to leave.

View from the Jailbreak House

I get there around 9am. Most of them are already up. I realize that for the first time in over a year, I haven’t posted the weekly top 10 posts wrapup. So I fire up my MacBook Air and start getting some work done. To be honest, that’s the most actual work I had done in the last three days.

The guys want to go to In n Out Burgers for lunch. Because I know this lunch might take longer than expected, I decide to go to the airport instead. Josh Tucker and the rest of the crew drive me there. Time to say goodbye. Sad face.

Of course, my flight is an hour late, so I have about 3 hours to kill at SFO. Once again though, I have a couple episodes of Sons of Anarchy to watch, so time flies by pretty quick. Arrived in San Diego, my wife picks me up at the airport, with my baby girl sleeping in the back. That’s the longest I’ve ever been away from her and I’m so happy to see her again. I just want to hold her and squeeze her but I won’t, because she’s quietly sleeping. I missed her so much.

That night, I go to bed feeling happy to be home, but sad to have parted with my friends. Note that I call them “my friends.” More than just a bunch of guys I spent the weekend with, we now have this special thing going on between us. We’re made of the same cloth. We bonded. I can’t wait to meet my friends again at next year’s JailbreakCon.