JailbreakCon 2014: behind the scene

WWJC large logo

As I am trying to write a catchy intro for this post, I can’t help but feel the pressure. I’m feeling the pressure mainly because I wrote a similar piece a couple of years ago when I first attended JailbreakCon. To date, this post is still one of my favorites I have published on iDB. Having set the bar pretty high, this sequel could prove to be like most sequels: uninspired and thrown out there to cash in on a previous success. This is a risk I am willing to take today.

Maybe more importantly, I am feeling the pressure because I don’t want to disappoint readers by writing the same story I wrote a couple years ago. I guess I’m feeling like a musician that is incapable of finding a different sound for his next album, you know, kinda like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sometimes it’s good to keep the same sound. Sometimes it gets repetitive and boring. Hopefully, this time will still feel as refreshingly honest as it did the first time, while still entertaining readers, which really is my ultimate goal.

Yes, my goal is not so much to tell you about all the great workshops and talks I attended at JailbreakCon this year. My goal is to share the other side of the story. The side that no one not attending the event would be able to experience if it wasn’t for the words I’m typing on the keyboard right now. Let’s call it the behind the scene story of JailbreakCon.

So this is me, sharing my story of JailbreakCon 2014. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed living it…

Unlike the first time I attended, I wasn’t really nervous about going and meeting some of the biggest names in the community because I had already met most of them and had developed a pretty good relationship with them. I’d go as far as calling them my friends, which seems kind of weird because I only get to see them once every two years or so. The rest of our friendship is based on sarcastic tweets and spouts of messages.

The problem I had this year was that I was on a tight schedule. I have a wife, a toddler and another kid on the way, so it was really hard for me to leave my family behind, even for a short period of time. Despite the timing restrictions, I made sure to be there on Thursday for the barbecue, which is arguably the best thing about JailbreakCon, assuming you like to eat lots of meat, drink lots of beers, listen to loud music and hang out with the cool cats of the community. I was in luck because this is exactly my kind of scene.

The storm before the calm

I landed on Thursday afternoon at 2pm. Thankfully, my friend Cyril (you know him as pod2g) came and picked me up at the airport with his girlfriend Claire. Instead of jumping straight into madness, we decided to be good tourists and spend some time in China Town. It was a particularly warm and sunny day for San Francisco, which made it even more lovely. After a while walking around, we drove to the Jailbreak House, which is where all the fun stuff really happens.

A short ride and quick stop at the liquor store later, we finally made it to the Jailbreak House where Craig Fox, the organizer of the event welcomes me. Gosh! I had forgotten how tall and british Craig is. When he starts hugging you, you’re never really sure you’re going to make it out of there alive. I did, as these words can attest.

Sebastien Page and Craig Fox selfie
What’s up with the face, Craig?

Making my way upstairs, Kevin Bradley (nitoTV) is the first person I get to salute. Kevin and I are kind of on the same page about lots of things. We both have a strong dislike for Google, we both like to quote Anchorman, and we both have a very sarcastic and weird humor that could hurt the sensibility of many people around. We both don’t care much about that though. Kevin likes to describe himself as an asshole, which would be hard to argue if you didn’t know him. But as you get to know him, you realize he’s actually a man who likes the idea of being an asshole and shows it by saying inappropriate things. Again, I’m totally fine with that and I actually enjoy it.

Kevin Bradley
Kevin Bradley in zombie mode

A look at my Pebble makes me realize that it’s already beer o’clock and I’m late. I definitely have some catch up to do…

Next on the greeting list is Melissa Archer, a soap opera actress with a passion for jailbreaking. I met Melissa a couple years ago and we’ve been following each other ever since. Besides being just plain awesome, Melissa is good to have around because, as you might imagine, this is a mostly male-dominated industry. With her beautiful red hair and her hypnotizing blue eyes, Melissa is a reminder that women also jailbreak.

Melissa Archer
Don’t show this picture to my wife

Some tall guy then shakes my hand telling me his name in a very quiet voice. So quiet in fact that I can’t understand it and kindly ask him what his name is again. “Hi, I’m Filippo” he says with an Italian accent, and still very much quiet. Filippo Bigarella is one of my favorite jailbreak developers, especially because of Springtomize, which is always on my list of must-have tweaks. Filippo has also been nice enough in the past to develop a simple tweak for me called SkipLock. I am very happy to finally meet Filippo, who’ll turn out to be my favorite person of this year’s JailbreakCon.

Ryan Petrich and Filippo Bigarella
Two big names of the jailbreak community: Ryan Petrich & Filippo Bigarella

Enters Thientam Bach, also known as Surenix (my favorite person of JailbreakCon 2012). He quickly says hi as if we didn’t really know each other. I guess he’s just too cool for school. Or maybe he’s just overwhelmed by the activity already going on in this house. He’ll warm up to me as the evening unfolds though. Surenix came with his girlfriend, a sweet girl with a strong interest in video games. She’ll later tell us the story of how they met and how Surenix wanted to invite her to his home on their first date. It’s a cute and funny story.

Thientam Bach Surenix
Me and Thientam Bach, aka Surenix

There is a bunch of other people hanging out, such as Cammy Harbison, Joshua Hill (p0sixninja) and ep0k, a guy who’s achievements include hacking into a Tesla, among other pretty cool things.

I am getting old and there are a few things that I like to get straight when I go places. Figuring out where I’m going to sleep is usually high on my list. Space at the house is limited and rooms are already taken by couples, but Craig assured me on many occasions that I will definitely have some sort of mattress to lay on, as well as blankets and a pillow. Although I am more of the “comfort and private space” kind of guy, I decided to try to sleep at the house with everybody else. Worst case scenario, I can always get a hotel room the next day.

The party is going on. Beers are drunk in industrial quantities. Vodka is flowing as if we were celebrating Sergey Veremeenko’s birthday is Moscow. Funny things resembling electronic cigarettes make their ways around. It’s definitely a party, and obviously everybody is enjoying his time here.

More people join the party. Ryan Petrich came in relatively early, followed by Saurik and Britta, as well as a deluge of other faces which I have a hard time remembering. Coronas might be to blame for my selective memory of the evening.

The theme of the evening seems to be selfies. Craig just won’t stop talking to you in a serious voice and then goes “but first, let me take a selfie.” While I can imagine it sounds ridiculous to anyone not being there, it’s the kind of thing you have to experience first hand to realize how funny it actually was. Over the course of the weekend, I’ll probably hear various people say “but first, let me take a selfie” a couple hundred times. I was myself guilty of overusing this phrase which became an iconic meme of JailbreakCon 2014.

Later that night, DJ Manny brings his turntables and huge speakers to take the party one step further. Pod2g, who has a secret passion for DJing gets behind the tables. It looks pretty fun, and having never done that before, I definitely want to give it a try too, which I actually did, as you can see on the video below.

It’s about 2am. Most people went home or to their room to try to get some sleep. I am exhausted. So is Ryan Petrich and we try to figure out who’s going to sleep where. While we considered sharing the sofa bed for a short moment, we stumbled upon an inflatable mattress. It’s decided: Ryan gets the sofa bed, and I get the inflatable mattress. While it does look comfortable, there is virtually no chance to fall asleep with the party still raging literally 20 feet away from us with no door to attenuate the sound level.

I was actually very surprised how so few people can make that much noise, but I guess that’s what happens when you put that kind of crowd together. For those keeping the score at home, it must be said that Craig and his friend Leon were likely the most noisy people, closely followed by nitoTV and Melissa. Of course DJ Manny and his buddy Austin weren’t innocent either, as they kept pumping crazy loud beats out of these speakers.

I think the party officially ended around 5am, which is probably the time I fell asleep. Two hours later, I was up, with apparently no way to fall back to sleep.

The day before the event

Filippo is already up. He’s just pacing around the house hoping for something to entertain him, but nothing seems to do. Melissa and Craig are up too, with Kevin following shortly after. It’s 8am, which means it’s time to have a beer, at least according to Kevin. I had no problem doing that 10 years ago, but I guess I’m a little more reluctant these days, simply because I know my body won’t be able to handle it. Or maybe I lack practice?

I’m also trying to stay as sober as possible because iDB editor Jim Gresham and I have planned to go to the Apple HQ today. Jim recently got a new job at a startup called GuideBook and he is in San Francisco for a short period of time. Not only this is the perfect occasion for us to connect, but it is also the perfect time to drive to Cupertino to do some shopping at the Company Store, and who knows, maybe even get into the HQ.

Because I don’t want to sleep just another 2 hours that night, I go to hotels.com and book a room right across the convention center, which is where Jim will be staying too during the event. It ended up being an expensive last minute booking, but well worth the price of my sanity.

Everybody in the house seems to be in a touristy mood on that day. No one except Filippo wants to go the headquarter with us, which is fine. Their loss! Filippo and I go to Jim’s office in the Soma district, and get a rental car for the weekend. Finally, around mid day, we’re headed to Cupertino.

Road trip
Me, Filippo, and Jim, roadtripping to Cupertino

On our way there, I randomly send a tweet saying that we’re heading to Cupertino, and that if any Apple employee wants to let us in, it would be much appreciated. As you would imagine, you just can’t get into 1 Infinite Loop without being either an employee, or a guest. While you can stay outside the building and take as many pictures as you want, you can’t get inside unless you’re an employee or accompanied by an employee. Two years ago I tried to sneak in without valid credentials, but I was quickly stopped by security personnel.

So we get in Cupertino and as we’re taking pictures by the iconic 1 Infinite Loop sign, I get a message from someone who saw my tweet. The message reads : “Yo! How long are you at Apple until? I can be there around 2:30 PM. If you didn’t know, I work here!” As it turns out, this person I’ve known for several years is now working for Apple. We were definitely in luck.

Jim Sebastien 1 inifinite loop
Jim & I at 1 Infinite Loop

After doing some shopping at the Company Store, we met our Mystery Friend at 2.30 sharp at the door. He got some temporary badges printed for us, and we proceeded through the lobby and into the campus.

We were quickly instructed not to take photos, which we refrained to do despite the temptation. We walked around the outdoor space, then went to the Town Hall, where some big announcements were made in the past. Then we went to Caffè Macs where we sipped on a smoothie and grabbed a sandwich. As we were enjoying our meal at the terrace, I see what appears to be Jony Ive walk out of the cafeteria, heading back to his building. I asked my friends if they thought it was indeed Jony Ive, which they confirmed. A few minutes later, we noticed that Roger Rosner was sitting right behind us. We definitely were in luck to see these two execs.

The thing that shocked me the most about Jony Ive is how unhealthy he looked. He definitely looked like he had gained 20 pounds from the last time I saw a public picture of him. Maybe he’s accusing the cost of long days of work and very little time to work out. I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter anyway.

After spending about an hour inside the campus, we parted our ways, making sure to thank our good friend once again for allowing us to experience this. We then returned to San Francisco, our head full of good memories from our trip to the Campus.

Instead of going back directly to the Jailbreak House, we stopped by our hotel so we could check in. Afraid of having to spend another sleepless night, Filippo decided to share a room with Jim. We all got into our quarters and got set up. Finally, I went to Jim and Filippo’s room so we could all go back to the house.

This is when one of the funniest moments of JailbreakCon happened. Filippo was sitting in the room’s chair with a look on his face showing exhaustion, distress, and happiness all at the same time. Filippo then said with his Italian accent “I am so happy I can finally sleep tonight.” Admittedly, this is one of these moments you must live to enjoy it fully. The way he looked and the way he said that was so hilarious that Jim and I cracked up.

We drove back to the Jailbreak House where we hang out for a while. Britta, the community manager of Cydia, was there making sure that all speakers had their presentations ready. As a good kid, my presentation had been ready for a few days, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. Of course, Kevin was late to the game, which definitely doesn’t come as a surprise when you know him.

Britta, Cydia’s community manager, definitely taken by surprise here

Jim had had this tweak idea for months that he was hoping to get developed. Sitting down at the table next to Filippo seemed to be the right time. The tweak is pretty simple. Any time you use the Emoji keyboard, have the tweak automatically revert back to the default keyboard (usually English) the next time you open an app that uses the keyboard. Jim pitched his idea to Filippo and about 20 minutes later, the tweak was live on Filippo’s repo. It is called KeyFault (as in Default Keyboard). Credit for the name goes to Ryan Petrich which cleverly made it up on the fly.

Jim and Filippo
Jim, supervising the development of KeyFault

I wasn’t as lucky as Jim in getting two of my simple tweak ideas developed. I was hoping Filippo would be able to make it happen, but apparently it’s more complicated than he thought at first. Ryan Petrich later offered to develop the tweak for me. ShareLock is now available on his beta repo.

Around 11pm, we called it a night and drove back to our hotel where Filippo was finally going to be able to get his beauty sleep. This was indeed much needed quiet time.

Let the event begin

It’s funny how you learn about someone’s habits by spending just a little time with them. For example, I learned that Filippo must brush his teeth after drinking coffee. Every time we’d go to Starbucks, we’d have to make a quick stop by the hotel so he could brush his teeth. It’s actually a good habit. Maybe it could become a more efficient one if he just carried a tooth brush and tooth paste in his backpack at all time.

On the first day of the convention, I actually tried to get to the convention center early so I could place iDB stickers everywhere. I had several hundred stickers with me and there was no way I was going to bring them home. As they did with the first JailbreakCon I attended, these stickers ended up being an awesome marketing tool as everyone would put stickers just about everywhere. If you were at JailbreakCon, you can definitely attest of the power of these stickers.

After spending a few minutes placing stickers on every tables and chairs, I helped out with the registration/sign in process. People had been able to register online but the sign in process was kind of chaotic. There was no actual verification as to whether people had paid to attend or not. Anyone could have just entered and pretend to have already registered and no one would have actually noticed.

Welcoming people at WWJC
Me and Melissa signing people in (photo credit)

Attendees were simply asked to write down their name on a tag and put the tag on their shirt. I am definitely hoping that we can have something more rigorous in place next year because this was kind of a messy process. This is to be expected from a convention that is still in its infancy, and I suspect that this process will get better with each new edition.

It was definitely fun to help people sign in because I got to meet most of the people attending, even though it was for a brief moment, it was great to meet some iDB readers and/or Let’s Talk Jailbreak listeners.

Saturday morning was focused around mini workshops. People would be able to get together in small groups and learn from various people such as Saurik, Britta, Ryan Petrich, etc… Some workshops were definitely more casual than others, such as the one by Ryan Petrich, where attendees would be able to collaborate and share ideas.

After lunch, we all gathered in the main room where some people, including yours truly, were giving mini talks (see mini talks videos). I talked for about 20 minutes, sharing tips for tweak developers on how they can get more exposure for their tweaks. Other people talked about specific development topics. The most touching talk was by Tim Collins about his involvement in a charity called Because of Ezra and how the jailbreak community has been able to donate thousands of dollars to this charity so far.

Because of Ezra was started by MMI co-founder Kyle Matthews after he lost his son to a pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma. Having a young child of my own, I was extremely touched by Tim’s talk but also by the fact that the jailbreak community has been able to do so much for the charity.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, please go to the website to learn more.

During the afternoon, I also go to meet with a kid from Canada named Justin. Justin is blind, which doesn’t prevent him from being an avid jailbreaker and someone with the ability to navigate through his iPhone like you’ve never seen before. Justin showed me how he uses his iPhone and explained why he jailbreaks. I’m not going too much into details here because I think we should have Justin as a guest of Let’s Talk Jailbreak one of these days so he can share his story in his own words with everybody.

Grant Paul, also know as Chpwn, was in attendance. Now working at Facebook on Paper – which by the way is a great app – Grant gave me a quick demo of Zephyr for iOS 7. He claims the tweak is 10% done, but from what I saw, I think he is underestimating the work he’s done so far. The problem with Zephyr for iOS 7 is that, if it was to happen, it would interfere with Control Center, which is something Grant hasn’t figured out quite yet. To conclude the demo, he did mention that he is not currently working on Zephyr for iOS 7, and he has no plan to in the immediate future.

For the past day or so, the question on everybody’s lips had been “is Jeff coming?” The second question on everybody’s lips was “when is Jeff coming?

That’s a question that I asked myself several times until Jeff actually confirmed he was coming. Because of his busy schedule, he was only able to fly to San Francisco on Saturday night and leave about 24 hours later to go back home. Believe it or not, this was going to be the first time I was to meet Jeff. Finally, on Saturday night, I did meet the face behind the voice.

Seb Jim Jeff
Me, Jim and Jeff, representing for iDB

It was a very strange feeling to meet Jeff because we had been communicating on almost a daily basis for several years, but we had never met before. I was a bit anxious, but nothing a Stone IPA couldn’t fix. When we finally met, there was a split moment of awkwardness, but this was quickly taken over by our happiness to finally meet. We actually discuss our first meeting more in details on this episode of Let’s Talk Jailbreak, should you care to learn more.

That night went pretty quick. After being kicked out of the convention center around 10pm, Jeff, Jim, Kyle Matthews, and myself went for a night cap at the nearby bar. We then called it a night, which was much needed as I still hadn’t had nearly enough sleep during the last two nights.

Going full speed

Sunday is a big day at JailbreakCon. This is the day where the big names give their big talks.

Because I hadn’t done anything that could be referred to as “work” during JailbreakCon 2012, I owed it to myself to actually do something this time around. Having Jeff on my side was definitely motivating. So was the fact that I had traveled from San Diego with a large box containing my microphone. If I was not going to liveblog or livetweet the event, then maybe I’d be able to record interviews with a few people.

To this effect, we created the Situation Room, also known as the Press Room, which simply was a large room with a cocktail table, and terrible acoustics. This was where we were going to record our interviews, despite the fact that it wasn’t particularly comfortable or convenient. But it is what it is.

Surenix was first to get in the Situation Room. He walked us through what he was going to talk about during his presentation, and maybe more importantly, he gave us an early look at his newest tweak auki.

Jeff Surenix
Jeff & Surenix in the Situation Room

Next on the docket was Ryan Petrich, who took the time to share his mindset when it comes to developing new tweaks.

Ryan Petrich interview
Jeff and I, interviewing Ryan Petrich

Ryan was followed by Pod2g, who gave us the most heated interview. Cyril was feeling particularly keen on sharing some of the details of the evasi0n7 jailbreak. We talked about China, about money, and about the future of jailbreaking. All these interviews can be heard on this episode of Let’s Talk Jailbreak, which I really urge you to listen to.

pod2g interview
Pod2g going deep into the interview

Unfortunately, we were pressed by time and didn’t get to record nearly as many interviews as we wanted to. I think Jim, Jeff and I realized there is much more involved in recording interviews than just that. We really enjoyed doing it though, so I think we’re going to try to get more of these jailbreak devs interviews in future episodes of Let’s Talk Jailbreak.

My flight was scheduled for late Sunday afternoon, so I had to leave the conference before Pod2g was even done speaking. During Pod2g’s talk, I started going around discretely to say goodbye to a few friends. Then Craig said I should say goodbye to Cyril who was on stage. No way, he’s talking right now. Craig pressed me to go say goodbye so I got on stage, shook Cyril’s hand, hugged him, and got off the stage. At this point, I’m not sure what happened, but everybody started clapping and cheering. I’m still not sure that was for me, but it didn’t matter. I just took a grand exit by high-fiving everybody on my way out. This was my 10 seconds of fame.

grand exit
My grand exit

While driving to the airport, I couldn’t help feeling like I had left too early. I had been gone for just a few minutes but I was already missing all these people. I was having the same feeling I have when I spend a few weeks back home in France and must return to the US. I am obviously happy to go home, but I also feel terribly sad to leave the place. This is exactly what I experienced on Sunday night, until I got home and got to kiss my daughter who was already asleep.

All good things must end

Of course I’m already counting the days until next year’s JailbreakCon. I understand that attending the event might not be possible for everybody, but if you leave somewhere around San Francisco, you really have no excuse for not attending. It’s very affordable, and it really is your best chance to meet and talk to all the people who make the jailbreak community, from the hackers working on a jailbreak, to the developers releasing tweaks, and all the jailbreak users in between.

As I reflect on the mistakes that I made, it was pretty obvious that getting a return flight on Sunday afternoon was a terrible idea. But I am learning from this mistake, and I’ll make sure to take a return flight a day after the event is over next year. Just as much happens inside the convention center as outside and I definitely don’t want to miss any of that action.

Before I hit the publish button, I want to thank everyone who either attended or participated in this year’s JailbreakCon. Once again, it was an immense honor to be a part of this and meet the people who help make this community what it is. See you all next year!

For more pictures of JailbreakCon, feel free to browse my Flickr album.