In many ways, attending Toronto’s biggest hacker conference is like drinking from a fire hose. At any point in time you have 6 seminars of which at least half are of particular interest. It’s an event where your reptilian brain is in constant conflict with your rational one in trying to decide between taking part in a session that covers your favorite topic or one that actually resonates with your career.

I attended this week’s SecTor 2013 conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and came away impressed with the calibre of the presenters, the top notch organization of the event and the gobs of interest in every arcane topic from pervasive surveillance to lock picking.

And so it was that I spent the better part of two hours picking away at the locks generously provided by Schuyler Towne, a passionate lockpicker and a fixture of this annual event. He and his fiancée patiently assisted the predominantly male crowd as they (we) clumsily pawed away at his locks, damaging picks and fine mechanisms in the process.

Perhaps as an effort to fight off the frustration brought about by a particularly smug lock that seemed to defeat my every attempt at picking it, I pondered the appeal of this decidedly non-IT activity at such a technically-oriented event. It was obvious to me that aside from the mildly alarming instinctive need of men of a certain age (read: any age) to overcome obstacles, there was a definite correlation between IT-style penetration testing and lock picking. Further, the challenges are amplified by the passive resistance of these impassive mechanisms until much time is spent in denying inevitable defeat.

Because there’s always a lock that laughs in the face of any manual dexterity we think we’ve developed in the short time spent abusing Schuyler’s tools. As many others did, I felt compelled to buy a set of tools and sample lock to pick at.  This consumed much of my train ride home as I compulsively picked away at the metallic device which occasionally allowed me to have a brief moment of satisfaction. And this wouldn’t be nearly as amusing if I hadn’t happened to be be sitting directly across a lady whose elegant knitting motions in the creation of a garment were in direct contrast to mine.

The rest of Sector was filled with back-to-back sessions that I thoroughly enjoyed, from taking in the latest statistics on Internet crime to getting some tips on physical security testing from people who actually get caught once in a while. Despite this steady flow of information, which is what I feed on daily anyway, I can’t say I have a favorite. And that’s a good thing.

Any IT industry event that feeds your mind as well as your stomach (and the lunch buffets were excellent, by the way) is good in my book. And Sector 2013 is certainly an excellent Canadian answer to the US DEFCON and BlackHat conferences, at least because it saves us locals from having to brave airport security.