Archive for the ‘Informative’ Category

Helping Aaron – A Vintage Computer Adventure

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

This article was originally written for and published at Philly 2600 on December 23rd, 2013. It has been posted here for safe keeping.

It’s rare that I get overwhelmed. I’m not talking about stress or anything like that. It’s rare that my senses get overwhelmed, specifically my sense of sight. This past Saturday, that sense became overloaded.

I’ve known Aaron for a little while now. We met online somehow in 2012, and while I don’t remember the exact details, I think he started following me on Twitter and things went on from there after I followed him back and we started replying to each other’s tweets. We quickly figured out that we lived pretty close to  one another, which I found humorous considering we were both into archiving and preservation. Who would think that I’d be geographically this close to another person who idles in the #archiveteam IRC channel, online headquarters for the team dedicated to rescuing any and everything in the way of data? Aaron and I hit it off pretty well, and we eventually ended up meeting (somewhat unexpectedly) at Pumpcon 2013. Later, I ran into him again at the BSides Delaware conference and shortly thereafter he started coming to the Philly 2600 meetings which I’ve been frequenting for some time.

About two weeks ago, Aaron approached me via an online message and asked if I would like to go through some old computers at a local nonprofit he is on the Board of Directors for, NTR. NTR is in itself a fantastic organization which provides both refurbished computers (done in-house from donations) and hands-on computer training to low-income Philadelphia residents. If you are employed by or know a company in the area that is retiring their current fleet of workstations, consider donating the old machines to NTR. And, if they ultimately cannot use the machines, they will ensure that they are recycled in an environmentally safe fashion.

Aaron thought that I would be the right guy to help out. Being someone that preserves old technology, rescues it from unknown fate, and is a general enthusiast about it, I couldn’t resist the urge to come out and see what I could uncover. The details I got about what I was to do left a lot to my imagination. I got a location, we  settled on a time, and I was told to wear clothes I wouldn’t mind getting dirty and bring a set of work gloves. Hardhats would be provided.

The dirt and grime never bother me. Just what I would be working with, I didn’t know. But, I was excited nonetheless and on the morning of Saturday I walked on over to NTR and met Aaron out front. The building we would go on to enter was the former site of the hackerspace The Hacktory before they moved to a larger location. The building itself is a big old warehouse that is much larger inside than it looks from the street. The parking lot to the side is encased with giant stone walls almost as high as the building itself and easily fits a dozen cars without having anybody blocked in. Aaron tells me that the building has also been declared a historical site, meaning they can’t do a lot of modification to it directly, but they do keep it nicely maintained.

As Aaron lifts one of the giant metal doors encased in the building’s western wall, I get my first look into NTR. He shows me bins of donated computer equipment: smaller stuff like peripherals lovingly stacked in re-purposed milk crates and small amounts of desktop computers stacked together up the side of the two-story wall. I get a tour of all the classrooms, a look into the computer thrift store they run out of the same building, and dozens of other rooms and hallways that wind around the giant space, separated by heavy opaque sliding doors. Eventually we make our way into the main computer storage area where there are pallets upon pallets of donated machines on giant shelves that Aaron points out to me with a flashlight. It’s dark in this part of the building.

We then go up to the second floor to see Stan, who is the Executive Director Emeritus of the organization, having initially been the Executive Director starting in 1980 and taken on the Emeritus title more recently. Stan himself is energetic and charismatic and goes on to tell me about how he set up a community information store on South Street in the 1970′s as we head down to where we came in to the building to the relatively new looking wooden steps that will lead to the area that Aaron and I will be looking through for the next few hours. Aaron later explains that much like me, Stan has been collecting and preserving technology and computer history, though he has been doing it for considerably longer. Some of his collection is also mixed in with the stuff we will be digging through.

I put on my gloves and snag a hardhat out of milk crate on a shelf by the stairs before Aaron and myself head up. The stairs are steep and don’t seem to be spaced consistently. You feel like you could fall down them easily but the railing is firm enough to keep you steady. As we make it to the top, I peer into the sea of computers which I will be acquainting myself with, lit by a pair of metal lamps that are clipped on to the wide beams of the underside of the roof – an afterthought in this 40×20 foot space.

A shot behind me after I made my way off the stairs

A shot behind me after I made my way off the stairs

I quickly realize I can’t stand up all the way and have to hunch over, but that isn’t nearly as assaulting as the dust that comes out from seemingly everywhere and permeates through the air thick like smoke. Aaron walks slowly forward with his flashlight in hand and I follow close behind as he points out different areas of the space. We see newer stuff like a few Dell servers and stacks of Intel-based PCs at first but as we go further in we take more steps back in time. Aaron shines his light on a pile of all-in-one Macs before going further to the more interesting artifacts. On the left are some more modern machines, followed by boxes upon boxes of various documents, computers, and peripherals. I see Kaypros with Commodores with IBM clones and crazy displays for systems I can’t even fathom. There are tons of Macs, a few Mac clones, Apple ][s, and some old portable computers the size of suitcases. There are bags of electronics: half finished projects from decades before, muddled in with 8-bit personal computers, a pile of Sun workstations, and boxes of 5.25" floppy disks. On the right side are more Macs: G5s, G3s, a dozen classic Macs, some older desktops and a seemingly endless collection of obscure monitors and terminals to other systems. This is where we start.

A view of the left side

A view of the left side

A claustrophobic shot of the beginnings of the right side

A claustrophobic shot of the beginnings of the right side

We navigate down the narrow path separating the space straight through the middle and get acquainted with the Mac area. We line up rows of milk crates and start digging, sorting along the way. Put the classic Macs here, put modems in this bin, mice in that bin, terminals over here, MIPS-based hardware over there. We sort and sort and sort, moving the heavy machines slowly as we work another path into the mess. The day was a cold one, but we quickly discarded our jackets as we carried hardware along the narrow aisle we carved out; we were warm enough simply moving back and forth, ducking beneath low hanging beams and swiveling around waist-high stacks that created our own personal obstacle course. As we went, we stopped to appreciate anything interesting we happened to find. Almost immediately we come across a monitor for a NeXTcube (though we didn’t find the cube itself) and we dug up other odd monitors and software packages and interesting little add-on boards that most people have probably long forget. We pooled our expertise and our energy and sorted in a long sprint.

After we cleared a new path

After we cleared a new path

Cleared path continued

Cleared path continued

Aaron told me that a lot of this stuff will ultimately be cleared out. The newer stuff didn’t necessarily belong there and could be assimilated downstairs or recycled while the less valuable systems would be readily sold at their retail store. Some of the rarer pieces would be donated to museums or sold to enthusiasts and collectors who appreciate them to  ensure their longevity. I hope when the time comes I might fit into this last group. The amount of history in this room is simply breathtaking.

View from the far corner

View from the far corner

After a brief break, we pushed back against the section we were using for trash so we had more room to sort. Ultimately, we successfully cleared space more terminals and bins upon bins of manuals – hard copies are always under-appreciated. We then moved around, more slowly, to some of the more obscure hardware – testing a few things as we went. More time in this stretch was just spent digging as opposed to organizing. We wanted to see what was in some of the giant boxes at the bottoms of the stacks. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Who knows what would be tucked away? We sorted through some IBM clones, found an Amiga 2500, a Wang Terminal, a Vector Monitor, a Silicon Graphics Indy, a whole mess of Kaypros and some more interesting items like a computer for those with disabilities and a strange keyboard or computer that neither of us could quite figure out. Down below us, people were trickling in for a computer class in one of the many rooms. “Who here has internet access at home?” I heard an instructor ask before I accidentally knocked over a PowerPC Mac. Hopefully they didn’t mind the noise.

Delta Data IV "Cherry." Keyboard or 8-bit computer?

Delta Data IV “Cherry.” Keyboard or 8-bit computer?

SGI Indy

SGI Indy

Stack of Altos 580's on some Kaypros next to a Commodore 128

Stack of Altos 580′s on some Kaypros next to a Commodore 128

We finally succumbed to the tech and called it quits for the day. We got a good idea of what was up in the area and talked about the next steps which are likely to be inventorying and testing (though there can probably be some more organization in the meantime). The space itself serves as a fantastic time capsule and it is a breath of fresh air to know that some of the stuff in there is just in there – and in good condition. However, there is much to be done and many more hours to devote to make sure everything is handled properly.

As we rounded out the end of our excavation, we threw down the hardhats and unhanded the once-clean work gloves before walking around the corner for a cup of coffee. As we took our first steps away from the building, I felt a sense of accomplishment. We were archaeologists returning from our first day at an excavation. We uncovered some great finds, having fun along the way.

With any luck, I’ll be asked back. There’s a lot to go through and I can’t help but think that there’s more I can offer. Never before had I been able to lay my hands on some classic pieces of hardware that I had only read about, and it was quite an experience being able to put the pieces together.

Univac / Sperry Rand keyboard

Univac / Sperry Rand keyboard

“Age means nothing today,” Stan told me earlier that morning. “In this day and age, things are moving so fast.” I can’t say that I disagree, but I consider myself lucky to have the experience and knowledge under my belt when it comes to vintage computers.

And with any hope, I can keep expanding it.

 

 

A shot of the left side from out path in the Mac section

A shot of the left side from out path in the Mac section

Another shot of the left side

Another shot of the left side

Some newer Intel-based PCs

Some newer Intel-based PCs

More of the Mac area

More of the Mac area

Newer computers tucked away

Newer computers tucked away

More Macs, pink note states that this Mac was the second produced

More Macs, pink note states that this Mac was the second produced

Sun workstations, Macs, Apples, old laptops

Sun workstations, Macs, Apples, old laptops

RadioShack diskettes. Think the warranty is still good?

RadioShack diskettes. Think the warranty is still good?

5.25" diskettes

5.25″ diskettes

Close-up of the Altos 580's

Close-up of the Altos 580′s

A lone Kaypro II

A lone Kaypro II

Wang terminal

Wang terminal

A Tandy and a terminal

A Tandy and a terminal

The Amiga 2500 and an Apple monitor

The Amiga 2500 and an Apple monitor

Unknown brand keyboard

Unknown brand keyboard

Vector display

Vector display

Timex personal computer

Timex personal computer

Another Kaypro II and a Kaypro 10

Another Kaypro II and a Kaypro 10

Hacking History – A Brief Look Into Philly’s Hacking Roots

Monday, November 4th, 2013

This article was originally written for and published at Philly2600 on November 4th, 2013. It has been posted here for safe keeping.

The tech scene in Philadelphia is booming. We have local startups like Duck Duck Go and TicketLeap, and we have co-working spaces like Indy Hall and Philly Game Forge. We have hackathons like Apps for Philly Transit and Start-up Weekend Health, and we have hackerspaces like Hive 76 and Devnuts. We have user groups like PLUG and PSSUG, and we have conferences like Fosscon and PumpCon. We have events like Philly Tech Week and TEDxPhilly, and we have security meet-ups like PhillySec and, yeah, Philly 2600. The hacker spirit is alive and well in the city of brotherly love, but where did all of this pro-hacker sentiment come from? What came before to help shape our current tech-centric landscape?

It’s surprisingly difficult to approach the topic from the present day. I haven’t been there since the beginning, and the breadcrumbs left over from the era are few and far between. We are left with hints though, but usually from more analog sources. The first issue of 2600 that includes meeting times is volume 10, issue 2, from 1993. Philly 2600 is listed here with numerous others (making the meeting at least 20 years old), but how long did the meeting exist before this? We also know that Bernie S., longtime 2600 affiliate, was the founder of the Philadelphia 2600 chapter. Other than that, there is little to find on paper.


IMG_0871

First listing of the Philadelphia 2600 meeting in 2600 Volume 10, Issue 2 (1993).

But what else can we dig up? We do have some other little tidbits of information that apply themselves to the history of Philly 2600. The film Freedom Downtime (2001) has some footage taking place at Stairway #7 of 30th Street Station, the original meeting location. There are also mentions of the meeting in the book Hacker Diaries: Confessions of Teenage Hackers (2002), where one story places a student at the 30th Street meeting in the late 1990′s. More recent references, such as the current 2600 magazine meeting listings have the meeting location moved to the southeast corner of the food court – the location used previous to the current location some 50 feet away.


Mention of Philadelphia 2600 meeting from The Hacker Diaries: Confessions of Teenage Hackers (2002).

Mention of Philadelphia 2600 meeting from The Hacker Diaries: Confessions of Teenage Hackers (2002).

But what about the people who attended? It’s hard to keep track of this aspect, and as time goes on people come and go. Some come for one meeting and are never seen again, but some stick around a while. Eventually, there are no remains of the previous group – the meeting goes through generations. We can get a little information from simple web searches. Old Usenet listings can be a great source for material, here’s a Philadelphia 2600 meeting announcement from 1995 by The Professor. Even more interesting, here’s a Phrack article by Emmanuel Goldstein (publisher of 2600) talking about how he and three others brought Mark Abene (Phiber Optik) to the Philly 2600 meeting before having to drop him off at federal prison in Schuylkill.

Using Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we can get an interesting perspective on the members from ten years ago by visiting an archived version of the old website (also at this domain). This is actually something we can explore. It appears that as of mid 2002 to regulars were JQS, Kepi Blanc, Damiend LaTao, Dj`Freak, The Good Revrend Nookie Freak, and GodEmperor Daeymion. Before this, regulars included Satanklawz (former site admin at the time) and Starkweather before the site was passed on to Kepi Blanc. The archived website offers an incredible amount of information such as a WiFi map of the city, several papers, and even (incredibly tiny thumbnails of) meeting photos. It’s clunky and full of imperfections but this website offers a time-capsule-like look into Philly 2600′s past.


The old Philly 2600 logo

The old Philly 2600 logo

But what about other hacker origins in the area?

We know of Pumpcon, one of the USA’s first hacker conferences started in 1993 (almost as old as DEFCON). Pumpcon has been running for over 20 years with an invite-only status. It is often overshadowed and left in the dust by the larger conferences in the country, despite its stature as one of the first of its kind. Pumpcon has not been exclusively held in Philadelphia since its inception. The conference has previously been held in Greenburgh, New York and Pittsburgh. Pumpcon has no central repository of information (why would it?) but a lot of history can be found scouring the web through old ezine articles like this one about Pumpcon being busted and notices like this one announcing Pumpcon VI. I’m currently compiling as many of these resources as I can, but there is an immense amount of data to sift through. Below I have some hard copy from my collection: A review of Pumpcon II from the publication Gray Areas and the incredibly recent Pumpcon 2012 announcement.


Pumpcon II Review (Page 1/2) from Gray Areas Vol. 3 No. 1 (1994)

Pumpcon II Review (Page 1/2) from Gray Areas Vol. 3 No. 1 (1994)


Pumpcon 2012 Announcement

Pumpcon 2012 Announcement

Other groups are harder to find. Numerous groups started up, burned brightly, and were then extinguished. Who knows where those people are now or the extent of what they accomplished. There are of course a few leftovers. One of my own pet projects is the development of an archive of older hacker magazines. A previously popular publication in particular, Blacklisted! 411, sheds a little light on some long-lost Philly hackers. A few issues make reference to Blacklisted! meetings taking place at Suburban Station in Philadelphia and another at the Granite Run Mall run by thegreek[at]hygnet[dot]com (long defunct) in neighboring Delaware County (and surprisingly about five minutes from my house). The earliest occurrence of these meetings I can find of this is in volume 3, issue 3 from August 1996 but either may have started earlier.


Philadelphia/Media Blacklisted meeting listings from Blacklisted! 411 Vol. 3, Issue 3 (1996).

Philadelphia/Media Blacklisted meeting listings from Blacklisted! 411 Vol. 3, Issue 3 (1996)

There are a few other loose ends as well. The recent book Exploding The Phone (2013) by Phil Lapsley catalogs the beginnings of the phreak culture, and makes reference to several fone phreaks in PA, some more notable than others, including Philadelphia native David Condon and some unidentified friends of John Draper (Cap’n Crunch) around the time he was busted by Pennsylvania Bell. We additionally know that some of the main scenes in the previously mentioned Freedom Downtime were filmed in Philadelphia. We also know that there are were hundreds of hacker bulletin board systems in the area from the 1980′s through the 1990′s.


Bell Pennsylvania joke advert, from Exploding the Phone (2013)

Bell Pennsylvania joke advert, from Exploding the Phone (2013)

Let’s change gears now. Our main problem in moving forward is what we do not know. Stories and events have been lost as time goes one, and the hopes of finding them becomes dimmer with each passing year.

If you had some involvement with the Philadelphia hacking scene in the years past, tell someone. Talk to me. Let me interview you. Get your story out there. Share your experiences – I’m all ears.

Those of you out there hosting meetings and starting projects, keep a record of what you’re doing. This is my one request.

We’ve already lost a lot of history. Let’s try saving some.

Films to Look Forward Too

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Just a follow-up to the last article with some new films. It’s been pretty exciting as some of the ones on the last list started rolling out, and hopefully most of these will make it as well. As always, I don’t knows if any of these will be any good, but they’ve captured my attention to the point where I had to make a note of them.

Let me know if I missed any.

Aaron Swartz – The Internet’s Own Boy
Documentary on internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz. Anticipated early 2014.

The Archive Documentary
Can’t find a lot of into on this one, but there’s a “part 1″ of it about the Internet Archive (which you can find hosted there for download). Release unknown.

Computer Chess
Interesting fictional film shot on black and white video about 80′s geeks programming chess computers. The technology behind the filming almost interests me more than the plot. Currently screening.

Downloaded
Documentary about digital media and the file-sharing generation. Currently screening.

From Bedrooms to Billions
Documentary on the video game pioneers located in the UK. Anticipated late 2013.

The Gamer Age (previously Beyond the Game)
Documentary exploring gamer culture from many different angles. Currently screening.

Hackers in Uganda – A Documentary
Documentary about hackers contributing technical education and equipment in Uganda. Currently filming, anticipated early 2014.

High Tech, Low Life
Documentary following two Chinese citizen journalists as they travel the country. Anticipated 2013.

Inside the Dragon’s Lair
Documentary focusing on the legacy and history of the groundbreaking LaserDisc-based ’80s arcade game. Currently filming.

The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time
Documentary about classic arcade game collecting, but also focuses on arcade culture. Recently released.

UNDER THE SMOGBERRY TREES: The True Story of Dr. Demento
Documentary about the legendary DJ, Dr. Demento. Anticipated 2014.

The Video Craze
Documentary focused on ’80s arcade culture. Anticipated late 2013.

Video Games – The Movie
Documentary about the video game industry and culture resulting from it. Anticipated late 2013.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
Documentary about WikiLeaks and US government security breaches. Already has a large number of negative reviews. Anticipated 2013.

Films to Look Forward To

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

I often have a hard time finding movies to watch these days. I’m a big fan of documentaries, but even my long list of niche interests doesn’t always help me find something to watch that I have a genuine interest in. Fortunately, we live in a fantastic age when viewed from a media-centric perspective. If you look at the number of independently produced films from ten or even five years ago, you probably will not find as much as you could hope for. With low cost, high quality video equipment and crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo, even someone with a shoe-string budget can pump out a fantastic picture.

Having said that, I’ve been trying to throw some money at these crowd-funded film projects to reserve my copies for when the  films are completed. I’ve been closely following others which are produced without this aid. At the end of the day, I have a big list of films I’m anticipating and I thought I’d toss them all up in one page for those that may have similar tastes.

Now as I said, many of these films are crowd-funded. Crowd-funded projects do not always stick to schedule, and do not always get finished. It’s sad, but it’s the way of the world. With that little disclaimer out of the way, I try not to put my faith in anything that looks fly-by-night or generally poorly executed. Anything I have listed here appeared solid enough for me to trust them with a little bit of my money.

In all, I am waiting for 27 films to come out (mostly documentaries). Since this is a weird number, I’ve listed three more films which have already come out this year as a “bonus” to give the list a push to a more respectable count of 30.

Hopefully you can find something you’ll want to pursue.

The List

The 6502
Documentary about the 6502 chip and assembly programming. By Jason Scott. In Production, anticipated late 2015

8 Bit Generation
A documentary about retro computing and retro gaming, complete with interviews of some key players. All information about this film seems to have stopped last year, and nobody knows the current status. The domain stopped resolving a little bit ago, and many of the pre-orders are being automatically refunded as they are timing out. Possibly completed, originally anticipated late 2012.

Adjust Your Tracking
Documentary about modern VHS collecting and the VHS collecting community. In production, anticipated early 2012.

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Long awaited movie for the Angry Video Game Nerd, based off the web series of the same name. In production, anticipated Summer 2013.

Arcade
Documentary about arcades (the places, not the video games in them). By Jason Scott. In production, anticipated lat 2015.

Arcade: The Last Night at Chinatown Fair
Documents the last week of Chinatown Fair, NYC’s last arcade. In production, anticipated 2012

Capital C
Documentary about the crowd-funding phenomenon. In production, anticipated early 2013

Cassette
Documentary on the past, present, and future of the cassette tape from a musical perspective. In production, anticipated early 2013.

Code 2600
Documentary about the rise of the information age and the people who shape it. Currently Screening, no DVD release date yet.

Ctrl+Alt+Compete

Microsoft produced documentary about the start-up scene, focusing on five companies and their founders. In post production, no release date.

DEF CON Documentary
Documentary focusing on the DEF CON conference and the people who make it up. By Jason Scott. To be available as a free download or purchasable physical copy. In production, anticipated late 2012

Hackitat
A film about the politics behind hacking and freedom of the internet. In production, anticipated early 2014.

Here Come the VideoFreex
Documentary about the 1970’s video collective and their archive of tapes. In production, anticipated late 2013.

The King of Arcades
Documentary about Richie Knucklez and his arcade. In production, anticipated early 2013

Minecraft: The Story of Mojang
Documentary about the Mojang studio and the development of Minecraft. In post production, anticipated early 2013.

Persistence of Vision
Documentary about Richard Williams’ lost film, The Thief and the Cobbler. Currently screening, anticipated 2013.

Pure Pwnage – Teh Movie
Feature film based off of the Pure Pwnage web series. Set to pick up after the original series. In production, no current release date.

Reboot
Short cyberpunk film about a female hacker who will die if she cannot figure out the code on the iPod strapped to her hand.Currently screening, no DVD release date yet.

ReMade
Documentary about the maker movement and hackerspaces. In production, no release date.

Rewind This!
Documentary about the home video revolution and our relationship with media. In production, anticipated 2013.

Tape
Documentary about the medium of tape. By Jason Scott. In production, anticipated late 2015.

TPB AFK
Documentary about the founding and members of The Pirate Bay. In production, anticipated early 2013.

Two Hands Project
Documentary about hackerspaces. Being edited by Jason Scott. No release date.

Viva Amiga
Documentary about the Amiga computer. In Production, anticipated 2013.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists
Documentary about the Anonymous movement. An unfinished version has leaked on the web. Currently screening, digital download and physical copy anticipated late 2012.

The Wireless Generation
A documentary about how people are taking jobs that are solely online and travel the world. In production, anticipated late 2013

Zero Day
A documentary about cyber crime as seen by the security team at Facebook. In production, anticipated Summer 2013.

Bonus

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters
A documentary about competitive Tetris playing. It’s actually much more interesting than it sounds. The whole documentary follows tracking down the best players, and culminates with one definitive competition to name the master. Currently available for digital download and DVD.

Indie Game: The Movie
A documentary about independent game development. I happened to really enjoy it, though some people thought the interviewees were pretentious. It still gives an interesting look into the world of independant game development. Currently available for digital download, physical copies are available for pre-order.

Video Game High School
Okay, it’s not a film but Freddie Wong co-produced this comedy/action web-series this summer. The story takes place in a video game dominated version of the present day, and revolves around a high school student who gets accepted to the prestigious Video Game High School after killing a top player in an FPS.  The episodes are available streaming online in high definition for free, and DVD/Blu-Ray is available for pre-order.

Anatomy of a Hacker Con Media Leak

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Last week, videos from Black Hat USA 2012 hit the internet. Three days later, videos from Def Con 20 made their electronic debut. Only problem is, these videos were not meant to be distributed online.

Black Hat and Def Con conference videos for any given year usually retail about $400 USD for a set of DVDs. The DVD’s are relatively basic and consist of MOV files and a few PDFs to constitute a program. While Def Con videos are generally put up online for free a few months after the con, Black Hat videos don’t make such an appearance. Ever.

So here I was, perusing the internet for videos from these conferences on Youtube, when I noticed some new directories pop up on a familiar site: Good.net. I have few moral conflicts about sharing where to get this “pirated” content since the site in question will be shutting down tomorrow. For the unacquainted, Good.net is a strange hosting company which currently hosts darkoz’s “BlackHat/DefCon” mirror after it took up too much space on the last host (easynews for the detail-hounds). I’ve been archiving it, in parts, for almost a year. It gets updated every so often and is probably one of the single best sites for hacker media.

Anyway, these new directories for Def Con 20 and Black Hat 2012  originally came up unpopulated but slowly filled with content over the course of a few days. The Black Hat videos were mirrored and posted to Reddit where they spread and generated so much traffic the mirror went offline and Good.net removed the videos due to DMCA violation. This all took about 24 hours. After this, torrents started to pop up with the Black Hat videos where they remain primarily. More interestingly, a few days ago the videos actually went back up on Good.net as though nothing happened. The Def Con videos were pumped out in a similar manner. They popped up on Good.net and were torrented a day or two later.

Let’s talk about the videos themselves. Not the content and quality of the talks, but the actual files. This MOV format seems standard from checking out disc dumps of previous years (like so). No surprise there. However, the videos seem to have little care put into their production. From Def Con alone, I noticed only about half of the videos seemed to have correct metadata and two videos had aspect ratio issues. A handful of videos also suffered from video problems, meaning either the video camera failed, or the screen capture did. Further, the file names leave something to be desired. Looking up the presentation names to go with the files or playing guess-and-check is annoying, but tolerable for freed videos.

I’m not the only one who got in on the idea of downloading all the videos. If you do just a little bit of looking, you can see where people made download lists to feed into wget (here and here) and even a handy looking renaming script.

So where did the videos come from? It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe someone dumped their discs, and I’m sure this is the case. The archive at Good.net aggregates content from tons of active media archives and submissions (some stuff I put up actually got mirrored there). I’d wager that darkoz got the files as a donation. If he dumped the discs himself, why wouldn’t he include a program for the Def Con videos?

Though Good.net will be closing its doors, this hacker con mirror usually finds a new home.While I’ve done my best to mirror it, I cannot have foresight for any videos that might be added to it in the future, and hope the collection continues to grow. Where there are conference videos, there are people out there willing to share them, whether they be pricey or free.

Let’s see what slips through the cracks next year.

Get Fit with a Fitbit

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

I’ve had a Fibit Ultra for a bit over a month now, and it’s a pretty cool little gizmo. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, think of it as a smart pedometer. What does that mean? Your traditional pedometer will track your number of steps. The Fitbit, on the other hand, will track your steps, floors climbed, distance traveled, calories burned, activity level, and even sleep patterns. It also has basic clock and stopwatch functionality. When you buy the device, you get the Fitbit itself (about the size of a thumb drive), belt clip (the Fitbit is fashioned as a clip, but sometimes clothing is a bit too thick), arm band, and a charging station that doubles as an access point. The last item is especially interesting: You connect your Fitbit to charge once a week or so, but keeping the station hooked up via USB to your computer will allow you to wirelessly synchronize whenever you are within range (about 15 feet). This reports your stats to their online service so you can pull it up anywhere you have access to a web browser. In addition to keeping track of your daily stats, the online software will graph all of your activity in weekly/monthy segments and give you “badges” for your daily or overall progress.

I don’t talk too much about my personal life, but over the past year I’ve lost 95 lbs from a combination of vigorous walking and diet change. In this sense, I’m predisposed to exercising, which I continue to do often. That said, the Fitbit is a fantastic motivator. You can check your daily stats against goals set up, and you do get the push to go out and meet them. You might find yourself taking the stairs instead of the elevator a bit more, or walking to the store instead of going for a drive. There is even Facebook integration so if you had friends also using the Fitbit, you can choose to share your stats and “compete” with them. Overall, the Fitbit is great for walking/running activities. If you lift weights or cycle, this isn’t the device for you. I tried affixing the device to my pant leg while biking, but this just gave an inaccurate reading. Keep this in mind when considering your exercise regiment.

The Fitbit Ultra

Getting down to the technical side, the Fitbit comes equipped with three accelerometers (implying three axes of movement), which is how it tracks your paces and activity level. Unlike most other smart pedometer devices, the Fitbit also boasts an altimeter to figure out if you’re climbing any floors or hills. The Wireless station uses a proprietary ANT protocol for data transmissions. It is comparable to ZigBee in that it has a “sleep” mode and similar packet behavior for small data transfers.

Fitbit also offers a scale product which acts in a similar fashion to keep track of your weight, as well as a “personal trainer” service to help you plan meals, manage your sleep, keep track of different lifestyle habits, and give you an in-depth report of your statistics. I’m not too into these, but they’re something to think about if you are considering getting on the bandwagon. Smart phone apps are also offered for free to help you keep track of your goals, stats, and dietary habits.

Daily Activty Stats

In my experience, the Fitbit is an all around nice device. A few people complain about the durability, but I have yet to have it show any signs of wear. The display is pretty nice and put under the plastic casing. It sounds a little strange but looks sleek. The Fitbit stands up well against heat, I wore it to a cramped concert that was unbearably hot and the device was perfectly fine on exit. There have been some reports of it not holding up well in wet weather, but this is to be expected. I don’t plan on submerging it in water or anything, but if it’s raining hard out and I still feel like exercising I imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to slip it into a cheap sandwich bag and be on my way. Functionality-wise, everything works as expected. The pedometer keeps track of your steps accurately and computes distance traveled (miles), so surprise there. The floor counter will count your floors (not the individual stairs). I’m not sure how it determines a “floor” as a measurement but it works. Calories are a little off since it uses your height and weight to determine amount burned, but it doesn’t make a big difference to me. The web interface works well, and generates helpful graphs. Battery life is amazing, to the point where I forget that the thing even runs on batteries. The sleep tracking is also really interesting an easy to use: You just attach the Fitbit to the wristband and activate the stopwatch before you go to sleep, and the device tracks how often you wake up to determines the quality of your sleep.

I can say that the Fitbit does everything I’d want and expect, and was a solid investment for me. If you’re liking this smart pedometer idea but aren’t sold on Fitbit, check out the Nike+ Fuelband and the Jawbone Up. I haven’t used them, but they’re also front runners on this new wave of devices.

 

Get Lamp (Really, go get it!)

Monday, October 25th, 2010

A few months ago, I mentioned Get Lamp in a post about Kickstarter involving Jason Scott. For those of you who don’t know, Jason Scott is probably one of my favorite people. Not to sound creepy or anything, but this guy is really awesome. My first brush with the world of Jason Scott came through one of his many websites, textfiles.com. When did I find it? I don’t remember. Why did I find it? I don’t remember that either. The site revolves around BBS data: text files from pre-internet, ANSI, door games, shareware, and much more from a long lost subculture. Without the efforts of Jason and others like him, a whole era in the history of computing could have been lost to the world.

If anyone knows me, they know I like it old. So the pairing of myself and this website provided hours and hours (probably days and days considering my use of dial-up at the time) of entertainment. Only after discovering this website did I find out that Jason also produced an appropriate documentary, BBS: The Documentary. I’m not going to lie, when I first saw the page for it, I thought spending $40 was completely ludicrous. If you consider that I was about 14 at the time of finding it, this doesn’t seem like a strange thought. After my Bittorrent skills improved, and I found out that the documentary had been released through this medium, I was more than happy to spend a day watching all eight parts back to back. Shortly thereafter, I bought myself a hard copy, and it has been a staple of my DVD collection ever since.

I watched that documentary over and over, and in the meantime Jason was busy. Over the next five years, he gave numerous presentations at hacker conferences, organized Blockparty (a demoscene con), started a widely popular twitter profile for his cat, founded archiveteam and spearheaded a project to preserve geocities, and more recently released his second film, Get Lamp.

Get Lamp is a film about interactive fiction. If you ever read one of those “choose your own adventure” books, you get the idea. Interactive fiction is not limited to the paper world, and shows up in the earliest of computer games from the 1970s. Without interactive fiction, who knows where we would be technologically, considering how the ever-growing development of computers mirrors the interest of people wanting to hunker down and play video games.

The documentary itself is well done and well presented. As soon as you open the package, you will know you are in for a treat. The artwork on the case is beautiful, the discs are nicely pressed, and the collectible coin included with the set is an interesting little addition to the whole experience whether you are a numismatist or not. The film plays out smoothly and is quick to capture the viewer. Though it is not as long as his previous film, you experience an equally engrossing movie, and have plenty of interactive features and extras to keep you coming back as you look to squeeze every glorious bit of content from the discs.

If there is not enough content to keep you occupied, it is likely that Jason will one day release the entirety of the interviews online, unedited. How can I make such a strange prediction? He did it before with his previous film. You might one day see hours of material from a guy that ultimately had a 20 second spot in the final cut, but whether or not this content will actually come to surface is anyone’s guess as of this moment.

If you haven’t been able to tell already, I consider Jason Scott a bit of a personal hero, and I know he has reached others in the same way. Without textfiles.com, I may never have been lead down the path that made me form the IPTV Archive or any number of projects that I’ve found myself involved in throughout the years. Now that Get Lamp is done, there is the question about what the next step is for Jason Scott. He is currently touring and screening his new film, but what could follow is anyone’s guess. Maybe he will pick up on his previously announced third film Arcade, or dive into the backlog of things to archive.

Whatever he does do, you can be sure it is going to be worth noticing.

Pioneer One

Monday, July 26th, 2010

About a year ago there was a stir of a new movie on Bittorrent sites. This movie was called The Lionshare and got a lot of attention because it was only released via torrents. That’s right, no DVD release, no theater time, just a torrent download for anyone who wanted it. It was distributed by this interesting company (I guess you could call it a company) called VODO that distributes indie films via torrents. Now why you would need some sort of service like this, I do not know. I suppose that this kind of thing may help get your film out there, but I don’t even know how many people had heard of VODO before The Lionshare, and I wonder if The Lionshare helped out VODO more than vice versa. I do understand the need for a like-minded distribution site. It can be hard to track down more of the same genre of stuff when all you have to go on are torrent links and word of mouth.

So as for The Lionshare, I watched it a few months after I downloaded it. I was mostly deterred from the reviews. The minority seemed to like the film and praised it as an honest look into the life of a twenty-something in modern day, but the majority of reviews I read said the movie was nothing more than a bore, and showed the limits of releasing a film in this manor. I got around to watching it and have to say my opinion lies somewhere in the middle. I think that the movie starts out beautifully, but loses momentum before you really start to learn anything about the characters. Without ruining the story, I’ll tell you that a guy goes on a blind date with a girl, and she invites him to a torrent site, and it follows the guy. This might be as far as this reflects the life of someone today. Women and technology are always good subjects, but I feel that the movie starts to get too hip considering anything besides this.

About two months ago, I found another link in The Lionshare’s universe. There was a Kickstarter (see my previous post) project dealing with a new science fiction show released only on Bittorrent. At this time, internet only television has become an interest phenomena. I’ve seen billboards all over the sity for a show released only online called Reinvent The Wheels which looks to be more of a mainstream thing following a niche concept. This science fiction show, Pioneer One, is a television episode by the same crew that pulled off The Lionshare, and I have to say that I like this work much better. Without giving away too much, it has a watered-down X-Files vibe that I really enjoyed, and centers around a strange piece of debris that lands in the United States. The production value for this is also much higher and looks professional, there there are hiccups. After watching the first episode, I was sad that there were no more. The Kickstarter was only made to produce one episode, so who knows if more will ever be created.

So give these videos a try if you see something you like. Both are available freely on torrent sites and I’m sure there are direct download links up somewhere by now. You might just end up having some new favorite media.

Kickstart Your Project

Friday, June 25th, 2010

There is a site that has been drawing attention among a few groups of people called Kickstarter. Kickstarter works using a process called crowdfunding, which means a project is funded by a large group of people. So lets say I have some sort of project. It can be a video project like a movie, an audio project, art, food, an event, technological advancement- the list goes on. Now, I have my project but it requires a certain amount of money to get started. So I could go to Kickstarter, explain my project, provide some images, and say that I need a certain amount of money to make it all happen.

This is where Kickstarter gets cool. After you say how much money you need, people can pledge certain amounts, and Kickstater keeps track of how much more needs to be funded. This is all done over a predetermined time allotment. So I have my project up, I need $10,000 and have 80 days to get the donations I need. If at the 80 day mark I don’t have the funds, everyone gets to keep their money. But, if at the 80 day mark I have hit the goal or even gone over, I get the money to finish my project.

But why would people donate, and how does Kickstarter make money? Aside from people wanting to fund a project because of their own interest in it, they can also be offered incentives. So If you pledge $25 I could send you a t-shirt for my event, or if you pledge $50 your name gets to go in the credits of my movie. Kickstarter makes money by trimming off 5% of the funds for a successfully funded project. So if your project raises $20,000, Kickstarter still makes a significant amount to stay afloat.

I first found out about the site through Jason Scott’s Sabbatical to complete his new documentary, Get Lamp. I have been coming back to the site infrequently, and noted other projects that I am interested in such as The Waterman Movie, which is based on a popular web series and has been in development for years, as well as a Documentary on “The Thief and the Cobbler”, “The Thief and the Cobbler” being a film that was in development for three decades and eventually pulled away from the director and chopped up into different movie. Every once in a while, a new project pops up that grabs me, and it gets me thinking. Really, this service is truely amazing. There is no better way to reach people to create a niche project that reuires funding. I can just imagine how much more would have been accomplished had this site been around ten years ago, and how much it will accomplish over the next ten years. I also consider that I may one day be able to utilize it. I can fathom a few projects that could take advantage of this as a way to reach people, though they may be a long way off.

I hope to see Kickstarter thrive, and help out some truely unique projects as time goes by. I do have to mention that the site does not take pledges using Paypal because of how Paypal handles refunding. A credit card is needed for now, though other options are being looked into. Check out kickstarter yourself and see what you find, you might be surprised.

Flea Market Find – Lineman’s Handset

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

I recently purchased a blue lineman’s handset for $12. It is quite an interesting piece of hardware. At first glance, it looks like a standard handset, but upon further review there are characteristics that set it apart. On the back of the handset is a rotary dial used for dialing numbers, a hook to connect it to the belt, and two test leads with alligator clips. The alligator clips have a piercing spike in them to connect to insulated wires. No stripping is necessary. On the side of the phone, there is a switch that can go between TALK and MON. MON in this case stands for monitor. There is also a nice “Bell System Property – Not for sale” engraving.

I brought the handset home and plugged it in. I had the switch on TALK and instantly heard a dial tone. I decided to call my cellphone, and entered the number (which can take a bit of time using a rotary dial). I got connected and heard my voice mail message. I decided to try to use my old Radioshack tone dialer next. I punched in the number on my tone dialer, and held it up to the handset. I hit the dial button on the dialer, and heard the tones through the earpiece of the handset, but the tones did not register on the handset itself, and the number wasn’t called.

Next, I flipped the switch on the handset to MON mode. At first, I didn’t hear anything on the line. I hooked up a standard phone nearby, and picked up the handset of that phone. My lineman’s handset instantly had a dial tone, and was monitoring the line. The MON setting also turns off the microphone in the handset, so there are no slip-ups when monitoring.

Other than the cool factor, there are a few things I can do with it. I could use it as a house phone, though it does not have its own ringer. I could also do some wire tapping, but that is illegal. It is not a very practical piece of hardware, but it certainly does hold my attention. Maybe the web will end up lending me some ideas of what I could do with it.