What Administrating a BitTorrent Site Taught Me About Project Management


This article was originally written for and published at Medium on May 18th, 2013. It has been posted here for safe keeping.

In my sophomore year of college, I became an administrator of a BitTorrent website. It’s not nearly as shady as it sounds. In fact, it was a small and completely legal operation. Three administrators, one server, and hard drive after hard drive full of Creative Commons-licensed content.

Now, I’m lucky enough to attend an undergraduate school with a strong internship tie-in. We spend half of the year slaving away on our school work while the other half is spent in one of those real-world jobs. Lather, rinse, repeat for three years. On the academic side, we take our specialized engineering classes, our project management classes, our technical communication classes, our how-to-work-with people classes.

I didn’t take many of those yet. They first year and change at the university is mostly populated with weed-out classes and introductory curriculum akin to a secondary school elective class or two. At this point in my life,I didn’t know what makes a good project and I didn’t know what makes a project good. I didn’t know how to communicate effectively or work as part of a group. I didn’t know about Gantt charts, or deliverables, or development practices.

As I mentioned, there were three of us. One administrator I had met via online chat some months prior in a public channel. He was a decent guy, and the linkage between myself and the mysterious third administrator who I had never spoken with but was providing us with a server. We all came together, communicating with each other in a strictly online format. Geographically separated, what did it matter with email and a few common hours when we all happened to be awake at the same time? We didn’t have structure or a real thought-out plan. No documents or task lists or meetings to touch base. We carved out and constructed bits and pieces when we felt like it and waited for each other to catch up before charging forward again full steam.

It happened to be winter break, and I had plenty of free time to devote. After we eventually got the site up and operational, I spent days filling it with uploads and tutorials, configuring and reworking plugins and style sheets, setting up social networking accounts, and more or less doing my damnedest to make it ready for prime time. Then, we got a pay-off. A file-sharing blog picked up on the site and did a piece. Within 48 hours, news spread and we had some 3,000 members. We were being reblogged and discussed in forums. We were growing by the hour.

Sounds great, huh? It wasn’t.

While we had all been united in our quest to launch a fantastic niche torrent site, we quickly split at the seams. While I tried my best to keep a steady flow of content being uploaded to seed the site for new users, the other admins didn’t seem as compelled to. One simply disappeared for weeks at a time while another decided it would be a good time to ask for donations and not do much else. Our chat sessions together got shorter and eventually vanished completely. The site stagnated except for a small group of hopefuls that were uploading and contributing, but it amounted to too little. We fell apart. We were broken.

One day, I made a passing comment to a user about how I’d like to rebuild and relaunch the site, and then found myself stripped of my administrative permissions. I contacted the one administrator I had known prior to starting the project, and he just shrugged off the situation as weird before reinstating me into the ranks. It was too late, though. I ended up deleting myself of my own accord a week later.

I completely removed myself from the project, but that doesn’t mean I left empty-handed. I departed with lessons forged from mistakes and successes. What worked, and what didn’t. I learned the need for defining a project scope and keeping open the lines of communication. I learned the importance of meeting regularly and setting goals and being assertive. I learned sacrifice and when to cut your losses and move on.

Each one of these lessons followed me as I went from internship to internship and class project to class project. Academia can teach you a good amount about how to be a developer, but falls a little short when it comes to how to work with real people in the real world.

To learn that, well—you just need to experience it.

Tags: , ,

Films to Look Forward Too


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.

Tags: ,

Documentaries I’d Like to See Before I Die (Or Everyone Forgets)


I’d like to think that I have something of a second nature when it comes to whether or not there is a documentary made or in production for any of my disjointed hobbies and interests. It’s not one of those skills you showcase in your job interview, but I seem to have this knack for religiously crawling the web in search for films I think I’d enjoy. Surprisingly, and to my great pleasure, a lot of these fringe interests I posses already have films about them. Awesome. However, there are a few that simply do not- or, have a film that doesn’t satiate my particular appetite.

So, for my sanity, I made a list of the topics I’d personally like to see filmed. And, in some cases, some topics I’d probably find gratification in filming myself.

Written below is that very list. Think of this more as a way of me getting the thoughts from my head to paper as opposed to a list of full-bodied explanations and fleshed-out ideas.

Demoscene. There are already a few demoscene documentaties out there. For example, The Demoscene Documentary is about the demoscene in Finland and Moleman 2 is a demoscene documentary focusing mainly on Hungary. While these are in fact good films, they each have a specific scope. From what I gather, the demoscene can be radically different from country to country, making it difficult to understand as a whole when only presented with a few of its parts. I’d propose an episodic piece showcasing the demoscene in a variety of countries – each country having its own segment. While these existing documentaries have touched on Finland and Hungary, there are still Germany, USA, Denmark, and Norway to consider (and probably others).

Bitcoin & Digital Currency. We’ve all heard of Bitcoin by now, especially as it makes waves at it’s current high value. However, Bitcoin itself has an interesting past and makes an interesting statement. If you do any detective work about how Bitcoin came to be, you will be sucked up into a mysterious story about how nobody knows the identity of the creator or what happened to him. The conspiracy theories are vast and plenty. We also touch on the interesting issue of an unregulated worldwide currency, governments attempting regulation, bitcoin-mining malware botnets, attacks on exchanges, etc. How about how crazy some people go with their mining setups? Dozens of caseless computers fillied with graphics cards- a cyberpunk daydream turned reality. How about using FPGAs and these new ASIC rigs? Now, that’s just bitcoin. There are numerous other digital currencies out there such as the newer litecoin, or even e-gold (Created in 1996). Digital currency has been around longer than most people think.

Cypherpunk. The cypherpunk movement does for cryptograhy what the cyberpunk scene did for personal computing. While cypherpunks have been around for decades, the interest within the scene has been renewed and pushed towards the mainstream more recently. Going back to “A Cypherpunk Manifesto” and the cypherpunk mailing list, we see early discussions of online privacy and censorship, paving the way for Bitcoin, Wikileaks, CryptoParty, Tor, 3D-printing of weaponry, etc.

Usenet. Started in 1980, Usenet is a system for users to read and post messages. Usenet can be seen as the precursor to internet forums, and is much like a Bulletin Board System in theory except it is distributed among many servers instead of a central authority. As time goes on, Usenet continues to grow in bandwidth usage, now generating terabytes of traffic a day. This is mostly through binary file transfers as opposed to messages. Despite many main ISPs deciding to remove Usenet access from their internet services, many still seek out paid access.

Pirate Radio UK. While Pirate Radio USA and Making Waves do a fantastic job at covering pirate Radio in the US, I haven’t seen much of an effort to show off pirate radio in the UK. From what I’ve gathered, there are an uncountable number of pirate radio stations across the pond, and it’s a different game when compared to the US. At the peak of pirate radio’s popularity, there were near 600 stations active in the UK while there are presently 150, mostly based in London. Here’s a mini piece from Vice.

Darknet. Not in regards to file sharing. More covering the darknet as a blanket term for an independant or ad-hoc network with some sort of disconnection from the internet. Considering topics like Hyperboria and CJDNS, Tor and the Deep Web, Meshneting for fun or necesity, Tin-Can, and so-on. As the hardware becomes less expensive and more devices have networking abilities, creating a scalable network becomes a more achievable task.

Dyson. I feel that James Dyson doesn’t get as much credit as a revolutionary engineer as he deserves. Dyson focuses on improvement: taking the wheel and making it better. No pun intended, but his first success was the creation of a fiberglass wheelbarrow that used a ball instead of a wheel. Afterwards, he famously created over 1000 prototypes for a new vaccuum cleaner using cyclone technology after noticing problems with his Hoover. Dyson repeatedly uses creative thinking and pulls inspiration from unlikely sources.

Raspberry Pi. While the Raspberry Pi was not necessarilly a unique and new concept, it was certainly one of the most well executed. We have seen other incarnations of plug computers such as the Beagleboard or the Sheevaplug, but the Raspberry Pi’s addition of integrated video sets it apart. And, at the price of $30, makes it incredibly affordable. Many would argue that what makes the Pi so special is the community that has formed around it, and not necessarily the hardware that ties it together. Everyone stretches their imagination and expertise: if it can be on the Pi, it should. Aside from the community, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been done an incredible job at cultivating the technology and inspiring the next generation of young programmers and hardware hackers.

Kickstarter. There have been documentaries in the works that focus on crowdfunding, but I’m not as interested in the crowdfunding movement as much as I am in Kickstarter the company. While Indie GoGo has been around for a longer time, they do not seem to be held together as tightly. Kickstarter seems like not only an interesting company, but one that holds itself, and those who utilize its services, to a high standard.

QUBE. Here’s an odd one for that likely nobody has heard of. QUBE was the first interactive TV station, started in 1977 in Columbus, Ohio. Residents who subscribed to the cable service received a device that looked something like a calculator that allowed them to communicate back to the station during shows. Aside from the interactive feature, QUBE was on the forefront of pay-per-view programming and special interest content. QUBE soon went bankrupt and dissolved in the early 1980s. As a bit of an aside, I think I actually tried contacting the webmaster of that site a while back to ask if I could get a copy of the “QUBE DVD” for archiving but didn’t get a reply. Let’s hope he/she runs Webalizer or Google Analytics and sees some referrer traffic. Maybe it’ll be enough to spark a conversation.

So here ends my list. While the majority of these ideas are feasible, I can’t help but think a few might end up slipping too far and too fast into obscurity before their time. Other ideas on here might be too early in their lives. Doing something now, or even within the next decade, would only show a small part of the eventual picture.

Do I expect any of these to be made? Not particularly. But you never know.

Everyone gets lucky once in a while.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saving Rev3 – Update 8 – “Resurrection”


Yeah, I stole the title from the Halloween series. It seemed fitting.

So here we are about a year later. Guess what? Revision3 has killed off a few more shows, started a bunch more, and redesigned their site.

A few days ago, Moonlit and I got into an interesting Twitter conversation with Revision3, the results of which can be found here and here. Basically, with their site redesign they lost a bunch of shows which they then regained after we brought it up. They also claimed to fix some dead links, so some possible good news there. On the negative, they did say that some shows have been removed purposefully. Thankfully I believe I have a copy of everything they’ve taken down to date. On the whole, it felt as though they danced around issues I brought up, but at this point I find it unsurprising. It’s probably a good thing they didn’t Google me while we were talking.

I checked my download script from last summer, and sure enough it didn’t work. Upon doing a few trials, it’s a simple fix to change “small” to “medium.” So, I went ahead and updated it. This now works perfectly again (woohoo!).

I went through the wiki page and added in the shows that they had cancelled while I was out of the loop. I’m just going off of their “Archive Shows” page, which may be incomplete, but I don’t know enough about this age of Revision3 to tell you if something is missing or not. It doesn’t look too much as if they throw out shows altogether these days.

I count 10 more dead shows.

 

On a similar topic, I’m also finally getting work done with Hack College (One of the baby Rev3 Beta shows) and am in the process of uploading it. Let’s walk through how I did this finally because you might be curious.

I know that they have the series up on http://blip.tv/hackcollege. This is good for starters. I also know that youtube-dl supports Blip.tv. Excellent. After a little trial and error, I settled on this command:

youtube-dl -c -i -t http://blip.tv/hackcollege

This downloads all the videos from the hackcollege account, puts titles in the file names, continues incomplete downloads, and skips errors. I only added that last part because one video gave me an error (I eventually just downloaded it manually). Then, I forgot I wanted descriptions for each video, so I ran this:

youtube-dl -i -c -t –write-info-json http://blip.tv/hackcollege

See how easy that was? JSON descriptions in just a few seconds. Okay. A few people still know a little trick for getting RSS from Blip.tv: just add “/rss” after the account url. You can go ahead and load it yourself at http://blip.tv/hackcollege/rss. Now, if you’ve been downloading along, you might notice that youtube-dl only snags the .m4v files and there are these beautiful giant .mov files in the RSS feed. Wouldn’t it be nice to grab these? Unfortunately, you can’t fine-tune youtube-dl for these just yet (maybe if I hunt around in the source code I can set this up, but I honestly didn’t think of that until right now). How do we get these files? I came up with this one-liner:

curl http://blip.tv/hackcollege/rss | grep -o ‘http.*mov’ | sort | uniq > out.txt

Pretty self explanatory. Grab the RSS, filter for .mov links, and sort it to get rid of duplicates. Then, save it to a text file. You might notice that the RSS feed doesn’t contain links for every video. There really isn’t anything we can do about that, but it does appear that the .mov files were a semi-recent addition to these videos and earlier videos most likely don’t have the option. I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ve got them. Next, we will want to download those links. You can probably pipe that one-liner into wget, but I wasn’t ready to download when I wrote it, so I saved the text for later. Here’s how I eventually used it with wget:

wget –user-agent=”iTunes/10.6.1″ -c -i out.txt

It appears that Blip.tv white-lists your user-agent, so it knows to not allow wget, or probably a slew of other bots and/or browsers. You can find this out if you can download a file in your browser but running something automated on the site results in redirects and file fragments. There’s always a workaround. If you trick it into thinking you are iTunes, you not only get access to the files, but also get them faster than if you just manually downloaded from your browser (throttle-free!). Very nice. So after feeding the text file into wget, the .mov files download rather quickly. You don’t get the nice fancy file names like with youtube-dl, but you do get the files.

So there. Only took an hour or two to work everything out.

 

Well, as you can see, I’m finishing up a few parts of SaveRev3. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done and the list keeps on growing.

Here’s to another summer of hard drives and bandwidth. It’s going to be a hot one.

Tags: , , , ,

Other People’s Stuff


If you collect as many things as I do, you end up with some stuff you’re not supposed to have. In this case, I’m not referring to stuff that is illegal or stuff that is unreleased. I’m talking about other people’s stuff. Personal stuff.

In a broad sense, the whole used market is a little bit bizarre when you look at it abstractly. As we live in a disposable culture, anything someone might buy has its own story. You don’t know how many hours were put into that dusty SNES with a five dollar sticker on it. How it contributed to sibling rivalries or became an item to bond over with the girl next door. We’ll usually never really know the extent of these stories.

Sometimes we accidentally inherit the stories.

In Philadelphia, there are many little second hand shops that line the grid-like streets. Tucked into corners, away from the tourist traps, these stores don’t feel like your normal thrift shops. These places lean a little more towards collectibles: antique books, crates of records, obscure (but not rare) VHS tapes- you get the idea. Some of these shops also sell photographs, but not of any famous attractions or curios of the city. They’re family photographs. Weird pictures of people posing outside their houses, sitting with their pets, or just acting goofy. Private pictures. Who would have ever thought they’d end up at a store somewhere?

So every one in a while, I buy a few. I have them scattered along the edges of my bedroom mirror. Who are these people? I’ll never know.

IMG_0809

IMG_0811

IMG_0814

This concept doesn’t simply apply to pictures. From one auction, I got a lot of around thirty 7-inch tape reels. While a lot of them were simply recordings of the radio that could be played back for hours, some of them appeared to be homemade recordings. One I remember in particular appeared to be a recording of some sort of part, complete with almost unintelligible voices and faint background music. Something never meant to get out this far. A memory I own that isn’t mine.

Home movies are another area. On occasion, I’ve purchased VHS camcorders with tapes still inside. Rarely though will I find something captivating. Usually, there will be a short video of a newborn baby or the typical “I’m testing out the camera” tape where people pan around their living rooms.

Occasionally though, I’ll find something more interesting.

One flea market I frequent in Delaware usually has a lot of vendors from house clean-outs. They’re easy to spot: Giant rented truck with several dozen cardboard boxes packed full of everything imaginable. No rhyme or reason here: folded up clothes, kitchen appliances, weathered books, etc. Almost as though a family was packed away into boxes to be sold for five dollars a pop. Anyway, while most of these boxes are filled with junk, I’ve found my fair share of interesting objects from them. At one point, I came across a box of hand-labeled VHS tapes. I didn’t know what exactly they were, so I took them home and played them. I found myself with what appears to be recordings of an amateur band (or several) from the mid 1990′s.

So what did I do with them? After setting them to the side for some time, I decided it was best to transfer them and let people see them. Currently, I have one already online with more on the way. Here’s a link to go watch it. Who are these people? What’s the name of the band? I have no idea. The band might be named “Triple X” but nothing seems to enforce that. Maybe I’ll run across something as I keep going, or someone will stumble upon this video and recognize it. There’s a lot more footage to look through.

So this gives you something to think about. Be mindful of those little personal artifacts that you keep around. Those memories frozen in time. Who knows where they will end up one day.

And who knows if some 20-something punk will eventually put them on YouTube.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Hacker Zines


I have many projects. Too many, one might argue. Either way, they exist and I enjoy doing them.

For a long time, I’ve had something of a collection of magazines that I usually refrain from talking about simply because it doesn’t come up a lot in normal conversation. A few months ago when it was announced that Nintendo Power was halting production, someone told me that the cover of the last issue was a throwback to the very first issue from 1988. I was asked if I had the first issue (people tend to wonder just how much old stuff I have) and I do. Here’s a picture of it.

Nintendo Power #1

Nintendo Power #1

What you don’t see in this picture is the rest of my magazines. I have a lot. Hundreds. Most of them are video game magazines from the 1990′s and I’ve been accumulating them for over ten years. That isn’t to say that these sum up my entire collection. I have an almost complete run of 2600, six or seven years of Wired, a few dozen issues of MAD Magazine from the 1970′s bundled away, 10 or so issues of High Times from the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, and a few years of some more modern things. Besides those, I have a few other random magazines here and there and most likely some I’ve forgotten.

Magazine Shelf

Magazine Shelf

While I have a few current subscriptions, I’ve recently re-opened my magazine obsession. Why now? I don’t really know, but it was bound to happen. Every once in a while you get one of those “I should really do that, wouldn’t that be great?” ideas and they really start to stack up. One or two of those ideas end up toppling off the pile sooner or later and you just run with them. This particular idea started with Blacklisted! 411.

If you haven’t heard of Blacklisted! 411, I don’t hold it against you. If you know what 2600: The Hacker Quarterly is, then think of Blacklisted! 411 as a lower budget version of that. If you don’t know what 2600 is, it’s the most popular and longest running independent print hacker magazine. Blacklisted! has something of an interesting past. There are a lot of politics involving the magazine that are still something of a hot issue even for people today. There’s no doubt that it left a sour taste in the mouths of many. To briefly go through things, the zine started as a cheap black and white publication in the early 90′s. Initially monthly, the magazine switched to a quarterly release schedule to allow for more articles per issue (mirroring 2600 in this regard). Many criticized the quality of the articles and the publication in general, but it had a loyal group of fans and writers. In the mid 1990′s, the magazine up and disappeared (angering many) and reappeared in the early 2000′s. Throughout the life of Blacklisted!, a lot of people claim to have been treated unfairly by it and promised compensation for their articles which they never received  I wasn’t there, and I don’t know all the details for sure. Defending nor attacking the magazine are not my goals either way.

Issues of 2600

Issues of 2600

For as long as I had known about 2600, I had also known about Blacklisted!. While I could easily get back issues of 2600 through their website, Blacklisted! was far more elusive as it went out of print. I was less likely to come across old issues out at book sales or flea markets when compared to something more popular like Wired. So, I forgot about it for a while and chalked it up to a boat that I had missed.

Fast forward to now. I’ve decided to take it upon myself to start gobbling up every issue of Blacklisted! 411 ever produced. Normally when you see someone take on a pie-in-the-sky task like collecting all of something from scratch you dismiss them with an “oh, that’s nice” and pat them on the head while taking bets on how quickly they tire of the project and go home. I already know it’s not something that will happen overnight, and will probably take years if I’m ever able to complete it at all. It’s a bit of a turn-key project either way, so it’s not much of a hassle. Initially,  I set up some aggregation online to see if any issues go up for sale, at most I might dig through a few more bins at the punk rock flea market. It’s something of a slow burn.

Blacklisted! 411

Blacklisted! 411

As I started doing research on Blacklisted! I came upon a few other hacker or hacker-related magazines that went into print. For example, I discovered Mondo 2000 (and its other incarnations), bOING bOING, THUD, Grey Areas, Binary Revolution,  and more. These were also low-number interdependent physical magazines that lived a short life of usually fewer than 20 issues. So, I expanded my scope. If I can find them for the right price, I’ll snatch these up as well. Are there more out there? Probably (And please, let me know what I missed). I can’t get to everything, but I have a pretty good idea of what print zines we had just by asking around.

IMG_0735

Mondo 2000

IMG_0737

Gray Areas

IMG_0738

bOING bOING

IMG_0739

THUD & Binary Revolution

You may raise the issue of me going after physical magazines exclusively. Where’s the love for the electronic zines? While I do have a fondness for ezines, I don’t consider them nearly as endangered a species as the print-only zines. While an electronic zine may have been copied hundreds of thousands of times with little effort, when a physical magazine goes out of print it can only slip further into obscurity. Some copies get mistreated and trashed, while others are packed away and forgotten. These are the ones I want to save. Right now at least.

So the next logical question is what am I doing with all of these magazines? While I admit that I do get a nice warm, fuzzy feeling from physical magazines, I have bigger plans than simple self-satisfaction. Scanning is the name of the game. I’m currently in the process of scanning in all these old issues I’ve already found, compiling each issue into a single document, and uploading the documents online to share with everyone. Through this whole scanning process, I’ve already learned a lot. Enough to write something on it actually, but it would fare better as its own article. My scanning workflow works well enough to actually yield results, which you can check out here and here. If you want to check out my overall progress on how I’m doing with all the zines I hope to find, you can visit this page. You might notice that in some cases, I’ve found magazines already scanned by people. These are few and far between, but save me a little work considering they are usually of good quality.

While my scanner might be slow and I might be busy, I’m happy to say that the wheels are in motion. Things would probably move a little faster if I had a more portable scanner, but for the time being I’m keeping things slow and steady. That all said, if you have some of these magazines and feel like donating to the cause, I’ll serve as a home for your wayward magazines (and I’m probably a decent alternative to the trash if anything). If you feel like scanning, you can contribute that way as well. The Anarchivism wiki linked above is editable if you create an account.

So as I’m picking up older magazines, I’m also starting to focus on newer ones. Consider something like Bitcoin Magazine. An independent publication about a decentralized digital currency? Who knows how much longer this will stick around. It’s important to apply a little foresight for things like this. Otherwise, who knows what you’ll be able to get your hands on down the line. Luckily, many current publications have bridged the digital divide and offer both physical and electronic copies. Other magazines are now entirely based online. Still, there are those holdouts that are only available on paper. These are what I’m after. These are what I want to save before time runs out.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Jenny, Jenny


Every once in a while, I’ll see this conversation:

<CMack> whoa whoa WHOA
<CMack> there was a project to find Jenny by dialing 867-5309 at every area code in the US
<CMack> http://www.oldskoolphreak.com/tfiles/phreak/jenny07.txt
<CMack> That’s not the wild bit
<CMack> The crazy part is just a bit down
<CMack> Area
<CMack> Code Findings(scanned by Famicoman)
<CMack> —- ——————————
<gameman73> HA
<Pat> lol
<CMack> O_O
<!Moonlit> Famicoman_ is a bit of a dark horse like that
<CMack> Did I just win at Six Degrees of Thinstack?

Believe it or not, this basic exchange has happened more than once. I usually end up coming in a day or so after to dispense a few key details. I figured I should take a shot going through how I became involved with this document, so feel free to take off if you’ve heard this one. For everyone still left, read on.

The quote above already covers the main idea of what went on. For a few years here and there, there were some small projects to scan the number 867-5309 with all the prefixes and see who picks up. That’s a lot of numbers. A little under 1000.

The symbolism of the scan is in the number. In 1982, power pop band Tommy Tutone released the song “867-5309/Jenny” which describes a guy finding a girl’s phone number on (presumably) a bathroom wall. The band claims the number was made up, but the song became a one hit wonder. People everywhere started calling the number, asking for “Jenny,” causing thousands if not millions of unwanted calls.

For some perspective, all this was about ten years before I was born.

The band got into a big dispute over using a real (callable) number, and over the years most of these numbers ended up becoming disconnected outright. Even right now, thirty years later, the song still gets airtime. And, or course, someone out there gets tempted to call it.

As I touched on earlier, over the years there were a few scans done of all these numbers just to see what was still out there. Just for fun. A lot of the big names of the scanning scene contributed to these, and they were pretty cool little files to browse through. There wasn’t any schedule to these, they were just sort of done on a whim. In 2006, I saw a forum posting over at BinRev for “Jenny07″ and decided to sign up.

In 2006, I was 15 years old and sort of branching out on the internet a bit more than I had before. I got into the historical side of computer hacking and phone phreaking, and set myself up modestly on an IRC channel or two. I didn’t know much but I knew I wanted to get my feet wet. Participating in a scan was a nifty idea to me. I’d put myself back in time 25 years and do things the old fashioned way. I’ve always followed the ideology of looking back at what’s been done to know how one should advance.

So I signed up for the 600 block, which contained my own area code. Now at this time, I didn’t have a cell phone. I also sure as hell was not going to dial 100 numbers and tie up the family land-line  What was a kid to do? You might remember an important promotion for a relatively young piece of VOIP software back in 2006. Skype was trying to get people to register, and were offering free calling credits if you signed up. So here I was with a handful of Skype credits and a few hours of free time on an evening after school. One by one I called the numbers and recorded what I heard on the line (if anything).

It took longer than you’d think. So much so that I didn’t want to do another block even though I had been planning to. It wasn’t difficult, just exhaustive. Still, it was a lot of fun seeing what would happen when connecting to each new number. I submitted my findings back to the forum post along with a few others and eventually my results were rolled into the document which was released to a few sites. There were plans to do this scan again every year or so, but it never seemed to materialize after this one.

So where are we now? Six years later, it’s a nice little reminder of one of my first collaborations in the internet world. It’s a pretty nice feeling seeing my name up there with some “famous” names and knowing I was part of something that was swapped all around the web, ending up on dozens of servers.

It’s a funny conversation starter and I honestly forget about it until someone brings it up and asks what they’re looking at. It’s one of those “Oh yeah, THAT” conversations usually followed by a “Let me explain.” While the file still floats around out there, I decided to toss it up over at the Internet Archive so it can be found always, by anyone. A nice little insurance policy.

Take a look, and have a laugh. I know I did.

Tags: , , , ,

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers, But They Can Be Social Engineers


Two weeks ago, a beggar approached me while I was washing my hands in the bathroom of a train station. He went on to tell me a story about his troubles and how he needed some money. I of course gave him a few dollars and we both went on with our days. The whole situation was eerie. Going to school in the city, I end up dealing with a broad range of people in any given day. This was different.

If you’re like me, then you spend a considerable portion of your day dissecting. Whether it be conversations you had last month with someone, physically dismantling a piece of hardware, or deconstructing an abstract idea- the method is the same. So as I walked up to my train platform, I couldn’t help but pick apart the scenario bit by bit.

Here’s a little run-through of what happened. I go to wash my hands. As I soap them up, a man comes over and says, “hey man, how you doing?” I return the pleasantry and go about washing my hands. He then starts up a story, just believable enough to hook you in. I get told that he’s here with his daughter and he’s been here a few days trying to get back home but the tickets cost $57. Last night, he was hit in the face with a gun (he shows me the bloody gash on his nose) and he wants to get out of this city. He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a stick of deodorant to show me that he’s trying to stay presentable and, in his words, not lying to me. I tell him I’ll give him a few bucks as I walk over to the hand dryer and hand over a little cash. He asks if I can spare ten dollars, I tell him no can do, and he rushes out of the place before I can even put my wallet back.

All of this happened in about 30 seconds. He made three dollars.

Let’s break it down now. The first thing that seemed a little off was that he showed up when I was the only one in the place. The way the bathroom is set up, he must have came from the stall area. Could he have been waiting until I was the only one left? Why he picked me is a mystery. I wasn’t dressed nicely in any sense of the word, and considering the place fills with business men in suits every few minutes I’m an odd choice. I don’t look like I have much walking around money. Moving on, he initiated the conversation in a friendly matter and did so as I was soaping up my hands. I couldn’t leave right then and there, I had to get the soap off my hands so I was essentially trapped for him to tell his story. The train ticket price is accurate, and we’re in the male restroom  so his daughter doesn’t need to be around. That checks out. He’s dressed in reasonably worn clothes, nothing tattered but nothing too new. He looked a little scruffy, so that would be able to work with his story of being here a few days. The gun story raises a few questions. We’re in a relatively safe part of the city with police everywhere, for about 12 blocks in each direction. So if he was trying to get home, where did he get assaulted? Did he get robbed? If he got robbed, why would he spend money on deodorant? Either way, when a man approaches you out of nowhere in a confined bathroom, says the word “gun,” and then reaches into his jacket you tend to go along with what he says and not call him out on the spot. Next, he said that he wasn’t lying to me. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good sign that he is. His asking for more money is something I deal with on a daily basis from beggars and the homeless, so no surprise there. Lastly, his getaway was swift just as more people came into restroom.

At this point, you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up.

Under normal circumstances, I would just dismiss this as a normal random incident. However, as I reflected on his story I remembered one from two years earlier right outside the same building. Different guy, similar story. This guy, I passed once and he was talking to someone. When I came back around that way an hour or so later, he picked me to talk to next. He told me a story about how his daughter is in the hospital and he’s been stuck in the city for days. He’s just trying to get home so he can get cleaned up. As he started to get emotional, he asked me if I could spare, in his words, four to five dollars. I gave him a few bucks and he thanked me profusely before walking away. He’s in the city, so I will guess his daughter is at the nearby Children’s Hospital. However, why is he outside of this train station? The hospital has a train station two blocks away, while this one is about 10 blocks away. I saw him earlier, so I couldn’t have been the only one to stop for him in the last hour, and local train tickets are only between $4 and $8.

This started to get me thinking about social engineering more than I had in any recent time. Less am I seeing the traditional beggar simply asking for change and more am I getting a well rehearsed story. If we look back, the confidence trick has been used for decades to coax the unsuspecting into giving anything from money to information. Most people have cons aimed at them everyday, but shrug them off as they’ve now become part of everyday life.

But, is there anything we can learn from the creative ways beggars ask for money?

The things these stories had in common are the points to pay attention to. Starting with the approach, the wanting party makes the first move and starts the story out in a friendly way. This will hook in the target because they are wondering why they are being approached, and a guy with a smile can’t be bad right? The story then has an emotional element that makes the target want to help the wanting party. The story itself is well rehearsed, which makes it sound more natural. Speed is also crucial here as the wanting party will say everything he needs to before losing interest from the target. The wanting party will then identify exactly what they want and ask for it from the target specifically. Then after getting something, they make the clean getaway before anyone has a chance to think about what just happened.

We can draw parallels here with traditional stories of social engineering. If you think about any instance of phone phreaks calling up the phone company, you’ll see the same flow. They initiate a conversation politely and bring up a scenario that makes the telco worker want to help them out. They explain the issue swiftly and focus on the information they want. Whether they get what they want or not, they close the conversation quickly and move on.

It’s essentially the same set of fundamentals.

If anything, this whole scenario just got me thinking a little more on psychological manipulation. Hopefully, the next time you’re approached and asked for money, you’ll be thinking a bit too.

 

Tags: ,

Saving Rev3 – Update 7


It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.

My progress on archiving had been stalled for a little bit. I got about half way through the Revision3 Beta shows, and then had other things that demanded my time. Working through the past week I’m down to just one more show which I am trying to download as I type. Surprise, sometimes downloads don’t go the way you want them to. Focusing on Revision3 Beta shows, I believe I’ve already touched on how these shows are hosted for streaming on Viddler instead of the standard BitGravity download CDN. But why you may ask? With those unfamiliar with the concept of Revision3 Beta, I don’t hold anything against you. It’s another one of those little failed projects by Revision3 that you’d be lucky to find any information on these days. Here is an archived page of the line up. These were little independent series that were “talent-farmed” (quoting Wikipedia on this one) with hopes that they’d one day make it to a full-on Revision3 show. A pretty awesome idea if you ask me, and something that had a lot of potential. The project was apparently halted because of a lack of funding, but if you watch any of these shows you wonder what the hell that could mean. The shows don’t seem to be getting any money, running Viddler accounts can’t be too expensive, and basic web hosting is pretty cheap. I’d wonder if someone just didn’t want it around anymore. Even though Revision3 shut down the Beta project, many of these shows went own to produce more episodes outside of the Revision3 banner, but most ended up with a short lifespan anyway. Most of the shows continued to upload to Viddler and these episodes basically have to be downloaded manually. This can be a pain if there are many of them. Thankfully, a lot of these shows uploaded their back catalog of episodes on other sites such as Youtube, Vimeo, or Blip.tv. Using youtube-dl, downloading  these videos from more popular sites can be automated for the most part, making things much easier. It would still be nice if the tool had Viddler support, but Viddler isn’t a popular platform and beggars can’t be choosers.

Going back to regular old Revision3 shows, Unboxing Porn has finally been moved to the Archived page after being out of production for quite some time. On top of that, Ask Jay and Epic Meal Time are now moved over as well. So, I did what anyone would imagine and performed a download sweep of those shows. As usual, I found some numbering errors. Epic Meal Time goes out of sequence for two episodes, and has a completely messed up episode feed. Fortunately, I was able to pull all of the episodes they put out under Revision3 without any considerable hunting. Ask Jay turned out to be perfect, which is always helpful.

While I was originally worried about the state of Revision3 after the Discovery deal, I’m surprised by what I see today. While I thought many shows were going to be cancelled, the network is actually growing considerably. I’d estimate that the number of shows currently being produced has almost doubled since the start of the summer. I can’t help but wonder if this is a measured approach, or if they’re just throwing shows against a wall to see what sticks. Either way, I’ll be sure to follow up and see what they axe.

The more shows they end up making, the more I’ll end up preserving.

Tags: , , , ,

Rethinking Video Part Three


Been a while since I’ve done one of these. You may remember in the last part of this series of articles, I hinted at a documentary I was doing (It’s posted below, but you can check it out here if you don’t want to wait). This was April, seven whole months ago.

I got busy. That happens with life and I wish it didn’t. On top of that, my computer couldn’t handle the high definition video that I wanted it to. I wish it could have, but it couldn’t.

The documentary in question is about my friend and his barn. For a little background, he lives in a house that was built around the time of the American Civil War, and the property also includes a barn from the same era. Back then, my whole town was farm land (apparently my property 30 seconds away was part of an orchard) but now the original properties have been substantially broken down for housing. From what I’ve seen, his is the only one in town to include the original barn. Anyway, I called him up and asked him if he’d be interested in letting me do some filming to test out my camera. He agreed.

Now, it’s important to note that this filming had no plan. I came over and told him to just start talking. We didn’t hash out too much of a story, there wasn’t any logic to the way the footage was shot, and we concluded filming when there wasn’t enough light to go any further. Having said that, don’t expect the resulting documentary to follow any logical flow. It was more an act of shooting as much as possible, and then seeing if I could somehow work all the footage together in a way that made sense. In this regard, I think it came out well.

Let’s talk about where I messed up. For one, lighting. I brought a measly halogen light when I went to film, but quickly abandoned it. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever in illuminating the room. I probably could have produced better footage had I handled the ISO settings better, so that’s something to take into consideration for next time. Really though, it’s difficult to get a good sense of things when you have only a two inch screen to look at and adjust with. On top of this, I also purchased an inexpensive NEEWER LED lighting rig that sits on top of the camera. Though off-brand and cheap, it’s particularly bright and comes with several gels so it should help out tremendously. A smaller mistake I made was where I had my friend looking when on camera. While I tried to follow the rule of thirds as best as I could, I didn’t know about having the subject look to the far side of the camera. If you have him look at the edge of the screen he’s on, it’s as if 2/3 of the screen is wasted. Unfortunately, it’s something that you cannot unsee after it is pointed out to you. Lastly, I had some problems in audio. While I did monitoring with headphones, it was difficult to gauge the sound quality when I could hear everything from outside the headphones as well as through them. Ultimately, I’ll probably get a pair that do noise cancellation. I’m also interested in getting an inexpensive shotgun microphone for something a little more directional.

For editing, I ended up completely building a new computer from scratch. The process and all the little details can be found here, so give that a glance if you have not already. While I did a rough edit on my laptop, it would frequently crash and I could not get an fine edit because the playback was so choppy. This new rig does the job nicely and cuts through the video like a warm knife. Now, I started editing this in Sony Vegas and that’s what I finished in. For future projects, I am hoping to switch to Adobe Premiere. I’m a bit sick of Vegas at this point, especially after finding a glitch wherein I cannot render using the beefy GPU I got for the build. Anyway, I feel the editing went well. I’m not fantastic at color correcting. I did some minor correcting and light balancing, but some of the footage was hard to do anything with since it was so dark.

Below is the final edited video if you care to check it out. I originally planned to do a few of these mini documentaries, but it took so long to do one and I ultimately ran out of time to follow through with anything else. While I had some problems with this project, I can say that few of these issues would effect how I do Obsoleet or any similar tutorial-based segment. I recently created a segment for The New Tech which will pop up soon with any hope, and I can now turn my attention more towards this type of content once again. Let’s just hope real life tones it down a little.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,