Thursday, July 25, 2013

All good things..

After DEF CON 21 I will be retiring from my position as Director of Security. I will be handing the Directorship over to Marc Rogers. Richard Fleason, Pappy, and Pescador will continue to head up the leadership team as well.

So, the big question folks have been asking is 'why'. Well, there's a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that I've been going to DEFCON for 21 years and I've been staff for 20 of them. Each year the conference requires more and more of my time, but as I get older I have less and less of it to give. This isn't fair to Jeff and it's certainly not fair to my team.

Also, I think it's a good time for a change in leadership on the team. As DEFCON moves into the 'post-DC20' era I think it's a great time to bring in a fresh perspective and reorganize the team a bit to make us more effective.

Finally, I've been doing DEFCON my entire adult life and don't have any idea of what life is like without it. I schedule my world around DEFCON and planning for the conference. I've quit jobs over DEFCON. Eve and I scheduled our wedding around it. DEFCON makes up a huge chunk of my life. People understand that a lot of work goes into making the conference happen, but I don't think they truly realize how much work it is and how much time it consumes.

I do want to say that I am proud of what I have been able to help create. I am also deeply honored that my team has allowed me to lead them into the fray year after year. These people are my family, my goon brothers and sisters, and nothing will ever change that.

So what now? What's next? That's the most awesome part about this...I don't know, but I can do anything I want. I may get back into research and start presenting *at* the convention. I miss hacking firmware and embedded systems and would love to have time for it again. I may go get involved with one of the contests if something catches my eye. Or, I may just go walk the earth, like Caine in the Kung Fu. What happens next is all up to me and I like the sound of that.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Toorcamp Site Review

March 17-18 2012 I had the opportunity to join the ToorCamp staff out at the location for this year's ToorCamp event.

Overall, I'm really excited about the opportunities that Black Lodge Research is going to have at this years event. Here's a review of the location and the facilities:

The event site is the Hobuck Beach Resort in Neah Bay, WA. The resort is owned by natives of the Makah Nation and is on tribal land. It should also be called out that the resort is actually on the west coast of Washington and not in Neah Bay proper (this can actually result in two different types of weather). The event site is really large and features a couple of distinct areas, so be prepared to do some walking. The Quiet Area is half a mile from the main gate and probably a quarter mile away from the main event area. That said, walking on the beach is nice, it's a gentle walk, and we could all stand the exercise.

Main Speaking and Camping Area

This is where it's all going down. There are a number of cabins that line the northern side of the area that are available for rent. I got the distinct impression that the ToorCamp folks want these to be rented out by Groups/Vendors/Hackerspaces so that they can host workshops and other sub-events. Somewhere in the open area will be the main speaking tents as well as the general camping area. Parties will be allowed to go late into the night over there.

Quiet Area

The quiet area is slightly more reserved. There's roughly a dozen, single-bedroom cabins (more on these later) over in that area along with plenty of camping space. The cabins will also be rented out to different groups so they can host their private (or public) events in them. This is actually where I want to see BLR get a cabin. The difference with this area is that there won't be any late night parties or noise. If you were at the last ToorCamp you know that the only place you could get some quiet was if you camped up by the security tent at the front gate. This year they will provide a space for those of us that only want to Rock and Roll part of the night and party for a certain part of the day.

The Beach

The beach is nice. In fact, the beach is really really nice.

However one very important thing to note is how far the tide comes in. When the tide is out you have nearly 100 yards from the start of the beach to the water. However when the tide is fully in, it can come up all the way to the dunes. This is something to take into account when placing your tent or if you are thinking about passing out drunk on the beach.

The Cabins

The cabins are small. They aren't much different from the insides of a single-wide trailer or a good sized RV. The cabins do feature electricity and hot water. Even though the cabins feature running, potable water, I still intend on bringing bottled water for drinking so I can use the on-site water for showering and washing up dishes.

Upon entry through the locking, sliding glass, doors you come into the living room. The living room is small but as we found out you can put a dozen or so people in there if you are good with playing chair Tetris.

KitchenetteNext in from the living room is the kitchen/bathroom area. Unlike an RV or trailer, the bathroom is actually fairly large. The bathroom features a regular toilet, a sink, plenty of storage space, and a good sized shower. The kitchen is just basically a kitchenette. There is a two burner range in the counter top, a microwave, a coffee maker, and a hotel sized fridge. There is no oven or dish washer. In the kitchen cabinets I found an assortment of pots, pans, dishes, cups, and utensils. For ToorCamp I would highly suggest bringing your own cookware, plates, and utensils to make sure you have everything covered for what you want to make.
I would also suggest bringing an electric griddle/waffle maker, or a portable gas grill to use outside. I intend on bringing both a proper BBQ and an electric smoker. I also plan on bringing my own cookware and utensils so I don't have to worry about messing Hobuck's up. Also, plan on bringing a large cooler as the fridge, as previously stated, is about as large as you'd find in some hotels. You could probably store a 12 pack, a couple of 2L bottles, and some cold cuts in there. It's not super tiny, but it's certainly not large.

Finally, we have the bedroom. It's a simple queen bed affair with hotel provided bedding. Not much to look at, but does the job.

That concludes the site review portion of my post. However I also wanted to discuss some of the environment and logistics around this location.

Getting There

First off, getting to the location takes a while. It took me roughly 4.5 hours each way. There's several different ways to get to the area and some are better than other.

Option one is to drive from Seattle to Highway 101 and go up the interior of the peninsula to Highway 113 and then onto Highway 112 into Neah Bay. I'd only go this route if you are coming to Toorcamp from Olympia or points south thereof. The amount of backtracking to from Seattle down to even the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is going to add a ton of travel time. This might be useful if you are coming from Seattle and bringing a large trailer or something that would cost a ton to take on the ferry.

Option two is to take the ferry from either the Seattle ferry terminal or from the Edmonds terminal (this is what I did) over to the peninsula, catch up with Hwy 101, then Hwy 113, then Hwy 112. This is probably the fastest route to take. It's actually longer to go 101, 113, 112 than to go 101 to 112 all the way, but you'll get there faster. To see why, read on

Option three is to take Hwy 101 to Hwy 112's start in Port Angeles and just drive 112 all the way to Neah Bay. This is the route I took on my drive in (but not my drive out). This route is very scenic. This route is also full of twists and turns along with the beautiful coastline. If you're on a bike or in a performance vehicle, this route will not let you down. However I should call out that if you see any turn signs with speed restrictions of 25mph or lower, heed them. There are ample opportunities on this route to lay your bike down or to drive your fancy sports car off a cliff. Due to having to slow down and carefully navigate the terrain, this route, while shorter on paper, took me longer than planned.

Option four is for the adventurers with time on their hands. You can come up (or down) I-5 and hook up with Hwy 8 in Olympia then take that route up the western coast of the state to Neah Bay. The route is gorgeous but will take you a significant amount of time. Alternately, but in the same vein as this, you could come up Hwy 101 from the bottom of the western part of the state to the top. This would be the route I would take if I was coming up from Astoria, OR.

Neah Bay, WA

The town of Neah Bay, WA is a beautiful little place nestled up in the northern most pocket of the continental US. You can look out across the water and see the vast cornfields of Canada, where kilted yaksmen roam the plains in search of herring. Neah Bay is also a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, so expect gas to be very expensive.

As with many small towns (particularly on tribal land) expect the speed limit to be enforced to the letter. Unemployment is high in these villages and getting out of towners to empty their wallets into the city coffers is a prime directive. If the speed limit says 25mph, do it, as I can almost guarantee that there's a cop not more than 200 yards from you at all times.

Services in Neah Bay are limited as well. This is partially because they're a little town out in the middle of nowhere and partially because the natives tend to have a real DIY streak in them. You don't buy fish, you catch it. You don't buy firewood, you cut down a tree and chop it up. If you're a city person, then get ready to be in for a shock. There's a mini mart in town, a tribal casino, a gas station, a small grocery store, as well as a restaurant called the Warmhouse. I should also call out that there are no fast food restaurants in town. The closest you're going to get is a corndog from the mini mart.

I would highly suggest bringing your provisions in with you, or at the very least do your final shopping in Port Angeles prior to making the final trek into Neah Bay. If you're one of those types that goes camping but looks for any and every reason to hop in the car and 'go into town', you might not find what you are looking for. Also, since the camp is not even directly on top of Neah Bay its a several mile drive from the camp to the town I would expect the tribal police to just be camped out along that road looking to issue tickets. So make your provision list, check it twice, pack your stuff, check it again, and once you hit the gates of Toorcamp prepare to remain there for the duration.

The final thing to remember is that this entire event is on tribal land. The Makah are really cool people. Be polite and respectful of them. Hell, I learned a few tricks about chopping wood in a 5 minute conversation that I hadn't figured out in a lifetime of chopping wood. We also got to see the proper way to butcher octopus. So be respectful of the Makah, clean up after yourselves, pack out your trash, don't fuck with the locals, and observe their rules.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kindle Fire - Follow Up

I've had my Kindle Fire for a few weeks now, so I figured it was time for an update.

First off, I rooted my device. I know I had said previously that I would do a full write-up about rooting it if I decided to go that route, but I figured 'why?' as there are numerous sites already describing the ridiculously easy method for rooting your device. Be aware, however, that once you root your device it's not all sunshine and candy. For the moment, if you root your device, video from Amazon Prime will cease to work. Since I pull video from Netflix and local streaming sources on my LAN this did not affect me horribly, but if you live and die by Amazon Prime's free video on demand you may want to consider this. That said, there's no reason you can't 'unroot' your device after getting things on there that you wanted. For me the lacking applications were things like Dropbox and Astro File Explorer (yes, ES File Explorer is out there but I prefer Astro). Once you unroot your device, Amazon Prime will work again. This, of course, just means developer/hacker folks need to figure out how/what it's checking for and come up with a workaround.

Second, it looks like some of my predictions about this device have come true at least for me. The current #1 issue I have with this device is the lack of external volume controls. I knew it would be a problem, I just didn't realize how much of a problem it would be. Most applications don't give you the opportunity to control volume from within them. This leaves you with having to bounce back to the system pull-down and do it there, which can frequently result in you not being able to resume your application or causing your application to become unstable. All of this could have been solved by two plastic buttons on the side of the device.

Also, as predicted, the power button is a huge issue. I hit the power button pretty constantly while handling the device.

Lack of external storage is also a recurring problem as well. First off, some things can't be downloaded to the device such as streaming Amazon Prime movies, Netflix, etc. So when I'm sitting around some place looking to be entertained, I better hope that there's [good] WiFi nearby. First time I take this on an airplane it's going to get old really quick. That said, if I want to load it up with media to amuse me, I'm going to hit that 6gb limit of useable storage really quick. Obviously I knew going into this that the Fire had fixed storage and no connectivity options other than WiFi, I just didn't realize how quickly I'd hit the upper limits of my storage.

In the 'new issues' pile is the UI itself. I had mentioned in my previous post about how clunky it felt and that feeling has only grown. I press icons and nothing happens. The UI seems to only do what I tell it 90% of the time with no explanation for the other 10%. Applications seem particularly unstable on the Fire as well. I'm not talking about the 3rd party applications that I installed from sources outside of the Amazon App Store, I get that those might not run as advertized. I'm talking about the apps I get from the Amazon App Store crashing and burning on a regular basis.

Final UI issue that I have grown to absolutely loathe is the recent items scroller. First off, there's no way to exclude items from appearing there so it's not just recently opened applications, it's recently installed applications and web pages I've visited. The result is a large, unsorted, pile of junk that I have to hunt through to 'quickly' access it. I find it easier to ignore it completely and just pull apps from the app menu, books from the book menu, etc. The other issue with the recent items is that it's too sensitive to even the slightest touch. One thing I have noticed about the Fire is that if you want an icon to execute you have to make sure you are touching it in exactly the right place and in exactly the right way. The recent items scroller is so sensitive that you will spend time trying to get that icon you want to execute into the one and only position from where you can execute it while alternating between scrolling too far or not far enough. I feel like I'm trying to balance something on the head of a pin before I can open it. Luckily the solution here (for me anyways) dropped into my lap this morning: You can now get CyanogenMod7 running on your Kindle Fire.

In the good news column, I no longer hate the screen size. I still think Amazon would do well to offer a larger version, and if they do I would be inclined to buy it, but in the meantime I have grown used to the display. The battery life on the device is pretty nice as well. I've so far only had to charge it about once a week. The other interesting note is that despite my gripes about it, I do find myself using it daily. If I had to do it again, I'd probably go with a Nook Color though.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kindle Fire - First Impressions

I had been reluctant to get into the tablet market for some time. To me tablets seemed like a solution to a problem I didn't have. Every time I wanted to get one I would stop and ask myself "Why? What exactly is this going to do for me that isn't already done by my laptop or netbook?" and every time I would come up without an answer.

Several months ago I decided I wanted to get some variety of e-reader. The physical weight of the books I carry around for reference is not insignificant so I would love to ditch it all for a magical device that could hold hundreds of pounds of books while weighing only a pound. "Finally!", I thought "I have a problem that might be solved by a tablet." The Kindle was my first choice in terms of readability, however with a lot of technical manuals there are tons of diagrams and pictures and the e-paper display of the Kindle just didn't do it justice. I then looked at the iPad but was turned of by both the price and the display. The iPad display is overall really nice but for some reason it just didn't jive with me when it came to reading. When the Kindle Fire was announced I decided it would be the device that I was going to try. First, you can't beat that 199 dollar price point and the specs of the gear were more than adequate. Second, Amazon has a certain reputation to live up to in terms of producing e-readers so I figured they would be a good bet. This logic in hand, I pre-ordered my Kindle Fire and got to waiting.

November 17th arrived and as UPS had foretold, so did my Kindle Fire. I took it out of it's rather unique packaging, plugged it into the wall, and was surprised when it fired up on its own after I plugged it in. Initially I was impressed.

This device is well built and feels solid in my hands. One issue I had noticed with some of the cheaper tablets is that regardless of build quality, I felt like I was going to snap them in half if I didn't exercise extreme caution.

The screen is very sharp. I was impressed with the screen resolution as well as the fact that the colors are crisp and not over-saturated. I haven't been able to see how it holds up under outdoor usage and sunlight as I live in the northwest and we won't be seeing that angry fireball in the sky till sometime next May.

Setup was a snap. I powered the device on, it associated with my wireless network, and then it registered itself with my information unprompted. That last part spooked me a bit as I still need to dig into it to understand how they did that.

Finally my device was up and operational, let's get some apps on this thing and give it a try! At this moment, disappointment began to set in. I wouldn't say that I am unhappy with my purchase, but I have not been terribly 'wowed' by it since I started using it. Here's my current take on it:

1. It's too small. The display is awesome, but this device really needs to be 10" and not the current 7". Yes I can zoom in and look around, but to really be valuable as an e-reader (that is, first and foremost, what I bought it for). With any luck they will release a Kindle Fire + or something that has a larger screen.

2. Power button is on the bottom. It's funny, when I first saw a generation 1 Kindle the first thing that I noticed about it was that the buttons to turn the pages weren't intuitively placed and that frequently the very act of holding it caused you to change pages. Well, it looks like Amazon did it again with their first generation Kindle Fire. The power button is on the bottom of the device alongside the micro-USB and headphone jack. So far I have managed to hit the button repeatedly with my hand by holding the Kindle or by resting the base of the Kindle against my chest while using it. This is going to get old quick

3. No external volume control. This is going to be a problem with this device, especially given that the one thing the Kindle Fire is really awesome at is video playback. As I fired up Angry Birds last night I was made very aware of the fact that the game has no volume control. Since the game had no volume control and there was no physical volume control my only option was to turn the system volume down...which is not even remotely easy, especially while the application is running. I am going to have to figure out a solution to this before I end up disturbing people at work, at the gym, or god forbid waking my wife up.

4. The OS is not responsive, despite the specs. One thing I've noticed about Android based devices is that time and again, vendors take a perfectly functional bit of hardware and make it run poorly by trying to put some custom UI over the underlying OS. HTC has done this with its Sense UI, Motorola has done this with Motoblur, and Amazon has done this with their UI. Based on hardware specifications this device should be screaming fast for Android. That said, I found that hitting buttons (such as the return/back button) frequently yields slow responses if any at all. On numerous occasions I kept hitting the back button to have the device do nothing, then suddenly on press #10 it takes me back. This is supposed to be cutting edge technology, but it runs a bit like Windows Mobile 6.1.

5. No 3g and/or external storage. I obviously knew that the Kindle Fire lacked 3g connectivity and external storage before I bought the device. Amazon was up front about this lack of functionality and that decision was panned by critics almost immediately. Now that I have the device in my hands, I wish it did have one or both. Honestly, I'd be happy with a micro-SD card slot.

6. This may or may not be a problem of scale, but I found last night that numerous parts of the Amazon store didn't work. I would try to download an application from the Amazon AppStore and nothing would happen. I would try again, but still nothing. Final try it worked. This cycle would happen over and over again for every application I tried to pull down. In another instance the Kindle wouldn't pull down graphics/icons for items in the AppStore. As of right now the icon for my Accuweather application is the Amazon 'Image Not Found' image. Someone was quick to point out that this may be the result of Amazon getting hit with a ton of traffic as people unbox their Kindles and begin loading them up with applications. So, I will withhold my judgement of this for a few days till things settle down. I really hope its a scaling issue that Amazon can fix quickly.

7. No 24hr clock. Yes this seems trivial, but I live by the 24hr clock and not being able to select my date and time preferences is annoying.

So what does the Kindle Fire do well? Media. The Netflix application is pretty slick and the video quality is great. Shame that due to some of Netflix's recent business decisions they probably won't be around this time next year. The streaming content from Amazon Prime and my Amazon Cloud Player work great though. It's very likely that I will continue my Amazon Prime membership after my trial month is up.

So what are my plans going forward? Well, it looks like busting root on the Kindle Fire is fairly trivial, so I will probably be rooting my device in the near future. Hopefully Amazon approaches the idea of rooted devices with openness as opposed to the Apple approach of 'fixing' them with every update. Once rooted I'd like to get the Google Market up and running on the device so I can have access to a much wider range of applications. I'll document the rooting of this device when I get around to it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Foundry Burner

Just about to kick off construction of the Black Lodge Foundry. Going with a burner design by Ron Reil

Thursday, May 5, 2011

...and so it begins

DEFCON 19 will be coming to the Rio hotel in Las Vegas, NV.

This will be our 9th venue in the nearly 20 years we've been doing this. How is the Rio going to work out for us? To be honest I really don't know. On the plus side, we have a shitton more room complete with gigantic hallways. On the negative side, it's a new hotel to us so I have no idea how we (staff and attendees) will mesh with them.

That said, planning has begun in earnest. All I can do at this point is make sure my team and I bring our A game to the table to make both the hotel and the attendees happy. Let's see how that all works out.