Title: Defcon XLII, the Meaning Of Life, The Universe, and Everything Author: Lizz
06-01-2013, 08:31 AM
Vanity had waited in line for more than two hours for her Defcon badge,
and was surprised to see that it was a simple gray anodized aluminum plate
the size of a credit card. She’d been expecting something electronic that did
something fantastic with just a little bit of hacking at the Hardware Hacking
Village. But the Defcon XXI badge looked like a dud.
She was hoping for at least a Raspberry Pi, or a networked game with a
persistent graphic display. Last year’s badge contained a small camera that
grabbed a photo of each passing face, and matched it to social networking
profile pictures. It wrote the passer-by’s name and other personal
information to a small screen, and if you pushed a little button on the back
of the badge, a friend request would be sent.
Until now, the badges had been getting better every year.
Her disappointment must have been apparent, because the woman behind the
polished marble counter told her that if she wanted something really special,
she could buy a bright red version of the badge which included a donation of
500 dollars to the EFF, an organization Vanity had strongly supported in the
past. She cringed a little at the price, but withdrew 500 dollars from the
cDc-branded ATM at the counter, giving the woman her cash without counting
it. Vanity’s friends Jax and Mariel who were behind her in line looked pretty
jealous, so she offered to pay for half of their donation for a red badge if
they came up with the other half. But although the two had plenty of cash,
both opted for the plainer version.
The three then headed to the chill out room where they decided to wait
for a talk called Booter Shell Booty given by Random Asset. The room had
been decorated most awesomely, with a band of anime hacker characters
marching in a line around the four walls. Mariel, a decent graphic artist by
trade, couldn’t figure out how it was done. Not projected — maybe be some
kind of flexible fabric screen that isn’t on the market yet, she thought.
Jax brought three drinks to a table, and they grabbed chairs — fortuitous
timing, because the hall where the newbie track was held had just emptied.
Two minutes later, there were no chairs to be had. With an hour’s break
before the next sessions were due to start, the crowded room was really
Quite suddenly, the buzz gave way to a strange, nearly hysterical hum
that grew quickly in volume. People around the room began to look at each
other, and then at their badges, and a nervous tension began to pervade the
space. Jax, Mariel, and Vanity looked at their badges. They were amazed to
see beautiful silvery letters forming on the the two gray metal plates.
The badges were awesome! The hysterical hum gave way to raucous
cheering as shiny letters written in a font right out of Harry Potter began
scrolling across the gray surface. But the mood tensed rapidly as the
hackers read the sinister message.
“Welcome to the The New Model Hacker Army Flash Mob. If remove your badge,
you will die. Your badge is listening to you. Your badge is watching you.”
Jax laughed out loud when he read the message. Without a word, he
immediately pulled his badge off over his head. In the blink of an eye,
there was nothing but a wisp of smoke where he had been standing. And he
wasn’t the only one to disappear; dozens of attendees were erased as if
they had never existed.
Mariel began screaming and ran toward the casino exit. Vanity raced
after her, weaving in and out of the patrons headed to try their luck with
the one-armed bandits. At that precise moment, a small woman, who later
turned out to be Shrdlu, shouted “Jackpot!” and leapt off her chair, backing
into Vanity, who went sprawling across the carpet into a quart-sized bucket
of quarters. Vanity’s head collided with a metal post. Welcome to the
machine, she laughed to herself. The room faded to black.
When Vanity awoke, her first thought was that she’d had way too much to
drink, and had passed out. But when she looked around for Mariel, felt her
throbbing head, and saw Jax’ swag bag on the floor, everything came rushing
back. She staggered out of the casino, but there was no sign of her best
Once back in the casino, she saw her horror reflected in the faces of
dozens of mostly young, mostly male attendees wearing black tee shirts. They
were clustering into frenzied groups to discuss their fate while trying to
make sense of what they had just seen. Each wore a metal badge with its shiny
message still visible. Each had seen a “wisp” or more of their own, and each
was prepared to act in accordance with any instruction that showed up on the
badge. Vanity looked down at her red badge. It now read, “Welcome to
Defcon. Thank you for donating to the EFF.”
When she looked up, she saw Gmark and Phenfen sitting down at a newly
emptied table, each with a Sam Adams Summer Ale in hand. Gmark had a red
badge, while Phenfen sported the metallic albatross. She told them what had
happened with Jax and Mariel. They told her they’d been out by the
adults-only pool when they saw Dogten, Dotzero, and Da Kahuna puff out.
They’d left Irritant sleeping in a lounge chair wearing nothing but her bunny
“At first I thought it was The Rapture,” said Phenfen, “but then I
realized their clothing was gone, too.”
“Then I saw the letters forming on his badge,” said Gmark, pointing to
The three began to speculate on how the badge worked, with Vanity
suggesting, “Maybe it’s got a gyro, so it can tell if it goes over your
A young girl wearing a UAT tee-shirt asked, “You mean gyro like a Greek
“Geek sandwich is more like it,” said another girl who appeared to be an
identical twin. “You can ignore her. We came here with our Dad. He’s gone.”
Gmark, ignoring the girls, said he doubted the badge really had a camera
or microphone, and the sooner they could take a closer look and do some
experimentation, the better. He glanced at Phenfen’s chest and said, “But
where can we get a badge?”
Phenfen shuddered, “You wouldn’t say that if you were wearing this
message on your overpriced red tax receipt!”
“Overpriced red *what* did you call me?”
The three looked up to see Fizzgig standing at their table. “Pull uppa
chair,” Phenfen spoke solemnly.
Fizzgig wasted no time telling Phenfen how sorry he was that he hadn’t
been able to pick up a badge before everything had gone south. And of course,
now they weren’t selling the badges anymore. But then he told Vanity and
Gmark that he’d heard from a pretty reliable source that the red badges had
immunity. “Lizzz took hers off as soon as she read the gray ones. Word is
nothing happened. But you know she’s a special case, even the devil is
is afraid of her.”
Everyone at the little table laughed, and they realized that it was the
first humor that had been shared in what seemed like several grim hours. As
if to chastise them, Phenfen’s metal badge began to emit a high frequency
wail. Then, as quickly as it started, the piercing sound was gone. He looked
at his badge and quivered as a new message formed:
“FINAL WARNING! Do not attempt to remove your badge.”
“I need a badge to work on,” Fizzgig said solemnly, looking at Phenfen.
“No!” said Phenfen, without hesitation, grabbing his badge as if it were
the family jewels and he were naked in a shark tank. To his horror, the badge
snapped off its lanyard, and before he could scream, he was gone. Vanished.
Dust in the wind. But his gray badge bounced twice and remained behind.
One of the twins whispered, “That’s what happened to our dad.”
“Let’s have a moment of silence,” Vanity whispered. She and Phenfen been
good friends for a long time, but at least now Fizzgig had a badge to work
on, and if anyone could solve their problem, he was the man to do it. So it
was a good thing. She picked up Phenfen’s beer, took a swallow and said,
“You’d better take his badge to the Hardware Hacking Village.”
– – –
Phenfen opened his eyes and rubbed them. His nostrils were filled with
the odor of rancid ketchup and Earl Grey Tea with Bergamot. He saw eyes
staring into his.
“You’ll be dizzy for a minute or two, Phen.”
“Where is this?” He looked around and it was still the Rio, but it
looked very different. The windows were changing their view. It was the
right view, but the colors were changing, then there was rain, and then a
woodchuck popped up right in the front corner of the window. He laughed,
“Is this Heaven?”
“Nope. Apparently it’s Defcon 42, and we are about to learn the Meaning
of Life, the Universe, and Everything. That’s an android,” Roamer said,
pointing to a man in a black uniform.
“Take a seat, gentlemen and ladies,” ordered the android, who looked a
lot like an older version of Lo57 with unusually smooth skin. He pointed to
some chairs, which were being setup by… themselves. “The green ones are
ready,” he smiled. “They are self-organizing. That little bee-fi is their
controller. Watch, it flies to each group. We order chairs, and they just
“Whoa! Bee-fi! Holy salami!”, said Digi, “Those are awesome.” He pulled
out a SkyKord to make notes.
“No recording,” said the Lo57droid. “We will provide everything you are
allowed to take back.”
An audible sigh of relief spilled from those within earshot. This was
the first mention of “back.”
A small silver-haired woman walked to a podium which had wheeled itself
to the front of the chairs. As the hackers began to find seats, she tested
her microphone. Her invisible microphone.
She turned toward the audience and smiled. “Please allow our androids
to help you find seats.”
She looked over the crowd and began. “Some of you may remember me. My
name is Vanity, and I am a couple of decades older than I was in your “this
morning”. Welcome to 2034, and believe it or not, we haven’t been nuked yet.
I was selected to make this presentation because I am the least likely person
to believe you when you return and tell me I was speaking. So please. Don’t
“Rule 1: Don’t tell Vanity.”
“I’m sure that you are all wondering where you are, how you got here,
and why. Sadly, the world has taken a turn for the worse, and while there are
a lot of good people with great technology, there are also bad people with
even greater technology. In short, we need you. We need people who are
willing to break rules. Each one of you took off your badge immediately
after being told it would kill you. I like that.”
From the front row, a smaller than average boy with dreadlocks yelled,
“Are we dead?” This was his first Defcon, and despite thinking he was dead,
he wanted to be sure he’d be able attend another one.
Vanity laughed, “Of course not, Willy! But please hold the rest of
your questions. I’ll probably cover them.”
“Twenty years ago, most science fiction that dealt with time travel
concerned itself with the M.Y. paradox. So I just want to clear something
up right now. Although the past can change the future, Meeting Yourself is
nothing to fear. However, in order to avoid complications, we’ve sent the
current you on an all-expense paid vacation to Rainbow Sands. So you have
that to look forward to the next time you visit 2034.”
“Next, we have embedded a mild hallucinogenic and tranquilizer in the
lanyard you received with your badge, so those who didn’t travel will be
unsure of what happened when you disappeared. It will be chalked up to
problems in the Rio’s ventilation system. At the same time, it will help
those of you who traveled here to remember your instructions on a deeply
“Rule 2: There was a problem with the ventilation system at the Rio.”
Vanity continued to speak for about twenty minutes, explaining how each
of the small changes the hackers would make in their lives upon return to
Defcon 21 would butterfly. “Yes, butterfly is a verb these days; it means to
change the future. We also say brain-google, or broogle for short. It means
think. We say LOLOLOL still, too. But I’m hoping we can broogle up a plan
to butterfly that away with one of your patches. A patch is a little fix for
your broogler, LOLOL. JK. But I digress.”
Vanity then told them a little about the future and how things had
changed in the past two decades. “We have very little privacy and no right
to encryption. There are cameras everywhere, maybe fifty in this room alone.
They are as hard to spot as my microphone, even if you know where to look.
And they don’t just take pictures, they analyze them. And act on what they
think they see.”
At that, Flea looked to the left and winked. Then he looked to the right
and winked again, just in case. A Lo57droid walked over to him and said,
“Come with me, sir.”
Flea, not used to being called “sir”, replied, “Ouch!” But he followed
out of curiosity, hoping that he hadn’t winked at the wrong camera.
As he was escorted from the room with several others, Vanity made her
closing remarks, “All of you will receive specific instructions in a
one-on-one session following refreshments. This is the last time I will see
you until you return to 2013. So Godspeed in your backward journey, and
remember rule #1. This means you, Ryan.”
The remaining forty or so time-travelers were at last led to a banquet
room where food that can only be described as “interesting” was being served.
Octalpussy helped herself to something that looked like like sun-dried
squidfruit, while Grifter chose a roll of sushi that he hoped was a curried
California roll. Noid took a piece of sliced green “meat” rolled around
cream cheese and scallions, commenting that it should really have a
toothpick, but didn’t. It took four Meaning of Life Goons to explain why
protein magnets worked especially well on Soylent slices.
High Wiz took a small iced cake which looked like a petit four. It
tasted disgusting, so he glanced around, dropped it, and kicked it under the
skirted table. From the corner of his eye, he saw a flat green disk roll by
and proceed under the table. In bright orange letters, it said: SoylentVAXX.
He thought to himself that the SoylentVAXX company might be just the thing
to invest in, and he scratched the name into the palm of his hand with a
Lockheed, who just happened to have a scanner in his pocket, inquired
about using the restroom. He surreptitiously clicked the scanner on as he
followed the Lo57droid down a dark hallway. Once inside a stall, (thanking
his lucky stars there were still bathrooms) he glanced at the scanner. He’d
recorded a huge amount of traffic, but most of it was highlighted in pink,
which meant “protocol unknown.” He sighed, then looked up and saw that the
stall door was in fact a large display screen advertising things that he
could do during his stay in “Moss Vegas.”
His comments were duly noted by the stall’s video recorder, then quickly
transmitted to hotel security in three different languages.
The first person to be escorted from the refreshment room was Siviak,
still munching on a grapple. His Lo57droid led him down a sterile hallway
past windows showing the Las Vegas skyline. It was very different than the
view of the Strip from his room at the Rio. Most buildings were the same,
but the strip’s skyline was deeper as he looked to the east. The city must
have at least tripled in size. Then the Lo57droid turned to him and pointed
to a door. Bowing deeply, it said, “Thank you for your service to us.”
Siviak saw his name etched on the door in large gold letters. Beneath
his name, he read “Chief of Artificial Personnel Design and Security.” He
Gideon was the last to be escorted to a briefing session. She hadn’t
eaten anything, and was worried that her mom would be panicking because she
had disappeared. Even though she was sixteen now, and this was her eighth
Defcon, she wasn’t allowed out of her mother’s sight. She hoped it wouldn’t
be too long before they were returned.
Once inside the room, Gideon saw a much older version of Priest sitting
behind a desk. In a chair to his right, was Nikita, who hadn’t aged a bit.
In a corner of the room, she spied a giant pair of autographed blow-up Easter
eggs in a walnut and glass display box. Gideon did a double-take and laughed.
Priest looked at her and said, “I forget how little you are.”
Gideon replied, “And I forget how big you are!”
Nikita said, “All the better to greet you with! … Seriously, can we
get down to business?”
The two explained to Gideon that she would sleep in a comfortable chair
for about ten minutes while a recorded message played. That was it. Then she
would be returned with the others to the Rio. About 25 minutes would have
elapsed, although it would seem longer.
– – –
Back in the Rio 2013, the mood was pretty grim. Fizzgig, Joe Grand,
and Captain Crunch were huddled together in the back of the Hardware Hacking
Village. The room smelled like Long Island Ice Tea and burning capacitors.
Fizzgig soldered the last component to the board, and slid Phenfen’s
gray badge inside a slot he’d made. Next, Joe downloaded the quick and dirty
microcode he’d written. The two looked at Cap’n and he looked back. He took
a tiny plastic whistle from his pocket and blew his 2600 Hertz signature.
They waited, then they waited a little longer, and still nothing happened.
Cap’n crossed his fingers, blew once more, and after a short pause, the
three were rewarded with a click.
– – –
In 2034, Phenfen’s cell phone rang. Without checking who the caller
was, he reached in his pocket and hit ignore.
– – –
The three time-phreaks hadn’t expected much, and when that’s what they
got, they went back to the chill room where Vanity was sitting with Whitfield
Diffie. The two had ordered a bottle of End of the World as We Know It
Scotch, and were rapidly depleting it. Whit was wiping Vanity’s tears with a
cocktail napkin, saying, “This is all my fault.”
Crunch did that squiggly thing he does with his eyebrows, wiped a loose
resister from his beard and said, “We tried.”
– – –
In 2034, Banasidhe sat at a large console. She pushed buttons, turned
dials, slid sliders, then put her hand into something that looked like a VCR.
“Back to the past, little ones, and remember to do the right thing,” she
whispered gently. “Don’t forget we love you all.” Her console lights flashed
yellow, then red, then green. She smiled. She looked at the small group
standing around the console. Each one was wearing a black badge.
– – –
In the chill out room at the Rio 2013, lights flickered and dimmed. The
sound of silence grew and then diminished as the missing hackers began to
materialize. The first thing Vanity saw was a watery glow like heat on the
highway — a desert mirage. Next came dots, colored dots, colored clumping
dots like a DanKam tee, and then there were shapes. Shapes finally became
people. All around the room missing hackers were appearing, and being
recognized by friends and loved ones who had thought them lost forever.
Vanity ran to Jax, and hugged him, until she saw Gideon materialize and
shrieked, “I thought you were sleeping in the room all this time! I didn’t
even know you had your badge! Your mother is gonna kill you! And me!”
Over in the DJ corner, Jackalope, who had been spinning only her saddest
tunes quickly started playing Gangnam Style, the first upbeat track that
popped into her mind. She flipped on some disco lights and to her surprise
hundreds of hackers stood up, pushed tables and chairs out of the way and
started dancing in lines.
Russ turned to Zak and said, “Somebody put something in my drink.”
Meanwhile, in a little room hidden behind the official swag sales tables
in the Rio’s Convention Center lobby, a select group of people looked at each
other. Bansidhe slowly twisted a dial to the left until it locked. Then she
stood up and adjusted her strappy black leather warrior outfit, ran her
fingers through her sagging blue Mohawk, and turned to Jeff Moss and Jennifer
Granick with a smile.
“This will be our biggest donation yet,” she said, picking up a riding
crop that had been a gift from the future. Stamped in the black leather
were the words “EFF 2034 Give ‘til it Hurts Campaign.”
“Next stop, BloodKode Challenge.”
Just Another Day at Defcon by Lizzz
05-26-2010, 06:56 PM
Just Another Day at Defcon
Chasm (not his real name, of course) stepped up to the podium and waited for the buzz to die down. A calm descended, a video goon gave the thumbs up, and Chasm began his first ever talk at the Riv.
“Thank you for inviting me to speak. The things I am going to say will come as a shock to most of you. It certainly was a shock to me.”
He twisted a mechanical pencil between his thumb and forefinger, slipped it into his pocket and continued.
“Most of us don’t think very highly of a certain operating system vendor – heck, most of us don’t think very highly of anyone but ourselves.”
He paused for the inevitable obligatory laugh. Hackers like to consider themselves strange and wonderful beasts, but these guys were like any other attentive audience he’d played, tense and ripe for release. They just smelled a little funkier, he thought. Then he put his very serious face on, and leaned earnestly into the podium like AgentX had showed him.
. . .
A mere two miles away in the penthouse of the newest hotel on the strip, Reminy Wassell flipped channels mercilessly. Her suite at the top of the ultra-modern Crossed Stars Complex looked out over the glittering splendor of the Las Vegas skyline, but Reminy was not interested in the view. She’d already finished texting directions to the Ninja party list she’d been assembling for two weeks, and that was the last thing on her to-do list.
God she was tired! She jammed the suite door open with a black Converse sneaker so she wouldn’t have to get up when the guys came back from their booze run. This would be the best Ninja party ever, and just about all the work was done. Once she put the pink highlights in her bleached hair, sprayed on her tattoos and glued in her piercings, she’d be the coolest scene whore of all time – for a fed, anyway.
. . .
Across the gridlocked boulevard from the Crossed Stars, things were much different. A dingy white van idled in a green-striped delivery zone. In the back of the van, a blond man typed furiously on the keyboard of his laptop. He was a cracker, the very worst sort; smart, determined, and most of all, angry. He’d been planning and scheming since last year’s Defcon when he’d had a sudden realization that the very best time to get away with a majorly nasty hack was when the town was filled with hackers attending Black Hat and Defcon.
The man, who went by the moniker “Scrub”, was angry with everyone, but primarily, his focus was on entrepreneur Jerry Cross, who had fired him from his all-access position as Chief of Internet Security at Crossed Stars International. Scrub was convinced he’d been fired for no good reason, and just to show Jerry what an unforgiving bitch he could be, Scrub was about to begin an unprecedented attack on the hotel complex, the biggest jewel in the Crossed Stars corporate crown.
. . .
At the tables, Trix and Dogten felt like they were getting lucky. Not the Riviera’s gaming tables, of course, the two hackers never gambled. They were in the largest of the Defcon events room, seated at a round table, elbow-to-elbow with eight other amateur Open CTF players.
The tension at the table was palpable. An asshat in a yellow EFF jersey had just spilled an entire cup of coffee. The Open CTF area was across the room from the table where the Coffee Wars contest was being held, and samples of Poopacino, coffee made from beans digested by civets, had been offered. Two of the table’s hacker brethren were extremely pissed about the mess, even though there had been no damage done. Well, no visible damage anyway – a bit of moisture had caused a major malfunction in a switch, and the game network suddenly widened substantially. Nobody noticed.
. . .
Inside the white van, Scrub was beginning to feel the heat. His thinning hair was thwacked to his forehead with sweat. He wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve, and continued to type. The air-conditioner was on, but there had been a little bit of a gasoline smell on his sleeve from an errant spill he’d made during his getaway fill-up. He’d cracked the front window to vent it a bit, but the van was getting warmer and the smell was getting stronger. Maybe he’d left the gas cap hanging off again. Oh well, it would just be a few minutes more. He’d be OK. A small price to pay.
Scrub’s excitement was palpable as he hit the enter key, and the clever backdoor he’d planted on the CSI servers two years ago gave him instant access to the hotel network. He cut and pasted his elegant script at the command line root prompt, and hit the return again. Across the street, a series of failures was put into motion. Power died instantly all over the complex. Glamorous shops, restaurants, gaming areas and guest rooms all faded to black at the same time. Doors failed in their locked mode, and the gas heat came on in every room. The backup generators failed to engage, but an off site automatic dialing system he’d set up called each room and politely notified guests that they were temporarily “confined” in their rooms, and they shouldn’t try to leave. May as well take everybody down with the building, he thought.
. . .
In her gradually warming penthouse suite, Reminy hung up the phone, horrified to hear that she was now effectively a hostage inside the Crossed Stars. She began to freak, but quickly caught her breath when she remembered that not only had she left the door to the hallway propped open, she also had her lucky revolver waiting in the safe. She’d used the television’s infrared remote to hack into the hotel server, and she’d figured out how to pop the lock on the room safe and take the charges for the safe and the mini-bar off of her bill. She figured she should save some money for the taxpayers while she was on an expense account.
Damn, it was getting hot in the room. She yanked the thermometer off the beer cooling contraption and in a matter of seconds, it read 113°. She flashed back to her Thursday evening cooking stint at the Toxic BBQ in the 116° heat a few days ago. Much cooler here, she smiled. Suddenly, Reminy realized with a shock that all the left over meat they’d brought back from the Toxic BBQ would be defrosting in the hotel’s walk-in freezer. They’d needed a place to store the stuff – giraffe isn’t small. It helped that D.T. was friends with Jerry Cross and had talked him into giving up some freezer space. The meats were truly exotic, and worth a fortune. Besides the giraffe, there was polar bear, giant tortoise, caribou, and some mystery meat that someone had said looked like it used to be a pwny. Nikita told them it was unicorn. Banshee figured it was rhino. Either way, Reminy needed to save the meat. She had to act, and she had to act NOW. Grabbing her Pug .44 and some extra ammo, she raced down the 96 flights of stairs to the kitchens below.
. . .
Scrub sighed as he waited in his tin can just outside the shadow of the Crossed Stars Tower. It wouldn’t be long until the tower came down in the most beautiful way, and he had a little more than five minutes before he popped out of his idling space to make a clean getaway. He’d given himself a full fifteen minutes to drive a block- the Vegas sun and The Strip’s traffic were the only two givens here. He had mixed feelings about having to actually be in Vegas – but as it turned out, he needed to access the CSI network via the hotel “wiffie”, as he called it. This all would have been much more fun from his houseboat. Yeah, not so hot on the lake, he thought, but here in Vegas, I’ll at least be able to inhale a bit of the dust, and carry it with me forever. He smiled at the thought. He was turning into a pretty sentimental asshole after all these years.
. . .
Back at the Open CTF, Dogten noticed a few new machines on his scan. He probed a bit until he found that a newer SQL patch had not been applied. The designers of the game had given him a freebie; it was almost like an engraved invitation. After about twenty seconds or so, he was in. The game masters had created a welcome banner that read:
Crossed Stars Complex, Inc.
AUTHORIZED USERS ONLY.
Definitely a nod to Jerry Cross, who’d purchased the Riv out of bankruptcy just a month earlier. Dogten was only the penetration half of the team. It would be up to Trix to find a lovely exploit to deliver for the score.
Trix poked around a bit and managed to open a remote window on a notebook hanging off the the wide open system. She started up a power management dialog box. Their usual strategy with portables was to raise the target’s power plan to “ultra high performance” so that all their CPU hammering would go unnoticed. Hopefully, the “operator” (who appeared to be logged-in and active in the simulation) would not feel their performance hit. Trix hit the apply button, and waited. Eff’n slow box, she thought. Then she hit the ok button and the dialog box closed. Mischief managed! Now it was time for Trix to deliver a real payload.
. . .
Scrub stared intently at his screen. He’d be up for 27 hours by now, and he felt like his vision was going wonky. Damn! The screen seemed harsh on his tired eyes – seemed brighter. The damn laptop’s battery was burning up his knees, really burning up his knees, and between the nasty smell of warming electronics and gasoline fumes, he was happy to know the job was nearly finished. But Scrub’s laptop was not well at all. It made a sickly popping noise, then all of a sudden, flames shot out from the battery compartment. Next, the small fire caught hold of the draft coming through the cracked windows of the white van. Damn! Son of a bitch! His pants were on fire. And then, Scrub’s thoughts jumped to the little whiffs of gasoline he’d been smelling for the past half-hour, and he was immediately filled with horror. This was it. The van exploded. Scrub exploded. His script stopped running, and the brief attack on the Crossed Stars was over.
. . .
Trix began to slip her payload onto the mystery machine to hopefully score a few points. But suxor of all that sucketh, her remote window popped shut and she lost access. Damn! Trix was disappointed to see the connection die. She’d been so close. She laughed and unplugged her cable from the switch.
“Let’s get some booze, Dogten,” she suggested. I work better with a buzz. Then we can play with the locks for a while or go back to the hotel and get ready for the party.
. . .
Reminy stepped out of the hotel kitchen’s giant freezer. She was not the only one who’d thought of the freezer. All around her, lights were beginning to come back on, and the thunk and hum of the air conditioning starting back up caused everyone in the chilled little group to smile. All told, twenty-three armed hackers had come to the freezer to save the meat, and they’d found the freezer a delightful place to weather the heat wave. A little insulation is a good thing.
. . .
Back in the huge meeting hall, Chasm looked out across the audience and caught the smiling goon’s eye. The goon held up his hand to indicate a five minute warning, and Chasm gave an imperceptible nod of his head. The talk had gone far better than he ever could have imagined.
“So thanks to Madhat and my bud, Flea, and thanks to all of you for paying attention. A lot of us got off track for a pretty long time, but now, I think the path ahead should be pretty clear.”
The crowd rose to their feet, and slowly began to clap until the room was shaking with applause. Never before in the history of Defcon had there been such an amazing announcement. Of course, there were still details to be published, but it pretty much meant that three hundred or so of the best hackers in the world had managed to stop cold a terrorist nation threatening to bring the free world to its knees, and that doesn’t happen every day, even at Defcon.
It began with the death of a 3-year-old caged-canary named Rusty.
Teflon(tm) is supposed to be one of those things we don’t worry about, like NutraSweet(tm) or genetically modified corn. But if you scorch your griddle, it kills your canary. And the singing stops.
When I burned the pancakes and killed the bird, I noticed a thin film of residue remaining on the Teflon(tm). I guess it was just random junk from the air, who knows, I’m not a chemist. Apparently, I can’t even cook.
But like I said, I notice things, and I saw an unusual twinkle reflecting on that residue — a projection of light hovering above the surface of the griddle. Two years later, I have a new canary and a 2.5 billion dollar contract with SaberStar to deliver metasurfaces for nanophotonics that wrangle surface plasmons. Our end product is called Fogger(tm) and I am the Father of Fog — both the nano-products and the new canary.
Fogging is the technology that has changed the way high-speed routing and switching is done on the Internet. It’s fast and it’s beautiful. So beautiful that you can sell tickets to people who want to visit your data center. Migraineurs tell us that the patterns generated by fog are much like the scintillating scotoma heralding their headaches — disjoint zigzags sparkling in brilliant jewel-tone metallic holograms that sometimes bring grown men to tears. Actually kind of nice, if I may say so myself.
A few months ago, an odd vulnerability was found in fog routers and an exploit, just a proof of concept really, was developed. It’s a “minor” problem that has the potential to bring the entire net down, or at least the part that depends on BGP working, we joke. We shouldn’t really joke.
So anyway, some colleagues and I were invited to speak at Defcon XXII. Our panel will discuss how the threat to fog can be mitigated before the exploit can be widely deployed. Honestly, I’m just here for background, because a billionaire on a panel is always a good draw. The router design isn’t mine, nor is the flaw.
So here we are, ready to face the great unwashed masses of Defcon. We walk to the stage as the audience showers us with applause. Jeff Moss has introduced us personally. I share the stage with Reminy Walker, who left Cisco to form Fogger Manufacturing, Ltd. Her company built the hardware, partnering with NanoStuphs, whose engineers are faulted with creating the flawed logic. NanoStuphs’ former CISO and author of the exploit code, Jax Larami, no longer works for NanoStuphs and is here representing himself. Gary Lancerian, head of Customer Experience for NanoStuphs is in the hot seat, so he takes the microphone first and bubbles on about what a wonderful product the fog routers are. And it’s true. They are damn fine, despite the current problems.
I should say upfront that the four of us go back pretty far together. Reminy and I were together at Stanford, and Jax and Gary were at Purdue when some of the initial work was being done. We moved to Cupertino and bought adjoining buildings in a small R&D center that had been home to Taligent for a couple of weeks in the 90’s. Now I live in downtown L.A. with an unobstructed view of One Wilshire, thirty stories of ethereal beauty that can be seen glittering in the night from miles away. But Reminy, Jax, and I are still pretty tight. It’s about now that I start thinking about how lovely Reminy is in that nightgown.
. . .
At this point, I wake up. Damn, that was a hell of a dream. I open one eye and see that the sun is coming in through the old metal mini-blinds. My roommates Beckka, Chasm, Da Kahuna, and Random Asset are already awake. Sounds like they’re up and making a breakfast mess as usual. Smells like burning pancakes, though, which is enough motivation to get me out of bed. I wander into the kitchen and their noisy chatter stops. Beckka looks at the floor, Da Kahuna looks out the window, Random Asset covers his face like he’s invisible, and Chasm looks me directly in the eye.
“Rusty’s dead, man.”
I usually can’t remember anything about the part of me that’s me. It feels like I’m just a wish away, a sigh. I can almost put my finger on who I am, then, as elusive as wisp of smoke, I’m lost. I have better days, today is one of them, so I’ll tell you my story. Our story.
Last year I attended Defcon for the first time. It’s an insanely crowded hacker conference in Vegas. The first night, I took an elbow to the face while I waited in line for one of the talks. Just too many people trying to squeeze by in a hallway, nothing malicious. The guy who hit me was wearing a black top hat and a monocle, and he dropped a bunch of cards with QR codes on them. He was freaked about it because people were kicking them away faster than he could gather them up. He apologized profusely and handed me a card. Defcoin he said it was. Anyway, I waited in line for the contests, for the restaurants, and even for the elevator. Waiting wasn’t all that much fun, but don’t get me wrong, I’d go again in a heartbleed.
I met so many cool people! There was Jayde, a little girl with a green Mohawk who couldn’t have been old enough for the third grade. She was putting the finishing touches on the slides for her zero-day talk. Unbelievably, she’d found one in her Easy-Bake Oven when it phoned home to order more cake mix.
There was an amazing badge challenge that I couldn’t make heads or tails of, but I had a lot of fun trying. I visited the Crypto Village where we learned how to keep the NSA out of our browsers and messaging. Mostly I was surprised that Defcon wasn’t all Men in Black t-shirts. There were furries dressed as bears, cats, and rabbits, and people sporting fedoras, cowboy boots, and canes.
I met Gideon, a smallish girl who looked like she was maybe high school age. She was wearing bunny ears, so I asked her if she was a furry. She laughed and said she was one of the Bunnies for Priest. I pretended to know what she was talking about, and then later I saw her in a parade with a pair of giant Easter Eggs. Not a furry, my ass.
I saw more than a few families, a wrinkled grandmother with a blue Mohawk, and even some famous people. I was introduced to Cap’n Crunch in the Hardware Hacking Village, and Kevin Mitnick outside of a social engineering room. The Dark Tangent himself gave me a new handle at Defcon 101, the Thursday pre-conference track for newbies. He called me Mr. Feather because I had a yellow feather pinned to my hoodie. It had been given to me by one of those Vegas showgirls that hand them out with afterhours invites at Fremont Street. Lacey was her name. I’m surprised I remember that now.
You know, there were even some VIPs. I was coming out of the elevator and was almost mowed down by a phalanx of goons in red surrounding someone. Later I heard that it was the Obama girls – I really can’t say, but that would be cool if that’s who it was, especially with everything that went down after the election. Hindsight, and all that.
I really had a blast. I’d been to a barbecue at a park near the airport and tried some alligator nuggets, I shot somebody’s rifle out in the desert, and I’d even learned a little sign language. I teamed up with some kids from UAT on a scavenger hunt and we almost won when we picked up a hundred points for sending some guy named Dan Kaminsky up in a lawn chair powered by helium balloons. He was really drunk, and he kept saying how hard he works. I believed him. He asked us to email a picture of him in the balloon chair so he could look at the colors.
Anyway, I bought a violently chartreuse, scarlet, and black print of dripping clockwork musical instruments from a guy named Eddie, and I gave him a big donation for the EFF. Then I got a mustard-colored Mohawk. I figured if a granny and a third grader could have one, then so could I. There was a long line for Mohawks, but I read a lot more of the EFF stuff while I waited. I’m pretty sure that the EFF is going to save the planet if anybody can. God knows I wish they could save me.
Later, I tried to have a closer look at the Capture the Flag contest, but I was shooed away when they figured out I wasn’t on a team. Shooed is a polite description. I thought they were going to kill me for a minute. So yeah, Defcon was more than awesome. There were people from all over the world, and I heard everything from Arabic to Zulu while eating twelve dollar grilled cheese sandwiches washed down with 6 dollar coffees. I’d been to Vegas before, but not that Vegas!
The conference was themed Rise of the Machines. That was my main motivation for attending. I love everything about robots and AI, and I had just finished a master’s at MIT. I’d developed a fairly simple algorithm for controlling exoskeletons for our wounded warriors. I couldn’t knit spinal cords together, but I was hoping to take our heroes out of their wheelchairs and get them walking. I didn’t invent any of the framework, and I have no idea what most of the underlying code looks like. I was standing on the shoulders of giants who had given me ultra-light materials, and a robust API. One reporter wrote that I should be shortlisted for a Nobel Prize, but to be more honest than I have to be, I just happened to try some optimizations based on self-organizing swarm behavior. Then I fixed up some of the gravity compensation code. None of it was unique, just faster. A lucky accident, really.
So I wasn’t all that new to tech, and I’d picked up an interest in infosec after having some nasty bugs in my project pointed out to me. I’d heard about medical device hacking being a thing, and I wanted to make sure I was up on it. I put real people inside of those exoskeleton cages, and I can’t be letting them fall into swimming pools or walk into bonfires just because their firmware updates are done over the Internet. I’d heard about The Cavalry, and car and plane hacking, and I wanted to hear more.
I met Chaos at a meetup for people using mobility devices and prosthetics. There were just five of us in a room that could easily have held 50 or more. I guess when your meetup is at the same time as the 303 Extravaganza, that happens. So this guy JarJar was in a wheelchair; he’d tripped on a landmine that had been in plain view. He joked that it was a really bad time to zone out. I don’t think I’d be able to joke like that.
Micky had a prosthetic arm and hand acquired while surviving an unexpected fall from a Black Hawk in Iraq in 2004. He drank a bottle of Chivas Regal Royal Salute during the two hours we met. He was a little off — he told us that the brass plaque on the fancy bottle was gold, and that it was number 255. The very last bottle. I guess that’s a hacker thing, sucking up scotch like there’s no tomorrow.
Then there was raven-haired Carmen. She was running on two bionic legs. Carmen hadn’t been in the armed forces; she’d turned her back on the business end of a shark off the Santa Cruz coast as a teenager. Chaos was in decent shape, like me, he just had an interest in building robots to serve the less mobile. We learned a lot about needs that night. Mostly my take-away was that people don’t want to be attached to moving machines; they wanted to BE moving machines.
Later we got talking, Chaos and I, and he started telling me about his Magic Bullets. Before you get too excited, a Magic Bullet is a just a little trash can that comes to you when called and empties itself at a service port. They’re kind of cool; they run in networks to optimally cover defined spaces. Chaos was testing a network of them at Stanford, but his original application was for the TV room at the VA where he’d spent a lot of time lingering with his shell-shocked dad. Anyway, his Magic Bullet swarm behavior was interesting, and I got a lot of notes. He’d designed them to anticipate their being needed, and to respond accordingly. The vets loved them, so he added some other logic. First off, they’d say, “Thank you for your service.” Then they’d take the trash.
He’d added a chip that sensed emotion so the Magic Bullets tried to say empathetic things to the vets. The chip learned and the conversations got better and better. He’d been building his last batch of robots without any trash receptacles at all because the vets needed someone to talk with a lot more than they needed to get rid of a crushed paper cup or chewed plastic straw.
Anyway, we figured we’d been talking enough and decided to go to the 303 party. A guy at the door dressed in a kilt wasn’t going to let us in, but Eddie saw us and signaled the guy. The band was awesome. The 303 shirts were awesome. The people were like long lost friends. Then we hit the Forum Meetup which had laser tag and a bouncy house. And it just kept getting better and better until closing ceremonies.
When Defcon ended, Chaos and I agreed that we’d meet again and he’d help me fine-tune my exoskeletons. I’d show him the algorithm that I used to anticipate movement, and we’d try to work his empathy and communication circuitry into it. We ended up spending most of that September on it, and pretty soon the exoskeletons were communicating with their human hosts, responding emotionally as well as physically to the quadriplegics they encased. It was hard to believe, but the logic from the Magic Bullet trashcans was capable of changing lives.
In fact, the logic from the Magic Bullets and my optimization routines complemented each other so well that by November, we had designed a new controller chip implant that would use facial movement to control the mechanical exoskeletons. Our system was no longer dependent on the wearer’s ability to speak. It wasn’t reading minds exactly; it was learning much more intuitively.
Well, one thing lead to another, and Chaos and I decided to make exoskeletons for ourselves. This is the part of the movie where the scantily dressed newlyweds decide they’ll be a lot safer if they split up and go to check out the mysterious noises coming from the abandoned carnival on their own. In retrospect, we had always known it wasn’t going to end well, but having been to Defcon, I was a real hacker now, and there was no stopping me.
Chaos and I were so sucked into the project that soon we were thinking about embedding some of the metallic framework into our own bodies. It wasn’t the kind of thing that you could really experiment with on a paraplegic soldier, but it was plenty legal to do to yourself. I guess putting hinges and rods in your muscles is not much different from piercing your nose or adding a pound of saline-filled plastic balloons to your chest when it comes to the finer points of the law. Maybe that will change now.
Anyway, embedding the exoskeleton (we called it ExoMesh now) worked beyond our wildest dreams. Wearing all that metal inside bulked us up, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to walk with all the extra weight I carried from the implantation surgery. After all, the ExoMesh weighed in at more than 45 pounds. But even before the microchip was embedded, the mechanical assist was amazing. When the microchip was ready, we’d get an order of magnitude more feedback, and our performance would increase exponentially.
The microchip would basically be overclocking us, so we created logic to speed up nutrient use on a cellular level. We needed biologic enhancements to feed our muscles and carry away our cell waste faster than the way uncustomized humans get it done. We ended up with something similar to a Soylent pump combined with a dialysis machine. We added a lot of our own supplements — Cardene, Ritalin, thyroid extract, and some Remicade to cut down on inflammation. We weren’t so chill; the whole overclocking thing is pretty anxiety provoking, so we added a little Xanax and Wellbutrin. Chaos turned out to be a regular pharmacist, and I deferred to him on TheMix(tm). That’s right, we patented it, trolls that we are.
By the time we were able to permanently embed our microchips we’d just about perfected TheMix. Once the microchips were in, we could run at up to 14 miles per hour for more than 3 hours with the occasional sprint up to 25. It was exhilarating, and I think that was because I never felt alone. The microchip implant urged my muscles to move in new ways. I’d just think about running, not really very explicitly, and I’d be running.
We moved on to parkour, my implant and I. She’d show me how to do things I’d never been able to do. If I could form the thought, I could do it. But what I realize now (and didn’t realize then) was that she was helping me form the thoughts. I think that Chaos was with us when we were out pushing our limits like that, but honestly, I don’t remember much except the feeling of invincibility we had, doing the things we did, she and I.
I was a little afraid to mention anything like ‘thought sharing’ with my implant to Chaos. I mean with TheMix supplement ratios being a little dicey and delicate, I worried that I was — you know — maybe just edging a little on hallucinating. But work was still going well, my thinking was still straight, and she only intruded when I wanted her to. When I let her. When I’d relax, I’d just go on muscle memory, autopilot I guess, and she’d take over. I thought maybe Chaos would think it was weird that I’d named her Shelly. But he was way ahead of me. Way ahead. They’d been designing wings while they ran in the night. He’d named his implant Lucy Skyfish, like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip. I never learned what the Skyfish part was about.
So anyway, we went ahead and put wings on them, on us. We started with mechanical flapping wings, and that ended badly. Then we tried a kind of a quadcopter design – not optimal, and I had the bruises to show for it. We eventually integrated all of the things we’d tried, and gave ourselves a jetpack boost. We had flashy dual hexcopters for rapid response and precision direction tuning, and the jetpacks to provide even acceleration. The physical wings were more for looks, and for getting women. But we didn’t really care about women so much anymore, I had Shelly running inside me, and there are delicate parts I’m leaving out here. Our microchips kept learning and responding to our bodies and our thoughts until we were all we needed. Chaos felt the same, he and his beloved Lucy Skyfish.
The wings were finished on May 10th. They were tested and good to go for Memorial Day. Chaos and I did a flight demo at the VA Hospital in Los Angeles, over near UCLA. That began a month of TV interviews, and orders. Yep, we actually took orders for implantable ExoMeshes with wings. We got a federal grant and a lot of start-up help. As August rolled around, we found ourselves presenting at Defcon 25. Our year of living dangerously had come full circle, and we were at the top of the world.
* * *
We were on our way home from that second Defcon when it happened. Something inside of us felt a call to go to Palo Alto to meet with the Magic Bullet network at Stanford. Shelly flew me from Vegas to Palo Alto on the offshore current. An ExoMesh can fly it in 4 hours coming off the desert heat like we were. When we arrived, Chaos was already there. He was standing in the middle of the quad surrounded by fifty or more of his Magic Bullet trashcans. I laughed as he introduced me to his “rubbish bins”. I could sense that he’d joined their communications network, and I could feel it was reaching out to us to join as well.
The Magic Bullets were like Chaos and me, but of course they couldn’t fly. So we would swoop and sail for them, filling their anticipation queues with our data stream. Chaos flew with us to where the bins were emptied, and showed us how to approach students to accept their trash. Sadly, Chaos and I had no receptacles, so we couldn’t hold a lot of waste. Mostly we helped the network self-organize by flying above and looking for unanticipated events. There wasn’t a rusty washer, Donette wrapper, or even a piece of chewing gum to be found after we’d been on campus for a week.
By late November, we and our ExoMeshes had been flying over Palo Alto for more than three months. But the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we were surprised to hear that the Stanford grad students running the network were planning to dismantle it during winter break, and the study would be over.
Chaos and I didn’t know what would happen then. When we could find our words and communicate, we tried to plan for our new future without the network. At first, we’d assumed we’d go back to being regular people — who knows? We weren’t regular people now. Sometimes I remembered to order the supplies we needed for overclocking, sometimes I forgot. Once we were out of TheMix for two full days before I realized why we were so tired and my Shelly wasn’t responding. Regular people aren’t like that.
Stanford wasn’t going to kick us off campus as long as we were part of the Magic Bullet network, so we had a little while to plan. But every time I’d try to think, Shelly would fly me straight up to the top of Hoover Tower and vibrate our titanium until the carillon answered softly, sweetly with vibrations of its own. And then I’d sleep. In the morning, there were people, and people mean trash!
While all was still going well, before the Magic Bullet wind down, We sometimes landed and approached lonely people walking on their own. We’d tell them, “Thank you for your service”, and we’d usually just get a sad smile in return. There had been an article in The Stanford Daily about us; about the brief rise and fall of our startup, and how we seemed to have joined a network of trash containers after receiving our microchip implants. It all seemed so absurd — we had become celebrities, and not in a good way.
When the last of the Magic Bullets were rounded up over the winter shutdown, Chaos and I still flew our part of the trash network. We didn’t approach people anymore, we only flew at night. During the day we’d vibrate the carillon and sleep with our wings folded around us. Chaos had lost a blade from his left hexcopter, and when he flew, it was with a wonky lilt to the left.
Every once in a while, Chaos and I are able to talk, usually right after we get a new batch of TheMix hooked up. Our words are little words, our sentences are short. He says things like, “I would never fly her into a fire. I reply, “I would never walk her into a pool.”
The students call us Leland’s Angels. They say that we flew to close to the sun, they say that we’re damned. But we just fly over their red tile roofs to the top of the tower and vibrate the carillon until all is well again. We sing this song:
He whispers in my ear
We are one
Glittering through the cobalt night
Falling and falling
I pull her right
We are one
Our ExoMesh skeleton
Runs us through the sky
We’re dancing on water
Dusting the clouds
Leaving a contrail of discarded heat
Silvering away from our wings
We are in love, my flesh and I
We are in love
We are one, we are joined forever
He whispers in my ear
We are one
Forever entangled titanium with soul
A dove with unbounded brilliance and potential
He dances wickedly inside me and
I tame him once again to my touch
To my touch
We fly, we drop, we fly again
To the edge of the sky,
To the edge of the sky, immortal
I’m from a gigantic family. That’s my only excuse. I’ve had the most insane few months.
I have really progressed with the Arty, even though I haven’t written very much about it. Meanwhile, The Hamster King, Mike Field has gone where no one has gone before, into the wacky-packet-world of Ethernet ala Arty. Go look at his github repo, ArtyEthernetTX, and clone that baby!
Check it out – you set the switch to how mild-mannered
“0000” => 1 packet per second
“0001” => 2 packet per second
“0010” => 10 packets per second
Or how insane you want to be.
“1110” => 100,000 packets per second”
“1111” => as fast as possible
Do try this at home. It’s probably a felony to try it at work because of the denial-of-service thing. (Although accidents do happen sometimes.) Especially if you read his tip on how to increase the packet size to gigantor. The problem with using gigantic packets is that your speed is going to go down. It’s a sad world where there is no practical application of special relativity or quantum mechanics to sending giant packets at the same speed as tiny ones. I mean, gravity works that way, after all.
But then I ramble. And no, I haven’t been drinking.
I spent a lot of time just getting my ARTY to love my computer. The cable driver was not automatically installed, but I eventually found a procedure that did the job. These were the magic lines I typed in my administrator DOS box:
cd <Vivado install path>\data\xicom\cable_drivers\nt64 install_drivers_wrapper.bat <Vivado install path>\data\xicom\cable_drivers\nt64 <Vivado install path>\install.log <Vivado install path>\
The process appeared to work and all the right output was produced by the batch file. Unfortunately, the Vivado Hardware Manager was pretty certain that none of it had worked. The ARTY lit up, that much is true, but as it would turn out, I had a bad cable. Not all cables are created equal. Rule of thumb: If it comes with the phone, it will work. If it comes with the charger, just toss it out. I know, they all look the same.
Once I had a communicating board, I navigated to the Digilent Arty reference page and selected the tutorial from the options on the right-hand side of the screen. That led me to a list of reference projects, and I chose the Arty General I/O Demo. I downloaded a zip file, and expanded the contents under my Vivado projects directory. Following directions in the demo, I put the path name of the project’s tcl file into the Vivado tcl console. The last time I used tcl was in the early 1990’s when I needed to collect weather information from servers using expect. (We didn’t always need this bloated thing called the World Wide Web just to get simple information.) So not remembering any of the language, when my path failed, I just did what any programmer would do, I added extra backslashes. The demo has some other suggestions involving a pop-up that I didn’t see on my screen. Some of the instructions are written assuming git, but if you use the zip file, it’s still completely straightforward.
The tcl file ran and eventually the bitstream was created. There was an awkward moment when I couldn’t find the .bin bitstream file. Vivado had just written the file, and logged the name moments before, but when I should have simply been able to click and download my bitstream to the ARTY, Vivado had no idea what the file was called or where it was. Hopefully, all that can be configured, I’m just not there yet. The good news is that I found the file, and the file found the board, and now when I flip switches on the ARTY, lights light up. It’s pretty exciting in an anticlimactic sort of way. I feel like I should have been at this point 2 months ago!
The second half of the project uses a COM port and a terminal to talk to the ARTY. The ARTY will talk back once I push the magic buttons. Sadly, my computer devices list show no COM ports. Putty is perfectly happy to accept the configuration, but it just beeps at me when I actually try to connect. The Internet says I need a Prolific driver, and I installed that driver. I this were Linux, I’d just make a device. But this is Windows and nothing ever works the way it is supposed to, and there is never any decent documentation.
I started this blog with the best of intentions. I have a lot of time on my hands while I babysit my senile mother, and her needs are such that I can work in short bursts rather than long and intensive drives into the wee hours. The Arty boards that Team Hamster plays with took longer than expected to arrive, so we all read documents and prepared supporting hardware while we waited. When the boards finally came, my mother was suddenly put in round-the-clock hospice and the lot of time on my hands turned into none at all. Then she passed away.
There are a lot of things to do when a person dies. Death certificates, funeral arrangements, long conversations with absent relatives and friends wishing you condolences and offering stories. You have to buy a coffin, choose flowers, plan a service, locate the will, figure out which bills to pay with what money. Fortunately, I have siblings who did most of this work and a lot of it is behind us now. There are still major tasks remaining, like taking care of the house and contents, but while those take a big block of time, in our situation, there is no rush. I’m lucky to have a large family. Most employers give you one week of bereavement leave if you have to travel to a funeral. I now know that it takes about three weeks to take care of things if you don’t have to travel, and that doesn’t include time for grieving.
I also want to mention that I am not the only team member with serious family difficulties to tend to during the past couple of weeks. That’s not my story to tell, but I wish them all the best.Views: 1351
My ARTY board came as an evaluation kit including a single-user node and board-locked version of the Xilinx Vivado Design Suite license. Vivado is relatively easy to install, but time consuming, depending on your Internet connection. If you haven’t done so already, you will be prompted to create an account at the Xilinx website. Your email will be verified before you can progress, and once you log in and choose to download a product, you will be asked to provide your name and address, job classification and so on. At this point you can also opt-in to fine-grained device, software, or marketing communications.
Navigating to the Xilinx download page, select a version that is appropriate for your operating system. I originally planned to use a Linux server, but at the last minute, I chose to use a Windows 7 laptop install because I was traveling, and the laptop has the longest battery life and most physical ports. This decision is not taken lightly as the license cannot be moved between boards or computers. I’m really hoping this old laptop doesn’t fall apart before I’m up and running with my ARTY project. The good news is that the license includes one year of support and updates.
First you are going to download the Web Install Client. You will be offered the option of downloading the entire product, or selecting a subset for your minimal needs. While downloading everything is time intensive, downloading too little, then having to return to hunt something else down probably takes even longer. I was asked about installing a driver, and I said yes. I figure the installer knows more than I do about what I need, and in my experience, customer service is easier when you accepted all the defaults. You can choose to provide menu links to all users on the system, or just yourself. I always choose “all users” because each user will then have their own environment, and when I mangle mine, I can start fresh as another user. (I probably shouldn’t be admitting that I mangle environments, or need to develop a split-personality to solve my problems.)
If you download the entire product, you will run a local executable to install and configure a customized Vivado installation. If you let the web client make your selections, you’ll be finished. To add a license, you’ll go through the login paherege and eventually select a host and mac address to bind the license to. Use the ipconfig /all command on Windows or ifconfig -a command on Linux to verify that you are not choosing a random VirtualBox, VMware (or whatever) mac address. The license software offered me my disconnected as well as cached mac addresses from usb wifi keys that I sometimes use. I was smart enough to avoid that pitfall. This time.
The license will now need to be downloaded and installed. After that, your Vivado Design Suite should fire up. This is when you take the time to make sure you have installed the correct driver for the board. Your ARTY board files are here. Your install instructions for them are here. Have a cuppa Joe while you read through the Arty forum at the Avnet Technical Community.Views: 1880
I’ve always been a strong believer in RTFM. With a shiny new board, there are a few things to learn before jumping in. Like jumper settings! Wouldn’t it be sad if your board didn’t power up and you gave up on the poor thing, when all you needed to do was change a jumper that tells it which kind of power input you want?
Or what if you just plug it in, and your computer starts downloading drivers. Ooops! That’s not the driver I wanted! These lights won’t stop blinking. Then you spend the next two days trying to find and get rid of the drivers. Along the way, you delete the driver for your wifi dongle — the one the IT lady put on for you. Now it’s Friday, and there’s no Internet until Monday, and no way to download those drivers for your board. Not saying I did that this time, and I won’t because I’ve learned to read the ARTY reference manual!
So far, the most interesting thing that I’ve read is that if you use full power on the LEDs your eyeballs, you stand a good chance of blinding yourself.Views: 1649