: Notacon 2005 Writeup :

Notacon 2005 Writeup
by dosman of The Packet Sniffers


(Note: all pictures shown here where taken by other people, visit the Notacon site to see them in their original context)


In the beginning

Around January this year I decided to add a page to our site with local things to do in our area (Bloomington Indiana). I remembered that there used to be a con called Rubicon up in Detroit, but last I had heard they had stopped holding it. I looked up the old Rubicon site which was still available and it led me to a relatively new one called Notacon in Cleveland. After a couple of months the buzz around Notacon started to grow so we decided to make it an event for us to spread the word about our show.

Then I saw NotaconRadio. Jason Scott of textfiles.com fame and the BBS Documentary was hosting a live radio station all through the con. Since our medium is video I wondered if I could pull off a NotaconTV station featuring both pre-recorded content and live coverage of the event. It would be a stretch but feasible. I've used Nullsofts shoutcast tools for my own personal radio projects but never in such a large capacity or with video.

The 4 weeks leading up to Notacon where probably the busiest weeks I've ever lived. I personally made about 40 t-shirts as well as authoring our DVD, getting stickers printed, and planed several ill-fated pranks that we dropped at the last minute for lack of space and time to complete. My co-host Zach spent all his free time working on his Commodore 64 talk and designing several products for sale at our booth (The sticker logo and the TPS energy drink labels). As the days grew near to the event I was getting 3-4 hours of sleep a day.

Two weeks before the event: time to make a DVD. We've had a VCD for a while but I had picked up a nice USB 16x DVD burner that can do dual layer disks a couple months back - time to use it. The first weekend I evaluated three different DVD authoring packages and none had all the capabilities I needed. Talking to some acquaintances online I hear that Adobe makes something called Encore for DVD authoring that supports anything and everything within the DVD spec, that should fit the bill. I understand going into this that I'll need every bit of those two weeks just to learn the interface but I decide it's worth it. Adobe makes awesome tools but I absolutely do not look forward to learning yet another Adobe user interface.

NotaconTV is coming along, but I don't have time to properly prep and secure a *nix distro, all I've got is a Win98SE box already in useable condition. It's patched, firewalled, and stripped of networking 'extras'. I remove the floppy and cdrom drive for good measure. Hopefully it will prove to be an uninteresting sacrificial goat. I get all the tools I'll need loaded onto it, I let it stream to a couple other systems in my apartment for a few days straight. Great, it seems to be working just fine. Unfortunately I don't have time to test the NSV Live Capture tool, I'm thinking about not even attempting to do a live feed. I just don't have time to test the Nullsoft tools out properly. I have a loose game plan for doing a live feed though just in case things turn for the better.

With one week left before the con I get a complete DVD menu authored with Easter eggs, special features, and our Russian translation of episode one all done. Great, now I can spend the evenings cranking out copies. Wrong! Encore keeps croaking while doing the transcoding function when I try to burn. WTF!? Three days later I discover the problem: Encore's audio transcoder fails when it works on a file that has a filename greater than about 10 characters. I've got the latest patches applied so I must be the only one with this problem. Luck must be my middle name. I discover the fix and at 3:30am on Thursday I have a working DVD-RW master. I make about 4 copies before I go to bed as well as printing out 100 CD labels. While waiting for the final master to burn I also completed the hard drive speaker display that we hope will draw extra attention to our booth, Zach certainly has some good ideas. In a few hours we drive 400 miles to Cleveland.

It's 9pm on March 30th, I'm emailing folks about NotaconTV trying to get shoutouts from show producers finalized. I refresh my /. window and realize Notacon is the latest addition. Whoa, just a second... ...Jason Scott... ...notacon radio... ...NotaconTV! The Packet Sniffers!! Holy crap we just made slashdot!!! I quickly throw up a request for help on our site as I'm expecting to get knocked off the organizers network rather quickly. I need hubs and cat5. Wow, the word is out. Crap, they are talking about NotaconTV like it's going to be live video all through the event... I was only going to attempt a live feed if I had time. We'll see how this plays out...

The trip begins - Thursday 4-7

I managed to get 6 hours of sleep before we embark, the most I've gotten all week. Zach comes by to print some drink labels around 12pm and we pack up my truck. All we have to do now is drop his car off at his place and get some DVD cases from a local store. After an anxious afternoon of packing and planning it's nice to relax and absorb the full scope of whats to come.

I've configured my truck to have a laptop stand in the middle of my console. I run GPS navigation software, an OBD interface, Netstumbler, an on-board USB cam mounted in the front bumper, and sometimes an X-10 video cam receiver through this system. This trip I'm only concerned with GPS. Of course this requires an AC inverter for power, I have a 700W unit mounted inside the arm rest of my Durango. Today I find the onboard USB camera is not functioning. Oh well, it's not that important, but it would have made for some nice footage of downtown Cleveland. Zach is using another laptop to continue burning DVD's as we only have 7 at this time to sell. After about 2 hours we have 3 coasters and 1 good burn, we decide that burning DVD's at 70mph is too problematic to go any further for now. Zach continues to fine tune his presentation. Five hours into the trip both laptops return to battery power for no apparent reason. Problem: my AC inverter has died. My second AC inverter to die in the middle of a trip like this, I really really really hate these things now (Ebay purchase over a year ago, there's no exchange for it). I always print hard copy maps now after my first AC inverter died and left me with no maps ala Delorme Street Atlas. We are ok (A complete US road atlas is also on hand).

Amazingly we find the hotel without one turn-around. It's 12:30am Cleveland time, 7 hours was more than I expected to drive but the trip was nicely uneventful minus 1 AC inverter and webcam. As we load up a hotel cart and board the garage elevator downwards we are greeted by Notacon security goons. They immediately ask if we are the packet sniffers which is a very pleasant surprise. They even help us get our baggage cart (loaded to the brim) through the hotel lobby and up to our floor of the hotel. Sweet, we're here now and can go find out what's happening.

Zach and I haul the NotaconTV server and peripheral hardware back down to the NOC area and setup. On the way down the elevator I rip a Windows 98 sticker off the Dell and stick it on the elevator panel, that should get some chuckles. We arrive to find that Jason Scott is setting up Notacon Radio and providing entertainment with an enormous collection of Asian videos (not pr0n) and music videos. Over the past two weeks I've been testing my server by streaming to a couple systems in my apartment. It's ran wonderfully for as long as 4 days straight, but tonight something is wrong. My Winamp client only plays every other video clip or so. The stream is dropping for no reason. Hitting play between every video works, but is not what should happen. What's changed? Oh, this is the first time I've had the commercials and short clips in the play list. Hrm, looks like Shoutcast has trouble mixing short video clips into the stream seamlessly. This was not something I had time to test, oh well I'll just play the actual shows for now.

I tidy up the server and tuck it under the NOC table being managed by Marcus. People filter out and call it a night. I get to meet Myself and he proceeds to read Marcus and me the amazing story of concrete cuddlers. These are stuffed animals with the stuffing replaced with concrete and placed back on unsuspecting store shelves. Not only that, but the label has a morbid message and a real barcode for another toy. It's time for bed.

I stay up until about 6am trying to make DVD copies but failing. My DVD burner keeps spewing out coasters, I don't understand. It was working fine at home.



Friday 4-8

We get our booth setup just after 9am. People start trickling in and our hard drive speaker display is quite an attention grabber, I'm glad things are going well. In episode 2 we showed how to construct the infamous Afrotech hard drive speaker system. Basically the armature winding of a hard drive is connected to an amplified audio source to produce sound. We use my portable DVD player to pump the audio from our DVD into the speaker array. It's great to get a little recognition too, seeing people do a double take and then hearing them say "Oh, it's the packet sniffers" is pretty cool. Zach gets some footage of the early morning speakers and does some good PR.

I figure out that if I power cycle the burner between each burn it works again... This is ridiculous. The third thing to fail this weekend. This tall guy shows up and introduces himself as Citadel. Sweet, I've seen his name on boards before, another face matched up with a name. He brought some cool vintage hardware and offers up some VHS tapes for air on NotaconTV, awesome! Now if only we can find a VCR so I can play them. My digital camcorder can take the composite source and get it into my laptop, we have the ability to get his tapes onto NotaconTV.

In the afternoon Zach decides he needs to prank Citadels 386 Compaq luggable. He makes up a boot disk and while using EDIT on the luggable the power supply explodes. Let me tell you something about Zach. The things that happen to him are absolutely amazing. If I had not witnessed several of these events first hand I would think he makes it all up. Both good things and bad things, he has some great stories to tell. This was just great, blowing up a computer with a floppy disk. So Zach comes back to man the booth and I go over to try some damage control. Citadel is cool, but he's tearing the supply apart by the time I get there. I do some videoing of the event while Jason Scott narrates from the corner of the room for Notacon Radio. Citadel finds a blown fuse and wants to try and replace it. I offer up my soldering skills and retrieve my tool kit from the hotel room. My butane powered soldering iron gets some ooh's and aww's, it's one of my all-time favorite tools. I replace the fuse with a wire. I know this won't work but it will be fun to watch. The lazy way to find the real problem is to short the fuse out and then watch what else catches fire. Then you know what's really wrong <evil laugh>.

So now we're ready to try out the supply and Jason is playing it up and generally being obnoxious. I stand back and Citadel plugs in the freshly 'repaired' luggable. As soon as electrical contact is made a very loud boom erupts along with a bright blue flash, meltdown! We tear down the luggable again and finally discover a regulator and another small transistor are blown out. It's the end of this beast for a while... In the mean-time my camcorder is acting up. It's showing the dew drop symbol and refuses to record or playback. I'll mess with it later.

Droops of Infonomicon shows up with his wife towards the later afternoon. Although I've seen him through InfonomiconTV it's cool to meet someone else I've only known online. We catch up a little and he gives me some video segments for NotaconTV. I give him a shirt and a DVD. At some point I need to get my hands on an Infonomicon T-shirt. Zach spends some time on Notacon Radio with Echo, for some reason I didn't think to use my scanner to dial up the station on FM, I'm mildly retarded from lack of sleep. Zach gives his presentation at 6pm on the Commodore 64, I have to stay at our booth.

After Z gets back we pack up the booth and come back down to enjoy the event. I realize I've forgotten my soldering kit on the table unattended for a few hours. I am actually a little surprised to find my soldering iron and tools haven't walked off, that is cool. I decide to attempt a real repair of Citadels luggable. I can't find a pinout of the proprietary power connector online (I'm actually googling for it in the pic) so I start looking at the silk screen on the board, there is hope. All the wires are marked. I have two computer power supplies with me this weekend but only one has the necessary -12v line. And it's being used by the NotaconTV server. So I proceed to splice the power connector off the Compaq luggables power connector into the NotaconTV system with it live. I am used to working on high end computing hardware that could be serviced live so I'm not too worried. That's probably a bad thing. Anyway after about a half hour of work I've got a luggable power connector dangling out of my Dell. There's one problem yet, the display for the luggable has another power feed just for itself. The silkscreen on the board is no help for it and I'm willing to bet it takes some funky power I can't deliver. I decide to leave it off, we can deal with that problem only after the main power issue is solved. I get Citadel over and we count down to connection. Since the power button still resides on the old power supply the instant the connector is plugged in we'll either have another flaming ignition or a working system. Snap! The Dell makes a strange whir but the luggable spurs to life! Citadel recognizes the familiar boot process's taking place so we have a fair chance at making this system useable again. No display is not a problem, we can make a boot disk that redirects the console out through the serial port. But it's 10pm now and Z and I are hungry. Victory!

We go walking around downtown Cleveland looking for the warehouse district which is rumored to have a lot of good restaurants to choose from. Apparently neither of us can read a map on minimal sleep, we go in the opposite direction to the outskirts of the city. Once we get sufficiently propositioned for used music and tire of walking past seedy establishments we turn back and settle on the only restaurant on that street. It is actually a very nice Chinese restaurant and fits the bill nicely. We make it back safely and look around for something to do, it's about 11:30pm now.

Someone who I believe to be Drew Curtis is at the center of a crowd over at the Notacon Radio corner with the Dial-a-Dork folks, it's a little too social for my taste (Someone correct me if that's not Drew). I talk to someone I come to know as Aestetix for a while in the same room about some very interesting topics. I really need to get back into reading, there's a lot of good books on some very deep subjects that Aestetix introduces me to. I finally turn my attention to Citadels IBM P70 luggable behind me. Aestetix and I chuckle as I change the look and feel of this BSD system into a DOS system. A few prompt changes, a motd change, a few fake files in /, and few command aliases later and there's another DOS system on the table.

I wind back over to Z's area. I meet a couple other people and the four of us have some very interesting discussions. This is probably the most fun I've had since I've been here so far, highly intelligent discussions with exploration of ideas are hard to come by. All parties having a working knowledge of Tempest and electronics also lets the conversation flow more freely. Finally we make it back to our room and get some deliriously needed sleep, I think it's near 1:30am now.

Saturday 4-9

Zach is up early and zipping around dressed to the 9's in red and black. He complains about what I assume is heartburn. I finally get up around 10am or so. We scope out the light crowd and decide it's not worth setting up our booth. I jump into the middle of a discussion by Matt Fanto on breaking MD5. While interesting, I decide to sneak out and check out the talk on the Coleco Adam in the next room where I know I'll find Z. I arrive to find Jason Scott talking about the elusive game cart "Chase the Chuck Wagon". Jason is doing a great job for a fill in on someone else's presentation topic. I hear all the same stories that Z has rambled off to me in the past few years but it's still enjoyable.

Once that wraps up Z and I meet up with Droops, his wife, and Jason for lunch a block over at the mall. We wonder back over in time to catch the keynote speech by Froggy. On our way in a couple of the staff stuck running the front desk let me know how cool it would be if NotaconTV could cover the keynote live. I feel really bad, I had said I would have live coverage and until this point I had decided to just drop it. After the keynote I decide to resolve this and to get the live feed working.

Z and I go back up to the room and start getting the equipment gathered and configured for this. Z is feeling even worse now with harsh upper chest pain but carries on. We go back down to the NOC/chill out room and work on the NotaconTV server, it's around 2pm now. After about an hour Z goes back to the room, he's feeling really bad now. I'm thoroughly pissed off at this point. Shitcast claims it can't open any ports when I configure it to accept remote broadcast feeds. Ok, no problem, I can use netcat to rewire a port over to the loopback address. Just then the notacon network looses outbound connectivity (Or at least DNS lookups are failing for both of my systems). An hour later I have netcat on the Dell after a dialup session and email run.

I spend the next hour learning how much all Nullsoft binaries for Windows suck penguin ass. The live capture NSV encoder blows in ruthless rhinoceros fashion. Shitcast server is retarded. And netcat is crap too, it keeps dropping my connections. I'm done. I've missed all the talks I wanted to see including the "Anything but Ethernet" contest, I go back to the room and take a nap. Around 7:30pm Z is really sick and can't sleep, he asks for some NyQuil. It must be pretty bad, NyQuil knocks him flat for a whole day and that really sucks to miss so much of this weekend. I get back up and get some NyQuil single serving caplets from the hotel store for him.

I go back down and catch the middle of Jason Scotts BBS Documentary showing. Things are looking up, I've been waiting for this moment for about 4 years now ever since I first heard about this on Slashdot. Jason shows the ANSI art piece and another piece I can't remember right now. I learn about the rivalry between ACiD and ICE. I never got too heavy into ANSI/ASCII art but I do have a small collection. Ok, I do have some ASCII art hanging out on my walls at home... I never expected to put a face to that little logo at the bottom of so many amazing creations (ACiD). And in the middle of this event a person I later on learn is RaDMan runs out of the room and for the first time meets of the artists that was in his group years ago. How cool.

At this point the techno pounding through from the ball room is over powering our little preview and Jason calls it quits. By this time Z has appeared in the row behind me and is slowly returning to life. Normally he can't tolerate any drugs in his system, even things as common as Tylenol put him under for the rest of the day but he's alive and slowly looking better.

We meet back up in the chill out room with some of the friends we've made this weekend and have some light conversation. Hot chicks start arriving for the rave and finally the fire alarm goes off. Apparently the fog machine in the rave room is a problem. I see Froggy chasing a very pissed looking hotel manager apologizing and eating crow. Things cool back down and it's game on. Z and I decide to go check out the party we've been invited to on the fifth floor. A few beers later and the party is great. I'm not a big party goer, but this is more my style. Any place where drunks are making fun of my shirt because it is just a hex dump of an html page rather than an actual packet dump is a place I can feel relaxed. Most people slow down a little once inebriated, Z has the opposite effect. He was zipping around in usual fashion. I retreat to our room for a sandwich and return to find Jason floating around the room taking pictures. There's not much decent conversation at this point, I'm probably only here for another 40 minutes or so. Finally a security guard breaks up the party for noise ordinance violations, Z and I call it quits. It's around 3am, I do some packing and hit the sack.





Sunday 4-10

Jeeze I'm tired, it's already 10am and checkout is noon. We decide to try and salvage something for our show and go down to film interviews in a corner of the chillout room. I've already asked several people for interviews, time to collect. First up is Froggy and Tyger, the main organizers of Notacon. Next we get Syn-Ack Labs on camera. They just gave a talk earlier this morning so they where well prepped for us. We found ech0 and got him on camera to talk a little about social engineering and his interest in the military. As his interview winds down Droops shows up and starts to silently heckle ech0, who keeps it together very well. Droops gets a little camera time too. Some strange guy calling himself Honker tracks us down and demands to be on camera. He stumbles off in a drunk stooper before we can get setup again.

We hustle to get our room packed back into my truck by our extended 1pm checkout and return to watch the con staff discuss the weekends events. The rave was a little out of control and attracted a lot of non-con goers. Apparently there was a nasty old guy fondling women and putting things in peoples drinks. Fun. I noticed it was a little loud last night when I realized I was hearing people yell from outside the hotel at 4am - we where on the 11th floor. Finally a large crowd had gathered at the staff meeting and it was time for the final wrap-up.

Froggy gave a good wrap-up speech and I was able to get some good ending footage. The scavenger hunt winners where announced and I exchanged some last minute emails with new friends. We finally got kicked out of our interview corner and packed up NotaconTV and the last of our gear. We decided to go back with minimal equipment and see if we could get one last interview; Jason Scott. We found him in a hallway and he was happy to oblige us. I managed to forget my interview questions in the truck but Jason is an easy interview.



And with that Notacon 2005 was over. We took a quick drive around the city and got some footage of the FBI building and other cool structures. Since my AC inverter was dead we opted to just fly blind. For all of our technology and magical wonders of this new age, there's something to be said for driving 400 miles without a map. Next year: NotaconTV WILL have live coverage.



fear the cockhorse


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