Friday, November 20, 2009

Video of DEFCON 17 talk: 1964 Modem Demo

The video of my DEFCON 17 talk has been uploaded to VIMEO, in case you want to see it:

Old Skool Brought Back: A 1964 Modem Demo on Vimeo.

Thanks to Jason Scott of

Thursday, November 19, 2009

FAA Computer Failure, funding, user fees...

So, as I am writing this, the FAA's Air Traffic Control system is down. More specifically, it has been reported that the computer systems responsible for automated processing of flight plans is down. As such, Air Traffic Controllers are having to enter flight plans one at a time manually for each flight before departure. This is having predictably catastrophic effects on the flow of traffic out of busy airports like ATL.

Interestingly, four months ago a presenter at DEFCON 17 named Righter Kunkel gave a presentation on how antiquated and potentially insecure the FAA's system - specifically the system for processing flight plans - was.   He pointed out that anyone with very little information could easily flood the system with thousands of bogus flight plans and cause chaos.

That talk was published on the web, publicly, a few days ago.

So, is this what happened?   Naturally, we'll probably never know.  It might be that, it might be an unrelated failure, it might be that the system finally went over capacity and someone responsible for monitoring it was asleep at the switch.  The truth of the matter is this, many of the systems in place are outdated and needed to be updated.  And this outage will definitely put a huge spotlight on that fact in the public media.

This is where I get concerned.   Sure, maybe it was past time to turn the light on in that closet and see all the roaches scatter.  But my concern is centered around a long-running fight in the aviation community about FAA funding.   There is a group pushing for "user fees" for FAA services, and lately they've gained some traction.

The traditional model for funding the FAA and its associated services was through public funding taxes, taxes on things like aviation fuel, and surcharges levied on commercial aviation tickets.  This model has worked in the past, and spreads the cost of aviation services out amongst the public.  In a debate about whether to privatize the Air Traffic Control system, President Clinton referred to ATC as being "inherently governmental."    Why?  Because safety should be the only bottom line when it comes to services like Air Traffic Control.

So what does that have to do with the funding debate?   Bear with me for a second.

In the user fee model, there will be a fee for Air Traffic Control services.   This means, as a pilot, that I'm likely going to be faced with the following:

  • Get an FAA weather briefing:  FEE

  • File a flight plan:   FEE

  • Get VFR "Flight Following" radar service:  FEE

  • File a "pop-up" IFR flight plan enroute: FEE

What's the problem with this?   Many of these actions are voluntary for flying.   As a pilot, I get to decide when to get an FAA weather briefing.  I also get to decide whether to fly IFR, and whether to file a flight plan, and whether to get radar service in congested areas.

Today, the only factor influencing that decision is safety. I get flight following from ATC when safety dictates that it would be prudent.    I file flight plans when safety dictates that doing so would be prudent.  I contact ATC for services anytime safety dictates that I should do so.  That's my only decision criteria.

With user fees, I'll also have to consider the cost of these decisions.   In "marginal" cases, I will be financially incented to make the less safe decision because it will save me money.  I'm not saying that I personally will do things that are unsafe, I'm saying that the pilot population as a whole will be affected.  Their decision making process will be skewed by the possibility of having to pay for services that keep everyone safer.

It's not just my safety that puts in jeopardy.  It's everyone's.   Are you, as someone who flies in our nation's airspace system (either as a pilot, passenger, or customer of the airlines) okay with that?

If not, please write to your government representatives, especially now, and tell them that.   Tell them you want the FAA Funding Re-authorization bill to exclude user fees and keep safety as the only criteria for making ATC decisions in our nation's airspace system.   And support AOPA's advocacy program keeping general aviation safe and affordable for everyone.

The proponents of user fees are going to use today's failure to trumpet their cause.  I agree that the system should be modernized, but I don't think lack of charging user fees to the pilot population is what was keeping it back.  Don't let our government compromise your safety under the guise of improving something they're responsible for anyway.

- K.C.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cessna 172 Weight & Balance Excel Worksheet

I created an Excel worksheet for easily computing, charting, and printing the weight & balance for my aircraft, based on an older version that I had found on the net somewhere. The values are specific to my aircraft, but the spreadsheet should be really easy to modify for other similar model Cessna 172 aircraft.

The spreadsheet includes a simple macro to make printing the worksheet portion easy. If you get the "Macros Enabled" warning, that is why.

To download, click the image:
C172 Weight & Balance Spreadsheet


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

San Francisco - Fleet Week 2009

Kim and I went to San Francisco for a few days. It turns out Kim's Birthday fell on Fleet Week this year, so in addition to touring a cool city we got to watch some airshows, too!

The panorama shot below was taken from Alcatraz Island.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Speaking at DEFCON 17

I'll be speaking again at DEFCON this year, this time about the c. 1964 Livermore Data Systems modem that I have. So come out if you want to see it (and me) in person and watch a live demo.

I've got some interesting things lined up, including some demos showing the versatility of the ancient Bell 103 modulation system used by the modem.

- K.C.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Metropolitan Industrial - Aerial Reconnaissance

Duckie and I took the Cessna into town to shoot some aerial photos of the Metropolitan Industrial location for Freeside Atlanta.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Freeside Atlanta - Speculative Spaces

Metropolitan Industrial:

The "Metro" is a large warehouse space divided into three main partitioned areas. The first area has an enclosed space occupying roughly 60% of the width of the space. That enclosed area has a couple of single-office sized rooms (one of which is psychadelic painted with glow-in-the-dark stars) and a bathroom with a working shower in it.

The second partitioned area has a kitchen built in it, complete with counter space, a kitchen sink, a range, a dishwasher, and an "island" counter with electrical power and storage space. At the back of the second partition is another enclosed space with two small office-style rooms, another closed-sized bathroom, and a weird small unfinished alcove-like room (not photographed).

The third partitioned area is open warehouse space, with a small semi-wall dividing it from the two large roll-up garage doors in the back.

My photos do not include the front area's enclosed rooms because they had dark painted walls and no light whatsoever. My attempts to photograph them did not result in anything of use. I'm also missing some of the "nook and cranny" rooms/spaces for the same reason. I think I captured the majority of the space fairly well though.

I also didn't photograph the bathrooms in either site.

Photos of the Metro:

Green Industrial:
Green Industral site is a fairly standard office/warehouse combo. The front consists of two foyer rooms with tile floors. From there, there's a standard single-office sized room, a strange "alcove room" (again!), a conference / presentation room, and then the warehouse. There are two small bathrooms as well, one of which I'm told can be converted to a shower instead at possibly no additional cost.

I photographed one of the two foyers, but not the other. (They're roughly the same, save for the front door.) I also did not photograph the small alcove room or the bathrooms.

Photos of Green:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Hosting Provider, mysql & Wordpress Unicode Issues

Hi folks!

Just a quick note - I've moved to a new hosting provider. If you see anything wonky, broken links, or other such weirdness shoot me an email.

When I first migrated the database (a few days ago) I ended up with some spurious Unicode characters scattered throughout the website. (E.g. lots of strange à characters stuck in around words, &etc.) Turns out the problem was mysql. Wordpress was correctly backing up the database as utf8, but when I re-imported it, it was re-encoding it for some reason. The solution was to add "--default_character_set=utf8" on the mysql command line during the database restore/import.


# mysql --default_character_set=utf8 -u{username} -p{password} {dbname} -h {hostname} < db-backup-file.sql

Deleting and re-importing the database with the --default_character_set option fixed it right up! (I'm posting this as a reminder to myself as well.)

- K.C.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

1964 Livermore Data Systems Model A modem - followup

Alright, here's some photos of the beast:

And, in no particular order, some answers to the questions I've received:

1. This modem uses Bell 103A modulation, in "Originate Mode" only. Unfortunately, that means you probably couldn't have two Livermore Data Systems Model A modems talk to each other. The "Model C" seems to be the first one that also supported "Answer Mode" modulation.

2. This modem is solid state; it uses transistors (albeit early, metal canister ones.) It doesn't have vacuum tubes in it. (Whew!) It functions exactly as I received it twenty years ago - I haven't modified or repaired it in any way. Yes, I am as amazed as you are! :-)

3. The host used in the video, as well as all the accounts, credentials, &etc, were set up in my lab specifically for testing the modem and were taken down the next day. Hence, I didn't have to worry about obscuring my typing or login credentials, &etc. Thank you to all the concerned people out there who warned me that someone might be able to deduce what I was typing.

4. We didn't do PPP or SLIP across dial-up modems prior to 9600 baud because the protocol overhead would saturate the line. In my mind, it doesn't matter at which point in the communications path each layer of the OSI model gets peeled back, the data from the host still made it to the client. Dialing in to terminal servers (or directly into UNIX boxes or mainframes) is how "we did it back then." I did subsequently get a very relaxed-protocol PPP connection to work through the modem, but it barely functioned. 56-byte pings took between 3000 and 5000 ms. DNS saturated the lines. TCP connections failed (handshake timeout) most of the time due to the latency. A browser simply wouldn't load a page.

5. Yes, that's a beer on the table behind the counter. Specifically, it's a home-brewed clone of Sweetwater 420 IPA. If you like IPAs, Sweetwater makes a darned tasty one. ;)

Thanks for all the comments, feedback, tweets, emails, &etc! I found the modem inspiring, and hoped others would too. More to come! My gmail address is also phreakmonkey

- K.C.
aka phreakmonkey

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Circa 1964 Livermore Data Systems Model A Modem

So I was going through some old stuff in my garage and I found this antique modem that I've had since I was a teenager.  Turns out it's a Livermore Data Systems "Model A".   I decided to hook it up and see if it works, and I made a YouTube video in the process:

I'll get around to posting some better photos of it this weekend, I promise!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Kim, Willbob and I went to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica on vacation. We stayed in a lovely house in the jungle outside of town.

My pictures are below. You can also check out Kim's photos on her Picasa Album

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Suburban Textile Mill

A coworker turned me on to this decaying textile mill in the middle of this West-side Atlanta Suburb.  I called up TK and we headed out there and took some photos.  Man, this place is decayed!  The main plant is (was?) two stories, but in many places the water damage from the leaking roof has caused both the roof and second floor to collapse onto the first.

The office section has a couple of rooms that are no longer indoors.   Anyhow, enjoy the photos!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

It does a body good...

Several months ago I visited a decomissioned milk packaging plant that I once worked in as an IT engineer.  Unfortunatly, by the time I dropped by most of the interesting stuff had been removed.

Though it looks like the Kool-Aid Man had gone on a rampage just before I got there!