A Strange Game.

WOPR Summit Logo

On March 1st, 2019, an eclectic group of diverse individuals descended upon Bally’s Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ. Their purpose? Attending a new conference melding hardware, software, and security. A conference called WOPR Summit.

WOPR Registration

I had the good fortune to both attend and volunteer at this fledgling conference. Upon arriving at the registration desk, attendees were greeted by yours truly who provided them with lanyards, stickers, and a badge that doubles as a maker project.

WOPR Badge


The badge is both an attendees pass into the event as well as a PCB. Throughout the conference, attendees could hang out in the maker space and were provided with all of the parts, tools, and directions necessary to build their badge. When completed, a quick visit to Dragorn or Dr Russ was necessary to flash the badge processor with some Arduino code that made the lights blink in an awfully suspicious sequence. Almost as if there were a hidden message. Hrm…

Completed WOPR Badge

And for those unfamiliar with the black art of soldering, fear not! BiaSciLab to the rescue! Our resident soldering instructor, Bia, held several soldering workshops throughout the conference, providing detailed instruction on how to become a master at fusing small metal bits together with a strong bond of liquid metal. Bia is an amazing teacher and was able to help a lot of people learn this essential life skill. She even brought her own soldering kits that you can read about here.

Not into making things? Not to worry, we had that covered as well. Throughout the conference there were both talks and workshops on a variety of topics. Workshops included topics such as NFC hacking, monitoring and incident response using OSQuery, developing prototypes, and reverse engineering. Talks covered similar topics including presentations on Shodan, biohacking with c00p3r, and a peek behind the scenes of the security industry.

Overall, the conference was an amazing success and quite well run for a first-time con. There are a lot of lessons learned and many suggestions on how to improve it for next year. Planning has already begun and we hope to see you there!

MAKE : Mass Monitor Rebuild

A few years ago, I came across a Mass EDI 4-monitor display. The computer system I had just happened to have two dual-display video cards, so it was a perfect match. Last year, one of the displays burned out and had to be replaced. Unfortunately, Mass wanted upwards of $500 for a new display. I did have a number of Dell displays available, though, and decided to look into adding one of those to the mix.

My initial attempt at adding a Dell to the mix was fairly crude, but it worked. I decided to rebuild the entire array this past week and remove the remaining three Mass monitors. There were two main reasons for this. First, the crude setup I had with the first Dell monitor wasn’t an ideal situation. The way the new monitor was mounted, it pressed up against the others and was difficult to adjust. The second reason was that I have a new video card, a Galaxy nVidia GeForce 210, that requires DVI and not VGA. The version of the Mass display I had didn’t support DVI.

And so I started to look at how to better mount a Dell display on a Mass multi-monitor array. The Dell monitor I used initially was a 1907FP. The general size was about right, it just needed to be lifted up away from the lower monitor a bit. The main problem I had with the current mount was that in order to couple the Mass mounting bracket to the Dell mounting bracket, there was really only one location that it could be placed without adding additional hardware. The Dell monitor has a small button on the back to remove it from its mounting, and the Mass has a lever of sorts that does the same. The coupling had to take both of these removal mechanisms into consideration. I spoke with a colleague about the problem and we came up with a small coupling plate that would raise the dell monitor up, keep both removal mechanisms clear, and allow for much better adjustment of the resulting monitor array.

Assembly was pretty straightforward. In order to attach the coupling plate to the Dell monitor, the Dell mount had to be removed from the original stand, lined up with the coupling plate, and holes were drilled to match.

Once the Dell side was finished, the Mass mount was removed from the original monitor and paired up with the augmented Dell mount.

And finally, the new augmented mounting brackets are attached to both the Dell monitor and the Mass monitor array. The dangling VGA cable was for testing prior to the installation of the new video card.

All that remains now is general adjustment of the new monitors. There’s a single Hex screw on the Mass array behind each monitor that can be used to adjust the monitors up and down, as well as some angled movement. This should allow me to adjust the display to exactly what I need. And it now works with the new video card, which was a breeze to install and get running in Fedora.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Broken UMD? Here’s your cure…

When I first purchased my PSP, I picked up what I thought was a decent carrying case.  It was roughly the size of the PSP, but a tad thicker so it could hold 2-4 UMD games in addition to the PSP.  There was a cardboard divider to keep the UMDs away from the PSP screen, and straps to hold the PSP in.  All in all, it was a decent case.  Or, so I thought.

About a month or so after buying the case, I noticed that the clear plastic on one of my UMDs was cracked and pushing in towards the disc itself.  Over time, this got worse until the UMD wasn’t playable anymore.  I searched, in vain, for replacement cases.  The only suggestions I found were either to not break it in the first place, or to break open another UMD case you didn’t want, and super glue that case back together with the disc from the broken UMD in it.  Obviously, the first suggestion, complete with proclamations about the idiocy of such owners, was out of the question.  So, I tried the second suggestion.  I did get the case together, but the glue seeped out a little on the inside, creating a bump that the UMD would grate against.

Having failed to fix the UMD, I put it away, vowing to find a replacement case sometime in the future and to not break any other UMDs.  I went and purchased a new PSP Complete case from Slappa, as well as a few Score UMD storage cases.  There’s a nice comparison of the Score and Sony UMD cases on the official Playstation forum.  These two items kept both my PSP and my UMDs much safer, but over time, a few other UMDs started exhibiting signs of a cracked UMD shell.

Fast forward about two years and I come across this post on the PSP Fanboy site describing a new replacement UMD case.  This looked quite promising, so I went to the company’s site to check them out.  My first impression was that this was either a brand new company, or a scam site.  The website itself is pretty shoddy, mostly consisting of some poorly put together HTML and lots of Google ads.  However, they did have a video of the case itself and how it worked, so I trudged on.

Having seen the PayPal logo on the UMD ordering page, I decided to try them out.  I placed one UMD case into my on-line shopping cart and went to the checkout page.  The first thing I noticed on the checkout page was the lack of an option to use PayPal for payment.  I also noticed that the page was not encrypted with an SSL certificate.  I really had no desire to give this company my credit card information, especially with no SSL certificate in place, so I tried to proceed without entering it.  No dice.  I resorted to contacting the company via their online form explaining that while I did want a case, I couldn’t find the PayPal option.  Much to my surprise, they called me about 30 minutes later.

The gentlemen on the phone, whose name I forgot to write down, explained that the website was new and they knew there were some issues to work out.  He explained that the information entered on the checkout page was merely transmitted to PayPal for processing, but that I could use PayPal directly and just send them the money for the case, which they would then ship immediately.  I offered my concerns about the lack of an SSL certificate, which he promised to look into.  After we hung up, I headed over to PayPal to order.

The replacement cases are $3.99 each for US orders, and $4.99 for international orders.  This price includes shipping, so while it seems a little high, it’s actually not that bad.  I sent my $3.99 to the email address I obtained via my phone conversation and waited for the case to arrive.  Much to my surprise, I received my case in the mail a scant 4 days later.

The case was wrapped in a piece of light foam and placed inside of a standard white envelope.  Not the best packaging in the world, but MultiMedia Recovery (MMR) makes the claim that the cases are mostly indestructible.  True to their claim, the case was not cracked in any way and appeared to be in perfect shape.  I happily retrieved the UMD that was broken so many years ago and went to work placing it in the new case.

Honestly, the hardest part of the entire process is installing the frighteningly tiny screws into the new case.  I received three screws with my case, though only two are required.  I did have to go out and buy a jewelers screwdriver, though, but I should probably have one of those around the house anyway.  The screws secure the bottom portion of the UMD case, though I’m not sure they are really needed.  Even without them, the case fit together quite nicely and there was no danger of it coming apart later.  I suppose it’s possible that the case could be pulled apart when removing it from one of the UMD holders, but I don’t see that being a huge danger.  I installed the screws anyway and tried out the UMD.  It fit in the PSP with no problems, just like any of my other UMDs.  I fired up the PSP and the game loaded flawlessly.  Finally, I can finish playing Untold Legends.  Good thing I kept a backup of my save game…


All said and done, I think these replacement cases are a pretty good buy.  I would like to see discounts for bulk purchases, and perhaps better packaging, but overall, I am satisfied with my purchase and I will be purchasing more.  If you have UMDs that have broken in the past, I definitely recommend checking these out.  Hopefully MMR will address the problems with their website, but if not, the cases are available via david8950 on eBay.

Hard drive failure reports

FAST ’07, the File and Storage Technology conference, was held from February 13th through the 16th. During the conference, a number of interesting papers were presented, two of which I want to highlight. I learned of these papers through posts on Slashdot rather than actually attending the conference. Honestly, I’m not a storage expert, but I find these studies interesting.

The first study, “Disk Failures in the Real World: What Does an MTTF of 1,000,000 Hours Mean to You?” was written by a Carnegie Mellon University professor, Garth Gibson, and a recent PhD graduate, Bianca Schroeder.

This study looked into the manufacturer’s specifications of MTTF, mean time to failure, and AFR, annual failure rate, compared to real-world hard drive replacement rates. The paper is heavily littered with statistical analysis, making it a rough read for some. However, if you can wade through all of the statistics, there is some good information here.

Manufacturers generally list MTTF rates of 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 hours. AFR is calculated by taking the number of hours in a year and dividing it by the MTTF. This means that the AFR ranges from 0.54% to 0.88%. In a nutshell, this means you have a 0.5 to 0.9% chance of your hard drive failing each year.

As explained in the study, determining whether a hard drive has failed or not is problematic at best. Manufacturers report that up to 40% of drives returned as bad are found to have no defects.

The study concludes that real world usage shows a much higher failure rate than that of the published MTTF values. Also, the failure rates between different types of drives such as SCSI, SATA, and FC, are similar. The authors go on to recommend some changes to the standards based on their findings.

The second study, “Failure Trends in a Large Disk Drive Population” was presented by a number of Google researchers, Eduardo Pinheiro, Wolf-Dietrich Weber and Luiz Andr´e Barroso. This paper is geared towards trying to find trends in the failures. Essentially, the goal is to create a reliable model to predict a drive failure so that the drive can be replaced before essential data is lost.

The researchers used an extensive database of hard drive statistics gathered from the 100,000+ hard drives deployed throughout their infrastructure. Statistics such as utilization, temperature, and a variety of SMART (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) signals were collected over a five year period.

This study is well written and can be easily understood by non-academicians and those without statistical analysis training. The data is clearly laid out and each parameter studied is clearly explained.

Traditionally, temperature and utilization were pinpointed as the root cause of most failures. However, this study clearly shows a very small correlation between failure rates and these two parameters. In fact, failure rates due to high utilization seemed to be highest for drives under one year old, and stayed within 1% of low utilization drives. It was only at the end of a given drives expected lifetime that the failure rate due to high utilization jumped up again. Temperature was even more of a surprise showing that low temperature drives failed more often than high temperature drives until about the third year of life.

The report basically concludes that a reliable model of failure detection is mostly impossible at this time. The reason for this is that there is no clear indication of a reliable parameter for detecting imminent failure. SMART signals were useful in indicating impending failures and most drives fail within 60 days of the first reported errors. However, 36% of their failed drives reported no errors at all, making SMART a poor overall predictor.

Unfortunately, neither of these studies elaborated on the manufacturer or model of the drives used. This is likely due to professional courtesy and a lack of interest in being sued for defamation of character. While these studies will doubtlessly be useful to those designing large-scale storage networks, manufacturer specific information would be of great help.

For me, I mostly rely on Seagate hard drives. I’ve had very good luck with them, having had only a handful fail on me over the past few years. Maxtor used to be my second choice for drives, but they were acquired by Seagate at the end of 2005. I tend to stay away from Western Digital drives having had several bad experiences with them in the past. In fact, my brother had one of their drives literally catch fire and destroy his computer. IBM has also had some issues in the past, especially with their Deskstar line of drives which many people nicknamed the “Death Star” drive.

With the amount of information currently stored on hard drives today, and the massive amount in the future, hard drive reliability is a concern for many vendors. It should be a concern for end-users as well, although end-users are not likely to take this concern seriously. Overall these two reports are excellent overview of the current state of reliability and the trends seen today. Hopefully drive manufacturers can take these reports and use them to design changes to increase reliability, and to facilitate earlier detection of impending failures.