First Hackathon

I attended my first hackathon tonight. One of my instructors told me about it. The goal was to solve problems using Python. You were actually allowed to use any programming language. But they encouraged you to try out Python. I started learning it earlier this year until I found out I needed to look for a new job. Only wrote one program at work in Python that ended up only serving as a prototype. Luckily I did work through some problems on my own. Was just a little rusty.

My instructor and I were unsure what to expect from the night. Normally you would think some company would try to get you to develop products for them for free. Yes there was a corporate sponsor. Yes they provided pizza and soda. No we did not have to develop products for free. We had a bunch of problems to solve. The problems were from a web site.

The problems were grouped by difficulty. I could not finished all the easy ones. Never even got to the hard ones. You would receive more points the harder the problem was. There were a bunch I attempted but failed at. There was no penalty for guessing the answers. However if you guessed too much, they would limit the time you had to wait to enter another answer.

I had some initial trouble because I could not get my laptop to connect to their free WiFi. They started the contest when I could not even log in online. I ended up using one of the desktop computers they had. Luckily it had Python 2.7 installed on it. Had to download Notepad++ to inspect some data files they provided.

My score got me into the top ten for a good portion of the night. But the new kids on the block stepped up their game during the last few minutes. I bombed my last question and got power passed, leaving me out of the top 10. So I did not qualify for any prizes. My instructor thought the best strategy was to attempt the difficult problems and claim the big points. The only problem was that he got stuck on the first hard problem he tried. His score suffered.

The prizes were things like tee shirts and Python programming books. Top prizes included Rasberry Pi kits. Not too shabby. The handle of the dude who won first place was GOD. He looked like he belonged at the top of the hackathon. I might do one of these again in the future. Got to mix up my own strategy for maximizing points achieved.

Hackers Take Over Car Remotely

Just read an interesting Wired article on some hackers that know how to take over a Jeep Cherokee. They found some vulnerability in the Jeep's Internet access that let's them control the car and do bad things. See how Andy Greenberg got into a panic when he lost control of his Jeep.

And its not just the Jeep Cherokee. Some Cadillac and Infinity vehicles are at risk as well. The guys that found the loophole shared the info with the manufacturers. But they are also going to present their findings to the public (without the low level code to hack the car chipsets).

The uproar in the comments of the article is that they hacked a Jeep that was cruising down the highway. Can you say dangerous? The real danger is that your own car might get taken over in the future. I think I will keep my old Chevy 1991 pickup truck. No computers in there to take over.

Learning from Copy Protection

Just read a sweet article on how someone got past Math Blaster disk copy protection. Math Blaster apparently was some game or educational software for Apple computers back in the 1980s. Their disk would not copy using any of the standard techniques.

I got to give it to the author. They kept at the investigation for months it seems. Wow. I say you could learn a thing or two from the techniques Math Blaster employed. There were multiple levels of protection going on. Levels within levels to be exact. The encryption also seemed to take advantage of some bugs in the tools that crackers used to get past the copy protection.

Turns out the company made a decent bit of coin from selling Math Blaster. Maybe some of that was due to the copy protection preventing the program from getting out there too quickly. One weird thing I read about in the article was Advanced Demuffin. Who names these things?

E-Book Project

I have been downloading Kindle books for some time now. Normally I pull them down to my Kindle reading program on my PC. Most of the books were free when I got them. However I bought a few of them that I really wanted. Now I want to do something to organize these books. I do have a folder system in my Kindle program. But I want something better.

I figured I could maybe set up a database to store all the details. This would require me to scrape the Amazon web site for info. How do I grab all the book titles and find their pages. Well first I started with the books I downloaded. Since I run Windows 7, then seem to be stored in location C:\Users\\Documents\My Kindle Content.

The books are stored in an AZW format. Some say that is Amazon Word format, which is the MOBI format with high compression. They might have DRM on them. Or they might not. The DRM, if present, locks the book to the device ID. I imagine the locking only works on real Kindle products, not my Kindle reading program.

I did realize that every time I download a book, I have Amazon send me an email which I catalog. Bingo. Those emails have the book name and link to the book on Amazon. Now I got to dump all those emails out, read them into my database, and code up a Amazon site crawler. This is going to be a very fun project. Feels like my roots ... writing programs to grab stuff off the web.


I saw a book that seemed to be about old school BASIC programming. I put the thing in one of my Amazon wish lists. This seemed like a blast from the past. Upon further review, I figured I should spend my book budget on some more modern texts.

Today I saw an article on this book. The book covers something different than what I thought. It starts with a BASIC one liner that produces a maze on the Commodore 64. A one liner! Still not sure how that works. I downloaded the book and skimmed Chapter 1 and part of Chapter 2.

The book seems to be about a lot of things, but not necessarily about old school BASIC programming. The writing is a bit dry. However I am not interested. On a side note, proceeds from the book go towards some type or charity or something. Maybe it is worth a purchase?


I have been reading about the OWASP Top 10. Apparently they are a list of common web security breaches. There seems to be a new list each year. Figure I had better know what they are, to lock down my site and maybe open up others.

OWASP stands for the Open Web Application Security Project. They are a non-profit. They focus on software security. But back to the Top 10. Last year they focused on things like SQL injection (or general injection). Of course cross site scripting was up there. So was miconfigured security.

Good stuff. I wonder what will be on the list for 2014?

Game King Video Poker Hacked

I read a great Wired article on two dudes who exploited a hack in the casinos to win a lot of cash. It was only one of the guys who actually discovered the bug in the video poker machines. He shared the info with his friend to extract the most cash from casinos. Unfortunately, things grew sour between the friends. Then a casino got wise and had the guys arrested.

Turns out these guys found a scenario where they could change their bets after the game was played. They used this to rack up big money when their hands won. It required a certain option switch for mega-money to be enabled on the machine. In the end, their cash was confiscated. And the IRS still wants to tax these dudes.

What was the moral of the story? There were a few. It is possible to hack even the seemingly locked down world of video slot machines. You should not enlist an accomplice. Don't get greedy when milking a cash cow. And so on.