Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SkyDogCon 2013: Southern charm meets hackers/makers, then gets owned!

     I wrapped up my year of cons with the 2013 SkyDogCon. After attending last year for the first time, the decision to attend this year was a no brainer. This is perhaps the most unique collection of mini-events wrapped up into a con there is. Highlights include the typical: quality speakers, lock pick area, hardware hacking village, etc. In addition, there is a healthy smattering of the unique: a rocking electronic badge (includes a hardware hacking challenge), paid breakfast on Sunday morning, a Pirates vs. Ninjas Ball, a ham radio license exam, lego challenge, and others.

     I will begin the blog with a review of the Hotel Preston. This hotel is the model of "southern hospitality" with a twist of the unique, bordering eclectic . From the decor to the staff, this hotel sets itself apart. Think of a scaled down version of The Artisan Boutique Hotel in Las Vegas (former home of BSides Las Vegas) but not as dark. The artwork and decor is an experience in itself, the food is appropriately priced, and the rooms are clean and modern. My one complaint from last year was the speed of food delivery from the kitchen. This was remedied this year. No complaints from me.

 ****Note: If you are feeling lonely, ring the front desk and ask for a fish. Yes, you read that correctly. If you ask for one, the hotel will loan you a fish tank, complete with scenery and a fish. Then you won't feel weird since you can talk to something instead of yourself.****

   The second thing I will talk about is the relentless promotion of the con by its Core Team and Staff. I first learned of SkyDogCon from SkyDog himself, at DerbyCon. Yep you read that correctly. SkyDog was staff at DerbyCon in Louisville and was printing up gimmick badges from popular movies. The one from last year was a mock credit card with the "Triple Crown" challenge on the back. This was a call for all card carriers to attend not just SkyDogCon but DerbyCon and Hack3rCon (a.k.a. the trifecta of regional cons). I later discovered that SkyDog (who is also a Goon at DEFCON) was going to give out special promotional badges at DEFCON to anyone willing to promote the con. Sign me up! This level of detail for promoting his con, and the sister cons of the area, highlights his commitment to the industry as a whole! This year he and Mad Mex spent over 6 hours, during the party, printing up badges for anyone who wanted one.

     Third, we have the awesome lineup of speakers. There were 2 speaker tracks (Friday-Sunday) with 20 minute Lightening Talks (Thursday night). I was fortunate enough to be selected for both a Lightening Talk and a main track. The Lightening Talks format was a set of 20 slides that autoforward every 30 seconds. This was a challenge that forced me to work on my presentation skills. My Lightening Talk was entitled Defense-in-Depth: Fists, knife, gun and will be posted on my blog when they are uploaded. Unfortunately, with 2 main talks going on simultaneously, and the other speaker in my time slot being Deviant Ollam, I had a sparse audience. (Thanks to the 7 people who listened to my presentation NSA Wiretaps are Legal and Other Annoying Facts.) My favorite presentation of the weekend was Evan Booth's. He presented a very serious topic with wit, charm, and grace. Then he showed videos of himself totally destroying fruit. You have to see it. It will make your day as well as scare the heck out of you.

     Finally comes the piéce de résistance (i know, the accent mark on the first e is going the wrong way, but I can't make it work on my Mac).  SkyDogCon is known for its electronic badges. This year's badge does not disappoint. This badge, which has some hardware issues, is utilizing only about 5% of the functionality it was designed for. That 5% however will blow you away! It's simple design, coupled with the Parallax Propeller chipset, and brilliantly written code is a n00b hardware hacker's dream.

****Note: SkyDog announced that he will repair the badge himself if you bring it to one of the future cons he will be at. Anyone up for a quick trip to Atlanta for Outerz0ne? I'll drive if you pick up the room!****

Schematics and badge hacking tips will be posted on the website shortly.

     So, if you feel that you want to know more, visit the website. Don't forget to sign up for the mailing list and follow them on Twitter.

Twitter: @skydogcon

I hope you enjoyed this blog entry and I hope to see you next year.

P.S. If you sign up for a ticket early, you get "Early Bird" status and this results in upgrades to your badge!


  1. As one of the designers of the badge we are committed to not only fixing and documenting those things left to do to get full functionality but we'll continue to post updated firmware and example code to teach people how to program the badge themselves.

    This was not designed to be a "wear at a con and throw in a drawer" badge. We want people to use them to learn that hardware isn't that scary after all :-)

    -- Red

    1. Thanks for all you and your counterpart did Red. I just wish my literary skills could do justice to the creation you guys made. I look forward to your future notes. This is the project that made me break out the soldering iron I haven't used in 14 years, only to throw it away and buy a new hot-air rework and soldering station. My 7 year old is also asking a lot of questions about how it works and wants to help daddy fix it! You guys ROCK!

  2. We live at and we're continuously adding content.

    Hardware mods / fixes and (soon) programming stuff are posted in the forum.