This website shall finally reconnect with its roots – radices.
With the dawn of the new millennium a self-proclaimed Subversive Element has registered a bunch of domains. It was especially fond of radices.net and subversiv.at. Today, all these sites have been re-united and redirected to elkement.subversiv.at. But the site does not deliver on its promising name – I feel it became way too 'professional' recently. Historical content has been filed mostly under Physics (radices) and Art (subversiv). The category life displays some of the matter-antimatter collisions of these two worlds. Which also explains the category of the current article.
The Subversive Site was a Red Padded Cell, with Font Color = White, a so-called creative playground. The Element was aware that 'everybody' could read this but it did not care. The Merger of the sites was inevitable in the end, after a final detour of professionalization – when radices.net suddenly also hosted pages with IT Security links.
I have been a blogger, and I observed the evolution of other blogs: My anecdotal evidence shows that blogs live for about 1-2 years. If they are bound to survive they have to escape the matrix and to overturn their creators. A personal blog or website needs a 'Big' Idea. OK, not really big, but at least a-all-encompassing and abstract enough so that all the authors different threads and lines of thoughts can be silently tied together using this idea's magic glue.
My elkement.blog is relentlessly edited. It was a more philosophical site once, but I aim at following our punktwissen principles now. Articles should be concise, provide value, and perhaps also entertainment. There should be s logical connection between posts and my curated lists should help readers to find something 'useful'.
On the contrary, this site has more or less the same article over and over again – perhaps in disguise and interlaced with technical notes. It is all about my personal keeping the essence of Physics alive and useful for me. Since radices was originally a German-only science and philosophy site, the English version might not reflect this – but in the early articles on elkemental Force (at that time: Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything) I recaptured these ideas.
So I do finally accept this – let elkement.subversiv.at have its way. This is elkement's personal site, and its primary topic is How To Learn About Physics And Why This Might Be Useful Or Even Edifying In Very Different Ways.
- Learning physics means to start somewhere in the middle. That's why a first Introductions to Physics lecture is always hard (if the lecturer has some modest mathematical aspirations). You need to look at the same phenomena from different angles, and only after a while – and some work – everything will fall into place. This process and journey of learning is rewarding in itself.
- The more related to mathematical foundations (of physics) a question is, the less googleable the answer is. You can find anecdotes, and examples, science sound-bites for entertainment. Of course you find awesome lecture notes to learn the fundamentals from Feynman Lectures to Landau-Lifshitz – but you need to 'learn' them. In contrary to the mantra of You Just Need to Know Where to Find Something (like: Google for error messages) I believe that really knowing about fundamentals without googling helps a lot with problem solving: You can walk through how a system should work, just using the resources in your head.
- Mathematics purges the brain, and this does not only help with mathematical problem solving. So I believe that the hackneyed problem-solving skills of science graduates are real (albeit it is difficult to assess the self-selecting nature of STEM degrees for people with natural 'analytical' skills). But the caveat it: Years of corporate work, powerpoint slides, office politics, distractions, pressure to deliver ad hoc can erode these skills. I have long-term tested different methods to keep physics knowledge alive and usable - and learned now that science might even provide some evidence, in a sense.
- I have been in 'cyber security' for a while and I have written lots of gloomy articles about our new smart world of automation and where everything (including heating systems) is turned into cloud-based services. Thoughts on all of this is still work in progress, I am working on internal consistency and unambiguity. I came into the world of IT as an experimental physicist, I was applying my training of troubleshooting complex 'analog systems' to digital systems. Despite the myth of crystal-clear 0s and 1s it was often better to treat them as blackboxes. I lacked the typical computer nerd's / enthusiast's background and started late – playing with Microsoft systems and Office VBA and the like. In spite of this Treat-as-a-Blackbox approach I like to understand as much as possible about a system. Yes, I know you cannot understand, yet build, a power plant, from knowing how to solve Maxwell's Equations (yet understand or solve issues in cyber security related to such power plants). Nevertheless, if I have the choice to understand something at all, I'd pick Maxwell's Equations.
Since years I am using an (angry) dinosaur as my web and blog logo. The dinosaur is from another era, and sometimes it cannot deal with 'modern' concepts of our 'smart', 'networked' world. But perhaps, it was part of this world for a while in order to overcompensate.
Now the dinosaur is getting more and more confident that its typical dinosaur activities might be more productive and positive than it thought before.
I am running a small engineering consultancy together with my husband. Following Star Trek terminology, he is Chief Engineer, and I am Science Officer.
In overly correct legalese, my job titles according to our business licences are 1) Consulting Engineer in Applied Physics and 2) IT Consultant.
We specialize in planning of heat pump systems with unconventional heat sources, that is a combination of an underground water tank and an unglazed solar collector. 'IT' means: playing with control units and data monitorin.
As we run a German blog focused on this system and I also devote a 'sub-division' of my English blog to it, I use this site (radices.net) mainly for consolidating resources and links - in the same way as I curate security / PKI related links. Perhaps these link dumps will not be very useful for anybody but myself.
I once was a laser physicist and a materials scientists - my specialties having been high-temperature superconductors, laser-materials processing with Excimer lasers, and the microstructure of stainless steel. Then I turned to IT security, IT infrastructure and IT management for more than 10 years.
In 2012 I felt the urge to reconnect with my roots as a scientist and engineer, and we started working on our own heat pump research project in stealth mode. It turned to a second 'branch' of our two-person business. There are connections between my different fields of expertise - IT security and heat pumps - like: the security of the smart grid, 'hacking critical infrastructure', monitoring and control systems. Even the data we gather with our pilot setup have turned into 'big data' that require analysis and management.
So I am actually more of an engineer than a physicist. But I am still very interested in theoretical physics as sort of a mental exercise, and I indulge in reading textbooks as hobby. In 2013 I had focussed on (re-) learning quantum field theory.
Since 2014 I am mainly blogging on down-to-earth classical mechanics or thermodynamics, and I enjoy doing cross-checks and back-of-the-envelope calculations on my blog.
This is actually a translation of the title of a German piece I had written long ago (1998) on request of my high school
For better or for worse - those positions I defended back then did not change a lot. Today I probably hold even stronger opinions - however I rather declare them my personal opinions only. I sincerely do understand that there are people who are happy to play the game - and don't read any irony or critique into this.
I mean it. I have met academics who indulge happily and mischievously in optimizing their track record (tweak metrics) - just in the same way as a minority of corporate workers who have fun with metrics in the corporate world.
In 2012 I have blogged about my trading academia for being a computer consultant for small businesses here:
It’s a small-talk question, innocent and harmless. I have worked in the IT sector for about 15 years, about 10 years specialized in a very specific niche in IT security.
In the coffee-break during the workshop or when indulging in the late night pizza after 14 hours in the datacenter … you start talking about random stuff, including education and hobbies. And then you are asked:
But why is a *physicist* working in *IT security*?
Emphasis may be put on physicist (Flattering: Somebody so smart) or on IT security (Derogatory: Something so mundane). The profession of a physicist might be associated primarily with Stephen-Hawking-type theoretical research. In this case the hidden aside is: Why did you leave the ivory tower for heaven’s sake? Or simply put:
Young Jedi, why Did You – The Chosen One – Succumb to the Dark Side of the Force?
I have probably given different and inconsistent answers, depending on details as the concentration of caffeine or if the client was an MBA or a former scientist.
The gist of my story was (and still is - concluding from those many stories shared by contemporay post-ac / alt-ac movement):
- Simply ignore people who explain to you that they had such high hopes for you, you missed your true vocation.
- Degrees in fundamental science are fun and mind-altering in a sense. You hone your analytical and mathematical skills (Yes, now I am using that pitch, too!) - but this does not mean they can be translated to real-world jobs in an easy way. At least not in a way that can be explained the HR consultant with a degree in sociology.
- You are accountable for doing that translation to the real world - you better to do that start while studying. I didn't - and I know I was lucky.
- Expect your not fitting in (academia, global corporations...) as a matter of fact in life to be dealt with through doing something. You may blog about it but better take action first.
- The same goes for: Your not being fond of working long hours. There are people - academics as well as corporate colleagues who either like it or feel over-working is forced upon them. Which is their pleasure or problem - not yours.
Though I still agree with my own post it sound a tad too justifying myself. We should be more unapologetic about our life-style choices. Just do it - as the well-known brand told us.
The Elkement has recently put forward a theory: Its life is cliché and some googling does prove that.
It has been proposed that there is a huge community of people (Netizens) who would share the following characteristics / properties / hobbies:
- IT security
- Interested in the history of science
- Star Trek fan
- Douglas Adams fan
- Douglas Coupland fan
We are now going to challenge this, and we will ask Google. As Scott Adams has pointed out correctly the internet is nothing else than the consciousness of an omnipotent being, once splintered and now reassembling itself.
- Searching for "physics" "IT security" "Star Trek" yields 5 out of 10 hits on page one that can be associated with The Element. Actually 2 more elemental links have been pushed down to page three since I wrote the German version of this article two days ago.
- "physics" "IT security" "history of science" yields 6 elemental page 1 hits.
Similar results can be achieved with nearly every combination of key words listed above.
So my advice is: If you are frustrated about being cliché:
- Write an article about those attribute
- And enjoy your page 1 Google hits.
my destiny was to start a business of my own and
that I am not comfortable with being part of any large organization or system - be it academia or a global corporation.
- Clarity and precision, 0 or 1, yes or no.
- Translating real-world problems to formal, self-consistent, preferred mathematical representations.
- Really understanding what I am talking about as a result of theoretical investigations, intensive learning and hands-on experience.
- So-called politically correct way to convey facts by adding lengthy explanations, most often as a result of too much soft skill centered psychological training (Well, I think we should probably change the warp core threshold value before the spaceship crashes - but only if you don't mind and this does not hurt your feelings too much)
- Vague, inexact theories of life, the universe and everything, especially if these theories are inherently inconsistent.
- Having to listen to somebody explaining (for example) quantum physics to me if this person has read one popular science book on the subject.
- between human beings, groups or organisation with conflicting goals
- co-ordinator, not manager
- searching for win-win situations
- searching deep foundations
- obliged to 'objective truth'
- analytical thinker
I am flooding the whole world wide web with my musings on science, physics in particular, plus a bit of history of science.
But it seems a point of equilibrium has been reached. Peace and quiet. As an engineer 'in the making', focused on renewable energies, I am reconciling 'anything with anything'. Finally.
I have still not decided what 'science' means to me: Is it a world view, a collection of disciplines (I am biased in favor of natural sciences) or is it defined by the social system called scientific community?
I have left academia more than 15 years ago, trying to avoid the nomadic post-doc's lifestyle. It was a negative decision and not at all an easy one, I was not yet drawn to something new. I cannot leave blog posts on 'Leaving Academia' uncommented, see the following articles (highly recommended reading): The Cult of Academia (2019: Link broken) und A Nerdy Break-Up: Leaving the Academic Life.
Here is my take on this: The Dark Side Was Strong in Me.
Fast-forward: I have finally found out, that
But it took me some years to realize that, because academia was not igniting my entrepreneurial spirits yet. Rather the opposite: Though you have been trained to become a very specialized expert for many years - more trained or more specialized than any other professional, 'the system' still makes you feel you are still 'a student' who has to jump through more hoops, do more post-docs, write more papers, apply for more grants etc.
Adding more trivial conclusions: Nice to analyze all this in hindsight, but I could have got there in an easier way. Maybe. And if you have problems with systems (sample n > 1) you should not blame it on the systems.
In December 2012 I was able to report on a milestone - not because something has changed dramatically in 2012, but because I have finally reached a Zen-ny state of contentment: 2012: The Year We Make Contact.
I am a true professional: I am the total antithesis of a dilettante and an amateur. (Ha! Mike Daisey! Greetings from ElkeS)
An expert is a specialist and proud of not being a so-called generalist. Generalists is what the cowards call themselves: Those wimps that found the exit from permanently living in emergency mode, from really knowing it all and having to know and to fix it all. But I am not like that. I am the hero of troubleshooting.
But I am putting my hand on machines. I am wearing rubber gloves. By sheer thought power only I am able to penetrate into the nervous systems of these modern NOMADs. This is like in CSI – you remember the close-ups of blood vessels or electrical wiring. Then I track down and kill the enemy made from zero's and one's.
I am Trillian, I am Lara Croft, I am Ms. MacGuyver. And I put pizza into the microwave oven like Sandra Bullock in The Net. [Insert here: Something on the Improbability Drive, 42 or HAL].
I should not have any contact with human beings; I should not be human myself. I should live as an avatar only. I should inherit my mind to the world – to be uploaded to the internet. And as a compensation for all those heroic deeds I receive: Money, fame and glory without limits. People that owe their lives to me. And flowers. And an e-mail with some managers on CC. Until the next tsunami approaches the shore.
How did I ever end up in this geek paradise?
And where is the exit, the shut down button?
Get me out of here. Please.
(First English version generated at the beginning of 2011. There is no older and thus 'more positive' English version in this category - one that would correspond to the oder German articles.)
Some years ago I would have described myself as a nerd, geek and tech freak. I like Dilbert-style humor, worked at strange hours and found some aspect of Star Trek like adventures. I still believe that having worked in the trenches of a real IT project adventure is the best way of building long-term 'contacts' (as relationships between human beings in the business world are called in modern 'networking lingo')
23:00 ... But there is still life in the office (or in the data center). The project team is working their heads off to meet the deadline. Having consumed an enormous amount of coffee, Coke and pizza the mood is cheering up - paradoxically. It is difficult to understand for outsiders when grown-up professionals show childlike joy when call their test domain disaster.now.
By the way I have implicitly defined 'Technology' as something like the real-world applications of the insights provided by natural sciences and engineering - real-world also including human beings, corporate politics, and so on. Originally the term as such would rather mean 'Understanding of techniques' in my opinion - which is to some extent exactly what is missing in modern 'technology' (depending on how to define 'understanding').
My resume from many years 'in IT' and 'in technology projects' is as follows: I was worth the experiences - both technically and personally. It is fun to be part of a Dilbert cartoon for some time, it is like carnival (which I never liked, BTW). But at some point of time you might want to return to the role of the person who is just occasionally reading the cartoons - even if this means: less money, less glory.
Scott Adams hat written God's Debris. I would be interested in his motives.
I have studied physics and worked in Research & Development for some years before I turned to IT. I cannot call myself a professional scientist any more though I have been involved in science / the scientific community a bit here and then. (Edit 2019: Links broken.)
Natural sciences, physics and mathematics in particular are what I consider to be the core of all sciences. The way of thinking that I learned to apply to theoretical and real-world problems during my studies still influences the way I tackle any problem.
These are the results of my dedication to science:
So I do still love the following:
As a logical consequence I am not overly tolerant when it comes to
I am physicist and IT consultant, with experience in R&D (as a researcher and as IT services manager) and as an IT consultant, delivering security projects to customers in various industry sectors. (I have given this interview (in German) when I was about to change from employed to self-employed consultant.)
I think we are not completely characterized by any official name of a profession, but better by the roles we acquire in different positions throughout our career and private life. I have considered myself always acting in one or both of these roles: