Postings tagged with 'Life', listed in descending order by creation date. 30 Postings shown.

Making or Breaking

(elkement. Last changed: 2019-06-30. Created: 2019-06-25. Tags: Business, Hacking, Introspection, IT, IT Security, Life, Looking Back, Security, Work, About, Control And IT. German Version.)

I have now been playing on the pentesting platform hackthebox for more than a year. I have been in IT security / infosec for a very long time, but I was very late to the offensive party. It still amazes me why that is. Some random thoughts!

I was not really aware of the exact terminology regarding blue and red teams etc. The Public Key Infrastructures I have built are maintained by the 'networking' or 'server' or 'Active Directory' teams, so I had always considered 'security' to be one aspect of the work the architects and network administrators have to do. Maybe I do not even count as 'infosec' - I am just the administrator of all things certificate-related.

I often sided rather with the people who had to maintain the 'security infrastructures' on a daily basis, rather than with consultants (internal or external ones) who tell those administrators how to secure the infrastructure. People keeping infrastructure a the bottom layers of the network afloat are hardly noticed - until something breaks. I had my share of WHO IS RESPONSIBLE THAT THIS WAS NOT WORKING FOR [a time span very very small compared to the time the system was running well despite lots of changes].

In the book Advanced Penetration Testing a seasoned expert states:

All that is needed for an attacker to gain entry to the most secure environments is for one person to have one lapse in judgment one time. I keep driving this point home because it really is the point. As a penetration tester, I have the easy job. An attacker is always at an advantage. I would hate to have the responsibility of keeping a network safe from attack; I'd never sleep.

I think as a security consultant - red or blue, consultant as opposed to sysadmin / 'devops' - it is hard to fully acknowledge all the conflicting requirements and constraints you have to meet when you need to keep things running. I suspect I also helped implementing dumb and insecure things at times, because they were the best trade-off at that time.

Often I found myself pondering on 'opposites', as red versus blue, consulting versus doing, projects versus operations. Should I lecture and comment rather and implement and do? Is commenting and consulting just fence-sitting without skin in the game? I finally decided for more involvement in keeping things running. Actually, I once became a consultant because I feel so terribly responsible for systems and infrastructures also as an external consultant (usually without a long-term formal contract) who is touching that infrastructure once every few months. But every time I was officially responsible for systems it was hardly bearable and moved me nearly over the edge into burnout - I better erect that 'external consulting barrier' to keep me somewhat detached.

I also don' t want to say that offensive roles are 'easier' - far from this! I do not have real-live experience with pentesting, but I imagine it as consulting on steroids: Travelling a lot, chaotic deadlines, all the non-glorious aspects of consulting in general, politics,... Exactly the aspects that made me abandon the nomadic consulting life-style, by the way.

Following infosec experts on Twitter I notice that there is an old debate popping up from time to time: Should 'infosec' be an entry level role, so should you e.g. go straight into security after college, or should you have an experience in other IT and software roles before - as a programmer, system architect, or network administrator? Given my own path I should be in the latter camp, I guess. But on the other hand, again given my own path, I can imagine that you can absolutely become a security expert with dedication and without having spent grueling years, say, fixing clients' my-Outlook-does-not-work issues.

I changed my careers a few times, but I can as well present these transitions as a gradual, logical evolution. I had been a newcomer often, and I people were asking me: How long have you been doing this? It was meant as a compliment, and I avoided to reply with the truth, like: a few months only. When clients considered me a 'PKI guru' I often said that I firmly believe that a student with enough dedication can become that exact type of guru in a year, too.

My blog was originally called Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything. I had things like 'Physics and IT' in mind, or 'I had also considered to study philosophy and want to be some sort of renaissance person'. Maybe this is how I have approached security, too: I wanted / want to combine all kinds of experiences. It has been my choice, my path, not necessarily the expression of some career advice that would apply to anybody. Playing at hackthebox always shows me how much I do not know - about IT technologies and pentesting methods and tools. Only very rarely, I can contribute something original, based on something I really know something about - like in the case of my PKI / smartcard hack.

I feel very much that I am dilettante - in a positive sense of what the word actually means.

Hacker Cliche

I am a happy dinosaur.

(elkement. Last changed: 2018-12-02. Created: 2018-11-18. Tags: Introspection, Life, Looking Back, Work, About. German Version.)

I have had a section called Philosophy on my very first website, and I have maintained a page called Principles or Our Approach ever since. It sounds as if those principles had been decreed at one point in time. As if aliens from outer space had dictated them.

However, I could simply say this: Since decades I play with technology, science, engineering, IT and everything in between. I worked in different industries. Each of them had good and bad aspects - regarding the actual subject matter and re the way of working. My main goal and hidden agenda was to every evolve but keep the good and interesting aspects of each of them. I could spin a story about how everything fits into a grand and big picture, and it is not even wrong.

But it's a good exercise to look at everything as disjointed pieces. At some point in your life that stories should speak for themselves. I am running my own business now for a long time; I don't have to explain and justify how everything fits together - as if it was part of a great plan.

In no particular order, and without aiming at completeness...

Like the Cobol mavericks at the turn the last millennium, I support legacy Windows Public Key Infrastructures. I have migrated them over and over and over. I don't pretend I know all the latest buzz words but it seems I can catch up quickly and connect the dots.

I am herding all the software tools related to sizing heat pump systems, related numerical simulations, and data analysis - the so-called Data Kraken. I could call myself a software developer - I use languages from VBA to C++, and I use pointers and recursion now and then. But I don't mind if somebody insists this on this being 'just scripting'.

I have been doing down-to-earth IT system administration for one small business - my second ever customer, loyal since more than two decades.

I get Ask-me-anything questions related to How Stuff Works and If That Stuff is Secure or If That Stuff Can Work at All. For some of that advice people even want to pay.

If you ask what real physics I actually use, I'd say Heat Conduction. Accidentally (?) it was one my specialties at the university, a long time ago.

I work mainly remote. It's more efficient, it's cheaper for clients, I don't have to travel, everybody is more focused. I don't do political projects (anymore).

I enjoy to find the pragmatic middle ground. I don't take as gospel: Software design patterns, methodologies, engineering standards, compliance guidelines, best practices, 'what everybody says', 'what everybody does just to be on the safe side'.

I believe in simple tools and dinosaur approaches. You can do project management with text files if you stick to the really necessary. I am wary of websites turning into little operating systems running on Javascript. I marvel at the explanatory power and elegance of textbooks from the last century like The C Programming Language or Landau/Lifshitz' Course of Theoretical Physics.

Taking stock of what I had done so far, I found that two things were part of all my endeavors: Teaching/training and software development. I have also been a student in parallel, most of the time. After I gave an academic lecture about PKI for a few years, I ditched formal teaching, and having completed another master's degree I also stopped collecting degrees and certificates.

Since a while I am catching up on computer science basics in self-study mode, and this year I have discovered the joys of pen-testing.

Happy Dinosaur

I am learning to pentest!

(elkement. Last changed: 2018-09-01. Created: 2018-08-27. Tags: Announcments, Geek, Hacking, IT, IT Security, Knowledge, Learning, Programming, Security, Software, Subversive, Control And IT, About, Life. German Version.)

... on a pentesting platform. that became my main 'social network'!

It feels like the natural progression from my walking down the stack: In the last year I re-lived my history of a physicist in IT or an IT security specialist trained as a physicist. I investigated the security of embedded systems and sniffed network traffic - mostly related to monitoring and control of physical devices for 'generating' or storing energy.

I wanted to fill in gaps of knowledge, I turned to classic introductions to computer science, and I caught up on C/C++ and Python. But trying to hack systems is still another kind of skill: I had been a 'defender' for many years, explaining to others how to secure their systems, but I lacked the skills of an attacker.

After I had dabbled in forensics of unknown files and in using automated testing tools with modest success, I decided I want to learn this craft thoroughly. Or was it? Maybe I just want to play and see how far I can get. It was a surprise that I was actually able to hack the entry challenge for that pentesting platform. Fast-forward: I had hacked more than 80% of the active boxes.

My experiences there are both very humbling and very gratifying. Sometimes I struggle with even getting an exploit tool to run as I lack some basic knowledge of compile switches. But sometimes I discover I can leverage some things I didn't even realize consciously or ancient things buried deep in my memory. Who knew that ASP and VBScript would ever be useful again? And my preferences of Python and C++ (for non-destructive purposes) feels eerie now - I could not have picked the languages for my exploit tools better! My adventures with learning SQL Server a few years ago also come in handy, and what I considered my most unprofessional hacks turned out to be most useful: Stringing together 'applications' from scripts and compiles code in different languages, burying one into the other, not being afraid of loads of different quotes embracing each other. As a side effect, I am also more daring when it comes to my non-malicious code now: I have no problems any more to state publicly that I write an application in C# that adds VBA macros to Excel and executes them!

My immersion in this addictive platform also told me something about my learning preferences ... again. I had known it but it was not that explicit: I want to learn from solving problems. That was my intuitive answer once, when colleague had asked how I make myself familiar with new technologies, a freshly released operating system at that time. I replied that I try to solve one specific problem on that new system (involving X.509 certificates then) - and then expand my knowledge from there. I have pontificated about my love of reading textbooks and immersing myself in abstract theory, and this is not a contradiction: Hadn't I ploughed through the later chapters of Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs - the ingenious explanation how compilers and assembly works - I might not enjoy my attempts to create buffer overflows that much. Which is a topic I need much much more reading and playing with, by the way.

I know am saying the same things again and again and again - here, on my blog, and on social media. It seems my websites have run their course for the time being - I am not actively trying to search for new content to create, and I feel like writing articles that flow naturally, rather than writing semi-scholarly papers with code and data. So I am leaving this article here, on the site that nobody reads, as a hidden away note maybe.

I missed to screenshot when it was 17 of 20! hackthebox has good gamification :-)

Physicist, walking down the stack

(elkement. Last changed: 2018-05-02. Created: 2018-05-02. Tags: IT, IT Security, Physics, Software, Technology, True Calling, Work, About, Control And IT, Life. German Version.)

Recently I've changed my story at some social profiles again - to this:

Specializing in: Control systems, software development for measurement data analysis, IT security, troubleshooting and reverse engineering systems with physical (hydraulic) and software (control) components.

I am running a small engineering consultancy together with my husband. We are both physicists, and we focus on designing, programming, and troubleshooting control systems for heating / solar systems, especially heat pump systems with a combination of uncommon heat sources and custom control. For more than 10 years I have implemented, reviewed, and troubleshooted public key infrastructures, and I still do this for some long-term clients.

In contrast to this blog, this site here is more of an extended profile / About Me page. It is my hand-crafted whoami machine.

I think about my exploration of layers of software. tl;dr: I am gradually moving down / back to the lower levels of software, the ones closer to hardware, electronics, control, field bus systems etc.

I've started out learning about micro-controllers in electronics class as a physics student. Then I programmed sensors and actuators for measuring the low-temperature electrical properties of superconductors as a staff scientist at the university (in Turbo Pascal). Yet I jumped up to the top of the software stack and switched to Microsoft scripting languages: VBA, VBScript, ASP when I went 'from research to IT'. Even the first version of my numerical simulation for our heat pump system was an Excel spreadsheet, then a VBA application using spreadsheets.

It seems I needed to trade 'IT' again officially for 'renewable energies' to be motivated to move down the stack again. When I was a non-traditional 'post-graduate' student in in energy engineering I was always been the 'Excel programmer' in group projects. Buth then I went down rabbit holes: Learning SQL Server and Transact-SQL for analyzing our measurement data. Re-writing the simulation software, now based on Visual Basic .NET, for the first time using a true object-oriented design. To get ready for this, I had re-written this website from scratch in .NET before. My so-called Data Kraken uses a combination of Powershell and SQL scripts today.

I finally learned to utilize all my processors in my simulation, and I fixed lots of performance issues. I read Joel on Software cover to cover to re-live the period I 'was in IT' and to catch up on fundamentals. He pointed me to Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs which I consider the single best ever lecture / course I've ever 'attended'. It is both so deep and philosophical, and at the same time so useful: My simulations became faster by a large factor.

And all the time, I did reverse engineering and debugging. I think I have done this ever since, but always at the level I understood software at the time. Of all the tasks I had as an IT Security / Public Key Infrastructure consultant, troubleshooting weird issues with X.509 certificates was maybe the best one: Digging deep into network traces, reading up on RFCs. Every time I was theoretically only a user of software and services, I ended up debugging in detail - like using Wireshark to track down a weird compatibility issue between my e-mail client and a mail server, when just trying to sign my invocies via a digital signature solution using SMTP.

Then I finally learned C and C++, and I read about Assembly and the art of reverse engineering and malware analysis - to really appreciate the final chapters of SICP, about the self-referential wonders of compilers and interpreters.

Trying to visualize the stack and what happens to the registers, I picked up a very old book - the one I used decades ago in my electronics class - and I jumped into the chapter about micro-controllers. And then it hit me: Those fundamentals, they have not changed much. Yes, different processors have different instruction sets and you might have 8bit, 16bit, or 32bit. But the explanation about the stack, and how to return from a function - this has always been an eternal truth since that electronics book and SICP had been released.

All falls into place: Understanding C is really the pre-requisite for understanding field bus communications, and that is what control units use. Debugging skills are essential when dealing with abandoned engineering software from the stone age.

So I finally found the most logical connection between physics and IT, the place to be as a physicist in IT or in engineering or whatever.

Onword to Python!

Best of 2017

(elkement. Last changed: 2017-12-14. Created: 2017-12-10. Tags: Life, Looking Back, Garden, Heat Pump, Introspection, Learning, Philosophy, Simulations, Thermodynamics, Work, About. German Version.)

I did not have ambitions 2017. It should have been a year of taking stock - and it was, in a good way.

  • I time-travelled and re-lived some history of software engineering, and finally learned basics of computer science. This was philosophical delight, but also useful and necessary: I was able to boost the performance of my simulations (above a level of what was, maybe, embarrassingly slow).
  • I tinkered a lot with numerical simulations of our heat pump system. Main thing I learned: The more modern the building, the more you'd need to simulate humans' behavior, rather than physics or control logic.
  • Reverse engineering and troubleshooting is what finally connects all the fields of science and engineering I love: Troubleshooting, ferreting out hidden causes and effects in hydraulics feel the same as sniffing and debugging software and networking protocols.
  • Theoretical physics reading: I returned to classical thermodynamics and statistical mechanics; I find it fascinating and beautiful in its own right, even if only at the pre-1960s level. I took stock of my writing on heat transport - and I am happy I can actually really use physics on a daily basis, in down-to-earth engineering projects.
  • I was thinking about automation, standardization, and big social media platforms. I struggled with this blog post about the future of small business for a long time, but optimism won. I might frame this even more positively today: There is a place for artisanal service delivery despite or because of Everything Being Offered As A Service by Omniscient Data Krakens.
  • My blog turned 5 in spring, and I allowed myself to return to a more philosophical blogging style (briefly). Otherwise, I finally and subconsciously made the elkement.blog my main resources of technical content - or at least content related to my professional domain, and content edited for clarity and entertainment. Whereas on elkement.subversiv.at I let my stream of consciousness flow. It seems that the pattern that finally emerges is: elkement.blog = elkement's tech / science magazine and platform for personal research news, with an ever growing focus on fields I have training in and daily practical exposure to. elkement.subversiv.at gravitates against the same focus, but I allow myself to focus on my personal perspective only. So here you find 'what I am doing with [insert: heat pumps, security,...]', over there you find the useful content as such.
  • Tomato harvest was great. I tried to grow late varieties - like Ox Heart - directly outside, and it worked.
  • Dinosaur Kale tastes good. And it is able to recover from a at attack of a bug that targets kale (and radishes' seed capsules). Don't try to keep seeds of radishes in the land of canola.

This website is an old-school non-interactive site. My blog technically isn't, but looks like one now, for the lack of visible comments. However, messages have reached over covert 1:1 channels, so I do now that there is a small but sincerely interested group of readers. I thank you all for reading my stuff!

Cheers!

elkement (Elke Stangl) 2017

Working Remotely

(elkement. Last changed: 2017-12-02. Created: 2017-12-02. Tags: Culture, Engineering, Heat Pump, Internet, Technology, Work, Life, About, Control And IT. German Version.)

Many years ago, The Web – which has its own category on my website here – was an experimental playground for me. You might have guessed so, just checking out the URL of this post.

Technologies and protocols once used for displaying static websites have been repurposed, and HTTP(s) became the so-called Universal Firewall Bypass protocol. We synchronize files with Dropbox or offline-cache or mailboxes. Applications like Teamviewer or the signals from our Things (as in Internet Of Things) poke controlled holes into our firewalls so that they are somewhat accessible from the outside.

I have written about all of that at length elsewhere – about the insecurity of the Internet of Things and about Data Krakens dominating small businesses. I have had mixed feelings about the evolution of The Web. But there is one absolutely positive outcome: That HTTP(s) (mis-)use connection magic enables me to work in a way I would have never envisaged 25 years ago – at the time when my most important ‘files’ were still contained in physical folders.

I am able to work nearly remote-only, not only in IT projects. About 10 years ago I was a consultant in information security. We worked from ‘home office’, too, although company culture often dictated that there had to be meetings in real life. Today, I still support some long-term IT security clients, but mainly via remote and/or asynchronous channels. When we started our experimental heat pump side-business several years ago, my standard joke was: Someday we will work in heat pump projects the way we work in IT projects. And the joke became true – it actually became the default way of working, even for clients that are within geographical reach, like a 50-70km drive away.

This list on our website explains the steps / stages of such a project – but it’s hard to convey the spirit of a remote project properly. It sounds way too serious. On our German blog we feature verbatim hilarious quotes of a client / ice storage heat pump system self-builder – translation could never do it justice.

Working remotely seems to be about technology: We need to have the tools we have today to communicate, exchange information, to monitor and manage systems over the internet. But it is more about culture. In IT, such tools have already been available for a long time, yet some corporations insisted on ‘face showing rituals’. Notably, during the economic crisis of 2008/2009 many companies worked hard to keep travel costs low and resorted to working remotely – and later never reverted to face showing mode.

Successful remote communication is based on the skill of asynchronous communications, e.g. on processing more than the first three lines of an e-mail, but replying thoughtfully in nested threads. My anecdotal evidence tells me that our typical heat pump clients have that skill – tech-savvy geeks whose day jobs are usually tech- / IT- / engineering-related .

You need to keep politics out. As soon as that infamous ‘non-verbal clues’ become important, remote channels might be too narrow. However, I wonder if politics can ever be tamed properly even with heavy face showing. My pragmatic solution is to focus on simple ‘structures of command’ – work with one single accountable client who is in charge for his/her project and has skin in the game. Only if you need to intermediate between ‘team members’ and listen to ‘different sides’ you get into troubles. I have my share of experiences – like: Clandestine meetings in which project member X told me they considered to revolut against project manager Y – depending on my honest opinion of Y.

Many hands-on engineering tasks are gradually being supported by remote IT tools. I am not a first adopter of such technology – like augmented reality glasses for engineers in power plants. My icon is an angry dinosaur for a reason. But even I say, half-jokingly, that someday people might 3D print our heat exchanger tubes and PVC supporting constructions, instead of working with our traditional design documents and plans.

So at the end of 2017, I embrace The Web again and my outlook is positive. It’s like returning to the old days – when The Cluetrain Manifesto told us that The Internet will kill TV-like ads and foster communications between human beings – also in business. That may sound irrational, given the ominous power of online tracking, all for the sake of advertizing. But anyway: The positive spirit of remote working pioneers, like Automattic (wordpress.com) is what defines The Web for me!

Subversive? Physics?

(elkement. Last changed: 2019-09-03. Created: 2017-05-07. Tags: Business, Career, Corporate World, Learning, Life, Physics, Science, Work, About. German Version.)

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 (Voice from the future: Soon there will be no distincion anymore between 'this website here' and 'the blog over there'. 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.

All of Theoretical Physics in 6 volumens - by Wilhelm Macke.

My Philosophy!

(elkement. Created: 2017-03-05. Tags: Business, Everything, Life, Philosophy, Science, Work, About. German Version.)

On science and technology

  • I believe there is often a simpler, a more low-tech solution to a problem technology is thrown on.
  • I sometimes call myself a geek but I don't understand this 'geek' movement of cheering science and technology - without any desire to learn any of the details.
  • I prefer to work on seemingly mundane problems that somebody really wants me to solve right now.
  • This explains why I discarded inquiries to participate in and profit from governmentally funded research projects.
  • Yet, I often find a universe of intriguing puzzles when mulling upon a 'simple' problem.
  • Learning about theoretical physics has a mind purging effect: It helps, no matter if I ever need the math directly.

On business and life

  • If a business relationship does not work without a written contract, it does also not work well with one.
  • Don't follow any advice by strategists and experts, especially if their primary role is to act as consultants and not as doers.
  • If somebody has an opinion on something, I judge them on Skin in the Game, hands-on experience, and education - in that order. I keep this in mind when voicing my own opinions.
  • I don't pay for leads - I endorse other for free, and I am endorsed for free. Not necessarily on a 1:1 basis.

On the internet

  • The greatest internet-powered innovation in the workplace I have encountered is to work remotely.
  • I am grateful that I started writing online before there were Likes and Comments. The point of writing online is to hold yourself accountable because others could read this on principle, not because you need feedback.
  • The internet sharing paradox: The more information you share for free, the more requests for free information you get. Learning to say No is a key skill.
  • No matter how eclectic you think your combination of specialties is - you will find people on the internet featuring the same combination. Just better. It's humbling and this is a good thing.

My Philosophy (?)

(elkement. Last changed: 2016-05-02. Created: 2016-05-01. Tags: Learning, Life, Looking Back, Meaning, Philosophy, Profession, Technology, Work, About. German Version.)

Once upon a time this category was intended to comprise what I had learned about philosophy. I had even aspired to study philosophy. Then came the dawn of the web and of unconventional philosophers of web culture.
I had also followed common wisdom, and my first FrontPage-generated business website had a section called Philosophy.

What's left of that, or what has been my conclusion?

I believe - in a pang of cheeky self-assurance - that I ought to have my own philosophy. Experience, business and otherwise, should be good for something. My philosophy does not focus on the grand questions of life. I might have had an argument with my former self, the idealistic student of science who aspired to change the world as a physicist, a profession I pictured as a cross-over of hands-on MacGyver theorist-philosopher-mathematician, ad-hoc-inventing smart tools whole mulling upon deep insights on universe and everything.

The unexciting truth is that my personal philosophy is explained best by summing up the different roles I have ever seen myself to take on, no matter what my job title was. None of them was about making profound changes to the world or being any sort of thought leader.

1) The Reverse Engineer

I have been told that I dismantled (tech) stuff already at a time I have no conscious memory of. I wanted to know how things worked, and I found a way to get there. Some of these activities morphed into a career later, the obvious one having been IT Security - the stereotype field for lone maverick nerdswho reverse engineer stuff. Even as a white hat hacker and so-called security consultant you have to indulge in the relentless black hacker's mindset - or you become a security bureaucrat, ticking off checklists and following rules. (Which dies not mean you should not know the rules).
But I could as well have turned into a tax advisor or lawyer, given my pleasure in finding out how such systems work.

I disagree with Keep To Your Core Skills, and I have often used 'wasted my precious time' by 'not delegating'. I hope or believe - delusionally - that 'actually' everybody has this pleasure of finding things out ((c) Richard Feynman). I am wary of marketing (tech) stuff to allegedly dumb or stressed out end-users who don't want to understand anything about underlying technology. Perhaps I am talking to less than 10% of people, but after all this is about my personal credo.

2) The Mediator

One of my first ever fantasies as a child that came close to something like a career was being kind of a negotiator or diplomat. I am not kidding: I dreamt about settling peace treaties between Mickey Mouse and his sinister opponents in his cartoon world.
This has impacted any of my jobs, but it finally surfaced expicitly when a client booked me 'for another mediation', which was in fact the follow-up of a very technical meeting.

I had considered yet another training or degree, in coaching, psychology, or the like. However, I am glad that I never left technology for good (see 1). There is a paradox: People want such 'tech project psychology' services. However, they will not buy it if labelled as such yet happily use them if they come as a hidden by-product of technical consulting.

3) The Communicator

Maybe principles 1) and 2) can only co-exist if you bridge them with a lot of talking. During most of my career 'teaching', 'training', or 'lecturing' had been part of my official duties or a side-project done in moon-lighting fachion. I stopped teaching when I became a moonlightung student again. I have also realized that I am not cut out for over well managed, structured, quality-assured educational systems. I suck at keeping to my own agenda, and I beg for being carried away by hard off-script questions.
I was not the best class-room teacher, but I think I was good at informal, jam-session-style train-the-experts sessions.

Projects I remember most fondly were those where clients were not only interested in The Tech Guy Who Will Fix Everything but also in my pontifiating on fundamentals, even if that was not required to get the job done. But as I said above (1) - I believe it's always worth it.

4) The Organizer and Automator

When I was a child, I was not called upon to tidy up my room: Not only was I self-motivation to clean it - Mr.Monk-style - but I rather re-organized my cabinets quite frequently. It was Feng Shui of Decluttering meeting obsession with structure, and it has not changed to this day.

I have extended these principles to the virtual world as soon as I had 'data'. Writing a tool, script, program to automate something is second nature. Some sort of software development has always been part of my jobs - just as teaching was, but I found out only recently that I like data analysis and programming much more.

Proficiency with interpreting and manipulating data, and with using or fixing software is part of our culture and should be trained and valued just as other basic technologies and skills. And of course I believe that we, each of us, really needs them! But perhaps it is just my bad luck or my high standards... Every time I just to use and application or service as a normal end-user I end up with low-level troubleshooting.

 

I am aware of the picture of the obsessed nerd that I have painted here. I don't underestimate subtleties and human nature though. But nowadays soft skills are so often praised to the skies and people with 'big ideas', rather than nitpicking detailed persons, so as Subversive Element the contrarian stance comes natural to me. Even the most empathic coach who tells burnt out IT guys not ot overdo perferctiomism will be very happy if a neuro-surgeon or airplane engineer are totally obsessed with flawless technology.

On the impact of physics on my life

(elkement. Created: 2016-03-12. Tags: Looking Back, Physics, Life, About, Science Communications, Technology, Theoretical Physics, Troubleshooting, Work. German Version.)

I renamed my blog elkement.blog last November:

Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything

became

elkemental Force

The original tagline was

Physics versus engineering
off-the-wall geek humor versus existential questions
IT versus the real thing
corporate world's strangeness versus small business entrepreneur's microcosmos, knowledge worker's connectedness
versus striving for independence.

until it became

I mean it

and finally turned into

Research Notes on Energy, Software, Life, the Universe, and Everything

This means that my blog elkement.blog has found its purpose, and I am able to distinguish blogging better from publishing to this website elkement.subversiv.at. My actual research and 'science writing' is featured on my blog. Over there I am using wordpress.com features I have no desire for developing them myself for - and this website will remain my 100% home-grown self-developed pseudo-blog with a very limited feature set and no interactivity. The blog has LaTex support and allows me to present galleries of technical figures and diagrams.

These recent blog articles showcase what elkemental Force has been and is covering now (the end of a journey that started already two years ago - when heat pumps and thermodynamics replaced quantum physics):

Rowboats, Laser Pulses, and Heat Energy (Boring Title: Dimensional Analysis)
How Does It Work? (The Heat Pump System, That Is)
Half a Year of Solar Power and Smart Metering

My personal website, on the other hand, should be just this: A more self-indulgent site that provides status updates, meta-information and About-Me-style summaries. Because of that I will keep not sharing articles here to any social network.

And so yes: The hands-on engineering, physics, math and data analysis will be done over there on the blog. But there really are personal meta-thoughts on physics - so I don't have to change categories here.

(Theoretical) Physics and Me

Over the Christmas holidays I have been nearly offline from social media. I used the internet as I believe it was intended for me: To learn about something in depth and not necessarily sharing my insights or my 'progress'. I indulged in theoretical physics lectures just for the joys of it. I can rationalize: Yes, a bit of mathy gymnastics also serves me well when I deal with more mundane physics as a professional - such as toying with the heat transport equation.

But the real reason is unrelated to work: Theoretical physics and mathematical modelling of a small part of a complex world gives me the pleasure - and/or the illusion - of being able to understand and solve, well, something. Whenever I had been very stressed out in the past, close to burn-out, I got up even earlier - as 4:00 AM sometimes - to plow through Feynman's Physics Lectures or my favorite German volumes of theoretical physics by my late professor, W. Macke.

Not only did it help me to focus onto abstract details of a logical clear universe and to enter a more detached state of mind, but amazingly it also made me work more efficiently and focused later - on whatever technical challenge I had to solve. In those days, I was mainly concerned with Public Key Infrastructure, networking security, and applied cryptography.

With hindsight - and hopefully not too much hindsight bias - I feel that a rigorous training in a mathy subject boosts your results in any endeavor that needs an analytical approach. Perhaps only your physics training makes your realize that you need a more analytical approach at all, in addition to soft skills, practice, and familiarity with culture in certain industry sectors. I am thinking about project management, for example.

I believe that in any 'STEM' job, e.g. in IT, it is soothing to re-learn fundamentals often. One should know more than seems necessary about 'theory', before or in addition to knowing how to google, where to look up things, or whom of your tech buddies to call. Success in technical troubleshooting always gave me most contentment when I was doing it in my head mainly - like walking through a networking protocol the way it was designed, comparing that to messing reality, and uttering an educated guess about the root cause of an issue which was finally correct.

Whenever I had been blogging about a field of physics not related to my work - like quantum field theory - it was these mental connections I had in mind. I was trying to convey the joys of physics, but my main focus was different from most science writers' ones, so I think my writing was not engaging enough for the interested lay audience and sometimes oblique owing to too much references to math (whereas it was very basic for experts, of course).

My science writing is often a covert and feeble attempt to encourage others to tackle the real thing, that is the fundamentals and the math, and then to feel the same effects. I have seen that more books seem to have been released recently that try to bridge this gap between classical science writing (following the mantra of: Every formula will half readers) and text books.

I want to be part of that movement.

Not much happened in 2015

(elkement. Created: 2016-01-12. Tags: Edible Wildflowers, Administration, Garden, House, Infrastructure, Life, Looking Back, Nostalgia, Photovoltaics, Projects, Remote Work, Work, About. German Version.)

The most existing things, in no particular order:

Infrastructure updates - 'real'

Solar panels, before installation

Infrastructure updates - 'virtual'

  • We migrated three bank accounts, and I learned what I never wanted to know about different ways to setup debit orders. My favorite: an anonymous form on the vendor's website. Security = knowing your client account
  • Our village has changed its zip code. I learned what I never wanted to know about how organizations store addresses. Goodie: Opening 'support tickets' turned interactions with big platforms into something human.

Work and Life

Edible wild vegetables from the meadow in the garden

Life and Work

(elkement. Created: 2015-05-15. Tags: Life, Work. German Version.)

We feel the fresh air of a new category: A new major tag that has infected most of our online content: It is called Work, Life, and Balance.

So it has to be added here of all websites, of course! Do we need a manifesto?

We don't want only a solar collector for research and self-sufficiency - we want 100% self-sufficiency re tomatoes!

Solar collector and tomatoes

We don't only want to hack play with our inverter's web interface - we want to have enough time to watch our PV panels harvesting energy!

Harvesting energy

Again: Defining 'Subversion'

(elkement. Created: 2015-04-01. Tags: Life, Subversive, Ultimate Truth, Art. German Version.)

We are flabbergasted as we notice that we tied 'Subversion' to hackneyed clichés from managers' self-help books and Dilbert-style satire. Or to fluffy internet poetry. Lest we don't forget that subversion is hard work and rather down-to-earth...

... THIS ist subversive:

Subversvion. Or: When I grow up I'll be an eggplant!

E on Track (Edition 2014 - a Good Year)

(elkement. Last changed: 2015-04-01. Created: 2014-12-24. Tags: Life, Meaning, Looking Back, Contentment. German Version.)

(December 24, 2014. Updated: April 1st, 2015, not funny though.)

The outlook was vague and dubious.

Elke Stangl 2014

You can take pride in the way you've already mastered.

Elke Stangl 2014

Fortune favors the prepared mind.

Elke Stangl 2014

Be creative with what is available.

Elke Stangl 2014

Don't underestimate the power of the right companion.

Elke Stangl 2014

Sorry, wrong image! I try again!

The Two of Us 2014

I am alone in the fog, but the victory is mine.

Elke Stangl 2014

I'll pontificate about anything nonetheless.

Elke Stangl 2014

Physics, Science, Engineering, and a Lot of Fun

(elkement. Last changed: 2019-09-03. Created: 2014-12-17. Tags: Physics, Engineering, Science, Heat Pump, Simulations, Career, Life, Work. German Version.)

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.

Solar collector for harvesting energy from ambient air.

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 [Voice from the future: I have re-organized / merged all sites again since I wrote this in 2014]. 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.

Simplified simulation of ice in the water tank in different years.

I had misspelled Bizarr in the Tags list. Now I corrected it - and it means a Tag will die! I think this is the right kind of comment for this kind of 'article'!

Instead of a 'Bio' ...

(elkement. Last changed: 2018-03-03. Created: 2014-11-08. Tags: Spaceship, Bizarre, Life, Garden, Lifeform, Art. German Version.)

... we show you an organic - 'bio' - space probe.

Organic 'Bio' Space Probe

Elkement is an amalgam of Elke and the Subversive Element.

Physicist and consulting engineer by trade and by day, self-proclaimed dilettante science blogger and avant-garde poet by night.

Brief Update: Life, the Universe, and Everything

(elkement. Created: 2014-05-04. Tags: Life, Everything, Meaning, Geek, Announcements. German Version.)

This has once been the so-called serious section of this site, holding the links to the articles full of soul-searching.

Meaning of life, true calling - you name it. See the non-translation of my graduation speech as a prime example.

Fortunately, the Lightness of Being a Geek has finally won. 

The Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force are also reflected by posting on my blog, in sections Life and The Web, respectively. You be the judge on lightness and darkness.

Science: Explain, Evaluate, Utilize

(elkement. Created: 2013-09-16. Tags: Science, Science Communications, Physics, IT, Technology, Writing, Life, About. German Version.)

Explaining science and technology is my passion and my mission - as a physicist, engineer and IT expert.

All children are curious scientists: We want to know 'how stuff really works'. However, in science education answers are finally given in the language of mathematics - which might kill curiosity.

I admit that I can indulge in math at times, just for the sake of it. Theoretical Physics was my personal therapy in fighting the detrimental impacts of having been sucked into Dilbert's (corporate) world once.

Nevertheless, I understand your discomfort - math haters / deniers. Fundamental theories in physics, such as string theory, seem to have developed a purely mathematical life of their own. Algorithms loom large: Corporations dig Big Data to predict our behaviors as consumers, and of course there is the NSA. And Facebook ads.

Thus I am determined to dissect and expound scientific underpinnings of, well of basically anything interesting I come across in physics, engineering or IT. As an IT consultant I sometimes gave stand-up quantum physics edutainment sessions in coffee breaks. So you are my target group: Experts in any science-y, geeky, technical or other quantitative field.

I am indecisive: shilly-shallying between excitement about curved space-time and multiverses on the one hand, and focusing on hands-on research and development from whose impacts we - taxpayers, John and Jane Does - will benefit in our lifetimes.

Currently my (science) writing is focused on

  • Quantum Field Theory. When the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012 I realized that I cannot make head or tail of how the Higgs field gives the other particles mass. Based on the theory of superconductivity and phase transitions I had once been exposed too - I actually should have. Thus I am set to (re-)learn QFT.
  • Thermodynamics - this is were fundamentals (entropy and the arrow of time) meet hands-on engineering (heat pumps).

And I am pondering on:

La Palma, mountains Cumbre Vieja.

Technology: Explain, Evaluate, Utilize

(elkement. Last changed: 2014-01-13. Created: 2013-09-14. Tags: Technology, Engineering, Life, About. German Version.)

My motto is: Building bridges between human beings and technology.

I had always been working as a vendor-agnostic consultant and trusted advisor to clients and I support them with picking, evaluating, understanding and implementing technology. Our business is called punktwissen: an artificial German word made up of 'Punkt' (point) and 'Wissen' (knowledge), indicating: Getting to the point and boiling down knowledge to the essential information.

My specialties: Modelling of heat pump systems that utilize unconventional heat sources, troubleshooting issues with digital certificates and Public Key Infrastructures.

My mission: Improving personal and economic independence of small businesses and entrepreneurially minded persons - via the clever utilization of renewable energies and carefully selected IT tools.

I am interested in the interfaces between building technology, energy engineering, applied physics, and IT infrastructure. In my thesis (2013) I have tried to combine everything I was ever interested in – physics, IT security, power engineering – writing about smart metering and security.

(Voice from the future - to prevent the impression of this being a serious website: All our websites are going to be united - all our 'home pages' become one.

CV | Professional Profile | punktwissen website | My Blog | punktwissen Blog (DE)

About Life-Form Elke Stangl

(elkement. Last changed: 2014-02-09. Created: 2013-09-14. Tags: Life, Profile, About, Web. German Version.)

My nickname is Elkement - an amalgam of my first name and my unofficial job title: The Subversive Element.

I am running a small company together with my husband. Following Star Trek terminology he is Chief Engineer and I am Science Officer. We live in the very heart of Europe, in sunny Pannonian Plain.

I am a physicist who has explored different professional biotopes. After having indulged in the corporate world as a so-called mobile knowledge worker I decided to reconnect to my roots as a scientist and engineer in 2012, and I have completed another master's degree - Sustainable Energy Systems - in 2013. In 2014 I am indulging in a weird combination of professional specialties: Modelling of heat pump systems and troubleshooting issues with digital certificates.

On numerous blogs and websites I am pondering on:

Theoretical physics versus engineering.
Off-the-wall geek humor versus existential philosophical questions.
Knowledge worker's connectedness versus striving for independence.
Corporate world's strangeness versus small business entrepreneur's microcosmos.

As a Search Term Poet and a Spam Poet I create art from the virtual scrapyard.

Related blog articles:

Trading in IT Security for Heat Pumps? Seriously? (2013)

The Dark Side Was Strong in Me (2012, on my transition from academia / R&D to IT in 1997).

On Science Communication (2013, remembering 1995)

Elke Stangl. July 2013. Credits: www.sammelraum.at

This Statement Is: For Free

(elkement. Created: 2012-12-30. Tags: Work, Life, For Free. German Version.)

I need to go one step further in discussing why a problem is not a problem for me. This page is odd anyway, and the root problem is actually the structure of this website which once has been turned into a bilingual website. So I am discussing issues in English that had only been described before in German or vice versa.

Years ago I had been intrigued by discussions among freelancers: about (potential) clients who are not willing to pay for deliveries of samples, concepts and whatnot.

I have discussed below why I declared this issue non-existent.

Now it is even better (or worse, depending on interpretation) - I can hardly see a problem at all.

Yes, it can make sense to deliver a free sample work. But sometimes you don't even notice that this was sample work (You do not even notice that this was work). I cannot - and do not want to - distinguish between:

  • a spontaneous outburst of my creativity - as close to 'art' as somebody like me can get.
  • strategic 'viral' marketing (though done in a very paradoxical way)

But probably these are just dry runs for a new way our economy should work at large?

Is this Open Source or Open Innovation?

Subversive Yearly Report

(elkement. Created: 2012-12-23. Tags: Life, Everything, Subversive, Announcements, Web. German Version.)

The Subversive Element is delighted to report on our progress in Elementary Subversion:

All web sites that are controlled by The Element have been resurrected and updated in an extremely professional fashion. We do go to great lengths in explaining the details via appropriate communication channels. Websites that defy resurrection - for comprehensible reasons though - have not been updated. They have been clicked, hailed and worshipped instead.

The Elkement as an artist is undergoing a transformation: The traceable output of its activities has been increased due to recycling (Crowdsourcing)

The history of The Element including all highs and lows is in depth covered by:

We are proud to announce new high-scores with respect to the index of self-referentiality (AKA navel-gazing)

We set new standards in combining: Subversive Entrepreneurship, down-to-earth provincial craftsmanship, MacGyver-like tinkering, and modern communication via social media: punktwissen.blog

Is My Life a Cliché?

(elkement. Created: 2012-11-18. Tags: Life, Cliche, Ideas, Subversive, Work, Career, True Calling, Internet, Netizen, Self-Referential, Art, Web. German Version.)

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:

  • Physicist
  • 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.
  • Tech Nostalgia and Indulging in Cliché

    (elkement. Last changed: 2013-03-26. Created: 2012-11-02. Tags: Technology, Nostalgia, Cliche, Life, Art. German Version.)

    You can turn into your own cliché. In a self-consistent way - absolutely, positively. Just watch this video. I am a nerd, a nerdess. For me, 'technology' was mainly about:

    • Living off pizza and caffeine.
    • Sociophobic lifestyle. In the prototypical programmer's cave.
    • Chasing hackers and security bugs.
    • Getting excited over text files and command line output.

    However, what a let-down: Discovering Your Life Being Cliché.

    But I learned from Mark Twain: The kernel, the soul - let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances - is plagiarism.

    I try my best to keep up the techie style even as a more hands-on engineer. 2013 is dedicated to the quest for the Grand Unified Theory - unifying geekdom and down-to-earth tinkering with energy systems. I am projecting my hopes and dreams onto the power grid and its soon-to-be added IT-based smartness.

    Science and Me. Torture Turning Trivia.

    (elkement. Last changed: 2019-08-21. Created: 2012-11-02. Tags: Science, Career, Decisions, Academia, Life, About. German Version.)

    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

    • 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.

    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.

    Profile of Elke Stangl, one more attempt

    (elkement. Last changed: 2019-09-02. Created: 2012-10-20. Tags: Profile, Elke Stangl, Life, Web. German Version.)

    Keeping It Short

    What is the essence of all websites, blogs and the 'CV'?

    I am:

    • Physicist as per my first degrees. Now I may again call me a Consulting Engineer in Applied Physics. Theoretical physics is still an important hobby of mine.
    • As an Engineer I am working on the simulation of heat pump systems.
    • IT Security Consultant - that's what I have called myself for more than 10 years. Currently I am interested in the security of smart meters.
    • Blogger - at elkement.blog. I have just celebrated my blog's first anniversary.
    • 'Settler' - living in the Pannonian Plain in the utmost East of Austria for nearly 15 years now.
    • Geek and Subversive Element.

    If This Would Be Web 2.0 You Would Call This:
    Elke Stangl's Profile

    My CV - or my so-called profile in web 2.0 newspeak - can be found in: XING and LinkedIn. Currently my web 2.0 avatar is describing itself as:

    I am a physicist running a small company together with my husband. Following Star Trek terminology he is Chief Engineer and I am Science Officer.

    I have designed and implemented Public Key Infrastructures (PKI, applied cryptography) for enterprise customers since 2002 and I have phased-out these activities at the 10th anniversary (mid of July 2012) in order to focus on renewable energies.

    I am particularly interested in the interfaces between building technology, energy engineering and IT infrastructure ...

    ... and basically in all of physics, all of the history of science and all of the interdependencies between science and society. Since 2012 I am finally blogging on this at elkement.blog, though I am still also updating my ancient proto-blog-like personal websites (e-stangl.at, radices.net, and subversiv.at). [Voice from the future: All these sites are / are going to be united!]

    Why is this in English and the profile in German? Actually, my profile was in English till mid of 2012 as many of business contacts did not speak German. I am also blogging in English - reason to be determined.

    About My Graduation Speech

    (elkement. Created: 2012-09-27. Tags: Award, Graduation, Speech, Work, Life, About. German Version.)

    My graduation speech is online again. It is now 18 years old, and neither the content nor the style had been or are truly subversive. I am creating an air of postmodern intellectual mist around it by commenting on the (German) speech in English and try to convince my younger self on what should have been improved..

    In Austria you can be awarded your PhD with special honors by the president of Austria, it is called Sub Auspiciis Praesidentis Rei Publicae. This year (2012) about 1000 people have been given this award since about 1952. I am not adding this explanation to impress you - this should rather set the stage for the probably unexpected message I sent to the guests of my graduation ceremony. On October 1996, we had been 4 awardees, me and husband being two of them.

    I thanked the representatives of academia for their kind words, they gave us the feeling that we had been rewarded for our perseverance and our talents. Nevertheless I believed that an award like this imposes some accountability on us - we had to prove that we are not intellectuals or nerds only, but that we have some social skills too. Update: According to feedback I frequently got from customers I think I have done fine on this.

    But... then... BANG....(paraphrasing my long-winded German sentences) there comes the eye-opener: There is something like real world and real jobs and nobody has waited for us. It was 1995 and there was something like a micro-crisis on the job-market, at least for physics PhDs. Update: I did not research that thoroughly in recent times, but I think that has not changed so much.

    I still like my speech, but there was too much self-pitying. I belabored the point that as a high school I had expected a grown-up physicist's biggest ethical dilemma would be to choose between working for the evil military or searching the solution to the unified field theory as a lonesome wolf. Then I found out that your biggest problem was to find a job.  Actually, in hindsight the situation was not that bad after all - rather the opposite. I did write only a few job applications in order to get a decent job, shortly after my husband ended up with the same employer - a national research center. And we had ditched the scientific career deliberately and knowingly before. And I pitied to be just a small and unimportant part of world's scientific machinery and I would just work on something unimportant. Recently, I had read Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions for the first time (shame on me) and it came as relief that this was normal. As normal as it can get - I did Normal Science.

    Elke Stangl, Graduation Speech
    (Oktober 8, 1996, University of Linz)

    I added a small rant that I would phrase harsher today. I had been told - repeatedly - that excellent people stay in academia (mediocre ones join industry). Back then I felt that this was BS - though of course I phrased it more politely. What I did not dare to say: I had also been told that there will be so many academic job openings for physicists in the near future. Today I have been confirmed by lots of credible accounts by other physics PhDs and by simply statistics, that this is what students have been told since the 1970s. And since the 1970s the number of physics graduates kept growing and exceeded the demand.

    I had also ranted (a bit, in too timid fashion - but stay tuned for an article that I had written two years, to be re-published soon) about the metrics of scientific community - survival of the fittest AKA the person who managed to out his/her names on most papers and to minimize real contributions at the same time. I generally criticized the importance of "selling yourself". This is quite bizarre actually. This is self-irony, but in a subconscious fashion - I meant what I said. The truth is: I had an impressive record of publications - obtained by honest work. And I always had the talents to market myself - that I was not aware this this was self-marketing. When you tend to over-analyze things - as I sometimes so - then it is best to simply stay with the facts: I did get any job  I ever wanted. I changed my expertise, my fields of work several times. My track record in terms of metrics (grades, publications, performance data, revenue, customer feedback) had been successful. It took me some time to find out, but I enjoy being an entrepreneur - and I would rather work "mundane tasks" in a self-employed way than being "part of the system that imposes its arcane rules on me. So back then was probably just lacking a bit of self-esteem and self-awareness.

    I was proud of the fact that my husband and I merged our PhD theses into a single book. This is an option (though an uncommon one) as long as you denote who has been responsible for which part.  I had also enjoyed of being supported by gifted technicians. And I really detested the attitude of not giving enough credit to other persons who had delivered valuable contributions. So I did not take the acknowledgement section in thesis too seriously, as I thanked my friends "how to use the pipe wrench" - which was an allusion to using that tool to open coke bottles every afternoon in the workshop. I could have phrased this a bit crispier in my speech.

    Thus in summary the speech was not to bad (it felt good to receive standing ovations), the topics addressed were fine. Today I would:

    • rant a little more, more sarcastically, more witty on stuff that deserve being ranted about.
    • remove all the self-pity and replace it by the enormous chances that challenges actually bore.

    As for the second item, wallowing in self-pity was probably also due to the fact that I did not get over the fact I did leave academia though it a deliberate choice and I have always considered it right - absolutely, positively. At that time I worked in a national research lab, but already felt separated from true science. More realistically (as explained in the posting linked above) also my academic existence was "more engineering-like" and more routine development grunt work than pure science. But there are two catches:

    • The menial engineering stuff plus the project management experience I gained during my PhD work was what made me employable in the real world while still keeping some relationship with the academic world over the years.
    • It all - and I really mean IT ALL including the negative experiences - prepared me for the final step I had taken recently: returning to research and development (OK, it's more development), to physics and engineering - and being able to afford a smooth an gentle migration to a new career path.

    So after all - it was all worth it.

    Offline

    (elkement. Created: 2012-04-29. Tags: Web, Blogging, Writing, Decisions, Life, Announcements, Art. German Version.)

    The Element is offline - or at least it wants you to believe it is. In a distant corner of the web(*) it is more active than ever.

    The red pages will be back online - probably changed a bit - in due time.

    The pages are still there - you just need to know the URLs.

    (*)elkement.blog

    The chance in a life time to quote from the grand Offline Page I've never used:

    This website is temporarily offline...

    ...being updated with new revolutionary content

    ... or just to fix some stupid error

    Stay tuned.

    I am an Expert.

    (elkement. Created: 2011-03-22. Tags: Life, Work, Career, Expert, Professional, Art. German Version.)

    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.

    About to Change (Though Unaware of This)

    (elkement. Last changed: 2012-01-03. Created: 2011-01-07. Tags: Life, Work, Decisions, About. German Version.)

    On reviewing your one history you are always biased and tend to rewrite it silently. You might consider that bias positive, recapturing Viktor Frankl's saying of flooding the entire life with meaning in retrospect. I am keeping the old versions of my web pages and force myself to re-read, comment and gradually change them. The CV tends to become cluttered, therefore I am providing a current version (2011) which is neither complete nor objective.

    I always wanted to know how stuff really works and what makes human beings behave the way they do. As a child I have dismantled a toy car in a way that the grown-ups could not reproduce. I grew crystals of potash alum and blue vitriol (until I destroyed a not so heat resistant glass) and crafted paper polyhedrons (the largest in terms of no. of surfaces was a rhombicosidodecahedron with pyramids on each surface). Later I fired pulsed laser beams on little lumps of ceramic material, took photos of the emitted cloud of evaporated material and let thin films grow from this material. I have tried to understand why this clouds protruded into space in a very peculiar shape and why the electrical resistance of these films became zero at low temperatures (or not).

    I was most interested in the reason why (things were as there were). It seemed less important to me to build something useful based on these insights. But I became more and more involved in the latter. Probably this was based on my investigations of the human behavior. Or rather the behavior of systems constituted by human beings. I learned what is required, important, right or opportune. As a small particle in large systems I have made some contributions. Today I am still under the impression of the ambivalent nature of of being the 'techie who saves the world': Fame and glory versus burnout and stoic self-descipline.

    Reading the book of my life I am detecting the following recurrent theme: Since nearly 25 years I have been explaining technical and scientific stuff. By explanation I mean the transfer of low-level understanding - of 'talking and thinking science' in the language of mathematics - into examples, action, and stories. I am a true fan of Richard Feynman.

    Steep meandering paths in Tenerife, Anaga Mountains. 2004, iconic trip.

Personal website of Elke Stangl, Zagersdorf, Austria, c/o punktwissen.
elkement [at] subversiv [dot] at.