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'.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The most existing things, in no particular order:
Infrastructure updates - 'real'
- Turning the supporting construction of the first version of the solar collector into support for new wall heating loops - renovating the old kitchen: German article om the rebirth of the collector.
- Now we finally have what every green-minded home owner is expected to: A photovoltaic generator, plus smart metering infrastructure: Latest blog posting on data.
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
- One year ago we joked about it, now we do it: Planning heat pump systems the way we did IT projects - remote-only: Series of German blog posting on a project In The North
- Self-sufficiency, 'green life', and skin in the game: Harvesting 'salad' from the meadow for months: Blog posting on edible plants in the garden
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!
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!
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:
(December 24, 2014. Updated: April 1st, 2015, not funny though.)
The outlook was vague and dubious.
You can take pride in the way you've already mastered.
Fortune favors the prepared mind.
Be creative with what is available.
Don't underestimate the power of the right companion.
Sorry, wrong image! I try again!
I am alone in the fog, but the victory is mine.
I'll pontificate about anything nonetheless.
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.
... we show you an 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.
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.
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:
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)
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?
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:
- the resurrection of classical writing tagged with Everything.
- via its so-called timeline (formatted according to the requirements of the NSA) at an extremely subversive website.
We are proud to announce new high-scores with respect to the index of self-referentiality (AKA navel-gazing)
- The Element has been successful in publishing a guest post in the local community newspaper of z-village despite its critical and picky editor.
- The pseudo-twitter stream of e-stangl.at has been flooded with subversive vontent.
We set new standards in combining: Subversive Entrepreneurship, down-to-earth provincial craftsmanship, MacGyver-like tinkering, and modern communication via social media: punktwissen.wordpress.com
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.
- 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.wordpress.com. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Keeping It Short
What is the essence of all my websites, my blogs and my CV?
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 (German, with the remarkable exception of the following paragraphs) and LinkedIn (Englisch). 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.wordpress.com, though I am still also updating my ancient proto-blog-like personal websites (e-stangl.at, radices.net, and subversiv.at).
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.
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.
(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:
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:
So after all - it was all worth it.
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.
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
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.
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.
(Updated: December 2, 2012)
Based on my scientific, extremely thorough logfile analysis this is the main exit page of subversiv.at
So I hope you enjoyed flying with us! The element has finally managed to really put you off!
We had high hopes, now shattered to pieces. This should be *the page* on Life, the Universe and Everything.
But no matter how you do not care - we will keep adding more self-referential navel-gazings to this category. And we will keep commenting on the comments on the comments on these navel-gazings, that once might have been the most serious pieces I had ever written.
You should take into account that irony is like an adamantine shell.
The following image has been taken after watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy (the movie, not the legendary British TV show).
need a lot of energy
to ultimate subversion
Do you know somebody who could help me with:
[insert here: something the networker does not have the faintest clue about in will cost him/her 1000s of hours.]
Years ago the Subversive Element would have analyzed these questions and did what it had to do - as a brave hero of networking. But know it knows:
For meeting one helpful person on the net, you have to pay: by serving five I-want-it-for-free-freaks
I had literally been asked: Do you like to work for free? Of course not really for free - this was an opportunity: Put in many hours of work requiring a lot of experience and a specific skill set. Then - if we are lucky - we will win the jackpot, get the project grant etc. Risk and reward!
(Updated 2005, first version somewhen in 2003)
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. Here is my detailed CV and 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:
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'