Postings tagged with 'Technology', listed in descending order by creation date. Last Postings shown.
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
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.
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!
I often say that my work is basically, most of the time, actually: Reverse
engineering, finding out how stuff works, deciphering blackboxes. I refer to
both software and physical systems - hydraulics - and to anything in between,
control units and their logic.
Even when I was a supposed technical experts for certain (software) products
what I actually did was to reverse engineer the product in question - the
weekend before I demonstrated my consulting capabilities, allegedly backed up by
thorough training and long-term exposure.
So I think it is worth to ponder a bit on what it means to reverse
Good-enough approach (80-20-style). I had enjoyed reverse
engineering because it was different to my former life as an academic scientist.
You do not need a complete theory and unassailable arguments to explain to your
knowledgable peers about what goes on exactly in the blackbox. You just need to
know enough to track down and solve the problem a real human being actually
has. That human being might as well be yourself.
I remember the first times I solved computer problems of small business
owners - based on hardly any experience and know-how, by my current standards.
However, after years of exposure you might as well write an in-depth paper, but
you are not forced to present your know-how in this way. You primary mode of
operations is to solve problems, not to gain recognition.
Depth and breadth. It may be fashionable to say that reverse
engineering certainly requires to think outside the box, and the 80-20 statement
seems to imply that you don't need to bother to learn any 'theory' before
embarking on a debugging venture. But if you want to become really good at
troubleshooting, you better also learn the fundamentals and find a niche(s) you
want to specialize in.
You focus on your specialties where you have both deep know-how and hands-on
experience, and you add out-of-the box ideas related to other subjects. You
stumble upon an interesting aspect and decide to learn more in depth about it. I
had specialized in public key infrastructure and digital certificates, and later
on heat pump systems and thermodynamics. However, when troubleshooting I might
also need to learn something on-the-fly about a special CAN bus networking
protocol or about heat pumps without electrical compressors.
Social engineering and no false pride. I like to work on
issues that I can solve - without the need to 'escalate an issue' to some
support organization in the background. However, I try to keep Geek Honor in
check: You do not need to re-invent anything from scratch, and you do not need
to disassemble a system in case you find the human beings who built it or at
least the documentation created by them.
Social engineering can be part of reverse engineering (both terms meant in a
benign way): I had
social engineered my way into an organization that kept insider information
like manuals or passwords, and I believe learning from your peers is an
excellent way to increase your knowledge. The challenge with learning from the
community is stay at eye level with your true'peers'. I had my share of
encounters with suckers of know-how who only want to take but had nothing to
give in return.
Against the green-field. For me, reverse engineering is
strongly tied to a culture or re-use and repair, as opposed to a culture of buy
and build from scratch. If you want to
be creative with what is available, you need to decode the things you
already have (... and after a few years of operations you might debug your own
creations, no matter how excessive your documentation was.) Knowing what your
gadgets do - your software, your heating system, your appliances - puts you in
Challenge the experts. This is closely related to the
culture of re-use: If a so-called expert, certified and radiating authority
tells you flat-out that this will definitely not work (often because
the expert is also a supplier of new stuff he wants to sell) then you can only
rely on your reverse engineering skills to prove him work.
That is perhaps the most important aspect - in our era of a growing number of
interfaces with external services, clouds etc. and where you use shiny and
well-sealed blackboxes that ought not to be reverse engineered at legal
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
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!
I will try to explore my relationship with IT / software / computers / computer science / software engineering or whatever the best term is to describe it. I am in a mode of looking back with content, and making small changes, learning a bit more.
As often, thinking in 'opposites' comes most natural to me:
Self-study versus formal education. The IT and software industry is young and - I believe - had originally been populated by people without a formal training in computer science as this did not yet exist as an academic discipline. The community was open to outsiders with no formal training or unrelated experience. As a former colleague with a psychology background put it: In the old times, anybody who knew how to hold a computer mouse correctly, was suddenly considered an expert.
I absorbed the hacker ethics of demonstrating your skills rather than showing off papers, and I am grateful about the surprisingly easy start I had in the late 1990s. I just put up a sign in a sense, saying Will Do Computers, and people put trust in me.
I am not 'against' formal education though. Today I enjoy catching up on computer science basics by reading classics like Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs.
Breaking versus building things. I have been accountable for 'systems' for a long time, and I have built stuff that lasted for longer than I expected. Sometimes I feel like a COBOL programmer in the year of 2000.
But I believe what interested me most is always to find out how stuff works - which also involves breaking things. Debugging. Reverse Engineering. Troubleshooting. All this had always been useful when building things, especially when building on top of or interfacing with existing things - often semi-abandoned blackboxes. This reverse engineering mentality is what provided the connection between physics and IT for me in the first place.
It was neither the mathematical underpinnings of physics and computer science, or my alleged training in programming - I had one class Programming for physicists, using FORTRAN. It was the way an experimental physicist watches and debugs a system 'of nature', like: the growth of thin films in a vacuum chamber, from a plasma cloud generated by evaporating a ceramic target bombarded with laser pulses. Which parameter to change to find out what is the root cause or what triggers a system to change its state? How to minimize the steps to trace out the parameter space most efficiently?
Good-enough approach versus perfectionism. 80/20 or maybe 99/1. You never know or need to know anything. I remember the first time I troubleshooted a client's computer problem. I solved it. Despite knowing any details of what was going on. I am sort of embarrassed by my ignorance and proud at the same time when I look back.
In moment like this I felt the contrast between the hands-on / good-enough approach and the perfectionism I applied in my pervious (academic) life. I remember the endless cycles of refinement of academic papers. Prefixing a sentence with Tentatively, we assume,... just to be sure and not too pretentious though I was working in a narrow niche as a specialist.
But then - as a computer consultant - I simply focused on solving a client's problem in a pragmatic way. I had to think on my feet, and find the most efficient way to rule out potential root causes - using whatever approach worked best: Digging deep into a system, clever googling, or asking a colleague in the community (The latter is only an option if you are able to give back someday).
Top-down, bottom-up, or starting somewhere in the middle. I was not a typical computer nerd as a student. I had no computer in high school except a programmable calculator - where you could see one line of a BASIC program at a time. I remember I had fun with implementating of the Simplex algorithm on that device.
However, I was rather a user of systems, until I inherited (parts of) an experimental setup for measuring electrical properties of samples cooled down by liquid nitrogen and helium. I had to append the existing patchwork of software by learning Turbo Pascal on the job.
Later, I moved to the top level of the ladder of abstraction by using *shock, horror* Visual Basic for Applications, ASP, and VBScript. In am only moving down to lower levels now, finally learning C++, getting closer to assembler and thus touching the interface between hardware and software. Which is perhaps where a one should be, as a physicist.
Green-field or renovation (refactoring). I hardly ever had the chance to or wanted to develop something really from scratch. Constraints and tough limiting requirements come with an allure of their own. This applies to anything - from software to building and construction.
So I enjoy systems' archaeology, including things I have originally created myself, but not touched in a while. Again the love for debugging complements the desire to build something.
From a professionals' point of view, this is a great and useful urge to have: Usually not many people enjoy fiddling with the old stuff, painstakingly researching and migrating it. It's the opposite of having a chance to implement the last shiny tool you learned about in school or in your inhouse presentation (if you work for a software vendor).
In awe of the philosophy of fundamentals versus mundane implementation. I blogged about it recently: Joel Spolsky recommended, tongue-in-cheek, to mention that
Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs brought you to tears - when applying for a job as a software developer.
But indeed: I have hardly attended a class or read a textbook that was at the same time so profoundly and philosophically compelling but also so useful for any programming job I was involved in right now.
Perhaps half of older internet writing reflects my craving for theses philosophical depths versus the hard truth of pragmatism that is required in a real job. At the university I had been offered to work on a project for optimizing something about fluid dynamics related to the manufacturing of plastic window frames. The Horror, after I had read Gödel, Escher, Bach and wanted to decode the universe and solve the most critical problems of humanity via science and technology.
I smile at that now, with hindsight. I found, in a very unspectacular way, that you get passionate about what you are good at and what you know in depth, not the other way round. I was able to possibly reconnect with some of my loftier aspirations, like I could say I Work In Renewable Energy. However, truth is that I simply enjoy the engineering and debugging challenge, and every mundane piece of code refverberates fundamental truths as the ones described in Gödel, Escher, Bach or Structure and Interpretation.
(This has been written when our blogs have still been separate websites hosted elsewhere.)
I start a radical experiment: Opening
my blog's editor, and typing what I think right now - however, planning to never publish it to WordPress.
Contrary to what seems to motivate many freshly minted bloggers, and netizens inhabiting social web worlds in general, feedback and interaction had not been my primary goal. The appeal of writing 'in public' is that on principle somebody could read what you wrote, that the internet never forgets, and that you have to hold yourself accountable to what you wrote. Have to endure reading what you wrote when you were a different being.
The joy of my early web projects was also their subversive, semi-secret, and pseudonymous nature. Online spaces were wild places, blank sheets of paper, laid before me to hone my ideas.
There is another motivation for writing online, and this is as unrelated as possible from the philosophical approach: I enjoy crafting technical arguments, documentation of technical projects, 'science writing' because I want to force myself to turn my thinking into a consistent linear thread. I want to challenge my own ideas, find the loop holes in my own arguments. I know that my blog articles may be either boring or opaque or both unless the reader has explicitly searched for content like that. But actually the latter audience is who I am perhaps writing for: I have found so much useful tech / science stuff online, for free and in sublime quality, for my professional work, my own education, my pleasure of reading - and I do not want to remain on the receiving end of this communication only.
My second motivation is tied to a minimum level of 'feedback' - page views by fellow geeks - only seems to work for my articles written on
our German blog: We only blog about two times a month now, but despite the smaller theoretical audience of German speaking readers the other blog has much more views, and views are still increasing. My English blog has fallen in oblivion again after I blog only twice a month and/or after I focussed more and more on energy, heat pumps, and down-to-earth engineering and physics of everyday life.
These are my personal recent top articles in the Physics / History of Science category so far:
As for Engineering / providing how-to's and explanations for DIYers
, I like those:
And this is where Physics and Engineering meet, in a way I truly enjoy:
When I blogged about quantum theory, basic and un-original as my articles might have been, my blog was 'viral' in comparison to that.
But ironically, a silent blog brings me closer to my other goal: Using the silent online space to write just for me, holding myself as accountable as possible though. Last year I had overhauled this / these website(s) here, and it turned more into a blog. Now I finally know what the purpose of having effectively two blog(-like) sites are:
Here, I give myself permission for introspection and self-centered updates. I don't share subversiv.at links anywhere on social media. If somebody wants to reads this, he or she really has to be determined and go to the 20th page of Google search results. There is no interaction. Of course this is also a consequence of my minimal web programming, but feedback can be blessing and curse. You (or maybe only: I) tend to write more about what 'people have liked before', or at least you feel a little bit guilty if you expose your loyal readers to something unusual - which turns each new post into a challenge, one you'd like to dodge sometimes. My writing self is quite 'authentic' here, in modern parlance.
But I don't want to appear fake on my real blog, the one that has much more content that this page, much more carefully crafted, and I don't want my blog to die. My solution has been - since a few months, I am only post-rationalizing now - to stay away from the autobiographical, from opinions, from philosophical, from big ideas ... and to focus on hard things. The stuff I do really know. I think The Internet would be a better place, if people would only post or comment if they 1) had through education on the subject, 2) practical experience with it, and 3) skin in the game - being personally exposed to risks and consequences arising from putting their opinions into practice. (In reverse order.)
So on my blog I just try to be useful (hopefully) to some tech and science enthusiasts, and perhaps a bit entertaining. If I will ever find a more useful 'spin' to what I have written here now, I might actually turn it into a blog article, like: What I learned from having two different websites. Why I stay away from opinion on the web. What I learned from tech / science blogging.
But for now this posting here will just remain some open-ended collection, snippets of my stream of consciousness, and I am copying these lines to a new 'post' at this silent website here and deleting the draft for a blog post.
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.
I renamed my blog elkement.blog last November:
Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything
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.
... an odd combination probably.
But I have a penchant for
For me IT security, physics, and engineering are all connected naturally, and
not only through my biography.
The communication between devices making up the internet of things need to be
secured. Publicy Key Infrastructures may provide X.509 certificates needed to do
Physics provides one the one hand the underpinning of engineering, on the
other hand mathematical methods used in physics can be applied to all kinds of
complex systems. There is some truth to this satirical explanation of the
relation between Feynman diagrams, certificate validation, and hydraulic designs..
But philosophical musings aside, on a daily basis I simply like to play with
technology: Exploring how applications and systems use digital certificates and
how they can or can't be 'hacked'. How to build ('hack') a technical solution
using off-the-shelf components? How to develop a simulations tool from so-called
simple 'Office software'?
Explaining science and technology is my passion and my mission - as a physicist, engineer and
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.
this is were fundamentals (entropy and the arrow of time) meet hands-on engineering (heat pumps).
And I am pondering on:
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
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.
Professional Profile |
punktwissen website |
My Blog |
punktwissen Blog (DE)
These comments on ancient German newsletters (or: newsletter necro) are part
of The Website Resurrection Project.
Although the Element is now also blogging using
state-of-the-art blogging software, the Red Pages are still maintained. This is
very Zen: Pseudo-blogging without a chance of receiving any feedback.
The original newsletters are more than 8 years old, and it is hard to
understand what in hell was on my mind when I had written those.
In case of Newsletter No. 3 it is a bit easier as the core story is a
narrative related to a technical glitch that happened in exactly this way in the
In 2004 we had just overcome the era of the internet being
SKAWEE-REWEERT but The Element still used an ISDN line as a backup for its
ADSL connection. Which was a blessing.
The Element was very ambitious and operated its own Microsoft Small Business
Server 2003 in 2004, that is: an Active Directory Domain Controller and a
Microsoft Exchange mail server on the same box. The box was located in a very
secure closet in the "data center"- a cupboard in the toilet.
This server downloaded e-mails every 15 minutes from the hoster's mail server
via POP3 via ADSL and the download was limited to 2.5 GB per month.
subversive entity sent an 18.5 MB invitation the Element. This took a while
- more than 120 seconds. Now the hoster's mail server did not exactly follow the
specifications (Internet RFCs) for POP3: Downloading was considered idle time
and after 120 seconds idle time the connection was terminated. Recommended as
per specs: 30 minutes.
The server has been configured for deleting e-mails after successful
download. Since the download was never successful this e-mail had never been
deleted. But every 15 minutes it tried to download again and failed after 120
Why didn't the Element discover that before the download limit was exceeded?
Because it was on vacation but wanted to have an option to access its own server
via Outlook Web Access from the internet. No kidding. Warning e-mails by the
ADSL provider were sent only a few days later. But the elementary internet
traffic was back to the dialup ISDN era for the rest of the month.
1) Internet Apocalypso (I am
borrowing from Christopher Locke) and
2) an text book example on the
fragility of non-robust systems (I am
borrowing from Ralph Langner)
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 -
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.
A netizen is an inhabitant of the internet. Everybody knows that today. Back
in the golden times of the internet a netizen had to be an expert. A navigator
through a new world, a world that existed only for the technologically adept. It
comprised dark corners and caves.
Dark corners do still exist today. If you
want to explain to paranoid technophobes why the internet is cute and harmless
despite cybercrime you ought to say: It is just like the real world.
So everybody is a netizen. If the Know Everything
Oracle (Google) does not find any content related to you - you might be something special.
You might be a