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2020: Project Review

To view other 2020 review posts, visit the main post here.


Outside of work, I had several projects this year. Frankly, I didn’t have a lot of success. Though I am glad to have been able to work from home easily this year, the workload and stress were extreme this year, even in an industry that is already know for high rates of burnout, suicide, and addiction (that industry being cybersecurity). This will be my most personal post in the series, with the rest being more focused on external reviews, and more personal examens not going on the blog at all.

Here’s how different efforts turned out (or didn’t):

Resilient

Resilient (here) is a project through my consulting LLC (Open & Secure) to share helpful & meaningful insights into various realms of resilience: “security, society, sustainability, and self.”

I originally thought the main output would be podcast episodes, as several people had asked me to do a podcast. I found it difficult to get through writing, recording, re-recording, editing, etc. in a timely manner. While I am very comfortable with casual conversations, presenting to key or large audiences, and writing effectively…it feels like podcasting combines these communication styles in a way that undermines what makes me comfortable with any of those styles. In conversations and presentations, you can read your audience, adjust, and respond. You also have the grace of it being a “work in progress” and conversational. Yet podcasts go into the world more like the written word: something recorded as-is, lacking the interaction with the audience. Thus, it feels like it needs the more careful planning and precision of the written word…but is still expected to have the conversational tone. Thus, the amount of work it went into making even (admittedly amateur) episodes.

So, I wrote more instead of recording more. I shared about some security tools. I wrote a few posts about COVID very early in the pandemic. I reviewed a couple relevant books. I started a Resilient book collection. I wrote about watersheds and the importance of thinking about our local ecologies. I made my Roam Research graph (notes) from OWASP and CSO50 conferences available to my full subscribers (all of which are comped, except for one person who was comped and made a subscription anyway!). Even with the conferences, I was able to attend far fewer sessions than I would like, due to work overtaking even my vacation time.

I host Resilient on a newsletter platform (one which allows for using RSS for the feed instead of email, and also supports the podcast episodes and forum/conversation posts). Like podcasts before, I’m concerned about the state of newsletters, with there being too many of low quality, too many not worth people’s time, and the impact on the medium as a whole.

I’m not looking to make big money on the Resilient. The primary reason it has a subscriber model at all was to keep some of the content opt-in and not available to the whole web (see concerns around podcasting, above). When I set the rate for subscription, I chose the cheapest option the provider allowed, and then added a discount on top of that via the payment provider. I offer a comped subscription to people that I know who sign up, and to anyone else who asks.

But I do think about the audience, the reach, and how often and how well I am delivering value to the audience. I’ve not posted enough this year, and not done as much analysis as I would have liked. I keep wondering if I should kill the project and move the items into my general blog.

Yet I also know there are folks specifically wanting or asking for the kind of material that Resilient provides, and it is the common theme of expertise in my life. So for now, it stays, and I look for ways to make it better as hopefully the stress and workload gets better in 2021. I welcome your feedback!

Northern Fires

I started the Northern Fires (Guernica) reading and writing project in May. One of the most interesting bands to me these days, Silent Planet, has a lyricist who includes many intelligent references in each song, and includes those in the liner notes (and YouTube video notes) for each song.

The idea of the project is to do a read through and discussion of those works for one of the songs: Northern Fires (Guernica). I haven’t found people that are interested in joining up, yet, so I’ve spent less time on this than on other reading.

It’s a shame I deprioritized this, because there are many lessons from the Spanish Civil War that are incredibly relevant to the world, today. I’m going to pick up reading and writing for this project more in 2021, even if others aren’t reading the works along with me. Maybe some will glean points from my commentary or be inspired to read along with some of the works.

40 for 40

I turned 40 this year, and expected to have a nice vacation and get a start on a project where I would dole out 40 bits of experience. The vacation never happened (for obvious reasons) and between that, stress, and concerns about hubris, I abandoned this project. Much of what I’d started collecting will probably make it into the next project…

DearKiddos

DearKiddos was something I started doing to process my lessons-learned and offer them to the next generation. For nieces, nephews, friends of kids, and youth at church.

This one was well-received by several folks, and I plan to periodically do more. I have many topics queued up to write, and will plan to get more out over the next year. I am purposefully avoiding writing too many too fast, so that I don’t get burnt out on the project.

Inktober

I had some vacation in October this year and thought it would be a good way to join this tradition. I made a few entries and catch-up entries which were frankly pretty bad…but I knew that going in. Though I wasn’t consistent and didn’t finish, I learned a lot (both about the drawing and the photography!) through the process. I’m not sure if I’ll do it in 2021, or not.

Home Office

My spouse and I used to have one room that was storage and a shared office. Since both of us are working from home full time now (and for a while still to come, it looks like), we converted that room to her office and the guest room to my office.

I’m happy with how my office is turning out, making it serene and suitable for focus. I installed two shelving units (including this one). I have one more item I’m still trying to get from Ikea, and I hope to get a reading chair when it seems safe to go shopping for those, again, but otherwise it’s been very good. I have a south-facing view, which means I get some nice views of the outdoors and sunlight.

Wet & Wild

(OK, this title is a joke. I wasn’t sure what to call this.)

I’ve been looking for acreage within an hour and a half our our home. Something with at least a few acres (hopefully 10 or more) and some water (like a pond, or lake or creek access). I’d like to have a place to camp and eventually build a cabin/cottage to our unique specifications. I want to preserve some of our ecology and plant some trees, maybe even re-wilding a space, depending on it’s current state. I also see it as an investment when a lot of investments are problematic, these days.

I’ve found a few things that sorta work with our criteria (including one I need to investigate further), but nothing yet that has made us move on a purchase. I’ll keep my eyes open still in 2021, and am open to leads!

I’ve also been getting prepped to go camping more, which I miss quite a bit. I got my Biolite stoves tuned back up, am preparing to remediate my dad’s old cooler (it has a crack in the internal lid), replaced our old tent, and got a cold weather sleeping bag.


What projects have you had this year? How did they go?

#DearKiddos: A Vaccine for Cruelty

#DearKiddos:

I was reading this article today from the Economist: “No Vaccine for Cruelty” (image).

It’s about how people in political power have done nastier and nastier things during the COVID-19 crisis, and have largely gotten away with it.

The article says “no vaccine”, but I want to try to give you one, anyway. A vaccine is a medicine you take to make it so that you can get through it when a nasty infection comes your way. So let’s give this a shot.

How authoritarians rise

First, by “authoritarian”, I mean someone who takes away power and choice from the people, and keeps that power with threats and violence. They’re sometimes called strongmen (and yes, they’re almost always men) or tyrants.

There’s a pretty well-know path to getting this kind of power. It goes basically like this:

  1. Make everyone afraid
  2. Blame someone for it
  3. Claim to be the savior

Let’s break that down a bit, and talk about what we can do ahead of time to prevent getting sick from it (that’s the vaccine!).

Make everyone afraid

There are several ways the strongman can go about this. Sometimes, they will simply put lots of attention on something that’s genuinely scary (example: financial problems, pandemics). Other times, they will create chaos by encouraging people to fight amongst themselves (example: encouraging racism). Other times, they will create boogeymen (example: conspiracy theories and communist scares). Other times, they will allow things to get bad via neglect (example: climate change). Often, they do more than one of the above!

As you can see from these short examples, the fear could be real, made up, or even caused by the strongman. The main point is that they want to increase fear, because fear makes us want to react. When we’re afraid, we want someone to do something, and they want to be the one to offer that something (see phase 3).

So what’s our vaccine for this stage of the cruelty?

First, we can practice gratitude, thankfulness, and hope. One simple way to do this is to have a time each day where you think about what you are thankful for. You can even write this in a gratitude journal, or share what you are thankful for with friends, family, or church. For hope, we can build hope by being hope. When we work with others to give and receive help, we build hope for both us and them. We can feel the difference, imagine a better future, and trust in one another. Can you think of other ways you might practice gratitude, thankfulness, or hope?

Another way we can protect ourselves is to be thoughtful when people are trying to scare us. This is extra true in news and social media. Unfortunately, because most of the places we get our news are driven by advertising (sorry, that’s the topic for another post), they are likely to tell stories in a way that scare us, because it gets us to click, tune in, share, etc. So, our news does a lot of the work for the strongman. But we should still ask ourselves questions like:

  • Who is the original source of this information?
  • Is this mostly facts or opinions?
  • Is this showing things in only the worst way?
  • Who are they trying to scare?
  • Does the story feel inspirational or does it feel demotivational? (Meaning: does it make us want to solve a problem together, or does it make us feel alone and angry?)

There will always be some truly bad news, for sure. But with these types of questions, you can start getting your news from better sources, and you will more likely know when someone is trying to make up, exaggerate, or misuse bad news.

Blame someone for it

The next step of the strongman is to convince you that a person (example: their political opponent) or a group of people (example: a race, class, region, or religion) are to blame. Specifically, that they are to blame for the things that the strongman has been trying to scare you about. You might hear this called “scapegoating” or setting up a “fall guy”.

This is a powerful trick, because it gives scared people something to agree on, to join together in blaming. It’s a sad way to create fake togetherness. It’s “belonging” through a common enemy. (This is another reason that working together on hope was so important: it creates real unity instead of false unity.)

Now, it’s true that there may be someone or some people who are partially or wholly responsible for problems that you are experiencing (and it might even be the strongman himself, as we saw in phase 1!). But the strongman is not trying to truly diagnose the problem and work together on a solution. He’s trying to whip up anger, to create a mob, to create vigilantes, and/or to bring in his own forces.

So what’s our vaccine for this stage of the cruelty?

One thing we can do ahead of time is to have met or know people that are different from us. We can live in neighborhoods where there are people with different backgrounds. We can go to schools where everybody doesn’t look like us. We can make friends with people with different experiences than us. When we travel, we can learn from and be respectful to the people that are local to the area. We can be part of groups and activities where we meet people who think or act differently. Here’s why: when you know people that are in the accused group, it’s hard for someone to convince you that they are the enemy, because you’ll be able to see that the lies and stereotypes aren’t true.

Also, along the lines of hope from phase 1, we can build teams, support, and organizations that serve people and solve problems. When we’re used to doing work to make the world a better place, we know that problem-solving is rarely an us-vs-them situation, it’s usually something where diversity actually helps in finding new solutions!

What other ideas do you have for protecting us against the hateful blame game?

Claim to be the savior

At this point, the cycle of blame and fear has ramped up, because the blaming has created more division and fueled fear further. Now the strongman makes the claim to be the savior. They tell you “look, I know what the problems are…I warned you about them” (back when they made people afraid) and “I know how to solve it…I told you who is at fault” (back when they blamed people). See what’s happening here?

They will tell you they are the only one smart enough to see it all, and strong enough to do something about it. They will often use the language of “law & order”, meaning that they will wield power, control, and even violence over the groups that they setup to take the blame.

So what’s our vaccine for this stage of the cruelty?

If you’ve been following along, you’re probably noticing that the strongman isn’t really following tradition & law, and is actually creating disorder or at least adding to it. You’re right, the claim to “law & order” is a lie, but that doesn’t really register for the people who are already afraid and bought into the blame game. That means the best way to defend against phase 3 here is to defend against phase 1 and phase 2, as we discussed above.

That said, if you’re a person of faith (or even if you’re not!), you should be wary of anyone who claims they’re the only solution to your problems. It’s healthy to be a bit cautious (“skeptical”) of power, and one of the things we can do ahead of time is to build our organizations and institutions in ways where power is shared among more people.

Conclusion

Authoritarians are seizing more power around the world right now, and it will likely happen again in your lifetime. But when you and your community practice some of these defenses, you can help limit the times it will happen, and lessen the damage that comes when it does.

#DearKiddos: Careers

#DearKiddos:

I had someone ask me today how I advanced in my career so quickly.

I’d like to share those answers with you, but first, some points up front:

  • “advancing” is not the most important standard of your career: it’s more important to look at the impacts (both good and bad) that are the results of our work
  • maybe we should say “vocation” instead of “career” because you might choose to do non-traditional work or do important-but-unpaid services (maybe that’s another topic!)
  • I was pretty lucky to grow up in a situation where I didn’t have major health or safety troubles, never lacked access to educational resources, and wasn’t treated like an outsider: we call this “privilege” and it means it was easier for me to get going in my career (and other things were easier as well!)

With that said, here’s an edit of what I shared with that person, today:

  • There are many specialists who are very good at one thing, and many generalists who are ok at a lot of things, but one of the best ways to make a big and unique impact is to combine two different types of things that you are good at. This is where most inventions, breakthroughs, and changes come. It’s also where what’s special about you will shine.
  • In order to learn about what those special things could be for you: stay curious. Learn a little bit about a variety of things, explore the world in the ways that you can, experiment & practice in areas where you are excited to try more, and listen (better: ask!) for specifics when people compliment you.
  • When things get hard: welcome the challenge. Unless it’s actively harmful for you or others, challenges are where you will grow the fastest: in understanding, in confidence, and in skill. It’s how to build up experience more quickly. But you only grow if you dive into the challenge instead of avoiding it!

Hopefully one or more of these tips will be helpful for you.

#DearKiddos: Letting People Vote

#DearKiddos:

In a democracy (of almost any kind), one of the most basic ideas is that people have a voice in what happens to themselves and the group. (By “voice”, I mean they have some say in what happens.) This does not always work out perfectly, but it is much better than not having a voice at all!

One of the common ways that people have a voice in democracy is by voting. There are many ways of voting, and some ways are better than others (maybe we can talk about that some other time!). But one thing that is true across different types of voting is that people are allowed to vote, as an important way to use that voice.

Because of that, we should be aware when people try to limit people’s ability to vote. If somebody is trying to make it so that others don’t have a voice, it is a warning sign. We usually call it “voter suppression”, meaning that votes are stopped or “suppressed”. People might try to stop others from voting for a variety of reasons:

  • they think their own voice is more important than others
  • they think that democracy is not the right way to run things for the group
  • they want to hold unfair power over others
  • they are afraid things will change from what they are used to

Often, it could be more than one of those reasons!

There are many ways that people try to stop others from voting, such as:

  • making it cost money to vote: either directly (like a tax/fee) or indirectly (like needing to spend money or miss work to travel to vote or to send in your vote)
  • making it confusing to vote: with complex voting systems, disinformation (meaning: spreading lies about voting or about the details & options for the vote), or by changing the rules
  • limiting voting options: by places available, the times allowed to vote, and what even is allowed to show up on the voting list
  • limiting who can vote: by age, race, gender, or some other status in the voting group

Sometimes, people even make it so that the voting system itself helps some groups or areas more than others (examples of this are “electoral colleges”, “gerrymandering”, and “two-party systems”, in case you want to look those up).

So, if a vote is coming up, and you see a group trying to limit who can vote, consider why they are doing that. What do they have to gain? Why don’t they respect the voices of the people they don’t want to vote? Can I help the people that won’t get to vote? What can we change to make it so more people are allowed to have a voice?

Introducing: #DearKiddos

These posts are written first for nieces, nephews, youth at church, and the children of dear friends.

The posts may not be helpful to you today, but maybe they will be someday. Perhaps many of these will be their most meaningful when you aren’t even a “kiddo” anymore. But, I hope you will retain some youthful spirit throughout your life, so don’t let “kiddo” scare you away from reading.

As you read these posts, you may disagree with me, and I hope you sometimes will! What’s important is that you think about the topic deeply, don’t fall for easy answers, and consider what it means to live a good life.

If you want to respond to any of these, I’d encourage you to write your own response and link back to what you are responding to. If you don’t know how to do that, or don’t want to, you can also email me, and I will respond. My email address is my first name and last initial at “hey.com”

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