Monthly, 05/23

I’m sorry about that one, I’m quite late. I have had the post finished since the beginning of this month, but for some reason haven’t gotten around to posting it yet. Last month was a pretty even split - 50% chaos and begging for the sweet release of the first day of my vacation and 50% peace and quiet of said vacation.

My plan for the vacation was to spend a lot of time in various coffeehouses in order to not be at home while still being able to sit around and drink coffee. That did work out, it was pretty awesome, and we are not going to talk about the amount of money I spent on coffee this month.

I did not manage to avoid thinking about work entirely, unfortunately. Especially the first 1.5 weeks were challenging, my thoughts regularly drifted towards work, and I had to (sometimes more, sometimes less) gently direct my thoughts back toward relaxation.

It got significantly better after two weeks, and for the first time in a, as I realised, unexpectedly long time I was truly relaxing and refilling my batteries. Ironically this relaxation led to me thinking about work more again, albeit in a more “positive” sense this time.

I am very much aware of the fact that I have a tendency towards putting too much on my plate work-wise, and an unhealthy willingness to “save the day”, even when it’s about something that’s neither within my (metaphorical) department nor within my capacity. And I’m also aware that my professional life is an ongoing circle of working - working too much - starting to burn out - hitting the brakes, which I should probably attempt to break up with more effort and dedication. But that’s a topic for an entire post on its own.

As for what else I was up to:

  • I was browsing the local variant of Craigslist for something else when I stumbled upon an ad for a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 for 50 bucks. It was that cheap because it was apparently “locked”. Judging from the screenshots I figured that the owner simply did not know the password for the user-account, rather than the device having a UEFI-password set or anything like that.

    So I risked 50 bucks and bought the device, and luckily I turned out to be right. After formatting the disk and re-installing Windows it was working just fine. Which was great news, because I really didn’t want to bring my laptop to all the coffee shops I wanted to spend a lot of time in during my vacation, but still wanted to be able to read articles, write down notes or do some light project work.

    The keyboard is surprisingly good, the battery life as well; attaching and detaching the keyboard and using the device as a tablet works flawlessly as well. 50 bucks invested well. 👌

  • As for the last time I attempted it, I didn’t manage to get a round of tabletop in with a good friend of mine. But I am hopeful that I might end up getting in a round of tabletop with my neighbor, who is apparently into that kind of stuff as well. So that’s a nice thing.

    Nonetheless I did a lot of painting in May. An entire set of terrain and 35 miniatures finished, 16 miniatures in varying states of completion.

    Aside from the amount painting I did, I noticed something: Progress. My brush control has improved significantly, as has my “understanding” of painting. It’s hard to put into words, but some ideas I have about how to paint a specific part of a miniature feel “right” or “wrong” intuitively. And specific techniques, or areas on models that I’d consider hard, feel less intimidating now.

    For example I haven’t managed anything close to a smooth blend of highlights and shadows on a red coat. But I have managed something blend-ish, and I’m not as afraid as I was before to simply try things out, even if it’s likely that I’ll fail. Plus: The Grimdark Iron Warriors I speedpaint’ed (completed an entire Kill Team in two afternoons) look pretty rad for the amount of effort I put into them.

  • I started working on, and finished a preliminary version of, a list of recommended books for people who are interested in learning more about Russia in the context of information security and geopolitics. Throughout the last couple of years I have read dozens of books on the history, political developments, conflict involvements (and much more) of Russia.

    While interest was a driving factor in the decision to read that many books, part of it was that while there was a ton of new literature coming out, especially after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, there wasn’t really a good lost (or any list, really) that highlighted the good books that could be recommended for people diving into the subject.

    This assorted list of books is my attempt to change that. It’s not yet in a state where I would feel comfortable with publishing it, but I hope to be getting it out by the end of the summer.

Speaking of books, it felt really good to be able to have the time and mental capacity to read a lot again. Throughout May I completed:

  • “Russlands neuer Spionagekrieg” by Mark Urban (which translates to “Russia’s new war of espionage”); I remember buying this when it originally came out, but for whatever reason I ended up leaving it unread until now. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really provide any new information about the poisoning of Sergei and Julia Skripal in 2018. But on a more personal level it was a really informative read.

    Before the poisoning happened, the author interviewed Skripal for another book project, that ultimately never manifested, which allowed him to learn a great deal about the life of Sergei Skripal, his work for Soviet and later Russian intelligence and all the events up to and after the assassination attempt on his life. I’d not necessarily recommend it as a primer on the poisoning incident, but it’s a great book for getting “a feel” for the whole affair, and about how working for an Eastern intelligence agency was, and to some extent, is.

  • “Russia: Myths and Realities” by Rodric Braithwaite; The author is a former ambassador to Moscow (both when it was the capital of the Soviet Union and when it was the first city of the Russian Federation), which usually isn’t a good sign. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Braithwaite is also a historian and an experienced diplomat (rather than what I like to call a “one-off-ambassador”), and those qualifications definitely show in the writing.

    As much time and effort I have dedicated to understanding modern Russian society and politics, I have to admit that I am still lacking on historical knowledge of the country that would eventually become the Russian Federation. I subconsciously avoided the topic because I was afraid of being bored to death by typical stories about this prince murdering that nephew, this king marrying that daughter of his sister and all these shenanigans. In hindsight I’m very glad that I picked this book as a first step into Russian history. Engaging read, plenty of recommended reading in the appendix .. also Russian history is fucked up.

  • “Der alte weiße Mann” by Norbert Bolz (roughly translated to “The old white man”, which lacks the underlying tone it has in German) is a bit of an outlier for my usual reading choices. I tend to avoid topics surrounding gender and diversity, both talking about them and reading books on them.

    The reason for that being that I feel like I need a university education in social science in order to be able to understand the current literature, that I don’t care about the topic any further than “just stop being assholes to people who are different than you ffs” and that I really don’t want to discuss since it inevitably turns into a shitshow because a lot of people tend to deliberately misunderstand things - and no, this is not an attempt at dog whistle politics, fascists and other bigots can go fuck themselves.

    Despite all of this, the title of this book was particularly provocative and somewhat intriguing, so I bought it. It turned out to be a thought-provoking, but at times difficult book. On one hand the author clearly had some interesting ideas and theories about identity politics and society in general, but then - on the other hand - he throws out a not-even-borderline-but-straight-up hateful comment every few pages. Which was especially weird given the political stances the author took in the past, which were everything but right-wing.

  • “The Russian Understanding of War: Blurring the LInes between War and Peace” by Oscar Jonsson was first and foremost quite expensive, roughly 40 bucks for less than 200 pages. On top of that it was a hard read for me. I think I have not had to focus that hard on reading and understanding what was written in a book and what the author was trying to convey in a long while.

    Nonetheless it was, at the same time, an amazing and excellent resource. It’s the only (mostly) complete overview of Russian military thinking outside of academic literature, and if it were up to me, I’d throw it at most people doing threat intelligence with a focus on Russia, right at the beginning of their career. That way I could probably avoid hearing “tHe GeRaSiMoV dOcTrInE” all the time.

  • “The Book of Kubernetes” by Alan Hohn was a book that I had to convince myself of. I don’t hide my distaste for the enthusiasm with which people throw containers and especially the related orchestration frameworks at problems without sparing a thought if said throwing makes actual sense.

    But that opinion of mine is based on a general understanding of the technologies that are the foundation for containers and some practical experience with containers in Kubernetes, not an in-depth knowledge. Which is exactly what led me to buying this book. I wanted my opinion on the subject to be a more educated one while, at the same time, trying to find out if there was some amazing thing that I was missing out on or a core concept I was misunderstanding.

    Without turning this into an essay on modern operations: No, I wasn’t and no, I haven’t. I’m now convinced more than ever that for most scenarios (yes, even the obvious exception that you are thinking about now), Kubernetes is a bad idea. It’s a convoluted mess whose downsides are outweighed by the upsides only in a handful of carefully selected scenarios.

    Oh, and on the book: It’s as good as you’d come to expect from anything that’s released by No Starch Press. It’s well written, explanations strike the balance between readability and deep-dive, and it encourages you to experiment and tinker on your own.

  • “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott, in hindsight, was a funny experience. The first half of the book, which goes into detail of what she understands as “Radical Candor” and how it works both in theory and in practice, was an interesting read - in the sense that I was able to acknowledge how much effort she put into putting together a system for having meaningful relationships at work, and how it had helped her throughout her career.

    However it didn’t really do anything for me. A lot of the time, at the end of a chapter, my reaction was “I mean, yeah, that’s cool and all that, but it’s kind of weird that it seems to be necessary to tell people to not be assholes” (not to give any false impressions, this is entirely on me). The second half of the book was the exact opposite, containing a ton of concrete recommendations and ideas for improving workplaces, both from the perspective of a leadership role, but also from the perspective of interacting with your colleagues.

    And despite not aiming to be that, at times it felt like “The Little Red Book” for aspiring or newly minted teamleads (.. well, without all the parts about murdering the bourgeoisie) that want to be good at their jobs and make their workplace a space where people want to work and are able to thrive. Which is an “aura” a lot of companies are, unfortunately, sorely missing.

I’m currently going through “Russian Cyber Operations: Coding the Boundaries of Conflict” by Scott Jasper (which clearly explains why the West has struggled to meaningfully respond to Russian computer network operations) and “Cyber Persistence Theory” by Michael Fischerkeller, Emily Goldman and Richard Harknett.

The first one is pretty much finished, but since I’m missing a few dozen pages it technically doesn’t fully qualify as “I have read them in May”. As for the latter, that one is focussing very much on the political science aspects of “cyber”. And while that is an interesting aspect of it, it’s at times really, really, really dry. Not sure if I will manage to finish that.