Monthly, 02/24

TL;DR: Got back into homelabbing more seriously, which made me irrationally hate capitalism. A few days off, public speaking. And a lot of headaches, literal ones.

I think the biggest change in February was that I got back into having my own homelab, even though it’s not really an actual lab at the moment, and more an unnecessarily complex production setup for allowing my partner to watch documentaries - which is something they like to do in order to fall asleep quicker.

My original plan was to hook up and old-ish external hard drive to a semi-new-ish USFF HP-box I had laying around. That would have worked perfectly well for the job it was supposed to do. However, and in many ways unfortunately, while I was thinking about the setup, my inner megalomaniac got hold of me and the whole thing became an actual project that massively increased in scope, size and .. yeah, definitely not in monetary cost. Not at all, in the slightest.

Ultimately, I ended up completely overblowing the setup, treating it more like an actual, professional IT project rather than the “It could be done with a Raspberry Pi. And not even the latest one.” it actually was. I thought about things like backups and redundancy, about securing remote access and authentication concepts.

The more the project progressed and the more I worked on it, the more I became convinced that I pretty much (ab)used the wishes of my partner to justify my own to myself. The original “way of having a local library of documentaries at hand” is now less than a fraction of the entire setup. Oh, well.

I plan on eventually drafting a detailed post about what I came up with and built; for now all I’m going to say is that hard disks are unreasonably expensive. But my younger self would be excited if they knew that at some point in their life they would have around 100TB of raw storage at their disposal.

Professionally, this was a wild one. I was volunteered for a talk at a not-really-technical event, with an allotted slot that was significantly shorter than I’m used to - 20 minutes, which is a difficult one for me. It’s way too long for a Lightning Talk, yet too short for a proper presentation diving deeply into a topic.

I did manage to come up with a reasonably interesting (for the attendees) topic, and managed to crank out the slides in an afternoon at work. I usually tend to go through all of my slides a few times and make some notes on what I’m going to say. Didn’t manage to do that this time, which meant that I ended up winging the presentation. Funnily enough that worked, assuming that the feedback I got from people afterwards was honest. Still, I hope I can avoid public speaking for the foreseeable future.

Other than that, there was some unexpected stuff. Administrative changes at work - “significant restructuring”, as my boss would put it - have taken me out of my current, comfortable and cushy position, and yeet-ed me into the deep end of new challenges and responsibilities. Since everything is fresh and still “in motion”, I don’t want to talk about it in detail.

Luckily, I had scheduled a week off for after my presentation - even though I’m technically already talking about the content of the monthly review for March, it’s been a mixed bag of a week. Having some time off is nice, but since it was, is and will be filled with a new round of health issues and seeing doctors, it’s nonetheless kind of “meh”. Still, the days off helped with getting through the last few books. For February, I read through the following set of books:

  • “A Murder in Marienburg”, “A Massacre in Marienburg” by David Bishop - it’s Warhammer Fantasy from before 2010, which means you are getting places like a prison island called “Rijker’s Island” and characters such as a lazy guy called “Faulheit” (which is “laziness” in German). Is it trashy? Absolutely? Is it thrilling and keeping you on the edge? Only if you are absolutely unaware of the most basic storytelling techniques and Fantasy tropes. Did I enjoy both of them? Yep, that’s my kind of stuff.

  • “The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change” by Camille Fournier; I’m skeptical of “practical guides” for things that involve management - mainly because management (ideally) involves leadership and politics, both things that are notoriously hard to plan or “being guided through”.

    Surprisingly enough, the fact that the practicality of the book was not a lie was both the curse and blessing of this book. Because on one hand, the recommendations the author gave did make sense (emphasizing the importance of regular 1-on-1 conversations with your reports), yet they also ended up being a limiting factor. There’s only so much concrete advice you can give to someone before it becomes repetitive, and that’s exactly what happened during the course of the book.

    It might have been my reading of the book, or me misinterpreting what the author was trying to say, but after about a third of the book it really felt like I was starting to read what I had already read all over again. Which doesn’t necessarily make it a bad book, but I didn’t experience it as the “go to”-book it’s been occasionally referred to as on the Internet.

  • “Spies and Lies” by Alex Joske; when talking to an Australian friend about the book, I initiated the conversation by telling them how fucked their country is - man, politicians really do love their corruption.

    Computer network operations perpetrated by Chinese, or Chinese-aligned, threat actors are a topic that has been researched relatively well, ever since the days of Mandiant first talking about APT1. Other activities perpetrated by Chinese threat actors, be it MSS, PLA or MPS, like espionage or influence operations are much less covered outside intelligence and academic circles.

    While it’s not encyclopedic, “Spies and Lies” is an excellent introduction to the subject matter, while being an engaging read and providing plenty of pointers for further research.

  • “Kilo” by Toby Muse; While reading through the book I regularly felt like I had read this book already, a few years ago. Not the most in-depth, “scientific” explanation of the drug trade. But very good at “making it personal”. Entertaining read.

  • “Autistisch? Kann ich fliessend!” by Stephanie Meer-Walter; while I’m not one to talk about it at length, I’m not hiding the fact that I’m what the cool kids call “neurodivergent”. Learning that fact has helped me a lot with some things, accepting it has come with its own set of challenges. Which is why I try to read about it on occasion. Which is how I decided on picking the book when I saw it at the bookstore.

    I can highly recommend it, both if you are affected by some sort of neurodivergence, but also if you know someone who is, and want to understand them better. I have yet to read a book that is better at explaining what neurodivergence is and feels like in laymans terms.

  • “Trügerische Ruhe” by Nicolas Stockhammer; The first objectively written and as factual as possible account of the terrorist attack in Vienna, in November of 2020. Pretty good analysis, especially with regards to the environment the perpetrator lived in before the attack, and the significant failures of the security services which were (in my very, very personal opinion) one of the main causes that actually allowed the attack to happen in the first place.

    There was only one point the author made that I strongly disagreed with - the claim that in the near future, terrorists will use “AI” for planning their attacks. This statement is dropped in a paragraph, without any context or reasoning why this is allegedly going to be the case. Even if I’m skeptical of this in general, I’m (almost) always open to changing my point of view, even if my beliefs happen to be strongly held. But stating it without any context, explanation or sources that would offer support to the theory simply doesn’t cut it.

  • “A State in Denial: British Collaboration with Loyalist Paramilitaries” by Margaret Urwin; the collaboration of British authorities with Loyalist paramilitaries during the more recent history of the conflict of Northern Ireland is a topic that’s only been thoroughly looked at in the past decade.

    If you look at various publications before it’s a topic that’s acknowledged in some way, but not exactly spoken about. All parties involved treated it as a dirty secret, especially the British government - which is understandable, given the significance of collusion and the backlash they already had to deal with surrounding the case of Stakeknife. Yet slowly, steadily (and regularly hindered) there’s work being done on it that’s been made available to the general public. Not in the sense of declassified information, but in the sense of compiled material that’s actually reasonable accessible for your average person interested in this part of the Troubles.

    This book is an good introduction. The calm, matter of fact way the author details the events and connections, the collusion happening on all levels - from the RUC and the UDR collaborating with local UDA-personnel to the higher echelons of the NI administration having direct communication links with leading members of the UDA (as well as the UFF and other Loyalist paramilitary organisations) - and what this meant for Northern Ireland as a whole as well as the victims of sectarian violence perpetrated by Loyalist is both fascinating and incredibly depressing. The book is quite cheap as well, depending where you look at you can score it for as little as ten bucks.

My music collection grew a surprising lot this past month, which is definitely not at all causally related to the sudden abundance of storage space at hand. So much so that I can’t really pick three favorites. Oh well. Next month then!