Bewilderment: The Childhood Benefits of Being Confused

I’m no child psychologist. I’m not a doctor, school teacher, guidance counselor, or even a mother. I have no formal education in the proper development of children. My only credentials whatsoever on this topic are my own upbringing, a keen observance of the world around me, and the fact that I am a father of five. Today, some might claim that being a father does not make me qualified to share my thoughts on parenting, but that is a topic for a different day.

I watch my children go about their day-to-day lives and often the questions they ask are fascinating. The questions that people ask, no matter the age, are an excellent indication of so many things – their thoughts, their emotions, their experience, their understanding of the world. Through those inquiries and the looks in the eyes of babes as they try to work out the subtle details of life that adults take for granted. It is that internal struggle that makes all the difference.

I was recently watching a show with my daughters called “Ann with an E”, a Netflix series based on the children’s novel, “Anne of Green Gables”. I watched little Anne in the first few episodes trying to assimilate into civilized culture, learning how to interact with the children at school and what it was like to have a family. She was confused in the same way that I remember being when trying to respond to any change, and it inspired the words you are reading.

We try so hard with our modern parenting ideas to protect our children from any discomfort. We forget though, that it was through similar discomforts as children that we were able to learn and grow. The stoics taught that we must embrace challenges and recognize them for what they are – an opportunity for greatness.

Bewilderment is an important part of development.

All for now. Thanks for reading.

Podcasting: The Ultimate Pandemic Growth Tool, or How I Did it All Wrong

I have seen an uptick in new podcasts since COVID-19 forced us into our homes for an extended period. It isn’t just podcasting though – people have felt compelled to take advantage of the perceived extra free time to take up hobbies, complete housework, learn to play an instrument, perform spring cleaning, and other activities they have been putting on the back burner for years.

As some of you may know, I hosted a podcast for about two years about a very niche subject in information security. I knew very little about insider threat going into it, but I found that:

  1. The problem kept getting brought up in information security conversation, and;
  2. There weren’t any podcasts already dedicated to it.

That was good enough for me and when WannaCry started making industry professionals around the world begin running in circles and flapping their arms, that sounded like as good a time as any to record my first episode.

When I began my journey as a podcaster, I knew almost nothing about it. All I had to compare against were the awesome podcast hosts who have both entertained and enlightened me for years. I wanted to be famous like them. I even wanted to have the option to make money from my content at some point. Podcasting was going to open doors for me and allow for my career to skyrocket very quickly… or so I thought.

Reality was quite the opposite. I spent far more on podcasting than I ever made. Even within the insider threat community and after spending several hours each week on my show, most people have never heard of it.

Podcasting became another job for me. I spent so much time researching and trying to provide content that people would find meaningful that I was burnt out. While it is true that my career and family life got much busier after about two years and I decided to stop making episodes, I was probably looking for an excuse at that point. It couldn’t have been very entertaining listening to me complain about my personal frustrations with the direction that the industry was going, anyway.

It wasn’t until later that I recognized the greatest benefit of podcasting – focused self-education.

Even though my motive for increasing my knowledge of insider threat and staying as current as possible about the subject was to “build my brand”, I can’t deny how much I learned from between my preparations for that first episode to today (a year and a half after hanging up my microphone).

  • After doing plenty of research, I was able to develop a methodology for improving insider threat protections in an organization.
  • I was able to call out the big software manufacturers for sensationalizing malicious insiders (the overwhelming minority in insider threat incidents) and spreading an incorrect narrative.
  • With the help of several others, I created an Insider Threat Protection Framework that companies could use to implement insider threat security controls and reduce risk.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I met some awesome people within the cybersecurity industry.

What if there was a different motivation? What if I hadn’t cared about fame or fortune and I just spent time trying to learn about insider threat and sharing my findings with others? What if I didn’t care whether anyone listened or not?

I wouldn’t have to abide by anyone’s schedule, and I wouldn’t feel compelled to keep the show alive long after the interesting bits came and went.

If podcasting on a specific topic is approached from this mindset, it removes the hardest and most frustrating aspects. We don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last and so many podcasts (like mine) don’t come to a definitive conclusion before they “pod-fade”.

If you are going to start any of these new hobbies or activities, try doing it in a way that reduces work and stays fun. Design your projects so that they can be ended as soon as you are finished, and without any guilt or regret.

All for now.

Exploring Thermodynamics: How can we use concepts for everyday life?

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How did I get here? What made me start to look at the Laws of Thermodynamics? You can blame Charlie Munger for that.

The name Charlie Munger might not ring a bell to many of you, but it probably should. He is the silent partner of Warren Buffet, and really only speaks at the annual shareholders meetings for Berkshire Hathaway and some other companies that he partially owns. Whenever he speaks though, his correlations between business, science, mathematics, philosophy, and psychology cause people all over the world to fight for a seat in the audience. Charlie talks about how he uses mental models from nearly all disciplines and walks of life to aid him in his investment decisions. One of these models is Thermodynamics, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look it up.

The word Thermodynamics seems like it would have to do with heat, but it is more than that. It talks about how heat, energy, and work function, and also how they relate with each other. It then goes more broadly in talking about how objects and systems in the universe behave with each other and within themselves.

There are four Laws of Thermodynamics, which I will explain just a bit below. First and foremost though, I have to mention that the Laws of Thermodynamics are considered “universal”, meaning that they even apply outside of our Earthly environment. This is an important aspect and probably what inspired me to keep researching.

First Law of Thermodynamics

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that heat is a form of energy, and thermodynamic processes are therefore subject to the principle of conservation of energy. This means that heat energy cannot be created or destroyed. Think of a car’s engine. You put gas in, which contains a certain amount of energy. As it burns, that energy will turn into heat. The heat is used to make pistons move, so it is converted one more time into what scientists call work (when the car moves).

In life, we can keep this in mind when working to achieve our personal and professional goals. As we put energy and attention toward a task, no matter how small, the accomplishment of that task will build momentum and provide inspiration to seek the same accomplishment in another task.

US Navy Admiral William H McRaven speaks and writes about this idea as well, by stating that if you can change the world, you should start by making your bed. This small and easily-achievable task starts building that energy momentum for your day and allows you to continue achieving until you go to sleep.

There is also a Japanese concept called Kaizen, which means to continuously make small improvements over a long period of time. In our house, we describe this idea by asking “How do you eat an elephant?” As any of my kids can tell you, the answer is “One bite at a time.”

Second Law of Thermodynamics

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is about the quality of energy. It states that as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted. This introduces the concept of entropy. Entropy is wasted energy, and this is where the scientists came back down to earth and recognized that there are no perfect systems, as the first law talks about. Energy will gradually fade away.

The best example of this statement can be a hot cup of coffee left on a table. The coffee will eventually cool down, showing that heat only flows from high temperature to low temperature without the aid of something external adding heat (like a microwave).

This is a very importance concept for us. People will often say that you need to take some time to reset, recharge, or relax. This is especially the case right now, when many of us are working from home and putting in far more hours than we normally would. If we keep grinding day in and day out without some sort of external source of energy, we experience burnout. As an example, I enjoy getting involved with my kids’ sports, trying not to burn things on the grill, and fixing stuff around the house. If you noticed, those activities almost never involve IT or security.

Third Law of Thermodynamics

The Third Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy of a system approaches a constant value as its temperature approaches absolute zero.

There are no practical examples of the Third Law of Thermodynamics, but it makes sense when you think of it abstractly. When the willpower and motivational “fire” run out, we become stagnant and the likelihood that we will change becomes less and less. Think about this. The longer we sit in a chair, the less likely we are willing to get up. The longer we get into a bad habit, the less likely we are to change it.

In the Army, we called this “short-timer’s syndrome”. It meant that as soon as you accepted the fact that you were about to leave (changing stations, separating, retiring), there was high likelihood that you were going to skate by and do the bare minimum for the remainder of your time. What we can do with this information is to recognize when our motivations start to dwindle and find one of those external sources that we’ve already covered.

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics

Zeroth? What’s that all about? Scientists consider the fourth law so essential and universal to Thermodynamics that they thought it should come before all the others. And instead of renumbering them, scientists decided to call it the Zeroth Law.

The Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics states that if two thermodynamic systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third one, then they are all in thermal equilibrium with each other.

The easiest example of this law is to think of a thermometer. In the old days we primarily used mercury thermometers to check the temperature. We don’t use them as much now because if the glass holding the mercury became broken or started leaking, the mercury would contaminate the air and poison us. Obviously you would be cautious about putting such a device in your mouth. However, let’s say we did use a mercury thermometer to check our temperature. Our body, through our mouth, heats the glass, then the glass in turn heats the mercury, causing it to expand and showing what our temperature is. Our mouths and the glass get to a state thermal equilibrium, while the glass and the mercury also get to a state of thermal equilibrium. Even though our mouths and the mercury aren’t touching or directly exchanging heat, we know that they are also in thermal equilibrium. 

It may be a stretch, but I like to think of the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics in the same way that I think of the Six degrees of Kevin Bacon. When we think of those systems as people, we can use this principle to remind ourselves that no matter what we are struggling with now, someone else either has or is struggling as well. There is always someone out there who we can lean on or share our troubles with. Nobody is alone. This is especially important in the information security community.

Thank you for bearing with me and the science. If you’ve made it this far, you have both my congratulations and my condolences. I sincerely hope that you were able to get something out of these thoughts and observations.