Smith Tower

Every time I come into downtown on a ferry, I can’t help but take a moment to admire this building. Completed in 1914, Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi for more than a decade and the tallest building on the west coast until the Space Needle (just on the other end of downtown) was completed for the World’s Fair in 1962.

Aside from the history, I worked in Smith Tower for a few months on an IT contract, during a strange period in its history when it was more or less vacant. Tech companies liked the prestigious address, until Amazonia took over the South Lake Union area and the biggies vacated Pioneer Square for those greener pastures. Then the building was sold and the new owners haven’t really done anything noticeable about drawing new tenants. I wonder if the elevator attendants are still there?

Anyway, I love the view of this plucky little “skyscraper,” holding strong at the southern end of town as it’s dwarfed by the ever expanding downtown to its north. Bookended by that other former tallest building at the foot of Queen Anne hill. Maybe next time I’ll draw lines indicating each successive expansion of downtown until it reached its current footprint nearly filling in the entire skyline between those historic bookends.

Or not. Frankly, I think I’d rather focus on the mountains in the background.

Day Trippin’

A mere 18 months. That’s how long it’s taken me to take the day trip to Port Townsend that I was scheduled to take on my birthday, last year. So that was January 2020, and it’s now nearly June 2021. Close enough, right?

To be fair, a crash complete with a broken scapula two days before said birthday and a pandemic have happened in the intervening months. But still. 18 of them have passed while I was rehabbing and trying not to make eye contact with masked strangers.

Fun note: when you ride Washington State Ferries on a motorcycle, you don’t have to wait in silly lines. So when I got to the outbound dock in Edmonds, I slid past what had to be a 2 mile backup, walked into the passenger terminal, purchased a ticket, and slid up to the end of the dock. Then we board right after bicycles. Repeat the process at the other end, we get off first so I wasn’t at the end of a parade of campers and sightseers heading to the peninsula to cause traffic jams all weekend.

Some epic views were to be had all over the place, unfortunately I can’t figure out how to get clips off my helmet cam (like the 2-seater lightweight plane coming in for a landing 20 FEET ABOVE ME or the hawk diving into a field for lunch) and onto Micro.blog. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d truly appreciate it. So instead, please enjoy these shots, in order of arriving in Kingston, Port Townsend’s lovely Water St., and the view from the final approach back to Seattle.

Oh, and one bonus, completely gratuitous shot of Mt. Rainier, because “the Mountain’s out.”

Man, I needed that.

New-to-me Surly Long Haul Trucker. Hoping that riding will help my ailing knees while also helping with shoulder strengthening. Fingers crossed…

When your stakeholder’s team has 4 people, 6 opinions, and none of them match the whitepaper you’ve already written based on the specs they approved last week…

How’s everybody else’s Thursday going?

1:30 and the overall achiness, soreness, exhaustion, and useless left arm are all starting to clear up. Fingers crossed the vax jab 2 owies are passing.

Jab #2 done. 14 days and we’re that much closer to whatever “normal” will be post-pandemic.

Also, had a 4.5 hour interview cycle for a new gig this morning and I’m honestly impressed I can string words together at this point.

Hey M.B friends in Oceania who are also devs – Can I ask you a question?

What are the main cybersecurity issues you see day to day?

Sometimes it's the work you don't see

Of all the things I wish people understood about being a writer, this essay beautifully sums up what would be my main point. For every 1,500 word blog post or 5,000 word whitepaper, it’s the work the reader doesn’t see that leads to that polished gem of wordsmithery.

I’m currently working on condensing a 10-page whitepaper into a one-page checklist. For every ~200 words, I need to write ~20. The act of writing those words will ultimately take me somewhere between 2-3 hours. It’s the 10+ hours of reading, digesting, and condensing that nobody but me and my editor/manager see that make it work.

Without those hours and that effort, what I would produce would be a hot mess. Oh, it would meet the criteria given to me, a one-page checklist that summarizes the whitepaper. But it would be unreadable and certainly NOT something I would ask our sales team to direct prospects to.

What I need to do now is take this knowledge, understanding, and insight and put it to work on my currently un-paid work. If I’m serious about launching a career as a writer who doesn’t also have a day job as, well, a writer — I need to get my shit far enough together that I can at least see all the piles from my vantage point.

(Along the same lines, I’ve been working on something centering around the simple fact that none of us will likely ever truly have our shit together, and why that’s preferable. Stay tuned for more on that…soon -ish.)

A Needed Moment of Calm

I’m what’s called aHighly Sensitive Person(HSP). Without going into the details, Dr. Elaine Aron has been studying the phenomenon of Sensory Perception Sensitivity for years now and estimates that up to 20% of the population is as well. The short version is that stimuli that most people find irritating at worst can be debilitating to us. Bright lights, loud noises, large crowds, and intense (or even not-so-intense) smells are just the beginning. Here’s a decent summary and comparison with things like introversion (I’m also one of those).

A full day of work as a business writer for a tech startup, even in my quiet, dimly-lit basement office, can leave me struggling to put two words together or run errands without feeling the urge to curl up in the fetal position and sob. Between meetings and Slack interrupting my work flow, it’s just exhausting.

To counteract that exhaustion, I’ll take mid-day walks around my neighborhood. The 30 minutes outside does my mind and body a world of good and helps ensure that I can get through the afternoon’s work relatively unscathed.

That said, and the actual point of this piece, is that by the end of the week I’m still operating at a deficit. My brain is tired, my body aches, and my senses and nervous system are shot. My remedy for this is to get outside as much as possible. Trees, mountains, and rivers are my answer to HSP overload.

What follows is a short piece I wrote for a creative writing workshop. The assignment was to write with all five senses. I add proprioception (your sense of where you are in relation to the world around you), so six senses it is. I’d love to hear your thoughts, either on the writing or on all things HSP!

As I pull into the unassuming gravel parking lot, careful to dodge the massive pothole just off the edge of the cement, I’m happy to see only one other car. I may find the solitude I’m seeking after all. After parking and making sure my parking permit hang-tag is visible hanging from the rearview mirror, I make my way over to the access trail. Originally cut by fly fishers and whitewater kayakers, this isn’t a trail so much as a ravine. With the goal of getting to the water fast, there was no felt need to make even the pretense of an easily accessible route. As I pick my way over the exposed roots and around the rocks nobody bothered to remove, I can feel a lightness returning to my body. The sound of rushing water fills my head and the smell of new rain and fish invades my consciousness.

Then I’m on the rocks. Ranging in size from golf ball up to watermelon, traversing the shore here requires slow, sure footing. As I listen to each step cause cascades of smaller rocks to tumble over the larger ones, the fast-moving river comes into full view. There’s an island that’s formed, in the area where a tributary empties into the main river, and it’s grown to around 20 square yards and with the water level down it stands nearly 5’ above the waterline. Carefully picking my way over to the edge of the tributary, a new sound pushes the roar of the water aside. Looking up toward the opposite bank, I see an eagle perched on the very top of a snag. It’s scanning for lunch and telling its partner where to look with a haunting shriek that pierces the rushing of the river.

The river smells fresh today. It’s a mix of the ozone released by the spring rain that fell earlier in the morning, the fish making their way upstream, and the rotting wood laying all around the shoreline. There must have been flooding over the winter, I haven’t made it up here in several months. Slowly making my way upstream, I notice a new smell getting stronger, its peaty, like aged whiskey. Ah, there’s a tree leaning over the water that’s covered with a thick, spongy layer of moss. I’ve never seen such a vibrant green shade, either. It’s somewhere between the deep green of the surrounding evergreen trees and the neon green on the sign in front of my local pot shop. 

I’m not fond of how I ended that, but the feedback I got was all excellent, so I’ll leave it at that.

I love the different colors the water takes on. The main flow is coming straight from snowpack runoff, while the stream starts in the foothills further north.

Today’s visit to the river was vastly different, but in important ways also much the same. It’s spring and we had an epic snow year so the water level was quite high, making that tributary island much smaller and lower than I remembered it. The water from that stream seems to take entirely new courses through the rocks every time I make it out there.

It’s only 45 minutes or so from downtown to my spot, yet I manage to find at least some peace and solitude every time I visit. Today was no exception. A couple of pickups followed me into the lot, causing momentary concern, but they went further downstream and took their kids with them.

I found a new spot to park myself, a bit up the tributary stream and partially hidden from the main area of rocks and shrubs. Got almost an hour of the quiet I needed before a family arrived with kids and picnic supplies in tow.

That’s OK. My ass was falling asleep from sitting on the rocks anyway. Maybe I’ll make it back next week. I hope so.

Next week I also hope to write some about the work being done to study just why being in nature is so calming, for everyone, but particularly for those of us with persnickety nervous systems.

Notebook updates

I think I have a problem.

A notebook problem, that is.

For this iteration, I’ve acquired (read: bought myself a present) a lovely brown leather tri-fold journal cover. It’s roughly A5-size, called the Fillion, and made by Little Mountain Bindery.

Think Traveler’s Notebook, but sized better for long-form entries.

Into my new Fillion, I have slipped 4 soft-cover notebooks. I think they all qualify as “cahier”s, but I digress.

First up is a plain paper journal from Little Mountain Bindery. Theirs are a bit narrower than A5, because reasons, so it’s in front and will be for “thoughts on” entries. I’ll be writing more about that soon, but it was borrowed from a post I read…somewhere I can’t find right now (ironic, huh? Writing about journaling and taking notes and such to, you know, remember things…). Also, since it’s just that little bit narrower, I’ve got my pen attached via a brass binder clip they include with the Fillion for just that purpose.

(The glowing keyboard in the background is a Drop Alt, which I also absolutely adore, but this is an analog post so talk of that will have to wait)

Next is also plain paper and will be for reading notes and post ideas, this one is a refill notebook from Lochby that’s full of Tomoe river paper.

And behind those are two further Lochbys, both lined and for general journaling, mid- and long-form.

Maybe, just maybe I’ll stick with this setup for more than a month before shuffling the notebook deck again. Or, you know, maybe not.

Sidenote for @alans, yep, that’s the Prussian Blue TWSBI Diamond 580. The Tomoe River paper and that F nib are incredible together!

Pro tip to those conducting interviews in these days of Zoom…look at the person you’re talking to.

Not the representation of them on the screen, the real them you have to look at your web cam to see. It’ll feel weird at first, but the trust and connection you make by showing them the whites of your eyes will go a long way towards fending off the Zoominess of the whole affair.

Bonus tip - do not look at your second monitor that’s somewhere off to your left so the only part of you the interviewee can focus on is your right ear lobe.

This is not what you want them remembering. Trust me on that one.

Context Matters

Something that keeps crossing my consciousness is the importance of context.

Ironically it's been appearing across contexts.

First, over the last couple of weeks I was working on a whitepaper based on an SME (subject matter expert) interview where the expert mentioned the important role of context in cybersecurity research (the paper ended up just shy of 5,000 words and is out for stakeholder review).

Then, in my own research into social engineering I’ve now encountered 1/2 dozen expert comments on the importance of context when assessing risk.

And third, I'm reading a bio/memoir of sorts (Stephen Batchelor's Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, it's quite good). Batchelor was an ordained Buddhist monk for more than a decade, with many years being spent in a retreat center in a small Swiss town. He talks about how conspicuous he felt there and contrasts that with the years he spend as just one of many robed monks at the monasteries where he trained.

Edit: some time between starting this draft and finally getting it touched up to publish, I found myself sitting through a meeting about adaptive MFA (multi-factor authentication) and what do you know...the importance of context formed an entire segment of the presentation.

So, what do I take away from all this, other than the sheer, unadulterated excitement that is my day-to-day? Simply that context matters. I mean, I already knew that as a writer, but having it driven home in areas as diverse as life as a buddhist monk and cybersecurity was eye-opening for me.

The SME I was interviewing made several interesting comments about the role context plays in his job when designing the systems that assess whether a login attempt is legitimate or not. For example, there's something called "the impossible travel scenario" that the product the company I write for makes uses when determining how to use MFA (hence the 'adaptive' used earlier). Say you live in Seattle (I know, quite a stretch coming from a Seattleite), and the last 12 logins to your account were from the same IP assigned to your local ISP. Then, 5 minutes after your last login, there's an attempt made from Paris. Since there's no way for you to have hopped continents in 5 minutes, that's impossible travel and the system throws up a CAPTCHA or prompts a text message to verify ID.

Context.

In the world of social engineering — which blends roughly equal amounts of psychology, technology, and espionage — context is absolutely crucial. Whether in terms of situational awareness when spotting someone trying to piggy-back into a secure office space or in terms of double-checking the "sent from" address for typos to help spot phishing emails. It astounds me how many data breaches could be cut off at the knees if just one person had noticed just one thing that didn't look right.

Take the Twitter hack last year. The kid who just pled guilty called took advantage of the work from home situation to call Twitter employees pretending to be internal IT and told them he needed their passwords in order to work on an issue. Had these employees stopped and assessed that request, they could have used the internal IT systems to verify that it was a legit request (it wasn't), coming via an approved medium (it wasn't), to work on a known issue (strike 3). Instead, this clown made his way into multiple high-profile accounts and used them to run a cyber currency scam.

Context.

Situational awareness is a term that comes from the military, but has multiple uses in the civilian world. That's especially true in security. A relative spent some time helping out an executive security firm locally during their interview process. She's a very average looking white woman in her 30's, so in no way does she stand out in a crowd around here. Her job was to turn up at 4 locations the interviewee was supposed to be protecting the executive at and just...hang around, acting suspicious. Out of 12, not a single one picked her out. They saw her in 4 different, random places over a short period of time, and not one realized it. Pattern recognition failed them and not one was hired.

Context.

Steven Batchelor writes about how after he de-robed, married a former nun from his order, and moved back to England, he was reflecting on the path that brought him to that point. As an academic, he was tasked with translating several ancient Pali texts along with some writings of his own teacher that were in Tibetan, into English. That meant spending most of his waking hours locked in study on the grounds of his monastery, surrounded only by other monks. Then, he was tasked with accompanying his teacher as he set up a new retreat center in Switzerland. This plopped him down in a purely western town, surrounded by all that entails, and for the first time since taking his oath, making him feel extremely exposed and out of place.

Nothing about him had changed. Nothing about his teacher or others at the center had changed, they were all still robed, shaved-headed monks just like before. But the context around him had changed dramatically, and his interactions with those around the center showed that difference quite starkly. Ultimately, he de-robed but has remained a Buddhist scholar and teacher based in France.

Context.

I'm interested to see how this new level of awareness of context will translate to my own day-to-day. I'm someone who is already acutely aware of some aspects of context, mainly around pattern recognition and other people's emotional state. If you're aware of the idea of someone being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) that you have an idea what I mean. If not, that's for a whole 'nother post. Or series of posts. Or maybe a book. In the meantime, I'm going to keep my eyes open for how context interacts with my daily live and will report back.

Maybe you do the same and let me know what you discover?

Barefoot season is almost here. Time for Jesse to STUB. ALL. THE. TOES.

Off to a roaring start, 3 in one trip upstairs to refill my water bottle.

What the actual eff…?!

Sigh.

Time to ice. My toes.

Anyone in Microland have experience working at an early stage startup? And if so, any chance of an offline conversation? I have a potential opportunity in the works and limited if any experience in this world, therefore I have questions. Thanks in advance!

Watching a helmet cam video from a ride last weekend. Once I stopped listening to music, which my camera/bluetooth com unit pipes into the video, all I could hear was my own breathing.

And nearly incessant sniffing.

And why did nobody tell me how funny I sound on camera!?

Why am I asking you fine folks, who only know the text version of my snark.

Seriously, the only things I said out loud were to call a driver a putz for slow-rolling a turn without signaling, and another driver something more colorful for cutting me off. Then slow-rolling a turn without signaling.

Oh, my point. At one stop light, a dad ran by pushing a double stroller being followed by like a 5 year old on a two-wheeler. Little dude was rocking that two-wheeler. As they passed, he looks at me and says, “nice ride.” Complete with the dude-bro head lift. You know, when the chin lifts quickly just as they say “nice…”

All I could do was laugh and return the complement. Then laugh some more, it was truly adorable.

I'm going nuts.
This should not be this hard.
All I'm trying to do is get a new blog up and running.

I want to:

  • own my content
  • expand to a newsletter/memberships...eventually
  • manage my own site without coding skills.

Any and all input is GREATLY appreciated!

Earworms as memory triggers?

Is anyone else's earworm kind of an asshole? After having the intro to a particular Grateful Dead song (not going to name it for fear of it making a repeat performance) on repeat for nearly a week, I started to think about how certain songs can come to be tied to very specific memories, complete with all sensory recall.

This particular song was the set 2 opener the last time they ever played Seattle, and I was there so it conjures up some very specific memories for me. Everything from the smell of pot smoke (no, before you ask, I don't) to what I was wearing to the late day light playing off the trees that surround the venue (Memorial Stadium) — it's all connected in my brain. I can't hear the song without seeing the sights and smelling the smells.

The other powerful example from my own life is the song "I Want To Know What Love Is" by Foreigner. I don't like this song, at all, but it will forever be connected in my brain to ski lessons when I was 7. There was only one radio station that came in all the way to the local ski area, so that's what we listened to in our '82 Honda to and from lessons. I hear the song, and I recall the way the heat felt hitting my face when I adjusted the registers on the dashboard. I smell the hot cocoa my mom got me from the lodge after lessons. And I see the steam rise from my warm self after finishing up for the day. I even remember how the strange, almost Corduroy-like fabric felt against my face as I dozed off on the way home.

Give me a second and I can come up with at least half-dozen other examples from my youth and youth-ish times.

But why?

Why do songs connect so strongly with memories? And why, for the sake of your deity of choice, do I remember the seat fabric of my mom's '82 Honda?!

So I did what I do. I read. A LOT. And what I found out is absolutely fascinating. Well, to me and any of you out there who geek out over neurological anomalies and psychological weirdness the way I do.

This is going to be a brief version of the 10,000 ft view on this topic, mostly because I'm far too knackered to even hope to form that many coherent sentences tonight. It turns out that the brain region responsible for retrieving autobiographical memories (not where they're kept, mind you, just the part that retrieves them from long-term storage) is the same area where we process tonal shifts. For you neuro-nerds it's the dorsal region of the medial prefrontal cortex, right behind your forehead. It also happens to be the latest region to develop after we evolved into Homo sapiens.

Since things like songs are stored primarily as tonal shifts, the whole "ear worm jogs loose a memory" scenario is starting to make more sense.

Music triggers many other regions of the brain as well, of course. Centers of motor activity/control, emotional regulation, and creativity light up like a Christmas tree, especially for those songs that resonate strongly. But here's the part I find truly fascinating — the prefrontal cortex area lights up just as strongly, if not more so, than the others when it comes to songs we associate with memories.

But which way does it go? Do more salient memories trigger stronger associations with songs? Or to songs we love trigger stronger associations with memories of when we first heard them?

Turns out the scientists doing this research don't know. Yet. The focus of their work is actually on developing possible treatments for Alzheimer's patients, since the prefrontal cortex is one of the last areas affected by this degenerative condition. At the moment, all they can say for sure is that the connection is real and they can point to it on fMRI scans. The rest is open to interpretation.

For now, the fact that songs and memories can strengthen the same areas of the brain is enough for me. Now if I could only get this song out of my head...

“Leap and the net will appear.” Not today. More like,“leap and you’ll hit your head on the ceiling fan.”

February photoblogging challenge | Day 21 | Colors

I love the shades and hues this time of year, for me they’re better than any range of colors.