SecurityFest 2016

Recently, I had the honor of attending and speaking at the first annual SecurityFest conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was my first trip to Europe. My first trip to Sweden. My first time presenting to an international audience. If you think you might be in the area next year, you owe it to yourself to attend. Sign up for the newsletter on the site. For a list of this year’s speakers and presentations go to I am excited to see what SecurityFest grows into next year because the organizers crushed it this year.

Here is the video of my presentation:

SecurityFest 2016 Slides

SecurityFest 2016 Slides With Notes

Thoughts on Weapons

On Sunday, June 12th, 2016, a mass shooting happened in Orlando, FL. At the time of this writing, it is the worst in US history. A single shooter went to a nightclub armed with an assault rifle (It was not an AR-15, but a Sig-Sauer MCX) and a handgun. The result 49 people dead and 53 people injured. It is a horrific event and loss of life. The injured still have recovery and trauma to deal with to return to normal life. The families that lost loved ones due to this moment have to find a way to continue. Our politicians offered their thoughts and prayers, but not much else. Presidential hopefuls jumped on the event seeking an advantage over their opponents in the upcoming election. The nation fell predictably into the usual arguments, and we became more divided as a country.

Let’s rewind a second and look at the weapons used in this attack. Actually. Let’s not even look at these weapons. Let’s not even look at guns for a moment since that tends to make normally rational and intelligent human beings irrational. Let’s start with a wooden stick about three feet in length and maybe an inch or two in diameter. Is this a weapon? If we are completely honest with ourselves, we would say it depends on how we use it. It could be a tool, a prop, or a walking cane. However, with knowledge and practice, it is also a weapon. Not convinced? Go to youtube and search for stick fighting. I will wait.

Starting with the base that a tool can become a weapon brings us to the humble knife. Personally, I love knives. They help me prepare my food, cut up my food when eating, are a versatile utility item, and a depending weapon. Now, I am not going to carry around the chef’s knife in my kitchen for daily use, because that would be crazy. The chef’s knife is specialized for functioning in a kitchen to improve a human’s ability to prepare food. A steak knife is perfect for cutting steak and other meats. A butter knife is ideal for cutting well butter and spreading butter type items on bread. Finally, there are knives designed for fighting. Again, being honest, these are my favorite. A combat knife is simple, clean, and elegant. It functions perfectly for its purpose which is to cause injury to something else. That being said, I don’t currently carry a knife. We will get to that later.

Continuing on to an actual weapon, the sword. A sword is a tool only in that it makes us more efficient at injuring and killing other humans. I guess you could extend this to animals. A roommate of mine once used a katana to kill a scorpion. He really hated scorpions. That is clearly the exception. In modern society, a sword may be thought of as a collector’s item to be displayed on a wall, but that is not its purpose. I will give you that a movie replica or fantasy prop blade is designed to look cool. My favorite is the katana. It was love at first sight. Don’t let the beauty and attention to detail fool you. A genuine katana is a three-foot razor blade with one purpose. I say a genuine katana because most katanas people see today are display pieces much like the props I mentioned above. They are not as sharp as the katana I am talking about, but they can still do damage.

Finally, we come to the gun. A gun is a weapon designed to propel a projectile at a target to kill it. It is the evolution of the bow and arrow. The bow and arrow an evolution of the sling and rock. Some people may object to my usage of the word weapon when they would prefer the word tool. In my mind, a tool becomes a weapon when the usage results in injury or death. A gun is a weapon as are the arms that came before it. Improvements to a gun make it better at its purpose. For those reading this and getting defensive about my comments, stop. Take a deep breath. Be honest with yourself. A gun is a weapon.

The AR-15 and other assault rifles are in that class because they are used for combat. They are weapons designed for a particular purpose. If you need an extended clip and semi-auto capabilities to improve your hunting, might I recommend training? I was taught to hunt by my father who is a great hunter. He is patient and waits for the right moment when he only needs one shot. Maybe you don’t hunt, and you just like going to the range. Awesome. No judgment here. I will never discourage anyone from practicing more. The more efficient the weapon, the more we should train and retrain.

If you have stuck with me this long, you have to be thinking, “What point are you trying to make?” Glad you asked. Americans have a hard time being honest with themselves on certain topics. I get it because I had a hard time being honest about this for a long time. The problem with our inability to be frank with ourselves over this matter is that while we all stand around with our thumbs up our asses while people suffer and die. I know the current approach is not working. For those who live here, this is frustrating because we are America. This nation broke away from one of the biggest empires in history to form itself. We put men on the moon. Why can’t we figure out a solution to this problem? Why can’t we stop all the bullshit grandstanding and actually get to work?

This matter reminds me of something said by Kevin Kelly when being interviewed about his new book, The Inevitable. The question related to getting people to use self-driving cars. He mentioned that currently there are 1 million deaths annually due to automobile accidents. Then Mr. Kelly asked when self-driving cars can lower that number, at what point does it become a moral imperative to switch. I believe this thought extends to our current issues with guns, at what point does our lack of action, any action, on this matter make us all guilty by association.

Memorial Day

“The willingness of America’s veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude.” – Jeff Miller

For many of us, Memorial Day is part of a long weekend. An extra day off from work that we can spend with friends and family. A day to fire up the grill. Swim at the pool. A day to enjoy the freedoms that we have in our great nation. In our enjoyment of those freedoms, take a moment to remember and thank those who sacrificed and served our country. Then, remember and honor those who currently serve our nation.

To those who have served and those that continue to serve, a simple expression of thanks may seem trivial given your sacrifice. For those of us who did not serve it is impossible to know your experiences. Many of us, myself included, only feel comfortable expressing a straightforward and sincere thank you for your service.

Finally, at times, it can be difficult to separate our personal feelings concerning the decisions that our government makes with those serving the nation. It is important to remember that our military serves selflessly. They go into danger and accomplish the mission they are given. Those men and women deserve to be honored even if we personally may not agree with the applications or implementations.

Defining Your Family

“Family is not an important thing, it’s everything.”– Michael J. Fox

When I jumped in the shower one morning, I saw a note from my wife. We have an Aqua Notes Waterproof Notepad in our shower. It is ideal for capturing ideas or leaving cute notes to your significant other. This note was not cute and flirty. It was profound:

What does it mean to be a “Powell”? What is our family culture? What values are important to us?

These thought-provoking items are difficult to answer caffeinated and awake. My shower occurs at 5 AM with zero caffeine. I used to use a caffeinated soap, but it didn’t end well. I absorbed the questions over the course of three minutes. Afterward, thoughts percolated up into my brain and faded back down as I resumed my shower routine. Somewhere during the rinse phase, I arrived at some conclusions.

First, my wife is a genius because she ambushed me with these questions. She could have asked me directly, but let’s cover how asking anything serious of the average adult male usually goes.

Stage 1: Well obviously there is an answer to this, here it is, and now let me get back to what I was doing.

Stage 2: Moments later, notice that this answer seems to have angered my lovely wife.

Stage 3: Apologize, give a slightly better answer, and never dig deep.

Most men, including myself, are never taught to be mature emotional beings. Working in IT has not done me any favors. To quote a friend and coworker, “The lunatics run the asylum.” Excuses aside, I am still breathing and can continue to improve. One ambush at a time. Due to my wife’s superior strategy we have as a family avoided all that and can dig deeper into these questions.

Second, every family should be able to answer, consciously, what my wife asked. If your last name is not Powell, then adjust the first one to fit your individual situation. Every family will build their own answers and definitions through their actions and behaviors. We all have family traditions, both existing and new. We develop routines and practices that are shared among the members of our organization. If we have children, they will learn the spoken and unspoken rules. Wouldn’t you rather speak with direction and intent about who you are? Stand proudly and exclaim in your living room, “This is our family culture.” Of course, you would want something of substance to follow that initial statement.

Third, the answers have to come from all of the family and not a single member. I can only explain what values James holds in high esteem. These may or may not be the same values my wife values. They will probably be similar. The prioritization may differ. A family is an organization of at least two people. The definition of that family, their culture, and their values defines itself through careful consideration, thoughtful exploration, and open discussion with all members.

Finally, the answers are personal. The family chooses what to share with others. As for our family, we are still working through who we are and what culture we want to have. I will share one part of our definition. It is the Powell motto. In Welsh, “Edrych i fynw” which translates to “Looking up.” It was the starting point when I began to dig deep into these answers. May it help you on your journey.

On Decisions and Loss

“Memento Mori” – Translated from Latin it means to “Remember Death” or “Remember that you must die” (Wikipedia)

On April 19th at 8:41 AM, I said goodbye to my closest friend of over 15 years. My cat, Mew, was my companion since he was a kitten. He was euthanized. This decision was not an easy. Without the help of my wife, I would be desperately and unsuccessfully trying to save him. She was able to step back and see the reality of his condition. In the end, her strength spared all of us from the suffering that was inevitable given his ailments and declining state. She was even there for me when I couldn’t dial the vet’s phone number without becoming choked up.

Not that this whole ordeal was easy for her. Mew was her cat as well for eight years. When we started dating, I told her that if Mew didn’t like her, that would be a deal breaker. No pressure for someone who never had a pet and whose culture, in general, doesn’t like cats. However, he loved her as much as any cat can love a human. She loved him despite being a cat. After all, she put up with an extraordinary amount of cat hair on clothes and furniture during that time.

Some of you reading are thinking, “It was just a cat.” If you never had a pet, then this won’t make much sense. It is true that he was just a cat, but he was my cat. Years of constancy will cause you to miss any item when it is gone. The familiarity built combined with the knowledge that it will be there is powerful. A living, breathing, and loving animal only makes the bond stronger. The familiarity and routines ingrained to a deeper level. In the case of Mew a conscious decision was made to end his life.

Bartholomew “Mew” Powell was born on November 11th, 2000 as the only kitten in his litter. A miniaturized black panther with fierce green eyes. Four months later he arrived at the townhouse that would be the first of many homes. The first night while watching him play, jump, and run I debated on what to call him. Later that evening, I asked, “What am I going to call you?” His answer was a soft mew. My roommate at the time, Ken, stated that he needed a Christian name to make him official. Shortly after being named Bartholomew, Ken took to calling him Black Bart Terror of the Seven Living Rooms. A name he lived up to for his entire life. Not bad for an eleven-pound domestic shorthair black cat.

His was the first face that I saw nearly every morning that he was alive. Standing on the bed, meowing at me to get up or pay attention to him. Mew followed me around the house. If I were sitting, he would either be on my lap or near me. That changed a bit with Neha because she had the blanket. That ball of fur always waited for me to return home. His loud meowing greeted me the moment I walked through the door. Sometimes before I got in the door if I was slow with the keys. Through the good times and bad, he was a steady constant. That same constancy carried over to his toleration of the abuses of my small daughter.

The morning after his death, the alarm trumpeted at 4:30 AM. I rolled out of bed to go through my usual routine on autopilot. Reality crashed down on me as I ran through my to-do list in the shower when I got to go downstairs and feed the cats. Lacking the walls that my rational mind builds when fully awake, I broke standing under the flood of water. I couldn’t breathe as the tears burst from my eyes. I struggled and failed to regain control, but moments later I was sobbing silently in the shower trying not to wake my sleeping family. Minutes later hot water running out with tears and snot streaming down my face, I regained some composure.

Out of the shower and dressed I headed out of my bedroom once again in my morning routine. At the top of the stairs, I saw the water bowl and couldn’t breathe again. The process of disposing of remaining food and never to be used again litter boxes wasn’t easy. Imagine a full grown man carrying items to trash cans or filling trash bags while crying like a baby. Not a flattering image. There was a catharsis in purging both physically and emotionally that made the rest of the day better.

Death in all forms brings with it a remembrance of our mortality. A reflection on the nature of the world. A moment where we peer behind the veil. Writing at my dining room table, I begin to imagine what the impact the decision to remove a parent from life support has? What if the loss was a child? Instead of the last time of petting the soft fur of a pet, it was the last time holding your significant other’s hand or kissing their lips. The last time you spoke to them face to face. The last time you held them in your arms. In the imagery of my mind, it is suffocating. It is an unbearable loss.

Humans, the amazing creatures that we are, do it every day. All around the globe people face those decisions and worse. They experience losses, but they continue to move forward. Time and distance the insulator to those devastating moments. The support and love of family and friends the salve soothing the raw edges.

Two weeks have passed since that day. I will catch myself standing somewhere in the house expecting to see a familiar black shape, then becoming choked up teary eyed when it isn’t there. I don’t expect that behavior to change anytime soon. The feelings of loss will diminish as they are already beginning to do. After all, there is a strong connection backed up with years of routines.

I have reflected on what I learned from this event. It is easy in our grief to forget the impact it has on other people. I know that I fell into this trap. It is important to remember that you are not alone in your suffering. The most important thing is that many of us hold too much inside. Be open and honest with those around you. Stop waiting and stop moving.

The Long Silence

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” – Seneca

In the process of inspecting and upgrading several WordPress sites the other day, I burned my first one to the ground. I deleted everything. I don’t have backups of the articles. It doesn’t matter. I created the site as an experiment. Can I get my name on the front page of Google in less than six weeks? The short answer is yes. In the end, I had a site I didn’t like. I could tweak it and retool it, but in reflecting on the words of Seneca above I realized this was a waste. It was more efficient to start over. Take a green fields approach.

So here we are. A newly installed WordPress site. Depending on when you are reading this it may still be rocking the modified 2016 theme. The reality is that I am at a place where I want to create content. For years, I studied and prepared to build something. I don’t feel any more ready than I did when I first started. Similar to the day I became a parent; I don’t believe I will ever be ready. The key is to move forward. Correct as you go. Something that had I listened to the advice of my instructors and mentors would have started years ago.

Life is short. Approaching forty years of age, I realize time is a precious resource. The time I have wasted is gone. To paraphrase Tim Ferriss or the person he quoted, “Time is our primary non-renewable resource.”

I have always wanted to write. In high school, I said I would write a book. I never felt talented enough to follow through. Always taking the critiques of my teachers and peers as a personal statement of how poorly I wrote. So, I kept many thoughts, ideas, and musings to myself. You may be thinking at this moment that is an improvement to the rambling dribble you are reading. However, this is not for you. We aren’t having a conversation. This blog and its content is a purging of the storm in my head. There is no set schedule. There is no set length. It is going to be what it is. When it becomes wasteful to continue, I will destroy it like the old site. My advice, if you find something useful save it to an external location.

There is work to do.