2019 in perspective

It feels to me that the year that is about to end has been so full of things that it deserves a retrospective, as an agile software engineer would put it. I had started writing this note saying that overall, it's been an amazing year. A few days after, though, end of december, I got run into by another car, and assaulted. This has taken an extraordinary toll on my mental state, and left me with a lot of bitterness and fatigue. Anyhow, stepping back on 2019, I should be grateful for this year.

a year at work

Last year had been a great step forward in my career, in the sense that I chose to quit my job and take a more challenging position in computer security. This has been very taxing mentally, especially the few months of transition. The year that followed was filled with lots of learning, and gaining confidence. This year, however, was more calm, as I gradually improved my skills on the job. A lot has improved as I have realized that the challenge was not as difficult as I feared initially. Claiming that you are a computer security professional is no small thing. What helps is that most people do not actually have any interest in the matter, and somewhat fear the subject. This leaves a lot of space for that average engineer with a true motivation to learn, and to share knowledge. If work takes such a big part of life, it might as well be interesting, if not fun.

learning new things

One of the things that make my job so nice is the ability from time to time to learn new things. I have continued to learn some python which sits in a nice spot in-between shell script and C. Of course every year, and even several times a year some smart ass out there thinks he can do it better, and pushes out a new language or build system. And we, as engineers, have to accept that and learn new obscure syntax, which we don't. Instead we try to google things, grep around and find quick and dirty patches to get going, curse, secretly wishing the whole new system collapses and get forgotten as soon as possible. The python language, however, seems to have broad adoption, and it has enough nice features that make it appealing to learn. The language itself is rather simple, which is nice. In a way it is also unavoidable, because so many nifty tools are based on it. One of them angr was on my todo list since a couple of years, and I was very happy to finally get to use it. Another area where I definitely need to improve is the space of fuzzing. I started using fuzzing tool for the first time this year using a hardware USB gizmo called FaceDancer. Finally I also got to play with frida on Android, and this looks something to dig deeper into.

Having said this, I also realized that I equally enjoyed using the classic tools, and perfecting my knowledge and mastery of them. At the top of the list is gdb which is a ground breaking tool in some circumstances. This will soon be called the lost art of software debugging if I trust my observations around the office, with fewer and fewer people actually use a debugger these days, let alone in the context of embedded. Next is probably radare2, which I now can use pretty efficiently.

some travel

The fun part this year may also have been the journey I was asked to take to China and India. It has been a great opportunity to see the world (and spend hours in odd meetings). My task was basically to give trainings, which I find a rewarding task. My first stop was in Beijing, where I returned after 18 years. Coming back refreshed a lot of memories, good and bad. The city has of course extensively changed over such a long time frame. I could see many more expressions of the capital's power and scary examples of the brutal dominance of the regime onto its citizens. This is country is heading full steam ahead to incarnate the modern totalitarian nightmare of yesterday's science fiction books. I met very nice people there, however, including a former colleague that I like very much, we had a good time share lunch. Good food is definitely one of Beijing's attractions, and I enjoyed every bite during my stay.

On my way to Chennai, I was lucky to be allowed some time in Hong Kong. At the time, the city had not yet turned into a riot arena. The city was really up to my expectations, a very impressive landscape that you could melt into, joining the crows and reaching for the hills. Despite being a nasty financial heaven, the city has lots to offer, and deserves to stay free. I could not imagine a minute that the city would fall so rapidly into a conflict.

Arriving from China, Hong Kong to Chennai marks a radical change. Heat, poverty, chaos, the country seems centuries away from the well ordered countries I left behind. My first visit in this country does not leave a very good impression, although I prefer it here from a political stand point. I am glad of this new experience, this was a great opportunity to see the world, get out of my comfort zone.

various obsessions

Throughout the year, although quite busy, I kept focusing on various obsessions. Of of them took a fair share of my free time in as I tried to solve the SSTIC's challenge. I did not succeed until the last step, but was fairly proud to resolve the third challenge. It's the only CTF I played this year, but I spent a great deal of time solving this bit. Eventually, I'm glad that I did not let go. From a professional and personal stand point, this is boosting my self confidence.

I continued to use cameras of all sorts, but with lesser intensity. Digital has taken over in most cases, with the exception of my trip in Asia which was shot on 35mm slide film.

This year was also the year I stepped down as president of parent's association at school. After 8 years contributing I don't think I missed my duty, and it's a great relief not to have to worry about it any more.

in the woods

This year I have made several significant advances in some problematic deals that involve angry stupid people. Hopefully next year will see the end of this apalling story. Looking after wood plantations is an activity I have been pursuing both because nobody else will do it and because I believe it has some good sides. Things are made, however, more complex because of the human factors. The countryside is filled with very poor people that have a lot of anger, and not much value. I try to ignore them, but they will sometimes have enough ways to cause a lot of

sports

After a year with no activity in 2017, and mostly doing indoor climbing last year, I have taken on cycling big time this year. With more than 4000 km ridden over 12 month, I believe I have done more cycling this year than in my entire life previously. It's the first time I need to swap a chain because the first is worn out ! All this has helped me reaching an equilibrium in physical and mental fitness, and in my diet also. There is a downside to it, as the lack of exercise for several days in a row sometimes leads to a mild depression, but overall, this is an achievement I'm very proud of. Not just the accumulation of miles, but the joy of riding, which remains alive, in the sun and under the rain.

the state of the world

The state of the world is very preoccupying and this year hasn't brought a lot of hope. The climate disasters, the lack of momentum in carbon reduction policies, this does not help the optimists out there. Society is drowning into exasperation and violence.

at home

Despite all this, the family is moving forward and I'm blessed with my children and spouse. I am grateful for such a good year.