Saturday, December 26, 2009

In Memoriam

Last Sunday, 12/20/09, I couldn’t get out of bed. Steph let me sleep in until she and Maya came to say “Good Morning” around 8:30 AM. I got out of bed, went to the kitchen for breakfast and found I had missed a call from my aunt. The message was short. “Dean, call me.” My heart sank. I knew.

Israel Sumner Saxe, my grandfather, passed away that cold, snowy morning in Boston, 12 days shy of his 91st birthday. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Ethel, three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

I last saw Grandpa over the summer, when Maya and I went to Massachusetts for a visit with my grandparents. At the time he was slowing down and in pain, but doing his best to enjoy life. That’s not how I choose to remember Grandpa. I remember him as a big, strong man who didn’t take shit from anyone and always told it like he saw it. A man who was loved by everyone who knew him.

My earliest memories of Grandpa are in Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Margaret Lane, playing with my brother and cousins in and around the pool. Fishing on Lake Massapoag in Sharon, MA and in the pond at Grandma & Grandpa’s condo on Cape Cod. Learning to shoot a pistol. Watching Grandpa cook breakfast for everyone at the Massapoag Sportsmen’s Club, which he founded in the 1950’s after being denied membership to another club because he was a Jew. Taking the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. My favorite, and strongest memory, is watching Grandpa smoke his pipe, burning a sweet-smelling tobacco. The smell of his tobacco is indelibly imprinted in my head. To this day I think of him every time I see someone with a pipe or I smell pipe tobacco.

I spent the past few days with my extended family sharing stories about Grandpa and his life. Yesterday he was laid to rest at Sharon Memorial Park in Sharon, MA. Rabbi Jonathan Hausman presided over a moving service. As the pallbearers wheeled his casket to the hearse, I noticed that the funeral home was standing room only. Grandpa always said nobody would show up at his funeral, he had “outlived all of his friends,” in his words. By my estimate over 100 people attended on a cold Christmas Eve to say their final goodbye to a great man who touch the lives of so many people.

Standing at the gravesite in 37 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, surrounded by snow and ice, the Mourner’s Kadish was read. Before completing the final mitzvah (good deed) of burying his casket, his grandchildren, children and son-in-laws smoked Grandpa’s pipes filled with his favored vanilla flavored tobacco, filling the air with the sweet scent of pipe smoke in his honor. As we smoked, we performed the mitzvah, shoveling dirt upon his casket, filling his grave as we said goodbye. The first shovelful by each mourner is done upside-down, using the back of the shovel making it difficult to use, as a symbol of our reluctance to complete the task. Normally, the family and assembled mourners shovel a small amount of earth into the grave; the cemetery groundskeepers complete the remainder of the work. In an act of love, kindness and ultimate respect the gathered crowd remained under cold, overcast skies, family and friends each taking part in the mitzvah until his grave was completely filled.

This week has been one of the most difficult of my life. I am finding it hard to believe that I won’t speak with him again; I won’t Skype with him again to show him how Maya is growing up. He is gone, but he is not forgotten. At the funeral, I was handed a videotape of interviews conducted in 2004 with Grandpa to share stories of his life, particularly focused on his family’s emigration from Poland in 1924. (Ukraine? The fluid borders in that area in the 1920’s make it difficult to determine without more research.) My aunt found an audiotape of interviews starting in 2004 where Grandma and Grandpa attempted to verbally document their lives. In the next few weeks I hope to have digital replicas of these to distribute to our family. I have resurrected my work on my family tree, a project I began when Maya was born. Grandma was instrumental today in providing information about his relatives and hers. My grief will be turned into work to preserve our family history for those who remember my Grandpa and those who never had the pleasure of meeting him.

Grandpa and Me, Todd & Allison Mussman's Wedding, 2001

Israel “Sumner” Saxe
January 1, 1919 – December 20, 2009
עליו השלום (alav ha-shalom)
Peace be upon him

Monday, November 30, 2009

Things I've Noticed in Seattle...

We moved to Seattle two weeks ago and in that time I have noticed quite a few differences from Atlanta:
  • People are nice. Really nice. I have particularly noticed this when interacting with people in service jobs (Comcast installer, DMV employees, etc.) who not only are nice but appear to be competent, as well. I have yet to see the "I hate my job" attitude that everyone in similar positions in Atlanta seem to have. Of course, that attitude rubs off in the way you are treated... ugh.
  • The speed limit is not 85 MPH wherever you go. People actually do seem to follow the speed limit more closely here instead of going Warp Speed everywhere. And drivers are nice, too! Of course that may be because everyone thinks I'm a tourist because of my Georgia plates... we'll see if that changes when I get Washington state plates.
  • Recycling. Whoa. We were good recyclers in Atlanta. We filled up our recycling bin to overflowing. So we bought a larger, 65 gallon rolling bin which was often filled up to capacity or beyond every other week. Yet we still filled up a 96 gallon "Herby Curby" every week with trash. Now we have a small 12 gallon (!!!) trash can, a 65 gallon (I think?) recycling can (with a wide variety of recyclables accepted, much more so than in ATL) and a can specifically for food waste composting. We pay for the trash we generate and pay extra if we overflow our garbage can or include too many recyclables or too much food waste in the garbage, so it pays to reduce, reuse and recycle. We've had to adjust our habits, but we're making it work, even with all of the extra waste we have generated from moving in. I keep looking at Steph and saying how amazed I am at the tiny amount of trash we're generating these days. I find it eye opening to see the amount of food waste we can generate. Some of it is inevitable (banana peels, orange peels, chicken carcasses, etc.), but a lot of it can be saved and repurposed (trimmings from carrots, celery, etc. can be put into stock, for example). At least I don't see us wasting food like we did when I was traveling non-stop...
  • Groceries are expensive. Safeway is way overpriced, I can't imagine how expensive Whole Foods is. Fred Meyer appears to be the most reasonable of the bunch.
  • Elfin ears? Seriously... I saw someone with a pair last night and they looked pretty freaking real to me, though I suppose they could have been makeup.
  • Cupcakes. Yum.
I'm sure there is more for another post...

Monday, November 23, 2009


Today is a day of mixed feelings for me as I publicly announce my resignation from Foundstone Professional Services after nearly five years of employment.

The past years with Foundstone have truly been great to me. I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, grow as an information security practitioner and project manager and work on interesting information security projects with long-reaching consequences. None of which I can talk about, of course. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the smartest security folks in the industry today. We worked hard and played hard. The past five years have been an awesome experience, however, all things must come to an end.

Let’s rewind…

Nearly five years ago I fell into this position. I was happily serving as the Web Application Security Manager for Digital Insight’s (DI) corporate banking unit. Two Foundstone consultants were training the development team at DI and, thanks to the insistence of their boss, Mark Curphey, we shared dinner and drinks at Fogo de Chao. Dave Raphael, Rudolph Araujo and I met that night in January 2005 and my life changed for the better.

We ate. We drank. (Probably a bit too much!) One thing lead to another and I began enquiring about their work consulting, the work environment, the travel, etc. I had no interest in taking a job, yet I found myself engaged in a conversation that was clearly leading in that direction. Rudy and Dave were emailing Mark through the evening. The next thing I knew I had an interview with Foundstone set up for the following week.

I told myself I didn’t want to be a “conslutant”. I didn’t want to travel. I wouldn’t like being on the road. An offer was made. I still couldn’t envision making such a drastic change from my desk jockey job at DI. Steph and I talked it over repeatedly. We decided that I would only consult for one year. I could take the opportunity to learn, grow my skills, mature as an information security professional and then head back into a “normal” position with my new skills. On February 18, 2005 I became the newest member of Foundstone Professional Services consulting team. One year turned into two, then three. Steph and I had conversations about why I couldn’t see doing anything other than consulting. Sure, I worked hard, often seven days a week, and the travel was tough on us when I was on the road week after week. But the projects were interesting and I was still learning on the job every day.

Maya was born April 2, 2008, shortly after my three year anniversary with Foundstone. My outlook on consulting and traveling for work began to change; I wanted to be home more and on the road less.

Since Maya’s birth, my travel schedule did change. Sometimes it was less hectic, I spent months on end working from my home office. Unfortunately, that was lonely; I lacked the intellectual stimulation of being around other type A alpha geeks. On the other hand, I spent more time traveling overseas and doing extended engagements at client sites. In Q2 2009 I spent approximately 11 weeks on the road. At the end of Q3 and beginning of Q4 2009, I spent 8 weeks straight on the road.

In September I made the decision that it was time to look for new employment in order to reduce my travel to 25% or less. Our home was on the market, we were getting ready to move to Seattle after more than three years of planning. Buyers began showing interest in our home; the pieces began to fall into place. I started sending around resumes to companies, primarily located in Seattle, as well as companies that entertained hiring employees for 100% telecommute positions.

Immediately after I started sending out resumes, we accepted an offer on our home! My stress level went through the roof! I am working my tail off all day and every evening I’m doing phone interviews for jobs and working with Steph to manage the process of selling our home, packing and moving 2700 miles across the country. I’m on the road through this process, working every Monday through Friday in suburban Washington, DC! This goes on for about three weeks before I caught a break.

I finagled 3 weekdays when I could work off-site, and parlayed that into a trip to Seattle to look for a rental home. During a quick trip we found a rental in Ballard, had great meals with family and friends, continued phone interviews and had an in-person interview with potential employers, all while working remotely from a hotel during Maya’s nap times. An offer was made and accepted later that same week…

When we decided to move to Seattle it was to be a major lifestyle change. The job fits directly into that lifestyle change. I won’t be traveling, for the most part, and I’ll be home with Steph and Maya for dinner every night. I’m looking forward to spending time at the local farmer’s markets and getting back into the kitchen to cook great food for my family. I’m also excited to get back to my hobbies, homebrewing, running and hiking, and maybe picking up a few new ones. Snow skiing or snow boarding, perhaps? Without traveling for work, I suddenly find myself with the potential for a lot of free time. What a novel concept!

The past few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind! Ten days ago we closed on the sale of our house in Atlanta and I started driving west. After four days of driving I landed in Seattle and was joined by Steph and Maya the next day. Last week we moved into a rental home in Ballard, this is just a temporary place to land, we’re going to look to buy a home once we get settled and determine where we want to live. We’re still buried in boxes, though each day there are fewer to navigate around. We’re getting used to living in Seattle, catching up with some of our local friends and family and starting what feels like a brand new life here in the Pacific NW. It will be a challenge leaving behind everything we knew in Atlanta, but we’re both up for it. Today I am back to work at Foundstone as I wrap up the loose ends on my projects over the next 2 weeks.

So where am I going? What will I be doing? I have accepted a job with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a Senior Information Security Analyst, where I will be taking the skills I have honed over the past years and applying them within the Foundation. That’s all I can really say for now, though I may have more to add after I start with the Foundation on 12/7/2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Snow Leopard, Time Capsule and Network Issues

For a few weeks now I have been seeing weird network behavior, but only at home and only on my Macs. Both Macs connect to a WRT150N wireless router running DD-WRT VPN firmware. As described in an earlier post (its early and I am too lazy to link) I have set up a fake TimeCapsule on an Ubuntu box sitting on my home network for net-based backups. Everything was working fine until a few weeks ago...

Suddenly when attempting to move large amounts of data across the network, such as when backing up, my network connection would drop. My connection to the network remained, but throughput went to zero on the local network. Connectivity was completely lost. Many times I couldn't even reconnect to the wireless network to reestablish connectivity. However, if I used a hard-wired connection I didn't see the same problem. Ultimately this corrupted my TimeCapsule data twice in 2 weeks.

After some frantic Googling I found somewhere which indicated that the problem may have to do with auto channel switching in 802.11N networks. So last night I configured my wireless network to choose a specific channel (8, FWIW) instead of allowing it to automatically choose the best channel. My network problems appear to have now been resolved, no more loss of connectivity over night or this morning. I created a local backup on a USB disk overnight and I am now recreating my online backup to the Ubuntu TimeCapsule as I write.

This seems to be an unacknowledged bug in most recent versions of MacOS Snow Leopard. Apple, I hope you're listening.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Flip - Part II

Maybe I'm the last person on earth to know this, but Perian is necessary to import directly into iMovie from the Flip (or at least the UltraHD).