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Daniel Schwalbe is his protective bee suit as Dan the Bee Man, during a recent call to a Seattle residence in which he removed a yellowjacket nest. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

During the day, in his job as the deputy chief information security officer for Farsight Security, Dan Schwalbe helps root out cybersecurity threats to try to make the internet a safer place. After work, he slips into a protective suit and becomes Dan the Bee Man, ridding homes across Seattle of their own nasty intruders.

Schwalbe, our latest Geek of the Week, has nearly 20 years of experience leading incident response and digital forensics efforts in large enterprise settings. He spent 17 of those years at the University of Washington, where he was most recently the associate chief information security officer. At Farsight, he helps provide useful domain name system data to cybersecurity threat analysts and fraud investigators.

Dan the Bee Man is the name of the Seattle-based company he started with his wife Karin in 2009, shortly after he got into raising honey bees at his home. His business removes stinging insects without the use of poisons. Armed with an industrial vacuum and lacking almost any fear of wasps or other flying “jerks,” Schwalbe sucks pests out and removes nests from trees, bushes, walls and just about anywhere else.

“Spraying a can of Raid may be a cheap alternative, but you are adding unnecessarily to the toxic chemical exposure of honey bees, as well as your own,” Schwalbe said. “Leading with education, our first line of customer service is to encourage people to let nature run its course. If there is a yellow jacket nest on your property, but it’s in an area you can easily avoid, simply waiting until the nest becomes abandoned in the late fall is an option, and it should be your choice to wait them out. In some cases, the nest is in a place that is not safe for people, so if you want them gone, I offer options that don’t involve putting more insecticides into the environment.”

Dan Schwalbe holds up part of a yellow jacket nest he pulled from inside a soffit at a Seattle home. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Schwalbe takes the science of what he does seriously, and he enjoys talking to customers about different types of wasps, how the nests are constructed, the role of the queen and so on. He even collects some specimens alive so that he can send them to a lab where they are harvested for anti-venom. His tech has also evolved over the years, most notably with the use of a handheld thermal imaging device that helps locate nests inside walls and avoid putting holes all over your house.

During his busy summer season, Schwalbe takes care of Bee Man business every night after work and all day on the weekends. He said he enjoys getting his hands dirty and working with analog tech after spending 10 hours in front of a computer screen most days.

And yes, he’s been stung. A lot.

“Probably a couple of hundred times,” Schwalbe said. “I definitely try to avoid it as much as possible. It never doesn’t hurt.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Daniel Schwalbe:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I am passionate about information security and privacy, as well as bee keeping and helping people get rid of stinging insects without poison — and I like talking about both a whole lot. To me, it’s all about people being able to make informed decisions. Whether it’s teaching undergrads at UW about the fundamentals of security, to help them realize why they should care about personal information privacy, or by giving talks at industry conferences or a meeting of a local Rotary Club chapter — I want people to understand more about the information economy, and what the potential pitfalls can be. With Dan the Bee Man, we focus on education first to help people understand the fundamentals of stinging insects and why poison-free removal, or sometimes letting nature run its course, is the better option.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Information security and privacy is a high-demand field right now, and it is frequently covered in the media these days. At the same time, companies have a hard time filling open positions with qualified candidates. I’ve worked hard throughout my career to dispel the myth of the grumpy IT security admin, who’s default answer is always “No!” and who chastises users for making honest mistakes. I think as an industry we could use more compassion for victims of cyber crimes, but also for those employees who inadvertently cause an accidental disclosure. Unless there is actual malicious intent, most people just try their best to get their work done. But under the tremendous amounts of pressure that most IT and TechOps departments operate these days, people will eventually make mistakes. As defenders of information, we have to be right all the time. It only takes one mistake to let the bad guys win.

Yellow jackets buzz around Dan Schwalbe’s head as he uses his vacuum to suck up most of a nest. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

When it comes to urban beekeeping, and dealing with stinging insects in your personal space, I think proper education on the lifecycles and behavior characteristics is very important. In the common vernacular, people refer to anything that flies and stings (except mosquitos maybe) as a bee. When in reality, the jerks of the stinging insect world are the yellow jackets, and to a lesser degree the wasps and hornets. Most members of the bee family (Apidae) are mostly docile and not outwardly aggressive, yet they get a bad rap because of their distant relatives of the Vespidae family. The world’s honey bee population continues to be in trouble, and as the number one food crop pollinators, we all should be more concerned. Reducing the amount of pesticides and insecticides in the environment directly benefits honey bees and other pollinators, who often become secondary victims of poisons intended for other pests.

Where do you find your inspiration? Information security, bee keeping, and poison-free stinging insect removal all have common applications in people’s day to day lives. I love helping people understand their problems and finding solutions, and that is a great source of inspiration.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? It pains me a little to admit that, but it would have to be my smartphone. I think I could ultimately live without it if all of a sudden nobody had smartphones, but in my current daily life, it makes me more efficient, and it allows me to get stuff done wherever there is WiFi or LTE coverage. The bee business would be much harder if I had to bust out the Thomas Guide again. But I am trying to get better about putting the phone down and to be more present when interacting with people face to face.

For Dan the Bee Man, the single best investment in technology I ever made is my handheld thermal imaging (FLIR) camera. It was a game changer, allowing me to detect nests inside walls with pinpoint accuracy.

The thermal imaging device that Dan Schwalbe uses to detect nests inside the wall of a home. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? Even though in my day job I work for a fully distributed company, where everybody works “from home,” I still rent a small office not too far from my house. I like the ritual of “going to work,” and “leaving work to go home,” plus I need room for all my screens, network lab equipment, and various computers.

For Dan the Bee Man, my “mobile office” is a tricked out 2005 Chevy Astro Cargo van. I’ve added some custom electronics to make it more efficient, as well as more comfortable since I spend a lot of time driving between appointments.

Inside Dan Schwalbe’s work van. (Photo courtesy of Dan Schwalbe)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) It’s all about prioritization and balance. It’s OK to admit to yourself that you can only get so much done in one day, it doesn’t make you a lesser person. If you have a partner or significant other, talk to them, tell them how your day was, what went well, and what sucked. It helps to debrief (and make sure you ask them about their day, too). Try and strike a good work-life balance. It’s OK to work 60-70 hour weeks here and there when it’s crunch time, but you need to take time off to spend with your family or friends as well, or you will burn out.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows for day to day work, Linux to analyze data, Mac only if I’m forced to.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard. Make it so!

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter. Traffic sucks.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … probably try to franchise Dan the Bee Man. The world needs poison-free removal options in other parts of the country that aren’t (yet) served by anybody.

I once waited in line for … the chance to buy a Nintendo Wii when it first came out, and they would only ship small quantities to brick and mortar stores (I did get one that day!)

Your role models: Albert Einstein. He and I were born in the same place, and he combined scientific process and creativity to make a difference.

Greatest game in history: Analog: “Settlers of Catan.” Digital: Sid Meier’s “Civilization.”

Best gadget ever: Leatherman multi-tool.

First computer: AMIGA 500.

Current phone: iPhone, Pixel.

Favorite app: Multi-Account Containers in FireFox.

Favorite cause: Crown Hill Market, and by extension the Crown Hill Village association — a grassroots effort in community organizing that was spearheaded by my partner Karin a few years back to re-energize our local community and get people more engaged where they live #locallocallocal.

Most important technology of 2019: As individuals, we need security and privacy technologies that enable us to take full control over our own information online, as well as information collected about us by third parties. Critical components include the ability to know exactly where personal information is kept online, by whom, and a process to request the permanent removal of your own personal information. The average internet user has no idea how many different ways they are being tracked online. Companies make money by assembling digital profiles on people. They sell access to or otherwise profit from this information and they need to be a lot more transparent about what they are doing. This will make it easier for people to fully understand the ramifications of their choices.

Most important technology of 2021: Information disseminated online is being used to influence opinions and stir up hatred and violence, and unless we find a better way to quickly identify and flag false information, we geeks will have failed society. I would hate to have to file the internet under “this is why we can’t have nice things,” but that’s where we are headed if we don’t figure this out.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: As geeks, we sometimes have this tendency to “talk down” to less technical people. Try to do less of that. When a co-worker outside of your immediate peer group asks if something is possible, don’t let the first word out of your mouth be “no,” immediately followed by all the reasons why you think it’s a terrible idea — you may be missing their point entirely. In your personal life, help educate your friends and family about the potential pitfalls of technology, so they can make informed choices. And the next time you have an encounter with a yellowjacket nest, maybe don’t immediately grab for that can of Raid.

Websites: Dan the Bee Man, Farsight Security

Twitter: @DanOnSecurity

LinkedIn: Daniel Schwalbe

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