In Between Jobs

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wapiti trailWhat did I do on my one day off, the start to my three day weekend, in between jobs?  Seriously?  You have to ask?  I went on a trail run.  Six miles up and down the Wapiti Trail at Heil Valley Ranch.  Gorgeous outside too, with 50° and full-on sunshine.  I wore shorts and a long-sleeve T.  The weather will turn to snow around 6 or 7 and the temperature will drop to below 30° later tonight.  Good thing I could run early.

I would have enjoyed taking a week off between jobs but CenturyLink wanted me to start as soon as possible.  They were going to have me fly to DC the first day but they couldn’t pull that off for a new hire.  Would have been nice to meet all the team face-to-face but sort of glad because it likely would have required traveling on Sunday and I want my three day weekend.  Just sort of hanging out now, setting up my new Mac Mini, merging photo libraries from various other machines.  Fun stuff.

Big Blue

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IBM BookshelfMomentos from twenty-three years at IBM sit on my bookshelf.  Maybe more are hiding in my desk drawers.  I might have lifted my stapler from the office.  My history with IBM began when I drove a forklift working on their packaging line the summer of 1981, as part of the production of word processors manufactured in their Austin, Texas facility.  I later worked as a computer operator as an intern in 1990 while obtaining my masters from CU in Boulder.  I then started my 23 year run in 1994 with their wholly-owned subsidiary ISSC.  I forget what that stands for now.

My stash includes a coffee mug from that first gig with ISSC, various recognition things, a passport with all its pages full of stamps, a sticker making fun at me for an attempt to write a motivational blog when times were bleak – made me laugh even though the joke was on me – and the ubiquitous Think logo.  Not pictured, the stapler because I use that.

Karen and I have always considered it ironic that my career was so steady while she averaged three W2s and 1099-misc forms annually from her contract jobs, because our personalities suggest the inverse.  She’s cautious and I’m the risk taker.  But I was generally satisfied, doing really cool things.  When I did begin to think of departing, other life events got in the way.  And my searches were always passive, meaning I only responded to recruiters contacting me first.  I could enumerate a half dozen reasons for finally leaving but the primary logic is that sometimes stimulating professional growth requires a new start somewhere else.  So that’s what I’m doing.  New job begins May 1st.

Funniest thing is that, because I turn 55 on Monday, tomorrow, three days before my last day on the job, I qualify for retirement.  Specifically, the retirement benefits IBM makes available to departing employees based on certain criteria of age and years of service.  I get to take my pension with me and roll it over into an IRA.  And I get future health benefits that I’ll be able to apply toward medical insurance premiums after I’m retired for reals.  I didn’t plan this, it’s all bonus.

Meeting retirement criteria though, actually accepting the benefits, on top of turning 55, is enough to make me consider that I might have reached middle age.  I didn’t pay much attention to turning 50, but 55, well, it has twice as many fives in it.  Karen arranged for a few friends to come over next Friday evening for a happy hour to celebrate both my birthday and changing jobs, and it has the undeniable feel of a retirement party to it.  My fault I suppose for working so many years at IBM before moving on.  I’m not normally very introspective.  Very few of these blogs ever wax nostalgic.  But saying goodbye to so many colleagues and the events of my last days has given me pause to reflect on my career.

I’ll be 70 in another fifteen years.  Safe to say I’ll be retired before then.  I simply don’t feel that old.  I run a marathon in another two weeks.  I’m still youthful, in my mind.  Granted, I grip the stair rail walking down in the morning, to support my delicate knees and ankles.  But that’s just because I run so many darned miles.  After sporting a buzz cut throughout my 40s, I grew my hair out, and it’s not all entirely gray.  It still grows like a weed.  I will admit to listening to relaxing music, but that’s my acquired taste.  I still wear blue jeans and t-shirts.  I still do new things.  Published a book.  I’m taking on a new job.  I’m not dead yet.

Neither is IBM.  It might seem like I’m leaving a sinking ship.  Five years of shrinking revenue.  But I’m not leaving because of that.  Like most people still there, I believe in their strategic imperatives, and I understand their business will diminish before it picks back up.  That’s simply that way creative destruction works.  Other than say the phone company, IBM is perhaps the only American technology company still around after 100 years.  If I say IBM, you hear computers.  IBM is synonymous with technology.  IBM will be fine.  By the way, I have a half dozen IBM-logo button downs from working as a booth-babe at trade shows if anyone is interested.

Marathon Nerves

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Ever train for and run a marathon?  Since 2010, the upcoming Colorado Marathon will be my twelfth.  First time to run this particular event, although I did run the 10K associated with it last year.  It was a dream run in the May snowfall.  This photo above is of the marathon from last year running through Poudre Canyon.  If you have run a marathon, then you can likely appreciate my current state of mind.

A marathon on your calendar is like waiting for a hurricane to roll in from the sea.  Like being called into the principle’s office as a kid after ditching class.  Like prepping for a colonoscopy.  You know you’re going to get your ass kicked.  The closer I get to May 7th, the more completely preoccupied I am with thoughts of the final 10K.  Those last six miles when the legs attempt forward motion without the benefit of glycogen.  I know I can run twenty miles, I’ve reached that distance in my workouts.  Regardless of conditioning, completing 26.2 miles is never a sure thing.  Generally training builds confidence, but marathons don’t care.

Part of my nervousness likely stems from not having run a marathon in 18 months.  And knowing I’m ten pounds heavier than I was in my last four marathons.  My pace will be slower, I’m predicting 9 minute miles.  That doesn’t bother me.  Being able to hold that 9 minute pace after twenty miles is what I think about in all my recent training runs.  I expect the first half, the first thirteen miles, to be enjoyable.  The big question is at what mile running stops feeling comfortable.  And how I’ll deal with it.  I’ve never not finished a marathon.  I’ve had some go south and done my share of walking.

There’s a sizable hill after 18 miles.  That’s unfortunate placement because that’s right where runners typically hit the proverbial wall.  When there’s no more fuel to burn.  Cramps tend to occur around twenty miles too but like a flat tire, those can be fixed; whereas an empty tank can leave you stranded.  If I have to, I’ll walk that hill and try to fire the engines back up on the downward slope after the top.

Oh well.  I should stop thinking about it.  I’m committed.  I have one more week of decent training.  My taper starts Monday.  I probably won’t even run the final week.  I’ll be commuting to a job in Denver and don’t expect to have time.  Won’t matter.  Can’t fall out of shape in a single week.

The Perils of Trail Running

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picture rock gang

I was all set to run my final twenty miler today but instead received a tempting group text last night from the running gang to run Picture Rock.  I can run twenty miles tomorrow.  My marathon training plan is flexible that way.  I haven’t run with the gang in quite some time.  It was great seeing everyone for Easter weekend.

We all started out together the first couple of miles.  This trail is uphill non-stop for nearly six miles.  Keith and I left the larger group after two miles and continued at our pace to the top.  The grade isn’t steep so it’s not as difficult as it sounds.  It is at altitude though.  I run so regularly on a flat trail that it challenged me.  We ran up fairly aggressively, but took a cautious approach on the return down.  My legs were sufficiently fatigued and I didn’t want to risk hurting myself before my upcoming marathon.

Jen Louden

Jen was less cautious and took a spill.  I wasn’t there to see it but she didn’t seem overly concerned herself.  Her response was, “minor raspberries really.”  The surprising thing was that not more of us fell considering the size of our group.  Picture Rock is fairly technical with all the rocks.  I’ve fallen three or four times on this trail.  Usually on the way down.  Falling hurts at my age.  Still, trail running is worth the risk.  It recharges your body and soul like few things can.  Happy Easter everyone.

Change is Good

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Beth in Paris

I got nothing this week, so I’m posting this photo of my darling buddy Beth after completing her Paris Marathon this morning.  Paris France, not Texas.  My buddy Chris will be running the Boston Marathon in another week, on a Monday actually, Patriot’s Day, just before taxes are due.  Training for marathons is decidedly less exciting than running them.  I need to slog it out for another four weeks before I get my day in the sun.

I need to keep up the boring mileage for the next two weeks before I can start to taper.  I’m changing that training strategy though.  The long runs wear me out too much for the shorter runs.  My average pace, long or short, is over 9 minutes per mile.  I’m going to keep my long runs at 10 miles or less from now on.  Ten miles actually feels short to me now.  I can maintain a strong pace for that distance, and the next day my legs aren’t so fatigued that I can run fast again.

I would need to run close to an 8 minute per mile pace to qualify for Boston.  I can see now that’s not going to happen, but I’d like to work on speed somewhat over the next few weeks to be able to run under a 9 minute pace.  That will give me a finishing time under 4 hours, which I’m always happy with, especially if I can run comfortably at that pace.

In addition to keeping my legs fresh for speed, shorter runs will enable me with more energy and time for stretching afterward.  That’s arguably as important as the miles.  Avoiding muscle overuse injury becomes important this close to the race.  My knees and ankles have been weak and should enjoy the respite.  I’m not a slave to routine and am always flexible to change.  Change is good.

The Waning Days of Winter

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winterrun

My week of vacation is waning with the final days of winter.  I know it’s been spring for the last week, but the mountains celebrate seasons on their own time.  Yesterday I ran 15 miles in 50° weather.  Today I ran 17 miles in 40° and pouring rain.  Tomorrow I’ll run 20 miles in 30° and snow.

The free time has been great for my other hobbies as well.  I’ve read a couple of cyber crime books.  I’ve been prepping for a book promotion and fighting with my distributor, Ingram Spark.  Not sure who lost but I ended my Amazon ebook contract with them today and published directly to that venue using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).  Ten times easier and highly recommended.

I have very little good to say about Ingram Spark.  They’ve been a nightmare.  They have zero quality control.  They don’t don’t check to see if retailers have successfully uploaded content from their portal.  They don’t check anything.  Everything is totally self serve.  My experience leaves me finding very little reason to use them for my next novel.  The self publishing tools at Apple and Amazon are significantly better.  KDP even spell checks your manuscript.

Chair Lift Fail

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Ever fall off a chairlift?  Me either.  Until today.  I’ve been skiing for 35 years and today was my first chair lift fail.  The Painter Boy lift is extremely close to the ground and my board caught its edge before leaving the base.  I flipped over the front of the lift and grabbed the chair to keep it from cleaving off my chin.  I held on long enough for some clearance before dropping and rolling out of the way.  Ellie didn’t miss a beat though.  “I’ll wait for you at the top Dad!”

Still, I had one of my best snow boarding days ever.  The morning started off snowy with powder too deep for Ellie and me to easily navigate, but the sun came out soon enough and the conditions turned out to be spectacular by noon.

We ended up eating pizza for dinner at Secret Stash on Elk Street.  Hard to describe such an eclectic place, our booth was set against this wall of books, but I can tell you the food was awesome.  And they served an IPA by Irwin Brewing Company.  I’d tell you the name of the beer is 11, but the waiter wasn’t clear on that, it wasn’t on the menu, and Irwin Brewing is having issues with their online presence.  I can however quote the waiter with confidence in saying this is the best and only good locally crafted IPA in Crested Butte.  Look for it.

Trail Closed

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Ellie and I cross country skied today through Slate Valley.  Quite possibly, all of Slate Valley.  Trail maps suck.  With less than two miles to go, so close we could see the end, we were faced with a trail closed sign.  Turning around meant maybe another two miles.  We didn’t turn around, we skied right past that sign.  A couple of hundred meters later, we were faced with a washed out bridge.  I thought we could have jumped it, Ellie is more cautious than me.  Failure to make the jump cleanly might have led to hypothermia.  We ended up skiing a good eight miles, but enjoyed every minute of it.  I love nordic skiing.  It’s like trail running but so smooth and graceful.

The Crested Butte Nordic Center is off 2nd Street in downtown, so afterward, Ellie I and strolled around Elk Street taking photos.  We met up with the gang later at Lil’s Sushi for dinner.  Incredibly good but the really special thing is their fantastic happy hour.  People queue up outside waiting for them to open.

sunny in Crested Butte

This town has great dining.  The night before was super good Italian at Marchitelli’s.  And the night before that at Coal Creek Grill, where the lovelorn working girl Liz threw herself to her death in the icy street below the hotel back during the gold rush.  Hard to pick a favorite, it’s all good.

Crested Butte

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Brittany was only five years old the last time we visited Crested Butte.  She’s not here with us twenty years later.  Someone had to stay home to watch the dogs.  So I got to board with Ellie instead.  Her first time to Crested Butte.  She’s become a much better snow boarder than me.  She was carving the snow up today while I was lucky to get on my toes by the end of the day.

We used to come up to Crested Butte with Karen’s family in the early years of having moved to Colorado.  It’s a pretty cool town.  The downtown is as cute as any mountain town in Colorado.  There’s no highway cutting through town like Breckenridge or so many other towns.  We’re up here this spring break with good friends.  I survived my first day of snow boarding and hope to report improvement before returning home.

Peak Fitness

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active-aging

After twenty years of chasing my career and raising kids, I began to redevelop my personal hobbies again in my upper 40s.  Probably true for many as your kids became independent and you began to realize some me time.  For me, that meant a return to running.  I picked up some new hobbies as well, like hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing.  I was thrilled each year that, while I was aging, I was also becoming faster.  It’s just really satisfying to know you’re improving at a sport with age.  But is there is such a thing as peak fitness?  After about five years, my stomach was finally flat, but I also stopped achieving PRs.  I plateaued.

I’m fine with that.  Peaking in terms of speed is no big deal.  Tracking my improvement was fun while it lasted but I’m more than happy with maintaining.  Besides, peak fitness isn’t even a real term.  It’s associated with high intensity interval training.  And it’s the name of about one out of every three fitness gyms across the country.  But it’s not an actual thing.  If I can run the rest of my life.  Shoot, I don’t even have to always run.  If I can hike around in the mountains in my senior years, I’ll consider myself blessed.  And I’ll be happy.  Looking forward to spending this coming weekend up in Crested Butte, so add snowboarding to my list of activities.

Long Runs

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long run

I’ve been going out on some long runs lately.  I trained once for a marathon averaging 3 miles a day.  It didn’t work out so well.  That’s what’s hard about training through the winter, and why end of summer marathons are so much better.  Most of my runs this winter have been a race against a sun setting low in the sky.  When you run by yourself, anything else that’s moving serves as a fine training partner.

The massive mileage is wearing me down.  My legs have been heavy and my pace slow.  I’m not recovering between workouts.  I could try supplements but I’ve never been a big fan.  Instead, I’m going to work shorter runs back into my weekly mileage plan.  I’m a big believer in the long run to prepare for the marathon, but there’s no reason I have to run long every day.  There’s nothing magical about super long weekly distance.

I’ll turn 55 years old two weeks before the Colorado Marathon.  There’s no rational reason for training like a kid.  Better to show up race day without injury and fresh than weak and tired.  Might run another long run Sunday but then I’m going to moderate.  I understand that there are no health benefits to exceeding 35 miles per week.  I do feel that I need to maintain at least 50 miles per week to prepare for the marathon, but my legs aren’t in the mood for 70 mile weeks.  I’m changing up my plan.  I’ll be ready.

The Kirkus Review

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kirkus logo

I was slow to warm up to the idea of paying for a professional review.  Not that I was concerned over the criticism, but I simply wasn’t comfortable with how marketing works in this industry.  I’m learning and I’ll leverage this review for some promotional plans.

It’s good feedback too.  Sort of reminds me of working with my editor.  I can’t thank my friends enough who have posted online reviews for me.  Those are like gold.  But, not surprisingly, they contain very little criticism.  That makes receiving professional criticism so much more interesting.  I’ve posted my Kirkus review below, but first here is what I think about it.

There are two negative critiques.  The point of some of my less-than-great writing examples doesn’t bother me.  I rushed this novel with a first draft in 6 months and fully published in 9 months, with minimal editing while working my day job.  I met my objective of getting a book on the shelf.  Plus, that’s really just an example of my writing style that I am okay with.  So no biggie.  The criticism on my character development though stun a bit.  Not just because I know it to be true.  One of my lessons learned was that I’m weak in this area.  Still, it hurts for the review to use my lead character to make this point.  I was somewhat confident on my efforts describing my protagonist.  It’s good criticism though.

I’m totally thrilled by the compliments.  Clearly this reviewer appreciates the tech thriller genre but it made me feel pretty good to be told I did well describing technical detail through dialog.  I initially used a large amount of narrative to describe highly complex topics and received negative feedback on this from my beta readers.  I responded by rewriting it into dialog.  To be fair, I deleted a great deal as well, but good to know my efforts were deemed successful by this reviewer.  Especially since my target audience is technical.  Below is the review.

*****

Computer-security analysts stumble upon plans for a cyberstrike that could immobilize the United States in Mahoney’s debut thriller.

After a security breach involving user IDs, Cyber Business International’s investigators trace the source of the hack to one of its clients, the Arabian Nights Casino in Macau. Rob Warner, who leads CBI’s incident-response team, heads to the Asian territory to investigate. It turns out that Justin Peters, a CBI network administrator there, had been doing work for the casino when someone accessed his privileged user account and wreaked havoc. Rob, however, is suspicious of the casino’s director of cybersecurity operations, Edmund Ho; he may have a grudge against the casino that stems from his demotion after a cyberattack that crippled the local network by flooding it with traffic. Further investigation reveals other players, which leads CBI to predict a similar attack in the United States. But a larger conspiracy may be at play—which would explain why an assassin is targeting Rob. Mahoney’s acronym-laden technological jargon gives his novel an air of sophistication. For example, he intelligently defines terms such as “botnet” and “exploit kit” by context, generally via dialogue between Rob and others, such as Rob’s friend and colleague Bill Johnson. Myriad plot elements along the way keep the tale exciting, including the actions of an American spy and more than one hired killer and a Las Vegas–set final act in which many characters converge. Some oddly structured sentences slow the story down, though, as when Rob questions “flirting with guidelines, well ethics, shoot, the law, like he did in Macau.” The novel also includes little information about its protagonist’s personal life, although it’s abundantly clear that his job is putting a strain on his marriage.

A smart, highly detailed entry in the techno-thriller genre.

*****

Kirkus reviews are known to be almost entirely a rehash of the storyline.  I feel fortunate to receive as much commentary as I did.  The final sentence is what I’ll be able to attach to book covers and other media to promote the book.

The Sequel

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Cyber War

I’ve started writing the sequel to Cyber War I and am interested in feedback and ideals.  I have the outline about 50% complete, and have even written a couple of random scenes.  If you’re interested in how writers write, I outline the story first to a degree that includes not only the storyline, but concepts I want to cover.  That’s where I’m interested in your thoughts.

I’m limited by my genre, tech-thriller, in terms of how much I can stray from the action.  A literary novel could contain unlimited extraneous topics.  Going off topic too much in a thriller loses the audience.  I only added in a single commentary to Cyber War I, that of automation.  My intent was to generate awareness of the current impact of automation in the technology industry.  I did this by expressing various viewpoints through character dialog.  I even shared my partial viewpoint near the end, which might not be good form but still, I think readers could take away their own point of view without me having added too much bias.  I’ve had feedback on the corporate culture in the book, but that was really just coincidental as part of the story setting.  I wasn’t trying to make any point with that.

The next book will of course focus on the same topic, cyberwar, which is a cyber attack between nation states.  I intend to add in commentary on big data and data privacy, which I think are highly correlated, much in the same way I commented on automation in the first book.  Do you think I’m missing anything else that is very close in topic to cybercrime?  Something that would be relevant and topical?  And a natural fit with hacking?  I need to do research on these topics ahead of time; that greatly speeds up the writing effort.

By the way, this graphic will very likely be my cover for the second book.  Any thoughts on that?  Any characters, for those of you who read the first, you care to see return?  Any that need to die?  Crowdsourcing here.  This is your opportunity.

Weeping Angel

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Bethesda_angel_cloudy_jeh

Any Doctor Who fans?  If so, you should appreciate the reference to the weeping angels from that show, and perhaps understand why this is such a clever name for an exploit kit to hack into Samsung TVs considering how the CIA uses it in collaboration with MI5 – or the Brits.

I’m referring of course to this week’s data dump of classified CIA material on their hacking program, actually their toolkits, by WikiLeaks.  Much of the news hovers around the ethical concerns of the CIA hacking into American citizens’ Internet-connected Samsung TV sets to listen in to their conversations or track what shows they watch.  Or the issue of them not sharing exploits with vendors.  I’m not interested in that.  It’s all inference anyway.  All we really know is the software programs they use, in conjunction with other European agencies, to electronically eavesdrop.  Personally, I’d be disappointed in them if they didn’t have some cool capabilities like this.

I might be more technical in this area than you, but to let you know, I’m not really all that savvy on how these exploits work.  Which is why I think you might find my take-away from this event interesting.  You should be able to identify with my high-level understanding.  Understand it is really quite possible for a hacker to eavesdrop on your conversations, to hack into your iPhone, to capture your sensitive WhatsApp texts before they are encrypted.  For Pete’s sake, last week’s news was about two million internet-connected teddy bears, from Spiral Toy’s CloudPets, making their customers’ conversations available online.  The point isn’t that the CIA uses these tools, it’s that anyone can use these tools.  It’s that these tools exist.  There is no assurance of data privacy.

In Cyber War I, I explain to readers about how ransomware works and to be aware.  I give some technical details on several aspects of hacking and cybercrime.  I intend to go deeper and explore other dangers in my sequel.  I hope you enjoy this information; I’ll try to blog more on these topics.

If you’re looking for assurances, there aren’t very many.  For online protection for when you don’t mind the inconvenience and are uber concerned on protection, consider employing two-factor authentication.  At least on financial sites.  This is typically a process of logging into a site with your password (something you know), and a passcode that gets sent to your phone (something you have) during the login process.  More and more sites are adopting this, but leave it to you to use it.  It probably won’t be available on your TV any time soon.

Know Your Limits

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after-20

This is what I look like shortly after running twenty miles.  Thought I’d crowdsource for opinions on what I look like, because my family thinks I look near death after some of these big runs.  I think I look fine.  Felt near death though for awhile.  Probably more accurate to say I crawled twenty miles.  I didn’t wear a watch but figure I averaged an 8:30 minute pace the first ten miles, and maybe 9:30 on the return.

Part of the reason it was so tough was that I ran a fast ten miler Friday afternoon.  Felt like I averaged 8 minute miles yesterday, which is fast for me.  I seriously think I might have found my speed after teaching Ellie strides and sprints for three days.  Might lose it as I increase my mileage, but hopefully not.  I have enough recovery days in this marathon training plan, I hope to be able to maintain some speed on short mileage days.

I enjoy training for a marathon.  It’s an awesome project.  Days like today allow me to test my limits.  I learned today that I am not ready for a full marathon.  Not sure I could have taken one additional step past twenty miles.  Experience tells me that nine weeks from now, I’ll be able to tack on an additional six miles.  Only four more training runs twenty miles or longer.  There will be one super tough, high-mileage week; otherwise I’m starting to plateau.  Completed 68 miles this week.  Next week is 76.  That will be the most until another four weeks when I target 90.  I’m still on track with my plan.