Box Sets & Writing Conventions

Tags

Novels

If three books are a trilogy, what’s two books?  You could call it a duology, but I think people tend to call anything other than three books simply a series.  There’s still so much I don’t know about writing.  I’m ignorant of many of the standard conventions.

But there are conventions.  There are formulas for writing and you ignore them at your peril.  On the series topic, all advice is to write them.  I didn’t think I would but I had one more cyberwar topic I couldn’t squeeze into the first novel, so I did write a second in order to discuss hybrid warfare.

The advice was that writing books in a series will promote additional sales, because people will go back and buy the earlier books.  I’ve seen that.  Four of my last five book sales were of my first book.  The second book has clearly rekindled interest in my first novel, Cyber War I.  Some people are buying both at once.  I think others are from the hundred promotional copies of Full Spectrum Cyberwar that I signed a couple of months ago at a tech conference in Austin.  Some of those books are converting into sales of the first novel.

I am going to write a third in the series.  In fact, I’m 10,000 words into it already.  Not understanding conventions better, I’m not confident it will be a true trilogy.  I suspose it will be.  But it will be twenty years into the future and a different genre – cyberpunk and a mystery rather than a tech thriller.

Another convention I broke was on my cover art.  Even self-publishers tend to purchase unique cover art.  They’ll spend from $200 to $400 with a cover designer.  I simply licensed art from stock photos.  From some of the writing blogs I read, I sense that’s frowned upon.  Still, I really like my covers because they so clearly say cyberwar.  They break convention though, not only in that they come from stock photos, but because they are on a white background.  Not unlike the first Jurassic Park novel.  But cyberwar and cybercrime books are expected to have dark backgrounds.  Maybe a hooded figure, or for some reason, a grid overlaying everything says “tech” to buyers.  I don’t know if my cover is hurting my sales or not.  I do know that writers care a great deal about their covers, and that covers do indeed sell books.

I’m committed to following the cover convention for book three.  I already licensed the photo I want, but it’s a bit racey and my family of girls have censored it from FaceBook.  It’s so perfect though in how it captures my protagonist.  I have time still to decide.  It’ll be the obligatory dark cover, in addition to being a bit sexy.  I have posters of my book covers hanging in my office.  Probably won’t be able to hang that one up at work.

Flattop Mountain

Tags

,

bear-lake-map

Don’t you think this is an easy enough route?  On paper, it’s fairly straight-forward.  Park at Bear Lake Trailhead, as big and well-groomed a thrailhead as you will ever find.  This trailhead presents numerous options for more pedestrian hikes to various lakes.  I took the less-pedestrian trail that runs above treeline to merge into the Continental Divide Trail in a photopunk moonscape of alpine flowers.

flattop-mountain-elevation-profile

I drove through the ranger gate at 6:15am, and it was open for free.  Rangers have told me before that parking fills up by 7am. There are other trailheads along the drive, but this trailhead is a great place to start so many hikes.  The difficulty of the hike depends on which direction you go onto the Bear Lake Loop Trail.

You take the left trail—the epic hike ends, you see pretty new lakes every mile or so after cresting shallow hills. You take the right trail—you climb this hill, and I show you Colorado from the top. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth.

IMG_3430

The trail hits treeline about half way up, time and distance-wise.  Treeline is also about two-thirds up the 3000 feet of vertical.  The rocks are covered in alpine flowers here that should still be around in late August.

IMG_3433

This section of trail, just before cresting Flattop Mountain, is convered by snowpack still. I suspect some of this will remain in late August too, but it’s passable.  I’ll have a few pairs of trekking poles for those who want them.

IMG_3445

The top is surreal, like Mars with grass and flowers.

IMG_3456

The views were great the entire hike.  At the top here, you can see Longs Peak behind me.  There is an awesome view of the Keyhole and the Ledges on the northwest side of Longs Peak.

I know Nancy, Steve, my brother Steve, and really, most of you could make this hike.  It took me a little under four hours.  Expect five.  Like this post if you’re interested Sunday morning.

Mr. Sandman

Tags

IMG_3387

I had plans this weekend.  Then I didn’t.  Or rather, then Ellie’s plans were my plans.  She thought it would be cool to go camping at the Great Sand Dunes in the Sangre de Cristos.  After explaining to Ellie that the 4th of July is perhaps the busiest camping weekend ever, we booked a motel in Alamosa, because sure enough, all the camping spots were full.

IMG_2879

The San Luis Valley is notable for how flat it is, and just plain barren, but there are things to do.  Of all the random things, there is an alligator farm just west of the Sand Dunes.  Ellie’s friend Kathryn came with us.

Dad

Since we got to Alamosa in the afternoon, we headed to the Sand Dunes at night to watch the stars.  It’s a unique national park.  To get to the Sand Dunes, you first have to wade across an ankle-deep creek.  The water is warm during the day but freezing cold at night.

Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

The creek is a bit deeper earlier in the season, carrying snow-melt down from Crestone Peak.  These are the head waters of the Rio Grande.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

The Dunes are a special spot to watch the sun set, and to star gaze after 10 pm.  We could also see fireworks 30 miles away in Alamosa.

top of sand dune.jpg

The girls were ready to sandboard the next day.  The sand was too hot to walk barefoot before noon.  I suggest getting there as early as possible in the summer months.

air

Ellie got the hang of it quick.  She caught some air in this photo.  And she collected 72 mosquito bites.  Best to visit the Great Sand Dunes in April and May to avoid the mosquitos.

Two Girls Eating

Tags

,

IMG_3346

The only two things a girl needs when hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park is water and her smartphone.

IMG_3358 (2)

This is what we saw at the end of our hike in Wild Basin.  Sandbeach Lake is considered deep at fifty feet, and it has a deep-blue reflection.

IMG_3348

Two girls eating a sandwich, after a couple of hours of hiking, is basically the goal of hiking.

My Cozy Trail

Tags

IMG_3305

The first days of summer have been full of winter in Colorado, but I love watching a front come in while running the East Boulder hills.  There’s no better feeling than running into the oncoming weather.  Summer rain dropping the chill of mountain snowmelt.

I’m doing all my runs lately on the East Boulder Trail.  It’s nostalgic for me.  I ran this trail daily, nearly thirty years ago when I lived in the Gunbarrel Country Club area, across 75th from Heatherwood.

I was in my upper twenties and I acclimated to high altitude running on that trail.  I ran a 41 minute Bolder Boulder that year – 1990.  A decent time for that course.  I ran 43 minutes, twenty-five years later.  I still plan to break 40 minutes.  I like the idea of getting back into shape on this trail.

The grasses along the East Boulder Trail have grown quickly with all the moisture this spring.  The stems are waist high and my fingers brush through the spikelets as I run.  I think their lushness makes the trail cozy.  I like the experience.  It feels early in the season for the grasses to be so tall.  I hope they keep growing.

I remember running this trail in 1990, when I found my high altitude speed.  Half a year earlier, I’d lived at sea level.  I always launched my runs from the west side of 75th and my first mile took me to the top of the water tower hill.  The water tower is the high point and is a half mile climb, then a quarter mile flat stretch across the top, and a quarter mile drop into the hills.

I found my speed when another runner, young twenties, probably in college, passed me from behind on the far-side downhill.  He’d passed me on other days and I always let him go.  This time though, warmed up from the hill, I chased after him once he gained a good fifty meters lead.  I caught him easily and we ran together, chatting, for a couple of miles.  We were easily running a six minute pace, maybe faster, through the hills.  It felt good.

I rediscovered my speed on that run and I’ll never forget it.  I maintained my fitness for the rest of the year, until I got a job downtown and had to start commuting.  Then I had kids.  It would be another twenty-five years before I would run this trail fast again.

I’m not running fast now, but I can run the hills without walking.  That will get me back in shape.  Eventually.  The hills on the East Boulder Trail never disappoint.

 

Foot Bridge

Tags

, , ,

IMG_2861

This is a photo of today’s foot bridge, taken earlier this spring.  No one was standing on it then, like today.  And yes, those are road apples in the middle of the bridge.

The East Boulder Trail had some runners on it today.  A young girl passed by me early on with elite form.  Then another guy, weight-lifter for sure, shirtless of course.  On my return, five and a half miles into an eight miler, I was crossing this bridge with some momentum.  Unlike in this photo, it was nearly crowded with hikers and runners.  And as I reached the apex, as if in a zombie movie, a lady jumped out at me, her hands reaching for my throat.

Too late to perform the move well, I understood the outstretched arms to be an attempt for dual fist bumps.  I figured I must know this person and bumped her fists, if that’s in fact what we were doing.  But I made no attempt to slow down.  I continued running past her.  I needed that momentum to take me into the next hill.

Two steps past Jen, I recognized her and stopped.  I turned around and saw that the guy with her was Bob.  They were training for a literary hike through the Scottish Highlands. One stop is on the path of Diana Galbadon, another on the passage to J.K. Rowling.

I’ve heard Galbadon talk at a RMFW’s Colorado Gold workshop.  The woman is bawdy.  Our coversation on the bridge deviated from The Outlander series to NetFlix porn.  I would say the current crown of Netflix porn goes to Tales of the City.  It’s in that porn with plot and dialog genre, Porn Plus.  I swear, I was searching for the Father Brown Mysteries, and I stumbled onto Tales of the City.

The fit, shirtless runner crossed the bridge on his return.  Jen did more than notice, she commented.  Even I was a bit envious of the guy.  We all started back on our runs, in opposite directions.  Jen and Bob headed for Valmont Road.  I headed for the hills.

512

Tags

, ,

ignite (1)

I’m sitting in an ATX bar drinking 512 IPA near gate 23, listening to live music.  If that makes you jealous, I won’t get home before midnight.  But what a week.

I was a booth babe for my company at the Palo Alto Networks Ignite 2019 User Conference.  It was a cool setup because it was less booth and more coffee shop slash drinks after five.  If that wasn’t enough to draw people in, and it was, I was signing promotional copies of Full Spectrum Cyberwar.

If it confuses you that I would be both working for my firm and at the same time self-promoting my book, I can explain the joint-marketing/co-branding concept to you in one word – LinkedIn.  If you need more words, my original content drew people into the booth.  My authenticity with a signed book increases customers and potential customers’ commitment to my firm.  It also lubed the conversational skids.  That helps my firm and for me, hopefully, a percentage of them will buy my first or future-3rd book.

tomo

The vendor took care of me and my crew with an over-abundance of high-quality meals near the Austin Convention Center.  And when it was all done, I met my friend and neighbor, Steve Wolfe, also working in Austin at the time, and my brother-in-law Steve Collier, at Tomos for the best sushi on Parmer Lane.

I’m exhausted and won’t get home before midnight, but I’m drinking 512 IPA, listening to live music, and I’m good.

PING

Tags

,

IMG_3242

PING is one of the best acronyms ever.  It’s a tech spec, RFC 1739, that means Packet InterNetwork Groper.  It references when you validate the online existence of an IP address.  You ping it.  Techies also use the term colloquially in place of the word contact, as in ping me instead of contact me.  And, Ping is the name of the firm I sat down in Friday afternoon to be interviewed for the Colorado=Security podcast, by Robb Reck.

I drew a pint of the Codename: Superfan IPA by Odd13 Brewing.  At 6.5% ABV, it contains the hops Simcoe, Citra, Amarillo and Equinox.  I then esconcend myself in Robb’s office to be interviewed for my cyberwar tech thriller, Full Spectrum Cyberwar.

The talk was a lot of fun.  I forget which parts were recorded, but inevitably, when two old tech guys sit down to talk, the conversation turns to who they’ve worked with and where.  It’s nostaligic and fun, and then of course, what writer doesn’t like to talk about his book?

Being the CISO of Ping, Robb gave me grief over my storyline that characterized a CISO as the first bad guy.  Technically, I say Claire was an unwitting bad guy.  And I feel I should score points for representing women in tech.  You read it and tell me what you think.

 

 

Saturday night was even better.  The Jaggers hosted performer Jill Sobule at the house.  Jill was highly entertaining, and had us all singing along with her.  I just downloaded her latest album, Nostalgia Kills, because I liked her music that much.  Before the performance, Jabe passed around a hat for a young girlfriend with stage 4 cancer.  Jabe gave an impassioned plea that would have won the war for the allies.  Hoping the best for Sara.

I’m currently sitting at DIA, waiting for my delayed flight that I woke up for at 5am.  If any of my tech buddies are attending the Palo Alto Ignite User Conference this week, look for me at the CenturyLink Cafe.  I’ll sign a copy of my book for you.

The Tribe

Tags

,

IMG_0348

This is my running tribe, in Folsom Stadium after running today’s 2019 Bolder Boulder.  I want to be running with them again, but not in my current condition.  The Bolder Boulder is a celebration of running, and for me, that calls for racing.  I’d been improving my time over the last ten years and I’m not done yet.  I still think I can break 40 minutes, and I’m not running it again until I believe I have a shot at that.  Not sure I could break 60 minutes right now.

A young couple drove up from Colorado Springs this weekend to run the Bolder Boulder, and stopped by my house to buy Ellie’s old bunk bed.  I would guess they were in their thirties, but man, were they in shape.  The man looked like he could play linebacker for a pro team and his wife could have been an elite 400 or 800-meter track star.  Seeing people with such perfectly athletic bodies gets me motivated.

I got in a nice five miler on the East Boulder Trail today.  The weather was ideal for running, under  60°.  I wasn’t alone out there, other runners shied away from the 50,000 runners in Boulder today.  I think we had a better view, running among the Blue Flax Flowers, looking down on the valley.

IMG_3236

Fence Painting

Tags

fence painting

I was excited to get in three days of trail running this weekend, but like Aunt Polly, Karen sent me out to paint the fence Saturday morning.  I wasn’t thrilled about it, but after reading the paper and sufficient cups of coffee, I acquiesced.

I began with a trip to my local paint store, Boulder Valley Paint.  I estimated I needed three gallons.  At $50 per gallon, I didn’t want to buy more than I would need.  But with the paint store closed the next two days for the holiday, it was critical I not under-estimate.  Three gallons turned out to be perfect.  I know my paint.

Tiffany chatted me up while she stirred the paints.  I let on I would rather be doing something else, but that at least painting the fence would get me outside.  I didn’t tell her I’d rather be running.  Instead, I shared my other irritation with her, that I considered it my neighbor’s fence and I shouldn’t have to do this.

Tiffany might be 35 or 40, hard to say.  She has straight, long hair with bangs that give off a schoolgirl look, and colorful ink on both shoulders and upper arms.  She gave me a lecture on how it was important to not go into painting in a sour mood.  That I needed to find the joy in my task.  That I should consider drinking a beer first with some CBD.  A house painter and home decorator herself, she advised me on how to find the zen in painting.

Being Boulder County, my paint store lecture on the zen of painting wasn’t all that surprising.  What was bizarre though was we discovered we both learned to paint from our grandmothers, and in both circumstances, because we painted their rental property.  We’d led mirrored childhoods.  I left determined to have a positive attitude, which I rationalized by telling myself that painting would be a better workout than running.

Turned out to be an awesome four-hour workout.  And it got me outside on what was perhaps the most perfect spring day of the season.  I’ll run Sunday and Monday.  Not the Bolder Boulder though.  If you know me, then you know I’m a vain runner.  I’ll only run the Bolder Boulder again when I’m fast enough to be in a top-seeded wave with a chance for a competitive finish among my age group.  Hopefully next year.

50° in May

Tags

IMG_3207

I suppose if you wanted to swim at the rez today, 50° would have sucked.  But for running?  Shorts and a long-sleeve cotton T was the perfect gear for this weather.  If you recognize this street sign, you know what trailhead I ran at today.

After finding my pace a few weeks back, I can handle the hills of the East Boulder Trail just fine.  I can’t tell you my exact pace as I’m not going to bother wearing a watch at this point in my training plan, but safe to say it’s slow.  Feels to me about 10 minutes per mile.  I’m fine with that as long as I can complete the distance, and the hills, without walking.

But the cold weather today gave me a little skip in my step.  I felt fast.  Well, faster.  It’s amazing the impact temperature has on distance running.  And I like the look of the clouds sitting on top of the foothills west of Boulder Valley.  On a clear day, this trail affords spectacular views of the Indian Peaks, but this blanket of clouds gave it a cozy feel that we won’t experience much of as summer dries out the valley and hills.  It was a good day to run.

On Reading

Tags

What Happened at Midnight

Everyone thinks like a writer.  Among their many character flaws, writers feel an obligation to share their inner dialog with the rest of the world, whether or not the world is interested.  Blogs are great for that.  I find facebook less great for that.  It’s famous of course, for self-publishing, as is Twitter and all the new social media platforms, but the format doesn’t suit my style of sharing my inner dialog.

So when I was invited to play a game by my facebook friends to post seven days of books that have influenced my life, I’ve instead taken to my blog.  I don’t play facebook games in general because most of them are simply intended to share little icons that contain adware.  This game was harmless, but I prefer the long form story with mixed photos and text to seven short bursts of content.

Old Yeller

I began reading in earnest in 4th grade.  Over the next two years I read every Hardy Boys mystery on the planet, which for me was the Carnegie-built library in Marion, Iowa.  Although the most influential book from that period of my life was Old Yeller, which made me cry.  I also read a fair share of Indian Chief biographies.  Whenever I played Cowboys and Indians, I was an Indian.

By middle school, I was in an advanced English class, and was forced to read some of the classics, such as Great Expectations.  I didn’t care for stories where authors were paid by the word.  I don’t mind long books, but I’m a fan of getting to the point.  The book from those years that opened my eyes to the world and the horrors of war was The Children of the Atomic Bomb.  One of my sisters borrowed it from the West High School library in Davenport, Iowa, apparently in 1966.  It still sits on the bookshelf in my study.  Don’t tell anyone.  I read Jaws in 8th grade as well.

 

My reading diminished in high school, first in lieu of sports, and then to afford me time for girls.  I found girls too pretty to ignore.  I tended, however, to read books after my mother was finished with them.  She was into financial thrillers by Paul Erdman, first The Crash of ’79, later The Panic of ’89.  In more recent years, my favorite author of financial thrillers became Michael Lewis, although his stories are more non-fiction.  His method though is to develop the characters in a manner similar to what makes good fiction, so he blurs the line.

 

1558197450

I read less fiction in college than I did in high school.  Not enough time.  I started my subscription to the Wall Street Journal then, which I continue nearly forty years later.  As I started my career, I shifted to more non-fiction.  Sometimes I have to force myself to read more fiction.  To stay competitive in the job market, I don’t understand how a generous amount of non-fiction can be avoided.  I read a book or two on the telecom market, which preceded my graduate studies in that industry, but the first book I read to support my job as a firewall admin was Firewalls and Internet Security: Repelling the Wily Hacker.  It was the tech bible at a time I found myself deploying firewalls between IBM’s Sydney data centers and the data networks supporting the 2000 Olympic Games venues.

My first truly fun read on cybersecurity was Clifford Stoll’s, The Cuckoo’s Egg.  It was also non-fiction, but read like a fictional tech thriller and was a strong influence on my desire to write a cybersecurity tech thriller.  My style though probably borrows more from reading everything Neal Stephenson has ever written, such as Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Reamde.

My favorite genre is historical fiction.  I’m currently reading Pillars of the Earth by one of my favorite authors, Ken Follett.  It might have been first published forty years ago, but I received the 3rd story in his Kingsbridge trilogy, A Column of Fire, for Christmas last year, and I want to read them all.  My goal as a writer is to graduate to writing historical fiction, once I think my writing has improved enough for a more literary style.  Perhaps after I’m retired and have time for the requisite travel.

Aspen Heavy Half

Tags

Tortugas on 57th Bday

Karen and I are pictured here eating dinner at Tortugas, celebrating Ellie turning 17.  I turned 17 forty years and two days prior to this photo.  I posted an email from a friend a couple of days ago on FaceBook, that captured the spirit of aging gracefully.  We were discussing whether or not it was juvenile to still be athletically competitive.  My friend said, “You start being old when you stop having those thoughts.”  I agree.

Maybe that’s not being graceful.  Maybe that’s refusing to yield.  Maybe that’s pure narcissism.  When I’m running an event, and I’m in decent racing shape, I love getting into a race.  If it’s a marathon, the race might only be for a few miles, somewhere in the middle.  In the Bolder Boulder 10K, my racing starts at mile 4 on the top of Casey Hill at 13th and High Streets, and continues to Folsom.  I don’t generally kick it in through the stadium, because kicks are for kids.  But I will race kids, and women, anything with two legs.  It is juvenile, and it’s fun.

I had another good weekend of running.  I’ve been running hilly trails to maximize the training potential.  I’ve yet to establish a weekday routine, but that’s next on my list.  My weight is trending lower and I’ve rediscovered my running pace and form.  It would be more comfortable to simply sit in my chair and read, like a graceful gentleman, but I’m not done competing.  Not yet.  I’m currently training for the Aspen Heavy Half Marathon, August 10th.

Lunch with Sara

Tags

Sara Thomas

Below is Sara’s second scene in Full Spectrum Cyberwar, after traveling to the U.K. to be closer to the action.

***

Sara was hungry.  She barely arrived home after work Friday when a military Humvee parked outside.  Two good-looking men, whom Sara thought could be models, in fatigues, exited, walked up to her door, and explained to her mom how they were taking her to the U.K. to work with Major Calvert.  Her mom called her dad, who just got off the phone with Calvert, then helped her pack.  Sara missed dinner.  

The two nice looking soldiers drove her to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where she boarded a small passenger jet for a flight to somewhere in Georgia, where she boarded yet another plane, described to her as a C-130 cargo jet, that flew her to RAF Fairford Airbase, somewhere northwest of London.  

It was now Saturday morning, and she was being driven by yet more very fine looking soldiers to what they called the Doughnut, a half hour more northwest in Cheltenham.  Sara had yet to eat.  She didn’t know the difference between jet lag and low blood sugar, but she was confident she could ride out the jet lag if she could get some food.  Sara also wondered if the military had some synthetic printer running off copies of these darling soldiers.

“Are we driving to breakfast?”  Her brain starved of glucose, Sara had already forgotten the two soldiers’ names.  She didn’t care which of the two boys sitting up front answered.

“We’ve already eaten breakfast ma’am, but I’ll inform the Major of your request.”

“Bless your heart.  Thank you.”

Ma’am.  These boys must have five years on me.  Lordy, they’re cute.  Sara had yet to express much interest in boys at school, but traveling with these military men kindled something inside her.  They must think I’m older?

The soldiers didn’t talk unless spoken to and Sara was too tired for words.  After driving through the English countryside for twenty minutes, on what she understood to be highway A417, much like a Travis County highway but without shoulders, they reached the city of Cheltenham.  They parked in front of a large building.  She gathered, more from the curve of the parking lot than from what she could see of the building itself, that it was round.  Assuming it had a courtyard, she got the doughnut moniker.

The soldiers bypassed the security turnstile and took her to a side office where they printed her out a badge with a photo worse than any she’d ever taken.  Any.  She tried to put it in her backpack, but they handed her a lanyard and instructed her to wear it around her neck.  They emphasized the importance of keeping the photo-side visible.

“Miss Thomas.  I heard you were in the building.  How was your flight?”

Sara raised her head after donning her lanyard to see Major Calvert standing in the doorway of the small office.

“Hello, sir.  Mr. Calvert.”

“You can call me Major, Miss Thomas.  It’s been a full year since we met at BlackHat.  It’s good to see you.”

“Thank you for the job, Major.  It’s been really awesome.”

One of the privates addressed Calvert.  “Sir, Miss Thomas expressed an interest in having breakfast on our drive from Fairford.”

“Well, of course, we can have breakfast.”  Calvert already ate but suspected more food might aid his own jet lag.  “When’s the last time you ate Miss Thomas?”

“Bless your heart, Major.  Not since lunch yesterday.  Military planes don’t have flight attendants.”

“No Miss Thomas, they don’t.  I’m so sorry about that.  Let’s address this right away.”  Calvert looked back at the private.  “Her badge ready to go?”

“Yessir, her authorizations you requested are active, sir”

“Fine, thank you Private.”  Calvert returned his attention toward Sara.  “Miss Thomas, we could eat in the doughnut cafeteria, but think about how that sounds while we walk outside.  I know a place where we can get you a proper English breakfast.”  Calvert had already worked four hours and would like a break from the building himself.

“Private, drive us to the Bayshill Inn on St Georges Place.  Take the A40 to Lansdown.”

“Yessir.  May I suggest the Princess Elizabeth Way to A4019?”

“No thank you, Private.  I’m going for sites over speed.  Let’s drive past the Ladies College.”

“Yessir.”

Ten minutes later, Sara found herself seated at an outdoor picnic table with the major somewhere in what she figured to be the town’s center.  She ordered a tuna and brie omelette with potatoes while the major ordered sausage and mash.  Not one to assume a young girl with such a diminutive size couldn’t have a healthy appetite, Calvert also ordered a fish and chip board as a starter, to be eaten if needed.  Sara didn’t begin to speak until the chip board arrived and she had a few bites.

“Wow, these are good.  Sitting outside here is nice.  It’d be too hot in the Hill Country, this late in the morning.”

“I know.  I mostly work in San Antonio.  Maximizing your time in the sun will help you with jet lag.  I’ve always had good results from eating too.”  Calvert grabbed his first bite after sensing Sara provided him an opening.

“I really want to thank you again Major for the summer job.  But I can’t imagine how I can help you.  I barely know anything.”

“Straight to business, Miss Thomas.  Okay.  First, you have experience in analyzing the system logs from wind turbines.  Second, in the ELK stack, which seemed to have worked nicely for your analysis yesterday.  And third, in querying a massive data lake of vulnerabilities and exploits that your firm maintains.  Any idea how they put that extraordinary database together in such a short time?”

“I can’t talk about that stuff, and honestly Major, I’m just learning how to use the ELK stack.  I mean it’s not terribly difficult.  It’s hardly something that takes ten thousand hours to become an expert.”

“There’s more, Miss Thomas.  My team is already engaged in other projects.  You’re additional headcount.  Your skills might seem niche to you, but they are perfectly suited to the task at hand, and you’ll require zero training time.  Time is at a premium just now.”

“Not that it isn’t really cool to be here sir, but why not have me query logs from Austin?”

“I don’t expect you to be overly familiar with international data privacy laws Miss Thomas, but trust me, Europe invented them.  I had Jen, I believe she’s your lead, transfer an instance of your AWS data lake to an offnet data center here in the U.K.  In addition to playing by the rules, it affords us a measure of security should we lose trans Atlantic Internet connectivity to North America.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s a definite possibility.  Should cyberwar break out, we’d be remiss not to have contingencies for that.  A classic defensive tactic we call compartmentalizing systems.”  

Calvert had underestimated potential strikes in the past.  He was running this exercise by consulting a physical playbook every four hours in a stand up meeting with his NATO counterparts.  Not unlike facilitating an incident management and response plan after a breach.

“Can you tell me what an offnet data center is, sir?”

“Back at the Doughnut, you’ll be assigned to a work bay with two workstations.  One is connected to the Internet.  You’ll need that to download log files from several dozen wind farms where we’ve already established user access for you.  You’ll transfer files to a USB drive which you’ll use to load the files into your second workstation.  That computer is not connected to the Internet.  Hence the term, offnet.  It’s connected to a military network where your new data lake has been instantiated.  Jen worked through the night with my team here to rebuild your data lake and toolsets.  She didn’t have it finished until you arrived.  You think you’re tired.”

The seriousness of this adventure began to dawn on Sara.  She wasn’t intimidated but rather so excited, she mentally directed any self-doubt to take a back seat to her enthusiasm.  She stole the last fish slider when Calvert wasn’t looking and scooped up the remaining tartar sauce.

“Oh, I think that’s our food coming.  Phew, I started thinking this place was slow.”

Introducing Sara

Tags

Sara Thomas

Technically, I introduced Sara near the end of book one, similar to how I introduced the major character of book three near the end of book two.  I’m consistent like that.  This is Sara’s introduction in the second chapter of Full Spectrum Cyberwar.

***

SARA Thomas was a serious-minded sixteen-year-old.  With two years of high school behind her, her petite 5’1”, 95-pound frame led people to guess she was only headed into 8th grade.  She got her share of double takes during night classes for the college level calculus she attended Tuesday and Thursday nights at Austin Community College.  Most boys considered her pretty, but she didn’t know that.  She wasn’t so dorky as to wear over-sized glasses, her specs were hip wireframes, but she’d yet to start thinking about boys.  Sara’s focus was elsewhere.

This was her second month working at Response Software, in their modern office complex off Loop 360, overlooking Lake Austin.  She got the job after meeting a Captain Calvert of the U.S. Cyber Command, the previous summer while attending a Black Hat conference in Las Vegas with her father. Captain Calvert, now a major, stayed in touch with her father, and Calvert’s wife K.C., who worked for the cybersecurity forensics firm, offered Sara the job in May.

She expected today to be like all the others.  Jen, her team lead and official mentor as the only other female on-site, tended to sit down with her around 10 am on Wednesday mornings to teach her a new software tool.  Software that Jen referred to as being part of their forensics toolkit or stack, which implied a set of tools that all work together.  

Sara was in her cube before 8 am, reading her email.  She had one marked urgent from Justin Peters, whom she understood to be pretty high up in the firm, one of the partners.  Sara had never received an email before with the urgent flag set.  She read it first.

Sara,

Jen tells me you’re up to speed on the ELK stack.  That’s awesome.  I need you to query these 45 days worth of server logs six ways from Sunday and let me know if you find any interesting patterns.  If you have time, download this server image too and compare it against the standard image we already have.  I need your findings by EoD.

JP

Sara googled “six ways from Sunday.”  Oh, he wants an exhaustive search.  Fun.  Next, Sara googled “EoD.”  My end of day or his?

Sara detached the archived file from the email, saved it to her hard drive, then decompressed it to find a trove of over a thousand log files from thirty-three separate servers.  She added these logs to the data lake she had been building as part of her internship.  That data store was comprised of massive storage in the Amazon cloud offering termed AWS S3 for Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service.  

She began to study the files by scrolling through their file names.  It was apparent there were thirty-three different servers, as their hostnames contained unique numbers, each with forty-five logs, and that each log captured data over a twenty-four hour period.  Fourteen hundred and eighty-five server logs.  

She opened up all the logs at once using her ELK stack to color code each unique data point over the entire forty-five days.  Her program determined the normal range of readings based on statistical analysis, and illustrated meaningful deviations from the norm with the colors.  Color patterns emerged across most of the data points, for each server, on each day, until the final hour.  Maybe that’s normal and the final day’s readings are anomalous because Justin didn’t get a full day?

Sara drilled down into the data points by clicking on them.  The logs contained readings that she didn’t understand.  She did understand each row of data was timestamped every thirty seconds.  And she caught visually, by the color-coded representation, that the readings were entirely identical across each of the thirty-three servers, until the final hour of the last day.  Her guess was that the data points flagged by her pattern-matching software should probably be more random, like the final hour readings.  

She googled wind farms and stumbled upon some information from the Department of Energy that explained the readings to her.  “rev/s” referenced the rotation of the turbine in revolutions per second.  “m/s” was a meters per second reading of the wind speed.  There were other readings for power output and pitch.  Every color-coded reading was identical, until the final hour, as if all thirty-three servers were running the same control program.  Sara wasn’t deep enough in her knowledge of this tech to know to what extent these systems were machine controlled, but clearly, windspeed came from nature and would have to be random.  

She spent more of her time reading online details of how wind farms operated than reviewing the logs themselves.  The ELK stack did all the log analysis for her within a few minutes.  The real effort was in understanding the significance of her findings.  She also had time to download the server image from a link included in Justin’s email, and run the compare.  Sara emailed her findings back to Justin before her 10 am meeting with Jen.