Mutton on the Rotisserie

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I took advantage of the Easter weekend and got in twenty-one miles, all on the East Boulder Trail.  8, 8, and 5.  I had to go out earlier today to make time in the day for everything else.  I was rewarded with a run with a front row seat to watching the storm come in.  I love that.

The run started out a little warm.  A cool breeze picked up momentum on my return leg. The clouds rolled in and filtered the sun, which was just crossing that boundary, formed by my body, from east to west.

The snow on the Indian Peaks was still bright white.  I knew that later, as the sun crossed the peak’s boundaries, the snow mountainsides would turn to blue.  And as the sun set, with some rays angled straight into my eyes, other rays would bounce off the snow and color the sky in glorious pinks, like the Hills of Calvary on fire.  The rain finally dropped on my windshield as I pulled into my neighborhood.

I’ve enjoyed my three-day weekend.  Besides good runs, I cut, painted and installed a shelf, and hung a hook to Ellie’s wall for her guitar.  I wished I’d spent more time with friends, but it’s a family weekend.  Getting ready now to rotisserie mutton for my tribe.

 

Go-to-Market Plan

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These are my facebook ad stats for a single campaign that contains six ad sets targeting six cities.  I have many more stats but the screen capture would be too small if I copy/pasted all the columns to the right.  I’ll share with you some of my Facebook ads experience here, along with other book marketing steps I’ve taken.

First, I chose to target these cities because they represent some of the highest reading cities in America.  Seattle is #1, Portland #2, DC #3.  Austin and Denver represent places where I have a strong influence, and are also in the top ten.  Atlanta joins Austin, Denver, and DC as places with a large number of cybersecurity professionals.  Targetting these cities is what we term in product marketing as a Go-to-Market plan (GTM).

Notice this dashboard allows me to enable or disable the target cities.  I could have created a single campaign that included all these cities in a single ad set.  Separating them allows me to review their performance and make adjustments.  Some stats aren’t shown here but while Seattle has the best Click-Through-Rate (CTR), for whatever reason DC is the cheapest per click.  I’ve had all them running at once but have currently disabled all cities except DC – which actually captures the entire DC to Baltimore corridor.

The Facebook ads dashboard would not show how many clicks eventually lead to a sale, but it could if I leveraged the method of adding pixels from my Amazon seller’s page to my ad settings.  I can’t do that because it requires me to control the code on my selling website.  The Amazon dashboard is robust enough though that I can easily correlate results from the two.

Further marketing efforts involve mailing books to influencers.  I have yet to receive the books to mail because Amazon is super slow at printing and shipping authors’ books – copies that are invoiced at cost, which for my novel is $3.03 each.  Once I receive them, I already have a list of mail-to addresses.

I finally received my first online review – 4 out of 5 stars – which made me happy.  I’m told I need a good ten reviews to sway readers to make the purchase.  It’s a process.  Some friends promoted my book on LinkedIn for me.  I also have links to my book on this blog.  You probably can’t see them if you’re reading this on a mobile device – not enough screen real estate.

And I just added links on another blog of mine that I wrote to share my experience with cancer a few years back.  I haven’t produced content there in five years, and normally it only gets three hits a day on average.  Readership tripled though back in July, and tripled again in January.  It almost receives as many views now as this blog, and I do nothing to promote it.  From my stats, I know three things.  Readers are randomly global, all are going to my blog post titled “Cystoscopy“, and most of them are coming from Pinterest.  I went to Pinterest and searched on the term cystoscopy and noticed a photo and link to my blog shows up near the top.

No idea what made cystoscopies suddenly so popular.  If it leads to me selling more books, I’ll take it.  There are two camps of writers, those for and against blogging.  Blogging is writing and I don’t understand why some authors don’t get that.  They say it’s important for a writer to maintain an email list of readers.  That’s so nineties.  I have my blogs as my digital presence.

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Tara & Teddy

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I found my pace on the East Boulder Trail today.  Spoiler alert, it’s slower than I’d been running.  Seems odd runners have to relearn their pace after falling out of shape, but they do.  Finding my pace allowed me to run further and to avoid walking.

Cairn

My cairn was knocked over so I rebuilt it.  You might not be surprised by this, but I felt inspired by the architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Bridge

I targeted the bridge today for my turn-around, which would have given me a five-mile run.  But with my new-found pace, I kept going.

Ashes

I ran past the spot along the Boulder Creek where I released Tara and Teddy’s ashes.  Our first dogs, they would typically run with me and cool off here in the creek.  I ran just a little further.

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I made my turn-around at the White Rocks Trailhead, resulting in an eight miler.  Longest run of the year.

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On my return, near the end, I passed a blind lady hiking on the trail, dragging her walking stick along the edge as a guide.  She wasn’t wearing glasses but held her face up skyward with closed eyes, toward the sun.  I felt some derivative of empathy and for a moment imagined I was her, hiking a Colorado Trail without sight, but feeling my way into the sun.  She looked happy.

tara and teddy

Tara and Teddy mirror some of the traits of our current dogs.  Mostly, there were two of them then, and we have two now.  Similar sizes.  Tara and Millie were both at the top of the pecking order while the boys were both overly defensive.  Karen always says that Tara and Teddy came back as Millie and Meeko.  I don’t know, maybe they did.

Heavy Thoughts

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It looked like winter today.  And it was fairly cool when I stepped out the door.  By the time I reached the trail though, the weather was ideal for running.  I’m not yet in a strong running routine and I did well to get out there, but I overdressed.  I suspect I was compensating for not wanting to get outside.  I wanted to remain warm and cozy.

I won’t sugarcoat it, running overweight sucks.  I have to walk up some of the bigger hills still on East Boulder Trail.  And I don’t like other runners passing me.  At the risk of me too backlash, I especially don’t like girls passing me like I’m standing still.  It’s not good for my self-image.

Honestly, the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt overweight in every aspect of my life.  Work has been hard.  Traveled last week and had to spend 14 hour days with 4000 of my closest friends.  I’m somewhere in the middle on the extrovert/introvert spectrum, but together time like that leaves me totally exhausted.

Then there are my book sales.  Or lack of.  I’ve been advertising and the click-through rates are awesome.  But that just means I’m spending money, because my conversion rate sucks.  I’ve discovered and fixed some mistakes but for the most part, my problem is a lack of reviews.  People don’t buy online without reviews and to date, I have zero reviews.  I should probably stop advertising until I get some.

Sorry to bring you down but I blog what’s on my mind.  Right now, my mind needs to lose some weight.

Book Marketing

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I told myself that for my second novel, I would focus on marketing.  As a product manager, that’s a big part of my day job.  Still, I find everything after writing, from formatting a book for publishing to creating online ads, highly tedious.  If a publisher approached me today and told me they would publish my book for 90% of the royalties, I think I’d sign up as long as they did all this post writing stuff for me.

I’ll share some of my marketing progress, to hopefully benefit the other writers who read this blog.  To date, I’ve only marketed on AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) and Facebook.  They are both easy enough to learn and have pervasive reach.  First step for AMS is buy KDP Rocket and watch Dave Cheeson’s training videos.  I think the videos are free, and also posted on YouTube.  But buy the tool too.  It will save you hours building up your AMS keywords.  And that’s a big part of what the training is for.

Cheeson walks you through building keyword lists that you will add to your AMS campaign.  He recommends 200-300 minimum.  With KDP Rocket, this took me a few minutes.  The goal is that when shoppers search on Amazon for books, your book shows up as a sponsored ad.  It’s not terribly difficult, but I found I needed some repetition to learn concepts like impressions, click-through-rates and cost-per-click.  The training videos helped but also the process of establishing ads and reviewing my reports and dashboards have reinforced my knowledge on these principles.

I found Facebook campaigns a bit more complicated.  Much of it is intuitive but they have these three components to advertising that I didn’t get at first: a campaign, ad sets, and ads.  A Facebook rep actually gave me an hour-long training session, so I have it down now.  I learned to use Facebook’s ad manager.  It’s a dashboard for launching and tracking campaigns.  Prior to this, I thought I had to boost posts on my Facebook author page, but that’s the worst method.

For example, I created the video above.  I wanted to use it in multiple campaigns.  The link would always carry traffic to where my book can be bought on Amazon.  However, Amazon has different URLs (web sites) for different countries.  The U.S. is amazon.com while the U.K. is amazon.co.uk and India is amazon.in.  See the complete expanded distribution list below.

Amazon Sites

Those are my ebook prices, although I’ve lowered a few of them, like India and Mexico, since I screen captured that graphic.  The far right column is my profit.  Back to my story.  If I target a Facebook ad to Bangalore, India, and I did, I need the video to link to amazon.in.  And my add targeting the Netherlands needs the link to lead shoppers to amazon.nl.  Everyone in the Netherlands can read in English, and there are more readers in India than there are books in America.

Using my Facebook Author page, I would have to repost the video multiple times, once per Amazon region I was targeting.  Once I learned how to use the Campaign-ad sets-ads feature of the Ads Manager, I only had to upload that video once.  All part of my book marketing learning curve.

Oh, and I subscribed to a basic plan on promo.com to create my video with licensed video and music.  There are a million ways to create videos, but it’s good to use a product that contains a library of licensed content.  Promo is where I got my M-60 tank and music.  I discovered from reviewing my India results that absolutely everyone over there uses a mobile device rather than a desktop computer.  And other research has led me to understand that video is the way to go for mobile advertising.  Time will tell.

Cairn

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There’s a heap of stones piled up on the East Boulder Trail that I haven’t noticed before.  Probably because I haven’t run this far on the trail yet this year. In trumpian fashion, I didn’t intend to run this far today.  Maybe I was into a song, but I ran past my turn-around target, which was a couple hundred meters above this hill.  Seeing this cairn direct my flight toward the newer southeastern path, woke me up.  I stayed the course and ran down the hill.

 

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I knew that, in my current state of fitness, running down that hill might be a mistake.  Odds very much are that I’ll have to return back up that same hill.  By the photo above, not only is it clear that I made it another quarter mile, but the footbridge has finally been repaired after the last big flood.

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I did make it back up that hill.  I’m not saying I didn’t walk a bit of it.  I will say that I took both the downhill and uphill pictures together, on my return.

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I made it back to my car, feeling like I just experienced my best run of the year.  Not only did I best a recent-distance metric, but my confidence level was boosted by the accomplishment.  Accidental or not.

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I pronounce cairn like my wife’s name, Karen, but with an Irish lilt that moves the second vowel ahead of the”r”.  Some pronounce it like the word farm.  It’s Scottish-Celtic for a heap of rocks with a meaning.  A monument, if not a landmark.  Cairns are one of the best forms of aesthetic function you’ll ever come across.

Winter Park

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The snow hasn’t been great for snowshoeing around the house, but it’s awesome at eleven thousand feet.  Karen and I hit two trails in Winter Park today, Little Vasquez Creek, on the south end of town, and Second Creek Trail, up very near the top of Berthoud Pass.

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We had decent weather, warm and sometimes sunny.  The clouds finally came in though, the snow is blowing sideways as I watch from inside my room at the Vintage Hotel at the Village.  Glad we got out early.

Source Content

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Cyber War

I wrote Cyber War I because there was no good fictional content on cyberwar.  Not really.  The first cyberwar story I know was when Clifford Stoll wrote the non-fiction The Cuckoo’s Egg in 1989.  He tracked a spy and wrote about it in first person.  

I was junior in something at IBM at the time.  Can’t recall if I was in data networking, let alone security yet.  My tech career vector has been data networking with a useful understanding of network operating systems, which somehow led to IT systems architecture, back to network, then to security, where I remain stuck.

That tech career vector is what has formed my desires for the better-than-text-book content that can only be delivered with fiction.  Those needs did not go unsatisfied, not by me.  There is other good non-fiction, although mostly cybercrime instead of cyberwar.  You know the difference, right?  “There’s money in cybercrime, but cyberwar will get you killed.”

Read Joseph Menn tell his Fatal System Error story on Barrett Lyon, the Mafia, and Russia.  Or read Kevin Poulsen turn some clever hacker into a super protagonist out to save the world in Kingpin.  Trust me, there’s some non-fiction out there that sets the bar high for fiction.

What I did differently in the blog book-cover photo is it’s literally the front cover, spine, and back cover jpeg of my paperback edition.  After creating the jpeg above, I leveraged the KDP cover-creating publishing tool to add some text to the back cover, and it added the barcode programagically.  What I could not do was move or adjust the text box window, so I hit the return key until I was half way down the page, in order to begin my text on the lower half of the back-cover page.

If you want to be blown away by non-fictional cyberwar, read Malcom Nance’s The Plot to Hack America.  The writing is of course very good, but talk about prescient.  Macolm published it in September of 2016 – before Trump was elected.  You might not believe his story personally, but my point is that it serves as the original source of content for everything about the topic since.

I’ve also shared with you some of my source content that I read around the time of writing the sequel to Cyber War I, Full Spectrum Cyberwar.  That link is to GoodReads, which allowed me to post my unique perspective of the entire book cover.  From there, you can click on the link to buy my book from Amazon – ebook or paperback.  While you’re at Amazon, look for a link in my author page that takes you back to this blog.  If enough of us click through that loop, excessively, I’m wondering if that wouldn’t create an internet looping vortex with enough force to possibly tear a seam into the very fabric of cyberspace itself.  There’s only one way to find out.  Experimentation.

By now, you’ve guessed that this post is pure marketing.  That doesn’t change the fact that you’re still reading and I’m still pitching.  My expectation is for anyone who is my friend on GoodReads to spend $3 on my ebook, read it, and give me a review.  The way reviews work, I probably don’t need overwhelmingly positive  feedback as much as I just need volume.  

Hopefully, GoodReads will sort the best reviews at the top.  So go on, click on that link.  Worse thing that could happen is we take GoodReads down with a massive Distributed Denial of Service attack.

What About the Author

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about the author

Above, you have my “about the author” graphic.  If you blog on the online version of WordPress like I do, you can infer I took a screenshot of my front matter.  You know that because of the text paired with the photo being so much smaller than the text you’re reading.  WordPress doesn’t allow me to change my font size, which is to say this blog can’t show two different font sizes.

Not until I cheat and digitize some of the text by taking a picture.  Not by taking a photo with my phone, although I could do that were I digitally poor, but by simultaneously keying in a multiple key pattern.

Control-Command-Shift-4, on a Macintosh keyboard to copy the screen within my cursor.  Maybe you think it’s easier on a Windows keyboard.  Try typing degrees as ° instead of the word.  Without a ten-key, you can’t.  I hit Option-Shift-8.  I tend to reference the weather in my running blogs.

Back to the story on text being part of the photo.  It’s also single-spaced.  I would never do that on my blog.  On any other digital platform, line spacing would be double, as it is here.  Could be 1.5, my eyes aren’t that good, but I believe this and most online reading is in a 1.5 to 2.0 line space range.  Someone tell me I’m wrong.  Of course, printed word is single-spaced.  Always.

Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP among friends, forgetting for just this moment that they also do print now, publishes most of their content in a digital form factor.  And their ebook formatting guidelines require, no let’s say suggest since it’s not enforced, single-line spacing.  How stupid is that?

I’ll say this one time.  Leverage the digital space.  Not sure this is original thought.  Gates said to leverage the network.  We can publish double-space within ebooks and it makes for easier reading.  We’re in the habit of single-space for a final compile to print formats but we have double-spaced drafts. We compile our draft manuscripts double-spaced as a convention established on paper to allow an editor space to bleed red ink onto the page.  Wendy.

Back to point, I think KDP converts your digital manuscript to double space.  Or 1.5, somewhere in that range.  I compiled my Indian ebook edition for Full Spectrum Cyberwar at double-space and KDP maintained it, at least within a close range.  It sure as hell ain’t single-spaced.

But I see ebooks single-spaced.  They look horrible  So hard to read.  And there’s no point.  Digital paper is free.  At least, at the scale of a book from zero thousand words to a million words.  Doubling your word count doesn’t measure as a cost factor in the current scope of online storage costs.  I see well-published books using double-space, despite the single-space guidelines.

Shoot, clearly I take it further.  If and when I have to, I take a screenshot.  It’s difficult to embed fonts.  I had trouble when I used Adobe InDesign to compile an ebook.  I couldn’t gain recognition for a font a bought outside of Word or my system.  Stencil.  Ultimately, I bought Garamond too, but I needed Stencil for the military-type font.  Like in MASH.

Even though I own the font, it’s difficult to transfer because of shit software.  So I take a picture.  I screenshot my title page to retain the Stencil font that KDP would otherwise devolve into Times Roman.  It’s pagan in the twenty-second millennium.  This gets me past the enforced guidelines on font type.  To be clear, the Kindle, and most e-readers nowadays, enforce the font on the Kindle device itself.

That’s why the only way to defeat the convention is to digitize the text into a photo.  I probably could have said that in less words.  If my ramblings seem techie to you, what is it you don’t understand about the tech-thriller genre?  RTFM and the EULA.

The Sequel

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Full Spectrum Cyberwar ebook Cover

For those of you who haven’t read a good tech thriller in over two years, because it’s been that long since I published Cyber War I, your wait is over.  I published the sequel last night, an ebook version of Full Spectrum Cyberwar on Amazon (₹99 in India) (£2.27 in UK).  The print version is coming soon, once I recover from the tedium of having formatted an ebook and feel up to the task of formatting print.  Self-publishing is not as glamorous as it sounds.

A year after Cyber War I made Robert Warner a celebrity in his field of cybersecurity forensics, he’s ready to cash it all in and retire young, with the sale of his software firm to a conglomerate for over $100 million.  He’s two weeks away from starting the next chapter of his life living large in a Colorado resort community.  He just has one more business trip to complete, an international assignment to pen test a wind farm in the North Sea.

Rob turns over one too many stones and finds himself the target of Fancy Bear, the infamous Russian military hacking organization.  It’s Rob’s nature to dig deeper, to solve the crime.  Instead, he’s forced to play defense, to protect the welfare of his employees, his wife, and himself.  If he can survive a chase through Europe, he can complete the transaction to sell his software firm and retire wealthy.

Full Spectrum Cyberwar exposes the real-world activities of the Russian GRU as they conduct hybrid warfare on their European neighbors in this gripping sequel to Cyber War I.  U.S. CyberCom attempts to confront the Russians with a forward defense strategy that escalates well beyond Major Calvert’s control.  In Full Spectrum Cyberwar, the battlefield extends beyond the keyboard.  Lives are on the line in this relentless exchange of one-upmanship between nation states as they battle for dominance over geopolitical assets.

I know you’re not reading anything else right now, or you wouldn’t be on the Internet reading blogs.  Download my book and give me what I need – reviews!

Joder Ranch

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My first running since October almost never happened.  The first trailhead on the south side of Heil Ranch was closed.  I took the risk of driving out to Lyons to try the north end of the trail.  Closed again, due to muddy conditions.  Springtime in the Rockies.  I wasn’t sure where to go after that but stumbled upon a trailhead a mile and a half south of Left Hand Canyon on Hwy 36 that I never knew existed.  Joder Ranch.

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The trail started out as a jeep road, but soon steered off onto a trail, still wide enough for a group of runners to pace side-by-side.  Eventually, the trail tapered into single track and gained trees.  I surprised myself by climbing to the top of the first ridge.  From here I could see a second ridge where I guessed the trail would also climb.

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I was wrong.  The trail turned south and ran along a ravine.  Shaded by the hill, the trail was icy in spots.  Soft enough though that my two hundred pounds found it malleable.  Soon enough, the trail ended on Old Stage Coach Road, a few hundred yards from the intersection with Left Hand Canyon.  I turned around and made my way back to my CRV.  It was a good run.

Cyan

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And now, for something completely different.

My first two books were on cyberwar.  Book one was intended to serve as a tech primer of sorts, to explain cybersecurity concepts in a fictional story.  Iran was the adversary.  Book two, which I’ll publish in the next few weeks, focuses on explaining the concepts of hybrid warfare, with Russians as the bad guys.  Book three will pivot toward cyber terrorism, where the motives become murkier.

I won’t be able to reference cyberwar in the title.  That’s fine.  I already have a working title for my draft manuscript, Cyan, the name of the story’s heroine.  This graphic is her.  I’ve licensed it and might use it for the book cover.

Shifting the content focus from cyberwar to cyber terrorism isn’t the only turning point in my writing.  The genre will evolve from a tech thriller to cyberpunk – a derivative of science fiction.  Twenty years into the future, I’ll be able to take more liberties with technology – the focus of which will be on virtual and augmented reality.

I completed the first chapter this weekend.  I would tell you that I started the story in January, but really, I’ve been planning before I finished book two, Full Spectrum Cyberwar.  I fleshed out a character in that story who wasn’t even born yet by the end.  How’s that for foreshadowing?  Obviously, Cyan will be twenty years old in this 3rd book.

I expect to have fun working in a new genre.  I know that my writing improved dramatically between books one and two, but I’m already somewhat bored with the conventions of a tech thriller.  Writing in a new genre should continue my growth on the skills curve while keeping the exercise fun and interesting.  Of course, just continuing writing is the most important thing.  Repetition is the key to learning.  Let me say that again, repetition is the key to learning.

With the inherent ability of cyberpunk to take more liberties with reality, I hope to put more focus on character development.  And structurally, I’m improving on my outlining.  There are two types of writers, plotters and pantsers.  I wrote the first two books more by the seat of my pants than from outline.  I started them before I knew how they would end.  Although strangely, in Full Spectrum Cyberwar, I wrote the beginning after the end.  For Cyan, I have the first half of the book fully outlined.  I still don’t know the end, but then neither do you.  Stay tuned.

 

Winter in Wild Basin

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I can play the intellectual.  Chair-bound, pipe in mouth, read for hours on end, but that’s not who Karen married.  Wintery February be damned, we drove up to the Wild Basin this morning with snowshoes in tow to trek through the cold and snow.

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It wasn’t that cold though.  Certainly below freezing, but full sun.  The wind ripped through the treetops like a freight train, but we were sheltered on the forest floor.  Much less snow than we expected so we left the snowshoes in the CRV as we hiked the Sandbeach Lake Trail.

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There were snowshoe tracks on the trail from earlier in the morning, but too many bare rocks and tree roots for that to have been pleasant.  Trekking poles might have helped for some of the steeper sections of trail, but we did fine without them.

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I know the ski resorts are doing well with snow, so surprising that the snow isn’t deeper at Rocky Mountain National Park.  If this becomes our new weekend routine, and I hope it does, we might need to head higher up.

My Chair by the Window

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I’ve followed the same routine Saturday mornings for as long as I can remember.  I awake about the same time as a workday.  I sit in my chair by the window, and drinking unhealthy quantities of chicory coffee, I read the paper.  If there’s something productive on my weekend agenda, it can wait for Sunday.

Every decade or so, I change up my routine.  Around ten or eleven, I used to get up to run massive miles.  Nowadays, certainly since October, I stay in my chair by the window the entire day.  I don’t shower or shave.  Short of a national emergency, I don’t dress out of my pajama pants.  Nowadays, I continue reading throughout the day.

After I finished my paper today, I bored into my latest pulp fiction.  Well, not exactly the latest – Darwin’s Radio is twenty years old.  A biotech thriller by Greg Bear, given to me earlier in the week by my friend Wendy.  Good read.

I stood up at some point in the early afternoon to discover it was snowing, so I let the dogs out to play.  They caught the falling snow on their tongues like Snoopy in a Charlie Brown cartoon and they played hard.  I sat back down in my chair by the window and dragged another chair across the hardwood to serve as an ottoman for my feet.  And I finished my book.

Saturdays are good.

No ​Risk, No Reward

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BBS Check

This never gets old.  Nor is it likely to lead to wealth.  Six pack of IPA though, or a couple of hand-rolled puffers from the local dispensary.  Enough to get me through the winter.

The last time I posted a photo of a royalty check, I received comments voicing concern from publishing the bank routing and account numbers.  Myth.  As you’ll learn from reading my pending sequel to Cyber War I, Full Spectrum Cyberwar, the ACH system is quite secure based on its high degree of authentication.

Crooks can compromise your checking account, but not anonymously.  I don’t make these cyberattacks up.  I interviewed my banker brother-in-law for those specifics while drinking rum at a wedding in Cancun.  Full Spectrum Cyberwar does take some liberties with what my brother-in-law shared with me.  It’s fiction after all.

I’ve improved on my writing from the first book, and have toned down some of the tech talk.  Not entirely though, because that’s the point of it for me.  To tuck away a primer on cybersecurity inside a fictional thriller.  You’ll learn how to confidently auction wares on the dark web.  And how to hack into a wifi server.  I expect this next book to be banned in certain countries.

This blog has been visited by fifty-five countries so far this year.  Including all eight countries currently banned for export by the U.S. State Department.  If I’m not careful, I could be swept up in Mueller’s Russia investigation.  These are risks writers face.  I’m up for it.