PING

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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

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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.

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Fence Painting

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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

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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

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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.

 

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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.

turn-around

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

return to EBT

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.

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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.