The Waning Days of Winter

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winterrun

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

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

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

Chair Lift Fail

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

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

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

Trail Closed

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

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

sunny in Crested Butte

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

Crested Butte

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

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

Peak Fitness

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active-aging

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

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

Long Runs

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long run

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

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

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

The Kirkus Review

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kirkus logo

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

The Sequel

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Cyber War

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

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

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

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

Weeping Angel

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Bethesda_angel_cloudy_jeh

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

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

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

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

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

Know Your Limits

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after-20

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

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

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

Ten Weeks Out

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CO Marathon 10Kb

Last year’s Colorado Marathon was a bit snowy.  I ran the 10K and enjoyed the weather, while watching Chris Price qualify for Boston with his stellar performance.  This year I intend to run the whole enchilada, my first marathon since 2015.  I’m excited to be training for a full marathon again.  I forgot how intense the commitment is.

This last week was my first over 50 miles.  Ouch.  Hopefully my muscles will adapt because over the next ten weeks my legs will be running 688 miles.  They tell you to buy a new pair of shoes every 500 miles.  I’m following a personalized adaptation of a Hal Higdon plan, which is to say I’ll alternate weeks with high and low mileage.  This coming week I’ll run 68 miles, then 76, then 75, then I’ll drop down to 68 and finally to 51 miles in week five.  The fifth week will mostly be impacted by four days of snowboarding in Crested Butte.

If I survive that five week schedule, I’ll jump up to 90 miles in week six, followed by 75, then 81 and then I’ll start to taper with 64 miles for week nine and only 40 miles for the week of the marathon.  Hoping to feel fresh for the run on Sunday, May 7th.  The course runs through Poudre Canyon and will be gorgeous.  Hope it snows again.

Color Mode

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rgb-vs-cmyk

This is a bit geeky but I want to share some of my lessons learned as a survivor of the indie publishing process.  This mistake cost me some money because I bought a handful of books to sell on consignment at a local bookstore before discovering this problem.  The issue was some of the text in my book was a lighter shade of black than the rest of the text.  I had two shades of black.  Turns out, there are maybe 1004 shades of black.

RGB represents the three primary colors of red, green and blue.  Computers, and TVs, essentially all monitors, output color in RGB because they are working with light.  Think the colors of the rainbow.  All the colors of the rainbow combined are white.  You see the white in the middle of the RGB Venn diagram above.  Conversely, when there is zero light, a monitor screen is black.  RGB is represented by 0 to 255 values for red, green and blue respectively.  Based on what I just said, 0,0,0 is black and 255,255,255 is white.  Microsoft Word outputs fonts in RGB because it assumes it is outputting to your computer screen.  Your printer converts RGB fonts to CMYK as you print.

Which brings us to CMYK or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key.  Key means black because the last letter in black is “k” and “b” might lead you to think blue. Your printer isn’t dealing in light like a monitor, it’s working with ink.  Think a box of crayons.  You were told in elementary school that all the colors of the rainbow make white, but you could never get all your colors to come out as white no matter how big your box of crayons.  CMYK is represented by values from 0 to 100.  Hence, the Venn diagram above yields black for the 0,0,0,100 combination of C, M, Y and K.  Black and White are on opposite ends of the spectrum for RGB vs CMYK.  And they use a different amount of pixels, 256 vs 101 per color setting.  Make sense?

When I had to use Adobe InDesign to layout my book and create print and ebook formats for my publisher, I didn’t know that this graphics package was preparing my fonts for a printer and converting MS Word fonts from RGB to CMYK.  This alone would not have been an issue had it converted everything to the same color mode.  For some reason my MS Word fonts had two different values for black.  Or at least they converted to two discrete values.  One was a default setting for black that InDesign calls Black, for which the CMYK values are 0,0,0,100.  Or maybe 100,100,100,100.  I forget but think both sets of values are equal.  The second default setting was called Registration.  Its CMYK values are various numbers for each of the four settings.  The result is a lighter shade of black.

My publisher, Ingram Spark, which is really a distributor as I have my own publishing firm, Lobo Media, returns an electronic proof to me to look for issues with my print uploads.  Had I actually printed it, I might have noticed the color disparity.  I only reviewed them online though, and guess what?  The CMYK values don’t contain nearly as many pixels as RGB, think 100 vs 255 as printing is at less resolution than display monitors, so I could not discern the disparity on my screen.  It shows up in ink on paper, but not on a monitor.

I think the lesson here is to print out at least part of your proof to look for printing errors.  I’m blogging this because it was a topic of discussion at my book signing Thursday night.  I signed and gave away my leftover copies that contained the misprint.  They are totally readable, but flawed.  While Karen was walking around assuring everyone that the kinky sexual preferences of the book’s protagonist were entirely fiction, I was having conversations on color mode.

Marketing Plan

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cake

Last night, I got my cake, and got to eat it too.  That was how it felt to talk about nothing other than my book with friends for a two hour happy hour, that stretched into five hours. Don’t ask me how bakers can make photo-realistic frosting.  It involves printing and leaves me with the impression we’ve gone as far as we’ll ever go with technology.

ellie-n-chase

Ellie and Chase focused on the eats while the adults imbibed beverages.  Chase’s mom Wendy hosted this book signing for me and I can’t thank her enough.  Such a sweetheart.

suzy

A couple of other events competed for my neighbors’ attention last night, but Suzy picked hanging out with authors over more socially responsible activities.

fam

Last night’s book signing kicks off my marketing plan.  My ebook will go on sale for 99¢ Sunday.  I’ll follow that up with some advertising – a $25 or $50 investment on Facebook and maybe something on Amazon.  I expect a Kirkus review in early April, about the same time as I hope to have my book on display at the Tattered Cover.

blaine-and-doug

You might be able to find these two characters in my book.  Doug represents all Security Analysts.  Blaine is the source for some of my dialog.  He’s promised to help me launch my website, which is key to my marketing plan.  Blaine has also published several books and is guiding me on next steps.  He thinks he knows more than me, and he does; but I think I have the better cover design.

Bath Time

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dr-teals

Want to know how I do it?  How I run so much for an old man?  I’ll tell you how I do it.  After running long runs, which I consider to be 12 miles plus, I soak in epsom salt.  Cost about $4 a bag.  Cheap thrills.

This will be my first week to run over 50 miles as I train for the Colorado Marathon in May. I’ll be running two or three 12 mile or longer runs per week for the next ten weeks.  That’s a lot of baths, but Dr. Teal can go the distance.  I probably won’t need to buy a second bag.  Much more affordable than a massage.

I ran 12 miles today.  Taking off tomorrow to drink like Hemingway at my book signing.  Stop by for happy hour 4 to 6 at 2020.  I’ll be running 15 miles on Saturday if you want to join me out on the trail.

Daddy – Daughter Strides

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Boulder Marathon 2012

See the blood over my right breast in this photo?  A little chafing in the 2012 Boulder Marathon.  These things have a way of catching up with you.  I learned this past week I have gynecomastia in my right breast.  That’s essentially breast tissue growth.  It’s been sore for a couple of months.  At first I assumed it to be chaffing from long runs.  I get that occasionally.  Then I realized it wasn’t chaffed.  And then I freaked out a little bit because I felt a noticeable lump.  I probably over-reacted but having had cancer, it’s not an experience I care to rinse and repeat.

I had it checked out.  Blood tests and imaging, including a mammogram.  I’m fine.  I don’t really know the cause other than apparently my hormones, while they are all within their respective ranges, have likely changed their ratios.  My right nipple is about twice the size of my left.  Just another reason to keep my shirt on.

I’ve been running strides with Ellie the last couple of days.  She’s prepping for track to start in a week so we are learning form.  We run two miles and then run eight strides in the grass in our racing flats.  Yes, I have racing flats.  Ellie wears her spikes.  The point is not so much a physical workout as to teach Ellie what it’s like to run fast.  Speed might be natural talent but your legs still have to learn this.

We run about 200 meters, progressively working ourselves into a sprint.  We jog the first quarter, then double our pace for the next quarter, then stride near sprint pace and finish with an all-out sprint.  The distance for the sprint is a bit shorter than for the stride, which is shorter than the two previous legs, so they are not evenly spread legs.  Neither one of us is in shape to run big sprints, so that part is very short.

It’s all about form and muscle memory.  This training isn’t ideal for me, considering I’m training for a marathon, but it won’t hurt me to run less distance for a week.  I didn’t expect myself to be able to keep up with Ellie but I can.  I think the two mile warm up helps.  My upper thighs and glutes are sore though.  Maybe this week of running with Ellie will help my speed.  2016 was a slow year for me.  Muscles have memory and mine remember running fast.  Ellie might just help me qualify for Boston in my marathon this May.