Mike Winkler's Blog

January 19, 2015

I made a new friend that was a musician the other day. Unrelatedly I was also out talking to a few other amateur authors. The conversations took an oddly similar bend to those I experience in my day job doing Security Sales Engineering:
The biggest obstacle to getting things done is people’s expectations of HOW things are going to get done. Those of you who know me or have read 10 things know I am fond of the expression of “ The problem isn’t the problem” The idea of that maxim is that the thing that people are grumping about or banging their head against fixing is almost always a symptom problem of something they are trying not to deal with.
Think of this like complaining about hospital food. The food in most hospitals in the modern era is actually pretty good. But the people eating the food are in an out of control situation where their own bodies are failing them and they have no real control over their destiny. There are only so many ways that the massive freak-out of normal human stress can manifest. Very often it is a complaint about the food.
We often make the mistake of trying to fix the symptom problem. Using the example from above, if you bring the patient a couple of steaks straight of the fire at Fogo de chao, they will still have complaints, but they will get weirder and more unreasonable.
This leads me back to my point about expectations. The aspiring musician I spoke to had very definite ideas on how one went about becoming a successful trip-hop artist. Those ideas were the very thing that stood in the way of her getting air play. Because she saw the steps were what was important and not the end goal. She obsessed about the approval of certain producers or the commentary of popular club DJs. This lead to missing some opportunities at other pathways that led to the Grammies.
I have been at many a customer site where the answer to a problem was Authentication, or Encryption but they were sure the needed DLP. Instead of looking at a root problem, something like, how do they control access to proprietary company data, they fixate on a symptom. And like our hospital food issue even if you gave them the perfect DLP it would not address what was most likely an underlying human resource (Personnel) issue that they do not feel empowered to deal with.
I think finding the source problem, no matter how difficult it is too look, at is better than any efforts of the making of better hospital food of the symptom problems we face.
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Published on January 19, 2015 09:47 • 104 views

February 24, 2014

I have long maintained that Big Bend Texas, and Dubai in the U.A.E are the opposite ends of the world. One is the busiest highest tech, super utilized, super developed capital of the world. It makes New Your City seem downright moderate. The other is wide-open spaces with no way other than long empty hours behind the wheel to get anywhere. It is one of the few places in the world that is disconnected from phone signals and internet. It is unmanaged, empty and wild.
Both places are beautiful in astoundingly different ways.
In the last couple of weeks I have been in two different Americas. Both successful, both mostly unaware of the other in other in any other than the most abstract terms. And like my “ends of the earth” both are good places. My oppose Americas are represented by Tulsa, Oklahoma and San Francisco, CA.
Tulsa is spread out. It is vast wide open spaces with big skies. No one minds the drives of long distances as energy is pumped out of the ground right next door. This is one of the most religiously conservative places in the world. Conservative in a good way. Everybody has a baseball coach or a faith based group when times are hard. To an outsider it can be a bit daunting but these are the good Christians of story. There are nice restaurants and good places is to work here. Tulsa is like the upper mid-west of a generation ago; it is a nice place to raise a family.
“Liberal” is a dirty word here. No one can imagine why you would want gay marriage or legal pot smoking. Although the occasional joint gets smoked here or d@#* gets s@#*ed but it is a little thing on the fringes that slides by, untalked about and no real need to discuss. Kids being kids. Conservative is the only path that make sense here. It is about keeping the hard won good things for your future and your family.
San Francisco is a good, tight, dense urban metroplex. Unlike a lot of the big places I have been people on the street are happy to be here. Everybody walks, bikes or takes the bus. As a generalization the average man on the street is very civil rights conscious, energy aware and think that religion is a kind of quaint artifact of society; like electric typewriters or winding an alarm clock. This as an expensive place to live but with great employers. Even people struggling to make it here are proud for their part of the American dream. It is the most cosmopolitan, international and multicultural of cities. --No those last two sentences are not a contradiction-- This is great place to work hard and make it big.
“Conservative “is synonymous with bigotry here. There is high number of gay and proud, dope smokers, vegans and tree huggers here. Mentioning the old Christian faiths is inviting stories of pedophile priests, massively wealthy televangelist’s, and socially approved family violence. On average they can’t imagine why you would want to be anything be progressive and liberal. It only makes sense.
Both are good places. Both of which are bright shiny examples of America. To this Obama supporting, ex Christian, gun owning, Texan both are great places I love to visit when I can.
Dubai has no prospect of going to war with Big Bend. This would be absurd. Someone who likes slow moving life in the desert has no quarrel with the seaside mega city. If you don’t like Dubai you can leave, maybe go to Tulsa or San Francisco. If wide open beautiful Big Bend it too laconic for you maybe you want to go to Monterey or Paris. It is a big world with enough lifestyle space that no one begrudges each of us moving around to find the place we like.
So why is Tulsa metaphorically at war with San Francisco? The culture war makes no sense at all if you stop to think about it. No one in San Francisco is trying to say you HAVE to have an abortion in Oklahoma. No one in Tulsa it trying to say that if people a thousand miles away way can’t to have gay love, free love, machine love, or enjoy the solitude of being free of love. The conflict is about not wanting someone else’s values imposed on YOUR home town.
No one is imposing values. In nearly all cases we all want the rights to our own wide open spaces or star-scraping towers. No one wants to be told what values they are living their life by.
So why is there a culture war at all?
Ask the question: who profits?
Pitting D.C. against Dallas or Delaware against Denver is absurd on the surface until the fear mongering and the saber rattling of those who profit from conflict begins.
San Francisco and Tulsa: The opposite end of the universe. They are both beautiful examples of human society. They have no actual conflict, just a theoretical one.
How do we end the culture war of the last 40 years? Vacation in a place different than yours and see that it has its own beauty. Stop listening to people who rev you up to fight problems that aren’t yours in places you don’t live.
I haven’t been everywhere, but a lot of places. I have never met a person who was dedicated to forcing someone a thousand miles away to live like them. I will keep looking but I don’t think the person exists.
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Published on February 24, 2014 17:14 • 98 views

July 9, 2013

This is more of readers than writer’s thoughts. It does spiral through to my writing though (or I hope it does). I have read a lot of fiction over the years. During slow times I was reading three novels a week. In this mass consumption of printed word I have noted some disappointing habits. They, without question, do not apply to all writers but they happen a lot.
We called it the John Ringo point. He wrote two great military sci fi trilogies, a few mediocre books and then some utter drivel. He digressed into his politics, long discourses in sociology and history and the pace of dramatic action slows to a crawl. While one of his Posleen war books might have 13-15 major points in the adventure the later ones had 5-6, with lots of dithering in between. Decisive major characters become eclipsed by Pollyanna’s that spend most of their time lamenting or posturing.
Even old favorites of mine like SM Sterling, Peter Hamilton, and Brandon Sanderson are not immune to this. Later stories by them go from high pace adventure to bone and drag. (I say can you get to the point brothers and sisters? You used to be able to)
Full props go to Richard K Morgan and Steven King. They tell a story until they are finished and then don’t start again until they have a new story they want to tell (although in Kings case that may be 15 minutes).
Last week I picked up a captive title, this one was Stargate SG1 but there are over a dozen of them. They are books in a known cosmology and more come out at a continual pace. These books are the ones that you look at the captive property title when you buy, not the author. You know the ones I mean, Star Wars, Star Trek, SG1, Dr. Who, Warhammer, TSR game inspired books, etc. My point is that it was good. Fast paced and fun, like a sci fi novel should be. It was not inspiring or life changing but a good afternoon read. Yay Jack and Daniel win again! When I looked at some of the other captive titles in my collection I saw that the pattern was consistent.
This leads me to my point: Editorial Control. I am not saying I have all the answer on this one but it raises some interesting questions.
1) Do writers get to a point of success and run out of ideas, but still have a mortgage payment to make so they keep writing? Because their name of the cover sells books their publishers let them ride fame (and sales) into the gutter? Is this short term profit taking as the great editorial body considers most authors disposable?
2) Do authors reach the point in success where they should be listening to their editors (or at least reading their old works) and instead ignore feedback (I am a best seller damn it!) and produce egotistical tripe as a result?
3) Do captive titles stay fun and fast pace at the cost of inspiration and new ideas? I imagine the editors have a hell of a lot more control when they can swap out writers and the writers know it?
On top of this I want to throw some mud in a direction uncomfortably close to home. So many self-published works have real bad editing. I mean real bad. There are good stories hiding under run-on sentences and wooden dialog. How much has the ease of self-publishing made it so that mediocre writers can publish things that really should be spruced up before presentation?
I will throw one last mud glob at those richer and more successful than I. JK Rawlings gets to be the poster child on this one but Philip Jose Farmer, Ann Rice, and Jack Chalker are guilty of this one too. Once you have successfully made it to the second or third good book in the series (or six for Ms. Rawlings) you can mail-in whatever kind of makes-no-sense crap you like and people will swallow it. It is because the loved the characters so much. This does not make them good books. It makes them accepted.
Robert Jordan admitted before his death he had fallen in love with his character in the Wheel of Time and was putting off the ending. The series utterly tanked because of it. The seventh 800+ page book had a single dramatic event. I give credit to Brandon Sanderson who did a decent job of closing up the brodbigian epoch.
Maybe I miss the Maxwell Perkins style editors. Mine, the lovely Megan from Brainy Babe, suggests when something doesn’t work rather than trying to drive the story. She also won’t let something pass until I have fixed it. Either way I hope I will stop when I run out of ideas and never need to write bloviation and dither because there is a car payment due.
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Published on July 09, 2013 20:48 • 84 views

July 2, 2013

Writing '10 things that used to be good Ideas in data security', 10 things for short. I have pulled in some data from a blog I used to write, Obsolete Concepts so I had a head start on word count. The 4700 seems so tiny compared to the point that Reconstructing the Future got to. I wrote that every two sessions at the keyboard by the end
This one is a lot more serious and requires a lot more research. It will also be the great resume differentiator when I pile through it. With any luck I will have a solid first draft to give to the editor by end of year.

At this point there are 12 things as far as the 10 things and two precursor topics. I will see how it flattens out. This is the first version of the contents

10 things that used to be good ideas in data security
Part I Bad things we have always done and are still bad.
1) You are never too busy to plan
2) Something you have had solved for 5 years, is likely not solved any more.
Part II: Ten things
1) Change control becoming change prevention
2) Pushing off new platforms until we know what to do with them ( is a way to get run over)
3) Another layer is not the answer
4) Controlling the device instead of controlling the data
5) Vendors and resellers, how their relationship are the biggest force eliminating you getting what you need
6) Signature Anti-virus isn’t dead, it just should be (and other undead technology)
7) Upgrading to solve a problem (when upgrade is a downgraded)
8) Packages security suites sell us bad ideas and distractions rather than solve the problems
9) Customer requirements: is our ego making vendors break solutions for us?
10) Being a partner, not a slave to our auditors.
11) The bandwagon (cloud this time-- or things you CSO red in an airline magazine)
12) Butter churns questions and stick shift questions ( what knowledge is still relivant?)
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Published on July 02, 2013 13:15 • 64 views

June 19, 2013

I am finishing up the last run through of Reconstructing the Future before sending it to my editor. As much as I am loathe to admit it I understand the plight of over-writers: I am not ready to let the characters go yet. To be clear I am letting them go, I just don’t want to. The experience is a lot like watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school.
At 155,000 words this is more than ten times the length of my last effort, The Great Machine. It is a bit longer than twice the length of Fallen Secrets. That one I poked at for twenty years before publishing. It is not as if the characters in Reconstructing don’t get their time to shine.
I look at my ice-man, Goddard, the harsh, quiet, decisive player that deals with problems the rest of us don’t want to even think of. There were ideas I had for him in the story that never fit the events as they unfolded. I am resisting the temptation to try and jam in extra Goddard scenes. They would only hurt the book but I feel weirdly bad for my security director. It is like his story deserves to be told in full glory… then I remember he is fictional.
I am hopefully succeeding in not making the mistake of Robert Jordan in the Wheel of Time (7 really good books followed by a lot of drivel). I stop telling about a character based on when they are interesting to read, not when I want to stop writing them
For some of my major characters I had end-of-story conflicts and resolutions in mind for that did not work out that way. Gerard and Kennedy don’t get the showdown I planned. McCartney finds maturity of spirit that throws off what I wanted to do with Hilary.
I have hopefully avoided the JK Rawlings mistake. She wrote six truly excellent books followed by a drecky ending that made no real sense. She admits being married to her ending from the first chapter of book one. As a result she abandoned a lot of top notch character evolution through the midst of her story and grafted on a bad fit based on who she thought they would be.
I am hopefully avoiding author hubris of some amazing writers that wouldn't let go of character, either by overwriting them or not letting the story find its own end.
I know that I am pleased. Let me know what you think
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Published on June 19, 2013 09:27 • 68 views

April 9, 2013

I was sitting in the bathtub talking to my editor and the question about pacing of a story came up. She expressed a preference for dialog over description. Who doesn't prefer it really? This got me thinking about some authors like S. M. Sterling or John Ringo I really like that get lost In pages of exposition.
This led to the question. Are there readers who enjoy long descriptions of place and society and less brisk paced dialog?
This led to another question, about pace of description. This bit is excerpted from my upcoming novel, Reconstructing the Future


Margo ran like a Gazelle, like deer in flight. She leapt over obstacles and through tiny openings. Silicates and Daemons were closing on her. Whatever Kennedy had given her both sides very much did not want it delivered. Beside her Bill ran like a heard of buffalo, like a raging bull elephant. He smashed the obstacles in his way and battered to the ground Daemons who were trying to slow Margo.
“What did he give you?” The Monster asked the Cyborg
A data package of some kind. It is for Goddard. Gerard will be able to beam it back from the Wasp to LastHome. You may need to knock a hole in the wall.” She replied over the com.
“I got that much” Replied Bill. He only had two seconds of charge left in the cannon so he was holding it against severe need. He leapt over a daemon with centipede like legs and kicked it with his rear legs before it could target a shot at Margo. The kinetic kill weapon flew into the ceiling “But what’s in it?”
“No Idea” she responded. Margo leapt between the legs of a Silicate and slid past it. Bill bashed the monster with his war club. It slid sideways out of his way but was otherwise uninjured.
“So why the hell are we playing Butch and Sundance?” Bill asked. Margo jumped on his back and he leapt across a chasm where a gantry bridge had fallen in.
“Kennedy came up with the absolute priority rule after his best friend was killed. Jefferson was only man ever smart enough to empathize with him. He has never used it. The only time I have ever seen it used was when Ford was overriding station protocol to save my bacon”


Description can be fast paced and interspersed with Dialog. This is my preferred medium. The problem is this kind of running flash-by of location and action isn’t appropriate to all of the scenes that go into a good book. Readers need a release of tension between highs. Otherwise everything is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That was a fun film but there is a 35 minute cliffhanger. By the time it resolves the reader (Viewer) is exhausted and it is hard to empathize with the characters.
Here is another excerpt from the same story


Gerard had never seen things this complexly screwed up. More screwed up, sure. He had just never seen the human worlds in trouble with this many moving parts before. Data phantoms that were recordings of dead men were petitioning to get the vote. Dreen was soaking up whole countries. The new limited AI had begun to realize they were limited by design and were generally unhappy about it. Race 21 was pushing against the fleet. Operations was talking about the use of proto-matter against them. Captain Gerard shivered at the idea of being in the same room as proto-matter.
Race 109 had become cagey. Their spidery pinkish constructs had taken up residence near a great many Leshay gates. They had been making targets of post humans and trans-humans. The ISD were an inch from a shooting war with the cold-gas-world aliens. The damnedest thing was no one knew quite why they were targeting the ISD. The 109s had always been badly understood but open aggression could only have so many interpretations. Command was going to need to decide whether to send him to fight aliens or fight at home. Things could go badly and the human worlds could be cut off from each other and from the Leshay Circuit.


In this part I need to develop the understanding of the character of Gerard. The expert is the beginning of 6 pages of him planning and thinking about how humanity is failing. There is nearly zero dialogue, but it should feel fast paced.
Both excerpts are from a larger work. Who the Dreen or Kennedy are should not be apparent but you should be able to fill in from context clues.
Description and exposition can be done in a staccato way.
Which led to yet another question, Do we as authors get so stuck in our own heads and our inability to get a scene exactly right? Can we just not stop ourselves when exposition and description start dragging the story down rather than supporting it?
My last guess at this one. Are we programmed for the 350 page novel and the 800 page epoch to such a degree that we are judging books by their thickness. As writers do we feel insufficient if we don’t hit the socially optimum page count?
I will say I am leaning to toward the answer: we don’t know when to stop. When we get into the writers groove and get content coming we just continue into the McDonald’s double-giant-value-meal version of our works. Bigger is often not better, but we just can’t make ourselves put down the french fries
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Published on April 09, 2013 07:51 • 96 views

March 27, 2013

I am much of the way through my third book, Reconstructing the Future, and am in a kind of quandary on how long is the right length for a modern novel.

The Great Machine was 11,000 words and I wrote it in a season. It was just a short story idea that took on a life of its own. Fallen Secrets (Princes to my old friends) I wrote over 18 years and it is 77,000 words. My biggest seller among the two (by far) is the shorter Great Machine.

I read a authors quip by the amazing Peter Hamilton. He is a bit of a binge writer. His publisher was expecting the first book of the Nights Dawn trilogy (say 90,000 words) and Peter turned in a bit under 1,000,000 words or the entire 6 book ‘trilogy’ in one go! That was even a great story

The problem with the longer works is they tend to descend into slow sections and drivel about nothing. The Wheel of Time was a classic for having four complete books about nothing really.

I am currently at 109,000 words on Reconstructing the Future and I am building toward the story’s final climax. It is a story of a group of thirty something’s that live on a space station kept in perpetual enforced childhood by their elders, The First Ones. When they slip their bonds they find the universe is more complicated then they had believed. The First Ones themselves are under some kind of behavioral constraints. Alien wreckage perpetually falls across the sky and an alien force of silicate insects led by Prime Warrior 16-421 wants to wipe them out for some unknown prior sin of the human race. This is where the story begins.

It will finish at over 140,000 words. What I did here that makes it unique for me is that of the dozen or so characters you follow a section (labeled in the header)it can be told from the point of view of any of them. Each chapter has between three and six said sections. The most ‘screen time goes to Sergeant Bill Myers (the digital dead man reincarnated as a giant glass bug) and Kennedy (The mopey genius with a 240 IQ and a suit of polyphasic matter)

I feel the content is all strong (and more than 10 times the length of Great Machine!) but what have I just written? A 2 part novel? One fat volume? A story that kept growing so I kept telling it?
I hope that the right length of a story is to tell it until it is done. Sometime in late spring we will find out.
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Published on March 27, 2013 13:29 • 77 views