It’s Not That Simple

A response to a reader’s request.

The other day, I got the following email message in my In Box with the subject line “Quicken 2017 for Mac”:

As I write these words your “Quicken 2002 Deluxe for Macintosh” book sits in front of me. The time has come, whether I like it or not, to update to Quicken 2017 for Mac from Quicken 2007 for Mac. Sadly, thee’s no good documentation to use. In fact, I haven’t found any good material since your 2002 book! For all I know, you’ve moved on and no longer write books such as the one published back then. That being said, I’d like to request you consider writing a new Guide similar to the one your wrote way back then. All the best to you whatever your future ventures may be.

First, I want to thank the sender for phrasing his request so politely and understanding that I might not be writing books like that one any more. A lot of the email messages I get regarding my writing work is a lot less polite and a lot more demanding, which partially explains why the Contact page on this blog seems to discourage communication from readers. (It’s actually toned down a lot more than it used to be.)

Now let me tell you a little bit about the rise and fall of tech publishing.

The “Old Days” of Tech Publishing

Dvorak's Inside Track
This is the first book I was involved in; I was a ghost writer on 4 chapters and am mentioned in the acknowledgements.

I got into the world of computer how-to book publishing way back in 1991. I’d left my last full-time job as a Financial Analyst at a Fortune 100 Corporation the year before and was trying my hand at freelance writing. Through an odd series of events, I wound up ghost writing four chapters of a book by John C. Dvorak, Bernard J. David (who I worked with directly), and others. That led to a book that Bernard and I co-authored, which led to another 80+ books that I mostly authored alone.

Back in those days, the Internet was in its infancy. Hardly anyone had a website — I didn’t have my first one until 1995 — and services like Google, which was founded in 1996 and wouldn’t become the powerhouse it is for years, didn’t exist. When people wanted to learn, they turned to books.

Software developers knew this. They provided printed manuals with their software products. Manuals for some software could be voluminous — I remember the one I had for a version of FrameMaker that had to be at least 800 pages. But despite the availability of these reference guides, users wanted something easier to read and understand. So computer how-to books were born. I happened to be at the right place at the right time to write them.

And I was very good at it. I had a knack for learning how to use software, breaking it down into simple tasks that built progressively through the book to more complex tasks, and writing it in a way that readers found helpful.

With a lot of competition, however, not many readers got to see my books and there wasn’t much money in writing them. No problem: I’ll just write more books. My publishers — especially Peachpit Press — really liked my work and my ability to meet deadlines. They kept me busy. I once signed six book contracts in a single day. One year, I wrote 10 books.

I wasn’t the only one cranking out books. Numerous publishers had tech imprints and dozens of new titles appeared every month. Bookstores — and there were a lot more of them in those days — had trouble keeping up, but they did. Publishers published these books and bookstores stocked them for one reason: they sold.

Demand only got higher as software developers stopped including lengthy manuals with their software, favoring Quick Start books instead. And then switching to digital only manuals that they might or might not include on the software CD.

Thus began the glory days of computer how-to book authors and publishers, a period that lasted from around 1995 through 2010.

Success Comes with Sales

Quicken 99 Official Guide
This was one of my first bestsellers. Revised annually until I gave it up after the 2009 edition, it was a major source of income for me.

My financial success as the author of computer how-to books didn’t come from writing a lot of books with average sales. It came from writing two particular books, revised often, that were bestsellers. My Quicken 1999: The Official Guide was one of these bestsellers.

Quicken 2002 Mac
I was very happy to be able to write about Quicken for Mac, since I was a long-time user.

The success of one book often spurs a series of books. Quicken Press (later Intuit Press), an imprint of Osborne-McGraw-Hill, soon began publishing other Quicken and QuickBooks books. That’s how I wound up authoring Quicken 2002 Deluxe for the Macintosh: The Official Guide, the book referred to in the email message above.

I was pretty happy about this. Truth is, I’m a Mac user and had been writing Windows books only because there were more Windows users so the sales potential was higher. I’d been using Quicken on my Mac for years and knew it better than the Windows version I’d been writing about since 1998.

But my Quicken Mac book didn’t take off the way we’d hoped — there were a lot fewer Quicken Mac users and Intuit still had viable competition to Quicken on the Mac OS platform. To complicate matters, Intuit didn’t revise Quicken for Mac as often as it revised Quicken for Windows. When the next version, Quicken 2007, was released, neither Intuit nor my publisher saw a sufficient market for a book about it. So I was never asked to revise my book for future editions.

Google and the Death of Tech Publishing

Meanwhile, as publishers and authors were churning out computer books as fast as we could, the Web was growing. People were writing how-to articles and publishing them on blogs, on software support websites, on user group websites, and in online magazines. Even I did this for a long while, mostly to help promote my existing titles. These articles were free and available immediately. When search engines like Google proved to be extremely effective in helping readers find the content they sought, people started thinking twice about buying computer how-to books.

After all, why go to a bookstore or go online at Amazon to find a book that may or may not answer your specific question when you could spend a few minutes searching with Google and find the answer you need? Why wait for a book you ordered online to arrive when you could find the information you needed immediately? Why depend on the voice of one author when you could access information provided by dozens or hundreds of them?

Book sales dropped off dramatically in the late 2000s. I could see it in my royalty statements; my income peaked in 2004 and 2005 and then began a steady decline. Books about software staples like Word and Excel, that I’d revise with every new version, were dropped one after another. Publishers who had once agreed to a contract for nearly every title I proposed now declined, saying they didn’t think there was a sufficient market for the book. There were fewer and fewer new software-related titles being published. Editors who’d worked on dozens of titles a year suddenly found themselves unemployed. Publishers or imprints merged or disappeared. The few brick and mortar bookstores that managed to survive the rise of Amazon reduced or even eliminated their computer book shelf space.

By 2013, all of my book titles were officially dead — not scheduled for revision. And I know I’m not the only tech author who lived and thrived through the computer book glory days to find myself without a book market for my expertise. There are lots of us out there. The ones like me who saw it coming had a safety net to fall into; others weren’t so lucky and find themselves struggling to stay relevant and earn a living writing words few seem willing to pay for.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that computer how-to books no longer exist. They do. There just aren’t many of them. And rather than appeal to the beginner to intermediate user I wrote for, they’re mostly written for a much higher level of user about far more complex topics. Or very narrow markets that are easy to sell to.

This Reader’s Request

Fast forward to today.

The very politely worded email request from a reader quoted in full above is asking me to revise my Quicken 2002 for Mac book for Quicken 2017 for Mac. If you’ve been reading carefully, you know why this is unlikely to happen.

There is not a sufficient market for such a book.

And that’s what it’s all about: being able to publish a book that will sell enough copies for the publisher to make a profit. It has nothing to do with the author; publishers really don’t care what authors make. Their contracts routinely minimize author royalties to help the book’s bottom line. That’s all that matters. They have spreadsheets that calculate breakeven and if a title can’t break even with a decent profit, they won’t publish it. Simple as that.

Would I write and self-publish a book about Quicken 2017 for Mac? Probably not. Even self-publishing such a book doesn’t mean I’ll earn enough money to make such a project worthwhile. Let’s do the math. It would take me a good 400 hours of time over two months to write the book and prepare the manuscript for publishing. Say I need to make a minimum of $25/hour. That means the project would have to net me $10,000. Even if I managed to net $5/book after fees paid to Amazon, Apple iBooks store, Nook, etc., I’d still have to sell 2,000 copies. Are there 2,000 people out there willing to buy a book about Quicken 2017 for Mac? I seriously doubt it.

And I’ll share a secret with you: I still use Quicken 2007 for Mac. I bought but decided I didn’t like the 2015 version and I haven’t even bothered to buy the 2017 version.

So if I — a loyal Quicken user since the early 1990s — haven’t bothered to upgrade, how many other people have? And how many of them want a book about it?

The answer is simple: Not enough for me or apparently anyone else to write a book about it.

This Explains It

And this pretty much explains why I don’t write books about how to use computers and software anymore. I can’t make a living doing it.

But I’m lucky: at least I’ve found something else to make a living at.

Mobile Devices, Passwords, and Security

A few words of wisdom from someone who has seen more than her fair share of hacking attempts.

This morning, when I fired up my laptop after a weekend away with friends, I was greeted with an on-screen notification telling me that there was a problem with my iCloud account.

iCloud, in case you don’t know, is Apple’s cloud service. I use it for some email and to synchronize data among my three computers and three mobile devices. I generally don’t use any cloud storage for any sensitive documents. I simply don’t trust it.

Today’s notification prompted me to log into my iCloud account. When I tried to do so, an error message told me that the account had been locked due to too many incorrect password entries.

I do know my password and I know I hadn’t entered it wrong too many times. That means someone else had. Another hack attempt.

This isn’t the first time someone had tried so hard to hack into my iCloud account that the account had been locked. It also happened back in October 2014. I know this date because I blogged about it back then — and oddly enough, that’s the most popular blog post so far today. (Is someone looking for clues in my blog? Good luck with that.)

Anyway, I went to Apple’s website and logged into my account again. That required Apple to send an email message to my backup account and for me to click a link in that message. I normally don’t click links in any messages I get unless I’m expecting a message with a link. I was expecting that one so I clicked the link, signed back in, and checked to make sure everything was still secure. It was.

I then changed my password, just for good measure.

A Lost Phone Story

All this comes right on the heels of a rough weekend for a friend of mine.

We went out to run some errands in the Phoenix area where she lives. Our first stop was Lowe’s. She took out her phone to take a picture of something she wanted to compare with other options in other stores. Then she decided she wanted to sketch it instead. She put the phone down and took out a pad and pencil. I wandered off to look at other things. We later met up at check out, I paid for my purchase, and we left.

About a mile down the road, she declared, while searching frantically in her purse, that she was having a senior moment. She couldn’t find her phone. When she realized it definitely wasn’t there, she began to panic. She knew she’d left it in Lowes. I turned around and we headed back. She ran in. I waited two minutes, then called her phone as she’d asked me to.

It went right to voicemail.

I knew what that meant: someone had picked up her phone and turned it off so it couldn’t be tracked. Someone smart enough to do that wasn’t going to turn it in at Lost and Found. The phone was stolen.

I went into the store and gave her the news. I had to explain what the phone going right to voicemail meant — she was in a bit of denial before panic took root. “My life is in that phone,” she told me. I asked the question I already knew an answer for: was the phone locked? Did she have to enter a password it to use it? The answer was no.

Worse yet, she had used an unsecured “memo app” to record her passwords for banks, credit cards, and all kind of other important things. If someone opened that app, they’d have complete access to her finances.

My friend is not a technically minded person. She had no idea what to do. She asked me. I’m an Apple person and I know exactly what to do for an Apple device. But I was at a lost with her Samsung Galaxy 5. I called her husband, who I knew would know. But he’s an airline pilot and his phone was switched off for a flight.

We raced to the closest Verizon store. I repeatedly dialed her number and it immediately went to voicemail each time. That means the phone was still turned off. The average phone thief would not be able to get data off the phone with it turned off.

At the Verizon store, my friend used the tech guy’s computer to log into her Google account. He pushed the right buttons to wipe the phone clean and basically brick the phone.

Disaster (probably) averted.

The odd thing about all this is that although I’ve been keeping my phone locked for the past few years, lately it’s been bugging me that I need to go through that extra unlocking step to use it. I’ve been debating with myself for the past few weeks about removing the passcode and leaving the phone unlocked for my own convenience. I even came close to doing it once or twice.

But after seeing what happened to my friend, there’s no way in hell that I’ll remove the passcode on any of my mobile devices or computers.

And if your mobile devices aren’t secured with a password, take my advice and secure them now. And then make sure that your devices can be wiped remotely if needed.

Passwords

Whoever attempted to access my iCloud account recently hit a wall when he/she couldn’t enter the correct password. Apple automatically locked the account when a certain number of incorrect attempts — three? five? — had been made. The lock required me to recover it using a secondary email account or security questions.

Passwords are the first line of defense for security. We all want to use passwords that are easy to remember and we all want to use the same password for everything. Resist the temptation! If your password is easy to remember, it might also be easy to guess. And if you use the password for everything, if someone guesses one password, they automatically have access to everything you used it for.

Your passwords should not be easy to guess. Period. They should be a combination of upper and lowercase characters and numbers with one or two symbols thrown in whenever possible. Minimum password length should be eight characters; longer is better.

Password Notebooks are STUPID
This is the most idiotic idea I’ve ever seen. Unless you plan on keeping this book locked up in a safe all the time, you’re just making it easy for a thief to access all of your accounts.

If you have trouble keeping track of your passwords, do not write them down in a place where other people can find them. That includes post-it notes, notebooks, and unsecured apps and documents on a computer or mobile device.

My wasband used to store all of his passwords in a Microsoft Word document that was not password protected. Then, as if that wasn’t dumb enough, he routinely emailed it as an attachment from one of his email accounts to another to get the file transferred between computers when he updated his passwords. He even did this after he knew that one of his email accounts had been breeched, thus giving the “hacker” access to all of his passwords everywhere. (And yes, I do constantly ask myself how I could have loved someone as stupid as he is.) For all I know, he probably still does this.

My advice? Instead of insecurely storing this information, invest a few bucks in a password security app. I use 1Password, which works on my Macs and iOS devices, keeping all of my passwords synced between them. (There are plenty of other options out there; feel free to suggest your favorite in comments for this post.) To access my passwords, someone needs to first get into my computer or device (which is password protected) and then open the 1Password app (which is password protected with a different password).

Don’t give your passwords to anyone — even someone you trust. A long time ago, when I was a lot less security-minded, I had a simple password I used for most (but fortunately not all) things, including my Netflix account. My idiot wasband, while we were still married, gave that Netflix password to his roommate. Fortunately, he did this right in front of me so I knew about it. (Let’s not go into how pissed off I was.) I spent a good portion of that day changing my password everywhere it might be used. Needless to say, I never gave him any of my passwords again — which served me well when the divorce proceedings started and I had assets to protect.

Security Questions

Security questions are the next line of defense. They help protect your account while giving you access to it if you happen to forget the password. It’s the security questions that protected my iCloud account back in October 2014; someone had actually tried to answer them and failed.

After my recent iCloud hack attempt, I checked and changed a few of my security questions. I was very pleased to see that Apple offered questions that dug deep into my past, with answers that only I would know. Mother’s maiden name is the last question you should select and answer — it’s too widely used. So is where you and your spouse met — how many times have you told that story? (And of course, your spouse knows the answer, which can come back to bite you when divorce papers are filed.) Always pick questions that are easy for you to answer but damn near impossible for anyone else to figure out.

Of course, there is a more devious way to handle security questions and that is to use the same password as the answer to all of them. So while the question might ask “What is your father’s middle name?” — a question that anyone who knows you can research to discover — the answer might be “Jj6MbFwp,” which is obviously not your father’s middle name. That same password would then be the answer to all of your other security questions. So while your ex is trying to figure out why the system isn’t accepting “John” for the father’s middle name question when he knows damn well the name is John, you’ve fooled him by using something he’d never guess in a million years.

Which approach did I use? I won’t tell.

Take Security Seriously

Computer and Internet security — is not something to be taken lightly. The more connected you are and the more you access your personal information and finances online, the more at risk you are for loss if someone is able to access an account. It’s only by having good, difficult-to-guess passwords for your accounts — and making sure you have different passwords for each account — that you can keep them safe.

And remember, your smart phone is likely to be more valuable to a thief than your wallet. Protect it!

My Poor Man’s Backup Camera

If a poor man happens to own a wifi-capable GoPro and spare smart phone.

One of the things I really like about my 2012 Ford pickup is its backup camera. Incorporated into the tailgate, it automatically shows an image on the rear view mirror every time I shift into Reverse. It helps me see what’s behind me in tight spaces or parking lots and, when used in conjunction with the obstacle warning system, makes it impossible for me to hit anything while coming as close as possible to it.

Trouble is, when the truck’s tailgate is off — as it is when I’m traveling with my truck camper (the Turtleback) — I don’t have a backup camera anymore. And when the Turtleback is on board, I can’t see out the back at all.

Clearly I needed a backup camera that would work with the Turtleback.

Commercially Available Solutions

There are some options I could buy to give me the setup I want.

The first is the Lance backup camera, which installs over the back door. The Turtleback was already wired for it, although the camera wasn’t installed. I had to buy the camera and then buy the cable that would connect the camera to my truck or some sort of monitor in the truck. I was spared the ordeal (and cost) of putting this system together by the simple fact that Lance no longer sells the camera. At least that’s what I was told and it works for me.

I could also buy a Ford backup camera just like the one in my tailgate. After spending $800 for that, I’d have to figure out how to mount it on the Turtleback and run the wires to the truck’s existing plug. That would be great because it would work just like my tailgate camera. But $800. And how the hell would I mount something that was designed to fit into a truck tailgate?

There were various wired and wireless options I could buy from various online sources. Prices ranged from $50 to close to $1,000. All of them had one thing in common: they would likely be a bitch to install, the biggest problem being getting power to the camera. This, however, would be the avenue I’d travel if I couldn’t come up with a better idea.

The DIY GoPro/Smart Phone Solution

Camera Mount
The window over the Turtleback’s sink with the GoPro mounted and plugged in. I can close the blinds without disturbing the camera. In this photo, the Turtleback is parked in my friend’s backyard in Arizona.

Reading about all these wireless cameras and receivers reminded me that I already had a wireless camera: my GoPro 3. It also had a suction cup mount that made it possible to mount on the inside of the Turtleback’s back window (so I didn’t have to worry about it falling off or getting stolen when parked). And because I’d had a USB power center installed in the cabinet over the sink (where the stereo is), I could run a power cord to the GoPro to keep it powered all the time, thus enabling me to keep the WiFi feature turned on and ready all the time. That gave me the camera component without spending a dime.

But I still needed a monitor.

Sure, I could use my iPhone and just run the GoPro Capture app every time I wanted to look behind me. But did I really want to deal with pushing buttons every time I shifted into Reverse or just wanted to see what was back there? Not really.

And that’s when I remembered my iPhone 5. I’d sold it to Amazon when I bought my iPhone 6 two years ago. They’d rejected it. There was nothing wrong with it. In fact, it was in remarkably good condition since I’d had a skin on it the entire time I owned it. I tried again. They rejected it again, on different grounds. I called up and complained. They looked at my Amazon purchase history. They saw the thousands of dollars I spend on Amazon every year. And they gave me a credit for the value of the phone. When I offered to send it to them, they told me to keep it.

And it had been sitting in a box inside another box in my garage ever since.

By some miracle, I found it. I charged it back up. And then I set it up to work with the GoPro. Sure enough, the rear view picture was almost exactly what I needed. Certainly close enough.

I poked around in my box of RAM mount parts. I found a suction cup mount and an iPhone 5 cradle and all the other parts I needed to mount the old iPhone over the truck’s dashboard beside the mount I already had for my iPhone 7. Then, because I knew the now 6-year-old iPhone 5 wouldn’t hold a charge as well as a new one, I attached a power cable to it.

The result: a dedicated monitor showing a live image of whatever’s behind the Turtleback.

Backup Camera Monitor
Here’s an example image from my backup camera “monitor.” In this example, I was parked at a campground in Washington. The empty phone cradle to the left of the monitor is the one where my iPhone 7 lives in transit; I was using my phone to take this picture.

All without spending a dime on any equipment I didn’t already have.

Best of all, when the Turtleback is removed from my truck while traveling, I can set up that camera in the truck’s back window to give me some of the same benefits as the backup camera in the tailgate I left home.

Keep in mind that although I’m unlikely to use that old iPhone for anything else, I can grab the GoPro and use it while I’m on my trip any time I don’t need it back there. In fact, I brought an assortment of GoPro mounts and SD cards, as well as my GoPro 3+, to use on my trip.

A Word about Having “Too Much Stuff”

My friends constantly rib me about having too much stuff. After all, they’ve seen my garage and the seemingly countless labeled bins and still unpacked (but labeled) boxes of things I’ve collected throughout my 50+ years of life.

But there’s a lot to be said about having all this stuff and this blog post offers a perfect example. Because I kept that old iPhone, I had an easy monitor for my camera solution. And because I had later model GoPros with wireless built in, I had an easy camera setup. And because I had that old RAM mount stuff, I was able to put together a solid and reliable mount for my monitor.

In other words, this solution cost me nothing because I already had all the components I needed. And I had those components because I don’t throw much of anything out if there’s any possibility I might be able to use it in the future.

So yes, I have a bunch of labeled bins with old electronic equipment in it. So what?

It’s what made my poor man’s backup camera possible.

Mate: The Solution to a Problem

There is an ebike in my future.

I was minding my own business yesterday, checking in on Twitter, when I came across a tweet by my friend Mike in Brooklyn. He was linking to an Indigogo campaign about an electric bike. I’ve been looking at ebikes for some time now and clicked the link.

Indiegogo, in case you don’t know, is a website that entrepreneurs use to raise capital for new products. They create prototypes, produce slick videos, and put information on the site that includes support levels and perks. The perks are usually versions of the products or a chance to buy at a reduced rate when the product becomes available.

The video for Mate, the ebike Mike linked to, was slick in a way that only Europeans can make them. In it, the Mate designer described the bike while video clips played, showing off how fun and practical it was. I watched closely; I was interested in two features: motor control and foldability. When both features appeared, I was sold.

Mate
Nicely designed and feature-packed. This is the solution I’ve been looking for.

But Mate has more features that make it perfect for my needs. It has a good suspension with all-terrain tires — that means it’ll work on rough road surfaces. (The video shows it riding on cobblestones.) It weighs in at less than 50 pounds. It has an onboard trip computer that helps control the motor and keeps track of distances. The rechargeable battery is hidden in the frame so there’s no bulky box to deal with. There’s an ergonomic handle that makes it easy to lift if you need to carry it up a flight of stairs. And on the top-of-the-line S model, the battery can take you up to 50 miles and an independent throttle can get the bike up to 20 miles per hour. In other words, this bike can go the distance.

Although Mate isn’t cheap, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than every other ebike or portable bike I’ve seen. Better yet, it’s a lot cheaper than the Honda Grom I’ve been looking at (about $4200) or the cost of getting my new used 100cc dirt bike street ready (about $1200). Yes, it won’t go as fast as either one of those, but I already have a road-ready motorcycle (and now a dirt bike) so I don’t need another fast bike. And with a Mate, I won’t have to worry about how I can take one of those motorcycles with me when I travel (the front hitch with bike carrier solution I was looking at would cost about $700). This will fold up and fit inside the Turtleback, my truck, or even — dare I say it? — my helicopter.

So I signed up for the Mate S. The way I see it, the money I saved by not going with any of the solutions I was already looking at paid for this ebike. And if it does fit onboard the helicopter, I’ll get a lot more use out of it. My only tiny concern is delivery; more than a few Indiegogo campaigns have failed to deliver in the past. This one looks pretty solid, though. I guess time will tell.

As for Mike, well his wife is getting one, too.

Nine Years on Twitter

Twitter LogoAn unexpected anniversary.

This week marks the 10 year anniversary of the social networking site, Twitter. It’s been getting a lot of press and there are a lot of tweets from Twitter highlighting events throughout its history. I read through a bunch of them yesterday and remembered more than a few.

That got me thinking of how long I’d been on Twitter. I went to my profile page, and saw that I opened my account in March 2007. Almost exactly nine years. But what day in March? Had I missed my anniversary?

I Googled “Twitter anniversary date” and discovered Twitter Birthday, a site that exists solely to tell you when a twitter account was opened. I put in my user name. And I discovered that my account was opened on March 20, 2007. Exactly nine years before.

Twitter Birth Certificate
My Twitter “birth certificate,” retrieved exactly nine years after my account was opened.

Over the past nine years, I’ve been very active on Twitter, posting more than 57,000 tweets. I’ve formed good friendships with many people from all over the world that I’ve met on Twitter, including Andy Piper (the first person I ever followed, who now works for Twitter), Miraz Jordan, Ruth Kneale, Barbara Gavin, Shirley Kaiser, Michael T. Rose, Mike Muench, Esther Schindler, Jonathan Bailey, Chuck Joiner, Mike Meraz, Greg Glockner, Daniel Messier, Bob Levine, Ann Torrence, Bryan William Jones, Patty Hankins, April Mains, Debbie Ripps, Pam Baker, Terry Austin, Kirschen Seah, Jodene, Amanda Sargent, Ryan Keough, Steven Pass, Bill Evans, Derek Colanduno, Derek Bartholomaus, Bonnie Pruitt, Arlene Wszalek, Marvyn Robinson, and others.

I’ve met several of these “virtual friends” in person, including Andy (who lives in the U.K.), Shirley (California), Esther (Arizona), Mike Muench (Florida), Mike Meraz (California), Daniel (Arizona), Ann (Utah), Bryan (Utah), Patty (Maryland), Terry (Texas).

Barbara (Massachusetts) and Jodene (Washington) have gone on helicopter rides with me and Amanda (Washington/Louisiana) has actually flown my helicopter in Washington while I was tending to some divorce-related business in Arizona.

I wrote a book with Miraz (New Zealand) and was interviewed once by Marvyn (U.K.) for his Inspired Pilot podcast and multiple times by Chuck (New Jersey) for his MacVoices video podcast.

I’ve also used Twitter to keep in touch with people I already knew from my personal and business life. And organizations that tweet information that interests me. Those lists are too long to recite here.

Twitter has changed my life in another important way, too. In 2009, I authored and recorded the first of several video courses about Twitter for Lynda.com. This turned out to be a real contributor to my income with impressive royalties year after year as the course was regularly revised. (Sadly, I no longer do this course for Lynda and can’t recommend the current version.)

I blogged about Twitter and my relationship to it. My very first post about Twitter concerned then presidential candidate John Edwards using Twitter way back in 2007 to attract voters. That’s not a big deal today, but it was huge back then. Another post from 2007 titled “Reach Out and Meet Someone” covered my thoughts on social media and meeting people online. I felt as if I needed to explain it — it was that new. I also blogged “Four Steps to Get the Most Out of Twitter,” which, nine years later, is still valid. You can read more of my posts about Twitter by following the Twitter tag.

Nine years after joining Twitter, I’m as enthusiastic about it as ever. While it’s true that I’m not thrilled about some of the changes I’ve seen — notably the preponderance of “promoted tweets,” the Moments feature, and the algorithm now used (by default!) to sort your timeline — Twitter has remained unique enough to make it an important component of my social networking efforts. It’s still my “water cooler,” the place I turn to get social when I need a break from my daily activities.

While I lot of people just “don’t get” Twitter, I’m pretty sure that I do. And I expect to be using it for a long time to come.

Night Stalkers

Caught in action!

Game Camera
Game cameras like this offer an affordable way to keep a record of visitors while you’re gone.

Last winter, I set one of my game cameras up on my unfinished deck. I’d found an animal turd on a piece of plywood outside my living room door and wanted to know where it had come from. So I set up the camera — and promptly forgot about it for six months.

Eventually, I got to work on the deck and the game camera was in the way. I brought it inside, where it languished on the windowsill beside my desk for a while and then brought it downstair to the big desk in my shop. I thought it had been turned off, but it hadn’t. It took pictures whenever it sensed movement until the batteries finally died.

Today, I pulled out both game cameras, put in new batteries, and prepared to set them out to see what they might capture while I’m not looking. I pulled both SD cards out of the cameras and had a look at their contents.

One camera included video shot inside the garage of my old Arizona house back in 2013. I’d set up the camera after I realized that someone — in all likelihood, my future wasband — had attempted to break in through the garage window beside the front door. Fortunately, we’d put a bar there years before that prevented the window from opening more than a few inches for ventilation. When I noticed it, the window was open and stuck hard half off its track. Since I did a lot of traveling that last season home in Arizona, I thought it might be a good idea to set up some kind of surveillance for while I was gone. Game cameras in the kitchen and garage were a good solution. Fortunately (for my wasband), the only activity they captured was me and my friends coming and going.

Dawn Cat
One of my two barn cats looks out over his domain just before dawn last March.

The other camera was the one I’d put out on the unfinished deck last year. It was set up for motion triggers images. And what it caught kind of surprised me: my barn cats hanging out on the supports for the deck. Keep in mind that the only way they could get up to the deck was to climb at least ten feet up one of the posts. There was no ladder, overhanging trees, and no staircase.

Barn Cats
Here’s a shot with both cats. The surface they’re on was approximately 3-1/2 inches wide 10 feet off the ground.

Glowing Eyes
The cats spent most of March 27 up on the deck. According to my calendar, I’d just come home from a trip to California the afternoon before.

I found about two dozen photos with one or both of the cats in them. In most instances, they were either walking right past the front of the camera’s lens or sitting on one of the 2 x 10 beams that support the deck.

Nowadays, I think I have just one barn cat: the black one. Although I saw Black Cat just last night on the pathway between his “safe place” in the shed and my front door, I haven’t seen Gray Cat for months. I’ll likely get one or two new barn cats in the spring. I got them to keep the rodent population down so the snakes wouldn’t have anything to eat and it worked like a charm — I didn’t see a single snake within 200 feet of my home or garden. This is, by far, the best way to control snakes and rodents. Best of all, since they’re not really “pets,” they don’t take much care. I can provide enough food and water in their shed to keep them satisfied for a month since they supplement cat food with rodents and their water with the chickens’ water.

As far as cameras and security goes — without revealing too much, let’s just say that I don’t rely on game cameras for security anymore. I have a far more sophisticated system with live cameras I can access from anywhere. Of course, none of that really matters when my house-sitter has a Doberman and knows where I keep my shotgun.

And I never did find out where that turd came from…

My Weathercam

A picture speaks a thousand words.

A few months ago, I set up a weather station on my shed. I was mostly concerned with getting wind information back home when I was out flying. But the weather station also provides temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and rain information. This information is uploaded to the Weather Underground website, where anyone who wants current weather information hyperlocalized to my home can get it.

When I shared the weather link with friends on Twitter and Facebook, some wise guy pointed out that the webcam couldn’t be found. Duh. It’s because I didn’t install one.

That’s not to say I didn’t want to install one. I did. I just had trouble justifying another expense for yet another interest that had taken over my wallet.

But I really wanted one. And when I snagged a frost control contract again this year — my fourth consecutive season; amazing what you can do when there’s no one anchoring you to a dreary existence in a dead town — and the contract guaranteed me even more money than the previous year’s contract, I decided to splurge. I ordered an AmbientCamHD outdoor weather camera.

The camera arrived Thursday. I had to drive out to my mailbox to fetch it — it had been snowing all day and I advised the UPS driver (who texts me when I have a package) not to try the road. I’d spent most of the day with two visitors who had helped me with an electrical project in my garage and then stuck around for lunch and half a bottle of Crown Royal. (Never a dull moment here.) It was still light out when I fetched the package (and dropped off another package for a neighbor on my way home) and I really thought I could have it fully installed before it got dark. But my Mac wouldn’t read the installer disk and the downloaded software, when used with my Firefox browser, insisted on installing an unusable EXE file with the required plugins. (How’s that for geek speak?) After leaving a voicemail for tech support, I tried again with Safari and managed to get the plugins I needed. Unfortunately, it was fully dark when I set the camera out on my deck to share a disappointing picture with the world.

On Friday morning, after breakfast, when the snow had stopped and the clouds drifted out — at least for a while — I went outside with my impact driver, the screws provided with the camera mount, and a Philips bit. It took three tries to fasten it in a good spot on one of my deck posts. (The second try ripped the heads off two of the three screws; I used drywall screws on the third try.) I aimed it out toward Wenatchee, at my “big view.” I made sure enough sky would show to give weather watchers a good idea of conditions.

Webcam after Setup
Here’s what the webcam image looked like right after I completed installatioin.

Of course, less than 30 minutes later, the clouds moved back in and obscured the view. With 5 inches of snow already on the ground, a fresh snowfall — unforecasted, mind you — began again. As I type this Friday morning, visibility is only about a mile in a medium snowfall.

The geek that I am, I quickly discovered the URL for my webcam’s images, which are uploaded to the Weather Underground once every 5 minutes. That makes it possible for me to share the current image on my blog. Here’s what it looks like as you’re reading this; keep in mind that if it’s dark or foggy you won’t see much:

Current Webcam image
Here’s the most recent web image. It’s best viewed on during daylight hours on a relatively clear day.

Of course, the webcam image is now available when you click the Webcam tab on the Weather Underground page for my station. It’s also available from the various Weather Underground smartphone weather apps when you look at the weather in my area or at my station, “Malaga Heights.”

Whew. Glad I got this out of my system.