Writing New Editions

This post is, “how is the new edition of Absolute OpenBSD coming along?” with a bit of musing on the craft of writing a second edition added in.

I’m always shocked by the number of systems administrators ignorant of networking basics. I don’t care that they don’t know how to choose between BGP and OSPF, or that they don’t know what those acronyms stand for. That’s not relevant to most servers. But lots of them don’t know what an IP address is, or how to recognize a valid netmask, or the difference between TCP and UDP, or why there’s an /etc/protocols file. Any sysadmin who doesn’t know these things is still an amateur. My goal in writing a book is to drag people a little closer to professional.

So, I include a chapter on networking basics in my introductory sysadmin texts, just like I include chapters on user management.

I have a chapter on IPv4 networking in three published books. I’m writing this same chapter for the fourth time. I can’t just copy-and-paste from earlier editions. First, that would be rude. Second, my understanding of TCP/IP has changed in the last ten years, and that changes how I approach the material.

But I can use the earlier efforts as models. Some text I can almost reuse, because it’s still the best way I know of to explain the specific topic. This will be the third time I use the dinner table analogy, for example. I still pass it through my brain to my keyboard, however, freeing myself to tweak a few words in the process.

The most recent IPv4 chapter I wrote was for Absolute FreeBSD. In this incarnation, the chapter included a couple pages of basic binary and hexadecimal math. I looked at this, and thought “Why did I cover this? Doesn’t everybody know it?”

Then I thought back, and realized that I included those pages because at the time I wrote the book, I spent a fair amount of energy teaching that material to my coworkers.

I flipped back through the earlier editions of these books. Each book had one or more sections that I included because coworkers didn’t know it.

At the moment, I’m not responsible for teaching anyone anything. I have no tech minions, and am molding nobody. It’s definitely changed my mind about what topics I cover. I suspect that the new edition of Absolute OpenBSD will contain less basic material. I’m definitely assuming that you know how to do binary and hexadecimal math, for one thing. This leaves room for more advanced topics.

My conclusion seems to be: if you find the new edition of Absolute OpenBSD moves too fast, I suggest you get a copy of Absolute FreeBSD as well, or reread the one you have.

(Mind you, the no-minions-to-mold is about to change. After two years of minion-free peace, I have been given a minion to mold. He’s on vacation at the moment, and has no idea what awaits him on his return. I have no desire to ruin his last few days of freedom, so we’re waiting for his first day back to tell him what he’s been sentenced to. The poor bastard.)

So, where am I on the second edition of Absolute OpenBSD?

If you want the minutia of my progress, search for the #ao2e hashtag on Twitter. But at a larger level, I’m writing the chapter on IPv4.

This seems to be about 40% through the first draft of the book. The manuscript has proceeded quickly, now that I’m not moving into a house that needs work to be habitable. I’m hoping that this pace continues.

I’ve received initial feedback on chapters 1-8 from Henning Brauer. Then the chapters go to Nathan Houle, my editor at No Starch Press, then back to me for corrections and discussion. Then they go to Peter Hansteen for formal technical review. Then back to me for correction. Then copyedit, back to me for correction, page layout, and back to me for correction.

So, it’s not 40% done. The first draft is the hardest part, however. Doing the math, though, I see that I’ve been through an IPv4 chapter at least twenty times, given all the cycles. No wonder writing it is causing me nausea and chest pain.

The original outline calls for a book about 400,000 words. For reference, Absolute FreeBSD is close to 300,000 words. This is too dang long. One of my goals is that my books be small enough to read in the bathtub.

As SSH Mastery was successful, I have a resolution. I think I’ve figured out topics I can extract from the book and publish separately, without damaging the integrity of the book or its usefulness. Not everybody needs to know about, say, OpenBSD’s wireless features, but it’s certainly a topic worth covering. I can do small books on those topics and publish them as an aside, making the content available to interested readers. Assuming that the reader is a competent OpenBSD sysadmin (e.g., they’ve read Absolute OpenBSD 2nd ed or have an equivalent combination of education and experience) will let me do these books almost as easily as if it was integrated into the book. And my initial market research indicates that my readers are amenable to smaller, single-topic books.

In summary: book is underway. More books coming.

5 Replies to “Writing New Editions”

  1. I feel you, there is nothing more pathetic than a sysadmin trying to determine if a UDP port is open in a Firewall by using telnet host port…

  2. I just read your other post about the FreeBSD Ports Annoyance and setting up a BAMP. It occurred to me (for some crazed reason) that it would be nice if you could cover something such as this: http://www.kernel-panic.it/openbsd/mail/ in the upcoming Absolute OpenBSD but with an emphasis of using a Roundcube install pointed inward to a network. I’ve seen a lot of questions around the net about such a setup since Mozilla announced the sidelining of Thunderbird, people looking to just step up instead of jumping from program to program. Browsing through Daniele’s instructions it is obviously not for the faint of heart or the novice. But, using an OS (as someone recently said) is all about applications ye? Having a mail server with a nice usable interface that’s as painless as possible is about the best application I can think of lately that’s not really been covered (at least in print anyway).

  3. That may be a better approach actually. I like that Peter Hansteen did not set out to write a Security Thesaurus. The book of PF just wouldn’t feel right being 4″ thick. If you went the direction of say an “OpenBSD Applications” series then you could cover things without writing a Bible and having to update the entire thing every time the book of Mathew needed editing (smooth segue from the Absolute format). Dedicated short books which separate out Web Server, Mail server, Networking, Security / Creating a DMZ etc could be both more efficient and a more user friendly format physically. But, like I said above, targeting a current need to address with each one would probably prove the most affable as well as profitable. Then there’s this… presenting any *Copy and Paste* color by numbers series for OpenBSD might just bring down the wrath of Theo on you but that alone could actually prove to be worth the price of admission. I kid! Well, kind of >.>

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