BSDCan 2024 Reorganization

Dan Langille has spent a good part of the last twenty years on BSDCan. We’ve had other BSD conferences in the Western Hemisphere, but BSDCan is the most consistent. Covid interrupted it, but only because Dan coordinated with EuroBSDCon to have a single online conference in 2021.

This is a lot of work. Dan’s life has changed.

Dan is stepping back from organizing BSDCan. I am taking over coordinating 2024.

Note I did not say “running.” Running an international conference is a job best accomplished by a team. A large team. Dan set up BSDCan 2023 with himself and Adam Thompson, and ran it with assistance from Dru Lavigne and Warren Block in registration, and Patrick McEvoy and Andrew Fengler in streaming. I am not nearly that tough.

Instead, we have assembled a team of seventeen people to be the BSDCan 2024 Operations Team. Dan will become our source of knowledge, telling us who to talk to at the University of Ottawa and where to reliably get T-shirts locally and which caterers are most likely to cause indigestion. I am pleased that Adam, Dru, Warren, Patrick, and Andrew all cheerfully agreed to continue in their roles. (Adam’s work of coordinating travel and accommodations for the speakers will be split among a few folks, led by Adam.)

My entire job will be to coordinate the team, help them gather resources, and mediate conflicts between them. Every person on this list is motivated to make BSDCan 2024 happen, but even the best-intentioned folks can disagree. If required I’ll make final decisions, sure, but if my decision makes people unhappy, I have no doubt that the esteemed program committee will tell me I’m being an idiot. They have final say over the con, after all.

This means I need to be staunch on not doing anything myself–although I admit, I might make a call to the Diefenbunker to see how much it would cost to host the closing social event there, and to Pili Pili Chicken for a price quote to cater it. This is mostly for my peace of mind, however. Confirming it’s too expensive will put the idea to rest.

Organizing BSDCan with two folks is a monumental achievement. I have seventeen, which I consider barely adequate for a Redundant Array of Independent Dans. We’ll need folks to handle a variety of smaller tasks, from checking video times to hauling boxes. (If you haven’t hauled a box for the con staff, have you really been to BSDCan?) I intend to make use of the bsdcan-volunteers mailing list to gather those folks. Folks on our team can ask for specific help on that list, whether it be figuring out a balky database or showing up at 7AM opening day with a roll of duct tape and a cattle prod. (“Cattle prod? Really?” Hey, I don’t know the details. Knowing the details would get in the way of me doing my job. I trust the various team members to know what they need and to ask for it.)

One thing that the BSD community has historically excelled at is passing leadership from one generation to the next. BSDCan’s operations team will follow that example. We have old hands taking the lead on parts of BSDCan, but we have at least two people covering each responsibility and at least one of them should be comparatively young.

I don’t intend to coordinate BSDCan for more than a couple years. My goal is to set up a self-perpetuating structure, make sure it runs, and walk away. Normally, I wouldn’t take on anything like this, but BSDCan is important to my people and it deserves my time and attention.

The BSDCan 2024 goal is to largely reimplement BSDCan 2023, but supported by different people. Yes, there’s room to change things. Yes, I have ideas. Many people have ideas. You probably have ideas. Our overwhelming goal is to make the conference happen. Perhaps that’s unambitious but extracting knowledge from Dan’s head, documenting it, and reimplementing it will take time and energy. I don’t want to burn anyone out. I intend to retain the location, the mask policy, the papers committee, the social event, everything, until we have BSDCan down cold.

Dan has done well. He’s earned a break.

We are drafting him to run the auction, however.

New BSDNow interview

BSDNow episode 507 has an interview with me.

We talked about OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems, Run Your Own Mail Server, the writing business, ChatGPT, and detritus. At least, that’s the topic list Benedict sent me before the interview. I have no idea how far astray this talk went. It’s not like I pay attention to anything I say.

If you’re at BSDCan, do say hello.

Print Price Increases

Forget the cost of living–my printers have raised their prices. I have no choice but to do the same. $25 in 2018 is $29.50 today.

Unfortunately, back in 2011 I decided that I wanted my tech books to look like Real Books. You know, from Real Publishers, whatever that means. He put prices on covers. Younger Me had lived through several periods of inflation, and while he had learned the lessons of inflation on the demand side he failed to extrapolate for when he became a supplier. If he thought about prices on covers becoming invalid in five or ten years, he would have sneered Like I’ll still be making a living doing this in 2023. I assumed my writing career was unsustainable. I have to file updated, priceless covers with the printers.

I tried a different page layout on the new edition of DNSSEC Mastery, tightening the text to reduce page count so I could hold prices the same. The result was functional, but unattractive. The topics of my tech books are already unattractive, so doubling down on that theme is unwise.

I’ve also hit the point where maintaining my business is interfering with making new words. I’m hiring a part-time contractor to help with the web site. He’ll want paying, because despite what the oligarchs think you can’t just ship your flunkies a crate of cheap instant ramen and a box of coffee and get quality labor out of them.

So, price increases. Sorry.

I’m starting with the more popular books, like SSH Mastery. The price will be set to $29.99 by the time you read this, but it’ll take a few days for the respective databases to churn through.

Folks who follow this blog are the most likely to buy my books, so I wanted to give you advance warning. If you’ve been waffling on grabbing a book in print, this is the time.

April’s Ablated Sausage

Each month, I write a blog post for my Patronizers. I want to say it provides unique insight into my process and business, but “See the Sausage Being Made” has turned into more of a monthly summary combined with my usual on-brand ranting. With my Patronizers’ kind permission, a month after they see the posts I’ll be sharing them here. When I remember. Looking back at this post, I was clearly still reeling from covid, but I’m resisting the urge to put Compound W on the warts.

Our home has radiator heat. The air does not move unless I move it. Fortunately there’s enough seepage around the windows to prevent anoxia, but after all these months the house has picked up a certain aroma that can only be described as “The Lucases have been inside for too long.” The office window is now open for the first time since October. Fresh air is rolling in, but neighbors walking down the sidewalk cough and stagger when the fug hits them. It’s a glorious annual tradition of hope, at least from my perspective.

So, the bad news? Last month during the Patronizer video hangout, folks told me I looked tired and let me go early. I didn’t think I was that worn out, but it turns out they knew better than I did. I woke up the next morning at 3AM with a 104F fever. After defying covid for longer than the Axis fought off the Allies, I had covid. The strategy of “wait to catch the plague until treatments exist” paid off, though. I had pavloxid later that day, and the fever broke after the second dose. The brutal fatigue still lingers, though. Yesterday was the first day I worked a full day, and by five PM I was exhausted.

Prevention eventually fails, but I plan to avoid reinfection for another Second World War.

My goal of “write lots of books this year” continues its streak of failure. My goal of “get to the dojo 100 nights this year” has likewise received a gut punch. But the nice thing about these goals is that they’re fail-forward. If I only get to the dojo eighty nights, that’s still better than most people manage.

I’ll be teaching a four-hour OpenBSD storage tutorial at BSDCan, though, and the slides for that are finished. I’m also giving a fifty-minute talk about OpenBSD’s storage at Penguicon and semibug later this month, and over the summer. Those slides will be trimmed down from the tutorial. Hoping to knock those off today.

I’ll also be talking about Rat Operated Vehicles at Penguicon, which will be fun. That talk almost demands a live studio audience.

Yes, I’m doing two conferences in two months. I expect that they’ll be my last ones for the year. One bout of covid has redoubled my determination to avoid flying. Yes, attending EuroBSDCon in Portugal would be way cool, but–no.

The good news is: once the slides are done, my outstanding commitments are complete. No fulfillment lingers for either sponsorships or Kickstarter. Yes, I have to write my baseball orc tale, but I’ll do that in June when I can attend a historical-rules baseball game at Greenfield Village. I don’t want to jinx myself and say “nothing stands between me and writing,” so I’ll just say: whatever stands between me and writing will come as a nasty surprise.

As an aside: as part of the Devotion & Corrosion Kickstarter, I’m having an online book release party on 29 April, at 10 AM EDT. Any of y’all that want to attend are welcome.

Thank you for your support. I’m gonna go make some slides so I can make some words.

ChatGPT versus Facts

A friend asked ChatGPT about me. It provided something that looks like an answer, but is not an answer.

This illustrates how these large language models produce things that LOOK like answers, but are not actual answers. I’m a public figure with a fair amount of information in public, but it can’t get the details correct.

I thought of going through this and highlighting everything incorrect, but I have no interest in helping train ChatGPT or in making more details of my life available. Every paragraph has multiple glaring inaccuracies.

Michael W Lucas is a technical author and FreeBSD advocate who has written many books and articles on computer systems administration, networking, and information security. He was born on June 6, 1968, in Detroit, Michigan, and currently resides in Detroit, Michigan.

Lucas is best known for his contributions to the FreeBSD operating system community, including his books “Absolute FreeBSD”, “FreeBSD Mastery: Storage Essentials”, “FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZFS”, and “FreeBSD Mastery: Jails”. He has also written extensively on other technical topics, including network security, system administration, and SSH.

In addition to his writing, Lucas has been a speaker at technical conferences such as BSDCan, EuroBSDCon, and BSDTW. He is also a member of the FreeBSD Foundation and the FreeBSD Security Team.

Lucas has been involved with various open-source projects over the years, including OpenSSH, OpenNTPD, and OpenBGPD. He has also been a regular contributor to the BSD Now podcast, where he discusses news and developments in the BSD community.

Overall, Michael W Lucas is a respected figure in the technical writing and open-source communities, known for his expertise in FreeBSD and his clear and engaging writing style.

Yes, that last paragraph is wrong. I’m the biggest fish in a minuscule pond. Most technology writers, and a large part of the open source community, consider my corner irrelevant. ChatGPT is being kind, and facts are neither kind nor cruel.

If you based decisions on this, you would go very wrong. If you use this for your business? That’s your problem.

Also, I’m told that it has declared Michael Warren Lucas dead. ChatGPT obviously wants me to spend more time writing books that can be used to improve it.

Quarterly and Annual Patronizing

As frequently requested, I’ve enabled options for Patronizers using to pay quarterly and yearly. If you want to switch away from monthly, you’ll need to unsubscribe and resubscribe. This only applies to my site; I have no control of how Patreon handles payments.

Do I care what option you pick? Not really. The “See the Sausage Being Made” and “Digital Reader” tiers were already annual and quarterly to reduce fees to acceptable levels. If you want to pay quarterly or yearly and save me a few cents I’m down with that, but I’m not going to sweat them.

Everything should auto-renew so long as you pay with a credit card. Please let me know if you have problems. I have double-checked everything, but that only means I’ve looked at my errors twice.

I Have A Dream

If someone demanded I summarily declare why I have achieved my modest success where so many other writers haven’t, I would have to say it’s because I mercilessly separate dreams and goals and only act upon the latter.

What’s the difference?

A goal is something I control. “I will write four books this year” is a goal. I might succeed, I might fail, but it’s within my control. If I write three I fail in my goal, but hey–I’ve written three more books!

A dream is something I don’t control. Generally, dreams require other people take action on my behalf. “I will coauthor a thriller with James Patterson” is a dream, because while I might reach out to Patterson I don’t control how he reacts. Chances are he would throw me off his front porch and unleash the hounds.

I work on goals. Never on dreams.

Do this long enough, and dreams fade. It’s not that you lose the capacity for dreaming, but if you remain goal-oriented your idle fantasies start feeding into your goals instead.

Today, I fear I’ve caught a dream. XKCD’s latest interactive comic includes a Murderbot reference.

I can’t really call this “author goals,” because I don’t control it. But it’s certainly “author dreams.”

Stupid dreams. Get out of here with that lame non-actionable tripe. Dammit.

Ten Years of Penguicon Pop Tarts

In 2013, I was a Guest of Honor at Penguicon.

No con had ever treated me better. My room was handled. My assigned flunky made sure I got fed (or, in my case, made sure I ate). There was a green room with sandwich fixings and snacks and the most ridiculously oversized heap of Pop Tarts I have ever witnessed. Not that I should be eating Pop Tarts, or even particularly like Pop Tarts, but I am always compelled to admire spectacle.

At the closing ceremony, the con chair asked the GoHs if anything went wrong. I said something along the lines of “you were magnificent. the only thing I could possibly say is that there was no toaster for the Pop Tarts.”

Truly trivial. That con was run better than some multimillion-dollar IT launches I’ve been part of.

But Hospitality Czar Cylithria Dubois got a look of absolute horror on her face. She took her job seriously, and had FAILED. Less than perfect! Dishonor, dismay, disaster!

It was okay, of course. We had a laugh afterwards.

I’ve come back most years since. Every year, there have been Pop Tarts in the con suite. Every year, the con suite has lacked sufficient power to plug in a toaster without blowing out the circuit breakers. It’s become a running joke.

This year, ten years after my GoH stint? When I walked up to the hotel check-in desk I saw an assortment of bags behind the counter. I thought “Oh, the ConCom is up to their usual tricks of giving GoHs welcome gifts. It’s nice to see the old ways being kept. Them folks are in for a treat.”

I gave my name, and the receptionist said “We have a package for you!”

Lithie had left me…

…a toaster. With a lovely thank-you note, promising to remember the Pop Tarts in another ten years. I nearly burst an aneurysm laughing.

But in the con suite?

Not one Pop Tart.

Am I saying that after a decade of con suite Pop Tarts, Lithie leveraged her influence to make sure there would be none on the year she gave me a toaster? No. Lithie operates on the highest standards of ethics and probity. I’m certain it’s mere convenient coincidence.

But my long-suffering missus scurried out to a grocery store, so that Sunday I could offer Lithie a toasty-warm Pop Tart.

Not that either of us like Pop Tarts, mind you. That’s not the point.

I’m already planning for next year. Yes, for talks. And… other things.

Lithie says that in ten years, she’ll bring the Pop Tarts. Most twenty-year-old food would transcend staleness, but come on. They’re Pop Tarts. They’ll be as fresh as the day they were excreted.

Updated Penguicon 2023 schedule and references

Turns out I have additional Penguicon events. I also need a place to list the books I’ll refer to in my talk. Rather than rewrite the old blog post, I’m starting over. First, the references.

OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems
The Copyright Handbook
LLC or Corporation?
Tax Savvy for Small Business
Cash Flow for Creators
Domesticate Your Badgers: Become a Better Writer through Deliberate Practice

I’ll have some of my books in the bookstore, room 317. They told me I can bring as many titles as I want, which seems foolish but oh well. I’ll have a handful of Networknomicons, some fiction, several recent tech books, Letters to ed(1), and assorted other detritus. While the con is having folks buy books by sending Paypal direct to the authors, I plan to find my Square reader. If you show up during one of the three hours I’m in the store, I’ll take your credit card myself. (Or charge your card myself. Whichever you prefer.)

And now, the schedule. There’s full details on the con’s Sched, including any room updates.

Friday, 21 April
5PM: AI, Writers, and Artists (panel), Charlevoix C
7PM: Writer’s Block Bookstore, suite 317

Saturday, 22 April
11AM: OpenBSD Filesystems (talk), Algonquin A
Noon: Reading (talk), Portage Auditorium — somehow, they put the readings in this room. It bears a close resemblance to one of the rooms where someone dies in $ git sync murder. $GSM does not take place at this hotel, and the $GSM con is most assuredly not Penguicon, I admit to feeling somewhat leery. I might read from that book, though.
1PM: Rat Operated Vehicles (talk), Algonquin B (Big Top) — contains no actual rat
2PM: Writer’s Block Bookstore, suite 317
3PM: LN2 ice cream (consuite) — this is not part of my official schedule, but come on, you know I’ll be there
4PM: Terry Pratchett: The Man, the Myth, the Reading Order (Charlevoix C)
6PM: Crowdfunding for Creatives (Charlevoix C)

Sunday, 23 April
11AM: Writer’s Block Bookstore, suite 317
noon: One Man Publishing Army (Algonquin C)