BSDCan 2020 Charity Auction

Every BSDCan concludes with a charity auction for the Ottawa Mission. It’s a highlight of the conference, and we’ve raised tens of thousands of bucks for this worthy organization. BDSCan is virtualized this year, because plague. Every year, I try to come up with two unique items to contribute to the auction. One of them is valuable, or at least has a small amount of inherent worth. The other is the stupidest thing I can think of, just to see if I can get people to bid on it. I consider last year my absolute peak success in both regards.

Today, the coronavirus has messed many people up. The United States is undergoing a long-overdue racism reckoning. If you have a tech job, many (not all) of you are moderately insulated from the worst effects of both of these. I would strongly encourage every one of you to donate to bail funds.

The Ottawa Mission still needs help, though, and I am unwilling to let the BSDCan tradition lapse. So this year, I’m offering something unique and stupid. It also includes just a soupçon of humiliation for yours truly.

In October 2000 I attended my very first BSD conference, out in Monterey, California. This was before “Absolute BSD.” This was before my “Big Scary Daemons” column at O’Reilly Network. The conference sponsors flew me out on the strength of three or four FreeBSD articles I published in Sys Admin Magazine. This seemed ludicrous–but then, so did everything else in the dot-com boom that I’d so assiduously avoided. (This was the first of several times that Charles Mackay has saved my family pain.) Apparently the sponsors knew what they were doing, as meeting all these BSD folks changed my life. One day, I might forgive them.

I signed up for Kirk McKusick’s BSD Kernel Internals course. It included actual printed-on-paper slides, in a three-ring binder. When cleaning the basement, I found this notebook.



It has my notes. My bad notes. Because I didn’t understand anything, even after our esteemed doctor explained it in words of two or fewer syllables.

Not all the pages have notes. I thought I understood those slides and his lecture well enough that I didn’t need to take notes. I was wrong. The notes would have been factually incorrect, though, so it’s all the same in the end.

As part of Virtual BSDCan, I am auctioning off this historical flotsam to support the Ottawa Mission. Right here, on this web page. Comment with your bid. Comments not containing bids might be deleted.

The mission is in Canada, so all bids are in Canadian dollars. (If you screw up and pay the same number of US dollars or Euros instead, that’s okay.)

With all that’s going on it’ll to take some time for word to spread, so this auction remains open until 5 PM EDT, Monday 15 June 2020. If last-minute bids are coming in hot and heavy, I will let the auction run until they play out. I have no problem doing a virtual “going… going…. gone!”

The winner sends me a copy of their donation receipt. I mail the tutorial materials, including the Minimum Viable Three-Ring Binder that’s probably the most valuable component.

If you lose the auction, the Ottawa Mission would welcome even modest donations. So would those bail bond funds.

The MWL 2020 Asia Tour

Yep, I’m a big star now, touring Asia and everything! Sort of. Two countries. Two cities. The world’s most minimal tour. I’m a big star, in a really really tiny universe.

19-22 March 2020, I’ll be at AsiaBSDCon. I’m presenting a four hour tutorial on FreeBSD jails, as well as attending the conference.

The fine folks at HasGeek are sponsoring me on an accompanying trip to Bangalore, India, for three events. (Cool fact of the day: they’re not conferences in India, they’re events, because a “conference” apparently involves the Indian government and this isn’t a government thing.)

25 March, I’m offering a public lecture on Where is the Sysadmin Today at Juspay’s offices. I have rants thoughts. Oh, do I have rants thoughts.

27 March, I’m attending Netconf. This is an Unconference (Unevent?), so the program won’t be set until it starts. I’ll be proposing my new SNMP talk. I could also give any talk I’ve given before. If you’re attending and want me to give a specific talk, please comment or use the contact form to ask me to submit it.

28 March, I’m doing a reading of git commit murder at Champaca Bookstore, as well as a Q&A with Swapneel Patneka and anyone else who opens their mouth.

Why do this trip, when I loathe travel? Over the last twenty years, I’ve promised several folks that I would one day attend AsiaBSDCon. I keep my promises. I’m looking forward to being there, but not to getting there. The Bangalore trip is serendipitous. Presenting technology is how I built my career. Bangalore is a technology center and obviously a place I should present in. HasGeek asked if I would be interested, I said “if you could put an event by AsiaBSDCon,” and those folks actually went and did it. I’m simultaneously amazed and honored that they’ve gone to such trouble.

Plus, HasGeek opened discussions by promising gelato. They did their research.

I’ll have a couple free days in each place, yes, and I’ll take advantage of them. I’d rather like to attend a few classes at the Hombu Dojo, but… Fly across the world, teach crowds of strangers to whom English is a second language, talk to folks about areas I’m an expert in? Sure. Set foot on Ueshiba’s tatami? I’ve only practiced martial arts for eighteen years, there’s absolutely no way I’m worthy.

And India’s history is thousands of years deep, plus there’s elephants and tigers and… and… everything. I can’t decide what to see.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m cutting down my traveling. This trip will cost me at least a week of writing time before the trip, and probably two weeks of writing time afterwards as I recover. It’s at least a month of proper writing, all told, and probably more. I can’t authoritatively say that this is my final trip to Asia, no matter what. I can say that I’m not planning to travel so far again. If you’re on that side of the world and want to meet me, this is your best opportunity.

I will do Penguicon and BSDCan in 2020, but otherwise, I’ll be home making words.

The Six Prequels to “FreeBSD Mastery: Jails”

I’ve said a few times that I needed to write six books before I could write FreeBSD Mastery: Jails. Some were for the reader, because I didn’t want to take a break from the jails content to explain a seemingly unrelated topic. Some were for me, because I didn’t know everything I needed about a topic to effectively cover jails.

I thought which six books those were was obvious. I have heard from more than one person that it’s not. I chose to not put a title-by-title course of study in the front of the jails book. Seems I was wrong about that as well.

So: without further ado, here are the six prequels to FreeBSD Mastery: Jails.

  • Networking for Systems Administrators

    People want to bridge their jails, or VNET them, or NAT them, or otherwise play tricks with their network. You can’t set up a virtual switch if you don’t understand what a switch is. You can’t network your jails if you don’t understand netmasks. Every time your first virtual network grows, you have to troubleshoot everything.

  • FreeBSD Mastery: Storage Essentials

    Jails are all about storage. You can implement one or two jails without knowing what you’re doing, but eventually they’ll ruin your day.

  • FreeBSD Mastery: ZFS
    FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZFS

    ZFS is incredibly jail-friendly. It doesn’t suit all deployments, but if you want to implement jails at scale you’re almost certainly exploiting ZFS.

  • FreeBSD Mastery: Specialty Filesystems

    Any non-trivial jail implementation requires understanding devfs, nullfs, and memory filesystems. Many use iSCSI, NFS, and/or autofs. By the time I put all that in a book, I might as well add in namespace filesystems and HAST and completely cover special-purpose filesystems.

  • Absolute FreeBSD, 3rd Edition

    By the time I wrote all of the above, FreeBSD had changed enough that the second edition wouldn’t suffice.

Yes, I planned this. Every book I write is ordered internally in much the same way. I look at the material for each chapter and say “What must the reader understand before reading this?” I often revisit my chapters as needed, or even split them. Chapters 17 and 19 of AF3e were originally part of early chapters, but I had to split those chapters and put parts of them later because the reader would lack the context to understand the material.

Mind you, this is only what you need to get jails working. Managing jails is the pinnacle of systems administration practice, so I’d certainly recommend you learn about SSH, PAM, and sudo. Really, though, I’d suggest get a job at the gelato shop. You’ll be happier.

“Sudo Mastery” and the new Tilted Windmill Press clothing line

Sudo Mastery, 2nd edition, is now complete. I’m doing the release slightly different this time, however.

Unsubstantiated pervasive rumors have it that books sell better if they’re available in all formats. The ebook is always faster to arrive than the print, because electrons are instantaneous. I’ve put the ebook on preorder until 3 September, about two weeks from today. This should give the paperback and hardcover time to propagate through all the bookstores. I’m dubious this will have any effect on sales, but you never know.

Also: for years now, people have asked me to put some of the tech book covers on T-shirts. I’ve finally done as requested. I originally wanted to run this directly through tiltedwindmillpress.com, but while the tech would be fun the tax implications would be unfun. So I fell back on Teespring, and set up a store.


There’s shirts for jails, sudo, and a couple other books. Including the book everyone would ask me about, specifically so people don’t ask about it (but it’s extra expensive, because reasons). So: those of you who asked for shirts? Here you go.

Talking Jails at Semibug, 9 April 2019

I’ve written a jails talk to go with the book.

I plan to give this talk three times: a dry run at next week’s Semibug, then in May at Penguicon and BSDCan. The Semibug talk, at 7 PM Tuesday at Altair Engineering, will be the most honest version of the talk. And by honest, I mean it will still include the bad language. I’ll also have the most time to talk afterwards.

With any sort of luck, I’ll have copies of FreeBSD Mastery: Jails at all three events.

“FreeBSD Mastery: Jails” first draft complete

After far too long, I have a complete first draft of “FreeBSD Mastery: Jails.”

I have quite a few FreeBSD developers doing tech review for it. They’re the folks most qualified to check my work. I’ve also made copies available to sponsors and the Patronizers who will get a copy of the finished ebook, mostly so they know that the book really exists.

This means I have a whole bunch of folks offering feedback–almost, but not quite, more than I can handle. I promised I’d post here when this book reached the point where I could use technical feedback on the book, though. So, if you’re really qualified to tech review a jails book, and you desperately want to spend your next couple weeks doing just that, drop me an email and tell me why you should be a reviewer. Don’t assume I know who you are, because I’m ignorant of dang near everyone.

Now if you excuse me, I’m gonna go stare blankly into space until my brain restarts.

FreeBSD Journal column

As of the January issue, the FreeBSD Journal will be free. You can access it, and all back issues, through a browser. You’ll need to register for it–the Foundation is still using it for fund-raising, but in a less direct manner.

So it’s probably time for me to confess: last year I got suckered into writing a letters column for them. I, of course, wanted to call it “Letters to ed(1),” but the board got all prosaic and went with “We Get Letters.”

What sort of letters column would I write?

Here’s the first.

Hi Michael,

We were brainstorming column ideas for the FreeBSD Journal, and Kode Vicious suggested that you might be willing to handle a “Letters” column for us. People would submit their questions to the Journal, and you’d answer them for us. Any chance you’d be interested?

Best,

George V Neville-Neil

FreeBSD Foundation President

Hi George,

This is a terrible idea. It’s just awful. This is the Internet age. Nobody reads letters columns, advice columns, or anything like that. We have Stack Exchange, and all kinds of places for people to beg for advice.

FreeBSD has a whole bunch of places where users can go to get specific help. Help ships with the system, in the man pages. Where a bunch of Unix-like operating systems made this absurd decision to bundle manual pages separately, FreeBSD ships with the manual. Actually, you can’t not install the manual. You could build a FreeBSD that doesn’t include the manual, of course, but to do that means reading a whole bunch of man pages.

People say that the manual isn’t a tutorial, and they’re right. That’s why FreeBSD has the Handbook and a whole bunch of articles. Unlike the man pages, you can choose to not install those on a FreeBSD host. You can browse all of the documentation online at https://docs.freebsd.org, though.

New users can start with the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) file, which contains literally dozens of questions and answers. It goes into everything from hardware compatibility to ZFS, and while some of the gags in “The FreeBSD Funnies” have aged dreadfully—nothing scratches in memory banks these days, they fixed that bug back in 1996—the rest of the document is rock-solid. Looking at it now, I realize just how useful it is to new users. I still remember that feeling of enlightenment when I understood why du(1) and df(1) give different answers for disk space usage. Setting aside an hour to read the FAQ will give new users that enlightened feeling over and over again.

Then there’s the Handbook. It’s broken up by tasks. If a user’s question has a little more depth than what’s in the FAQ, the Handbook is there for you. Some of the material orients the reader, and is well worth reading so that new FreeBSD administrators understand why there’s so much in /usr/local when everybody else just dumps everything in /etc and /bin.

Plus there’s all sorts of FreeBSD-related sites these days. Even my blog has some FreeBSD tutorials on it.

If anyone did write in for help, it would be because they didn’t use these resources.

==ml

Michael,

Not necessarily. People do have problems that aren’t yet documented. We really think a letters column could be useful addition to the Journal, and that you’re the right person to write it.

Best,

George

George,

Okay, let’s talk about the those folks who have issues that truly aren’t in the Handbook.

Back when I started with FreeBSD, you got help via the FreeBSD-questions@FreeBSD.org mailing list. And it’s still around today. The people on that list want to answer questions. They subscribe specifically so they can help people with their issues. Those brave people volunteer their time to answer user questions. What can I do that those heroes can’t?

For those young punks who’ve forgotten how email works, there’s a FreeBSD forum at https://forums.freebsd.org. Unlike the mailing list, the forums are broken up by category. Users can delve into detailed discussions of installation, storage, hardware, packages, or whatever. Whenever I look at the forums, I find interesting discussions.

There’s a quarter century of problem-solving in the mailing list archives. What can I say that hasn’t been said many times over?

These channels are really suitable for issues with particular hardware. The Handbook and FAQ are permanent fixtures in the FreeBSD ecosystem—they’ve been around for decades. But if some chipset in your brand-new knock-off laptop is causing you grief, you can search the mailing list or the forum to see if anyone else has that same issue with that hardware.

Users who can’t be bothered to DuckDuckGo the mailing list archives or search the forums certainly aren’t going to bother composing a coherent letter to me.

==ml

Michael,

Seriously, there’s people out there who have problems that aren’t in the Forums or mailing list archives yet. You really could help them. When they see how helpful you are, it might even encourage them to buy your books.

Best,

George

Dang it, George, you just don’t give up, do you?

Okay, fine. Let’s walk this through.

A user has a problem. A truly unique problem, that doesn’t appear anywhere in the mailing list archives, the forums. The only reference on the Internet to a problem even vaguely like this is on a darknet site and in Siberian. They’re sincerely and honestly in trouble.

Before anyone could help this user, they’d need to describe their problem in a useful way. This means they’d have to send a complete description of the problem. Most people who compose a request for help can’t be bothered to give the output of “uname -a” and a copy of dmesg.boot. They can’t trouble themselves by giving actual error output or the contents of /var/log/messages. Or they “helpfully” strip out stuff they think is irrelevant, like the messages saying “PHP is dumping core” that appear all through their web server logs.

And that’s another thing. People want help with stuff that has no relevance to FreeBSD. They know it has nothing to do with FreeBSD. And yet they send a message to a FreeBSD mailing list? I mean, that’s just rude.

And speaking of rudeness—would it hurt people to be polite when they ask for help? Anyone on the mailing list or the forum who takes time to help a user is volunteering their own time. They have better things to do than to put up with your tantrum. I mean, I get that computers can really torque people off. I myself have more than once stood on a rooftop and screamed foul obscenities at the buffer cache—who hasn’t? But there’s no need to take that out on someone who’s trying to help you.

Most often, the mere act of writing the problem description is enough to make my own brain to solve the problem.

And nothing short of high voltage would encourage people to buy my books.

So, no. Let users with trouble go to the mailing lists or the Forums. I have enough to do.

==ml

Michael,

We’ll only send good letters. I promise.

Best,

George

No. No, no, no.

NO.

Do you have any idea how many books I still have to write in my lifetime?

Ain’t gonna. Can’t make me.

==ml

We’ll pay you in gelato.

George

George,

Curse you. I’m in.

But tell Kode Vicious that if he drops my name again, he’s going home in a bucket.

==ml

Questions?

Contact letters@freebsdjournal.org. Letters will be answers in the order that they enlighten or amuse the columnist.

Michael W Lucas has been a sysadmin for over twenty years. His latest books include “SSH Mastery, 2nd edition,” “Ed Mastery,” the third edition of “Absolute FreeBSD,” and “git commit murder.” Learn more at https://mwl.io.


Auction Winners

The auctions are over. (They ended late Saturday, but I spent Sunday traveling and couldn’t get the post up.)

The OpenBSD auction went to Jared for $1000, crushing poor Cybermonk.

Cybermonk did triumph in the FreeBSD auction, however, with a top bid of $325.

Congrats to the winners! Send me the receipts for your donations to the respective Foundations and your mailing address, and I’ll get your books to you. (Technically, Ayaka will be mailing the OpenBSD book; she’s taking it for a couple more signatures this week.)

My condolences to those who lost the auctions. Remember, you can still donate and get that warm feel-good dopamine from being a good person.