My new “FreeBSD Journal” column has escaped

Once again, the FreeBSD Journal requested that I discuss the ports and packages system. While this is a FreeBSD-specific publication, my comments are true of any BSD. Or Linux. Or operating system.

I’d advise you to avoid the cooties, but if you’re reading this it’s almost certainly too late.

If you want to hear me read a specific part of this, you’re out of luck. Unless you want the one minute’s worth that previously appeared in my podcast.

October’s Ornery Sausage

(This post went to Patronizers at the beginning of October, and the public at the beginning of November.)

If you’re in a country that has Halloween, you need to read A Night In The Lonesome October. It has thirty-one chapters, one for each day of October, and that’s how you’re supposed to read it. If you’re starting late you can catch up, but after that? One chapter a day. This isn’t a recommendation, it’s full-on necessary.

Anyway. Writing.

Run Your Own Mail Server grinds on. I’m digging through decades of recommendations and worst practices disguised as wisdom and general daftness as people fought to keep email useful despite the spammers. The problem is, email runs as default permit. On the list of Dumbest Ideas In Computer Security from twenty years ago, default permit was number one. Stopping spam relies on enumerating badness, which is number two on that same list. Really, we need to educate our users on spam–no, wait, “educating users” is number three on the list.

Yet the world is built on email. Could we design better? Sure. Are we going to? No. Eventually the Email Empire will declare supremacy and lock everyone else out. Stray email servers will become like the Fediverse, cool but for a limited userbase.

But not today. Not in the next decade.

But I’ve progressed to writing about SPF, which will let me get on DKIM and DMARC, so that’s good.

In other news, the Writing Chariot has been surpassed. Posting the pictures led a couple folks to point out Arkon mounting brackets. These are ridiculously heavy-duty devices used in manufacturing and industrial environments, when your devices absolutely must not slip. I’ve wound up with this.

My hands don’t quite hang at my sides. They’re slightly forward. But it’s close to what I want. Writing this post, I realize that what I need are a couple of adapters to swing them a little further out from the desk and let me adjust the angle slightly. I ran off to order them and will post updated pics next month.

I got the Apocalypse Moi print proofs in the mail. Of all the stock art covers I have designed for my fiction, this is the first one I am pleased with. Cover design is a subtle art. The difference between “yeah okay” and “hell yes” is subtle, and I do not yet understand the subtlety. But every cover I design teaches me a little more.

I got an invite to submit to a couple of seasonal anthologies, which is cool. I’ll have at least two holiday stories out this year. If I had known twenty years ago that there was a market for grimdark Christmas my career would look very different, but whatever.

My experimental podcast, 60 Seconds of WIP, seems to be gathering traction. I’ve gotten it on Spotify and Apple. I’ve gotten it tweaked down to the point where recording each episode takes less than fifteen minutes. As should have been blatantly obvious but I completely failed to predict, the most common feedback I get is “where can I buy this?” I’m wondering if I should start a “60 Seconds of Book” podcast where I read a chunk of one of my books that folks can buy. Not sure if it’s worthwhile or if it’s mere arrogance. All marketing is arrogance, but not all arrogance is marketing. Figuring out where each arrogance fits in, now that’s the trick.

And that is why I loathe marketing. When you have even three or four people who keep telling they love your work, it’s easy to lose your humility. And I must always remember, I’m just a little shmuck writing little books that affect a tiny number of people, and that I’m lucky to have this gig.

Feeling overloaded these days. Opportunities are everywhere. My only limit is my ability to produce words, which is sadly limited by my 56-year-old meatsuit and the realities of living in a country whose guiding philosophies have grown disconnected from basic principles like gravity and the nitrogen cycle and the greenhouse effect. But I’ll keep plugging away as best I can.


“60 Seconds of WIP” now on Apple and Spotify

My pathetic podcast, 60 Seconds of WIP, wherein I read one minute of something that you can’t yet read or even buy, is still going.

I have compounded my errors by getting it in Apple and Spotify. I tried to get it into Google but their podcast manager is being replaced so I quit. Are there any other aggregators folks want?

I just recorded tomorrow’s episode, “Cheese Mover Habits,” with a snippet from my forthcoming FreeBSD Journal column. You’ll never be able to buy the Journal, so you only can’t yet read it. Or you can wait for the next collection.

September’s Succulent Sausage

(This post went to Patronizers at the beginning of September, and the public at the beginning of October.)

While “See the Sausage Being Made” is an accurate description for the $1/month Patronizer level, I’ve been pondering renaming it “Give Lucas Money Just For Still Being Alive.” Because that’s kind of what it feels like over here.

Hi, folks. August was dominated by an exploding air conditioner, the Apocalypse Moi Kickstarter, and the writing grind.

The old air conditioner was installed in 1994 and featured some interesting design decisions. My home has boiler heat, so the AC is all Spacepak-style small ductwork. When you need to get ductwork around a corner you can either cut the duct and install a 90-degree joint, or–bear with me here–you can beat on the duct with a hammer until it bends to more or less the shape you want. The electrical was wired directly into the meter, without circuit breakers. The coolant had leaked over the years, and replacement coolant was several hundred dollars a pound. We needed three pounds. Oh, and the coolant pipes were likely to blow if we fully pressurized the system.

Average lifespan on that system, if properly installed, was about fifteen years. We were fourteen years past that.

So we now have new AC. The emergency fund we’ve built over the last decade is basically wiped out, but that’s okay. That’s what it’s for. We didn’t have to borrow money, so we win.

The Apocalypse Moi Kickstarter worked well. I asked for $500, and it closed out at $2741. If I had managed to sell a collection to a trad publisher, I would have been lucky to get $2000. My back-of-the-envelope math says I’ll spend roughly a grand on fulfillment, but I won’t have to waste time and energy negotiating with a publisher, so I’m content.

The good news is that I’ve worked out a way to reduce the mental overhead of marketing Kickstarters. Shilling my own work is horrid, so I shilled this one by shilling other people’s apocalyptic art. My marketing is all Facebook and Fediverse/Mastodon these days, but if you search either one for the hashtag #30DaysOfDoom you’ll find a whole bunch of my favorite apocalypses and dooms. (Fun fact–did you know that George Miller never made a first Mad Max movie? Strange but true!)

I got invited to contribute to another Christmas anthology last month. Wrote that, sent it in. If they buy it, you’ll get to read it in December. That also gives me enough Christmas stories to release a collection. I’ll be Kickstarting Harm for the Holidays next summer.

Young Lucas would have never believed this. The narrowminded idiot.

The Christmas story invite soaked up my fiction writing time, which pushed off the Prohibition Orcs baseball story I need to finish for last year’s Kickstarter backers.

After hunting up some missing parts and making some tweaks, the Writing Chariot I discussed last month seems to be working. I have one keyboard on my desk and another at my hips. The desk keyboard gets used for mouse-heavy work, like balancing the credit card statement and doing page layouts. The hip keyboard is for making words. I’m not entirely satisfied with the Chariot yet, but my arms and shoulders are far more relaxed when I use it.

Or, in short: the damn thing works. I think I can do better. Even as it is, it will extend my writing life. Yes, I’m at the age where I consider matters based on how much longer I expect to live. Still shooting to get that “100 Books” award before I keel over.

Work on Run Your Own Mail Server grinds forward. I’m writing about debugging IMAP by hand. This book is very much turning into “How Lucas Deploys an Unfamiliar Service,” but at least the Star Wars motif is holding up.

The Detroit summer is waning, so I took a couple days to do some fun things. We also had some lovely storms, water in the basement, power outages, and visits from Valkyries, but I managed to keep plowing through the words anyway.

I try to give longer Sausage posts than this, but that’s really all the news. Words. More words. Still more words.

I hereby declare that I will get the dang orc baseball story finished before October, by the way. Hold me to that.

Take care, everyone.

A True Story: “The Cat”

I have never owned a cat. I have never lived with a cat. It’s not that I mind cats, but rats fit my life better. For a few years though, a cat seriously impacted my life.

That tab at the top of my site that says Autobiography? Sometimes I publish true stories there. There’s a new story up there, about the aforementioned cat, the never-experienced delights of goat on a stick, and mouse compost. While the names have been changed so Larry the Leg-Breaker doesn’t get tetchy with me, the facts are one hundred percent accurate.

Video Score: Me 83, Rats 53650

I’ve been experimenting more with audio and video, thinking it might draw in some new readers. That’s why I have the 60 Seconds of WIP podcast. Kickstarter doesn’t require videos, unless you want to succeed. There’s videos of me reading things where I’m happy to get two or three views. And there’s the playlist of my various public presentations.

I don’t normally check the number of views on these things. Like the number of books I sold this week, it doesn’t matter. This thing I did has been launched into the world, and whether it lives or dies is now up to y’all. Like Mickey Spillane said (in paraphrase, because I can’t be bothered to go look up the actual quote): “I don’t have fans. You know what I got? Customers.”

On a whim, I uploaded a video of my pet rats working their treat puzzle. According to Youtube’s analytics, it has 53,568 views in five days.

Glancing over my public talks playlist, I’m lucky to get 3,000 views over years.

When I work hard on something? Crickets. When I just slam something up there, though, the world comes. That’s how the world works.

I’ve been skimming the Youtube comments and deleting the mean ones, and noticed readers popping up with comments like Lucas is a big-name author, and this is the video that gets attention? Go read his books! I’ve gotten a couple emails telling me this is unfair.

I appreciate that people love my books and want to support my craft. I truly do, from the bottom of my musty labyrinthine heart.

This video exploding does not disturb me. Fairness is a human construct.

I launched something into the world, and it did well? That’s nice, but I’m working on the next thing.

Besides, those squeaky little bastards are far cuter than I am. The audience for cute animal videos is much vaster than the audience for Networking for Systems Administrators. I might read some of my work to them, however.

I am not about to go chasing youtube views. When I get a new puzzle, I might upload a video of that. Or not. Depends.

I have been told that my guys are “smol” and “chonk.” Whatever that means.

53,650 views now. 920.6 hours spent listening to rats munch their hard-won toddler puffs. 38 nonstop person/days, or 114 work days, is an impressive amount of productivity to suck out of the world.

Anyway. I gotta go work on the next Thing.

August’s Aghast Sausage

(This post went to Patronizers at the beginning of August, and the public at the beginning of September.)

The most exciting thing this month is probably the Writing Chariot.

I have written at a standing desk since about 2010. I find it much more sustainable than a standard desk, and it lets me pace more easily when my brain logjams. I have no idea when I started using split keyboards, but it’s been many years. Split keyboards let me open my shoulders naturally and keep my wrists straight, which relieves a great deal of my tendinitis and my mild-but-annoying nerve damage.

Ideally, though, I would write with my arms hanging limp at my sides. I’ve been contemplating some sort of belt arrangement where I could wear keyboards at my hips, gunslinger-style. I don’t have experience working with cloth, however, and stabilizing the keyboards is an obvious challenge. I discussed the issue with my father-in-law, and he promptly whipped up this… thing.

I attach each half of the keyboard to one of the arms and stand between them. In theory, my hands can dangle at my sides as I type. It’s not exactly neutral position, but it’s pretty close. The arms can be adjusted up and down, and there’s a peg to hold them in place. I’m not using the Writing Chariot yet—it needs another adjustment, so I need a second person to drill the hole. But my initial tests show that it’s usable. Time will tell if it fubars my shoulders even further, or if it relieves the stress. If this doesn’t work, the next step is the Keyboard Gunslinger.

In other excitement, my next Kickstarter is live. Apocalypse Moi is a collection of my short fiction, all with the theme of “doom.” The video features my missus, She Who Must Be Obeyed, as well as the inimitable Zig Zag Claybourne. Many of you will get the book for free as a Patronizer benefit. There is no need for you to back the Kickstarter. As you might guess, though, I’d still appreciate if you told folks that they should back it.

Before you ask: no, this book doesn’t have a leather-cased edition. The cased Prohibition Orcs did well, but the cased Devotion and Corrosion, not so much. More than one person told me that they were not allowed to buy two $200 books from me in the same year, and I can’t blame them. This will be my last fiction Kickstarter for 2023, I’m sure, and it will clean up my short story inventory. This has already changed the cash flow of running a Kickstarter, though. Prohibition Orcs funded in under fifteen minutes, because two folks bought leather-cased editions. That money was, in some ways, bogus. The leather cases bring in the most revenue, but they’re also the most expensive to fulfill. Apocalypse Moi took about ten hours to fund, but the profit/expense ratio is better.

Previous Kickstarters demanded excessive mental energy, because I loathe asking for money. Even with you folks, I’ve taken pains to declare that the Patronizer program is a terrible deal. This time, I’m trying a few techniques to lessen the mental load. First, there are no complicated rewards. I’ll deliver ebooks, order books from printer, and ship signed books—done. Second, with every promotional post I’m including a link to my free stuff. Balancing asking for money with an offer of freebies relieves some of my discomfort. Last, I’ve figured out a theme for my promotion. This is an apocalypse-themed collection, so I’m doing a “Thirty Days of Doom” social media promotion. It’s much easier for me to say “here’s this cool doomsday some other artist created, and by the way please support my little apocalypses” than to come up with a naked plea for money every day. Look for the hashtag #30DaysOfDoom on Facebook and the Fediverse.

I had hoped to have Run Your Own Mail Server finished by now. That’s obviously not happening. Once Apocalypse Moi arrives, I will bundle it up with Devotion and Corrosion and ship to print-level Patronizers. I probably need to ship fiction on its own, rather than bundling with tech books. In theory, tech books should not take this long to write—but they do, dammit.

A couple folks asked about my decision to publish short stories only on my website. Years ago, I said that I could publish a short story and make a few hundred bucks pretty quickly. Last month, I said that short stories are not worth my time to publish. These are contradictory, but only because they’re separated by time. My short story buyers are overwhelmingly my Patronizers. The stories are included in your so-called “rewards.” I traded those occasional bursts of cash for a steady trickle of income, and I thank you for it.

The flunky I hired to polish my web site is working out so far. I’m kind of surprised, but only because I always expect everything to fail unpredictably. He’s just under the $600 “I have to file tax paperwork on you” limit, so before long we’ll have to discuss if he wants to continue or not.

Run Your Own Mail Server is coming along, generally several hundred words a day. This is the most difficult book I’ve ever written. I’d say “the next book will be easier,” except I know better than to promise myself that. They make nipple clamps for people like me. But today I’m writing about SPF and MX records, so the book has achieved “functioning mail server!” (Of course, you can’t tell people to mail you at that domain yet. There’s no spam protection, you’ll drown.) Once I get these basics down, though, it’s basically “configure rspamd” and the related DNS records for DKIM and DMARC, plus a DMARC aggregator. Oh, and postfixadmin. I have to configure things the hard way before setting up postfixadmin, though, because without that understanding you can’t troubleshoot failures. But still, most of that is either straightforward procedure or small concepts that aren’t tightly integrated with the rest of the ecosystem. You can run email without DMARC or DKIM. Nobody will accept your messages, but you can run it.

Anyway, I’ve got to get to work. The Writing Chariot isn’t going to adjust itself.

July’s Jabberwocky Sausage

This post goes to Patronizers at the beginning of July, and the public at the beginning of August.

Once upon a time, I owned a Chevrolet SSR hard-top convertible. It retailed for fifty thousand dollars in 2005, back when that was real money. No, I didn’t buy it. I won it at a $500/plate charity auction. That I got into for free.

It was a fantastic car. It devoured road. The sound system stunned drivers on the opposite side of the divided highway. Over the fifteen years we owned it, three women and one men ran up to me at stop lights to give me their phone number. Not that I called any of them. Even if I wasn’t happily married, anyone who wanted to hang out with me because I drove an expensive car would find themselves disappointed in every other aspect of my life.

When I had a real job that required my presence on site, I would drive that car one day a week. If I had a day where I ran errands after work and needed to drive extra, I chose that day. Now that I’m directly employed by all y’all I leave the house to go to Costco, my monthly writers’ meeting, the dojo, and BSDCan. Costco is about a four mile trip, maybe once or twice a month. The writer’s meeting, once a month. I drove the convertible to those whenever possible. I had no trouble taking the convertible to the dojo, but I sure wouldn’t let my stinky sticky self back in the car afterwards, so that was a no. Driving it to BSDCan was fun.

Here in Detroit, I could use the car five or six months out of the year. That’s thirteen trips, most of them only a few miles and one over a thousand miles.

I put the car up for sale in 2019, and it sold in January.  I was paid in 2020 dollars, sadly. The pandemic hit immediately afterwards, so we put the money in the bank and waited for the next debacle.

This June, our home air conditioning stopped working.

The HVAC mechanic came out and informed us that the system was thirty years old and had been incompetently installed. Hearing that from a service mechanic is an extraordinary claim, and requires extraordinary proof. He provided it, with details like “the interior unit draws power from the electric meter, not the breaker box” and “the reason your bedroom is warm is because rather than put an angle connector in the ductwork, the installer bent it with a hammer.” It’s not that the 1990s coolant this thing used was illegal, but it’s now expensive enough to discourage using it. If we replaced the pipe that blew and recharged the system, one of the others would probably blow.

The lifespan on a modern AC unit? About fifteen years.

How much for a new AC?

Almost exactly what we made selling the convertible.

One of the annoying things about this business is that borrowing money is difficult. The United States runs on credit. I firmly believe in paying cash or doing without, and I don’t mind heat if I can open the windows, but the wildfires get worse each year. I’m not sure if the high particulates give me asthma, or if my lungs are still inflamed from covid, but air conditioning is now mandatory. The HVAC company claims they offer easy financing, but one look at my employer and they’d dial the interest up to “loan shark.” My family needs to pay cash or do without.

I don’t mind living on a cash basis.

I do mind not having options.

We now have air conditioning, and I’ll spend the next year or two replenishing the emergency fund. It’s okay. That’s what emergency funds are for.

And writing is for replenishing that fund.

Run Your Own Mail Server is congealing. The topic requires more up-front explanation than usual, with walking the reader through the basics of forging email and sending spam and exactly why email is a very special trash fire.         I keep thinking I’m going to buckle down and pound through these words, but illustrating every step feels like dragging a moose through quicksand and explaining anything requires explaining another topic first. I must disassemble every topic and put the pieces in a meticulous order. That order is achievable, yes, but the reader doesn’t immediately gain anything from that background. I’m pulling every trick I know to make the text pleasant to read, even if the reader doesn’t get the constant slow dopamine hit of technological epiphany. (Some of you will get that hit from the text. You are nerdier than most. Congratulations.)

I took half a day and released a new Prohibition Orcs short story. Yellow-Eyed War is exclusive to my web site for a couple reasons. Yes, disintermediation is one; I prefer people buy direct from me. But it would take me about five hours to upload this tale to every single distribution channel, and I’m not going to make enough on the story to pay that back. So I’m trying exclusivity. We’ll see how well that works. Many of you got this story as part of your Patronizer benefits, so the sales channels is irrelevant.

That leaves the question of what to do with chapbooks, however. (A chapbook is a print edition of a short story or tiny novella.) I put short stories in print to make the ebook versions look inexpensive. (That’s the same reason I offer tech books in hardcover.) I would sell one or two of them to hard-core collectors, but most of the sales were electronic. Of the chapbooks, most of them went to print-level Patronizers.

Additionally, I put stories in print so I can test different fonts, layouts, and other formatting options. I’ll keep designing chapbooks and shipping them to print-level Patronizers, but I suspect that Patronizing is the only way folks will be able to get them. I want to reduce my administrative overhead, and managing yet more stuff in IngramSpark and Amazon’s print program when there’s almost no sales is pure overhead.

Speaking of adding administrative overhead: I seem to be starting the world’s lamest podcast. 60 Seconds of WIP has one guest, me. I read sixty seconds of a current Work-In-Progress, such as RYOMS. It was Allan Jude’s idea, so please direct any blame his way. I got recording and posting each down to less than five minutes, so I’ll probably do one a week for a while and see if anyone cares. This week I’m switching to audio-only, and perhaps sending them into the various podcast distributors instead of just my blog.

Thank you all for your support. I sincerely appreciate it.

Testing Podcast Setup, RSS Unstable

Folks seem to appreciate the “60 Seconds of WIP” tracks, so I’m planning to record more and distribute them more widely. That means I need to set up my site more properly. It’s a straightforward task, but I’ll need to test integration with the blog’s RSS feed.

Unfortunately, if I post podcasts in a blog category I can’t distribute them to other vendors. Podcast RSS feeds require additional metadata. The WordPress software for doing so assumes that your podcast is its own thing, separate from any blog. I need to create the podcast and its feed, and then aggregate that feed into my main blog. Accomplishing that means recording a couple more episodes and experimenting with assorted plugins.

So you might notice some instability with my blog’s RSS feed as I figure this out. I will try to hold it to a dull roar.

Fortunately my subscribers are technically literate, and I’m certain you all have their RSS readers set to check my feed every day or so rather than every fifteen minutes. If you catch posts appearing and disappearing while I sort this out, maybe check your reader’s settings?

Notes on Amazon Killing Electronic Subscriptions

I’ve been reading Asimov’s Science Fiction for decades. Back when I still had hope and hair, I dreamed of being published therein. I no longer submit to slushpiles, but almost every issue I discover a meatspace friend in its table of contents.

Maybe ten years ago, I switched my subscription from paper to electronic via Amazon. I do all of my fiction reading on a backlit e-ink device. E-ink is a much better reading experience than a screen, especially for us voracious readers. I don’t want the print edition; not only is the font size not adjustable, I’m stuck with a stack of paper. (I still read a lot of nonfiction in paper, especially if I want to highlight and make marginalia and leave bookmarks everywhere.)

Amazon’s Kindle program has stopped supporting magazine subscriptions. Many magazines have been shoved into Kindle Unlimited. (There’s discussion that the individual issues will only be available through KU, not for regular purchase, but I’m having difficulty confirming that.) Neil Clarke has an excellent discussion of how this might put several magazines out of business.

Today, I looked for a way to continue my Asimov’s subscription electronically. In addition to KU, Asimov’s is available through Barnes & Noble and Magzter. Magzter is a tablet app that uses a proprietary format, and not suitable for an e-ink device. B&N does epubs, but I’d have to either purchase and carry around a whole new device or strip the DRM to move it to my current device.

Penny Publications, Asimov’s publisher, does not have a direct electronic subscription option or even a “buy this issue in ebook” option. If a doofus like me can manage it, surely Penny Publications could.

So I guess I’ll be picking up the odd issue of my favorite magazine when I think of it. If that’s still an option.

Why did Amazon stop supporting subscriptions? To force subscribers to sign up for Kindle Unlimited, and to pay magazines less for their content. Amazon has recently made several changes that make them less friendly to readers and publishers alike. While I have chosen to reject their electronic publishing deal for new nonfiction titles, I don’t condemn other publishers for succumbing. Amazon has monopoly and monopsony power. The magazine has decided that they’d rather take a fifty percent reduction in income than lose everything. I’m certain I’ve lost money by not having OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems available in the Kindle store, and I will lose still more by not having Run Your Own Mail Server in there–but the alternative is unacceptable. Amazon’s goal is to reduce the price of writing to almost nothing, and will continue increasing the pressure on creators until we capitulate or leave.

I encourage you to buy direct from authors and/or publishers whenever possible (cough)my store(cough).

And when this device dies I’m buying a Kobo. They don’t carry Asimov’s either, but they’re much more friendly to sideloaded content and understand that their customers want to read.