TLS Mastery updates, August 2020

Solar systems form out of vast clouds of particles and gas. Motes of dust aggregate, drawn together by their own minuscule gravity over innumerable aeons. Those aggregates creep near other aggregates, eventually colliding into heavier masses, and their combined gravity draws yet more matter. A cosmic observer with a really compressed sense of time would see nothing happen for millennia, then there would be a huge rush as all this matter sucks itself together and becomes so heavy that the innermost atoms are compressed into involuntary thermonuclear fusion. It looks quick, but most of the progress is invisible.

Writing this book is a lot like that.

I’ve used TLS and SSL for decades. I have debugged errors and battled bogus certificate chains. I have screamed the vilest obscenities at SSL Labs for daring to expose my weaknesses and, like every other sysadmin, have doused browser developers in kerosine as they slept and set them on fire. I had a good working knowledge of TLS, but writing about it demanded a deep plunge.

So: the book is about a quarter written.

Most of my time has been spent aggregating tiny details into facts, building those facts into knowledge, and fitting my experience into that knowledge. I’m not going to jinx myself by publicly declaring that I expect the mere writing to go quickly, of course, but I feel I have some decent aggregate chunks and am ready to start throwing them together.

The Princess Bride motif I was considering seems to be a natural fit. Which is good, because if a motif doesn’t fit naturally it’s the wrong motif. My subconscious brain recognized the suitability before my conscious mind did. (Weirdly, John Carpenter films would have also fit well. I did cosmic horror for the SNMP book, however, so my beloved Carpenter must wait for another suitable title.)

Some bits, of course, won’t fit. A stray comment from Ray Percival reminded me that this book doesn’t mention my personal favorite Great Evil: Oracle. You might not have noticed, but Oracle has exerted great efforts to earn my personal loathing. The conversation ed1conf and I had on the Great Beast is irrelevant to TLS.

“You’ve heard of Informix? DB/2? SQL Server 2019?”

“Yes.”

“Morons.”

“In that case I challenge you to a battle of integrity.”

“For the database?”

“Yes.”

“To the death?”

(nods)

“I accept!”

“Good. Then open your console. Read this, but do not click «agree».”

“I comprehend nothing.”

“What you do not comprehend is called a EULA. It is odorless, tasteless, devolves instantly into legalese, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man.”

(deploys system)

“All right: where is the liability? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both click «agree», and find out who is right and who is sued.”

(much later)

“They all had a EULA. I spent the last several years building up a mastery of Postgres.”

You can still sponsor TLS Mastery either at the print level or ebook level. Don’t wait too long if you’re interested. The dust cloud is coming together faster and faster, and once fusion hits it’s all over.

The Worst that Can Happen to an Author

Kris Rusch has a lovely blog post today on the need for courage in the writing business. I started to comment on it, but the comment grew to such a length that would be rude to leave it. “Comment” does not mean “lengthy diatribe.” So:

A key component of courage is the willingness to accept the risk of pain, and perhaps actual pain. Publishing is full of emotional pain. Every time I write something, I wonder if I should make it public. If I should put it out there. And then I remind myself of the very worst that could happen.

The Book Police will show up at my door with their lead-type-studded cudgels to drag me by my ankles to the front lawn of the Library of Congress, where they’ll put me in stocks for the day with a sign hanging around my neck declaring me a Bad Writer and place a bushel basket of rotten fruit a few feet away for amateur literary critics’ throwing pleasure, while simultaneously the Bad Art Correction Squad will break out their erasers and hard drive degaussers and eliminate all trace of my work from meatspace and Internet alike.

No–wait. That’s not it. Sorry.

The worst that can happen is nobody notices. Nobody cares. That the thing I spent hours or weeks or even months writing gets no attention and attracts zero readers.

That hurts. I’d rather take rotten nectarines to the face for a few hours.

As long as I don’t publish, my comforting dream of this book’s explosive success remains alive. I avoid the risk of pain.

Writers, especially new writers, believe that their books are special. I hear writers call their books their babies, their special friends, their precious. And it’s simply not true. Or worse, they don’t call their books that. They call their book (singular) that.

If you’ve just finished writing your first book, or your second, this is understandable. It’s even natural.

But it’s a terrible mindset for any artist.

Writing is a creative skill, like any other art. You can learn to write just as you can learn to paint or throw clay or staple yourself to the world’s largest ball of string and have your friends set you rolling down the freeway and call it performance art. A potter would not expect to find success from their first successful vase. A painter would not expect their first portrait to win awards. No, these creators finish a piece, take a moment to appreciate and contemplate it, and start on the next one.

Successful writers are the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, the dream of success is great. The dream of fame and glory and supple book groupies can keep you going.

But being a writer is about being able to take a punch and either laugh it off or full-on ignore it. I’m a full time writer, and not a week goes by that I don’t get a scathing review from someone who didn’t read the book description or even look at the cover. (Don’t read your reviews. Seriously.)

Is that email from an unfamiliar sender spam? Or is it a vitriolic screed against one of my books or my entire career? Is it from someone who read the Immortal Clay novels and wants to helpfully inform me that I require intensive therapy, immediately and preferably inpatient, as if every single person who’s ever met me hasn’t already informed me? It might be from someone offering me money, so I guess I better open it.

People who’ve previously said they loved my books take lengthy detours to tell me this latest one is not up to scratch, but they figure I needed the money.

Being ignored hurts. Being noticed hurts more. Writers must have the courage to face the risk of emotional pain. Just as with athletic pain, critical pain gets easier to cope with the more you overcome it. It doesn’t get better. You grow stronger.

Yes, we all want our books to be noticed. To achieve success. The only way to make that dream reality is to consciously, deliberately, and with premeditation murder it and accept the risk. Your work cannot succeed so long as you hide it.

If you can’t accept the risk, feel free to cuddle your dream. Just don’t complain to any pro author about it. We want to help folks who are willing to take the necessary hits.

You’re willing to face the pain, but you need that dream of supple book groupies to keep you going? You need hope? That’s not only dandy, that’s human. Hope is the greatest gift.

But make a new dream for each book. Even if it’s the same old dream with the serial numbers filed off.

By the time I publish one book, I’ve already started writing the next book. The published book will live or die as readers dictate. But the book I’m halfway through writing right now? That one’s gonna hit big. I guarantee it.

I’m a potter fondling the next lump of freshly-scooped raw clay, convinced that this next piece will be my greatest triumph.

Sponsorship Headaches

Today, this happened.

This is a Sudo Mastery, 2nd Edition print sponsor’s gift. I shipped this book out just after I got the hardcovers, back in late 2019. It went to Russia. Months later, it came back with a tag saying “No such person at this address.” In the months between purchasing the sponsorship and me finishing the book, the sponsor had moved to Estonia. I shipped the book out the second time with the Networknomicon sponsorship shipments, just before the United States Postal Service to suspend all shipments to Estonia.

Today, I checked my PO Box for the first time since sending those books. I don’t get much mail there, and I’ve avoided leaving the house because of the plague. The length of this delay is 100% my fault. Fortunately, mail service to Estonia has been restored. I can now reship this package. AGAIN. The good news is I’m entitled to a refund on postage, so I don’t have to pay postage a third time.

The sponsor (who I’m not going to name for privacy reasons, though he’s welcome to chime in here to call me an idiot) has been beyond patient. I’m going to add some extras to his package, to show my gratitude.

But if you’re considering book sponsorships, or Kickstarters, or anything that involves physical goods, this is the sort of headache you’ll be dealing with. If (when) the plague is still going on when I finish TLS Mastery and start the next tech book, I might decide to not offer print sponsorships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m utterly grateful for people’s support–but I must not make promises I cannot reliably keep.

Stupid plague.

Anyway, that’s enough annoyance for today. I need to go make the words. Stay home, wash your hands, and wear a mask. And be kind to those around you–they’re just as stressed out as you are.

BSDCan 2020 Charity Auction Results

A few weeks ago, as part of BSDCan 2020, I held an auction to benefit the Ottawa Mission. And once again, Bill Allaire crushed all opposition. (Not that there was a huge amount of opposition, because plague, but still.) Bill has made his winning donation and then some, and is entitled to my malformed student notes.

Bill is too generous for his own good, however. This is not the first of my auctions that he’s won. (I believe there’s more, but they’re not coming up on a blog search.) What’s more, the student notes he won? They are being donated to the BSDCan 2021 Charity Auction.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled apocalypse.

Reviews and Podcasts on “Cash Flow for Creators”

Mark Leslie Lefebvre hosts Stark Reflections, an essential podcast for writers. He was kind enough to interview me on my new book, Cash Flow for Creators. If you have any interest in managing money in a creative business, check it out. We also talked about the Networknomicon and other special editions, as well as many other options open to today’s creators.

Mark knows the publishing business cold, and his thoughts are well worth listening to. Plus, Mark is giving away a copy of the book. Listen to learn how to win.

Meanwhile, over at Writing Slices, Alex Kourvo reads books about writing. Now, I’m not saying that Kourvo calls her blog that because when she finds a bad book she slices it to ribbons. I wouldn’t dare. Alex turned her experienced and incisive eye to C4C. While I’ve given up soliciting long-form reviews, I’m always pleased when they happen. I expected her to leave my book a heap of ribbons, but was pleasantly surprised.

If you’re a writer and you have any interest in learning your craft, you should subscribe to Writing Slices. She really will save you a whole world of frustration with lousy books, freeing you to discover your own personal, entirely unique realms of frustration. I rarely buy writing books any more, but when I do it’s because she recommended them.

You can get C4C in all the usual places, including at my ebookstore and my print bookstore.

That’s enough resting on past successes. The electricity has returned after a 51-hour outage. The fridge has been sanitized and restocked. It’s time for me to descend into the Word Mines and drag out a bucket of high-carat verbs, not all of them obscene.

Online SNMP Talk Tomorrow Night

Late notice, but I have a brain like a stainless steel sponge.

Tomorrow night, 9 June 2020, I’ll be giving an SNMP talk at the mug.org meeting. The meeting starts at 6:30EDT or 22:30UTC, but they have to get through their usual meeting work before they unleash me.

The talk is, of course, based on SNMP Mastery. Or the Networknomicon. Whichever.

Put on your pajamas. Show up. Listen to the my frenetic babble. There will not be prizes, because I can’t throw them at people.

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.

New book: “Cash Flow for Creators”

I make my living writing books. I don’t consult. I don’t teach, except for occasional talks at user groups and conferences–and cynics might call those talks “one hour commercials for a book.” It caused a problem I didn’t predict. People keep asking me how I do it. Some of these querents are making enough at their writing or other creative endeavor that they could make a living with their writing. I find my way of life immensely satisfying, and I believe similarly inclined folks should enjoy the same pleasure.

The answer comes down to: learn business.

Most business books are irrelevant to creators. Business books are aimed at franchises or stores or family factories, and contain chapter after chapter of stuff that’s utterly irrelevant to creators. I know. I read the books. Plus, the artistic stereotype includes “bad with business.” This is a pernicious myth that hampers many creators. A creator that dives into a business book filled with irrelevancies can be forgiven for buying into the myth, though.

This myth supports an entire industry. Any number of people will agree that creators have no head for business. It’s genetic. It’s not in their nature. That’s just how it is. They will soberly agree to handle your business affairs for a meager cut of the take. These people have an unparalleled skill at looking serious while their inner child is cackling and counting up the money. They profit by feeding the myth. These folks take the “no head for business” myth from a handicap and escalate it to utter pernicious fallacy.

A creative business isn’t hard, once you know how to do it. It might be the simplest kind of business there is, specifically because you don’t have to worry about so many of the things that make a store or a factory complicated. It might also be the most complicated, because being a full-time creator changes your whole life.

So I wrote a book about it. A small book. A cheap book. Cash Flow for Creators is about how to create, run, and build a creative business from the ground up. It explains how business works, and how to convert the irregular flow of creative income into rent payments without getting in trouble with the tax man.

It’s available my ebookstore and my brand new print bookstore. Or lots of other places shown in the book listing. (Still waiting on Apple, dagnabit.)

There it is. That’s how I do it. No secrets, no evasions.

The rest is up to you.