20: The More Obscure Additional Protocols of the Geneva Convention

Trying to get this dang book done, so pushing forward.

If I receive another email from a particular recruiting firm offering me the magnificent opportunity of a position as an entry level help desk flunky I will violate several state laws, many national ones, and a few of the more obscure Additional Protocols of the Geneva Convention. I would prefer to avoid spending my so-called “retirement” “savings” on a criminal defense attorney desperate enough to take my case, so prudence suggests I avoid the entire problem and block their email at the MTA level.

Blocking email is tricky. You can block by domain, but domains are cheap and forgeable. You can dig into SPF records, but they’re even less expensive to alter. You can scour mail headers for items to block on, but that’s all ephemeral. Still, some days it’s a choice between making the attempt and accumulating legal bills.

I can see the end from here, so if you felt like sponsoring you should do so soon.

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.


19: Accidental Deployments

I’ve been trying to focus on Run Your Own Mail Server throughout October, and making some progress.

Greylisting is a divisive technique. The first time a site mails your server, greylisting delays messages from ten minutes to a couple hours. If people in your organization insist that email is instantaneous despite all evidence to the contrary, that’s a problem. If some web site uses email to send authentication codes that are valid for only ten minutes, that’s an problem. (The problem is that the web site is delivering ephemeral data via an unsuitable protocol but still, you must cope with it.) Some domains use large server farms of MTAs, and resend attempts almost never come from the same IP address. That’s definitely a problem.

One fun thing about greylisting is that you might accidentally deploy it. Postscreen’s deep inspection functions are not deliberate greylisting, but the effects are indistinguishable from greylisting.

I’m still offering sponsorships for RYOMS. But I’ll be offering them next week also. There’s no rush.

My Web Store Features

“Hey Lucas, what all do you offer on your web store?”

I have had to answer this question three times, mostly from other authors looking to build their own web stores. A couple of the big ebook-selling platforms are clearly embracing enshittification, and interest in disintermediation among creators is greater than I’ve ever seen it. I don’t mind sharing the information, but I do mind writing out the answer more than thrice.

I had some rules in building a web store.

  1. NO CUSTOM CODE. I can write code. It has been called “comically evil,” but I can write code. I can hire people to write competent code. Both are bad choices for a teeny-tiny business. I will merrily discuss why in meatspace, but not online.
  2. STANDARD PARTS. I will not build a business on an obfuscated WordPress module. I’ll use such modules for side details, but I won’t base the business on them. I want the source code to be readily available and readable. If Woocommerce or WordPress folds, another company will step in to provide maintenance. Same for themes. I’m even using the standard Woocommerce “Storefront” We-Will-Always-Have-This Minimum Viable Theme.
  3. HANDOVER READY. It must be simple enough that if one of my books becomes popular and I get to spend all my time writing1, I can hire a WordPress flunky2 and the design won’t shock them. See the two points above.
  4. BOOKFUNNEL. WordPress can deliver book files to readers. Life is too short to help people load files on their Kindles, let alone their weird limited-production-run-of-50 hybrid-endian built-into-a-self-cooling-beer-stein devices. Pay someone to do that for you.

According to the Wayback Machine I started the store in May 2013, more than ten years ago. I added these features one at a time. Don’t whinge at me that you can’t do all this or that I’m special. Neither could I, and I’m not. Running your own web store on any platform, Woocommerce or Shopify or whatever, requires competence. You gotta spend the time and learn. Yes, I write books on how to build your own network and run servers, but my Internet skills have no pictures, no sound, and especially no video. When I design web sites, you get my 2012 site. There are reasons I sucked it up and learned stupid WordPress and stupid Woocommerce.

Anyway. The features. With a great big helping of “YMMV” and “who knows why this business works?” What works for me might not for you, and the reverse.

  • The most vital feature I have is “Name Your Price.” It lets people overpay. About half my customers throw a little extra in my kibble bowl. Sometimes they throw a lot.
  • “Treat the Rats” is the tip jar. Before Name Your Price, it was a couple grand a year. Now it’s a couple hundred a year but, hey, the rats gotta eat.
  • Bundles like All the Fiction, All the Tech Books, This Entire Series. “The Full Michael” is everything I publish indie. (I even had a photo of me to play off The Full Monty.)
  • Bundle Exclusives. The orc kickstarter had a stretch goal of a tiny 6-recipe orcish cookbook, because a friend of mine wanted to do it. That book is only available if you buy the orc bundle direct from me. It lures people in. I intend to do more of these. Also, multiple people have reported that “Beans With Found Meat” is delicious. Weirdly, nobody has reported back after trying the “Longest Dark” orcish holiday punch.
  • Sponsorships. “I’m writing this book, and for $30 you get your name in the back of the ebook. For $100 you go in the back of the print and the ebook.” Sponsorship is the only way you can get a personalized signed copy of a book without meeting me in person. Signed Kickstarter books, I just write my name. Unless I know you and want to engage in recreational trolling, of course.
  • My loss leader freebies are all in my store. A few people grab them. Those readers have indicated a willingness to go direct immediately and I gleefully welcome them.
  • My Patreon work-alike. It’s the exact same benefits as Patreon, but the money goes straight to me. The downside is, I spend a thousand bucks a year on the WordPress plugins to do that. (The free options all annoyed me or didn’t work as I needed.) I have a sufficient number of direct Patronizers to keep that up. Plus, it lets me offer weird things like a special “29 February” option in 2024. (Pay four years of the highest level in advance, save 10%!)
  • Standalone short stories are now exclusive to my store. Once upon a time I made a few hundred bucks per indie story at outside retailers, but once I started the Patronizer program and said “$5/month gives you everything I release indie,” that dried up. Turns out all the short story buyers are now Patronizers. Ah, well. I still make out okay. If I hire my own publisher, I might reverse this decision.
  • Mechandise. Shirts and stickers and such, via Redbubble. Failed experiment. Print on demand is expensive. Very few folks buy these, so I’ve stopped adding new things except by request.
  • The Audiobook. Yes, I have one. Consider yourself warned.

I still haven’t figured out how to hook the checkout process into my mailing list signup, so folks can click a box during check-out to sign up. There’s a plugin for that. It bit me. In its defense, I have three mailing lists and they’re all stupid.

That’s it. You can do all this too. With a willingness to spend time, to learn, and to get back up after you fail. Just like the rest of being a writer.

18: The Yoda of the Primordial Internet

Today we’ve got a chunk of Run Your Own Mail Server.

For many years Jon Postel, the Yoda of the primordial Internet, suggested that software should be strict in what it sends but generous in what it accepts. When you wrote an SMTP client you should make it adhere to the standards, but your SMTP server should accept that other people would screw up. In other words: accept the foibles of others.

Spammers’ goal is to deliver the most junk in a minimum of time. Accepting the foibles of others offers spammers a whole bunch of latitude. Spambots implement a stripped-down SMTP that works on most servers. Accepting only clients that rigorously adhere to the protocol definition blocks those spambots. A trickier spambot might implement the beginning part of the protocol correctly, but try to abuse it later. You can check for those violations as well, but those tests might be more intrusive and force legitimate senders to resend their messages.

Before running your own mail server, you should probably read a few of my other tech books. Or skip the whole thing and take up crime. One of them.

“Apocalypse Moi” Patronizer and Kickstarter copies shipped

If you backed Apocalypse Moi on Kickstarter for a signed book, or if you’re a print-level Patronizer, one of these has your name on it. All the signed books, ready to go out.

This should finish up all the rewards for the new Kickstarter and get Patronizers caught up on everything.

Some of y’all are crazy. Pretty sure that box on the bottom can only be hauled by a First Wildebeest. But hey, y’all asked so you get.

17: The Math Department’s Chief Bastard

In recent years I’ve discovered a talent for Christmas tales. No, not happy cheerful Christmas tales. The other kind. My story The Last Multivariable Differential Christmas is part of WMG’s Holiday Spectacular. Here’s one minute from it.

Bill and Rosie and I were cramming for our multivariable differential equations exam. Of the fifteen students who couldn’t afford tutors, they were the ones who didn’t treat me like a dangerous freak. Doctor Valencia, the math department’s chief bastard, wrote the official textbook to be as impenetrable as the class.

I don’t mind tough programs. I’ve taken a whole bunch of tough classes, in most departments on this stupid campus. I could finish five degrees in one semester, except they’re all too dangerous.

But the math faculty thought tough meant teach badly. Rich students hired tutors and staggered through. Piece work for a dozen professors and tutoring in chemistry and English and business administration and comp sci got me a room and peanut butter, but I didn’t make near enough to pay extortion to math tutors.

Fieldstone gives you three tries at each class. Then they punt you from the department.

If you want the rest of this, back the Kickstarter now. If you’re not sure, check out the anthologies from past years. You’ll find my work in several of them. Usually ones with titles that don’t mention “sweet,” or “joy,” or “mistletoe.” You know.

Lucas-Adjacent Kickstarters

I’m not running any Kickstarters right now, but I’m in two of them.

First off, there’s the inimitable ZZ Claybourne’s Breath, Warmth, and Dream campaign. Full disclosure: Zigs is a dear friend. We get barbecue, solve the world’s problems, and watch Star Trek. He’s also written several well-reviewed books. His new book is the best of them all. It’s a fantasy, complete in one book! I hesitate to call it a cozy, or low stakes, but this book makes one village the world and that world is in peril. A witch heroine as memorable as Granny Weatherwax or Baba Yaga, in a book with the sensibilities of the Seven Samurai.

But–at the next stretch goal, I have to do actual (ugh) work.

If you want to get a good book, and improve the odds of inconveniencing me, back ZZ’s campaign.

Then there’s the 2023 WMG Holiday Spectacular. I sold a story to the Hardboiled Holidays collection. It’s steeped in the bleak dystopia of December 1988, when the former head of the CIA won the US Presidency. $25 gets you a daily story, Thanksgiving through New Years’ Day, and next summer you’ll get a giant ebook collection of the whole thing. I’ll have a taste of my tale on the next 60 Seconds of WIP.

One of the fun things about the Holiday Spectacular is the mix of things you get. Romantic tales, fantasies, crime, whatever. Rusch’s editorial sensibilities lean heavily towards tales that end with “it was all worthwhile,” which isn’t quite the same as “it ends happily” but it’s a damn sight more comfortable than some of the “everybody dies and the holidays should be executed” holiday noir out there.

So, yeah. Throw these people some dough. You might even inconvenience me.