Chad Perrin: SOB

25 November 2009

my free book

Filed under: Geek,Review,Writing — apotheon @ 02:35

I’m not used to getting unexpected visitors in the middle of the day (or in the evening, for that matter), so when I heard the sharp, impatient raps on the door I wondered what it could be. I was in the middle of doing some dishes, so I turned off the water, peeled away the dishwashing gloves, and ambled up to the front door.

By the time I got there, there was nobody outside to see through the peephole. I thought “Maybe someone stuck some kind of survey or ad on the doorhandle, or maybe there’s a package. Well, we aren’t expecting any packages, so it’s probably junk advertising.”

I opened the door and was puzzled to find a box sitting there. It was slightly larger than the average Amazon book shipment box (I know this because of all the Amazon shipments we get, being bibliophiles and fond of low prices). I brought the box inside, and looked at it. I found it was addressed to me, specifically, which seemed odd. It was sent by Pearson Education, whatever the heck that is. Even more puzzled now, I sat down in front of my laptop and talked to the SigO in IMs. I figured that, if she knew about it, I should find out so I’d know whether it was something I wasn’t supposed to open yet. It’s getting into that holiday season, after all.

She knew nothing about it, either. I looked at the box again as I pulled a knife out of my pocket (being prior Army airborne infantry, I got in the habit of pretty much always having a knife on me for utility purposes), I saw some fine print on the shipping label. It reads:

PRAC GD LINUX COMM&SHELL

Woah, wait a minute — suddenly it all came back to me. A few years ago (give or take; I don’t really remember when), I wrote an Amazon review of an excellent piece of Linux tutorial and reference writing by Mark Sobell, titled A Practical Guide to Linux Commands, Editors, and Shell Programming. Earlier this year, someone got in touch with me and asked whether I would mind if my review was quoted in the frontmatter of the second edition of the book, which would be coming out soon. Of course I said I’d be happy to be quoted; if I like a book, I have no problem letting others know about it. Well, they promised me a free copy of the book when it was printed, and now here it is.

There’s my quote, in the frontmatter. It reads:

"This book is the best distro-agnostic foundational Linux reference I've
ever seen, out of dozens of Linux-related books that I've read.  Finding this
book was a real stroke of luck.  If you want to really understand how to
get things done at the command line, where the power and flexibility of
free UNIX-like OSes really live, this book is among the best tools you'll find
toward that end."
                                                     --Chad Perrin
                                                     Writer, TechRepublic

I hope to find the time to look over this second edition in the near future and write a review, probably for TechRepublic. If it’s anything like the previous edition, though, I’m sure it’ll be a very worthy addition to my library of technical books.

21 November 2009

Progress: A Novel Thing

Filed under: Geek,RPG,Writing — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 12:47

(TL;DR Summary: I’m writing a novel that started out as a way to develop a roleplaying game setting. I haven’t let the NaNoWriMo pressure to write 50K in 30 days influence me, but I’ve already written more than 50K words of the novel anyway. I plan to keep writing until the whole story has been told.)

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

On average, I’ve been writing something in the neighborhood of 2,500 words a day this month. There have been days I basically wrote nothing (including the first couple days of the month, when I was still trying to find inspiration for a story), and days that I wrote around six or seven thousand words. I haven’t really been paying too much attention to my actual rate; I just occasionally divided the number of words in my story so far by the number of days that have passed, for the most part.

A friend of mine who I started out using as a sounding board for ideas has become something like my biggest fan. He’s the only person reading the story so far, and every single day that I see him online he nags me with some good-natured haranguing exhortations to write more story right now dammit. He keeps wanting to see what’s going to happen next.

Why I Don’t Care About Word Count

I didn’t really set out to write 50K words this year, per se. I’ve been working on fleshing out the details of a new campaign setting for Pathfinder RPG, and I decided to use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to help me find more inspiration toward that end. I had run into a bit of a roadblock in terms of figuring out what I wanted to put in some of the territory on the map, and decided that writing a story that takes place in this setting might help me figure out what will be there. It’s working pretty damned well.

Of course, my secondary goal is to have a complete, and (after another draft or two) hopefully good, story when I’m done. Between those two goals — developing the campaign setting and spinning a ripping yarn — there isn’t really a whole lot of room left to dedicate myself specifically to the task of hitting a specific minimum word count. I didn’t want the pressure to perform, to achieve 50K words (that’s about 150+ pages of a paperback novel), to compromise my primary and secondary goals at all, so I just decided that pressure to produce word count was not going to matter to me. To hell with that. It’s about what I produce, and not just too much. Velocity is the important factor, not just speed — because no matter how fast you go, if you’re headed in the wrong direction, you’ll never get to your goal.

As CS Lewis put it:

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

Of course, just refusing to head down the wrong road in the first place is probably the preferable option in that case.

The Competition

Our NaNoWriMo region has an annual friendly competition with a neighboring region. We talk trash at each other in the forums and compete on the basis of both average word count and percentage of “winners” (that is, people who have crossed the 50K mark by the end of November). Participation in the competition is opt-in; one has to post one’s intent to be part of the team for one’s region by roughly two weeks into the month (or to withdraw by then, if one had been overly hasty in committing to it before realizing that, say, measles or a car crash or a surprise visit from the in-laws would take up too much time in November) in a sign-up thread in the forum. Through what I suppose one could call two “generations” of MLs — sort of a regional NaNoWriMo organizer and “leader” of sorts — in this town, I’ve participated in that competition every year, and have always finished above 50K and above my region’s average word count.

This year, so that I wouldn’t have the weight of responsibility to the regional team against the rival region’s team to produce great word counts, I decided early on that I wouldn’t throw my hat in the ring. That’s not the only reason, though.

The Cheater

This year is the first year for a woman who shall remain nameless in this SOB entry as a co-ML. A friend of mine is the other co-ML. Let’s just call the woman “Gemma”, as a code name for purposes of referring to her.

Last year, which I seem to recall was her first year ever trying to write 50K words in a single month as part of the NaNoWriMo event. She ran into some trouble keeping her word count up to par, apparently, so she started sticking song lyrics into her “story” (not really much of a story at that point, I think) to pad out the word count. Well . . . it’s sketchy. I tend to feel like that’s marginal behavior at best, and not really in the spirit of NaNoWriMo. A friend of mine who goes to write-ins in November and uses NaNoWriMo as an excuse to write software instead of a novel seems to be working far more within the spirit of the NaNoWriMo experience than someone who just gives up on writing 50K words of story in a month, instead filling it out with song lyrics just to have enough words in a file to pass the automated word count check for validation at the end of the month.

This year, in a position of responsibility as an ML and as our region’s primary organizer for the competition with the rival region, she’s violating the spirit of things even more. Whereas I just figure that putting song lyrics into a “story” to pad out the word count without actually adding meaningfully to the tale is only cheating yourself under normal circumstances, as the ML she should see that kind of behavior as cheating in the competition. It’s not just cheating yourself, but actively cheating in what’s supposed to be a friendly competition! It’s not winning that really matters, but motivating ourselves to write, and having a way to connect with our fellow writers in another region via a little friendly rivalry.

I said she’s violating the spirit of things even more than last year. Yeah. It gets worse. She actually brags about the song lyrics she sticks in her so-called “novel”, and also about World of Warcraft chat logs. Yes, really. Even worse, she’s telling other people in our region’s team in the comptetition about this at write-ins, and encouraging them to do the same thing, apparently. This does not sit well with me at all.

Rather than dirty my hands by association, I took this as yet more reason to ensure I absent myself from the competition with the neighboring region. I refuse to associate myself with what may end up being a hollow victory gained through cheating.

Real Progress

Despite all the reasons I have for not caring about any arbitrary word count goals, I hit 50K words before the 20th this month. I’ve made some reasonably impressive progress, and I would easily fall within the first ten people (out of 45) to hit 50K in my region’s team in the competition with the neighboring region — even ignoring one cheater. In fact, I think I’m the tenth person to hit 50K in the region overall — with 236 people who have it set as their “home region”.

We’re under a week and a half before the end of the month, so I expect that the rate of people hitting 50K will climb somewhat now. Only the most prolific writers will get there before the end of this weekend. It will be interesting to see how the word war between our region and the neighboring region plays out.

Regardless of that, though, I’m just going to keep writing. I think my story might be about half finished, at just over 50K words. It looks like I’ll hit at least 300 pages’ worth of prose in this first draft of my novel, and I probably won’t finish writing it until at least halfway through December. The beginning of the month of November marked the beginning of my efforts to write a story, but it seems neither crossing the 50K “finish line” nor the end of the month of November will mark the end of my work on this story, unless I suddenly find myself sprinting to the finish in a fit of manic inspiration before the end of the month.

Maybe, if I get it sufficiently polished up with a couple of major edits, I’ll even publicly post it online for the world to read (or not, as it sees fit). I don’t expect that to happen before next November, at the earliest — but maybe I’ll surprise myself, and find that I’m as productive a rewriter as I am a writer.

I’ll probably polish up and publicly share the campaign materials as a complete campaign setting, too, if that interests you.

3 November 2009

Think Security

Filed under: Cognition,Geek,Metalog,Profession,Security,Writing — apotheon @ 04:18

A few days back, I quietly launched a new security Weblog I’ve decided to call Think Security, for lack of a better name. The inspiration for this new Weblog was actually a case of turning lemons into lemonade, so to speak, because it grew out of the desire to do something I was essentially being told I couldn’t do any longer in the venue where I have done so in the past.

That probably seemed pretty cryptic. I’ll try to be a little more direct:

I’m the primary IT Security writer for TechRepublic. Some things have been changing there in terms of how the site and its contributing writers (like me) are managed, and the way TR presents itself to the world. I suspect some of this has something to do with the fact that TR’s parent company, C|Net, was bought by CBS. That network of sites is now grouped under the heading of CBSi, or “CBS Interactive”, along with the rest of the CBS online presence.

One of the recent changes — a change that was announced just last week, in fact, and was apparently effective immediately — was a requirement for increasing the percentage of writing that constitutes “actionable content” to at least 75%. By my understanding of things, “actionable content” is basically corporate buzzword code for “howtos and checklists”. Apparently, the TR format is moving a little further away from things like news, opinion, and discussion of principles.

It’s that last part that really bothered me. I take a principles-based approach to security, because I believe (as I stated in the About the Site page at TS) that it is important for people to learn principles that will serve them well in a variety of circumstances rather than just memorize rote behaviors that are considered “industry best practices”, to be used once and thrown away without thinking about what you are actually doing in each step of the process or why you do it that way. The moment your focus on security has been reduced to knee-jerk reactions based on popular practices indoctrination, you have begun losing the battle for security.

I posted a new TS article today: Update Cautiously. If you are one of my readers at TR, I recommend you add TS to your reading list as well. In the future, material that is not appropriate for a given article of mine at TR because it is not specifically “actionable content” will get shunted into TS instead. In some cases, where I would previously have written an article for TR about principles first and, later, written one about specific implementation practice based on those principles, I will now write the former for TS and the latter for TR. The idea is to create a mutually complementary relationship between my articles at TS and TR, so that each will benefit from traffic directed to it from the other — and to actually better focus the direction taken with my articles in each venue.

This will mean a substantial increase in the amount of time and effort I have to put into writing security articles, of course. I expect it to double my article writing workload. It’s something I feel I need to do, though, because I am not content to merely let the principles of security I feel a need to share evaporate just because there isn’t enough room in TR amidst the actionable content any longer.

That’s not to say that TechRepublic is necessarily doing anything wrong. Every site needs its business model (if it’s a business) and its subject focus (unless it’s SOB, apparently). Without that focus, it becomes too scattered and vague in terms of the content it provides to really grab a strong, core readership, or to set itself goals for refining policy. It’s not like I haven’t written howtos and checklists for TR in the past, anyway. The increase in percentage of the total that needs to be actionable content, however, leaves a type of writing that is very important to me largely unaddressed. With the addition of Think Security to my lineup of writing outlets, this is ultimately more of an opportunity than a bandaid. The cure is, in this case, better than never having had the disease in the first place, to mangle a metaphor.

Of course, a little bit of real thinking will still sneak into my howtos and checklists at TR, I’m sure. In fact, it’s likely that my next article there will contain some hints of what I already said in Update Cautiously at TS.

Now that I think about it, though, it would be nice if this didn’t happen concurrently with National Novel Writing Month. My writing output already at least doubles in the month of November each year, even when I’m just using NaNoWriMo as campaign preparation for a roleplaying game, like I am this year. I’m not as serious about cranking out the word count this year, though, so if one of TR, TS, and NaNoWriMo has to get neglected this month, it’s not going to be either TR or TS.

In fact, so far I’m just kind of keeping pace with the daily necessities of being on track to complete 50,000 words in 30 days. Last year, I tended to stay quite a bit further ahead of the curve than that. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License