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Non-Fiction Work

Mostly my career has been in non-fiction because that's where the money is.

Technology journalism

My professional non-fiction career began in 2003, when I started writing reviews of PC hardware for my own review site, thejemreport.com (not going to link to it because I have no idea what's there anymore). Then I started writing reviews of software, and that got me an offer to freelance for the part-time media company formerly known as the Open Source Developer Network (OSDN, later renamed Open Source Technology Group (OSTG), and I think it was known as either SourceForge or ThinkGeek at the end of its life (both sites were in the OSDN portfolio)). At the time, OSDN encompassed Slashdot, SourceForge.net, ThinkGeek, and some content sites: NewsForge.com (now redirects to sourceforge.net), which was an online newspaper covering Linux and open source software; Linux.com (now owned by the Linux Foundation; I know no one currently working there), which mostly published how-to guides and tutorials (aside from republishing Linux-related stories from NewsForge); and IT Manager's Journal (also gone; looks like someone bought the domain name and put one blog post on it a long time ago), which published mostly news stories and interviews about IT management.

I freelanced for a few months for OSDN before I was hired as an Associate Editor. I wrote a lot of reviews of Linux distributions, BSD variants, and desktop software; and interviewed all kinds of people in the open source software world: Linus Torvalds, Lawrence Lessig, Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond, Theo de Raadt, Jonathan Schwarz, and many more whose names escape me. Eventually I got fired because Robin "roblimo" Miller found it too difficult to bully me when I moved from Sarasota to Orlando and stopped attending his bullshit editorial meetings (see highlight #4 below). By that time I had given up anyway. I consistently wrote the highest-traffic articles, and did a lot of editing for and talent development of freelancers, but never got any recognition -- just a demand to write more articles than I was capable of completing. OSDN had a lot of turnover at that time -- a lot of excellent journalists bounced from OSDN to its competitors -- all because of Robin.

Afterward I freelanced for some competing sites like LinuxToday, then I put a full-time effort into resurrecting and monetizing my review sites. I built up traffic pretty nicely and had a couple of advertising clients beyond Google Ads, but it didn't really work out. If I'd started back in 2000 or 2001 I'd certainly have succeeded, but technology content sites were already dying by 2005 -- even OSDN / OSTG folded a year or so later. I ended up selling all of my sites (TheJemReport, Software In Review, Hardware in Review, Entertainment in Review, TJRForum) on eBay in 2008, and moved on to a corporate job as a technical writer.

Highlights of my journalism career:

  • I helped a lot of people discover Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, free (as in "freedom") alternatives to restrictive proprietary programs, and the glorious realm of open source software development.
  • I made the front page of Slashdot around a dozen times, both for my self-published articles and for the ones I wrote for other publishers.
  • Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, screamed at me -- red face and spittle and all -- at the Solaris 10 release press conference for trying to ask a question that would get him off of his rehearsed talking points.
  • Robin "roblimo" Miller threatened to kill me in an editorial meeting, ostensibly because I mentioned that I was going to attend a gun show and possibly purchase something there. He told me that owning a gun would not save my life if I made it to his list of people whom he would assassinate if society ever broke down into anarchy -- which he insisted I was "close to being on" for what I must assume were private reasons -- because he knew several ways to murder me either directly or indirectly by sabotaging my motorcycle. I bet you're wondering what prompted this bizarre discussion; he asked me what my weekend plans were, then -- as he always did -- inserted himself into the context. Yes, I did check to see if Robin were still alive when the COVID pandemic hit. Fortunately the miserable old bastard died in 2018. When he fired me back in 2005 I swore I would piss on his grave, but I've since reconsidered; my piss deserves a better medium than the fetid corpse of an ordinary psychopath.
  • I won an Unreal Tournament 2004 ladder tournament at LinuxWorld Expo 2005. First I (rather easily) won the "celebrity tournament" (my opponents were maybe one or two other journalists, and a bunch of high-level executives from Sun, AMD, and Nvidia), then I plowed through the public tournament and finished undefeated. I was massively into the Unreal Tournament series, and had years of practice playing against people on public servers and against bots in custom challenge scenarios I designed. I won a Sun Java Workstation as a prize, which was worth somewhere around $4000 at the time. The night before the tournament, I went out to a group dinner with a bunch of OSDN execs and employees. I told some of my co-workers about tomorrow's tournament; Robin overheard and quieted the entire room by threatening (through a mouthful of food) to fire me if I accepted the tournament prize. I remember a woman from marketing leaning over and whispering to me: "Who is that disgusting man?" I replied: "My boss." So I won the tournament, and when it was time to accept the prize I said to the tournament official: "My boss says I'll get fired if I accept this, so I have to say I cannot accept it, but go ahead and send it to me anyway." Fuck you, roblimo, I kept the fucking computer.
  • I wrote an in-depth investigative report on a non-book titled Samizdat: And Other Issues Regarding the 'Source' of Open Source Code, which helped prevent its publication. I'm not usually in favor of censorship, but this non-book was straight-up disinformation with a political agenda; an unselfconcious hit-job on software licenced under the GNU General Public License, and Linux in specific; and it pushed for certain federal government policies and regulations that the author's employer (the Alexis de Toqueville Institution) had been paid to lobby for. It was full of distortions, edited quotes, and corporate propaganda. While my article definitely felt like the definitive nail in the coffin, I wasn't the only one to write about it. Unfortunately it's no longer on the Web because NewsForge shut down and erased everything it had ever published.
  • I was kicked out of Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' "Internet press guild" for writing about (or planning to write about) PJ from Groklaw. I don't think I ever actually finished the article; I do remember putting out a call for leads (on my site, not on the IPG mailing list) on rumors that people had received real-life death threats for not parroting the Groklaw groupthink, and it was that call for leads that caused SJVN to don his white-knight armor. I didn't even get any credible leads from it -- just some crazy anonymous stories via email. The point was, I felt it was ironic that the basis for PJ's years-long takedown of the SCO vs. IBM civil case was to expose who was secretly funding SCO in its legal kamikaze mission against Linux, yet it was verboten to ask who PJ was and where her money came from. She was perfectly willing to dox people mentioned in court briefings or who worked for SCO in any capacity, but no one could even ask of her: "Who are you and who is funding your work?" SJVN beclowned himself by excommunicating me from his secret club with the words: "We don't write about each other in this group." I think he expected to inspire shame or remorse in me, but that's not how I -- nor anyone else I know -- respond when someone acts like an Asshole toward me. I found the irony hilarious, and I missed-out on nothing because the list was little more than ordinary "general discussion" drivel, but I felt disgusted that I'd been so poor a judge of SJVN's character and professionalism. I always think so highly of other people, and then when they go full-Asshole, I hate myself for being so wrong about them. Another journalist whom I'd never met eventually did figure out who PJ was and wrote an article about her, and was blacklisted among Linux-oriented publishers. Tech journalism in those days was a big steaming pile of bullshit.
  • Back in 2008, Tim O'Reilly personally flamed me in an email for writing a negative review of arguably the worst book O'Reilly Media ever published. Granted, I didn't write nearly so much about the book as I did the company that published it; it seemed to me that ORM had lost its way. Recently I encountered this epic think-piece from 2013 that came to the same conclusion.

Books

Here are the non-fiction books that I officially have authorship of:

  • SUSE Linux 10.1 Kick Start (Sams Publishing, 2006)
  • The OpenBSD 4.0 Crash Course (O'Reilly Media, 2007)
  • The FreeBSD 6.2 Crash Course (O'Reilly Media, 2007)
  • Inside Freebase MJT Web Applications (O'Reilly Media, 2007)

I'd originally intended to update those titles either for each major software release, or on some other regular timetable. That never worked out for various reasons: Sams Publishing didn't want to do any more in this series, ORM wanted a new edition of the BSD titles but I couldn't find the time to write and research them, and the last one was a one-off publication that ORM commissioned on behalf of a company that was eventually acquired by Google.

I also had "silent authorship" of the following titles; it was not a secret that I contributed to them, but my name did not appear on the cover (nor did I want it to; if I don't have control over the content, I don't want my name on it):

  • Point & Click Linux! (Prentice Hall, 2004)
  • The Art of SEO (O'Reilly Media, 2009)
  • Social e-Commerce: Increasing Sales and Extending Brand Reach (O'Reilly Media, 2014)

Beyond that, I've ghostwritten six other titles that I don't feel comfortable taking public credit for. There's nothing wrong with them, it's just that the official authorship credit is much more important to my clients than it is to me, so I want them to have all the glory.

And then there are the books I wrote (partially or completely) that never got published. I'd really have to dig through the archives to find them all, but there are probably 4 or 5, and they're all technical topics (Linux, BSD, etc.). I had contracts for them, but they were cancelled because the editor wanted to do too much "editing" or wanted to alter the structure or topic of the book in a way that I felt wouldn't work for my readers.

Finally, there are all the books I worked on in a lesser capacity as a technical reviewer, proposal analyst, or project manager. I'll guess that there are somewhere around 30 titles that fall into this category, and I'm not even going to try to list them.