Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

The "normal" values for the diversity measurements I did with recompose #1

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I mentioned in a comment to my assessment of diversity in the submissions to recompose that I would pull out the population normal values I was using explicitly.

For sexual preference, I used a 2011 report from the Williams Institute at UCLA. It suggests that as few as 3.5% of persons in the United States of America identifies as LGBT. Though it's worth noting that identify is the key part here: the same report also shows that 8.2% of the respondents had same-sex encounters in their lives, and 11% acknowledged same-sex attraction.  With over a quarter of the submitters identifying as something other than straight, this far exceeded population demographics.

For the remaining demographic data, I used the US Census QuickFacts table. There, the population breakdown by ethnic group or "race" (not an exhaustive list) was:

  • White: 62.1%
  • Black: 13.2%
  • Native American: 1.2%
  • Asian: 5.4%
  • Hispanic: 17.4%
As I noted, the submitters we had were overwhelmingly white, with 83% identifying as white, 4.8% as Asian, 2.9% as Hispanic, 1.9% as Black, 1.9% as Jewish, with several other single respondents claiming different identities.

Also, the gender reporting from the US Census has women making up 50.8% of the population. There is an implicit gender binary bias here, as "male" is assumed to be the other category. Regardless, with only 33% of the submissions being from women, it's still clear there's a lot of work to be done.

If you know of better or more up to date sources for information on this, I'd love to see them.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience and support.

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The directions of emotional dissonance

When you're troubleshooting yourself and your own emotional state, it can be useful to have various and multiple models of what's going on. Having multiple models means that you don't have to ignore facts or evidence to shoehorn experiences into a model that doesn't apply; having models at all allows you to look at your experiences from different points of view.

Today, I want to contribute the idea of directionality as a model. This idea will (hopefully) allow you to more easily find the area(s) or place(s) that need alteration to remove emotional pain in relation to your self-identity.

In this model, external pressure would be the dissonance between how you are (or think you are) perceived by others and your own self-identity. Internal pressure would be the dissonance between your self-identity and how you present (or are compelled to present) to the world at large.

For example, external pressure could be where a competent worker was viewed as incompetent... say, due to race, gender, or the like.  Or if someone is misunderstood and wrongly judged. It could also encompass situations where one thinks others are judging oneself, even if they're not actually doing so.

Conversely, internal pressure would be someone who is, say, in the closet about their sexuality, is forced to hide (or lie about) their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), background, or any other such element that makes up their own identity.

I suspect that a vast majority of issues are external pressure - and I'd even say that most of those are due to perception rather than reality... or in other words, brain weasels.

This model can be practically applied to identify the directionality of the emotional response, so you could address it more directly. That is, if I'm having an emotional response because of something external (including brain weasels) that's different than if it's generated from something internal.

In general, external originating stuff often does require anything other than attitude changes, clarifying communication, or stopping brain weasels. That would resolve the conflicting emotions and allow action to take place.

On the other hand, internally originating dissonance requires one to make changes with oneself - or even one's own sense of self - to relieve the emotional pressure.

 I've found this particular model somewhat useful; does it make sense to you? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!


Looking for Diversity in Calls For Submissions: What It Really Means

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As I started talking about yesterday , an author named E. J. D’Alise didn't submit a story to the upcoming anthology No Shit, There I Was, instead choosing to publish the story on their blog. Yesterday's blog post addresses the first reason; the second was:

There is one other thing . . . almost every market asking for submissions stresses the following:
“We are particularly interested in seeing stories from underrepresented populations (eg: people of color, people with disabilities, LGBT people).”
I think they mean members of those populations writing about concerns of said populations. Or maybe, having members of said populations as characters in said stories.

They went on, but I want to hit this part first. The answer to this is "both".
This is why I wanted to look at the types of writers who were submitting to Alliteration Ink. Our submitters skewed both male and white (far more the latter than the former). When talking to people about the issues around a call for submissions, I clearly heard folks in these groups tell me they didn't submit to markets due to a fear of being marginalized or shut out.

Second, I do want more representation of other types of characters in the stories I publish. I'm all too aware of stories like where MLK had to convince Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek, and I've firsthand witnessed the slow progress of minorities of all types in media over my lifetime.

I want the people who read the books I publish to be able to find both authors like them and characters like them as well as those who are radically different.
[this quote is out of order]
Rather, I want to stress honesty, honor, kindness . . . traits I believe cross all manners of boundaries, from sexual to ethnic to abled or disabled. The whole purpose of reading, for me, is being transported into another world and I do that by projecting myself into the character or characters I read about. Also, if I write of human struggles, I want them to be just that. Human struggles that are common to all, regardless of superficial trappings.
I suspect that D’Alise means that they don't want "issue" stories; that is, stories where the central focus (and FSM forbid, the "moral") focuses on these differences.

I do not particularly want those stories either. Or any other "message" stories where the point of the story is to impart some kind of (often political) lesson.
I want good stories. Those stories may eventually impart some realization about yourself or others, but that should never be the point of the story, unless your name happens to be Orwell. Almost without exception, "issue" or "message" stories - regardless of whether or not you agree with the issue - are horrible dreck, because they focus on the issue instead of the story.
I applaud them for it, but I don’t normally describe my characters. I don’t put them in situations where ethnicity or sexual orientation are germane to the story. If you read one of my stories, you can assume whatever ethnic or sexual attribute you want. For that matter, you can assume fat, skinny, tall, short, blonde, hirsute, ugly, beautiful, young, old . . . you get the point.
This part I want to challenge. I am a large (5'10", over 300#, broad shouldered) guy. I can move through crowds at festivals, zoos, museums, etc, without effort in a way that any woman I've dated simply cannot without expending a lot of effort. (This hypothesis has been tested.) I met some folks last weekend, and I could see the way they treated and looked at me change as they first saw my long hair and beard, then heard me speak, then heard me mention my prior military service.

While there are some socioeconomic factors which are not always immediately obvious, they do change the way we experience the world.

It's important to note here that this is not just some kind of agenda - this makes for better writing. Your characters are going to be creatures of their environment - and that environment isn't the same for all people. Failing to realize this is one of the reasons we get female characters who are little more than male characters with bigger breasts, for just one example.

Paying attention to these things makes your writing better.

And when you can view the common human struggles through the lens of multiple points of view, it's all the more compelling.

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Am I really "edgy"? Responding to critiques of a call for submissions.

Let me start this out by saying that if you invoke the name of an author (or small publisher) on the open internet, they're probably going to eventually end up seeing what you wrote.

They may not respond, but that's a different point entirely.

Often I'll just respond in a comment. Maybe a tweet. Or even just by faving or retweeting.

In this case, I want to devote an entire blog post to the topic - because the point raised is one that requires clarification of what I and Alliteration Ink want and are doing.

To sum up, E. J. D’Alise didn't submit a story to the upcoming anthology No Shit, There I Was, instead choosing to publish the story on their blog. The given reasons they didn't submit are what I want to address. The first reason was:
[...b]ecause Alliteration Ink, like many venues, are what I call “edgy” . . . perhaps even “weird”. My stories are not edgy. They tend to be fairly straight forward. They contain little gore, no swearing, no sex, not tentacle porn. They are the antithesis of “edgy”.

This actually surprised me - because their idea of "edgy" is something different than what I have in mind when I choose editors or anthology ideas. For example, Rachael asked that part of the guidelines for No Shit, There I Was say "That said, Rachael is not terribly interested in horror, and erotica is right out. Salty language is okay, gratuitous violence, gore, or sex is not."

I am terribly interested in things that are "edgy" - if you mean things that push the edges of our understanding. For example, Ferrett Steinmetz's "Black Swan Oracle" (originally in What Fates Impose, also available on Escape Pod) really shook me with the implications of the story. Dangers Untold, while horror, is explicitly about having horror that isn't the same old monsters again and again.

The word I'd use to describe what D’Alise means is extreme. Extreme gore. Extreme sex. And ... ick... tentacle porn.

Not really my cup of tea.

I'm interested in stories that blow my mind, not ones that make me blow chunks.

The second reason given requires a bit more in-depth analysis; I'm going to make it a separate blog post tomorrow


It's Still Okay To Be Upset About The Small Stuff

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I sighed when I saw the title: "Why this radical leftist is tired of leftist culture." I was afraid that I would know what the blog was talking about before I even read it.

I was right.

Invariably, such articles - which pop up with surprising and saddening frequency these days - are usually shared by my friends who are to my right on the political spectrum. They're held up as evidence that my side has gotten away from things. That my side has gotten frivolous. That my side has gotten a little too extreme.

Of course, these articles have a large amount of truth to them. Things are bad in many parts of the world. The idea of a trigger warning is laughable to someone who is facing having acid thrown in thier face, limbs chopped off, being trafficked, or imprisoned for their political views. The idea that someone would worry about being merely offended by speech, when greater and justices are being done in the world, is seen as insane.

And that claim is itself insanity.

That argument itself, or at least how it is used, helps to preserve the very things that it argues against.

The underlying assumption with such an argument is that preserving oneself from any kind of offense is the responsibility of the person who is the victim. The problem is that that same argument is used whether the offense is a mere word or if that offense is something greater, something economic, something societal. That same argument is used to marginalize and minimize any complaint by any minority, or disenfranchised group.

That same argument is used to tell poor people that it's their fault that they are poor, that it's women's fault that they are assaulted or harassed, that it is the fault of disenfranchised communities that they are experiencing the end result of years of systemic oppression and racism.

That same argument ignores the structures of power and privilege that exists in our society. it ignores that the ways that we talk about people impact the ways that we treat people. And it ignores that when we do not care how some people are talked about, that we systemically do not care how they are treated.

Of course, there's also the reality that you can be outraged by things both large and small at the same time. You can care about vast humans rights abuses and microaggressions at the same time. On that point alone, such arguments in articles show a lack of consideration and compassion themselves.

But fundamentally, such well-intentioned (but often selectively quoted!) articles and arguments miss the larger point. The all of these are about the ways in which we pause to think about others. The these are about the ways that we consider others and how we treat them, regardless of scale.

And changing that - at any scale - is vital to changing the whole system.

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Assessing Diversity in Submissions For recompose #1

Back in 2014, I pledged to start evaluating submissions from my open calls. For various (personal) reasons, I did not get a chance to do so until the call for issue #1 of recompose.

To reiterate why I'm doing this:
I believe that to actually address representation in our literature, we must encourage submissions from all peoples. While looking at a Table of Contents may give you a rough idea of the outcome, it could also be masking a disproportionately low submission rate.
Once I assess the demographic and authorial characteristics of submissions to Alliteration Ink, I will then be in a better place to determine what I need to do to encourage and make sure that submissions are proportionate across as many socioeconomic groups as possible.

When poets and authors submitted to recompose, they were invited to participate in a short survey assessing multiple demographic characteristics. These included gender, sexual orientation, ethnic group or "race", religion, how many works they'd ever submitted, and how many had been purchased.


There were several routine difficulties encountered in the course of this analysis. One respondent wrote to say that asking "What sexual orientation do you identify with?" was extremely invasive. Several people noted that there was no "0" option for the number of stories submitted, as they only wrote poetry. Several respondents wrote answers that did not match the question; e.g. "Cis" for their orientation. Such answers were coded 888; missing answers were coded 999.

There are always questions of the grouping utilized in order to code and analyze data. For gender, I chose to categorize answers other than male or female (e.g. "fabulous", "genderqueer") into a single category, genderqueer.

For sexual orientation, I chose to keep a wider degree of separation. In addition to heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual I had categories for "straightish" where respondents added a qualifier to "straight" but did not identify as bisexual. Sufficient responses identified as "queer/fluid", "pansexual", and "asexual" to justify not merging these responses. This must be kept in mind when interpreting the results, as the LGBTQQA umbrella is split into smaller sections.

For religion, I merged "heathen" and "neopagan" into the response "pagan".


There were 114 respondents. Not all respondents answered all questions. Images of the charts are linked to from the section title, or you can browse the album at

Age: The average age of submitters was 42, with it skewing slightly toward older respondents, as shown by the mode of 45. The youngest submitter was 18; the oldest 74.

Submissions: The average number of submissions (and paid submissions both) was 5.9; though the mode of submissions was 10 and the mode of paid/accepted  submissions was 6.

Gender: 33.3% of the submissions were from women, 7% from genderqueer authors and poets, and 59.1% from men.

Orientation: 71.4% of submitters identified as straight, 10.5% as bisexual, and 3.8% as homosexual. 1.9% identified as "straight" with modifiers, 3.8% as pansexual, 4.8% as queer, and 3.8% as asexual.

Ethnic Group: 83.7% of submitters identified as white, 4.8% as Asian, 2.9% as Hispanic, 1.9% as Black, 1.9% as Jewish, with several other single respondents claiming different identities.

Religion: 52.3% chose "None" as their answer, in contrast to the 10.8% that chose Athiest or Agnostic.  This division is very interesting from a social science standpoint, and bears further investigation.  11.7% identified as "Christian", in that they did not identify as a particular denomination. 7.2% identified as pagan, and several other denominations and faith traditions were represented below 5% of total respondents.

There were no statistically significant correlations among the data save that it was slightly more likely that a submitter who was older had submitted and sold more works in the past.

It's clear from the charts that a diverse age range of poets and authors submitted during our first reading period. The degree of diversity demonstrated among self-reported sexual orientation exceeds population estimates.

The percentage of submitters was skewed male; they were also strongly skewed toward white submitters, far in excess of United States demographics. Only the numbers for self-reported Asian submitters came close to matching demographic data.

Further Actions

While it is encouraging that a wide age range of people submitted, and that sexual orientations were well represented, it is disappointing to see that female submitters and people of color were underrepresented.

It is clear that further outreach is strongly needed. Hopefully this analysis and transparency about this issue will be the first step in correcting this issue. Another such set of analysis will be conducted after the second call for submissions in order to determine if these efforts are successful.



For the Love of My Data Plan: Optimize The GIFs in Your Text Messages

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Yes, I like animated GIFs.

And yes, I like using them as reactions in text messages.

But to put not too fine a point on it, they can be large. And so I use Gifsicle in order to optimize the images so that they don't eat up too much bandwidth or hard drive space.

Gifsicle is a commandline utility (though it's been ported to pretty much every OS out there), so I whipped up a quick script/batch file to help automate the process for you and put it up on GitHub at

The settings I use, FWIW, are gifsicle -O3 --resize-fit 320x320. Trying to reduce the number of colors made things look really bad and didn't do as much as I hoped in terms of file size savings.

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First and Exclusive rights... and how robots.txt might impact those rights

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One of the things that authors have to know about rights are how the terms "first" and "exclusive" relate to their works.

At first blush, it seems simple. First publication rights means that a work has not appeared elsewhere before. Exclusive publication rights means that the work is not currently being published elsewhere.

There are modifiers that can change things - worldwide, print, electronic, anthology - check out this post about anthology rights and my big contract post to get a handle on those.

First publication rights are something kind of precious - it makes your story more valuable to the publisher (which means they'll pay you more). The thing is, that refers to publishing the story anywhere the public might see it. Post your story on your blog and it got five hits? It's now "previously published".

The key words there are "the public might see it". That's why many fiction contests or online critique groups are hosted in such a way that you have to log on to a forum or enter a password to see anything. That way the stories are not accessible to the general public - and therefore, are not "published".

Sometimes folks have a short story that after publishing will grow into a larger novella or novel. Or there will be a portion of the story that can stand alone. Does that mean the "first publication" of the larger novel was when the short story was published?

In these cases, I'd usually say that the larger work was transformed, changed, or significantly different enough from the short story to be treated as a new, different, and unpublished work... though I would inform the publisher of the prior short story publication when I first approached them. Hell, it might help in that case to know that at least part of the story was good enough to be published elsewhere.

Exclusive publication rights seems even more straightforward, but you can get tripped up if you're not paying attention. Contracts will ask for a certain period of time that they get exclusive rights to publish the story, and many will ask for an additional (and longer) period where they have non-exclusive rights to publish the story.

In theory, this means that after you get the story published once and it goes to non-exclusive rights, you can also get it published elsewhere (or self-publish it) while the first book or magazine is still being published. Originally, I asked for non-exclusive rights for the life of copyright, because why not?

But I've heard of some publishers who were leery about doing single author collections when any of the short stories involved were under non-exclusive rights with anyone else. This strikes me as horribly stupid, but it's happened to at least one author I know. So I've changed my contracts so that I only have non-exclusive rights for a number of years.

The other thing - and I suspect this isn't being addressed by many small presses, and quite possibly not by the big ones either - is ensuring they have a well set up robots.txt.

Robots.txt (and I'm quoting here) "is used by web site owners[. They] use the /robots.txt file to give instructions about their site to web robots; this is called The Robots Exclusion Protocol."

Where this becomes important is when you run into somewhere where they want exclusive rights again to a story that was published online. Archives - like the Internet Archive - are wonderful tools... but that's something a publisher needs to set up correctly.

For example, let's say an author published in recompose has reached the end of the non-exclusive period. After the exclusive period, I have rolling renewing 1 year non-exclusive contracts after the first year for that publication. I take it down, we're all good, right?

If I wasn't careful, the story would still be available in its entirety from archives like the Wayback Machine.

But in this case, we're good, because my robots.txt file lets bots know to ignore the actual issues of the magazine. With so many magazines and literary journals being published online, I wonder how many have taken the time to ensure they're honoring their rights in this way?


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Just Wait Until Twitter Comes For You: Addressing and Fixing Unintended Privilege and Bigotry

TL;DR: When a social justice criticism was brought to us, we acknowledged the mistake, engaged with those criticizing, and fixed the problem instead of doubling down or protesting that wasn't what we meant. It worked to resolve the problem and helped us clarify the message we meant to send.

"Just wait until Twitter comes for you."

I've been told this in so many words more than a handful of times -- and in other words far more than that.

Wait until the social justice people come for you. You'll say the wrong thing, won't use the right term, and they'll be all over you. Then you'll know how we feel.

For years now, I've been advocating that the best response to a controversy - particularly an internet one - is to actively listen to the people who are complaining. To apologize for offending - even if you don't understand why they're offended, it's clear that they are, so apologize. (And no "I'm sorry you feel offended" - flat out "I'm sorry I offended you".) Strive to understand why they're offended - and ask for their input and advice. And then, whenever possible, fix the problem or change your behavior to avoid repeating the problem.

I was told that would never work. That it wouldn't be enough.

My standard response has been "Okay. We'll see."

Wanting More Stories

We'd thought about the possibility, of course. Both Sarah and I had been concerned about doing Steampunk World in the first place; we're both white, after all. But we waited, and hadn't seen anyone else doing an anthology like that one... so we did it. And we were both glad to see other people from various cultural groups start to do anthologies featuring their own cultures.

After Steampunk World was published, we realized we weren't seeing stories featuring characters with disabilities - whether because of a physical issue or because they were aneurotypical. So that seemed like a natural follow up, with a hope that Steampunk Universe would likewise expand the market for others. Just like Steampunk World, Sarah has been very selective in what stories she accepted. That selectiveness meant we needed more stories, and led to us issuing an open call for submissions in July of 2015.

When Problems Arose

I heard from Sarah that there was a problem with our call for submissions for Steampunk Universe last Sunday afternoon; that bloggers and twitter were really upset with us. I hurried back home and hopped online to start reading.

It seemed to start with a (well-thought out) blog post "Its a Steampunk Universe Unless Youre an Indigenous American", but had spread across a small chunk of Twitter. There were three identified problems:

1. The call for submissions seemed to indicate we didn't want any Native American/First Nations stories
2. We used the term "exceptionalities" instead of "disabilites" or "aneurotypical" (I was
3. Some of the phrasing came across as wanting to see the "disability as superpower" trope or "inspiration porn".

None of this was what we intended to communicate. And since I'd approved all of the language personally, this was on me.

What We Meant

I knew what we meant in each of those cases. What we meant does not excuse what was said. It does not make it go away. Intent does not alleviate harm.

I'm only noting what we meant here as an example to others to show how far what you meant can diverge from what was heard.

1. We had already committed to a number of stories, and wanted to see stories from other regions as well.
2. The term "exceptionalities" is used in special education (in at least some regions of the country, including where we live) in order to show respect, not demean.
3. We wanted to see how disabled characters saw "typical" steampunk environments differently than abled characters; to really see their POV.

How We Responded

I could have doubled down on "that's not what we meant". I could have ignored the hashtag "#saytheword". Sadly, there's plenty of examples in just SF/F/H of editors and authors doing that. I could have simply ignored the concerns being brought forward.

Instead, I acknowledged that what we meant was - for various reasons - diametrically opposite from what was heard. I engaged with the people bringing forward the complaints. On Twitter, in e-mail, and on the phone.

I listened to them. I explained what our intent was, yes. But I also listened to how that came across to them.

I asked for their advice and opinions so that we could communicate what we meant more clearly.

I honestly thanked them all for their time and input.

And then, once I'd collected that advice, we made changes to the call for submissions to address the concerns.

What I Deserve/After-Action Review

The changes we made to the call for submissions are all wording-based. We changed the language to alternating between "disabled"/"aneurotypical" and "not identifying as able and neurotypical". (See the #saytheword hashtag and similar resources to see why this is important.) We made it clear that we weren't ruling out stories set in an area; we were encouraging stories set in other regions. We made it clear we didn't want "disability as superpower" stories. All of this is absolutely in line with what we meant to communicate; now we're actually communicating it.

At this point, it seems that the issue is largely resolved. It's quite possible I'll misspeak again, but for now we're okay. The original blog poster has amended her post; everyone I've spoken with in e-mail or on Twitter is satisfied with the changes made. Some still are a bit cautious, given that the screwup happened at all, but that's understandable.

Let's make this clear - we don't deserve a cookie for engaging others and changing the call for submissions. Despite being told (repeatedly) during the discussion that people were surprised that we were taking them seriously and listening, that does not mean we deserve kudos.

Honestly listening to and responding to the complaints of those offended is a minimum, not something to be lauded.

That's what we should be doing in all our communication: When something doesn't sound right, we reflect back what we heard so the speaker has a chance to clarify if that's what they meant.

So why have I written a thousand words or so about it?

Partially to acknowledge the mistake honestly, and to note how it was fixed.

Partially to demonstrate that there are people in publishing that will listen to your concerns, and that voicing them honestly may effect real change.

Mostly it's for those people who warned me about Twitter coming for me. It's for those people who get angry or scared because they're afraid they'll use the "wrong" term. It's for those people who think the right thing to do is to double-down about what they intended and just saw things get worse.

Because they told me that listening to and engaging others would not be useful.

And they were wrong.

You can act like a bigot and never mean to. Privelege can be invisible to you - but still lead you to cause real, unintended harm.

I'm here to tell you that if you're willing to really listen, if you're willing to put your ego to the side, to forget what you meant and focus on what was heard, if you're willing to acknowledge the damage you did and willing to try to fix it...

...then you only have to fear making yourself a better person.

The revised call for submissions is at


Updating your firewall on Linux - and blocking malware IP addresses at the same time

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Firewalls on linux/*nix are somewhat complicated, but stupidly powerful. "UFW" - the "uncomplicated" firewall - is... well, it's uncomplicated in comparison to actually dealing with iptables.

But there are ways to make it easier.

First, in /etc/ufw/applications.d/  you'll find that there should be some (or COULD be some) nice presets for applications.  The files should have in them something like this:

(it's at if the embed doesn't show for you)

From there, you can call a script to invoke (and disable) the UFW/iptables rules as you like.  Here's a simple example:

(This script is at if the embed's broken for you.)

Now, this is a simple example. I have a slightly more comprehensive example (though it's essentially the above script expanded) up on GitHub at

The biggest change - and the cooler bit - is the other script in that repository:  I include blocklists.

These blocklists were originally developed by (and presumably still are being used by) people using it to torrent illegally... though they're not really effective at that task.

What is useful is that the collections of blocklists (like those at I-Blocklist) have categories like "Pedophiles" (IP ranges of people who we have found to be sharing child pornography in the p2p community.) and "webexploits" (IP addresses related to current web server hack and exploit attempts).

Regardless of what you're doing, you probably don't want those folks poking at your computer or server.

So I also wrote a script (from a base by Kirk Kosinski) that fetches the appropriate lists, combines them into one big blocklist, sorts and removes duplicates, and then adds them to an IP set using ipset (probably available in your distribution's repositories).

From there, you can either uncomment the last two lines of the update_ipblock script, or run the ufw_setup script to add those ranges to your firewall.

The entire repository is at ; I hope you find it useful!

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