♫ It’s Hard Out Here for a (Free Software) Pimp ♫

July 23rd, 2014

In thinking about a title for this particular screed, I almost went with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Phone” but that didn’t really encompass what I was after as much as a play on the Oscar winning “Best Original Song” by the Three 6 Posse.

When I first got involved in free software, I thought it was too good to be true. I thought “free” implied “no work” but I was confusing free (gratis) with free (libre).

Sometimes freedom takes work.

It takes effort and no small commitment to run as much free software as possible, and no where is that more evident than when it comes to choosing hardware.

I used to be a big Apple fanboy, and thus my personal technology decisions were easy: buy the newest shiny from Apple. When I decided to divorce myself from them, it took awhile to adjust to the fact that, quite frequently, the new shiny is not the best choice for a free software advocate.

But I’ve been stymied time and time again. When looking for a new laptop, I bought the latest Lenevo X1 Carbon and ended up sending it back. It was just too new to support my operating system of choice, whereas my old, second generation Dell XPS 13 “Sputnik” runs Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) just fine.

So I tried a new tact.

When I was in the market for a new phone, I figured the best bet was to work backwards.

I had been using a Samsung Galaxy S3 running Cyanogenmod. However, right after I upgraded the baseband to run Kit Kat, the phone would constantly and randomly reboot. I tried everything I knew of to fix it and tried out just about every major ROM there was but it would still crash. Only by running Jelly Bean could I mitigate the issue somewhat. Then instead of bouncing every hour or so, it would only reboot once or twice a day.

Now I play a game called Ingress … a lot. It is a heavy user of the display, the CPU, the network and the GPS. While these reboots might have been acceptable to a casual user, they were killing me. While I may have somehow corrupted my S3, it was probably due to some other hardware problem, so I decided to get a new phone.

One of the pluses about putting in the time to use free software is quite frequently you learn how things work. I would never have even known about baseband versions, bootloaders, recovery, etc. if I hadn’t played with my phone. I also get a lot of options, such as which ROM to run. In all my research I decided that my philosophy matches up best with the team behind OmniROM.

OmniROM doesn’t have as many options as, say, AOKP, but they are dedicated to keeping it as open as possible and I admire that. Plus they have a pretty decent OpenDelta update application that makes staying on the latest release pretty simple.

Once I decided that I wanted to run OmniROM, I just worked backwards to pick out a phone.

Here’s where I had to make a choice about freedom.

What I loved about my S3 was that it had a replaceable battery and a microSD slot. Some days I’m a heavy user of my phone and even the best phones can’t last the day on a single charge. The microSD slot made it easy to transfer data from my phone to my computer as well as easily and cheaply expanding the available memory.

Not many phones have these two features. In fact, the only modern phones I could find were both from Samsung: the S4 and the S5.

The S5 is not supported by OmniROM, so my choice was simple: get the S4. I ordered an unlocked S4 from Amazon and got ready to enjoy the new-ish shiny.

It was not to be.

While the description on Amazon said that it was “unlocked” it turns out that Samsung has decided to block third party bootloaders, even on the S4, with an update issued last November, so it is impossible to replace their default operating system with a free one. While there are some ways to “dual boot” the phone, this was unacceptable to me, so I sent it back with the reason “item did not match web site description”. Just being carrier unlocked is not enough to merit the term “unlocked”.

In looking over the remaining options, I ended up settling on last year’s HTC One (m7). And I do mean settle: the One has no microSD slot nor does it have a replaceable battery. But these are things I can work around in the pursuit of freedom. I got a microSD to microUSB connector and an external battery pack that can keep my phone running for days. It also has a somewhat lo-rez camera at 4 megapixels, but it seems to take pictures just fine.

You do have to jump through an extra hoop in order to unlock the bootloader, but HTC made it pretty simple. You just have to log in to their developer site and post a code and they’ll send you back a file to run to unlock your particular phone. Not as easy as, say, a Nexus phone, but it isn’t too much extra work.

Now I have the latest Kit Kat running flawlessly on the phone. I’m able to remove the Google search bar, which in my case just takes up space, and I can modify the number of icons displayed per page.

It’s pretty awesome.

Is the HTC One a perfect phone, especially for playing Ingress? No – it is not perfect. But it is pretty darn good. At the Gettysburg anomaly it held up all day with zero reboots, whereas other people were reporting them with usually stable phones such as the Nexus 5. Note that if I didn’t have any other considerations I would have gotten a Nexus phone, but since I play Ingress with my spouse and she has one I wanted another brand in order to diversify the radio technology. In some places her phone gets signal where mine does not, and vice versa, and thus we can tether if needed.

I like to vote with my wallet and I buy products from companies that support freedom. I don’t understand why Samsung felt the need to lock down their devices. In part I think it is Apple-envy, but they just lost out to those of us who want to truly own their hardware. I’m not sure if it is enough to affect the bottom line, but it has soured me on Samsung products as a whole and I do buy a lot of technology.

So, remember that freedom takes work, but it’s worth it in the end.

Oh Nos! My Wireless Stopped Working!

July 23rd, 2014

I just had something a little scary happen, so I thought I’d share it in case anyone else hits this problem.

I’m in Portland for OSCON and suddenly the wireless networking on my laptop stopped working. The wireless status showed as “off” but it wouldn’t turn on. I’m running Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) and no interfaces were showing up.

Now, one thing I like about open source is I always tend to learn something when trying to solve a problem. A quick search on my phone introduced me to the “rfkill” command:

# rfkill list
0: phy0: Wireless LAN
	Soft blocked: no
	Hard blocked: yes

For some reason, the interface was “Hard blocked”. I then figured out what must have happened.

I was trying to bring up a shell to diagnose another issue. On Linux this tends to be ALT+CTL+Fx where the function key chosen is the virtual terminal you want (i.e. F1 for the first one, F2 for the second, etc.). On my normal keyboard, which is an old Apple keyboard, the function keys default to softkeys and you have to hold down the Fn key to actually trigger F1, F2, etc.

This is not the case with my laptop, so when I hit Fn+F2 it turned on “airplane mode”. This was causing the hard block.

I hit it again:

# rfkill list
0: phy0: Wireless LAN
	Soft blocked: yes
	Hard blocked: no
1: hci0: Bluetooth
	Soft blocked: no
	Hard blocked: no

And then turned off the soft block:

orcrist interfaces.d # rfkill unblock 0

And it fixed my issue:

orcrist interfaces.d # rfkill list
0: phy0: Wireless LAN
	Soft blocked: no
	Hard blocked: no
1: hci0: Bluetooth
	Soft blocked: no
	Hard blocked: no

It would have really sucked to be on the road and have some serious software issue to repair with no network access, so I was extremely relieved to figure this out.

30 Years

June 11th, 2014

I missed noting it, but 30 years ago on Saturday, June 9th, 1984 I graduated in the third graduating class of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. It was an amazing two years and I’m happy to say that I’m still in touch with many of the people I met there.

The speaker at my graduation was Ron McNair, the first African-American astronaut. Earlier that year, in February, I got to see him launched into space on Space Shuttle mission STS-41-B. Unfortunately, he was one of the seven people killed in the Challenger disaster a couple of year later.

While most people, I would assume, don’t remember the speech given at their high school graduation, I remember him talking about daring to be “a flea weight in a heavy weight world”. I took those words to heart and it is one of the reasons OpenNMS is able to challenge products from the likes of HP and IBM.

I should note that on Sunday, June 10th, 1984, I started working as a machine operator in a plastics injection molding plant in Asheboro, NC. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have hurt me to take a day off but I guess that just how we open source geeks roll.

(grin)

2014 Dev Jam – Day 6

June 7th, 2014

Friday was pretty much the “Dev Jam Results Show”. Mike suggested that the various teams get together and present their work. He recorded it live from his iPhone using Ustream and the raw (and I mean raw) video is available for your viewing pleasure.

The first stream covered the following topics.

Ben, Ron and Matt R. – AngularJS based webUI

That OpenNMS could use a new user interface is a given, and the decision was made to base it on a technology called AngularJS. The first demo shows off some of the work that was done to build a framework for the new GUI.

This includes a “plugin” architecture that will make it easy to add functionality to the system as well as to embed existing code that, while not written in Angular, is still useful. Ron even managed to get KSC reports to run under the new code, complete with dynamic updates.

Work that still remains to be done include formal authentication (currently the new GUI just gets a session cookie from the old one) as well as a greater granularity for ReST permissions, as now normal users get a lot of data and admin users get all the data. This would be very useful for things like multi-tenancy.

Alejandro – Requistion Manager

When we wrote the provisioner, we knew we had something special as no other management system seems to take discovery as seriously as OpenNMS. As more and more people find novel ways of using this system, we realized that the user interface could use some improvement. In this section Alejandro demonstrates the changes he has made to the interface for creating and managing requisitions, also built on Angular.

Craig Gallen – High Frequency Trader GUI

Those of you that follow OpenNMS in the news might have seen a press release a couple of weeks ago from a financial trading services company called TMX Atrium Networks. Dr. Gallen, our man in the UK, worked with them to build an interface for monitoring latency across the network.

Matt and Eric – newts

Yesterday I talked about the New Time Series database that we are building as the data storage backend for OpenNMS. I lifted a lot of that from this portion of the demonstrations. The ability to have an incredibly fast and highly scalable data store is key for our goal of making OpenNMS the de facto network management platform of choice.

The second video stream features a talk about “snee-po”

Seth – SNMnepO

SNMnepO, or OpenNMS spelled backwards, is a project to create a distributed data collector with horizontal scalability. The idea is to add data collection to our remote poller, and Seth’s demonstration shows data collection being performed with the collectd process disabled.

Coupled with the newts data storage backend, this new distributed collector will insure that OpenNMS can scale to meet any data collection needs in the future.

The final stream focuses on work being done by our German team.

Christian – Outage Timeline

Christian demonstrates the new outage timeline that I talked about earlier in the week.

Dustin – RRDtool export via ReST

Dustin shows a new feature that exposes collected data from the RRD files via ReST. This can allow for another integration point where collected data can easily be used by other applications.

Ronny – PRIS

The last demo was done by Ronny (presenting work that was also done by Dustin) on the Provisioning Integration Server (PRIS). As mentioned above, the ability to tightly integrate OpenNMS with provisioning systems is a key feature of the platform. Originally done to integrate with OCS Inventory NG, the system has been extended to allow for integration with pretty much any system.

Considering that these demonstrations were pretty much ad hoc, I was delighted to see how much was accomplished in just a week. It is one of the main reasons I look forward to Dev Jam every year.

We celebrated that evening with a trip to Republic.

Let’s just say the evening went a little downhill from there, but I did manage to make it back to the dorm.

2014 Dev Jam – Day 5

June 6th, 2014

Thursday turned out to be picture day. We had some people leaving a little early so we decided to get our group picture done in the morning. Recently the school added a new Goldy Gopher statue near our dorm, so it was the logical place for a photo.

It also worked out that Goldy would fit in a 3XL OpenNMS shirt (grin)

I even took the opportunity for one of them there “selfie” thingies:

Don’t expect to see many more, but I was told it would be “ironic” (grin).

There was some real work done as well. We are getting much closer to a 1.0 release of newts (http://www.newts.io), the NEW Time Series database built on Cassandra. The speed is pretty amazing, with sustained writes of 50K+ data points per second.

For testing we’ve been using some weather data that contains 1.2 billion data points, but even at 50K per second it takes six hours to import.

Note that this was done on Matt’s laptop and one Cassandra node. On server hardware it should be much faster, and Matt and Eric have worked very hard to make it linearly scalable: two nodes are twice as fast, four nodes are four times as fast, etc.

The whole Internet of Things paradigm requires the ability to manage massive amounts of time series data and we are getting close to making it a reality.

I am also dealing with the reality that I ate way too much pizza in the last 24 hours. Thanks to Chris Rodman and the good people at Papa John’s Pizza, we had a pizza feast:

(burp)