Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Sweden – Part 3

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

I just got back from Sweden (my third time this year) and was given permission by the client to discuss the project we are working on there.

The client is Bonnier Digital, part of Bonnier AB. Bonnier is a huge media conglomerate based in Sweden that consists of over 175 companies with more than 10,000 employees. If you read Popular Science then you read a Bonnier media product.

With so many individual companies, Bonnier was dealing with a lot of duplication of IT infrastructure. Bonnier Digital was founded to both consolidate their IT operations as well as to build a business providing world class IT services to other companies. They are deploying thousands of kilometers of fiber around Sweden to bring together various data centers, the largest of which will house nearly [redacted] shipping containers (a lá Google) filled with servers and related equipment.

(I was asked to remove the actual total by the client, but it’s “lots”)

OpenNMS has been chosen as the application platform which will manage this huge infrastructure, and in doing so provide state of the art surveillance for IT operations in general and the media business in particular.

It was interesting to be in Sweden when it wasn’t frozen. While it wasn’t warm, the leaves were starting to emerge on the trees, and the days were very long. The first morning I was there I woke up in a panic that I’d overslept since the sun was streaming in the window, but my handy reported it was only 05:58. I liked the fact that the woods were carpeted with this plant with little white flowers.

Note that while I’m still curious, I have yet to try that other white thing one finds in Sweden:

Due to this project we spend a lot of time in country. I was there for two weeks, along with Alejandro. To make being away from home easier, we encourage our engineers to bring along their spouses, and for this trip Carolina joined her husband.

I hope she had a good time, because most days we work until late in the evening and during the week I only saw her a couple of times, but I did get to see her on the weekend. It was pretty gray where we were, so I did a Google search on “sunniest place in Sweden” and we decided to go to Karlstad.

Karlstad is a pretty neat town. There are lots of statues, and for those of you who play Ingress, that means lots of portals. Alejandro and Carolina followed me around as I played the game. I had my picture taken next to a statue honoring Sola i Karlstad (the Sun in Karlstad) a waitress known for her sunny disposition.

Karlstad is located in the province of Värmland (Bonnier Digital is nearby in Dalsland). There is a museum in Karlstad featuring the art of Värmland, which includes a replica of Viking runes. Fans of Lord of the Rings will recognize them as the inspiration for runes in those books.

Karlstad is at the top of Lake Vänern, so we drove down to see the water. Vänern is a huge fresh-water lake that is the largest in the EU, and the 26th largest in the world by area (as well as by volume).

It was a nice trip and we did see lots of sun.

My friends Lars and Linda (from the great Moose expedition) invited us out on the lake on the following Tuesday. While it was still a little cold, I can imagine how much fun it would be to be out on the water in the summer time. We saw tons of fish on the fish finder, but they just weren’t in the mood to bite.

As part of the tour we went out on Vänern proper, and you could see the waves getting choppier. Vänern is dotted with hundreds of little islands, and you could see several as we bobbed on the water. Since it was cold and the wind picked up on the open water, we turned around and headed back, doing about 27 knots.

When we got back to the dock, Lars got a call dealing with a security issue and so we sped off at high speed in his Range Rover to try and catch some bad guys. It is something to be doing 60 mph on backcountry Swedish roads, although I must admit that Lars is an excellent driver and I didn’t feel unsafe at any time. Still, when I had the chance, I did feel the need to rid myself of some extra fluids I’d been carrying around (grin).

So once again I left Sweden with a few more adventures (Lars and Linda took Alejandro and Carolina out on ATVs the next night, but I was a little too beat to make it) and I look forward to many more in the future.

It’s Friday, So This Must Be Finland

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Chris Dibona once wrote that, on a trip to China, he was “visiting the birthplace of all of my electronics”. On my first trip to Finland I feel a little like I am visiting the birthplace of OpenNMS.

OpenNMS was actually born in North Carolina, USA, but the thoughts that made it possible were the influence of a local company called Red Hat, which in turn was inspired by the work of Linus Torvalds, a Finn who was born in Helsinki.

On a modern note, the new OpenNMS GUI relies heavily on Vaadin, a software framework that was invented in Finland. Finally, my family originated in Hungary. The Hungarian language (which I do not speak) is related to few other languages, but one of those happens to be Finnish.

I came here from Sweden to visit a new client, and that makes Finland the 26th country in which The OpenNMS Group has customers (the others being, in no particular order, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Israel, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Trinidad, Malta, India, Honduras, Chile, Sweden, the UAE and the US.)

I got a really good vibe from Helsinki, even though it was really cold. The Germans have a term for temperatures at or below -15C, arschkalt, and I did experience that here.

The client was pretty cool. I met Jari last week at the OpenNMS Users Conference and he and his coworkers went out of their way to may sure I enjoyed my short stay. On Thursday night we went to a restaurant called Salutorget and had a wonderful meal, and on Friday we visited a place called Stone’s Beer and Burger where I had a Finnish “veggie burger” – instead of the usual attempt to make a burger patty out of vegetables, it was a bun and grilled vegetables, which was quite tasty.

The beer had to wait until after work, when we visited Teerenpeli. This was on the advice of Ville, the Vaadin employee who came to the Users Conference and suggested some places I should visit while in Helsinki.

On a somber note, there was a marble memorial to people killed in the Finnish Civil War in the office building where we were working. I thought it unusual that there was a lack of Finnish surnames starting with “B” through “F” – there were three names that started with “A” and then it jumps to “G”.

Overall, the only criticism I have of the trip is that it was too short. Next time I come I hope to take a side trip to Tallin, Estonia and/or St. Petersburg, Russia. Both are surprisingly close, and I need a few more countries to visit. I’m at 33 at the moment and I want to hit 50 before I am 50 years old.

But I think I want the next one to be a little warmer.

Note: I didn’t think of Monty Python’s song “Finland” while I was there. Not once. I swear. Really.

Hunting Moose in Sweden

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Look, I like my job. I really do. When I’m driving around in the heat of a North Carolina summer, I am glad that my job allows me to spend the hottest part of the day inside with air conditioning.

That said, there are times I wish I could be outside more often. Much of my job involves removing obstacles so other people can do their jobs with less hassle. So I find myself in meetings, working on administrivia, and looking at e-mails and project plans way more often than actually building things. Granted, many of these things are necessary in order for things to get built in the first place, but sometimes I wish I could just say “give me some money and I’ll go build something wonderful for you”. Then again, sometimes I wish I could spend more time outside, since things seem simpler out there. There doesn’t seem to be so many things competing for my attention.

Anyway, I was in Sweden and I was a little upset. We are doing a huge project and I had flown thousands of miles to meet with a man named Lars, and he didn’t seem to have time to meet with me. I didn’t get any responses to my e-mails, etc., and I really needed to talk to him.

Well, I got my wish, but not in the way I expected. One morning he walked into the office, gave my shoulders a squeeze and said “Out front, 16:00, dress warm. We’ll be back sometime tomorrow morning” and walked off.

Note that the high temperature at this time was around -4C, with pockets in the north getting down to -20C at night.

This type of behavior in general is not unusual with Lars, but this particular behavior was a little unusual even for him. I was worried, since I didn’t bring real cold weather clothes, so after lunch Ronny and I drove into town to a sporting goods shop where I bought some thermal underwear and proper Swedish boots, gloves and a coat.

Thus armed I waited until 16:00 and then headed out to the parking lot. Lars was there in his Defender 110 along with his totally delightful fiancée Linda. Also joining us was Gollum, a slightly flatulent Boxer puppy that had a hurt paw and thus needed a little extra care, and Anders, a friend and new lieutenant of Lars.

Lars apologized for not being able to meet with me, but things had been crazy. I found out that he gets nearly 3000 e-mail messages a day, so mine got lost in the flood, and his phone pretty much rang constantly as we drove. Luckily, phone coverage was pretty spotty where we were going, so there was a chance for some peace and quiet.

We were hunting for moose.

Many years ago, Lars’ uncle started buying up land after the timber was harvested off of it. He did this over and over again until he had amassed over 42,000 hectares (103,700 acres or 162 square miles) of land and over 11,000 hectares of lakes and ponds. It is located along the Norwegian border near Bogen, which was a two hour drive away. We had a nice time talking both about life and work as we made the drive into the mountains, with occasional breaks to open the window to let it air out from the dog, and the snow getting slowly deeper and deeper as we would ascend into the hills.

Some of this property is leased, and they also have several businesses running off of it – mainly sport related such as hunting and fishing. The uncle made a rule in his will that only enough timber could be harvested in any given year to cover expenses, which while not small (they have nearly 3000 km of logging roads to maintain) insures that no relative down the line can strip the place bare. Everything is done with an eye on conservation so that the area will be available for generations to come.

As soon as we turned onto the property we startled two young moose, both about a year old. The first one ran off into the woods but Lars stopped the Rover, wound down the window and by covering his mouth and pinching his nose he made this weird sort of “mooing” sound. This caused the moose to stop and just stand there, and while he didn’t come closer he also didn’t run off. Not until we started up the car again did he leave.

We made our way up to a group of hunting lodges and got out to stretch our legs.

Lars has been known to tell the members of his executive team to come to the office prepared for a weekend retreat, and when everyone shows up expecting to spend the weekend in a luxury hotel, he has a helicopter drop down and cart everyone off to Bogen for a weekend in the woods.

Did I mention that I like Lars? (grin)

During the stop Lars cleaned off the lamps mounted along the top of the Rover, and we would need them as we drove around looking for moose and wolves. Wolves are a huge problem in the area, as they are both plentiful and cunning.

On one of the roads on the preserve it looked like every animal in the forest had come there to leave tracks. It had not snowed in a couple of days so there were tracks everywhere. Both Lars and Linda kept pointing them out: moose, wolf, hare and fox. The hares here grow really large, and sometimes it is easy to mistake the tracks for a those of a larger animal. Of course I am relying on Lars’ and Linda’s interpretation of things since both Anders and I were totally lost when it comes to tracking (Anders has lived in Stockholm since 1994).

We stopped at the spillway of a nearly frozen lake called Kivlamp to experience some of the cold first hand. While we were there another car pulled up and I got to meet one of the area’s caretakers, a man named Bosse. When he found out I was from the Southern United States he handed me his “varmint rifle” – a scoped .30 caliber – and offered to let me shoot it.

Now I don’t have much experience with shooting outside of some trap shooting with a 12-gauge shotgun, but I did my best. Bosse told me to aim for this rock out in the lake because if I hit it we could hear it. I think a lot of men believe they can shoot better than they really can, so the words of my father, a marksman in the Army, came back to me. He got his marksman’s medal, he said, just because he listened and knew how to follow directions. So I aimed, slowly squeezed the trigger, and heard a satisfying “ping” off of the rock. I was able to repeat this a second time to show it wasn’t a fluke (it was). It helped that it was a nice rifle with little kick.

I think it would be cool to hang out with Bosse for a little while and see the area through his eyes, but it isn’t an easy life so I wouldn’t want to do it for long.

After all the freezing, shootin’ and camaraderie, we got back in the cars and headed even higher. Lars found a wider than normal spot on the road, stopped the Rover, and proceeded to make a fire. When it was established, he pulled out a flat cooking plate on a tripod that would fit over the burning logs to provide a place to heat our meal. Once that was done, Linda took over and Lars and Bosse started another fire nearby, pretty much for warmth. It wasn’t extremely cold, maybe -10C (14F) but the wind had picked up. My Swedish gear was holding up pretty well with the exception of my gloves, so I would be sure to thaw them a little over the fire occasionally.

The moon was about half full and would peek out from behind the clouds from time to time (it was lightly snowing) and it was nice to look out into the woods while Linda cooked up a gourmet meal. Maybe it was the cold and maybe it was the company, but it sure tasted wonderful.

We spent a couple of hours up there before breaking camp and cleaning up (we had lots of snow to work with). Then we climbed back in the Rover to go and search for more wildlife. At one point Lars drove down the airstrip that they have up there (completely covered in snow, of course), and when he turned around all you could see was the tracks of his truck in the snow. Anders joked “oh, I can tell using my huge expertise that these tracks were made by a Land Rover Defender 110″ and I picked up on the joke, adding “and you can tell by the tread pattern that it is green”.

We didn’t see any more moose or a wolf, but that really didn’t matter to me. It was just fun to be up in some pretty, unspoiled country. Lars stopped by a river and let me get a picture of the ice, the snow and the stones – which was cool since you could see where the snow had fallen and the water had washed all but the stuff on top away.

On the way off the property we headed even higher until we were meters from the border with Norway.

Lars explained that during WWII there was concern that the Germans would drive tanks over the mountains, so we stopped to look at some stone obstacles that had been planted to prevent this from happening (I missed that picture, unfortunately). What was amazing was seeing how the terrain had changed – when we started out it was pretty flat, but now we had high mountains and deep valleys.

After midnight we headed home and then the biggest worry was that we wouldn’t hit a moose or that Lars would fall asleep (it wasn’t a big issue but he would joke about it). I told the old joke that I wanted to die in my sleep like my grandfather and not like his screaming passengers, and that got a laugh. We did see some deer and a couple fleeting glimpses of foxes on the way back, but otherwise it was uneventful.

I guess is is a bit of a Catch-22. I loved the entire evening, from the land to the company to the conversation to the food, but especially since it took my mind off work. However, without OpenNMS, I wouldn’t have had the chance to take this trip.

Kind of puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it?

Final Thoughts on OUCE 2013

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Now that I’ve had some sleep, I wanted to make a few last comments on the Users Conference.

I think the Foundation did a wonderful job ‎with their first conference. All of the feedback I got was positive, with a lot of long time attendees thinking this was the best one yet. I think what made it work was the vibe that this was “user driven”. Heck, even the location for meals, Café Chaos, is student run and managed, and they also handled the catering.

It was a little hard to say goodbye to old friends and new, but many had lives to get back to and trains to catch. Those of us left ended up at the Wiesenmühle beer garden, the traditional ending to the conference. I was extremely happy to see that Dunkel was still in season.

A tradition I didn’t want to repeat was the excessive schnapps consumption of last year, but it just wouldn’t be right without one or two.

Of course, David (pictured on the right) accidentally overrode my order with the waitress for “zehn” (10) glasses and managed to count two more people at our table than were actually there. Thus he and Markus (pictured left) ended up with the two left over shots (Markus since he missed all the “fun” last year).

I had an early flight so managed to leave while feeling very happy and content. It is a shame I have to wait until next year to see everyone again.

Speaking of next year, we are looking for a venue. The team would like to move the conference around Europe. We need a place with two conference/class rooms, a place for everyone to gather and eat, and enough hotel rooms to accomodate everyone. Good public transportation and proximity to an airport are also important. If you know of one, be sure to drop a note to the Foundation folks.

I’ll leave you with this picture. I’m not sure how I managed to take it, actually. It’s supposed to be of a glass of Schwarzer Hahn beer, but I think it turned out pretty cool.


Monday, February 18th, 2013

On February 2nd I found myself with great seats to a world championship sporting event. No, it wasn’t the Super Bowl, but for the details, read on.

When I was last in Europe, not only did I spend some time in London, I also got to spend some time in Sweden. We are doing a lot of work there (more details soon) and I expect to be visiting a lot, but this was my first trip. It was pretty cool.

We are seeing a lot of interest in OpenNMS from Nordic countries. Things are booming there while the rest of Europe struggles – so much so that The Economist ran a special report on it. I’ve been to Norway a couple of times and Denmark once, and I’ll be in Finland later in the year so it was nice to get the set with this vist to Sweden.

I had to rent a car to get where I was going, so I walked up to the Avis counter and asked for a Swedish car, seeing as how I’m in Sweden ‘n all. I had checked the Volvo S60 box when I ordered, so I was ready to tackle this country in all its Scandinavian glory (I stopped short of putting ABBA in my music collection).

They rented me a Peugeot. A Peugeot 508.

Not only was it a French car, it was a diesel hybrid French car. When I first got into biodiesel I thought a diesel hybrid would be a great idea. When diesel cars idle they don’t use much fuel, so a hybrid wouldn’t need to always turn off the engine in order to save fuel when the electric motor was running. But it was pointed out to me that diesel’s peak power is at low RPMs, just like with an electric motor, and it was questionable whether they would benefit each other. Considering the extra weight, cost and the production of rare earth metals that goes into an electric hybrid, it probably won’t be a great idea either for the car or for the environment.

The 508 was nicely equipped and comfortable, but it had the worst transmission of any car, bar none, that I have driven. I should have known something was up when the lady at the Avis counter asked “can you drive an automatic?”

Well, I thought I could. I have driven a Prius so I wasn’t thrown by the little shifter thingie that only had two directions, forward and back. When I finally got moving I thought something must be wrong, since every shift felt like the car momentarily stopped, throwing me toward the windshield and then slamming me back as it shot forward.

It had six speeds.

In all fairness, it did have a manual mode and paddle shifters, so maybe it was supposed to be driven like a manual car. Who knows.

Sweden was not at all what I expected. I have been to Norway a couple of times and I expected more of the same, sort of like one might expect Arizona and New Mexico to be two sides of the same coin. However, this part of Sweden was very flat. So flat that there were huge windmills (the make energy kind and not the Don Quixote kind) everywhere. It was kinda cool.

I arrived on a Saturday so the client had arranged for a group of us to attend a game of “Bandy” while I was in Sweden. When she sent me the URL, the website was in Swedish and I just assumed that it was hockey. Turns out I was wrong.

She managed to score tickets, on the ice, not only to Bandy but to the Bandy 2013 World Championship game between Russia and Sweden.

When we arrived, we entered the area and went to a “members only” type restaurant on the second floor that looked out over the ice. The place had a bar and a buffet, and we had a table right over one of the goals. It was packed, but we got four seats next to the window.

The first thing that made me think “this ain’t hockey” was the rink – it was huge. We’re talking soccer field huge, which is appropriate since I figured out later that Bandy seems to be more “soccer on ice” than hockey. While we ate, the teams came out to warm up and that’s when I noticed another major difference. Instead of a flat puck Bandy is played with a pink plastic ball. The ball is smaller than a baseball but bigger than a golf ball, and part of the game is to get it in the air.

The sticks are also different. They are much more curved, and the goals are much larger than in hockey. They are taller and wider, with a height about that of a man. The goalie, by the way, has two large, round padded gloves but no stick.

We finished eating before the game started. The place had filled up as we made our way to our seats in the front row near center ice. When the game started I tried to understand how it was played. This is where the soccer analogy came into play. There was no icing, no body checks, and no plastic wall protecting the fans from the ball (although that really didn’t matter). It was a physical game nonetheless, and fast. Like soccer, it consisted of two 45 minute halves and the clock never stopped – they simply added time as needed for penalties and other issues.

They did have penalties and a penalty box like hockey, although the times were pretty severe. Of the four penalties I remember, one was for 5 minutes but the others were for 10 minutes each. When a team was playing light (a “power play” in hockey”), the penalty did not end when the other teamed scored.

Speaking of scoring, Russia pretty much dominated. Their first two points came after the Bandy equivalent of a corner kick: The Swedes would all line up in front of the goal while one Russian player passed in the ball from a corner. Then three or four Swedes would shoot out and try to break up the play before they could score.

They didn’t do so well on the first two.

At halftime it was 2-1 Russia, and in the second half Russia scored its first “real” (non-corner kick) goal to make it 3-1, but the Swedes managed to score again late in the game to make it 3-2. Unfortunately, Russia scored another corner kick thingie with only 10 or so minutes left, and even though Sweden scored again they couldn’t pull off the tie in time.

I say “10 minutes or so” since you couldn’t really tell when the game was going to end. Just before the 45 minute mark in the second half, a referee took a huge fall and wasn’t getting up. I didn’t see him get hit (that did happen a couple of times throughout the game) but he must of hit the ice hard because as they helped him off the ice you could tell that his legs weren’t quite working (not that they were broken but that it was having trouble keeping them under him). We ended up waiting about ten minutes for them to find a replacement and get him suited up, which I thought was a little weird for such an important game. Most soccer games have a alternate referee dressed and ready to go, and since this game is much faster than soccer I would assume refs get hurt more frequently in Bandy.

I really enjoyed myself. While the Russians would cheer “Ruuus-See-Ah Ruuus-See-Ah” the Swedes would shout something like “Ya Ya Men-sah, Fah Tosh Bor-ah” and I struggled to learn it. I was sad to see the Swedes lose.

Anyway, I’ve chalked this one up under my “weird international sports” along with Australian Rules Football and perhaps I can see another game some other time, as I look forward to going back.