Up in the Air

I am eagerly awaiting the release of George Clooney’s new movie Up in the Air this Christmas. In it, he plays a man who travels a tremendous amount for his job, and he has become addicted to collecting frequent flyer miles and similar perks. I empathize with a character who feels at home in airports and hotels.

His program of choice is American Airlines AAdvantage, which is also my favorite, but while his character is aiming for 10 million lifetime miles, I only just passed 1 million earlier this year. However, for the first time in my life I managed to make “Executive Platinum” by accruing over 100,000 elite miles in one calendar year.

Even as much as I travel, hitting EXP was difficult. I tend to travel in one or two week chunks, so I’m only on a plane once or twice a week, and it took several trips overseas plus a special program at American in which one could earn double elite miles for me to get there. I am interested to see if I’m treated any differently, as I have zero plans to make EXP again next year, so I hope to enjoy it while I can.

Unlike this year, in 2010 I also hope to avoid being molested by the crew. The following is a letter I sent to American Airlines about an experience I had on a flight from New York back to Raleigh. I never got a reply, so I assume they really don’t care that such things are happening (at least to men), but it didn’t upset me enough to keep me from flying on their airline.

27 July 2009

American Airlines Customer Relations
P.O. Box 619612 MD 2400
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612

Dear American:

As I have just reached my first million miles in the AAdvantage program, you probably know I am a big fan of American Airlines. In fact, the only two times previously I have used this address to write a letter was for the purpose of singing the praises of flight attendants who went the extra mile to make my journey a pleasant one, and they are one of the reasons I love American.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those letters.

Last night I was on flight 4738 from LGA to RDU in seat 11A. This was an American Eagle flight, and I believe the name of the attendant was Kathy (she didn’t have on a name tag but I believe the pilot referred to her as such).

Due to weather we ended up sitting on the taxiway for a couple of hours. When it came time to take off, the attendant came through the cabin to check seat belts. Since I had been fidgeting for two hours my belt buckle was slightly twisted. She saw this and said, “Sir, your seat belt has to lie flat” and before I could move she reached down and adjusted it.

Now picture this procedure: the fingers of her left hand were inserted between the buckle and my thigh, while the fingers of her right hand went between the belt and my crotch.

Both me and the man across the aisle looked at each other with amazement. As we talked about it later, neither of us had heard of this new FAA regulation that the seatbelt has to be perfectly flat for takeoff.

I don’t believe this violation of personal space was sexual in nature – it struck me as more of an obsessive/compulsive problem – but still, I suffer enough indignity simply going through the security screening process to have to worry about being groped on the plane.

Please don’t think I’m one of those people who complains about the slightest problem. With all of its complexity, I realize that no organization can make air travel perfect. But the behavior of this attendant was thoughtless and somewhat disturbing (you can contact the nice couple in 11B and 11C if you want to verify this story, as they were just as astonished as I was) and I can’t help but think if our genders were reversed you’d have a much larger problem on your hands.

I still love American (I’m on pace to make Executive Platinum this year and this won’t change that) and I understand that there is some difference between American and American Eagle, but as it is your name on the outside of the plane, I figured you should know.

Tarus Paul Balog
Chief Executive Officer
The OpenNMS Group, Inc.

First Impressions of Dubai

While I have been in Dubai for several days now, only recently have I been able to get out and see some of the city. Fourth quarter for us is usually insane, this year more than others, and to be quite honest for the first two days I was here I did little more than work and sleep.

I didn’t arrive until nearly midnight, and there were at least a thousand people queued up at passport control. Once I got through that I wasn’t able to find the car I was to take to the hotel, which was compounded by the fact that my fancy new iPhone from AT&T was unable to roam internationally (the fix, according to AT&T, is to have it connect to an AT&T tower to “re-register” which is a bit difficult considering there are no such towers available when one is roaming internationally) and my credit card was declined (Citibank said that the initial swipe triggered fraud detection even though I had called them to let them know I was traveling).


I did manage to get everything sorted, but after that my allotted window for sleep was pretty small.

However, after work on Monday I took a cab to the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall by area in the world. Now, I have been to many of the world’s temples of consumerism, including Ginza in Tokyo and Orchard Road in Singapore (all with OpenNMS actually) and none can compare with the sheer scale of the Dubai Mall, or of Dubai in general. It is almost as if Disney World and Las Vegas had a love child that drank some mad scientist’s potion and grew to ten times normal size.

Not only is the Mall large, it is spacious, with huge installations including five story waterfalls and a world-class aquarium. I wandered around in awe for quite some time, and managed to get my obligatory McDonalds meal out of the way (I have ordered a Big Mac meal in almost every country I have ever visited).

On the way back to the hotel, I was able to take some quick photos from the cab, including the world’s tallest man-made structure, Burj Dubai:

and a really poor shot of a metro station:

I rarely get an emotional response from modern architecture, but I am totally in love with the design of the Dubai metro stations. They drape over the tracks like some sort of giant golden scarab, and they really stand out. At points on the road you can see two or three of them at a time, and you get the idea that you are looking at the city of the future – something Disney wished for EPCOT or like something out of Total Recall.

Yesterday, my friend Yunus picked me up at the hotel and we actually took a metro train.

The Union station is actually underground, so it is not as impressive as the above ground stations, but it was still cool nonetheless. The metro system has only been in operation since September, and so everything is brand spanking new. The stations are immaculately clean, and it feels like they just took the shrink wrap off of everything.

We took the train to the Mall of the Emirates. Until the opening of the Dubai Mall, it was the largest mall in the world (by area). It is famous for having an indoor ski park called Ski Dubai, recently featured on The Amazing Race.

We had mainly gone there just to ride on the metro, so after a short visit we headed back. Yunus had told me that adoption of the metro system by the locals had been a bit slow, but you wouldn’t have know it by looking:

We then found a more traditional area which included an Iranian restaurant known for its shawarma. I was told that the thing to look for when choosing a shawarma restaurant is a queue outside, waiting.

He wasn’t wrong – the meal was excellent.

Off To the UAE (Country 21)

In a short while I will board a plane to begin my journey from Chicago to Dubai. It’s about eight hours to London and then another seven to Dubai, so I’ll arrive about 11:30pm local time – on Saturday.

This will be my first trip to the Middle East in 15 years, and I have to say that I’m looking forward to it. I spent the month of October, 1994, in and around Damascus, Syria, and I really enjoyed myself.

Yes, I can make this work

I especially remember the food as being particularly good. I liked the shawarma, best when bought right off the street and served with lots of sauce. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

But my fondest memories are of the people. While I think one can never go wrong underestimating a government’s ability to royally screw things up (my own included), in my travels I’ve found that people around the world are basically the same. They want to be safe and they want to be rewarded for the work they do. They want the opportunity to better themselves and to provide for their families. Especially in technical circles, they like solving problems and things like OpenNMS can help with that. Plus, the fact that OpenNMS is free and open source encourages cooperation, and people know that recognition in open source is based on merit – no matter the color of your skin, the name of your God or the TLD of your e-mail address.

I’ve been pretty lucky in the fact that the Internet has provided me with a way to keep up with people I’ve met over the years, but I’m still missing contact information for some of them. The picture above was taken in Damascus and the man on the left is Ghazwan M. Hawach. My Google-fu has failed me, so just in case Ghazwan gets on the Internet and finds this post – please drop me a note. I’d love to find out what you’ve been up to.

So, outside of the long hours in the air I am eager to be off to Dubai. I’m working for a company called Etisalat, which happens to be the 13th largest wireless communications provider in the world. Although you’ve probably never heard of them, they have more subscribers than Verizon, AT&T or Sprint. I can’t wait to get OpenNMS to rock on their network.

But I also can’t wait to make some new friends and eat some shawarma. The fact that Dubai is much warmer than Chicago doesn’t hurt, either.

So welcome, United Arab Emirates, as our 21st client country.

See you on the other side.

Welcome Sweden, our 20th country

I just finished up some work for a client in Sweden this week. Unfortunately it was remote, although I’m not so sure I’d like to visit there right at this time. (grin)

This makes Sweden the 20th country in which the commercial side of OpenNMS has clients. While the OpenNMS application has been downloaded from just about every country on the planet, in this list I tend to only count the countries where they are using OpenNMS enough to purchase commercial services. This way I am certain that they have adopted it as their management solution (I think overall downloads are a poor indicator of open source success for a variety of reasons).

The other countries are, in no particular order:

Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Israel, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Trinidad, Malta, India, Honduras, Chile and the US.

New Releases: OpenNMS 1.6.8 and OpenNMS 1.7.8

The latest stable and unstable releases for OpenNMS landed this week. Please use your install method of choice to upgrade. We are now on a two month cycle for releases, the last one being in October and the next one being in February. It is my sincere hope that the February release includes 1.7.90, the 1.8 release candidate, but with the holidays approaching I’m not 100% sure we’ll make it. Once 1.7.90 is out I expect two week release cycles until 1.8 is ready.

Version 1.6.8 includes a number of bug fixes and small features. One of the coolest things, in my opinion, is an easy installer. While I find OpenNMS simple to install, there are a couple of little things one has to do in order to get it up and running. We decided it would be cool to help automate or at least assist people with that process.

Version 1.7.8 is the next release in our march toward 1.8. More code was added and cleaned up, as well as a number of bugs fixed. I would definitely not use 1.7 in production unless you are very experienced with OpenNMS, but feel free to use it on a development system to see what were working on for 1.8.