Archive for December, 2009

The Whine List: Cold Weather, Cold Food and Cold Apps

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Note: This is one of my travelog posts with little OpenNMS content.

I like Chicago. I think it gets a bad rep in comparisons with New York and San Francisco, but I almost always enjoy my trips here. This may come as a surprise to many, since this is the eighth year in a row I’ve spent a week in Chicago in December, and I must admit the fact I like the city has a lot to do with being here other times during the year (we have a large number of clients in the area).

It’s cold here. As I write this it is 2F (-17C). This is actually an improvement over earlier this week where, while it was warmer, there was constant sleet/snow/rain. On Tuesday when I was walking back to the hotel, the 40 mph winds coming off the lake combined with pellets of sleet that could quite literally flay the skin off your face. Luckily, I have the world’s best travel umbrella, which acquitted itself quite well. Since the wind caused the sleet to hit you horizontally, I just held the umbrella up in front of my face to block most of it, with the occasional peek around it to make sure I didn’t walk into anything or anybody. The wind was so strong that it reduced the umbrella into a cone with a base about 10 inches wide, but it didn’t fail or invert and it got me back to the hotel with my face intact.

Compared to yesterday, that was a pleasant experience.

As my three readers know, I recently bought an iPhone. This trip has been my first chance to really use it and I am quite pleased. While the voice quality is just okay and the camera isn’t very good at all, as an overall communications device it works quite well. I am at a long time customer that happens to be a bank and as such their network is very locked down. Usually I am completely cut off from e-mail and IM, but with the iPhone I can easily keep in touch. The AT&T 3G network has been very responsive (I’m on the third floor of the building next to a window) and the intuitive interface of the phone makes using it a breeze. Battery life has been good – lasting the entire day even with a Woot-Off in progress.

And at least it hasn’t driven me to run over it with a truck, like my friend with the Droid. (grin)

One thing I didn’t understand about the phone were these new “push” notifications, and I’m still not sure I understand them completely. On the iPhone OS, third-party apps are not allowed to run in the background. Thus when using, say, an instant messenger application, you have to keep it in the foreground in order to know that someone has sent you a message. I was using an app called “IM+ lite” by Shape Services and I was bragging that I could stay connected even with it in the background since it supports push notifications and a little pop-up would appear when there was a new message for me to read.

It didn’t dawn on me that the only way that could work is if some third party server was acting as the client by connecting to my Jabber server as me. Since the IM+ app wasn’t in the foreground, there is no way for it to maintain a connection to the server to know that new messages were waiting, so there had to be another method for it to “know” there was a message waiting.

This really pissed me off.

As I have mentioned many times before, I am somewhat of a security nut. We have a Jabber server just for internal communication that a) we control and b) we require SSL connections throughout. Thus I feel really safe when using IM.

What pissed me off was that nowhere in the documentation for IM+ does it mention that some company in Germany is going to receive your credentials in the clear and then masquerade as you on your server – giving them access to your contact list as well as being able to log your conversations. I verified that, indeed, a server using the IP address (which puts it in Berlin) was connected to my Jabber instance.

I was more pissed at myself for not being more careful, but still – I was under the impression that German law required companies to be quite clear about the information they collect over the Internet and how that information is used, but apparently that doesn’t apply to Shape Services. I am paranoid enough not to use my Jabber login as the admin login, so all I had to do was change my password, but still I was angry.

Be very careful when using push notifications on the iPhone.

I have since switched to the Jabber app from OneTeam, and I hope that push support comes to Openfire soon.

But no worries – I figured last night would make me forget all about it since that was our annual pilgrimage to Shaw’s Crab House. I have always loved Shaw’s – nice atmosphere, great service and good food.

To quote the Princess Bride, I have got to get used to disappointment.

To start with we ended up getting seated very close to a large round table full of about eight men and, oddly enough, just one woman. The guy closest to me must have been six and a half feet tall and over 300 pounds, and he was very drunk. This caused him to repeatedly get out of his chair, and since we were about an inch apart it would slam into mine. He would slur an apology but manage to do it again later.

Now the restaurant really doesn’t have too much control over that, but they do have control over the wait staff, which seemed uninformed and not very responsive. Our order of a dozen oysters took over 40 minutes to arrive. This was followed by our main courses, even though two of us had ordered a cup of lobster bisque that should have been served before the mains.

I love the bisque, but it was not to be.

Perhaps because of the delay on the oysters my scallops came out at room temperature. They were perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of caramelization, but just not hot. I ate about half of them before complaining to the table, and my dinnermates suggested that I mention it to the waitress. I did, and she offered to take them back and heat them up, but I resisted. Heck, this is a nice, expensive restaurant and they should be able to deliver food right the first time, and “heating things up” is what I do with leftovers when I get home.

When I said “no, that’s okay”, she got real snippy and said “well, why did you bring it up if you didn’t want me to do anything about it?” So like a punk I let her take my plate and 20 minutes later my scallops returned on a different, heated plate, ever so slightly warmer. By this time I wasn’t hungry anymore.

I blame myself – I should have asked to have our table moved away from the large, drunk guy. I should have replied to the waitress “well, I was hoping you could have suggested something other than heating up my poorly delivered meal, perhaps the manager can suggest something? Will you get him for me?” but I didn’t do any of these things.

I’ve noticed that a lot of unhappiness in this world doesn’t come from bad things happening to people, but from unmet expectations. I was expecting the excellent service and great food I have experienced at Shaw’s in the past, and they under-delivered (in all fairness I should point out that they did comp two desserts because of the missed bisque). I might have been able to mitigate the situation by talking with the manager, but I didn’t, which just deepened my mood even more.

Whenever I experience a bad service situation, I do try to learn from it. I’m going to have to think of ways within our own business when dealing with OpenNMS support to make sure expectations are properly set, and to encourage people to complain to management (i.e. me) if they aren’t. If I have an unhappy client I will do my best to set things right, but I have to know they are unhappy first.

Next time I’m in Chicago I’m eating at Vong’s due to this experience at Shaw’s.

I hope none of our OpenNMS clients feel the same way about us.

OpenNMS UCE 2010 Call for Papers

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

After last year’s inaugural OpenNMS Users Conference – Europe, we want to do it again. We’re going to extend it to two days and hope to model it more on the Nagios Users Conference I attended in Nürnberg back in October. Ours will once again be held in Frankfurt, Germany.

If you are interested in presenting, the Call for Papers is now open. The author of any accepted paper will have their hotel costs covered.

There are two types of papers being sought. The first are presentations, which can be either of a technical nature (how to use the OpenNMS application) or a business nature (how to use OpenNMS to improve business processes). These should be about 45 minutes long with 15 minutes for discussion.

The second are workshops. We are seeking two hour workshops to cover hands-on examples with OpenNMS. This is a new feature in this year’s conference.

The deadline for submitting an abstract is 31 December 2009 and speakers will be notified on 31 January 2010.

Hope to see you there.

Airlock from The M.H.A.

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I’m a bit of a security junky. I don’t transmit any passwords in the clear if I can help it. I use virtual credit card numbers whenever possible. And I set my screen saver to lock with a password after three minutes of inactivity.

Three minutes may seem a little short, but I used to work in an environment in which leaving your laptop unattended resulted in some unpleasant practical jokes. My hard drive is encrypted so I’m not worried about the theft of my laptop resulting in the loss of private information, but that doesn’t work if I just leave my laptop laying around logged in.

So I am extremely happy to have come across Airlock by The M.H.A. You install this app as a preference pane on your laptop and it uses bluetooth to pair with your iPhone or iPod touch.

Simply walk away from your laptop with the phone (or iPod) in your pocket and your laptop will automatically lock. Come back into range and it automatically unlocks.

Version 1.0.0 didn’t work with my iPhone 3GS but the 1.0.1 version released today works fine. Free three hour demo mode (infinitely renewable) and only US$7.77 to purchase.

So far I really like it.

This Post Brought to You by Snapple

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

For those of us in the open source community, you were probably under a rock this week if you missed the New York Times story “Open Source as a Model for Business Is Elusive“. It was sent to me by a number of people, including one woman who I’ve seen rarely since high school – 25 years ago.

This has been analyzed to death (see the 451 Group’s blog for a nice roundup of commentary) so I’m not going to focus on the article too much. I did find amusing the comment “There’s only one company making real money out of open source, and that’s Red Hat” since Red Hat seems to be the only large company that focuses on truly open source solutions. Surprise, surprise, the fauxpen source players are apparently “in trouble”.

I know I look at the world differently than many (if not most) people, but I’ve never seen “open source” as a business model. The term is way too big and vague – like saying “manufacturing” is a business model. Sure, it can play a role in both the development, support and marketing of software, but its not a business in and of itself.

The biggest mistake is to try and treat open source software the same way as commercial software. The rules are different, and a lot of the griping is due to the fact that the way one runs a software company is different if the software is open source. I’m often asked “how do you sell free software” and the answer is always “you don’t”.

But it is hard to get both customers and investors to think differently.

One issue is applying old metrics to new markets. The Times article seems to think that open source companies are floundering. On the other hand, here at OpenNMS we had a record year and hired two new people. I’m sure if I brought that up as a counterpoint we’d be dismissed as being too small, but these days the costs of starting, maintaining and marketing a software company are so much smaller than they used to be. The model of the future is lots of small, profitable software companies versus an Oracle or a Citrix.

I read yesterday that the new album by Susan Boyle sold a record amount in the first week of release. While that’s a laudable achievement, at the bottom of the article they point out that most young people buy single tracks and not entire albums, and Ms. Boyle’s audience is a much older demographic. In five years using album sales as a comparative measure of success will go away, in much the same way that the overall size of a software company as the measure of success will change.

I love looking at how the entertainment industry is dealing with the prevalence of broadband network access to their traditional business models. In some cases they decide to sue their customers – trying to keep the status quo.

In other cases, artists are taking the distribution of their works into their own hands, like Radiohead. While the overall total sales of a particular album may go down, the amount of money the artists receive goes up. Others, like Phish, focus on touring and even encourage their fans to bootleg their music.

Expect to see more musicians focusing on singles vs. albums, since they will become more popular and they open the door to sales of other things such as ringtones (note – as someone who loves high concept long play albums like “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” I’m not saying this is a good thing).

It’s all about efficiencies. Cut out the marketing and production machine required to produce a piece of music and it is possible to make the cost to the consumer go down while the profit for the producer goes up.

Change bothers people, but it also provides an opportunity for creativity. On the show Glee the story line involves three to four musical numbers per episode. The producers then offer those tracks on iTunes which provides a totally new revenue stream. With people skipping the ads during shows, some are imbedding the product placement right into the story (with 30 Rock being the most obvious about it).

I am certain we will continue to see articles that cast open source in a bad light because it doesn’t conform the way software has traditionally been handled in the past. I’ll ignore them and keep looking for opportunities to shake things up.

I’m betting I’ll find them.

Happy Thanksgiving … from Microsoft

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Well, I’d like to think the tryptophan has worn off, but I’m still tired. We’ve got a lot coming up in December and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

I’m off to Dubai in a few days to teach OpenNMS … on Windows. While open source is most closely associated with the Linux operating system, being written in Java OpenNMS doesn’t really limit itself, and we run on pretty much anything. In fact, over the last month people searching for Windows installation advice was one of the top hits on the .org website.

The problem is that we don’t have much Windows experience in-house, and even less software to try what we do know. I bought a bunch of Windows XP Home licenses awhile back for our lab machines, but didn’t release that Home doesn’t support WMI, so it wasn’t very useful for us to test against that feature in the upcoming 1.8 release.

This year we hired Michael Coté and Redmonk as analysts, and they were able to hook us up with the open source gang over at Microsoft (yes, they do exist). They were happy to get us an MSDN subscription, and now we can tri-boot the lab machines with OS X, Fedora 11 and Windows 7.

I must say that Windows 7 is sure purty lookin’, and it seems faster than what I’ve experienced with XP. With Microsoft’s generous help I look forward to seeing a greater support for Windows in 2010 (more Windows-like installer, for example). Many Thanks, Sandy and Hank.