OpenNMS in Dublin

October 2nd, 2014

I’ve been to 34 countries so far, and my goal is to hit 50 by the time I’m 50 (which is closer than I’d like). In all that time I’ve managed to miss Ireland, but that is about to change.

Airspeed Telecom is hosting a workshop next Wednesday, October 8th, at the Morrison Hotel in Dublin, described as “probably the hippest & coolest luxury hotel in Dublin city centre”.

That’s just how we roll.

The workshop will feature a case study by Airspeed, as well as a futures roadmap presentation by Dr. Craig Gallen and David Hustace.

Oh, and I’ll be there, too.

If you can make it, please email Liz at lhand@airspeed.ie.

Review: OnePlus One Android Phone

October 1st, 2014

I agonize over my technology decisions, often to a point that other people, including free software people, tease me about it. Is my distribution of choice free enough? Is it secure? Is my privacy protected so that I choose exactly what I want to share?

My current Android ROM of choice is OmniROM, and I’ve been quite happy with it. I do have issues with the limited number of phones that are officially supported, but it was my choice of ROM that drove me to buy an HTC One (m7).

I like the HTC. My main complaint is with the horrible battery life, and the phone is somewhat old having been replaced by the m8 which I don’t believe is supported by OmniROM. I’ve been frustrated in that it seems I have to choose between freedom and cool gear.

But maybe that isn’t the case anymore.

My friend Ronny first brought the OnePlus One (OPO) to my attention, and recently, through one of my Ingress friends Audrey, I was able to get an invite to purchase the new OnePlus One handset. While not supported officially by OmniROM as of yet, it is one of the new phones to ship with Cyanogenmod, and since OmniROM is a fork it should be compatible. Plus, it is very similar to the phones from Oppo which are supported by OmniROM, so perhaps support will come when the OPO becomes more widely available.

The first thing I realized when I opened the box is that this handset is a monster. It boasts a 5.5 inch screen at 1920×1080 pixels (full HD) which makes it the same as the new iPhone 6 Plus (401 ppi). It has a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of DD3 RAM at 1866MHz which makes it fast. I bought the 64GB version (quite a jump from my HTC One’s 16GB) and the 3100mAh battery lasts all day and then some. I thought the size would worry me, but I quickly got use to it. I can even read magazines on it which may cause me to travel less with my Nexus 7, and as my eyes age I’m finding the OPO’s screen to be much to my liking.

The phone arrived two days after I ordered it via USPS in two separate boxes. There was a thin square one holding the phone

and underneath it a USB cable and a SIM tray removal tool. To remove the OPO SIM you need a longer tool than the standard Apple one, so I’ll have to be sure to carry it with me. In a separate small box was a wall charger.

There was zero paper and no earbuds of any sort, but I would rate the packaging equal to that of other premium products like those from Apple.

Even though it has pretty much the same size screen as the iPhone 6 Plus, the phone itself is slightly smaller and lighter, although thicker (the iPhone is wicked thin – you are almost worried you’ll bend it). The back of the “Sandstone Black” model is coated with a rough textured finish that makes the phone feel solid in your hand and I haven’t come close to dropping it.

Another improvement over the HTC is the camera. The OPO comes with a 13MB Sony Exmor IMX 214 with six physical lenses. It can shoot 4K video (including slow motion) or 720p video at 120fps. It takes nice pictures.

But you could have read that on the website. How does it fare in real life?

I was concerned with the fact it ran Cyanogenmod. When they announced they were going to take on investment to license their code to handset makers, they handled their community poorly (which resulted in the OmniROM fork) and I was worried that the OPO would be “less free”. I was happy to find out that it was very open. Unlocking the phone was the same as with Nexus devices, simple hook it up to your computer and run “fastboot oem unlock”. While I despised the “flat” icon theme that shipped with the device, it took about two taps to change it back. If I wanted a theme that looked like Windows 8 I would have bought an iPhone.

All my usual options were there. I disabled the Google search bar, increased the icon layout grid size and otherwise customized the phone exactly how I wanted it. I rooted the device and used Helium to restore my application settings and the whole conversion took less than an hour.

I did have to make a change to allow the phone to work with my Linux Mint Desktop. The system wouldn’t recognize it when I plugged it in, and I had to edit “/lib/udev/rules.d/69-libmtp.rules” to include the following two lines:

# Added for OPO
ATTR{idVendor}=="05c6", ATTR{idProduct}=="6764", SYMLINK+="libmtp-%k", MODE="660", GROUP="audio", ENV{ID_MTP_DEVICE}="1", ENV{ID_MEDIA_PLAYER}="1", TAG+="uaccess"
ATTR{idVendor}=="05c6", ATTR{idProduct}=="6765", SYMLINK+="libmtp-%k", MODE="660", GROUP="audio", ENV{ID_MTP_DEVICE}="1", ENV{ID_MEDIA_PLAYER}="1", TAG+="uaccess"

After that it was a breeze. Note: that on one system I had to reboot to get it to recognize the phone, but I don’t think I did on the first one. Strange.

There are a few shortcomings. It took me several tries to get it to pair with my Motorola T505 bluetooth speaker, but once paired it seems to connect reliably. The voice recognition sucks like most Android phones. I don’t use Google Now but I shouldn’t have to send information off to a remote server to voice dial a call. I do miss that from my iPhone days when the original (non-Siri) voice dialer rarely made a mistake. Voice dialing on the OPO is usable, though, and there is a rumour that there will be an “OK OnePlus” voice activation feature like on the Moto X but it isn’t there now. No microSD slot, but with 64GB of internal flash memory that is less of an issue and fewer and fewer phones offer that. I also just tested this little dongle I have for accessing microSD cards via the USB port and it worked just fine.

I’m sticking with the stock ROM for now to see what Cyanogenmod will do in the future, but I know that I have the ability to put on my own Recovery and ROM should I so choose. At the moment they are in the “not evil” column, but I was a little worried about their Gallery app. I noticed a new Galley app account on my phone that looked like it was going to sync my pictures somewhere. Some research suggests that it is disabled when autobackup is off, but it would still like a little more transparency about random, non-removable accounts on my phone.

All in all I’ve been very happy with the OnePlus One and I’m eager to see where they take it. I am especially enamored of the the price. At US$349, the black 64GB version is the same price as a 16GB Nexus 5 and half the price of the iPhone 6 Plus. Probably the best bang for the buck in the Android world at the moment, if not phones in general.

Fear of France

September 30th, 2014

For many years I’ve had an irrational fear of France. I don’t speak French and through television and other media I’ve been led to believe that the French are rude and distant, and the small amount of time I’ve spent in that country (or in French speaking Switzerland) did little to allay those fears.

Which is a shame since there are aspects of French culture that really gel with me. Good food and good company, a decent work/life balance and an appreciation for beauty and art are things that are sometimes lacking in my native society. Of course, the anal-retentive part of me would cringe at other aspects of French culture, such as the general lack of urgency over most things, but still I think there is more to love than hate.

For the first few years after I started working with OpenNMS I really couldn’t take a proper holiday. I might be able to squeeze in a three day weekend here and there, but the luxury of unplugging for a couple of weeks was beyond me. A decade later things have changed, so this year Andrea and I decided to take a long holiday with a week in the UK and a week in Paris.

David and I had been in Paris back in 2008 but I’d never really had a chance to see the city. Of course, the reason Andrea and I went had little to do with the art or history of the place: Paris is crazy thick with Ingress portals. Seriously, we flew across the ocean to play a computer game.

This, of course, required the purchasing of a local SIM card. Now one of my favorite things about being involved in OpenNMS is that almost anywhere I go I can find someone who likes the application. I posted a note to the mailing list and got a nice reply from Daniel Ranc. Daniel is a consultant and a professor at INT (Telecom & Management SudParis) and uses OpenNMS as part of his courses.

He recommended that we use SFR, as they had a plan where we could get 2GB of data for 30€. Now the challenge was to find a store.

Next to our hotel was a Bouygues outlet so we stopped there first. The lady in front of us was buying an iPhone 6 Plus (that sucker is huge) but even though it was iPhone launch day, I assume any craziness happened early in the morning. The salesperson told us that a “carte SIM” with 3GB would be 50€, which seemed spendy, so using the hotel wi-fi I found an SFR store a few blocks away (Paris is a very walkable city).

The guy at the SFR store told us that we could buy the SIM card there, but in order to “charge” it we would need to go to the “Tabac”. In Paris a Tabac is a part of a cafe that sells things like cigarettes and lottery tickets and, apparently, mobile phone access. You can identify them by iconic red and white signs.

While I wasn’t sure I fully understood his directions, we found what looked like the right place, but the lady behind the counter said she couldn’t help us. Thinking we had the wrong place, we wandered around for an hour or so until we met a man who told us where to go, which turned out to be the same place we started. This time we tried a little harder, and a gentleman helped out and sold us two “recharge” tickets for 35€ each. Since they worked we figured Daniel was just off on the price, and we happily started hacking portals.

That lasted about a day.

Apparently what we bought had something like a 100MB limit which we promptly exceeded, so this time I used a combination of Chrome and Google Translate to navigate the SFR website. I found the exact plan that Daniel described, but the site wouldn’t accept any of the four credit cards I fed to it (even though a legit-looking confirmation box with the proper bank name popped up each time). So I dutifully copied down the proper plan on a piece of hotel stationery and off we went to the Tabac.

By this time I had picked up more French so I was all “Bonjour, pouvez-vous m’aider, s’il vous plaît” and I handed the lady (the same one as before) my hand written piece of paper and she was able to set us up with no problem. It was the start of my becoming a lot more comfortable in France. We then wandered around our neighborhood and spent a lot of time in the Parc Monceau

My French improvement would continue on Sunday when I actually got to meet Daniel in person. He and his son Lucas picked us up at the hotel and took us to the Île Saint-Louis.

Paris is a roughly circular city as defined by a ring road highway that surrounds it. It is divided into 20 administration zones, called arrondissements. The first arrondissement is an island in the middle of the Seine called the Île de la Cité (home of Notre Dame and the oldest part of Paris) and the others spiral out from there. The Île Saint-Louis is in the 4th arrondissement and our hotel was in the 17th. You can always tell where you are by the post code: 750xx where xx is the arrondissement.

We found a place to park and walked around the island. Daniel and I talked tech while Andrea hacked portals, and we found a nice café for lunch. Parisians love to eat outside and this was no exception, except that we were lucky to be under an awning when a short shower broke out. With that exception and one other evening the weather was perfect for the entire week.

He and Lucas had to run to do some errands after lunch, but we made plans to meet up later in the week.

Most of our time was spent in parks. The public parks in Paris, even the small lesser known ones, are amazing, with priceless works of art available for everyone to enjoy. Since priceless works of art translate easily into Ingress portals, we had a lot of fun wandering around and linking them up. I know I was supposed to be inside the Louvre with thousands of other people, but I have to say that I loved being outside in the nice weather looking at beautiful things.

On Tuesday we faced our usual travel challenge of laundry. It is hard to pack for two full weeks, so we usually plan to do some laundry during our trips. In a lot of countries, like New Zealand, you just drop it off for a “wash, dry and fold” and come back a few hours later. Not so in Paris, but we did find an “laverie automatique”. This is where I learned another lesson of Parisian life: hold on to your coins.

America is one of the few places that doesn’t use what I would call high value coins. Most countries I visit have the equivalent of a one and two dollar coin, whereas in the US the highest value common coin is a quarter dollar. The machines in the laundry required coins and change was pretty much impossible to find. Seriously, there are banks in Paris with “no change” signs on them. Still we managed to scrounge enough together with some strategic purchases from the marché across the street (where the lady was so kind and delightful while she explained that she couldn’t give me more coins) to get the clothes cleaned.

That night we met up with Daniel, Lucas and Daniel’s wife Clarisse at a place called La Gueuze that specialized in Belgian food. While this naturally included Belgian beer (yay!), to me Belgian food is synonymous with mussels (moules).

Here is where I witnessed the most rude event of the whole trip (a minor one), and it was funny because it was between two Frenchmen. We had some confusion on the order. Three of us wanted mussels, but Andrea wanted the set “formula” menu (one appetizer, one main course and a dessert chosen from a list). At first Daniel thought Lucas wanted mussels as well so he ordered four and there was a lot of spirited talking around the table in both French and English. At one point the waiter just sighed, snapped the ticket off his pad, crumbled it up and walked off.

About five minutes later he came back and he and Daniel interacted as if nothing had happened, and we ended up having a nice meal. Lucas showed me a mathematical brain teaser that I hope to try on someone real soon (I got about 60% of it right).

I had snails. I think I would eat pretty much anything doused in butter and garlic.

Earlier we had met Daniel near the Luxembourg Garden, which was just swarming with portals, so on Wednesday we came back and spent several hours there. It was once the grounds for the palace of Marie de’ Medici, and the building is now home to the Senate chamber of the French Parliament. On the grounds are a model that was used for the Statue of Liberty as well as the outstanding Medici Fountain.

On Thursday we did our only real touristy trip by visiting Versailles. I’ve been wanting to visit there for years, especially after reading the Baroque Cycle. I often laugh when people, especially Americans, criticize French military might because if your skin is pale your ancestors lived in fear of King Louis the XIV. The scale of Versailles defies description – the Gardens cover 800 hectares or over three square miles. We spent over ten hours there, and it was really cool to be there in the evening after the crowds had left.

We covered a lot of Paris. We bought a “Paris Visite” ticket that let us ride any public transportation (bus, tram, metro or RER) within the ring road.

The only regret is that I should have gone with the Bouygues SIM card. Not only did I spend too much for ours, the SFR coverage would have issues, especially near Montparnasse. The phone would show 3G but nothing would work. It seemed limited to that one particular area – hey, SFR, if you are reading this, get OpenNMS.

Overall, it was an amazing trip and I’m eager to return. I found the Parisians to be friendly and the city itself very beautiful. It was a little spendy, even with our airfare and hotel being covered by frequent traveler points, so I am motivated to make OpenNMS successful so that I can visit as often as I like.

Write In “OpenNMS” in Linux Journal’s Reader’s Choice Awards

September 29th, 2014

Not sure what’s going on here, but it seems that once again OpenNMS has been left out as a choice in the Linux Journal Reader’s Choice Awards.

We came in second in 2011 and third in 2012 but they left us out in 2013 and now 2014.

While Nagios tends to run away with it with their readership, perhaps we can write in “OpenNMS” enough to get a mention.

I Miss Steve Jobs

September 22nd, 2014

I am currently on holiday and have been blissfully unaware of work related things for a week now, but I wanted to comment on a couple of items mainly because it is hard for me to keep my mouth shut.

As most of the world knows, Apple recently introduced two new iPhones. Their main feature is that they are larger: the iPhone 6 is the size of a Nexus 4 while the iPhone 6 Plus is slightly smaller than a Galaxy Note 4.

And that was pretty much it.

This is why I miss Steve Jobs. Jobs had the ability to create things I didn’t know I wanted. His vision for the first iPhone became the dominate paradigm for an industry. Heck, I can remember when OS X Tiger came out and the big feature was Time Machine and I thought it was a joke – at least to announce as a major feature – until it saved me on a number of occasions from a catastrophic disk failure.

Bigger phones, and only slightly faster ones at that, don’t qualify.

I do think that Apple Pay will finally get NFC payments into the mainstream. Only Apple has enough clout to get the banks in line, but what does that really get you? I live in a fairly rural section of North Carolina, USA, and I can pretty much pay for anything under $75 with a swipe of my credit card. No need to dig out or unlock my phone, just swipe and go. I can’t see myself using my phone for the same thing.

But that probably labels me as an “Apple hater”.

I am a big fan of Stephen Fry, and during this trip I read a post where he commented on how much he liked the new iPhones. Besides being an awesome actor he is quite the technologist, and I respect his opinions. But I really disliked this post because of his references to “Apple haters”.

There was a time when I was definitely on the blunt end of “Apple hate”. I bought my first Powerbook in January of 2003 when, outside of certain tech circles, they were non-existent. But jump ahead 10 years and now Apple is the 800 pound gorilla with more cash on hand than the US government. I don’t know of a college kid, outside of those using Linux, who would be caught dead with anything other than a Macbook. They are fashion statements, and Apple is the new Microsoft. They are “The Man” and so I find it funny when any criticism of them is met with virulent attacks on the critic.

Case in point: today on Slashdot a person was having issues with iOS 8. I read through a few of the comments to see if it was an isolated case or a trend, but the discussion immediately devolved into fan boys vs. haters.

My favorite laptop of all time, and I’ve owned a number of them including many from Apple, was that first 12-inch Powerbook. It combined the best of open and closed software, but over the last decade everything Apple seems to be locked up tighter and tighter. And while I applaud their efforts to safe guard their user’s information, the recent iCloud breach shows that they can’t think of everything. Seriously, we addressed brute force password attacks in BBS software in the 1980s, yet Apple missed it.

On the iPhone 6 launch day I found myself in Paris looking for a SIM card so I visited a couple of shops selling iPhones. There were no lines but I did see at least one phone being sold – an iPhone 6 Plus – and it was huge. Granted, this was in the afternoon so maybe I missed the fan boy lines, but at least here it was just another day (despite huge banners on the FNAC stores).

Another reason I miss Jobs is that he would never have pre-announced the Apple Watch. It would have been ready for the Christmas shopping season, not some nebulous time in March. It wouldn’t have been square and flat, either.

So, why am I posting this? It’s mainly a vain plea in the hope that Apple will consider opening up its hardware to allow for real innovation. Things are obviously stagnant over in Mountain View and they could use a shot in the arm. Unfortunately, the fact that they lock everything down is even spilling over to vendors such as Samsung, who now lock down their bootloaders so that alternative software can’t be installed. Heck, even Apple’s new NFC support is limited to their single app and my guess is that users will have to wait for the inevitable jailbreak to use the technology for which they paid good money. And, really, what would it cost them? I’m not asking them to support non-Apple software just to put the technology into the most hands.

Tim Cook apparently opened the Palo Alto Apple Store on launch day, which I thought was cool, but he told a Samsung phone user that they needed a new phone.

For me, at least, freedom trumps newness. Just being new isn’t enough. I think I need to join with Mad Dog and just start asking “why would you want a proprietary phone?”.