Upcoming Conferences

[UPDATE2: My whining paid off and I got moved to the first day at OSMC. At least one round is on me!]

[UPDATE: Yay! Daniel was able to contact the #OSSPARIS15 organizers and I am scheduled to speak.]

I just wanted to drop a quick note about some upcoming conferences. First off, the Call for Papers for next year’s SCaLE conference ends *today*. It’s a great show and they already have some amazing speakers on board, so be sure to get your paper topics in ASAP.

In November I’ll be attending at least one and maybe two conferences. The first is the Open Source Monitoring Conference being held in Nürnberg, Germany.

I love this conference as it really demonstrates the power of true open source communities. While it is mainly focused on Icinga (and you can hear how it is supposed to be pronounced, kind of like “eee-clinga” with a click, but a lot of people just say “eee-sing-ah”), it brings together many of the truly open source projects in the space, such as Zabbix and, of course, OpenNMS, and we all just get along. This year Torkel from Grafana will be there as well, and while I met him at All Things Open I didn’t get to chat with him much, so maybe now I’ll have the opportunity.

And by “get along” I mean drink heavily, and I’m unhappy that I’m speaking (again!) on Day Two as the evening of Day One has a tendency to become the morning of the second day. Luckily it isn’t the first talk of the day like last year so I guess I’ll deal with it (grin). The company that sponsors it, Netways, is actually in the business of hosting such events so it is always top notch.

The second “maybe” conference is the Paris Open Source Summit which is held the same week as the OSMC. This conference is put on by the people who do the Open World Forum, and unfortunately it seems to be plagued with the same lack of organization.

Since I speak at conferences a lot, I tend to run into all the other (more amazing) people who promote open source. Every one of them has complained to me about the lack of communication between the OWF conference organizers and the speakers. While most shows let you know months in advance, the team behind the Open World Forum tends toward the exact opposite. It is extremely hard to get any form of direct communication from them, and years ago I just gave up trying.

When Daniel, my friend in Paris, sent me the information about #OSSPARIS15, I figured I’d give it a shot. As expected, I didn’t hear from them. Not to sound all self-important, but I travel a lot, usually to work with OpenNMS customers, and I need to know as far in advance as possible if I’m speaking at a show. Usually this means I’m giving up some other opportunity, often one that would actually pay the bills. This time I figured that I would be in Europe anyway for the OSMC, so if I got accepted I would just change my return flight.

Last week I started seeing The OpenNMS Group pop up in press releases for #OSSPARIS15, and I found myself on the schedule for Thursday the 19th at 16:00. I wrote to the organizers to confirm and never heard back, but since I love Paris I made plans to be there.

Well, when I sat down to write this post I noticed that I had been removed from the program. (sigh)

This is very frustrating, as every spare cent we make at OpenNMS goes into the project and changes to flights can be expensive. We are investigating to see if this is just an oversight or if, even after the press release, they decided to remove me from the program. Perhaps it is because the website got hacked (grin).

OSSPARIS Website Hecked

I hope to see you at one of these conferences, or at another in the near future.

First Look at Ubuntu Gnome 15.10

Back when I was an Apple fanboy, I would eagerly await the announcement of new products by Steve Jobs, with one window open to the live blog feed and the other refreshing the Apple Store page so I could be the first to order the new shiny. Steve Jobs made me fall in love with my technology.

I’ve rarely felt that since, but when the new Dell XPS 13 came out I became once again attached to a laptop and I was determined to make it work under Linux.

While it ships with the latest stable Ubuntu release, 14.04, there are issues. Now I often say that we in the open source community suffer an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choice. Since I’ve found that Linux Mint with Cinnamon works best for me I tried it, but I just could not get it to work with the XPS. To address the shortcomings in Ubuntu 14.04, I read Barton’s Blog and decided to upgrade to 15.04. That addressed a lot of the problems, and I used Ubuntu with Unity for awhile, and although Unity was my first real Linux desktop it doesn’t work as well for me anymore. I also found that its HiDPI support was not quite there. I also tried Kubuntu but its HiDPI support (in my experience) was even worse, and since I’d based my laptop I figured I’d give Ubuntu Gnome a shot.

Now I wasn’t one of those haters who just ranted on Gnome 3.0, but when it came out I couldn’t get used to it. However, when I went to install Ubuntu Gnome on the XPS, I was encouraged that the installer recognized out of the box that I was on a HiDPI screen. There have been a lot of changes since that initial release and I found myself warming to it.

I do want to note that while I found all the desktop options I tried to be pleasantly polished, and, well, “pretty”, I decided to stick with Ubuntu Gnome.

A pesky issue with the touchpad and the touch screen required the 4.1 kernel or later. For months I’ve been running mainline kernels, so when 15.10 was announced with the 4.2 kernel standard, I was eager for the upgrade, and I ran it as soon as it became available.

So what does 15.10 offer? All I can really say at the moment is that it offers a pretty painless upgrade process. I ran “do-release-upgrade -d” and after answering a few prompts it went on its merry way.

Wireless worked out of the box (I used to have to futz with the Broadcom driver when on mainline) and overall the system seemed to be pretty smooth. During the boot process I get this error concerning lvmetad which I think is due to the fact that my entire laptop disk is encrypted, but the boot completes without any other issue and I have confidence it will soon be addressed.

Speaking of boot, Ubuntu Gnome has changed the logo on the boot screen. Instead of the familiar foot:

Old Ubuntu Gnome Logo

You get this new one:

New Ubuntu Gnome Logo

Forgive the quality as I had to produce the second image by taking a picture of the screen. While I like that the colors have been softened from black to a gray, I don’t like the new logo, which looks like two U’s mating. I think it is supposed to represent “UG” but I still don’t like it (and I tend to embrace change). I’m hoping someone puts together a splash screen replacement.

The only real issue that is driving me bonkers at the moment concerns the touchpad. One thing Apple just nailed is the touchpad and the Synaptics one on the XPS is oh so close.

The problem I’m experiencing concerns the cursor jumping when I left click. There are no “real” buttons, so you left click by depressing the lower left corner of the touchpad (or clickpad, whatever it is officially called). Sometimes when this happens, instead of registering a click the cursor will jump to the lower left corner of the screen, and *then* click. It is real annoying in Thunderbird since the icon in the lower left corner puts it in offline mode.

I’ve tried most of the suggestions I’ve found in the t00bz but nothing has helped. I just found a reference to HorizHysteresis and VertHysteresis so I’ll play with those values and see if it helps (update – doesn’t seem to). Not quite sure what they do, however. I think the issue has something to do with a finger from my right hand still grazing the touchpad surface when I make the click.

On the upside, the palm detection issues I was dealing with seem to be improved. Not sure if they have been solved but I’m not noticing it as much. Could be that I’ve just modified my typing form to avoid the touchpad better.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the upgrade. It should set up a nice base for the next LTS release, 16.04. I’m not quite willing to give up Linux Mint on the desktop just yet, and I’ll probably try out Mint 18 when it is released next year, but Ubuntu Gnome 15.10 has at least made switching a possibility.

One final note, I like the new shiny and I’m willing to put up with a lot in order to play with it. I give money to Dell to encourage them to supply more Linux offerings, but the downside is that Dell leads with devices designed for Windows first. If you want a true Linux experience with zero issues, check out the offerings from System 76. Our Sable all-in-one desktops Just Worked™.

Okay, so that wasn’t the final note. While I doubt any of my three readers work for major laptop vendors, I really want to see a push for physical kill switches on things like the camera and the microphone, such as on the Librem 15. I considered getting one of those but they are a little sketchy on what “PureOS” actually is, and so I’ll wait to see what others think of it first.

2015 All Things Open

I love going to open source conferences. Despite that I’ve decided to take a hiatus in 2016 so I can focus on some OpenNMS projects that have been languishing. However, I may need to make an exception for All Things Open.

One reason is that it is nearby. It was odd to wake up Monday morning and drive to a show. The other reason is that it just rocks.

Organized by IT-ology (the same people who do POSSCON), the show attracts nearly 1800 people to the city of Raleigh. Since Raleigh is also the world headquarters of Red Hat as well as being next to the Research Triangle Park, you get a great mix of attendees and speakers. It’s popular, so remember to get there early to avoid the registration line:

ATO Line

This year OpenNMS was a sponsor and we decided to have a booth.

ATO Booth

Come over to OpenNMS, we have cookies.

Well, not exactly. The cookies were a snack from the show, but we did have cool #monitoringlove T-shirts featuring Ulf:

ATO OpenNMS Shirts

Our booth was in a great location, right next to the opensource.com folks and just down from the Red Hat booth. On the first day Jim Whitehurst (the amazing CEO of Red Hat) was there signing his book The Open Organization. Afterward, he spent a few minutes talking with Todd Lewis, the main organizer of ATO, and Jason Hibbets let me photobomb the picture:

ATO Photobomb

I also got to meet this guy:

ATO Taras Mitran

Check out his badge:

ATO Taras Mitran's Badge

Yes, this is the fourth “Tarus” I’ve met, but the first who spelled it “Taras”. The first was a “Tauras”, the second a “Taurus” and the third spelled it like me, “Tarus”. I was named after the movie Taras Bulba so his is the traditional spelling (grin).

We had most of the local OpenNMS team there, and we would take turns at the booth and enjoying the conference. I was speaking on Tuesday, so I had Monday free (well, after I finished my presentation).

Monday night there was an event sponsored by GitHub followed by a Speaker/Sponsor dinner at the Sheraton hotel. At our table sat Gianugo from Microsoft (who helps out OpenNMS with an MSDN subscription) and Jono from Bad Voltage (who, well, we’re not sure what Jono does but we think it’s positive). When I met them earlier in the day I wanted to do that whole David Letterman “Uma/Oprah” bit from the Oscars: Gian … Jono. Jono … Gian.

ATO Gian and Jono

The next morning I gave my talk on “Living an ‘Open’ Life”. It was in a small room but it was full, and my only major mistake was that I thought I had 55 minutes and only had 45, so I missed finishing a chunk of the talk. (sigh)

While I spent most of the conference doing booth duty, I did manage to see the Lightning Talks. I’ve always wanted to do a Lightning Talk. These are short, five minute presentations on interesting subjects, and while they didn’t do this at ATO, I really like it when you get 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds.

Whenever I mention my desire to the team to do this, they laugh and point out that I can’t even introduce myself in less than five minutes. I would disagree but as I demonstrated with my ATO talk, it is hard for me to keep things brief. (grin)

The hour started off with a video featuring an interesting story on the Enabling the Future project. I’m bummed that I can’t find the exact video they showed, as it was moving, but it demonstrated how a community of “makers” was helping to provide improved prosthetic arms to people using collaboration and 3D printers. It was exempted from the five minute time limit.

Then Rikki Endsley and Jason Hibbets from opensource.com took the stage:

ATO Rikki and Jason

They were the organizers behind the lightning talks.

I finally got to see Steven Vaughan-Nichols in person.

ATO Steven Vaughan-Nichols

He is a writer who I have been following for years, and I am disappointed that I didn’t get to meet up with him in person. In his presentation he talked about how he got into writing about open source software, as well as the early computers he used that ran Unix, such as the PDP11. My first experience with a PDP11 was one that ran, I think, RSX-11, but all I can remember is writing in FORTRAN on it.

ATO Jamie Duncan

I also enjoyed the talk by Jamie Duncan, who I had spoken with at the Speakers/Sponsors dinner. He is a delightful individual with wonderful stories, such as those involving his time working to fix healthcare.gov. The title of his talk, “Gleaming the Kube”, was a play on a skateboard movie from the late 1980s. He is very outspoken on the fact that containers, such as Docker, are basically made up of kernel tricks and to make them useful you need something like Kubernetes (hence the name of the talk).

ATO Sarah Kahn

There was also a talk by Sarah Kahn about Girl Develop It, an organization aimed at helping women interested in learning code development skills. It was nice to see a large turn out by women at the conference, probably more so than the others I have been to this year, and with kernel contributors like Sarah Sharp feeling the need to leave the kernel development team, women in tech is something that needs to be addressed.

ATO Charlie Reisinger

While all the talks were good, my favorite was from Charlie Reisinger of the Penn Manor School District. They gave students Linux laptops with full root access (gasp!) and were amazed and what they did with it. While technology can be a scary place for the younger generation, too often school overreact in trying to protect students, when in fact technology can be empowering.

ATO Jono Bacon

The final talk was from my friend Jono Bacon, who gets all the cool speaking gigs and makes me jealous. His talk was on the field of behavioral economics, which points out that most traditional economic theory is based on the fact that people should behave rationally when making buying decisions. Behavioral economics demonstrates that with the proper stimulus, people will behave irrationally. I was introduced to this concept through the book Predictably Irrational back in 2008 and even got to meet the author, Dan Ariely, in 2009, when we met for lunch and discussed the power and problems with the word “free”.

While Ariely is definitely an economist, Jono introduced me to Rory Sutherland, who is a prominent figure in the field of marketing. There is a great TED Talk by Sutherland who talks about marketing, influence and behavioral economics, and Jono covered some of the main points by him and others.

(Seriously, the TED Talk is brilliant, especially Sutherland’s take on wine that starts about 10:30, and his thoughts on understanding English around 20:00)

After the Lightening Talks I headed back to the booth. Apparently the Convention Center was hosting another conference that evening and we were asked to take down the booth around 3pm, so we did. Then we headed home, which was nice since I haven’t spent much time there recently and is one of the reasons for my hiatus, but missing ATO in 2016 will be hard for me to do.

The Inverter: Episode 52 – Immensely Deft

For this episode, the Bad Voltage team returns to normal with a taped show clocking in at just over an hour. I really enjoyed this one and it made me remember why I started this little column in the first place. Most of the time they bring up stuff for which I have strong opinions, and these posts let me express my thoughts in some depth. Plus, my three readers don’t seem to mind, if they read them at all (grin).

So, if you haven’t listened to it already, please do so now. I’ll wait.

The first segment focuses on the Volkswagen software scandal where, as Jeremy put it, code was added that basically said “if under test, then lie”. I even came up with a joke about this while in Germany. How many VW engineers does it take to change a lightbulb? Forty, unless the emissions inspector is watching, then it is only one.

I had three main thoughts about this topic. The first concerns the US VW CEO Michael Horn, who blamed the whole thing on rogue engineers. Unlike the overall CEO (I found reference to a “North American” CEO, too, how many CEOs does this company have?) Martin Winterkorn who resigned, Horn is obviously taking the coward’s way out and looking to blame anyone but himself. It seems a little fishy – one would think that all the major engineering decisions would be made in Germany, so had Horn testified to that effect instead of trying to shift blame I would have been a little more comfortable with his testimony, but now it seems like he is trying to hide something, which would suggest he knew about the issue. Winterkorn stated “I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group” which seems to indicate it was too large to just be confined to one or two “rogue” engineers, casting even more doubt on Horn’s account. But since Horn lives in the US of A it is doubtful anything will happened to him, and even if it did he could always find a high paying job in the financial industry. (sigh)

The second thing that bothers me is that this kind of cheating would not be possible if the code for the cars was open source. Heck, the DMCA specifically prohibits “anti-circumvention” which has been interpreted to mean that attempts to reverse engineer proprietary code are illegal, so even attempting to figure out what they are doing could land you in jail. With growing demonstrations of huge security issues in automobile software something needs to be done about it, and of course I’d like to see things become more open. I have been thinking about selling my car, a 2004, but one thing that has kept me from doing it is the thought all of the possible software holes in new vehicles.

Finally, as someone who once owned a 2002 Jetta TDI, part of the diesel ownership experience is the idea that you are helping the environment. I can run biodiesel in it, perhaps from recycled cooking grease, and the overall pollution equation is supposed to be close to that of a hybrid (when you consider the environmental damage used to make the batteries) or an electric car (the majority of electricity in the US is from coal, so add that to the damage caused by mining rare earths). To find that you have been lied to and are actually a huge polluter is quite a blow, and it is the one thing VW won’t be able to easily fix.

One of my team owns a later model TDI and I am very interested to see what happens. My guess is that a software-only fix will simply dumb the power curve down to the point where the car is unusable (and modern diesels can be quite peppy). Think about it: using Jeremy’s “if-then” analogy above, “set test=true” and bam, you pass emissions. Probably makes the car run like crap or they would have done it from the start, but that is an extremely easy software fix. My prediction is that it will take a class-action to get VW to address the problem properly, which will ultimately involve a car “buy back” program.

Anyway, I’m sure the guys will revisit this in the near future and I look forward to hearing more of their thoughts.

The next segment talked about a portable desktop/laptop thing from System 76 called a Serval Workstation. This is a monster device, weighing nearly nine pounds without the charging brick in the 17-inch form factor, that is meant to be a laptop that acts as a high performance desktop.

Several years ago I became tired of lugging even my small laptop around, and so I found a deal on Woot for a decent desktop and bought two of them. I added a couple of nice monitors and now I have one at home and one at the office. With everything I need being accessible from the network, I really didn’t see the need for a laptop (of course, I have one for when I travel).

I thought Aq hit it on the head when he mentioned all of the stuff you have to get for a desktop: keyboard, mouse, camera, speakers, etc., that just comes with a laptop. I especially like the built in UPS – as someone who lives in a rural area they are a must for the frequent power fluctuations. Laptops just come with them. Thus the appeal of this device is to create a portable desktop that is easy to move, trading size and battery life for power.

Also, I really like System 76. I tend to vote with my wallet, and when we needed to replace some aging iMacs I bought a bunch of Sable machines from them and we haven’t been disappointed. They “just work” with Linux, and they are both reasonably priced and pretty sharp looking as well.

The one thing I wish the guys had talked about is the anemic 1080p resolution. I hate the fact that so many laptop manufactures seem content with such a limited pixel density. Sure, 1080p on a 12-inch screen is fine, but on a 17-inch monster? My desktop monitors have a much higher resolution, and my latest laptop, the Dell XPS “sputnik” has even higher density. The HiDPI screen has caused some issues, so that could be one reason that System 76 opted for a lower density, but still it would be nice to have a HiDPI solution that just worked.

My final comment on this is that they are actually wrong when it was stated that the Dell Ubuntu version requires patches that must be installed via a Dell repository. I don’t run the Dell repos on my machine as most of the changes have been ported upstream and there was nothing in the repos I actually needed. Yes, it didn’t work out of the box – it shipped with Ubuntu 14.04 but I am running Ubuntu Gnome 15.04 with a 4.1 experimental kernel to address some of the more irritating bugs, but with 15.10 coming out in a week I am very eager to play with an O/S with the 4.2 kernel delivered as standard.

The third segment was on the idea of a “delayed public license” where code would be initially published under a proprietary license but at some predefined point it would convert to an open source license. While I appreciate the idea behind it, this is not a licensing issue that requires a new license. We really don’t need any more open source licenses. Instead, you could just publish it under a proprietary license with the terms that “on such and such a date” the license would become something else.

The idea is that a lot software has a limited shelf life, and once the immediate revenue opportunities have been exploited, there isn’t much need to keep software closed. Thus a small team of developers could monetize their work yet still add an open source angle to it. This isn’t a new idea, as mentioned in the show id software does this with a lot of its technology. First they opened their Doom engine, and a few years later they opened their Quake engine. Easy peasy.

My suggestion would be to promote this behavior versus coming up with a new license. Also, while I like the thought of putting the code up on something like Github on day one with a proprietary license so that it would be out there when the time came to open source it, I would recommended heavily against this line of action. We have been through a number of cases where people have appropriated OpenNMS code in spite of the license, and the discovery process can be quite expensive if not cost prohibitive. Since this method of starting out proprietary and moving to open source was aimed at small development teams, do yourselves a favor and just hide the code until you are ready to open it. It will work out better in the end.

There were a couple of bits at the end of the show. Jono did a quick “Hack Voltage” segment letting people know that many mobile carriers have the ability to turn e-mails into SMS texts. For example, if you are on AT&T, sending an e-mail to your number “@txt.att.net” will result in an SMS to your phone. We’ve used this a lot in OpenNMS (there is even a field called “pagerEmail” for the address assigned to each user) and it was nice to learn about the addresses for other popular providers. Note that if you have a need to send actual SMS messages (say, if your e-mail server or network is down) you can get an inexpensive device that will let you do it for the price of a SIM card.

They closed the show with a nice long “thank you” to us for hosting the Live Voltage show in Fulda. I was quite touched and I bet the rest of the team were as well, and I look forward to the next “hinted at” live outing of the Fab Four.

The Inverter: Episode 51 – Live Europe 2015

What can I say? Best. Show. Evah.


Of course, I might be slightly biased since I helped make this one happen. Every year we have an OpenNMS Users Conference and this year it was held in Fulda, Germany. In an effort to attract more people, I thought it would be cool to get some open source celebrities. That didn’t work out, but I found that most of the guys who do the Bad Voltage podcast would come out for the price of airfare and lodging. The fact that it coincided with Oktoberfest didn’t hurt.

The guys may joke that they just throw the show together, but I’ve gotten to see how the sausage is made and they do put a lot of effort into making an episode – especially a live one. With the help of the wonderful people at the University in Fulda, I think it went really well.

We had Jeremy Garcia, Jono Bacon and Stuart Langridge there in person, but Bryan Lunduke stayed at home due to the recent birth of his second child. Well, that and the fact that he hates me. He was there in spirit, however, via the “Bryan-o-tron” which was a large, red button that when pressed would produce Bryan saying a pithy quote. It worked out well and was pretty funny.

The first segment focused on Cybercrime and ways to stop it. I was in the camp that most “cyber” crime is actually old school crime just using computers. A lot of it still relies on people being stupid, naive and/or greedy.

For an example on how low tech crime still works, we recently had our car burglarized and they stole Andrea’s purse. About a week later we noticed nearly two thousand dollars missing from our account. The thieves had written a check from a stolen account and then used her ID to cash it. Even though we had changed our account number and we never withdraw large sums of cash, the bank went ahead and dispensed the cash (the person had gone through the drive through teller and used her driver’s license as ID). This despite the fact that we had reported the theft, changed our account and the signature on the back of the check wasn’t even close to her’s. Of course, they refunded the money to us (after about a week) but I was still amazed that, in this day and age, with debit cards and PIN numbers and multiple ways to ID a person, this actually worked.

The next segment was taken from the first Bad Voltage Live show at SCaLE and it was called “Wrong in 60 Seconds”. The idea is to give people 60 seconds to rant about something, and then the team would judge who did the best job. We were worried about this bit because Europeans tend to be more reserved than Americans, and even with a little bit of beer in them we weren’t sure what the participation level would be.

And our worst fears were realized. Only Ken Wimer volunteered to rant, and we needed at least two more people. Jessica saved the day by volunteering Antonio Russo (a great choice) and I immediately thought Ian Norton would do a good job, so I threw his name into the hat. They all agreed to do it, and it was a lot of fun. The lighting is kind of poor, so you miss the fact that Antonio actually threw his shoes before starting. Ken ranted in German, Antonio in Italian, and Ian in English.

It came down to a tie, with Jessica casting the deciding vote for Ian. The prize was a really nice tablet.

The last segment features Stuart talking about the biggest danger to open source being the people involved. This may seem a little counter-intuitive: open source is a movement made up of people, so how could they be the biggest danger to it? But he makes some good points, specifically you never hear someone in the Apple user community blasting someone because of their choice of application, but we constantly get factions up in arms about Unity vs. Gnome vs. KDE and Ubuntu vs. Fedora vs. OpenSUSE. Even in the opening parts of the show they joke about the three OpenSUSE guys (who came a long way to be at the show) being the *only* three OpenSUSE users. We laugh but it is somewhat endemic of open source culture and maybe we need to change it. It’s one reason we at OpenNMS strive to be both welcoming and tolerant of new users, as they will be the evangelists of the future.

Toward the end of the bit the Bryan-o-tron took a fearful turn as it was no longer static images and canned quotes, but Bryan himself via a Google Hangout. He unleashes his trademark vitriol and then manages to join the show via a DoubleRobotics telepresence robot.

While this worked flawlessly in rehearsal, we had some connection issues and Bryan’s face was missing from the screen. Here is what it should have looked like:

OUCE Robot

In any case, it was funny, and toward the end when he slowly storms off, the robot locked up in forward mode (I’ve had this happen to me) and slammed into the wall, falling over. No harm was done and it was a pretty funny way to end the segment.

That was pretty much it for the show. Clocking in right at an hour, I think it went well. I’ll be eager to see the next Live Voltage when they plan one.

A Wonderful OUCE

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but the fourth quarter is always our busiest time of the year and I’ve been slammed. Plus, I’m still recovering from a great week at the OpenNMS Users Conference. You did go, correct? (grin)

We are always striving to find ways to bring more people to the conference, so this year I thought it would be cool to invite some open source celebrities, namely the guys from the Bad Voltage podcast. Plus, since this year’s conference was in September, we had the opportunity to make a side trip to Munich’s Oktoberfest.

We arrived in Fulda from Munich on Sunday night. Now in the run up to the conference the BV team would sometimes talk a little smack about Fulda (as in “where the hell is Fulda?”, etc.) but I love this town. It is a wonderful combination of old and new, with cobblestone streets and a beautiful cathedral. You can walk everywhere, and for us the fact that the university (the Hochschule) has great facilities makes it an awesome place to hold the OUCE.

Since we rely on the Hochschule we have to schedule the conference during a time when the students are not on campus. While it is usually held in the Spring, this year it got moved to Autumn. I think the weather is about the same, although we did have a snow storm during one OUCE.

The conference itself is two days long, but we put two days of optional training in front of it. I get to teach an OpenNMS “bootcamp” on Monday that attempts to cover most of the basics in a day. So fresh off of Oktoberfest I had to actually work on Monday.

The class went well, if a bit long. The students were some of the best I’ve ever had, and I don’t think we hit many snags except for the occasional typo. As much as I tried to hurry, it still took us about ten hours to cover the material. OpenNMS is such a huge platform that even the basics take time to go over, and perhaps next year I’ll ask the students to do some work before getting to the classroom.

We had about half of the team together for dinner that night, and I got to have some of the dark German beer I like (in this case, Köstritzer). I called it a night early on, although many of the guys headed to a small bar called “The Eck”, which was apparently a lot of fun.

On the second day of training, Jeff and Jesse discussed some of the more advanced features in OpenNMS. I slept in a bit and then worked with the Bad Voltage team to make sure everything was working for the show on Wednesday. This included making sure Bryan Lunduke could access and use the telepresence robot.

OUCE Robot

Normally when we hold the OUCE in Fulda we have access to a student run establishment called Cafe Chaos. Unfortunately this year it is being remodeled, so we had to make our own set up in Halle 8.


It was pretty cool. We had a large refrigerator for drinks and they set up some couches in the back corner. Being at the University, the bandwidth was stellar.

On Tuesday night Nethinks sponsored a meal at the Havanna Bar. Most people had arrived by then, so it was nice to get together. Many thanks to Uwe and his team for putting this on.

Wednesday was the first full day of the conference. I kicked things off with a “State of OpenNMS” keynote, with an introduction by Alex Finger, the man who pretty much created the OpenNMS Foundation.


I thought the talk went pretty well, and thanks to the A/V team at the University you can see it in all of its glory:

After that I could relax and let the rest of the gang take over. There were plenty of amazing talks, and you can catch them all on Youtube.

Speaking of Youtube, Wednesday night was the Bad Voltage Live show. I plan to review that in a separate post, but it was a lot of fun. We ran a bunch of errands Wednesday afternoon in preparation, which mainly included buying a tablet to use as a prize and beer … lots of beer.


On Thursday we had more talks, and then, sadly, the conference had to come to an end. Those of us who were still around helped tear down Halle 8. It looked really empty when we were finished.

OUCE Closing

We then headed off to the Wiesenmühle for one final gathering before going our separate ways.

If you like OpenNMS then you really should make plans to come to the OUCE. Next year will be held at about the same time at the same place, so reserve space on your calendar now.

In the meantime, there are two more conferences left in the year where OpenNMS will be presenting. In a week you’ll find us at All Things Open in Raleigh, NC, USA, and in November Ronny and I will be at the Open Source Monitoring Conference in Nürnberg.

Hope to see you at one or all of these.

GrafanaCon in NYC with Jesse White

Just a quick note to point out that GrafanaCon is next week in NYC.


It’s a free, one evening conference that promises to be a lot of fun.

OpenNMS’s very own Jesse White will be discussing the amazing API he wrote to put OpenNMS collected data into the Grafana dashboard in a talk called “Tales of a Custom Data Source” at 6:45pm. If Grafana didn’t exist, we’d have to write it, and we probably couldn’t have done as good a job as they did.

If you want to see the future of data visualization, don’t miss this conference. Plus you get to see how we plan to display all of the billions of “Internet of Thingies” data points OpenNMS will be storing in Newts.

The Inverter: Episode 50 – Automated

The latest Bad Voltage show, episode 50, was titled “Automated”. It marked a milestone, fifty episodes is a lot and the gang deserves credit for making it that far, and I was surprised they didn’t talk about it. That’s professionals for ya, just another show.

TL;DR: I didn’t really care for this show that much. Now, to me, Bad Voltage is like sex: when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good, so please don’t tear into me too roughly for not praising it (see how I got “rough sex” into your brain and into the search engines?). This episode was a little more navel gazing than normal. They revisited the Mycroft Kickstarter (and now on Indiegogo), and then moved on to an interview that I thought was unnecessarily brutal. Many geeks are not the most socially gifted people on the planet and being on a podcast, even one like Bad Voltage, can make them extremely nervous and anxious. Considering that this was supposed to be a friendly interview I found it a little painful. Then there was a home automation “Internet of Things” discussion that I found too high level than I would of liked, and the episode ended with Jono’s review of a standing desk.

The show clocked in at seconds under ninety minutes. There is a large variation in times for these podcasts, and I’m happy listening to the team for as long as they are willing to talk, but the shows I like the most seem to be a little more focused, regardless of the length.

This episode started off with the announcement of the birth of Bryan’s second child, a boy named Solomon. It is the main reason he won’t be joining us in person for next week’s live Bad Voltage show, but congratulations are still in order.

The first segment was a discussion of the Mycroft project, which is attempting to create an open source Siri-like digital assistant. Yes, they discussed this on the last show as well, and while the Kickstarter has ended they have an Indiegogo campaign going on as well. I am eager to see what comes of this, but not willing to fund it at the moment. The last time I funded something, the open source fitness Angel Sensor, they took my money and it’s now a year overdue. Not really complaining (if I were complaining I’d be upset that the first app they plan to release is iOS only) but it kind of burned me on these kinds of things.

Still a cool idea, and it may be possible to eliminate any privacy concerns I might have. I need to help out by offering to read some stuff on Librevox as Aq suggests.

The second segment was an interview with Chris Waid. It turns out that the FCC is unhappy that, with software defined radios, one can increase the power in such a fashion that it violates the broadcast license for the device. For example, you could extend your WiFi range using the same gear through software. They want to stop this, but the concern is that the easiest way to do this would be to lock down the firmware for these devices, which would rule out things like installing alternative firmware on your home router, or perhaps even running free software on computers and laptops, as access to the WiFi and Bluetooth chips could be prevented.

While I’m in the camp that this is more a poorly thought out proposal on the part of the FCC than the FCC trying to be malicious, there is a chance this could be a Bad Thing™ and we should take steps to prevent it. However, in their zeal to get to the meat of this problem the team went a little overboard on poor Chris. Even when a guy in the room with Chris tried to help out, the immediate thought was that Chris was being corrected by one of his own guys (which wasn’t the case). Sure, it would have been funny, but Chris just got more flustered and the message got lost.

Now I’m all for skewering the bad guys, although I prefer it be done nicely as in the style of Jon Stewart, but this wasn’t a bad guy. At worst he is overstating the threat a bit, but compared to some of the jewels the US government has put forth in the past concerning technology, overstating the threat is worse than understating it. They do apologize, somewhat, at the end of the show, but the whole segment made me a little uncomfortable.

There was a short segment by Jeremy, resident home automation geek, about a project to mount a tablet inside a bathroom mirror. Not sure if there is a killer app for such a thing, but I have been in hotels with TVs in the mirror so it has possibilities.

The third segment was a discussion of home automation and “The Internet of Things”. A lot of it involved discussing all of the competing protocols and solutions, to the point where Jeremy needs several different hubs just to talk to everything. At the moment it is more like “The Internet of Silos”.

I was surprised no one mentioned X10. Any one of my three readers remember this? It was a home automation protocol that worked by sending signals over the home electrical wiring. I once had tons of the stuff: light switches, controllers, even a device that you could stick under your analog thermostat to turn on the air conditioning. It worked by turning on a small heating element that would make the thermostat think it was hotter than it was. Plus, no cameras or microphones phoning home with who knows what information to third party servers.

Those were the days.

The last segment was Jono reviewing a standing desk he bought. Standing desks are all the rage now, and he wanted to try one out so he bought one by LIFT. We got a bunch of movable desks from Varidesk at the office, and I quite like them. I do agree with Jono that if you are serious about them you need a floor pad.

While it wasn’t my favorite BV, I did enjoy it. It’s not like I want 90 minutes of my life back ‘n all. They also didn’t mention the morse code message from the previous episode and I’ve been too lazy to find out what was up with that. I like little Easter eggs. Perhaps they should come up with a contest where each week clues are hidden in the podcast, and if you put them together you win a laptop or something else cool.

Remember, the next show will be Live at the OpenNMS Conference in Fulda, Germany. We still have a few seats left, and if the 5€ fee is an issue, please drop me a note. We can work something out, and there will be beer.

Review: Varidesk Standing Desk

Several years ago we did a lot of work in Sweden (Hi, Lasse!), and that is where I first saw some really nice standing desks. The first standing desk I ever saw was when I worked at Northern Telecom and it was for an employee who needed one due to health reasons, but it was fixed in place. The ones they had in Sweden (from IKEA, ‘natch) had a little switch that you could use to raise and lower it as needed, and they had places to mount a PC and run cables so they wouldn’t get snagged when it moved.

When I looked for them for the office, I was shocked by the price. A decent one with options pushed $900 and they could go north of $2000 fully loaded. While I’ve read a lot about the health benefits of standing I just couldn’t afford to get such a desk.

Recently I was on an American Airlines flight, and I just happened to see a small ad for something called a Varidesk in the in-flight magazine (and I’ve never bought something from the back of an in-flight magazine). This was something you put on an existing desk and you could use it to lift a monitor, keyboard, etc. to a standing height. It was manual, but it was considerably less than a dedicated desk.

Now, being the CEO of a profitable company it is required that I have the huge executive desk, so I do. Of course, mine was free from a business that was moving offices and all I had to do was go get it, and then repair all of the broken bits so I could put it back together. My monitor sits in one corner of this monstrosity, and I was happy to see Varidesk made a product that would fit perfectly.

Varidesk Lowered

First off, the sucker’s heavy. It cost a lot to ship due to its weight, but that translates to a lot of stability when raised. The unit I bought had a shelf for the monitor, speakers, etc., with a lower shelf for the keyboard.

In the upper shelf you will notice two holes. You place your hands through them to release levers which will allow you to raise the desk. It does take strength to get it started, but then it is balanced so that it becomes easier.

(Note: the little green light on my PC is my OpenNMS Blink notification)

Varidesk Raised

I love that everything comes up with it: the speakers, the monitor, the keyboard, my Yeti mic, etc. It will also go fairly high – I’m a little over six feet tall and I can get it high enough that I’m comfortable using it. It isn’t perfectly stable, if you are energetically pounding on the keyboard it will move slightly, but it is easy to get use to it. I did have to get some USB cable extenders to make sure things like my camera didn’t go flying off when I raised the desk, but outside of that it pretty much worked out of the box.

And, yes, when standing I like to crank the tunes and dance. You do not want to see me dance.

The Varidesk is well built and I did find myself using it, so some of the other guys in the office were interested. They don’t have fancy executive desks, so I got a slightly cheaper model that fit theirs better.

Varidesk Developers

We bought three more and everyone seems to enjoy them, although we probably don’t use them as much as we should. Because they are stylish and convertible, even in the down position they look good.

I found that after about an hour of standing my legs started to hurt. Our office, like many, is pretty much industrial carpet over concrete. There is little padding, so I bought a pad on Amazon that works well for me and I can dance longer.

It’s also cool to elevate the laptop for our daily scrum call:

Varidesk During Scrum

So, if you are thinking about getting a standing desk but already own a desk, consider the Varidesk. While it isn’t the cheapest thing out there, it is well made and will give you experience to see if you even like working standing up, which would be considerably cheaper than buying a new desk and finding you didn’t like it.

Ad hoc Suspension of Polling Services

As I was reading through my RSS feeds this morning, I saw that a user named “Fredebben” had posted a neat find on the OpenNMS wiki.

I didn’t know this, but it turns out that you can temporarily suspend service polling with an event, and then resume it as needed. This is pretty cool, especially if you need to stop polling for just one service.

I once had a client with a requirement that there be a scheduled outage once a week for all services but ICMP. In their case I had them move ICMP into its own package, and then they could use a Poll Outage to suspend polling on the other services. That is still probably the best way to do it for a lot of services, but it is nice to know this event method works as well.