2017 Ohio Linuxfest

The Ohio Linuxfest was one of the first open source conferences I ever attended, way back in 2010. I had heard about it from the local Linux Users Group, TriLUG, and we ended up renting a van and taking a couple of other open source geeks with us, including “Mr. IPv6” Kevin Otte.

It was a blast.

Ohio Linuxfest Banner

This year looks like another great show, with one of my favorite people, Karen Sandler, giving a keynote on Friday and yours truly will be giving the last keynote on Saturday.

If you are into free and open source software and are able to make it, I strongly encourage you to check out the conference. You’ll be glad you did.

2017 Australian Network Operators Group Conference

Back in June I was chatting with “mobius” about all things OpenNMS. He lives and works in Perth, Australia, and suggested that I do a presentation at AusNOG, the Australian Network Operators Group.

One of the things we struggle with at OpenNMS is figuring out how to make people aware it exists. My rather biased opinion is that it is awesome, but a lot of people have never heard of it. To help with that I used to attend a lot of free and open source conferences, but we’ve found out over the years that our user base tends to be more along the lines of large enterprises and network operators that might not be represented at such shows.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that there were a whole slew of NOGs, network operator groups, around the world. It seems to me that people who attend these conferences have a more immediate need for OpenNMS, and with that in mind I submitted a talk to AusNOG. I was very happy it was selected, not in the least because I would get to return to Australia for a third time.

AusNOG David Hughes

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. The event was extremely well organized and I really liked the format. Many conferences as they become successful respond by adding multiple tracks. This can be useful if the tracks are easy to delineate, but often you can get “track bloat” where the attendees get overwhelmed with choice and as a presenter you can end up with a nearly empty room if you are scheduled against a popular speaker. At AusNOG there is only one track of somewhat short, highly curated talks that results in a very informative conference without the stress of trying to determine the best set of talks to attend.

AusNOG Program

(Note: Visit the “programme” site and click on talk titles to download the presentations)

The venue was very nice as well. Held at the Langham Hotel, the conference took place in a ballroom that held the 200+ people with a lobby out front for socializing and a few sponsor booths. The program consisted of 90 minutes of presentations separated by a break. They alternated sets of three 30 minute talks with two 45 minutes talks. I found all of the presentations interesting, but I have to admit that I spent a lot of time looking up unfamiliar acronyms. As network operators Autonomous System (AS) numbers were thrown around in much the same way SNMP Private Enterprise Numbers are shared among network management geeks. Australia is also in the process of implementing a nationwide National Broadband Network (nbn™) to provide common infrastructure across the country, so of course that was the focus of a number of talks.

In the middle of each day we broke for lunch which was pretty amazing. The Langham restaurant had a sushi section, a section for Indian food, a large buffet of your standard meat and veg, and at least three dessert sections: one with “healthy” fruit and cheese, another focused on ice cream and a chocolate fountain, and a large case full of amazing pastries and other desserts. All with a view out over the Yarra river.

AusNOG Yarra River

I really liked the format of AugNOG and suggest we adopt it for the next OpenNMS conference. For those few talks that were either over my head or not really of interest, they were over pretty quickly, but I found myself enjoying most of them. I thought it was interesting that concepts we usually equate with the managing servers are being adopted on the network side. One talk discussed topics such as running switch software in containers, while another discussed using Ansible and Salt to manage the configuration of network gear.

AusNOG Runing Switch Software in Containers

I was happy to see that my talk wasn’t the only one that focused on open source. Back fifteen years ago getting large companies to adopt an open source solution was still in the evangelical stage, but now it is pretty much standard. Even Facebook presented a talk on their open source NetNORAD project for monitoring using a distributed system to measure latency and packet loss.

I did have a few favorite talks. In “The Future Is Up in the Sky” Jon Brewer discussed satellite Internet. As someone who suffered for years with a satellite network connection, it was interesting to learn what is being done in this area. I used a system with a satellite in geosynchronous orbit which, while it worked, ended up with latency on the order of a second in real-world use. It turns out that there are a number of solutions using shorter distances with satellites in low earth or high earth orbit. While they present their own challenges, it is still the most promising way to get network access to remote areas.

Another talk by Mark Nottingham discussed issues associated with the increased use of encrypted protocols and the challenges they create for network operators. While the civil libertarian in me applauds anything that makes it harder for surveillance to track users, as a network monitoring guy this can make it more difficult to track down the cause of network issues.

And this will become even more important as the network changes with the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Another good talk discussed the issue of IoT security. Even today the main consensus is that you protect weakly secured devices with a firewall, but a number of new exploits leverage infected systems within the firewall for DDoS attacks.

AusNOG Internet of Things Vulnerabilities

I think my own talk went well, it was hard to squeeze a good introduction to OpenNMS into 30 minutes. I did manage it – 30 minutes on the nose – but it didn’t leave time for questions. As a speaker I really liked the feedback the conference provided in the form of a rather long report showing what the attendees thought of the talk, complete with cool graphs.

AusNOG Speaker Response

I really enjoyed this conference, both as an attendee and a speaker. While I hope to speak to more NOGs I would much rather encourage OpenNMS users who are happy with the project to submit real-world talks on how they use the platform to their local tech groups. I think it tells a much stronger story to have someone a little less biased than myself talking about OpenNMS, and plus you get to visit cool conferences like AusNOG.

Help Get OpenNMS Packaged by Bitnami

As someone who has used OpenNMS for, well, many years, I think it is a breeze to get installed. Simply add the repository to your server, install the package(s), run the installer and start it.

However, there are a number of new users who still have issues getting it installed. This is not a problem limited just to OpenNMS but can be a problem across a number of open source projects.

Enter Bitnami. Bitnami is a project to package applications to make them easier to install: natively, in the cloud, in a container or as a virtual machine. Ronny pointed out that OpenNMS is listed in their “wishlist” section, and if we can get enough votes, perhaps they will add it to their stack.

Bitnami also happens to have a great team, lead in part by the ever amazing Erica Brescia. As I write this we have less that 50 votes, with the current leaders being over 1200, so there is a long way to go. I’d appreciate your support, and once you vote you get a second chance to vote again via the socials.

Bitnami OpenNMS Wishlist

Thanks, and thanks to Bitnami for the opportunity.

2017 Australian Network Operators Group (AusNOG) Conference

I am excited to be returning to Australia for the third time next week. This trip is to speak at the Australian Network Operators Group (AusNOG) annual conference in Melbourne.

AusNOG Promo Graphic

I can’t believe I’ve gone for so long and not known about Network Operator Groups (NOGs). There are quite a few of them and I think they would be a perfect audience to introduce to the OpenNMS Project. One of our users on the OpenNMS chat server is from Perth and he made me aware of the conference, and I was humbled and delighted to have my presentation accepted.

At OpenNMS we strive very hard to separate the project (.org) from the commercial entity that supports the project (.com) and this presentation will be strictly focused on the project. It’s a wonderful thing about OpenNMS: if it meets your needs, cool. If not, also cool. I just want more people to be aware of open source options, especially in the carrier and enterprise space.

And it looks like open source is definitely making inroads at AusNOG. The talk before mine is about Ansible and Salt. There is another talk on using open source to build a version of NetNorad, and another one on open source for big data analytics. The one after mine is about modern network monitoring, so I hope I tick at least a few boxes on his list.

I hope to see you there (although it looks like it is sold out) but let me know if you are in the area and perhaps I can at least say “hi”.

2017 Dev-Jam – Days 4 and 5

Apologies to my three readers for the two-plus week delay in writing this up. I know you’ve been waiting for this post with more anticipation than Season 7 of Game of Thrones, but things have been crazy busy in OpenNMS-land of late.

As you know, this year’s Dev-Jam was held at Concordia University in Montréal. For most of the week we had access to a nice, large space which included air conditioners (the Grey Nuns building does not have central air), but due to a scheduling conflict we had to move out for the day on Thursday.

We moved to the basement cafeteria, which worked out rather well.

Dev-Jam: Grey Nuns Cafeteria

There were no A/C units but with the windows open there was a good cross breeze and it was comfortable. By the fourth day of Dev-Jam people are pretty much settled into a routine, so the day was mostly spent working to finish up various projects.

On Friday we moved back upstairs. The last full day of Dev-Jam is always bittersweet for me, as I love the “show and tell” part where people share what they have been working on, but I hate the fact that it is over for another year. We also forgot to bring the equipment we usually use for video capture (it was left back in Minnesota) so while the sessions were recorded, they haven’t been posted to Youtube yet.

Dev-Jam: Jesse White presents on Minion

Jesse kicked off the presentations talking about work he was doing to assign specific monitoring tasks to particular Minions.

Dev-Jam: Markus presents on Doughnut Graphs

Markus followed that with his work on adding “doughnut” graphs to the user interface. These resemble the graphs available with Compass™, our mobile app. That is supposed to be a green doughnut and not a grey one but the projector didn’t render it very well.

Dev-Jam: Christian presents on IFTTT

As OpenNMS wants to be the monitoring platform of choice for the Internet of Everything, Christian did some work on integrating it with “If This, Then That” (IFTTT)

Dev-Jam: Ronny presents on ASCIIBinder

Ronny is our “documentation czar” who led the effort to create the most awesome docs.opennms.org site. He explored using ASCIIBinder to manage our growing collection of documentation.

Dev-Jam: Seth presents on ReST

I work with some amazing people, and years ago they saw the potential in adding ReST functionality to OpenNMS. It was a great decision and makes OpenNMS extremely flexible when integrating with other systems. Seth presented some of the work he is doing to extend that feature.

Dev-Jam: Alejandro presents on Drools

OpenNMS has a couple of ways to correlate alarms. The basic method is using the “vacuumd” configuration and SQL, but a stronger (although more complex) method is to used the Drools business intelligence engine. Alejandro presented some work he is doing to move some of the legacy vacuumd tasks to Drools.

Dev-Jam: Jeff presents on CLA Assistant

Contributor License Agreements are a controversial topic in open source, but we use one for OpenNMS. The main reason is to ask any contributor to certify that they have the right to contribute the code. It may seem trivial, but not only does signing such an agreement make the person think about it, it does give the project some cover in case of a dispute.

We currently manage our own CLAs, but the website CLA Assistant aims to make it easier. Jeff presented on what he found out about the service, and we may be migrating to it in the future.

Dev-Jam: Antonio presents on Enhanced Linkd

And last but not least, Antonio talked about the work he is doing on Enhanced Linkd. This is the process that figures out Layer 2 connections between devices. It is non-trivial as vendors seems to relate this information in different ways, and we really appreciate the time he has put into that part of the project.

It was great seeing everyone again, and it was also cool to hold the conference in a new location (well, cool once it was over, it added a lot of stress to my life). I’m eager to start planning next year’s conference.

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 3

By Day 3 we’ve settled into a rhythm, so I don’t have much to report from the actual OpenNMS side of things. Personally, I spent way too much time trying to figure out why Twitter is blocking links to this blog. It’s been ad-free for over a decade, yet Twitter thinks it is spam.

We believe it was because we were using dlvr.it to post things I write here to the OpenNMS Twitter feed and thus it got flagged as automation (which is, apparently, bad). I can understand it, but my complaint is that there is no clear process for getting it resolved. I think I’ve submitted the proper request and I’ve even tried to back-channel some help through friends of friends, but I think I’m just going to focus on posting on Google Plus from here on out, unless I need to complain. (grin)

So the gang worked while I bitched at Twitter. Oh, I do have a picture of a Canadian food product: ketchup flavored potato chips, modeled by Jeff.

Dev-Jam: Ketchup Potato Chips - photo credit Jessica

I can report on what we did in the evening. Usually Dev-Jam involves seeing a Major League Baseball game, specifically the Minnesota Twins. However, the only MLB team ever in Montréal, the Expos, played their last season here a year before Dev-Jam started (2004).

However, Montréal does host an international fireworks competition, so we got tickets. It’s held at La Ronde, which is an amusement park in the Six Flags chain. La Ronde is located on the northern end of St. Helen’s Island (Île Sainte-Hélène). While the park itself wasn’t very crowded, it turns out that Metallica fans, including our own Alejandro, were descending on the southern part of the island for a concert.

To get there from Grey Nuns, we took the Metro. The Metro station on St. Helen’s Island is near a museum called The Biosphere, complete with a geodesic dome created by Buckminster Fuller. Might be worth a return visit.

Dev-Jam: Montréal Biosphere - photo credit Mike

We took a free shuttle to get to the park, and our tickets also granted us admission. Out of habit I had taken my grandfather’s pocket knife, not realizing they would have metal detectors, but they had a cool system where I could drop it off and pick it up later (so I didn’t have to hide it in the bushes).

As soon as we got into the park, the sky opened up and poured on us. Some of us found shelter under building overhangs, some on rides and some just got wet. One of the rides was the carousel, where Ben, Seth and Cynthia seemed to have fun.

Dev-Jam: La Ronde Carousel - photo credit Mike

Luckily, the rain didn’t last too long. Since it was National Hot Dog Day, we decided to find some. As a fan of the show Silicon Valley, I suggested we try out the “Not Hotdog” app. Seems to work.

Dev-Jam: Not Hotdog - screenshots Mike

Afterward there was just enough time for a ride on Le Vampire.

Dev-Jam: Le Vampire Rollercoaster - photo credit Chris

Jessica is in the back of this shot, with Ronny and Jesse in the front.

Then it was time to see the show. There are three seating sections: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Gold had free beer but we had been told that the Silver section (Argent) had the best views. I wasn’t disappointed. And this being Quebec, there had to be clowns.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Clowns - photo credit Ben

In section 307 we were on an elevated platform looking out over a lake. The fireworks were launched from the other side of the lake and synchronized with music. As this is an international competition, the presenter for our show was Germany. They played the German national anthem and introduced the performers.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Introductions - photo credit Ben

The show … it was amazing.

And when I say it was amazing, I mean it was like I had never seen fireworks before, and I’ve seen them at places like EPCOT at Disney World. Since we were pretty close to the launch site, it was like they took up your whole field of vision. Plus, I never knew there were so many different types. They used the whole area, from high overhead down to the lake itself (at one point in time it was if the water was ablaze in green fire). Shells would explode overhead in a burst of color, followed by a second color and when those faded there would be a ring left that slowly faded away.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Above - photo credit Ben

Sometimes the sky would just be a fountain of gold, and at other times the action would be at ground level. At times I felt they were telling a story. Not exactly one I understood, such as the red fountain thingies seem to be fighting the shooty yellow thingies, but it still evoked an emotional response.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Down Low - photo credit Ben

The emotional high point for me was when they played Pachelbel’s Canon. I know it is cliché but the “Canon in D” is one of the most beautiful things ever made, and to see it illustrated in fire was simply breathtaking.

Speaking of things to take your breath away, soon after the show started the air was filled with smoke and ash from the fireworks. While it really didn’t detract from the show, people with health issues related to breathing should think carefully about attending.

Dev-Jam: The Bridge at Night - photo credit Ben

The show was 30 minutes long, and by the time we headed out to leave so did 40,000 Metallica fans. This was further complicated by the bridge to the island being closed so people could watch the fireworks. Rather than waiting for buses to arrive once the bridge was reopened, we decided to walk. There was a great view from the top, and the bridge itself was lit in green.

Dev-Jam: View from Bridge - photo credit Ben

We got back to the dorm around midnight, having had a great time. I hope I get a chance to see the fireworks show again, perhaps at next year’s Dev-Jam.

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 2

Dev-Jam was fully underway by Tuesday morning, starting with another Canadian tradition, Tim Hortons.

Dev-Jam: Tim Hortons Box

Lots of great discussions were going on. Ronny demonstrated Project Atlas, more formally known as the GraphML Topology Provider. This allows you to use GraphML to create topologies within the OpenNMS user interface.

Dev-Jam: Ronny Doing a Demo of Atlas

There is also a topology.xml file on the OpenNMS Forge github repository that can be used as an example.

Jesse gave us a demonstration of Project Helm. This is a Grafana plugin that let’s you combine fault and performance data from multiple instances of OpenNMS on one dashboard.

Dev-Jam: Jesse Doing a Demo of Helm

While it is just in alpha, the goal is to let users manage alarms directly from the dashboard, including acknowledging them, adding “sticky” and journal notes, etc. We have been working for years now on making a robust ReST interface for OpenNMS and it is really paying off by allowing us to create features like this. Since all of the communication between Grafana and the OpenNMS system (or systems) is via ReST, there is no need to store and manage data locally.

Dev-Jam: Helm Screenshot

If you want to play with Helm, you should be running the latest Horizon 21 snapshot.

We have a person named Roberto attending Dev-Jam for the first time and I was eager to find out why he was interested in OpenNMS, so I spent some time talking with him. His company deploys underwater fiber-optic cable. Their customers used to be large telecommunications providers, but now they deal mainly with very large Internet companies, and those companies are requesting a higher level of monitoring information. It was one of those “very large Internet companies” that suggested they use OpenNMS, and it was interesting to learn about the challenges of running and managing undersea fiber.

Only a small part of the cable contains the fiber as most of it consists of a thick protective sleeve. The sleeve has to be thicker near shore since there is a greater chance of damage from things like ships’ anchors. Also, electrical current flows through the sleeve which attracts sharks, who then proceed to bite the cable. Here’s a video:

I’m eager to see how they end up using OpenNMS.

As I mentioned before, we are staying in the Grey Nuns Residence at Concordia University. According to Wikipedia there is a crypt in the basement where nearly 300 bodies are buried, most of them nuns who had lived at the Grey Nuns Motherhouse. It is off limits to visit, but I wanted to see if I could at least find the entrance.

Our conference is being held in a large room called E104, and most of the rooms of the people attending are also on the east side of the residence. My room, however, is on the west side and to get there I have to walk about 200 meters (it is a big place). You go out of E104, down to the basement and along a very long corridor before heading up several floors.

Along this corridor you will see a nondescript door,

Dev-Jam: Door to Grey Nuns Crypt

and if you peek through the little round window you can see into the crypt.

Dev-Jam: Image of Grey Nuns Crypt

The graves are marked with plain wooden crosses, and the one nearest the door died in 1885, although there are certain to be much older graves in the crypt. Apparently there was a project to move the bodies out of Grey Nuns but the government balked due to the fact that some of the people buried there died of infectious diseases (the history of the Grey Nuns [pdf] confirms that several nuns died of the Spanish Flu of 1918).

It is a pretty solemn place and in stark contrast to the rest of the dormitory.

Speaking of things definitely not solemn, for dinner we all headed to a Japanese restaurant nearby called Kinka Izakaya. Izakaya means a pub, and the menu consists of lots of small plates, kind of like Japanese tapas.

Dev-Jam: Dinner at Kinka Izakaya

The place met a number of criteria: good food, can seat 24 people and close to the dorm. We also had to try a “Sake Bomb” in which a small amount of sake is suspended over a glass of beer. You then drop the sake into the beer and drink. Yes, there is video:

Good times.

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 1

Dev-Jam is an unstructured conference. Our goal is to simply put a bunch of incredibly smart people in a room and see what happens. That said, we do officially start and end the conference. On Monday morning we get together to make introductions and to talk about projects that we want to pursue during the week. This allows people with similar interests to work together if they want. On Friday we have presentations on what got accomplished.

Dev-Jam: People Around a Table

I usually start off the week, and then turn it over to Jesse White (our CTO and GM of The OpenNMS Group Canada).

Dev-Jam: Jesse White in an MC Frontalot shirt

I thought it was cool that he was wearing an MC Frontalot T-shirt as we commissioned him to produce a free software song that we released on Independence Day (July 4th).

Another cool thing about OpenNMS is that we try to work as transparently as possible. While a lot of projects allow public access to their git repository, I believe OpenNMS is the only one that has a repository for every branch that automatically builds packages as commits are made (the list can be found at http://yum.opennms.org/repofiles/ but be patient as there are so many it can take a minute or so to load). We also publish a weekly newsletter called “This Week in OpenNMS” (or TWiO). This week Ben posted some ideas bouncing around this year’s Dev-Jam which include:

  • updating packaging (yum/Debian) infrastructure including better support of upstream PostgreSQL packages
  • improved wifi link support in Enlinkd and topology
  • improving the opennms.com and opennms.org web sites
  • simplifying collection of OCAs
  • integrating DigitalOcean and Xen requisition tools
  • Spark chat integration
  • ReST infrastructure improvements
  • discussing how to improve Docker image generation
  • grafana dashboard for UPS data
  • northbound interfaces for Drools (scriptd-like interface for alarms)
  • structured data monitor (using the XML collector infrastructure)
  • Cisco ACI integration
  • OSGi deployment of ReST services
  • donut charts on the front page
  • rewrite the node list page
  • migrate documentation to AsciiBinder
  • trigger IFTTT events when alarms change
  • porting the Go version of the minion to a new platform

Dev-Jam: Laptop and Can of Cheerwine

I should note that Ben is also a fan of that North Carolina export, Cheerwine.

Dev-Jam: People Meeting to Discuss the Website

Jessica, our graphic designer, pulled together a meeting to discuss our web presence. We recently revamped the opennms.com website and we are looking to determine improvements needed for the opennms.org website.

Speaking of Jessica, she also designed our Dev-Jam shirts.

Dev-Jam: Front of Dev-Jam Shirt

The front is meant to represent summer camp.

Dev-Jam: Back of Dev-Jam Shirt

The top symbol is for Montréal, the bottom is Ulf the OpenNMS mascot, the tag to the left represents coding and the right image is for fireworks (we are attending the competition on Wednesday).

It’s not all work. Recently I read about a restaurant very close to Concordia (where we are holding the conference) that offered free meals to people who need them. I wanted to support that, so for lunch a group of us went to Marché Ferdous, which had been written up on sites such as CNN, the BBC and Huffington Post.

Dev-Jam: Marché Ferdous Entrance

It’s a small shop a couple of blocks away from our dorm, and I got the falafel platter.

Dev-Jam: Marché Ferdous Falafel Platter

My meal was about CAD$10 so I paid with a $20 bill and told them to keep the change. Always gotta pay it forward, yo. (grin)

The falafel was just okay (I’m spoiled as I get to eat Angie’s falafel on a regular basis – some of the best falafel on the planet and I should know as I’ve had it pretty much all over the planet) but the sides were excellent. Everyone else got meat and really enjoyed it.

After lunch we took a side trip to a SAQ store to check out the spirit selection. Later that evening there was a tasting …

Dev-Jam: Monday Whiskey Selection

… which probably had something to do with the decision to screen Strange Brew, eh?

Dev-Jam: Strange Brew on Screen

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 0

♬ It’s the most wonderful time of the year ♬

It’s hard for me to believe that we are getting ready for our twelfth annual OpenNMS developers conference, Dev-Jam.

Dev-Jam: Welcome to Montreal Sign

This year we changed venues from our normal spot at Yudof Hall at the University of Minnesota to Concordia University in Montréal, Quebec, Canada. We have to plan these things out months in advance, and back in January there was talk of greatly increasing the effort required to enter the United States, especially for visitors from other countries, requiring them to, among other things, reveal social media passwords. Since a large portion of people attending Dev-Jam come from outside the US, we thought it prudent to move the conference. Plus, The OpenNMS Group now has a corporation in Canada, so it also seemed to be a nice way to mark that development.

After searching around for a place to hold the event, we settled on the Grey Nuns Residence, a large dormitory. While the individual rooms are not as nice as Yudof, the conference space is really large and should work out well. Plus, Grey Nuns is considered one of the most haunted places in Montréal, although so far no one has reported anything unusual.

We have over 20 people attending this year, which is down a little bit from normal. We have several people from Minneapolis who attend, and by moving it to Canada it became difficult for them to make it. In an ironic twist our friend Muthu from India was unable to get his visa to Canada approved in time to make the conference. But outside of some weather delays everyone else made it here safely.

So did the Cheerwine. It has become a Dev-Jam tradition for me to bring the North Carolina made cherry-flavored soda to share with everyone, and sometimes it gets a little, soggy, in transit. All 48 cans made it to Montréal, although it won’t last all that long.

There is a bit of adjustment to being in Quebec. I get to practice my (poor) French, and I love the fact that it is like everything has subtitles (legally, English should appear under the French in no more than half the size). Plus we’re having to get used to things distinctly Canadian such as Thrills chewing gum. Flavored with rosewater, the taste has been compared to soap, a fact that is proudly displayed on the box.

Dev-Jam: Thrills Gum Box

Another Montréal tradition is poutine. This is a dish of thin french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.

Dev-Jam: Poutine

The one I tried was a variation that included chicken and a whiskey BBQ sauce. This was from a restaurant chain called St-Hubert which specializes in chicken (seriously, the set menu offered chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, ribs, chicken, chicken, and, you guessed it, chicken). It was good, and it was nice to find a place to serve 20+ people comfortably.

Dev-Jam: Dinner at St. Hubert

While change can be challenging, I think this is going to be a great week. Outside of David and myself, both Mike and Craig have made all twelve Dev-Jams, and DJ has made all but one. One of my goals with OpenNMS is to built something that lasts, and it is nice to have traditions that have continued for this long.

Freedom Feud

My official title at OpenNMS is CEO, but I’ve worn several hats in the last 12+ years, including accountant, receptionist, HR manager and janitor. Now I get to add record producer to the list.

I guess it all started back in 2012. OpenNMS was doing pretty well and I wanted us to give a little something back to the community. As a fan of MC Frontalot I came across his FAQ and found out that you could actually book him for things like conferences, kids parties, bar mitzvahs and the like. We were sponsoring the Ohio Linuxfest (by the way, I’m a keynote speaker there this year along with the ever amazing Karen Sandler) and I decided to see if I could book him to play a show. Turns out he is pretty affordable (for contrast, Henry Rollins starts out at $10,000 per event, which isn’t unreasonable but doesn’t count as affordable for us just yet). I booked him to play a solo gig and finally got to meet the man. He did a great show, everyone seemed to enjoy it, and we became friends of a sort.

While Front is very much a nerd, he had not had much exposure to free software. A lot of musicians rely on Windows-based software to create their music (Front mainly uses Reaper and Professor Kliq is such an Ableton fan he has their logo tattooed on his wrists) and thus they aren’t used to using open source. The OLF event went so well I hired him a few more times, and I think it was at SCaLE when I suggested he write a free software song. His reply was, well, why don’t you commission one.

Front is talent for hire. He did a couple of tracks for New Relic, “Nerd Life” and “Small Data“, and while we don’t have anywhere near the budget of that company we felt that free software deserved to be examined under his lyrical microscope, so we started the process.

Note that this was a couple of years ago, back in 2015, so it took awhile. Front and I had a number of conversations about free software and I started him on his education. I pointed him to the works of Richard Stallman and Eric S. Raymond (notably The Cathedral and the Bazaar), as well as Lawrence Lessig and organizations such as the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). We also talked about the classic “free as in beer” vs. “free as in freedom” confusion that arises out of the term “free software”, which ended up forming the basis of the song.

Later in 2015 I wanted to do something special for the OSCON show in Portland. This time I decided to hire Front along with his band. In the previous shows he’d done for us it was him and “DJ CPU” providing the music, and while those were great shows I was unprepared for the “live band” experience. It took it to another level. During that show Front performed a bit of the song, but it wasn’t until last year’s All Things Open that the whole song was played for the first time (again with the band, since, awesome).

With the song almost complete we now how to figure out how to present it to the world. I wanted a video, so I decided to turn to animator Chad Essley. Chad had done the video for “Shudders” off of Question Bedtime and we had gotten to know each other through a fund raising promotion he did for the EFF where we sponsored adding OpenNMS references to that video. I felt he could do a good job with it, since he is both talented and he gets the subject matter.

Now when I said “record producer” above I basically meant I signed the checks, but it was cool watching artists such as Front and Chad work out even small details when it came to the video. Animation can take a really long time, so we debated on combining it with some live action, etc., to both speed up the process and reduce the cost. It was at this point that I was introduced to the concept of a “lyric video”.

Ed Sheeran had just come out with a new song, and in order to promote it as quickly as possible he released a video that pretty much consisted of just the song’s lyrics. While at this point in our process we had a portion of the animation completed, I thought that adding the lyrics to it would both speed things up as well as improve the experience, as Front’s rhymes on this track are some of the tightest he’s ever written. The end result is both a video that is fun to watch as well as one that gets the message across in an entertaining manner.

It seems to have been well received, and as I write this it has had over 10,000 views and mostly positive comments, and we got a shout out on Boing Boing.

Speaking of lyrics, the phrase that has gotten the most comments is the line “Pull down capitalism till it’s rubble and chain”. When asked about it, Front commented:

I thought it was funny to equate Free Software with that dirty commie yearning for collectivized well-being and shared responsibility! Those two realms of thought are not directly in line with each other as far as I can tell. But I imagined the kind of business dude who is reflexively distrustful of free software, and I pictured him saying, “you mean… LIKE COMMUNISM??” Thought I’d give him a little dig at the end there.

I can’t remember if I shared my story with Front when we were first talking about creating this song, but when I got started with OpenNMS I was called a communist a number of times on various message boards. It confused me, since it came mainly from people who made their living as network management consultants. I was thinking, hey, here is a tool that lets you provide better solutions for your customers while showcasing your unique talents via your ability to deliver them, and that’s communism? Sounds like good business to me. But there is still that element of “anti-capitalism” associated in free software (I blame the phrase “so you can help your neighbor” in the Free Software Definition, but that’s just me).

The whole process was a lot more work than I thought it would be, but I’m very pleased with the result. Check out the video as there are a lot of in-jokes and Easter eggs, and I’ve been told that “floppy head Lawrence Lessig” was met with approval by the man himself.

Oh, in the spirit of free software, Front has published the song under the Creative Commons (CC BY-SA) license, and I am hoping to see a few cool remixes come out of this. I’ve reached out to both Professor Kliq and Raccoon Fink and if they find time to play with it, I’ll be sure to let you know (and let me know if you find some out there). Front is working on a new album tentatively entitled The Internet Sucks so maybe this track will make the cut.