Fear of Flying

I’m sitting in my usual seat, 21F, on a flight from Chicago to Salt Lake City. We’re having training there this week so of course they had to mark this occasion with a heavy spring snowfall. I assume that since I’m in the air that I’m going to make it there, although I won’t count on making it back until I pull into the driveway at the farm.

I’m looking forward to the class. We should have 14 people if everyone is able to make it. This is the first class based on 1.3, so in addition to all of the normal OpenNMS stuff we’ll cover Alarms, Automations, the Dashboard, Page Sequence Monitor, Distributed Monitoring and other cool stuff in the development release.

So far the flight has been smooth. There is no one in the middle seat, so me and the guy on the aisle have spread our stuff out and we have a place to put our drinks. I don’t always have an easy time getting around via planes, but my biggest beef tends to be with my fellow travelers and not the airline, so I thought I’d rant about the three main things that bother me about air travel.

Roll Aboard Luggage Was Invented by Satan

You may ask why I hate roll aboard luggage so much. Yes, having little wheels on the bottom of your bag does make it easily to move around, but some people interpret this as they have to use the wheels all of the time.

Case in point – I’ve been on a flight for 3 or more hours and I’ve downed a number of Canada Dry Ginger Ales. Sitting in the window seat, I try not to visit the lavatory unless absolutely necessary, mainly to avoid disturbing the people next to me, and since the bathroom was the place nerds like me got beat up in school, I have great bladder control.

When we land, I often have an urgent need to get off the plane. Since I like the exit row, there tend to be a large number of people ahead of me all trying to get out of the plane as well.

Imagine my anger when the “executive” gets up out of his/her aisle seat, slowly puts on their suit jacket, then they have to take their oversized roll aboard out of the bin, place it in the aisle, extend the handle, strap on their oversized computer bag and then decide to attempt to move down the now quite empty aisle.

However, the bag doesn’t quite fit in the aisle, so he/she has to fight their way, again slowly, down the aisle, pausing to dislodge the strap of the computer bag as it invariably snags on a seat armrest or two.

I want to scream “Pick up the damn bag and move!” but I’m afraid such exertion would ruin the tenuous truce I’ve made with my bladder.

Please, please, carry it the 40 or so feet out of the plane, then stand to the side and assemble your roving sherpa surrogate. Better yet, carry it all the way out to the boarding area when you can choose an out of the way place to get organized. I’ll have shouldered my two bags, hit the restroom and be out of your life forever by the time you are done.

If it’s too heavy, remember the words of that Southwest attendant who said “If you need help getting you bag into the overhead bin, it is no longer carry on. Please bring it to the front and we’ll check it”.

Escalators and Moving Walkways are Not Rides

It has been a long time since I’ve been to an amusement park. It was probably ten or more years ago and probably involved a famous mouse, but I can’t recall exactly. In North Carolina we have access to a couple of nice parks: Carowinds on the North Carolina/South Carolina border and King’s Dominion in Virginia.

Even though it has been a long time, even the slowest attraction was better than a ride on an escalator or moving walkway. So I am at a loss why people can’t seem to get the hang of it. They are not rides, people. They are meant to move you from point A to point B, especially if point A is an MD Super 80 exit row and point B is the nearest men’s restroom.

People outside of the US seem to get this for the most part. It’s “stand right, walk left”, even in those countries where they drive on the left side of the road. You will quite literally get beaten if you stand on the left of a London Underground escalator at rush hour.

Why some people seem to totally lose it on these things is beyond me. They stop. They spread out. They park their fracking roll aboard luggage so that it is impossible for anyone to pass on any side. Of course my unreserved bile is held for those who take the large metal luggage carts onto the moving walkway … and then stop. How lazy can you be?

Aside: in case you were wondering, and I doubt you were, you should always walk like you drive. In other words, in the US if you meet someone walking the other way, you should pass on the right. In London, Singapore, Japan, Australia, etc., you should pass on the left.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time watching people in busy cities, and this is the conclusion I’ve come to after studying it over the last few years.

See, in the US we drive on the right side of the road. However, we walk on the left side of the road, so we can face traffic and possibly get out of the way if need be. I always wondered if you should, thus, pass on the left of the person you meet when walking. The only way really to test this was to go to a country where they drive on the other side of the road to see on which side they wanted to pass. Almost everyone seems to pass on the same side they drive. QED.

Your Tray Table is My Seat Back

I seriously try to be a nice guy while flying. It can be stressful, uncomfortable and in many other ways unpleasant so I don’t want to add to it.

Nothing is more unpleasant than to be trying to sleep and have someone shove a large plastic water bottle into the small of your back. It seems most travelers like to live in their own little world so they fail to notice that every time they grab the Sky Mall to check out the latest nose hair trimmer that the manner in which they grab said catalog says a lot about their grasp of etiquette.

The “cool” way is to gently grasp the top of the magazine with two or three fingers and slowly pull it out of the seat back pocket.

The “uncool” way is to roughly grasp the top of the pocket with one hand and pull it back as far as it will go while using the other hand to maul the damn thing out just in time to let go and send the spring loaded pocket slapping into my lumbar region.

Of course nothing can replace a young child for sheer seat back destructiveness. The average kid today is so overloaded with video games, iPods, and DVD players that how one can spend most of a transcontinental flight discovering the physics of a spring loaded seat back pocket and remained engaged is beyond me. In the rare cases that distraction does wear thin, there is always the tray table drum set to take its place.

That’s one reason I like the exit row – kids aren’t supposed to be able to sit within one row of it.

But I guess if the internet had been around 150 years ago, someone would be blogging about the three things that bothered them about covered wagons. At least flying gets me to interesting places where I can ramble on about how much I love OpenNMS.

Uh-uh – I hope my students don’t have blogs …

Slashdot Spanking

The server for opennms.org has been around for almost five years now. It’s nothing fancy, but lately we’ve been running out of room on the disk drives so we went out and bought a new (refurb) server: lots of disk, lots of RAM, and two fast processors.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the website moved fast enough.

The opennms.org site uses Mediawiki, which is written in PHP and had a MySQL back end database. It’s not the most efficient site in the world (although we have used various tricks to make it faster) but it has served us well. The usual load average is around 0.10 to 0.20, with occasional peaks when the nightly tape dump runs or someone is doing a lot of mail synchronization.

This week has been a big press week for OpenNMS. SearchNetworking.com issued its annual user survey and OpenNMS was awarded Gold in the network management platform category. This was thrilling for the team for a variety of reasons. First, this was a user survey. As an open source project we don’t really know if anyone is using our work. We have a wall of postcards but we don’t get many, and we have a large number of downloads but we can’t really tell if they ever get installed much less used. The fact that it was end users that honored us with this award means that someone, somewhere must find it worthwhile to use it.

Second, this was a survey of all tools, not just open source applications. People often want to associate open source with “cheap” or “bargain” and it is really the wrong way to look at it. OpenNMS can be better to use simply because it is a better tool for the job. When deployments are measured in man-hours, an OpenNMS deployment can take a lot less time than a comparable OpenView or Tivoli deployment. That’s where the real cost savings can be had, although the fact that there are no licenses fees involved is just a bonus. (grin)

Finally, it was OpenView and Tivoli that OpenNMS beat out for the Gold. We have always positioned the product against these platforms. Having used those applications in the past, I think OpenNMS is much easier to use and deploy. Many new users are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of flexibility OpenNMS offers, and it can scare some of them off. But OpenNMS was never designed to compete against tools like What’s Up or Nagios, which many find easier to install. However, if OpenNMS can monitor 50,000 devices at one site, it can really scream on a network with 500.

Another bit of press for OpenNMS came from Network World. I was in a face-off where the question was “Can You Trust Your Network to Open Source”. I, of course, took the “yes” position against Roger Greene from Ipswitch (makers of the aforementioned What’s Up product). It was easy to write the piece but much harder to do the podcast. See, What’s Up isn’t designed to be an enterprise-grade management platform. It is built to be a real easy, pointy-clicky application that small to medium businesses can use to get a view into the status of their network. For many, the time spent installing What’s Up may be less than working with, say, a Nagios installation. Note I am not saying “for all”, but I’m all about “if it works, use it” and if What’s Up works for you, then great. I liked talking with Roger and could see his point, although some others had to point out the flaws in his arguments a little more strongly. (grin)

But I do stand by my comments on the podcast that it’s ease of use makes it a commodity. And it is priced as such – a basic install of What’s Up is much less than an OpenNMS support agreement. But for those who need a high end solution for either complex systems or large networks, or simply a system that allows for easy customization, it’s going to require something like OpenNMS.

All is well and good until Monday afternoon when my e-mail stopped working. I tried to SSH into the box and couldn’t reach it, so I opened a support ticket and tried to figure out what happened.

What happened is that we were on the front page of Slashdot, and it was spanking our little five year old white box server. This is the first reply I got from my provider:

At console, your server was very slow, and very hard to work with; I was unable to determine why SSH failed to respond to remote connections. Your server is under a lot of stress, the last load average I was able to get:

load average: 162.58, 171.32, 149.41


I was finally able to get them to stop httpd which freed me up to work on the box, and I quickly moved the site to the new server. I upgraded to MediaWiki 1.9.3 and we installed squid front end for acceleration, and things look much better now (although it could be due to the fact that we’re not getting pounded like we were yesterday as much as the move to a new server).

To anyone who tried to visit us and failed, I apologize. And when you actually get to our sites, let me apologize again, because they aren’t the prettiest in the world. As we say on opennms.com: Professional Software, Amateur Marketing.


Yesterday I was invited to talk about OpenNMS on the MyTechnologyLawyer radio show.

  It was the first time I’d done live radio and Scott Draughon decided to loosen me up by asking if I would go out with Nancy Pelosi. I pointed out that I hadn’t given it much thought, but since I was married probably not. He pressed, and asked if I wasn’t married – how about then? What if it was just coffee? I replied that I was much more of a Ruth Bader Ginsberg kinda guy and that brought the conversation to a halt. (grin)

It was a lot of fun. I was happy we were able to produce good radio since I tend to run on at the mouth a lot. I really like to pimp our community, and lately I’ve been also pimping SCaLE and it was Ilan Rabinovitch from that conference who invited us to be on the show.

So, check it out and I have also archived a copy on the OpenNMS server.