SCaLE6x: 8-10 February 2008

  Gareth dropped me a note that we have been approved to have a booth at SCALE 6x in February of next year. I’m very excited, as I had a blast at last year’s show. If you haven’t been to SCALE, I’d consider going. It’s a cross between LISA and LinuxWorld, but it is also more intimate and informal, whereas the other shows are pretty large and the latter is very corporate. We had booth bunnies at the last SCALE (grin).

In other news, check out this podcast with Luke Kanies of Puppet and Coté on bootstrapping and open source company. Oh man, been there, done that.

Automation Gone Wild

This is just a short rant on the difference between getting information and getting useful information. At OpenNMS we try to build tools that solve problems – not just ones that look pretty.

For an example of the difference between wisdom and knowledge, I’ve been getting hit with a lot of these notices:

Panda GateDefender Performa has detected malicious content (FakefromWorm) in the following file

While I doubt anyone from Panda Software reads my blog (or anyone else for that matter) I would love for them to answer the following question:

If you KNOW the mail had a fake FROM address, then why in the hell are you mailing ME about it?!?


Time to filter “GateDefender” at the postfix level.


Yes, it’s another weather related post. The weather in North Carolina has been on everyone’s mind since we are under exceptional drought conditions.

low lake level

The water level in the pond outside of our office is so low that mollusks are now within reach of the blue heron that often stops by, leaving the shore littered with their shells.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a weather station out at the farm and I used the HTTP data collector in OpenNMS to store information from that system in RRD files. It used the software supplied by the vendor, and to be quite frank it wasn’t very good. It would gather the data from the weather station and create HTML files locally, and I’d use scp to move them up to the server. Unfortunately the process would hang every day or so, and I’d end up with long, flat lines in my OpenNMS graphs since the web page wouldn’t update.

I remembered that the serial protocol for communication between the computer and the weather station console was published, if not open, so I went looking for the specs in case I could code up a script or something to bypass the packaged software and get access to the data.

Instead I found something much, much better.

There is a project on Sourceforge called “wview” which does pretty much anything I could have asked for and more. It’s lightweight, fast, runs from the command line, and has many more features than the vendor’s software, and it’s GPL’d. It was obviously written by a weather geek for weather geeks.

It provides a great web page out of the box, and even has Weather Underground integration built right in.

While the vendor probably needed a piece of software in order to drive sales of the hardware, they obviously focused on making it pretty versus useful. That added complexity resulted in crashes, whereas wview has run like a tank. I am just thankful that the product manufacturer was wise enough to open the protocol which enabled wview to exist.

This is open source at its finest. Ben went ahead and added it to fink unstable, so now I’ve got package management on top of everything else. That was one small way to give back to the project, and I also sent in a donation (which means wview now has as many donations as OpenNMS [grin]).

Know what’s strange? Just like when I bought In Rainbows I was happy to spend the money. I didn’t feel like I was forced to do it.

It seems that so many industries now seem to think that the only way to get people to buy stuff is to force them. The music industry in particular seems intent on persecuting their customers, and the US wireless phone market seems to be getting more and more proprietary everyday, with the major carriers coming up with more ways to lock in their clients.

The success I’ve had with wview makes me wonder what would happen if a little openness entered the wireless phone market. What wonderful applications would be written from the point of view of users and not manufacturers? The carrier that took that leap would get my business, and I’d be happy to give it to them.

But my guess is that it’ll be a rainy day around here before that happens.

Running with Windows

I got a call from my friend Scott this weekend. He is one of my friends that only calls when he needs computer help. As a school teacher in California, he had been given a new tablet PC, and he had lost the ability to connect to the network.

I couldn’t help him. I’ve been using Macs and UNIX almost exclusively for over four years and my Windows-fu is weak. Of course I made the usual suggestions such as reinstall the drivers, but it didn’t help.

But the fact remains that Windows is still the dominant desktop platform out there and a lot of people feel more comfortable with it than with Linux or OSX. We often get asked the question: when will OpenNMS run on Windows.

The answer is now.

A couple of months ago I got an e-mail from Bindu Dandapani at HCL in India announcing that they had managed to get OpenNMS 1.2 running on Windows. Since this was before we split out the C based libraries from the main OpenNMS Java code, that was quite a feat. They accomplished this by using some of the new Java classes in 1.5 to replace the C code we use for ICMP, so I asked them to look into 1.3 and to let us know if they could use their changes against our development branch.

Ever since we broke out the C code in 1.3.6 I’ve been wondering just how hard it would be to run on Windows. At a minimum we’d need to be able to compile jicmp, but that should be possible with mingw, and since the rest of the code is Java we should be able to “just work”. So earlier in the week I asked Ben Reed to take some time to see just how hard it would be and how long it would take.

Apparently, slightly less than a week.

As Ben’s post mentions, there are a few small things to work out, but it is definitely a salute to Java that a quarter of a million lines of code built on Unix can be ported to another O/S in such a short time.

In a strange coincidence, I got an e-mail from Bindu today that they, too, had gotten OpenNMS 1.3 to run on Windows. I’m hoping that they can help out with the last few remaining issues and perhaps help us work on an installer so that we can get the Windows port ready for prime time before the 1.3.8 release.

For many of you, this really won’t matter, since you use Linux/Solaris/OSX/etc. but the hope is that this will expose OpenNMS to a whole new group of people who didn’t want to try it before, or who work in Windows-only environments and are eager to have better tools.

I’ve decided to run January’s OpenNMS Training on Windows. Space is limited, so be sure to sign up early. Also, there is still time left to sign up for November’s OpenNMS Training on Linux. It will be the last Linux training for awhile (until probably March of next year).

Somewhere In Rainbows, Bluebirds Fly

Fourth quarter for the OpenNMS Group has always been crazy. We start off slow in first quarter and then slowly build until the end of the year when things go wild. Last year we did half of our yearly business in the last quarter. This year we did as much in our usually slow first quarter as we did in last year’s fourth, and it has just grown from there. We plow all of our excess revenue into the business, and we’ve just hired another top notch person to join our team (more on that in a few weeks when he starts).

Despite this success I am constantly told by those who know better that our business model sucks. Perhaps. If you come from the tradition of selling software, trying to figure out how to sell free software must be a little confusing. Still, that doesn’t prevent people from trying. Currently the most common model is to have a “free” part and proprietary part. The business plan is built heavily on the proprietary part, which is little different than purely commercial software.

The problem is that people fear change. For years the way to make money in software was to sell licenses. For years the way to make money in music was to get a big recording contract. In exchange for a huge cut of revenues, record companies would produce, promote and sell music. Their main advantage was the distribution channel. With the Internet, the problems of distribution have gone away.

I like music, but I’ve found lately that most of the new music I listen to tends to come from artists I learn about on the Internet. The music coming out of the traditional channels – with more emphasis on how the artist looks on MTV instead of on the music – has me searching for something decent to listen to. If I want to look at scantily clad beautiful people, there are websites for that. (grin)

While the music industry blames its woes on piracy and has resorted to suing its customers, I think it has more to do with the fact that the model is changing, and it is no longer possible for the record companies to maintain the levels of profits they have had in the past.

Think about it. How many times have I purchased Dark Side of the Moon? My first car (a 1972 Delta 88 Olds with a 455 V8) had an 8 track player. Then I bought the album on vinyl. I liked it so much I bought the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs master. Then I bought the CD when it was first available, and finally the re-mastered CD a few years later.

So I paid for the same content 5 times. I’m sure that money went somewhere, but I am willing to bet the bulk of it did not go to Pink Floyd.

When CDs first came out, they were pretty expensive. Now I can burn one on my computer for something like 3 cents. Yet CDs are still priced about the same (US$15-US$20) as they were in 1984. That can only mean that since production costs are lower profits must be higher.

But change is coming. Today I got In Rainbows, the latest album from Radiohead. It is a really good album, but almost as good was how I bought it. I went to the website (which was a bit slow due to traffic), added the download to my cart, and then it asked me how much I wanted to pay. Zero was an option. If you are distributing DRM-free music why not have zero as an option? According to the music industry, there should only be, what, one download right? Without DRM all of the pirate kiddies are just gonna steal it.


I paid £5. Ben paid £5. I have a couple of other friends who also bought it. It was about US$1 per song, which is what you pay on iTunes, but I can play it on my computer, on the Phatbox in my car, and on my phone without worrying about DRM. Sure I am certain that there will be some theft of it, but with almost all of the money going directly to the band I think Radiohead is going to make more money with this album than any of their others, which should encourage them to continue to make great music.

The music industry is scared. They should be. No one really needs them anymore. I think the software industry should be scared as well. Companies have wised-up to the idea of “per server” licenses and proprietary lock-in. They are looking for a change.

OpenNMS is betting on that change by providing high quality, truly free/libre software. The accepted software model is to get a bunch of investment and market the hell out of your company. We are using the even more traditional model of “spend less than you earn”. Being cash positive may suck as a business plan if your goal is to sell out within five years, but it means we’ll be around after those five years, with an even stronger community and a stronger offering. To me it’s like beautiful music, and with OpenNMS we hope to prove, like Radiohead, that beautiful music doesn’t have to come with strings attached.


I’ve spent this week in Chicago (much nicer in October than December), and since I don’t have much OpenNMS-y news I figured I’d take a page out of Coté’s book and talk about travel.

Downtown Chicago from Harrison

I like Chicago, and when I come here I always try to stay at the City Suites hotel on Belmont. It is right next to the Belmont CTA stop so it is easy to get into town. It’s affordable, in a really cool neighborhood and the rooms are very nice. I’m in a two room suite with a large well appointed bathroom and a king bed. It’s an older building so instead of central A/C there is a window unit in each room, but outside of that you would have to pay a lot more for the same amenities anywhere else in Chicago.

A few of the places I’ve eaten this week:

Duck Walk on Belmont: Cheap, good Thai food. I got out of here, stuffed, for $14. I usually can’t do that in Chicago for lunch, much less dinner.

Orange on Harrison: Probably the worst meal I’ve had in the road in years. Stay away, and if you can’t stay away at least stay away from omelet #6. It was evil. I’m a fat guy and I could only choke down a few bits. The rest of the folks at the table had “okay” meals. Service was lousy. As one reviewer said “But creative/funky food does not equate with flavorful, well-made food.”

Sushi 28 Cafe on North Clark: Despite the positive reviews, I was a little scared to be the only one in this place at 7pm on a Wednesday. It did start to fill up before I left. The sushi was good and affordable, and within an easy walk of my hotel.

Greek Islands on South Halstead: The main person I am working with this week is Greek and Chicago has a large and vibrant Greektown. I’ve been to this restaurant about four times and it never disappoints. Having to eat in restaurants a lot for travel it is always amazing to find food that tastes “home cooked”. I’m not knocking usual restaurant fare, but at times it is nice to be able to eat “comfort food”.

Shaw’s Crab House on East Hubbard: Vong’s was closed for a private event, so we walked down the street to Shaw’s. It has the decor of a high-end chophouse: dark paneled wood, leather seats in the booths, etc., and it looks like it has been around forever, although the sign said it opened in 1984. Nice scotch list, and one of my companions had a brandy sidecar made with blood orange juice that was amazing. We all got seafood. I went heavy on the appitizers since I was still stuffed from Greek Islands. Oysters on the half shell, lobster bisque and a couple of sushi rolls. All excellent.

Tuscany on North Clark: I haven’t eaten here this trip, but it is always a Friday-lunch thing and we’ll be there today. I can’t wait. Amazing food and staff. Always a nice send off after a long week of working on OpenNMS.

Ooh la la, Gimme a Litre of GPL

I saw this in France and I thought it was cute:

While I understood that this was a pump for Liquid Propane Gas, my first thought was the GNU General Public License.

I wonder if anyone else has this problem.

I remember once I was at a conference in Boston, and I saw an older, extremely well-dressed woman carrying a bag that said “AIX“. I was so curious as to why she would have such a bag that I started to follow her. When I got closer I saw it was “A/X” for Armani Exchange.