Congressional Order of Merit

Okay, I’m not known for being able to keep my mouth shut. When I see something stupid or wrong or misleading I have to say something. I can’t help it. I sometimes feel like I should join one of those help groups:

Hello. My name is Tarus Balog, and I’m a talkaholic.

So this post will delve into the realm of politics, one I try to avoid. For those of you who are sensitive to such things, you’d be better off checking out Dilbert.

Within America’s two party system, I’m unaffiliated with either party. My views can’t be easily grouped into either one. I’m a social liberal and a fiscal conservative (one of the reasons that OpenNMS is profitable). In the past I have voted for both Republican and Democratic candidates.

I am really concerned with how well a potential US President understands technology. Things like patent reform, net neutrality and intellectual property rights are very important to me, as well as broader ideas such as science education and medical research. I want someone in office whose grasp of the Internet is more than just “a series of tubes“.

Today I received a message from the office of Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma informing me that I had received the “Congressional Order of Merit” for being a “business leader”, and, I assume, such a darned nice guy. It was delivered with such a flourish that my head filled with images of medals, State dinners and at least one thing to blog about. (grin)

However, it seemed a little too good to be true. I mean, I doubt there is a single member of Congress who has heard of OpenNMS, much less the OpenNMS Group, and since I’ve been online in some form or another since 1984 I’ve learned that things that seem too good to be true often are.

So it was off to Google.

It appears that the Congressional Order of Merit is nothing more than a ploy by the National Republican Congressional Committee to hit me up for money. While I figured it was as much, it pisses me off in a couple of ways.

First off, did they not think I would look it up online? It seems that they’ve hit up some other “leaders” too, such as Ira Flatow from Science Friday and this guy who took the process to its conclusion.

Second, why the subterfuge? Why the misleading phone calls? Why not call up and say “Hello Mr. Balog, we see that you are a small businessman and here’s our vision on how the NRCC can help you. We need your donation to help us realize that vision” versus the whole “Order of Merit” crap.

If the NRCC can’t be honest about that, I doubt they can be trusted to do anything in my best interest. I guess it is time for a change.

Brought To You By the Letter W

I’m always intrigued with marketing. Not the usual “My Dad is bigger than your Dad” style that is so common in most industries, but the serious, hardcore, customer experience efforts of, say, Apple.

I use a Mac because there aren’t enough hours in a day for me to deal with a Linux desktop (although things are getting much, much better in that area), and the combination of stuff that “just works” combined with open source underpinnings is an unbeatable combination for me. But as I go and pay a premium for hardware the purchase is actually enjoyable due in large part to the way Apple provides an experience: from the clean and informative web site, ease of ordering, packaging, hardware and software design to their elegant and minimalist retail stores. It’s fun to buy Apple stuff, and it helps overcome the sticker shock.

This week I’m in Chicago working with a client. We have a rather large number of clients in Chicago due to the financial markets here. Many of these firms exist solely to make money for the firm’s owners, and so there is a bit of an informal yet high energy vibe at these places due in part to the lack of external customers. In every case there is a lot of technology being employed, and it is so highly customized that OpenNMS makes a perfect fit as a monitoring solution since it can be highly customized as well.

Of course, I never get to come to Chicago when it is nice outside. It’s usually in winter and it is incredibly cold, snowing or both. When deciding on a hotel, I choose the W since it was closest to the office.

I’m not cool enough to stay at the W.

Who ever came up with the concept of this hotel was a design junky. The hotel itself is rather old, but it has been fitted with modern furniture and funky art and lighting.

To my 42 year old eyes the average age of the staff is around 15. They are so friendly and outgoing that it borders on cultish. Seriously, I’ve seen less interest in my well-being from missionaries.

The “W” letter theme is everywhere. The catch phrase from the staff is “Whatever/Whenever” in response to your needs. There is a big “Welcome” mat as you enter the lobby. There is a kaleidoscope on the desk in the room that says “Wish”.

There were plums and fancy water.

There is a fully stocked minibar with the usual drinks and snacks, but there is also clothing (shirt, short pants and a hat), Clif Bars, a W music CD, an “Ouch” First Aid kit and a “4 Two Intimacy Kit” (don’t ask).

Now, the really strange thing happened on Day 2. When I checked in there were three magazines on a rack in the room: a fashion rag and two magazines from the Chicago Social scene. When I came in the next day, the fashion magazine had been replaced by Wired. So I don’t know if they were just keeping with the “W” theme, or if they just changed it out ’cause I’m male or, and this is the scary part, did they have some kind of deep client profile system that picked out I was in tech and might like such a thing.

I don’t ask much from a hotel: a clean, comfortable room with hot water and decent broadband. I like to be pretty much ignored outside of check in and check out. So all this attention is a little uncomfortable. Heck, the week before I arrived they called to see if I needed anything special (I had ’em put a non-minibar fridge in the room).

Now, at the OpenNMS Group we try to culture a unique customer experience. We’re laid back. We have goofy names for our products. We have no full time sales people. We tell people what things cost. And I am always looking for ways to improve it.

But there can be too much over-engineering of that experience. While I won’t say I’m not ever staying in another W Hotel, in my case the “W” word that comes to mind is Weird.

Safe Travels, Dr. Love

In my life I’ve had the pleasure to meet so many amazing people that I like to think I am well above average in this regard. Before I got kicked out of Harvey Mudd College I lived in West dorm, two doors down from Mike Stark and Stan Love. Stan was your stereotypical geek: skinny, super-smart, and very nice.

Stan grew up into studly astronaut-guy, and a short while ago he took off on the shuttle flight STS-122. I can’t imagine how he must feel now.

Godspeed Stan, and I can’t wait to hear all about it.

The End of a Long Training Week

We have started to offer OpenNMS training at our offices in Pittsboro every other month, and January was one of the scheduled training months. However, being shortly after the holidays we didn’t have anyone sign up by 11 Jan, so I decided to cancel it.

Of course we immediately got an e-mail asking what happened to the class. They didn’t want to wait until the next class, so being the service-oriented guy I am, I decided to hold a class for just two guys.

I think our training is the best deal on the planet. You get instruction from the people who make OpenNMS, and since the classes are small you get a lot of attention from the instructor. These guys from Dupont lucked out – they got to spend a whole week with me (although some would question my definition of “luck”).

Chuck, Me, and Hal

For lunch on Friday we decided to visit the local brewery. OpenNMS is all about creating a tool so the guy in charge of managing the network finds it fun again, and nothing says “fun” like a flight of Pittsboro’s finest.


The next training is scheduled for March. Hope to see you there.