A Week in Silicon Valley

Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately. I spent last week in Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale, to be exact) and it kept me so busy that I wasn’t able to find the time to write anything.

I’ve been to this area of California dozens of times, but I can barely suppress my delight at seeing the headquarters of all those tech companies. Just driving around for lunch is a veritable Who’s Who of the industry. Seriously, as we went to In-N-Out one day we drove past a building that had a sign out front for a company I’ve been talking to for a couple of months about using OpenNMS, but we had never met in person. I dropped them an e-mail and we went out for dinner on Thursday. Too cool.

The company I was working for was right across the street from Palm.

Speaking of Palm, I’m still trying to decide on a new phone. The Palm Pre is out to relatively positive reviews. There is always the iPhone, but until AT&T gets their femtocell solution figured out it is not an option for me. A friend of mine at Google hooked me up with a G1 Android-powered phone, but one of my requirements has to be an easy way to sync my calendar and contacts from my Mac.

From what I can tell, the only way to easily sync your contacts with a G1 is to sync them through Google. I’m enough of a privacy nut that I really don’t want to have my address book on a server I don’t control, so that option is out. For the Pre there appears to be a Missing Sync that’ll work, so that is an option. Bah, I think I just hold off for a few months and see what else comes up.

One thing I really liked about being back in California was the plethora of places to eat. My throat has been bothering me lately, so it was nice to be able to get a big hot bowl of Pho.

On the way to the restaurant I saw a very typically California sign on a post:

I hope they find it.

Tuesday night I got to meet up with a friend of mine from high school named Geoff Davis.

He’s doing some interesting things at Google, and plus we got to try this great Thai place in Mountain View.

We talked past the last shuttle back to San Francisco, so I ended up driving him back to his place in the Haight. It was nice coming over that last ridge on the 101 and seeing the city skyline. I think there will always be a special place in my heart for San Francisco.

On Friday I made plans to meet up with John Mark Walker in San Mateo. Neither of us realized it at the time, but they were having a “wine walk” street faire so it took awhile to find a place to park. As I was waiting for him I wandered around a bit, and came across this Porsche 550. I’m not sure it was authentic, since they are extremely rare and worth north of US$1 million, but it was in any case a nice looking car.

We ate at this Indian place and got caught up on gossip in our little world of open source. He will be moderating a panel with me, Luke Kanies and Michael Coté at the LinuxWorld reboot called OpenSourceWorld in August.

I’m not sure what he was planning with the knife.

I made it home with little trouble on Saturday, ending my third trip out west in six weeks. In addition to the trip in August for the conference, I have only one more short trip to New York City scheduled, so perhaps I’ll get to sleep in my own bed for a change.

The Internet: Bringing People Together

I love the Internet. I just got called an asshole (well “@#*hole”) by a famous person on Twitter. Not that it is the worse thing I’ve ever been called, but I think it is delightful that someone I’ve never met is able to sum up my personality in so few characters.

The famous person is Nigel Lythgoe, once a producer of the American Idol TV show. I know him best as the producer/judge on So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), a dance competition show that I rarely miss. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about dance, it is amazing that I like this show so much. One of the reasons is that it tends to have a nicer tone than shows like Idol, and the judges seem to realize that their final cut of contestants are all pretty damn talented, thus their criticism is constructive and every cut is a little bit painful.

Now, unless you’ve been in a cave or “hiking the Appalachian Trail”, you are aware that Michael Jackson passed away this week. At 43 I’m close enough to 50 to say that, for anyone, that is a life too short.

I was never a fan of Michael Jackson’s music, but I recognized that he was talented. A friend of mine in college who was contemporary dancer, went to see his movie Moonwalker and I was teasing her about it (where I went to college most of us were musical fascists and would deride anything that didn’t fit into our definition of “good music”). She laughed and said while that his music was definitely pop, he was an amazing dancer, and I can understand that for people in dance his passing is a great loss.

Note: for all of you geeks out there, Mr. Jackson has a patent.

Unfortunately my bullshit meter is pegged by a lot of the “tribute” stories I’m seeing on TV. Plus, I’ve been so inundated with Michael Jackson music that “Billie Jean” is currently a two-day long earworm living in my head (they even had a bluegrass version of it on Back Porch last night).

I follow Mr. Lythgoe on Twitter, and he is trying to organize a Michael Jackson tribute show for SYTYCD (and has talked about little else in the last couple of days). If anyone can do it, I expect he can, as American Idol got permission to use his music two seasons ago, and in fact they are re-running that very episode on Monday.

While I have no doubt that Mr. Lythgoe is trying to honor Mr. Jackson with the Idol repeat (the first Idol repeat in prime time, ever, I believe) and his desire to have a show dedicated to his dance styles on SYTYCD, I had the temerity to suggest on Twitter that all of this flurry of activity might look “slightly opportunistic”. It was simply my advice as an outsider that he should be aware of it. Think about it – if Mr. Jackson’s influence on dance was so important, why wait until now to have a show about it? Wouldn’t it have been at the top of the list when the producers were getting permission to use his music on Idol? I’m not saying that they shouldn’t do it, but there needs to be a certain tone around the show to prevent it from being seen as just a cheap grab at ratings.

For that I am now labeled an “@#*hole”.

Maybe I struck too close to home. Trust me, in 30 days, sad as it is, very little will be in the news about Mr. Jackson. We, as a culture, just don’t have the attention span for it. If you are in the business of news, stories about Michael Jackson are hot right now. If there will be a Michael Jackson version of SYTYCD, trust me, it’ll be as soon as it possibly can be done.

So what does this have to do with open source? Well, unpleasant as it may be, it is extremely important to listen to what your critics are saying. It is easy to dismiss them as a bunch of assholes, but you do it at your own peril. In many cases they echo the thoughts of people you need to reach, and understanding how they think is the first step.

For example, my experience with open source seems to be 180 degrees in the opposite direction from Matt Asay. For better or worse, Mr. Asay is seen as a spokesperson for open source software by some, and I have to be able to respond to his ideas, which range from the bleeding obvious to the downright asinine (with a little truth thrown in to help make them seem legit). While I try not to “feed the trolls” by commenting too much, it is important to my business to understand how people like him think.

In any case I sent that tweet to Mr. Lythgoe with the best intentions and got labeled an asshole. So be it. I would rather have my actions misunderstood and get called names than to be seen trying to make a buck off a dead guy.

All Right Mr. De Mille, I'm Ready for My Close-Up

A couple of weeks ago we found out that OpenNMS has been nominated for a Sourceforge.net Community Choice award as “The Best Tool for the Enterprise”. Many thanks to everyone who nominated us, and I hope you’ll vote for us once more.

As part of the voting process, Ross Turk asked us why we should win this award. I can think of a number of reasons (well, beyond the fame and huge monetary prize), but the main one is that OpenNMS is an example of what can be accomplished with a small but dedicated group of people and the open source development model. OpenNMS can compete with products from companies like IBM and HP, which are orders of magnitude larger, and yet remain 100% free and open software. While there is a commercial company behind the project, it has survived on the business model of “spend less than you earn” and has not accepted outside investment. There is no need for a special, proprietary “enterprise” version of the software – the only OpenNMS version is the enterprise version. There are people out there who believe that it is not possible to create enterprise-grade software under the open source model without some sort of proprietary software “extensions”, but if you understand it and can be true to your community, open source works, which is why I’d like to see us win this award.

Another thing that Ross asked us to do was to make a video showcasing the project. We had a lot of fun with it, and it is now up on YouTube:

As much as I’d like us to win this award, I’m not optimistic. Seriously, the previous winners have included OpenOffice, Firebird and Zimbra – all of which have much more money and many more users than OpenNMS. However, it was worth going through the whole process if just to create this video. I’ve been hoping to capture what it is like to be a part of a vibrant open source community, if just to be able to explain it to others, and this is pretty close to perfection. Many thanks to Jeff and his friend Robbie for pulling an all-nighter to get this done.

At one point in time back in 2002, the “formal” OpenNMS team consisted of just me on my farm in rural North Carolina. Now we have over 20 people in the Order of the Green Polo and over 40 committers. In this video we have people of all shapes and sizes from around the United States as well as four other countries (Venezuela, France, Italy and the UK). For someone like myself with few talents outside of a big mouth, it humbles me to see so much involvement on this project, and it is a honor to be able to work on it with these people.

Check out the video, and for those of you who can’t commit to ten minutes, we’ve also made a one minute trailer, also on YouTube:

If you need a laugh to start your week, at least check that out, and remember to vote.

CitiBank Redux

Last September I wrote about my Citibank business credit card being cancelled due to the number being reported as compromised. Well, it’s happened again. Yesterday both Jeff and I were informed that our card numbers were possibly stolen and that Citi would have to issue new ones. No word yet on my personal card.

While this is slightly inconvenient, what really pisses me off is that Citibank will not reveal the name of the merchant who allowed the security breach. I believe I have a right to know and to possibly avoid using that merchant in the future, but no matter how hard I pressed, the agent I talked to either didn’t know or wouldn’t tell.

It’s almost enough to make me change banks, and I thought it funny that when the agent signed off with “Thanks for using Citi” it came across as “$hitty”.

I do like the fact that Citi was proactive in contacting me and closing the account, but the fact that they are willing to hide the identity of the real culprit bothers me. The merchant should be held accountable. At OpenNMS, when we take credit cards we use a system that does not store the number or any detailed information once the payment is processed. I can honestly tell our customers that their payment information is not stored by us.

So, did anyone else get “the call” and have to replace their credit cards? Is there some information that I’m missing (as a Google search doesn’t turn up anything recent)?


Wikipedia for Hire

One thing I hate about the general perception of open source software is that it is somehow amateurish. Sure, there are a lot of projects that are less than professional out there, but that’s just because there are so many projects. A large portion of them can compete with the best software, period, closed or open.

At OpenNMS we take our development process seriously. For example, we have a ton of junit tests. It’s the only way we can insure robust code while committing a large number of changes from different people. I was talking with a commercial Java company awhile back, and when I brought up junit tests the CEO said, “oh, we tried that and found it was just too hard.”

Chalk one up for open source.

So it kind of bothered me that Slashdot ran a story tonight that Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame is against anyone hiring out their services as a Wikipedia editor. I can’t understand why.

Does he not think that almost every commercial entity out there with an entry has someone in their marketing department tweak if not outright write their article? I quote Wikipedia constantly on this blog and I must say that I assume most entries are written by someone with some form of self interest. Heck, I take everything I see on the Internet with a grain of salt and Wikipedia is no different.

While I can see blocking people who constantly violate the guidelines of Wikipedia by posting marketing material, how-tos or other content that goes against the “form” of an encyclopedia entry, I can’t see why people talented at writing such copy should be prevented from charging to do so. Heck, I wish the OpenNMS entry was better written (and I wish that my own entry wasn’t there at all – it’s a little embarrassing to me to have one). I would gladly pay someone a reasonable amount of money to put in more information on the OpenNMS entry yet not slop over into marketing or promotional-speak.

Think about it. Suppose you were the AKC and you wanted to have detailed entries for all of your registered dog breeds. If Wikipedia is to become the main source for such information on the web, wouldn’t it be prudent to higher someone to write them? Sure, there could be a single line stating that “the Standard Poodle is an AKC registered breed” and I couldn’t see anything wrong with that. Users get great information on dogs they are interested in and the AKC gets a tiny amount of promotion in exchange for paying for that information to be created.

If Mr. Wales wants Wikipedia to be taking seriously and not just another amateur endeavor, there has to be room for professionals.

Idaho – the 45th State

(Other titles I thought about for this post included “Post Falls from the Edge”, “My Own Private Idaho” and the ever popular “I da ho”)

I am writing this from a hotel near the Spokane, Washington, airport where I am awaiting my usual club sandwich and trying to catch up on e-mail and such.

I spent this week in the middle of Washington state with a client. It was quite a departure from my normal trips which usually involve big cities, but I enjoyed it since I live in a small town and it made me feel more at home. Small town, desert Washington is much different from rainy, west coast Washington.

Even though I live in a small town, I still have some biases. When I was contacted by the client for some training and consulting services, I was curious what a small rural community would need with OpenNMS. I asked them how many devices they needed to monitor, expecting a couple of hundred, and was surprised when the answer came back 6800. We were replacing an OpenView install (as well as Netcool, but while they bought it they were never able to get it into production so “replace” is too strong a word).

Turns out there is a lot of fiber in that sagebrush, so not only do they have a lot of devices, their network is fast. The motel I was staying in had screaming bandwidth. I decided to try it out by running, uh, a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol used to distribute large files, and found I was able to download a 1.5GB file in about 10 minutes (peaking at 2 megabytes per second).

Most awesome.

Speaking of awesome, I drove through a thunderstorm on the way back to Spokane. Storms on the prairie are something to behold. I’m driving along in bright sunshine, with the car’s outside thermometer reading 89F, and up ahead I spy a massive, solid-looking black wall streaked with bolts of lightening. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached it. The world went dark and raindrops the size of golf balls pelted the car.

Then the situation reversed itself. Off in the distance I could see it was lighter, and before I knew it I was back in the sun and the road was starting to dry. The temperature was 70F.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.

Oh, back to Idaho.

I have never been to Idaho, and since I had pre-paid for a tank of gas I decided to head over to Post Falls.

I was going to eat there but I realized I wasn’t hungry, so I stretched my legs, hopped back in the car, and headed to the airport.

So now I can say I’ve been in 45 of the 50 United States. Many of those have been to work on OpenNMS, including Iowa, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and New Hampshire. I’m still missing Rhode Island, Maine, Nebraska and the Dakotas, so if any of my three readers lives in those states, I hope to get to visit you soon.

OpenNMS 1.7.4 Released

Just a quick note that OpenNMS version 1.7.4 has been released. This is the next developer/unstable version that will eventually become OpenNMS 1.8.

This is mainly a bug fix release (as 1.7 is getting close to being a release candidate for the next stable). Maps are now mature enough that they are enabled by default. Also, the installer has moved to using LiquiBase to handle database upgrades. While this will make it more robust, be extra careful when upgrading for the first time, and as always backup your DB before starting.

We hope you find it useful, and if so please tell us about it.