Up in the Air

I am eagerly awaiting the release of George Clooney’s new movie Up in the Air this Christmas. In it, he plays a man who travels a tremendous amount for his job, and he has become addicted to collecting frequent flyer miles and similar perks. I empathize with a character who feels at home in airports and hotels.

His program of choice is American Airlines AAdvantage, which is also my favorite, but while his character is aiming for 10 million lifetime miles, I only just passed 1 million earlier this year. However, for the first time in my life I managed to make “Executive Platinum” by accruing over 100,000 elite miles in one calendar year.

Even as much as I travel, hitting EXP was difficult. I tend to travel in one or two week chunks, so I’m only on a plane once or twice a week, and it took several trips overseas plus a special program at American in which one could earn double elite miles for me to get there. I am interested to see if I’m treated any differently, as I have zero plans to make EXP again next year, so I hope to enjoy it while I can.

Unlike this year, in 2010 I also hope to avoid being molested by the crew. The following is a letter I sent to American Airlines about an experience I had on a flight from New York back to Raleigh. I never got a reply, so I assume they really don’t care that such things are happening (at least to men), but it didn’t upset me enough to keep me from flying on their airline.

27 July 2009

American Airlines Customer Relations
P.O. Box 619612 MD 2400
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612

Dear American:

As I have just reached my first million miles in the AAdvantage program, you probably know I am a big fan of American Airlines. In fact, the only two times previously I have used this address to write a letter was for the purpose of singing the praises of flight attendants who went the extra mile to make my journey a pleasant one, and they are one of the reasons I love American.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those letters.

Last night I was on flight 4738 from LGA to RDU in seat 11A. This was an American Eagle flight, and I believe the name of the attendant was Kathy (she didn’t have on a name tag but I believe the pilot referred to her as such).

Due to weather we ended up sitting on the taxiway for a couple of hours. When it came time to take off, the attendant came through the cabin to check seat belts. Since I had been fidgeting for two hours my belt buckle was slightly twisted. She saw this and said, “Sir, your seat belt has to lie flat” and before I could move she reached down and adjusted it.

Now picture this procedure: the fingers of her left hand were inserted between the buckle and my thigh, while the fingers of her right hand went between the belt and my crotch.

Both me and the man across the aisle looked at each other with amazement. As we talked about it later, neither of us had heard of this new FAA regulation that the seatbelt has to be perfectly flat for takeoff.

I don’t believe this violation of personal space was sexual in nature – it struck me as more of an obsessive/compulsive problem – but still, I suffer enough indignity simply going through the security screening process to have to worry about being groped on the plane.

Please don’t think I’m one of those people who complains about the slightest problem. With all of its complexity, I realize that no organization can make air travel perfect. But the behavior of this attendant was thoughtless and somewhat disturbing (you can contact the nice couple in 11B and 11C if you want to verify this story, as they were just as astonished as I was) and I can’t help but think if our genders were reversed you’d have a much larger problem on your hands.

I still love American (I’m on pace to make Executive Platinum this year and this won’t change that) and I understand that there is some difference between American and American Eagle, but as it is your name on the outside of the plane, I figured you should know.

Tarus Paul Balog
Chief Executive Officer
The OpenNMS Group, Inc.

First Impressions of Dubai

While I have been in Dubai for several days now, only recently have I been able to get out and see some of the city. Fourth quarter for us is usually insane, this year more than others, and to be quite honest for the first two days I was here I did little more than work and sleep.

I didn’t arrive until nearly midnight, and there were at least a thousand people queued up at passport control. Once I got through that I wasn’t able to find the car I was to take to the hotel, which was compounded by the fact that my fancy new iPhone from AT&T was unable to roam internationally (the fix, according to AT&T, is to have it connect to an AT&T tower to “re-register” which is a bit difficult considering there are no such towers available when one is roaming internationally) and my credit card was declined (Citibank said that the initial swipe triggered fraud detection even though I had called them to let them know I was traveling).


I did manage to get everything sorted, but after that my allotted window for sleep was pretty small.

However, after work on Monday I took a cab to the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall by area in the world. Now, I have been to many of the world’s temples of consumerism, including Ginza in Tokyo and Orchard Road in Singapore (all with OpenNMS actually) and none can compare with the sheer scale of the Dubai Mall, or of Dubai in general. It is almost as if Disney World and Las Vegas had a love child that drank some mad scientist’s potion and grew to ten times normal size.

Not only is the Mall large, it is spacious, with huge installations including five story waterfalls and a world-class aquarium. I wandered around in awe for quite some time, and managed to get my obligatory McDonalds meal out of the way (I have ordered a Big Mac meal in almost every country I have ever visited).

On the way back to the hotel, I was able to take some quick photos from the cab, including the world’s tallest man-made structure, Burj Dubai:

and a really poor shot of a metro station:

I rarely get an emotional response from modern architecture, but I am totally in love with the design of the Dubai metro stations. They drape over the tracks like some sort of giant golden scarab, and they really stand out. At points on the road you can see two or three of them at a time, and you get the idea that you are looking at the city of the future – something Disney wished for EPCOT or like something out of Total Recall.

Yesterday, my friend Yunus picked me up at the hotel and we actually took a metro train.

The Union station is actually underground, so it is not as impressive as the above ground stations, but it was still cool nonetheless. The metro system has only been in operation since September, and so everything is brand spanking new. The stations are immaculately clean, and it feels like they just took the shrink wrap off of everything.

We took the train to the Mall of the Emirates. Until the opening of the Dubai Mall, it was the largest mall in the world (by area). It is famous for having an indoor ski park called Ski Dubai, recently featured on The Amazing Race.

We had mainly gone there just to ride on the metro, so after a short visit we headed back. Yunus had told me that adoption of the metro system by the locals had been a bit slow, but you wouldn’t have know it by looking:

We then found a more traditional area which included an Iranian restaurant known for its shawarma. I was told that the thing to look for when choosing a shawarma restaurant is a queue outside, waiting.

He wasn’t wrong – the meal was excellent.

Off To the UAE (Country 21)

In a short while I will board a plane to begin my journey from Chicago to Dubai. It’s about eight hours to London and then another seven to Dubai, so I’ll arrive about 11:30pm local time – on Saturday.

This will be my first trip to the Middle East in 15 years, and I have to say that I’m looking forward to it. I spent the month of October, 1994, in and around Damascus, Syria, and I really enjoyed myself.

Yes, I can make this work

I especially remember the food as being particularly good. I liked the shawarma, best when bought right off the street and served with lots of sauce. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

But my fondest memories are of the people. While I think one can never go wrong underestimating a government’s ability to royally screw things up (my own included), in my travels I’ve found that people around the world are basically the same. They want to be safe and they want to be rewarded for the work they do. They want the opportunity to better themselves and to provide for their families. Especially in technical circles, they like solving problems and things like OpenNMS can help with that. Plus, the fact that OpenNMS is free and open source encourages cooperation, and people know that recognition in open source is based on merit – no matter the color of your skin, the name of your God or the TLD of your e-mail address.

I’ve been pretty lucky in the fact that the Internet has provided me with a way to keep up with people I’ve met over the years, but I’m still missing contact information for some of them. The picture above was taken in Damascus and the man on the left is Ghazwan M. Hawach. My Google-fu has failed me, so just in case Ghazwan gets on the Internet and finds this post – please drop me a note. I’d love to find out what you’ve been up to.

So, outside of the long hours in the air I am eager to be off to Dubai. I’m working for a company called Etisalat, which happens to be the 13th largest wireless communications provider in the world. Although you’ve probably never heard of them, they have more subscribers than Verizon, AT&T or Sprint. I can’t wait to get OpenNMS to rock on their network.

But I also can’t wait to make some new friends and eat some shawarma. The fact that Dubai is much warmer than Chicago doesn’t hurt, either.

So welcome, United Arab Emirates, as our 21st client country.

See you on the other side.

Welcome Sweden, our 20th country

I just finished up some work for a client in Sweden this week. Unfortunately it was remote, although I’m not so sure I’d like to visit there right at this time. (grin)

This makes Sweden the 20th country in which the commercial side of OpenNMS has clients. While the OpenNMS application has been downloaded from just about every country on the planet, in this list I tend to only count the countries where they are using OpenNMS enough to purchase commercial services. This way I am certain that they have adopted it as their management solution (I think overall downloads are a poor indicator of open source success for a variety of reasons).

The other countries are, in no particular order:

Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Israel, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Trinidad, Malta, India, Honduras, Chile and the US.

New Releases: OpenNMS 1.6.8 and OpenNMS 1.7.8

The latest stable and unstable releases for OpenNMS landed this week. Please use your install method of choice to upgrade. We are now on a two month cycle for releases, the last one being in October and the next one being in February. It is my sincere hope that the February release includes 1.7.90, the 1.8 release candidate, but with the holidays approaching I’m not 100% sure we’ll make it. Once 1.7.90 is out I expect two week release cycles until 1.8 is ready.

Version 1.6.8 includes a number of bug fixes and small features. One of the coolest things, in my opinion, is an easy installer. While I find OpenNMS simple to install, there are a couple of little things one has to do in order to get it up and running. We decided it would be cool to help automate or at least assist people with that process.

Version 1.7.8 is the next release in our march toward 1.8. More code was added and cleaned up, as well as a number of bugs fixed. I would definitely not use 1.7 in production unless you are very experienced with OpenNMS, but feel free to use it on a development system to see what were working on for 1.8.

The Whine List: Cold Weather, Cold Food and Cold Apps

Note: This is one of my travelog posts with little OpenNMS content.

I like Chicago. I think it gets a bad rep in comparisons with New York and San Francisco, but I almost always enjoy my trips here. This may come as a surprise to many, since this is the eighth year in a row I’ve spent a week in Chicago in December, and I must admit the fact I like the city has a lot to do with being here other times during the year (we have a large number of clients in the area).

It’s cold here. As I write this it is 2F (-17C). This is actually an improvement over earlier this week where, while it was warmer, there was constant sleet/snow/rain. On Tuesday when I was walking back to the hotel, the 40 mph winds coming off the lake combined with pellets of sleet that could quite literally flay the skin off your face. Luckily, I have the world’s best travel umbrella, which acquitted itself quite well. Since the wind caused the sleet to hit you horizontally, I just held the umbrella up in front of my face to block most of it, with the occasional peek around it to make sure I didn’t walk into anything or anybody. The wind was so strong that it reduced the umbrella into a cone with a base about 10 inches wide, but it didn’t fail or invert and it got me back to the hotel with my face intact.

Compared to yesterday, that was a pleasant experience.

As my three readers know, I recently bought an iPhone. This trip has been my first chance to really use it and I am quite pleased. While the voice quality is just okay and the camera isn’t very good at all, as an overall communications device it works quite well. I am at a long time customer that happens to be a bank and as such their network is very locked down. Usually I am completely cut off from e-mail and IM, but with the iPhone I can easily keep in touch. The AT&T 3G network has been very responsive (I’m on the third floor of the building next to a window) and the intuitive interface of the phone makes using it a breeze. Battery life has been good – lasting the entire day even with a Woot-Off in progress.

And at least it hasn’t driven me to run over it with a truck, like my friend with the Droid. (grin)

One thing I didn’t understand about the phone were these new “push” notifications, and I’m still not sure I understand them completely. On the iPhone OS, third-party apps are not allowed to run in the background. Thus when using, say, an instant messenger application, you have to keep it in the foreground in order to know that someone has sent you a message. I was using an app called “IM+ lite” by Shape Services and I was bragging that I could stay connected even with it in the background since it supports push notifications and a little pop-up would appear when there was a new message for me to read.

It didn’t dawn on me that the only way that could work is if some third party server was acting as the client by connecting to my Jabber server as me. Since the IM+ app wasn’t in the foreground, there is no way for it to maintain a connection to the server to know that new messages were waiting, so there had to be another method for it to “know” there was a message waiting.

This really pissed me off.

As I have mentioned many times before, I am somewhat of a security nut. We have a Jabber server just for internal communication that a) we control and b) we require SSL connections throughout. Thus I feel really safe when using IM.

What pissed me off was that nowhere in the documentation for IM+ does it mention that some company in Germany is going to receive your credentials in the clear and then masquerade as you on your server – giving them access to your contact list as well as being able to log your conversations. I verified that, indeed, a server using the IP address (which puts it in Berlin) was connected to my Jabber instance.

I was more pissed at myself for not being more careful, but still – I was under the impression that German law required companies to be quite clear about the information they collect over the Internet and how that information is used, but apparently that doesn’t apply to Shape Services. I am paranoid enough not to use my Jabber login as the admin login, so all I had to do was change my password, but still I was angry.

Be very careful when using push notifications on the iPhone.

I have since switched to the Jabber app from OneTeam, and I hope that push support comes to Openfire soon.

But no worries – I figured last night would make me forget all about it since that was our annual pilgrimage to Shaw’s Crab House. I have always loved Shaw’s – nice atmosphere, great service and good food.

To quote the Princess Bride, I have got to get used to disappointment.

To start with we ended up getting seated very close to a large round table full of about eight men and, oddly enough, just one woman. The guy closest to me must have been six and a half feet tall and over 300 pounds, and he was very drunk. This caused him to repeatedly get out of his chair, and since we were about an inch apart it would slam into mine. He would slur an apology but manage to do it again later.

Now the restaurant really doesn’t have too much control over that, but they do have control over the wait staff, which seemed uninformed and not very responsive. Our order of a dozen oysters took over 40 minutes to arrive. This was followed by our main courses, even though two of us had ordered a cup of lobster bisque that should have been served before the mains.

I love the bisque, but it was not to be.

Perhaps because of the delay on the oysters my scallops came out at room temperature. They were perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of caramelization, but just not hot. I ate about half of them before complaining to the table, and my dinnermates suggested that I mention it to the waitress. I did, and she offered to take them back and heat them up, but I resisted. Heck, this is a nice, expensive restaurant and they should be able to deliver food right the first time, and “heating things up” is what I do with leftovers when I get home.

When I said “no, that’s okay”, she got real snippy and said “well, why did you bring it up if you didn’t want me to do anything about it?” So like a punk I let her take my plate and 20 minutes later my scallops returned on a different, heated plate, ever so slightly warmer. By this time I wasn’t hungry anymore.

I blame myself – I should have asked to have our table moved away from the large, drunk guy. I should have replied to the waitress “well, I was hoping you could have suggested something other than heating up my poorly delivered meal, perhaps the manager can suggest something? Will you get him for me?” but I didn’t do any of these things.

I’ve noticed that a lot of unhappiness in this world doesn’t come from bad things happening to people, but from unmet expectations. I was expecting the excellent service and great food I have experienced at Shaw’s in the past, and they under-delivered (in all fairness I should point out that they did comp two desserts because of the missed bisque). I might have been able to mitigate the situation by talking with the manager, but I didn’t, which just deepened my mood even more.

Whenever I experience a bad service situation, I do try to learn from it. I’m going to have to think of ways within our own business when dealing with OpenNMS support to make sure expectations are properly set, and to encourage people to complain to management (i.e. me) if they aren’t. If I have an unhappy client I will do my best to set things right, but I have to know they are unhappy first.

Next time I’m in Chicago I’m eating at Vong’s due to this experience at Shaw’s.

I hope none of our OpenNMS clients feel the same way about us.

OpenNMS UCE 2010 Call for Papers

After last year’s inaugural OpenNMS Users Conference – Europe, we want to do it again. We’re going to extend it to two days and hope to model it more on the Nagios Users Conference I attended in Nürnberg back in October. Ours will once again be held in Frankfurt, Germany.

If you are interested in presenting, the Call for Papers is now open. The author of any accepted paper will have their hotel costs covered.

There are two types of papers being sought. The first are presentations, which can be either of a technical nature (how to use the OpenNMS application) or a business nature (how to use OpenNMS to improve business processes). These should be about 45 minutes long with 15 minutes for discussion.

The second are workshops. We are seeking two hour workshops to cover hands-on examples with OpenNMS. This is a new feature in this year’s conference.

The deadline for submitting an abstract is 31 December 2009 and speakers will be notified on 31 January 2010.

Hope to see you there.

Airlock from The M.H.A.

I’m a bit of a security junky. I don’t transmit any passwords in the clear if I can help it. I use virtual credit card numbers whenever possible. And I set my screen saver to lock with a password after three minutes of inactivity.

Three minutes may seem a little short, but I used to work in an environment in which leaving your laptop unattended resulted in some unpleasant practical jokes. My hard drive is encrypted so I’m not worried about the theft of my laptop resulting in the loss of private information, but that doesn’t work if I just leave my laptop laying around logged in.

So I am extremely happy to have come across Airlock by The M.H.A. You install this app as a preference pane on your laptop and it uses bluetooth to pair with your iPhone or iPod touch.

Simply walk away from your laptop with the phone (or iPod) in your pocket and your laptop will automatically lock. Come back into range and it automatically unlocks.

Version 1.0.0 didn’t work with my iPhone 3GS but the 1.0.1 version released today works fine. Free three hour demo mode (infinitely renewable) and only US$7.77 to purchase.

So far I really like it.

This Post Brought to You by Snapple

For those of us in the open source community, you were probably under a rock this week if you missed the New York Times story “Open Source as a Model for Business Is Elusive“. It was sent to me by a number of people, including one woman who I’ve seen rarely since high school – 25 years ago.

This has been analyzed to death (see the 451 Group’s blog for a nice roundup of commentary) so I’m not going to focus on the article too much. I did find amusing the comment “There’s only one company making real money out of open source, and that’s Red Hat” since Red Hat seems to be the only large company that focuses on truly open source solutions. Surprise, surprise, the fauxpen source players are apparently “in trouble”.

I know I look at the world differently than many (if not most) people, but I’ve never seen “open source” as a business model. The term is way too big and vague – like saying “manufacturing” is a business model. Sure, it can play a role in both the development, support and marketing of software, but its not a business in and of itself.

The biggest mistake is to try and treat open source software the same way as commercial software. The rules are different, and a lot of the griping is due to the fact that the way one runs a software company is different if the software is open source. I’m often asked “how do you sell free software” and the answer is always “you don’t”.

But it is hard to get both customers and investors to think differently.

One issue is applying old metrics to new markets. The Times article seems to think that open source companies are floundering. On the other hand, here at OpenNMS we had a record year and hired two new people. I’m sure if I brought that up as a counterpoint we’d be dismissed as being too small, but these days the costs of starting, maintaining and marketing a software company are so much smaller than they used to be. The model of the future is lots of small, profitable software companies versus an Oracle or a Citrix.

I read yesterday that the new album by Susan Boyle sold a record amount in the first week of release. While that’s a laudable achievement, at the bottom of the article they point out that most young people buy single tracks and not entire albums, and Ms. Boyle’s audience is a much older demographic. In five years using album sales as a comparative measure of success will go away, in much the same way that the overall size of a software company as the measure of success will change.

I love looking at how the entertainment industry is dealing with the prevalence of broadband network access to their traditional business models. In some cases they decide to sue their customers – trying to keep the status quo.

In other cases, artists are taking the distribution of their works into their own hands, like Radiohead. While the overall total sales of a particular album may go down, the amount of money the artists receive goes up. Others, like Phish, focus on touring and even encourage their fans to bootleg their music.

Expect to see more musicians focusing on singles vs. albums, since they will become more popular and they open the door to sales of other things such as ringtones (note – as someone who loves high concept long play albums like “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” I’m not saying this is a good thing).

It’s all about efficiencies. Cut out the marketing and production machine required to produce a piece of music and it is possible to make the cost to the consumer go down while the profit for the producer goes up.

Change bothers people, but it also provides an opportunity for creativity. On the show Glee the story line involves three to four musical numbers per episode. The producers then offer those tracks on iTunes which provides a totally new revenue stream. With people skipping the ads during shows, some are imbedding the product placement right into the story (with 30 Rock being the most obvious about it).

I am certain we will continue to see articles that cast open source in a bad light because it doesn’t conform the way software has traditionally been handled in the past. I’ll ignore them and keep looking for opportunities to shake things up.

I’m betting I’ll find them.

Happy Thanksgiving … from Microsoft

Well, I’d like to think the tryptophan has worn off, but I’m still tired. We’ve got a lot coming up in December and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

I’m off to Dubai in a few days to teach OpenNMS … on Windows. While open source is most closely associated with the Linux operating system, being written in Java OpenNMS doesn’t really limit itself, and we run on pretty much anything. In fact, over the last month people searching for Windows installation advice was one of the top hits on the .org website.

The problem is that we don’t have much Windows experience in-house, and even less software to try what we do know. I bought a bunch of Windows XP Home licenses awhile back for our lab machines, but didn’t release that Home doesn’t support WMI, so it wasn’t very useful for us to test against that feature in the upcoming 1.8 release.

This year we hired Michael Coté and Redmonk as analysts, and they were able to hook us up with the open source gang over at Microsoft (yes, they do exist). They were happy to get us an MSDN subscription, and now we can tri-boot the lab machines with OS X, Fedora 11 and Windows 7.

I must say that Windows 7 is sure purty lookin’, and it seems faster than what I’ve experienced with XP. With Microsoft’s generous help I look forward to seeing a greater support for Windows in 2010 (more Windows-like installer, for example). Many Thanks, Sandy and Hank.