Anything You Want

My three readers know that I’m a fan of new and alternative ways of doing business, and of people and companies who change the status quo.

One person I follow is Derek Sivers, who founded the company CD Baby. By leveraging emerging technologies he helped change the way music is sold. Back in February of 2010 I blogged about both my experience with CD Baby and about a TED presentation Derek did that really reflected my experience with open source communities.

Well, he has a new book out called Anything You Want. I ordered mine this morning (I was one of the 100 people who got an autographed version). From the Amazon review:

Derek is the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. Just as important, perhaps more so–he is a phenomenal teacher. Whether detailing the fascinating rise of CDBaby, explaining catastrophic (but common) founder mistakes, or teaching me about relational databases in two minutes using analogies, he makes the complex simple. Moreover, he makes it all actionable.

If you want a true manifesto, a guidebook with clear signposts, and a fun ride you’ll return to again and again, you have it here in this book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did

I rarely recommend a book sight unseen, but my guess is Derek will not disappoint.

Neat Trick: Holiday Notifications

I got an interesting question from a support customer today. Due to the Fourth of July holiday this weekend, they wanted to send all notifications to the On Call destination path, but starting on Tuesday morning at midnight they wanted them to go back to normal.

I thought of an easy way to do this. Copy the notifications.xml file to notifications.normal.xml and to notifications.oncall.xml. Edit the latter file and change all of the <destinationPath> tags to point to the On Call path.

Since changes to the notifications.xml file do not require a restart, all they have to do is to set up a cron to copy the “oncall” version of the file to notifications.xml when the holiday starts, and another cron entry to copy the “normal” version back when the holiday ends.

Easy peasy.

Save the Date: OpenNMS Users Conference Europe 2012

The next OpenNMS Users Conference in Europe will be held 10-11 May, 2012 back in lovely Fulda, Germany.

Building on the last three years of this conference, we’ll be changing the format yet again.

The first day will be a traditional conference. We will have a call for papers and set up several tracks for people to get the most out of their OpenNMS experience.

The second day will be a barcamp, an “un-conference” similar to what we did this year. The attendees will determine what they want to see.

In between will have another social outing involving fine German beer.

For those who are interested, just before the conference we will offer two days of intense training on OpenNMS. On 8 May we will have a repeat of the training I did on the first day this year – covering all of the basics of OpenNMS, and on 9 May we will have an advanced training day, building on that. So if you came to the conference this year, you can choose to show up a day early and build on what you learned, and if you didn’t make it this year you can attended both days if you like.

Hope to see you there.

Changing Business Models

Matt Aslett has a new post today in which he pointed out that “a significant number of high profile open source-related vendors had stopped using the term open source as an identifying differentiator.”

As I read through his list of 14 companies, it seemed to me the reason that some of them are finally refraining from using open source as a differentiator is that they were never open source companies in the first place. Despite their best efforts to rebrand the term, they failed. Two of them, Groundwork and KnowledgeTree, haven’t had a “community edition” since 2009, so I think we can stop referring to them in any discussion of open source software, except perhaps as an example of what not to do. Red Hat is on the list, but they are still proudly open source and they are also still profitable.

When you get right down to it, profits are a major measure of the success of a company. When I find myself surrounded by VC-types, their measure of profit is often in how much money they made when selling a particular company. If that company does well or poorly after that is no matter to them. That doesn’t make them evil, but it also doesn’t mean they make great businesses.

More often than not, VCs have to make a decision about when to stop funding a company. Many of the companies in Matt’s list have been around for five years or more, and this tends to be the event horizon for VCs to cash out or quit, so I can fully understand why they are trying to rebrand themselves in search of a business plan that works. If they don’t, they die.

The survival of my company, on the other hand, is totally up to us. We adopted a business model that resulted in profits from Day One, and we work hard to keep it that way. Although this doesn’t gain us any respect in the Valley, it doesn’t matter all that much since we don’t need it. And that is kind of the point – the traditional VC model is dying as quickly as the open core model is dying.

Just to be clear, I am thinking of VC-backed software companies. With the rise in true open source solutions and the big growth areas in software coming in the form of inexpensive apps (think Angry Birds) and “freemium” applications (think Farmville), VCs are becoming unnecessary. I still think the VC model can work in areas such as biotechnology where huge startup costs are the norm.

The thing that really excites me these days is seeing how traditional business models are being disrupted. Open source is definitely changing the software industry, and the technologies open source enables are changing things on even a larger scale. I love reading about food trucks that tell customers where they are through Twitter. And I love what Kevin Smith is doing to the movie industry.

The entertainment industry is undergoing huge changes. First, digital distribution means that the cost to deliver content has gone way down. Second, decent home theatre systems are within the reach of many, which means a trip to the local multiplex, with its high costs, talking patrons and sticky floors, is becoming unnecessary. And much like VCs, the movie studios are trying to find a role for themselves in a world that doesn’t need them.

Today, Kevin posted a long rant about his new movie “Red State” (warning – profanity). In it, he has a novel idea for getting people into movie theatres. Instead of just showing a movie, he couples it with a personal appearance after the show for Q&A. Not only are people willing to pay for this, they are willing to pay a premium.

Of course, even a novice VC would look at this and say “it doesn’t scale”. Kevin addresses this in part by proposing using network technology to provide live Q&A over the network or via satellite. Using Twitter, Facebook, SMS, etc. people could still ask questions and interact with the artist.

This new “self distribution” plan has one amazing upside: it’s profitable. By using social media to market, he doesn’t need to spend millions on advertising. By running his art as a business, he’s already in the black – the rest is just gravy. Will “Red State” make as much as “Avatar”? Probably not, but it will net more than “Gulliver’s Travels” did, at least domestically.

And the best part is that most of that money will end up in the pockets of the people who created the content.

The movie studios that survive, like Lionsgate, will adapt and embrace these new models. Those that don’t will be looking for another business plan. Perhaps we’ll see on the cover of Variety a story reading “major studios stop using the term ‘movie production’ as an identifying differentiator.”

2011 Dev-Jam: Day Five

Well, it is hard to believe that another Dev-Jam has come to a close.

I’m not lying when I say this is one of my favorite weeks of the year, and this one didn’t disappoint. A lot of code got written and OpenNMS 1.10 is much closer to becoming a reality.

Also, we inducted two new people into the Order of the Green Polo (OGP).

The OGP is the governing body of the OpenNMS Project, and new people must be voted in by the existing membership. This year Donald Desloge was inducted based, in part, on his work with the JasperReports integration, and Seth Leger joined the group on the strength of his IPv6 work.

Seth was involved in the OpenNMS project back before I was when he worked at Oculan, so it is nice to see someone with his background still working on it after ten years.

We’re already talking about next year.

2011 Dev-Jam: Day Four

Today started out with a Marshmallow Challenge exercise organized by Alex Finger.

He saw this originally presented as a TED talk. The idea is that you divide into teams, and each team is given 20 pieces of dry spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string and a single jumbo marshmallow. Each team has 18 minutes to elevate their marshmallow as high as possible by building a free standing structure using just those materials.

It was fun, although my team was robbed as Alex ignored the fact that Seth and Antonio’s structure fell over after time had expired and they had to set it back up, but I guess this is to be expected since Alex can be considered a French judge.

Sometimes life is not fair.

Anyway, the rest of the day was pretty cool. With so many people here from Europe we discussed opening a European office of the OpenNMS Group, and I think this is pretty close to happening. From the frequency of commits, lots of code is getting written, and folks seem to be having a great time.

Any Dev-Jam post wouldn’t be complete without talking about dinner. Chris Rodman at Papa John’s Pizza FedEx’d us some coupons for free pizza and wings, which went well with the evening’s Jason Straham film festival (Transporter and Transporter 2 ).

2011 Dev-Jam: Day Three

While very unstructured, we do try for some organization at Dev-Jam and it starts (and pretty much ends) with a morning standing scrum.

We had to switch to a standing scrum after the first day since people were so excited to be working together again, scrum was taking forever to complete. By making everyone stand, it helped shorten things considerably.

I spent the day updating the OpenNMS Wikipedia page. This was my first foray into editing Wikipedia, and while none of my edits have caused problems, we did end up having the page for The OpenNMS Group deleted rather quickly. Wikipedia has a policy of not including anything but notable companies (for which we don’t qualify) but I wanted to have a page there, not to promote The OpenNMS Group, but to better separate the .com side of the project from the .org. Oh well, I understand their reasoning, so all we need is about 30-40 independent articles on the OpenNMS Group to try again. (grin)

Toward the end of the day the room filled with the wonderful smell of smoked BBQ, courtesy of Mike Huot.

Once again we had an amazing meal, and I really appreciate the work he put into it.

OpenNMS Adopts GPLv3+

If you have been following the OpenNMS git repository, you saw a huge commit by Ben today. He changed all of the copyright headers in OpenNMS to declare that the project is licensed under the GNU General Public License version 3, or any later version of the license (starting with OpenNMS version 1.10).

This is pretty much a non-event, as the prior license, GPLv2 or any later version, implied GPLv3 since the project uses a number Apache licensed components and that license is not compatible with GPLv2.

We just wanted to expressly state that the code is licensed under version 3, so don’t get too nervous on your next “git pull” when every file changes.

Terror and the Cloud

I’m finally finding time to write a little, and I’ve had this post queued up for a some time. It has no OpenNMS specific content, so please skip this one if that’s why you read this blog.

I spent a couple of weeks in Europe at the beginning of the month. Part of it was for the third annual OpenNMS Users Conference – Europe, and part of it was for a holiday.

After the conference, we left Frankfurt for Dresden, where we spent several days with some good friends. Many years ago, one of my friends hosted a foreign exchange student for a year. She was from Dresden, and we got to know her and her family. They treated us like royalty, and I enjoyed lots of dark beer as well as Eierschecke, a wonderful three-layer cake that is a specialty of Saxony.

From there we took a train to Prague. Prague is an extremely beautiful city, but I found it a bit crowded with tourists and the people I met a little cold (even when I struggled with my Czech – I studied Russian for a year and there are some similarities, but obviously not enough). I’m not judging the whole Czech people by this experience, I probably just didn’t make it to where the nice people lived and worked, but it wasn’t the experience I was expecting.

From Prague we went on to Budapest. My grandfather was born there, so perhaps that it why I found it so enjoyable. If you ever get the chance to go, stop by any convenience store and buy a bar of Túró Rudi. This is a chocolate and cheese confection that is simply wonderful, but alas it is not available outside of Hungary.

While in Budapest we visited the House of Terror museum. Despite its kitschy name, it is an amazing place: one part museum, one part art installation, and one part memorial.

This building was home to the secret police under the Nazi occupation (part of the Arrow Cross Party) as well as the secret police under the Soviets. It has three levels, and chronicles the various methods the government used to control the populace. One room that stuck with me contained three tables representing a farmer, a member of the middle class and a member of the bourgeoisie.

The farmer’s table was plain with a single electric bulb above it. On the table was a dissident’s pamphlet that was very simple, with just a few words. The table of the middle class was nicer, with a better light fixture above it, and a more complex pamphlet. The wealthy table was very fine, with a chandelier above it and a tightly worded, nicely written pamphlet.

Members of all three classes were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

The basement housed the cells and execution rooms. One cell was so narrow that the person could only stand. Another was low so they had to crouch. Still another could be partially filled with water in which the prisoner was forced to stand for days.

One of the most profound parts of the exhibition was a video where women who were interned in a prison camp were brought face to face with the woman who watched over them. While the women had recounted many horrible experiences at the hand of this supervisor, she, to this day, believes she did nothing wrong. One of the issues still debated in Hungary is the fact that many of the Hungarians involved with the persecution of dissidents are still alive and have never answered for their actions.

The whole museum deeply affected me.

They display lists of the members of the secret police, judges in the show trials, and their supporters, and I was happy to see the name “Balogh” was absent from them. It was a little more sobering to see Laszlo Balogh as one of the victims who died there.

So, what does this have to do with open source software?

When I returned from my vacation and caught up on the news, there were two main stories that caught my attention. The first was the story of (ex) Representative Anthony Weiner, who was involved in a scandal involving explicit pictures and Twitter (Seriously? Weiner? You can’t make stuff like that up).

The second was the announcement by Apple of the creation of iCloud. While almost all of the reviews were positive, I found the whole idea extremely frightening. Putting all of your mail, contacts, documents, music, etc. into one central repository where you have no control over who has access to it chills me to the bone.

Throughout the House of Terror are little alcoves containing antique telephones. If you pick one up and dial, you’ll hear actual phone conversations recorded by the secret police, some of which were used to detain citizens. One exhibit featured the equipment used to record those conversations. When you see what could be done just by tapping phones, I can’t imagine the potential for misuse that a service like iCloud represents.

Yes, I am writing this on a Macbook. Yes, I own an iPhone. I haven’t switched to Android because I can’t find a way to sync my information without going through Google, which is just as bad. I doubt I’ll end up using any Apple technology that requires iCloud, but there is a good chance I won’t be able to get away from it.

I’ve always viewed the Internet as the great equalizer – a tool for democracy in its purest form. It is very frustrating to see that perverted; to see people freely give up their privacy to places like Facebook and Twitter. When I see people go through the TSA lines at the airport with nary an outcry at this abuse of the fourth amendment, I see a populace that has already been conditioned not to question authority in the name of convenience, and it is only going to get worse.

So what should we do about it? I think that the Open Source Way imposes a moral obligation to fight this. As more information moves from personal computers to handheld devices, it will be harder and harder to control it, especially since there doesn’t really exist a truly free handheld operating system.

We should keep pressure on Google to open up more and more of Android to outside control. I would love to see open source alternatives to iCloud – the technology is cool, especially if you can control or firmly trust the servers on which it runs.

And please, please someone point me to a project that will enable us to sync contacts and calendars from our desktops to an Android phone without involving Google.

As the Weiner debacle demonstrates, we can’t expect our government to understand the technology behind the Internet. We can’t expect them to understand enough about our online privacy to want to protect it. It is up to us.

Alexis de Tocqueville is credited with saying “In every democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” I think we deserve the best, and it is up to us to create it.

2011 Dev-Jam: Day Two

Dev-Jam feels less to me like a conference than a tradition. Most of the people here have been here before. There is no need to really organize or direct anything – it just happens.

One of the traditions is that everyone starts out with grand plans. By Day Two they tend to get scaled back quite a bit. I started out with the idea of organizing the wiki. Now I’ll be happy if I can get a decent Wikipedia article on OpenNMS written.

Yesterday I teased DJ Gregor about missing his first Dev-Jam. He responded by sending us 14 flavors of Jeni’s Ice Cream.

All is forgiven.

I am, however, worried about the geeks now playing with the dry ice.

Tonight we also continued a tradition we started last year by having Brasa cater dinner. If you are ever in Minneapolis-St. Paul, be sure to check out this restaurant, and if you can’t get around to it, at least plan to come to Dev-Jam next year.

It may become a tradition.