OpenNMS and Dynamic Pricing

I heard an interesting story on NPR the other day on how Amazon is using a dynamic pricing algorithm that can radically change the price of an item over time.

Now, in my own experiments and from what I’ve been told from IT people who actually work at Amazon, they do not do targeted pricing for individual users. For example, I was looking a purchasing a particular television and I asked on Google+ for people to check the price from their point of view, and they all came back with the same number.

But I thought this would be a simple job for OpenNMS to track a price, and it was. I wrote up the details on the wiki if you want to check it out.

The Meritocracy

I’ve been following the recent kerfuffel between Richard Stallman and Canonical over the new Amazon search feature in 12.10, and while I should probably leave well enough alone, I wanted to add a few things to the discussion.

I do respect Richard Stallman for the work he’s done to promote free software, but I get a little tired of his decision to be the final arbiter on where to draw the line. For example, he does walk the walk and uses a netbook as his primary machine because it has an open BIOS. All well and good. But what about the machines that built that netbook? Was their control code open? What about the website he ordered it from, or the person he talked to to place that order? Did they use free software? What about the logistics company that shipped it to him? Was their software 100% free? The reality is that at the moment there simply isn’t enough free software in the supply/services chain to have a totally free experience, and we can’t get there just by wishing it so. It will have to happen in steps, and those steps will involve the free software community working closely with the closed software community.

Thus going after someone like Canonical and calling what they doing spying actually hurts the promotion of free software. What they are doing is a huge step in the right direction.

Having run a business based on free and open source software for a decade, you can imagine that I am a big fan of it. Last year, for a variety of reasons, I decided to make the jump to using a desktop based on Linux. I tried a number of options, but the one that worked for me, the one that “stuck”, was Ubuntu. Using it just comes naturally, and I’ve been using it for so long now that other desktops seem foreign.

I don’t pretend to speak for Mark Shuttleworth, but one of his goals with Ubuntu seems to be to make a desktop operating system that is stable, attractive and easy to use. I think that with Ubuntu they are close to that goal. It works for me. It also works for enough other people that when Valve started working on a Linux port of their Steam client, they chose Ubuntu. When Dell wanted to ship a laptop with Linux, they shipped it with Ubuntu. (I got one, review coming soon)

The Linux desktop world is so fragmented and represents such a small percentage of potential sales, until Ubuntu came along, there weren’t enough people using the Linux desktop to make it worth writing native clients for Linux. It took people like Canonical and Shuttleworth to make decisions and choices that enabled this to happen.

Now purists will point out that products like Steam aren’t open source. True, but that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to use them alongside all of the other wonderful stuff I now use that *is* open source. In much the same way that Apple switched to Intel to make the transition easier from Windows, Ubuntu is making the transition to an open source desktop easier. And with more developers writing to the Linux desktop, that can only increase the proliferation of software for it.

And despite all of the outcry, Ubuntu is still open source. Should I dislike something or want to change it, I have that ability. But this brings up my biggest frustration with the free and open software community – there are those within it who think it is someone else’s job to implement their desires.

Take this Amazon thing, for example. I don’t like it simply because I don’t want to have to add any latency to my searches in Dash, so I turn it off. If the off button didn’t exist, I would have the ability to check out the code that implements that feature, remove it, recompile it and install it. Heck, with the proliferation of git these days the process is even simpler, as I could track my changes along with master.

Yet that does involve something I like to call “work”. Free software doesn’t mean free solution. It is a two way street. You don’t like something? Change it. Ubuntu itself is based on Debian, and Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. But someone had to do the work to change Debian into Ubuntu, just like someone had to do the work to make Ubuntu into Linux Mint.

It’s what free software is all about.

So it makes me a little unhappy when Stallman refers to the Amazon lookup feature as “spyware”. It’s loaded language meant to get a reaction from his core followers, in much the same way a liberal politician would approach immigration with “let’s open all borders” and a conservative would say “let’s build a wall and throw ’em over it”. The real solution is somewhere in the middle.

This doesn’t mean that users of free software don’t get any say. Feedback is a vital component of any community. I believe when the Amazon feature was introduced in the beta, there wasn’t a way to turn it off. Feedback from the community got the off button added. When questions were raised about trusting Ubuntu with our search results, Shuttleworth replied “We have root“. Not the most diplomatic response, but he made his point that we already trust Ubuntu when we install their libraries on our machines, and compared to that, search results are a minor thing.

If I were truly paranoid, I’d probably run something like Gentoo where the code is build from source each time. But what’s funny is that if I did switch to Gentoo, it would be because I used Ubuntu as the gateway drug to a free desktop.

My final point is that open source software is the ultimate meritocracy. Those who do the work get the most influence. Shuttleworth spent millions to create Ubuntu, so he gets a lot of say in it. Clement Lefebvre founded Mint, so his opinion matters in that community. I think we owe a huge debt to Richard Stallman for his past efforts, but lately I think he is doing more harm than good. And maybe I’m feeding the troll by even bringing it up.

All I know for certain is that I am using way more free software than I was using a year ago, and that is do in large part to Canonical. It was also a lot of work to make the switch, but I had help from like-minded people on the Internet, and isn’t that what open source is truly all about?


I spent last week in San Diego. I like San Diego and I like the client so I expected to have a good time. While that part came true, I also expected nice weather. While it was beautiful for the first half of the week, the second consisted of rain and an earthquake.

What I didn’t expect was to be exposed to new tech, specifically tech-enabled changes to established business models. I already talked about Stacked, so now I want to mention Uber.

Since LISA was in town I was able to meet up with some friends from Chicago. We ended up at a restaurant called Craft & Commerence (good food, great mac ‘n cheese, excellent cocktails). As we were leaving to head back to our respective hotels, I was asked if I had ever heard of “Uber”.

Uber is a system for hiring a “livery service,” or as they say in the biz, a “black car,” to drive you around. While more expensive than a taxi on average, they tend to be nicer and driven by a more skilled driver (again, on average, I’ve ridden in some clean regular cabs with very talented people at the wheel).

You access Uber from your phone, and after you confirm your pick up location it will tell you how long it will take the closest available driver to get to you. If you choose to be picked up, it will associate your request with a driver and you’ll get both the driver’s name and the option to call them. When you set up your Uber account, you configure a credit card and everything else is cashless.

While I didn’t use it that night, I decided to try it out on Friday when we headed down to the Gaslight district to eat at Seersucker (too “hip” of a place for me, the food and drink were too good for most of the clientele to appreciate). The downside was that it had been raining, and this is so unusual in San Diego that it was causing a lot of traffic problems. Because of that and the fact that it was Friday night, I was informed that “surge” pricing was in effect and I would be charged twice the normal rate.


Still, I wanted to try it out, and since I had received a $10 credit when I signed up, I went ahead and called for a car. I was immediately told that my driver was Leeban and that he would be there in 10 minutes.

I went downstairs to wait, and I could track Leeban’s progress on a map in the app. When he got close the map updated to show his picture (a nice security touch) and I received several text messages throughout the process, including one when he arrived.

The car was nice and clean, although not new. Lincoln no longer manufactures Town Cars and so the livery industry is having to make due with old stock. Leeban was very friendly and knowledgable – while my Google Map app suggested taking 163, he said it was a total mess because of the rain and he took me a different way. After a few congested stoplights, it was a straight shot into downtown and I arrived ten minutes earlier than I thought I would.

I asked him about Uber, and he loved it. Many people don’t realize that when you pay a normal taxi driver with a credit card, not only does the taxi service take a large amount of that out for “processing,” (in addition to their share of the fare itself) it can take months for the driver to actually get paid (I always try to pay for cabs with cash). Uber takes a flat 20% fee for setting up the ride and while he didn’t tell me the details, he seemed happy with the speed of payment. But he mainly liked Uber because the clientele tended to be nicer and safer overall, and he never had to worry about getting stiffed on a fare.

When we arrived I asked him if there was anything else I needed to do, specifically did I need to add a tip, and he said no, it was all taken care of. Within five minutes I received a text with the total fare and an e-mail with a detailed receipt.

While most car services charge a flat rate, this is more along the lines of a taxi, with charges for time spent waiting as well as distance. I thought the fares were very reasonable with the exception of the “2x” surcharge and figured I’d use Uber again to get to the airport in the morning, but only if it wasn’t “surge” pricing.

My second Uber ride was similar to the first. I was paired with Abdillahi (both drivers were originally from Ethiopia but had lived in the US for decades). Unlike Friday night, there weren’t too many options, and I had to wait for him to come from the airport in order to take me back. This took about 15 minutes, which is somethiing that I didn’t plan on happening, but I still made it to the airport in plenty of time. Leeban was able to arrive in around 5 minutes (quicker than the initial estimate), so I need to remember to order ahead during off-peak hours.

Abdillahi had a slightly nicer Town Car and was just as professional as Leeban. The fare was $30, which is what I paid for a cab to get to the hotel when I arrived. He also was very happy to be a part of Uber.

I plan to use this service again, especially if I happen to be in one of their foreign locations (it looks like they operate in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Sydney as well as a couple of cities in Canada). Since I plan to be in London for the OpenNMS training at Red Hat, I’ll have to try them out there.

Stacked and iPads

I’m in San Diego this week, and the client took me to Stacked for lunch yesterday.

The Stacked “dining experience” starts off pretty normal: you are greeted by a hostess who takes you to your table and hands you a menu. But it changes a bit from there, because on every table there is an iPad running a custom ordering app. When you sit down, you scan in a credit card and then you can start the ordering process.

Once you have decided on what you want to drink, you navigate through the app and then add it to your order. When everyone at the table has chosen, you hit “send to kitchen”. A few minutes later the drinks arrive.

In the meantime, you can start on your food order. It follows the same process, with the added feature that you can customize nearly everything on the menu. Again, once everyone is finished, you hit “send to kitchen”.

We did have a waitress, but she was mainly there to make sure we understood the system. As there were no prices on the printed menu, I wondered if they changed on the tablet, and if so how frequently. It also raises a question about the amount to tip. Since a good portion of the job of a waiter is to get your order correct and in a timely manner, should you tip less?

It was an interesting dining experience. As a frequent business traveler and no stranger to “table for one,” some of the most frustrating aspects of dining out involve the ordering process. For example, on Sunday I went out for sushi, and after getting a seat at the bar and being left with one of those “check the box” papers, I was pretty much ignored for 20 minutes. I wasn’t given anything to write with, and since all I wanted was the regular sashimi tray there really wasn’t much to do. I finally caught the eye of the sushi chef and got my ordered started.

I like nothing more than having a long dinner with friends, but when I’m alone, eating is more of a chore and I just want it done as efficiently as possible.

Which was a big plus for Stacked. While the Greek Salad I had was nothing special, it was good and when I was ready for dessert I was able to order my ice cream sandwich when I wanted, and I didn’t have to catch the eye of the waitress, etc. I’m not ready to replace my favorite wait staff with a tablet, but for certain dining situations it makes a lot of sense.

What didn’t make a lot of sense was the fact that they used iPads instead of Android tablets. The case covered up the home button to prevent people from exiting the app, but you could still see some of the default border (with the signal strength indicator, etc.) An Android tablet could have been used to create a truly dedicated device.

The final thing that bothered me was that their case, which was probably custom, featured the all too common “cut out” so you could see the Apple logo.

I believe this is Apple’s greatest weakness. They used to compete on innovation, but now their products have become both status symbols and fashion statements. The problem with fashions is that they tend to change, and change quickly. Once everyone has an Apple device, those that drive the fashionable adoption will switch to something else and the herd will follow. It won’t be cool anymore. And when it comes to innovation, I find my Android phone much more innovative than my old iPhone 4.

Dump your stock now. (grin)

Anyway, I’ve seen iPads being used to take orders at restaurants before, but this was the first time I’d seen a tablet of any sort being used by the consumer in a retail transaction. Any other notable cases out there?

Alarm Annotations

I’ve been a little slack lately in publicizing some of the new stuff in the OpenNMS stable branch. We have been working pretty much non-stop on the new topology features that I’ve let a few of the cool things available now (in a stable release – almost all of our code is available “now”).

One is alarm annotations, or “sticky notes”. These let you document issues with alarms and their resolution.

I won’t repeat what is on the wiki, but be sure to check it out.

OpenNMS Training in 2013

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s announcement of the OpenNMS Foundation, I wanted to point out that we have a lot of training scheduled in 2013.

The next class will be held at Red Hat’s London Headquarters the last week in January. Red Hat has been very kind to offer us the use of their mobile classroom laptops as well as a conference room in the heart of London. Space is limited, so if this interests you please register soon.

In February, our partner in Germany, Nethinks, is offering training for the first time in the German language. They have scheduled three classes next year in Fulda.

In April we will have our first training course at OpenNMS headquarters in the US. We will have two or three more classes next year, depending on interest, but April is the first one on the schedule.

More information can be found on the OpenNMS Training Page.

And don’t forget that there will also be training opportunities at the OpenNMS User Conference in March.

Hope to see you at one of these events.

The OpenNMS Foundation

I am extremely excited to be able to finally announce the formation of the OpenNMS Foundation.

As one of the stewards of the OpenNMS project, I have tried my best to separate the .org project side of OpenNMS from the .com commercial revenue side. Every bit of code we (the .com folks) write is published under an open source license, but I think the key to any great open source project is to have a vibrant and active independent users group.

Part of that thinking comes from my experience with Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView product line. At one time it was the de facto standard for network management, driven in large part by an ecosystem of integrations and add-on products from other vendors. The independent OpenView Forum users group used to have conferences with attendance in the thousands. That users group was key to the success of the OpenView platform.

Of course, when those “other” vendors such as SMARTS, BMC and Micromuse started to become large, HP reacted in the wrong way and sought greater control over the OVForum. That was the beginning of the end.

The number of independent contributors to OpenNMS has always been a source of pride to me, but I never felt quite confident that our merry band had what it took to survive without the OpenNMS Group. That started to change a couple of years ago when a cluster of OpenNMS users and developers formed in Fulda, Germany, a little town outside of Frankfurt and home to a university.

Part of the choice of location was due to the influence of Nethinks, one of our German partners. They hosted three successful user conferences and employed one of the founders of the users group. Fulda is also home to a top-notch University, which brought in even more people to the project. Earlier this year, that group along with others got together and formed a non-profit organization to promote open source and OpenNMS.

I’m not sure any of my three readers will understand how happy this makes me. When Oculan decided to stop working on OpenNMS, I was certain the project would die without someone to maintain it. Even as the community and our company grew over the years, I was still afraid that circumstances could arise where the project would die. For the first time in over ten years I feel certain the project could continue without me and without the direct influence of the OpenNMS Group.

The first order of business of the new Foundation is to hold the seminal OpenNMS event in the form of a users conference. Created totally by users for users and held at the University of Fulda, this event will bring together developers, contributors, corporate sponsors and, of course, users, for several days of OpenNMS geekery.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

So save the dates of 12-15 March, 2013, and be sure to register. Sponsorship opportunities will be available as well.

I also want to express heartfelt thanks to the folks behind the OpenNMS Foundation for making one of my dreams a reality.

Order of the Blue Polo: British Telecom

It’s nice to be able to post a new Order of the Blue Polo entry. We haven’t had one in while, so it’s good to have an excuse to remind everyone about the program.

One of the best ways to promote OpenNMS is through customer stories. If a company like your company is using OpenNMS, then it makes it easier to convince the decision makers in your company to consider it. However, it can be a real pain to get approval to share a story. A lot of companies are hesitant to talk about the software they use for a variety of reasons, ranging from a perceived liability that they are “endorsing” a product up through security issues. In fact, the short testimonial in Rob’s entry had to be approved by BT lawyers, and you can see what little remained.

Thus, in exchange for taking the the trouble to get such an approval to use a story on the website (complete with company name), Order of the Blue Polo members get a nice little certificate, the coveted blue OpenNMS polo, as well as being immortalized on the wiki page. (grin)

A few weeks ago I got to go to historic Adastral Park near Ipswich, Suffolk, UK to spend a week with BT working on their OpenNMS deployment. I was a little nervous (this is British freakin’ Telecom after all) but Rob and John made me feel at home. They really understood what we are trying to do with OpenNMS, and John would even go home and play with the application after a long day of working on it with me, They were tasked with coming up with a management solution for a large number of remote sites, and their current standard of using $COMMERCIAL_PLATFORM coupled on $COMMERCIAL_OS was not only cost prohibitive it would have been hard to maintain, not to mention that it wouldn’t meet their needs. OpenNMS running on Linux, coupled with a high level of customization, fit the bill just fine.

I did miss seeing the sun, however (usually I bring great weather with me to England but my luck didn’t hold out this trip) but they made it up to me by finding a pub with a bar billiard table for Friday’s lunch.

I love playing this game, but I’ve only had the opportunity to do so twice. Both times I shot out to an early lead only to lose it after the bar fell.

I guess I need more practice, more ale, or both.

Wyndham and Miller Marketing

I am a huge fan of David Thorne’s 27bslash6 website, not the least because he references the movie Brazil.

Fans of his site are aware of his on going feud with office-mate Simon, and he took it to a new level this week by defacing Simon’s page on the the corporate website of Wyndham and Miller, where David works.

David announced in a tweet that the defacement had been up for 26 days without anyone noticing. It’s brilliant, and I was excited because now that I know where David works perhaps I could hire him to do some marketing for OpenNMS, assuming he still worked there.

However, as hours then days went by without the site being corrected, I got suspicious. So I did a search on “Wyndham and Miller” and found no references outside of the website. Odd for a marketing company founded in 1996 to have no web presence. Then I did a “whois” and noticed the domain was registered just this week.


The site is beautiful. Any small marketing firm would be happy to have such a site, and under David’s profile is a very good summary of his abilities.

Too bad they don’t exist. (grin)