OpenNMS at VMWare World

Just a quick post to encourage any of my three readers who are also VMWare users to vote for my presentation that I submitted during the Call for Papers.

Entitled “5390 Monitoring VMWare with OpenNMS” my goal is to show off all of the cool stuff coming in 1.12 for integrating with vSphere and getting all that crunchy VMWare goodness into OpenNMS.

Vote early and often, and I approved this message.


Thank you for your interest in speaking at VMworld 2013. Our Content Committee took great care in reviewing each and every session proposal. Unfortunately, we are not able to accept your session proposal

Thanks everyone who voted.

MC Frontalot to Perform at Southeast Linuxfest

Hot on the heels of last year’s amazing Ohio Linuxfest, we at The OpenNMS Group are excited to be able to bring the musical stylings of MC Frontalot to this year’s Southeast Linuxfest to be held 7-9 June in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Front has been confirmed to perform Saturday night, and I want to stress that this will be his only Carolinas appearance on June 8th. So if you are jonesing to see the man who coined the term “nerdcore rap” up close and personal, be sure to save the date and register for the conference. I repeat, there will only be one place to see MC Frontalot on June 8th, and that will be at SELF.

Hope to see you there, and bring some ducats for the merch table so he can buy food.

Google Summer of Code 2013

Once again I am very humbled to see that the OpenNMS Project has been accepted into the Google Summer of Code.

OpenNMS has been a project in every GSoC since 2008, thus this is our 6th year. Wow.

For those of you who are unaware of the GSoC, this is a program where Google sponsors work on open source projects by matching programming students with mentors within the project’s organization. Furthermore, Google pays those students a stipend of US$5000.

When I was a student, I spent my summers making string trimmer casings in a plastics plant.

Considering that there are 177 projects involving over 1200+ students, this represents an investment by Google of over US$6.6M (the mentoring organizations receive $500 each per student).

Hats off to Google for giving back to the community in a big way.

Review: Existence by David Brin

I think it was during my extremely short collaboration with Harlan Ellison that I was introduced to the term “Speculative Fiction“.

When I was growing up in a little town in North Carolina, I fell in love with what we called Science Fiction. I devoured Asimov and Niven and Pohl, and while the local library held little in the way of such books, I spent the money I made mowing lawns on books from the Science Fiction Book Club, one of those mail order (I originally wrote “on-line” – sigh) “Book of the Month” companies that sold cheaply printed hardbacks at a discount. They also included a genre called “Fantasy” which included Tolkien, Zelzany and others.

As the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre grew, a new subgenre of books and stories arose that were much better defined by the term Speculative Fiction, although that term currently acts as an umbrella over all sorts of writing including horror and alternate histories. Descendants of the “hard” science fiction of Asimov, speculative fiction strives not only to entertain, but to predict. The plots of these stories tend to arise out of reactions to changes in technology, and they differed from regular Science Fiction by increasing the “plausibility” of the scenarios they portrayed.

One of my favorite books of this sort is the 1989 novel Earth by David Brin. Brin is probably best known for his Uplift series of novels. In them, the Earth is contacted by a large interstellar community of beings, ranked by their age and the number of beings they have “uplifted” into sentience. This uplifting service is not without a price: the uplifted species is indentured to a long period of service to the uplifting race. This can be quite profitable, so the competition to find potential species to uplift is fierce. When Earth is contacted, the human race has already uplifted dolphins and chimpanzees, which prevents them from becoming indentured, but this form of “bootstrapped” sentience is unknown in the galaxy and so the other races are suspicious, and some become downright hostile. What I love most about the books is the imagination that went into creating the different alien species. Imagine a life form made up of stacked rings, where each ring is a small chemical plant? Different combinations of rings produce different types of individuals. That’s just one of the many aliens that populate these books.

In the novel Earth, Brin put that imagination to use by setting it 50 years in the future. I’ve purchased a number of copies of that book over the years to give away just because of the number of predictions that have come true, such as the Internet, global warming and the erosion of privacy. There is a strong focus on the environment that I knew would appeal to several of my friends.

In Existence, Brin returns to those roots with a massive 800+ page novel that takes place roughly 40 years from now. It will be interesting to see which of his predictions comes true from this book.

Like Earth, the book is a little hard to start. He has a cast of characters that would make George R. R. Martin blush, and it wasn’t until about page 100 that I really got into it.

The book starts off with Gerald Livingstone, an astronaut/janitor tasked with clearing out space junk. Using an electromagnetic tether tens of kilometers in length, his job is grab onto space junk and fling it into the atmosphere so it will burn up before colliding with something important. Only this time he grabs an unknown object, an object of extraterrestrial origin, that causes great shifts in power and culture on Earth.

All of this takes place on an Earth that *could be*.

The main theme, and hence the name of the book, involves the extinction of the human race. One answer to the Fermi Paradox, which asks the question “if the likelihood of extraterrestrial intelligence is so high, why hasn’t it contacted us?” is that all species that approach the ability to travel across space end up self destructing. This book examines numerous scenarios that would cause that, and the possibility to avoid them.

One scenario is that we blow ourselves up. There is a quote from the book:

One sage who helped build the first atom bomb put it pun-gently “When has a man, bloody down to his soul, invented a new weapon and foresworn using it?”

Think North Korea and a possible US response to the use of nuclear weapons.

Another scenario is that we turn inward. In the wonderful non-fiction book 1493, I learned about the Chinese explorer Zheng He, who is also mentioned in Extinction. China had a technologically advanced civilization centuries before the West, but they rarely ventured outside of their borders. In one exception to that, Zheng He took a huge fleet of ships around the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but with the death of his Emperor those stopped. Perhaps that will happen to the human race, we’ll turn inward and stop looking out.

It is hard to write about the book without spoilers, but I am going to try not to give away the plot. Like many of his books, it reads like a thriller, which makes the presentations of all of these doomsday scenarios and ways to avoid them pretty entertaining. Once I got past page 100 I couldn’t put the book down.

It also happened that I was reading it while on holiday on the island of Roatán off the coast of Honduras.

The ocean plays a role in many of his works, and I liked reading about dolphins while being near them. One of my criticisms of the book is that there are a number of story lines that just seem to end. One involves the Uplift Project for dolphins, so in a small way this book could serve a prequel to that series, but I see it more like J.J. Abrams reimagining of the Star Trek universe than a true prequel, as Uplift aliens don’t play a role.

He does address one of my concerns, although not thoroughly. As this viral video explains, the distribution of wealth in the United States is getting heavily skewed.

Now I am certain that at least two of my three readers are thinking, “Yeah, but in American anyone can aspire to be in that 1%”. The truth is that it is becoming much harder, as factors such as contacts made while in school and family heritage start to erect barriers toward crossing into that zone where 1% of the population controls 20% or more of the total wealth. In other words, it ain’t based on merit and hard work any more. The political system has been gamed to make sure that percentage stays right where it is, if not increasing.

What usually happens in periods when a society’s wealth is skewed like this is revolution. The poor, with nothing to lose, simply take from the rich. Now, as Brin puts it in his book, the surveillance state may be able to locate a stop a potential Robespierre, but there are plenty of scenarios where no amount of surveillance could stop a revolution from happening.

In Existence, there was a cataclysmic event called “Awfulday” that isn’t described in detail, but it resulted in something called “the Big Deal”. The world was classified into 12 “Estates”, or castes, and rules were put in place to insure a smooth interaction between Estates in order to avoid such a revolution. The First Estate is made up of the wealthy, but instead of being in the 99%, these people measure there wealth in seven to eight “9s”. They play a role in the plot of the book, and although he doesn’t offer any real solutions toward wealth inequality, the Big Deal does offer some ways to mitigate it.

I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to anyone who likes these sort of things. I do have some criticisms, however. When you hit Part Seven, there is a large gap in time between it and Part Six. Since this is on page 663 of the book, Brin can be forgiven for wanting to wrap things up, but I found the transition jarring. Plus there were a number of story lines that just seem to peter out. While it was important to describe the kinds of activities those of the First Estate would be able to engage in as technology progresses, for example, it would have been nice to have some sort of way to bring those stories back into the conclusion instead of dismissing them.

But that could also be just a personal bias. The main criticism I receive about my writing is that I’m too detailed and I want to explain everything, and part of the magic is to leave some up that up to the reader. But in this case I think Brin just got tired. This had to be a hard book to write, as there are hundreds of ideas here, each one a “noggin’ scratcher” and could drive a story in its own right.

The only thing I found missing was a thought I had about fixing the issues that plague us today. Note that when it comes to things like the environment, I’m not a “Save the Earth” kind of guy, but more of a “Save the Humans” kind of guy. I think the Earth will always find a way to support life until the sun swallows it up in several billion years. Almost every issue we have facing us is due to too many people being on the planet. In Earth there is an organization that wants to take this to the extreme, where they estimate that the carrying capacity for humans is around 400,000 people, and they have come up with plan to sharply decrease the number of humans to make it closer to that goal.

As purely a thought experiment I wonder: what if we sterilized 99% of all humans on the planet today (randomly, of course, to avoid any taint of eugenics)? Assuming it could be done, we would take the current population of seven billion down to seventy million in about 80 years – about twice the size of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Imagine today’s resources spread across so few people. I can’t help but think it would be a paradise. Of course the path to getting there would be hell – toward the end of that span you’d end up with billions of elderly supported by a small amount of youth, and the drive to reproduce is so ingrained in our genes that most would find the idea abhorrent on moral grounds (There is also evidence to suggest that the world’s population will start to plateau but even if that happens at the ten billion mark, that is still a whole lot of people).

If I had a fraction of the talent of Brin, there would be a book in that idea.

A Quick DMCA Note

I just read an interesting article on Google and DMCA takedown notices.

OpenNMS was recently the victim of a bogus takedown notice. While that has been resolved (hats off to Google for dealing with 20 million of these things per month), I thought it funny that, when you typed in “OpenNMS data collection how-to” in a Google search, there was a link at the bottom explaining that one link had been removed as the result of a DMCA action, but it included a link to the original complaint that included the links involved.

So it was still possible to find the link – it just took a little extra work.

This just further illustrates the silliness of this stupid law. Without that link, we wouldn’t have been able to showcase how F5 Networks and their shoddy lawyers improperly included four OpenNMS related links in their takedown notice, so if this new action results in even less transparency, it may become impossible to right such abuses.

If our elected representatives would spend less time worrying about silly things and focus on laws like this that cause real damage to productivity, perhaps the economy would correct itself.

The AKCP SensorProbe2

While spring has been late coming to North Carolina, I expect our hot summers to be here soon, and that always causes concern as the air conditioner for the server room sometimes has issues keeping up. I used to use the temperature sensor in our ancient APC UPS, but I think the SNMP unit on that device has gotten a bit wonky and it tends to “stick” at a particular temperature.

One of our OpenNMS partners in Germany, Didactum, recommends sensor units from a company called AKCP. When I was there for the OpenNMS Users Conference I asked him if I could buy one, and he was kind enough to donate a SensorProbe2.

This is a small unit that you can mount on a wall and it supports up to two sensors. It shipped with a temperature/humidity probe and Roger added a water sensor (in case of flooding). Each sensor plugs into the unit via an RJ-45 connector.

It comes with a setup disk that is Windows only, but I decided to connect to its built-in web server over the network. The default IP address is, so I just set my address to and connected to it via a crossover cable.

The web page is plain but functional, and it was easy to change the IP and set up my unit.

Of course, we supply the default configuration for these units with OpenNMS, so all I had to do was discover it and I started to get graphs, automagically.

I also set up the OpenNMS server as a trap destination in case any of the thresholds are met. I’m hoping I don’t ever see those events but it is nice to know that I’ll have some indication if there is an issue with the environment in the server room. Thanks to Roger and the team at Didactum for making that happen.

The Future of Retail

About 15 years ago, I took a job that required a lot of travel, and I decided that I needed a new piece of luggage. I did the usual thing: I went to the mall and visited the three or so stores that sold different sizes and types of bags, and I settled on one from Samsonite. Instead of buying it there, however, I wrote down the model number and then did a search on-line. I found a site that sold the same bag, but it was also available in a larger number of colors instead of just black, and the price was about 35% of what the stores were charging. My wife found it ironic that I was bragging about both being able to get a deal on it and that I didn’t have to carry it to the car from the mall. It’s “luggage” – she pointed out.

That got me to thinking about the future of retail.

I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, mainly due to their Amazon Prime service. For a flat rate you can get a large number of things that you buy on Amazon shipped to you in two days (sometimes less) and for a fee of US$3.99 per item you can get it in 24 hours. I love this service, since I live in a pretty rural area and for me to visit any major store requires a drive of about 30 miles each way. Depending on the vehicle I use, this can cost me between two to four gallons of fuel plus my time. Also, a lot of the things I buy aren’t common, so there would be the added task of calling around to various stores to see if they have the item I need. I figure Amazon saves me hundreds of hours per year.

Now this can be hard to reconcile with my desire to shop and buy local, but I do shop local for things like food. Plus, I figure that I’m doing the planet a favor, overall, since the UPS and FedEx trucks come to the office every day and my packages are just a small cost on top of that.

So where do “brick and mortar” shops come into play? I felt that Barnes and Noble had an advantage when they added the ability to return items purchased on-line to a “real” store, but anyone who has used Amazon’s return service knows how easy it is, so that advantage was short lived as people became more comfortable shopping on-line.

For many items I expect brick and mortar stores to become more like showcases than places where you arrive, pay money and depart with an item. Apple’s stores are much like this. While, yes, you can still leave with a MacBook or iPad, much of the retail space is often given over to a stage where salespeople show you either how to use the products or why you should buy the products, and any custom configurations are still ordered on-line.

Now I see a new thing arising, and it can be summed up in these shoes:

Yes. Bask in their awesomeness. Step aside Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo, there is a new top designer in town – moi.

I became a fan of Chuck Taylor Slips totally by accident. When I was in high school, I used to admonish some friends of mine who were dating (and prone to “public displays of affection”) with the line “I used to be disgusted, but now I’m just amused” from an Elvis Costello song, which also included the line “now the angels want to wear my red shoes”. I was hunting around on-line for some red shoes, and I found a pair on sale on Zappos. I thought they were normal Chuck Taylors, but it turns out they were a slip-on variety. I found that I really liked them as their slip on nature made it easier for me to navigate airports, plus they have little in the way of arch support. My friend David got me into barefoot running where one major idea is that the arch should be allowed to flex for better foot health, and while I’m not running around in Vibram Five Fingers 24×7 like he does, the Chuck Taylors work just fine.

Everyone used to comment when I wore my red Slips and a red T-shirt, so I decided to get some other colors. Black was easy, but I found that, at least on Amazon, there are limited color choices. However, on the Converse website, you can actually build your own shoe. Using a little on-line tool, I was able to choose many parameters about the Slip I wanted, and for just a small upcharge and about a three week wait time, I received a one of a kind shoe that was exactly what I wanted.

This excited me for a number of reasons. As a fan of open source software, I love the “do it yourself” nature of the process. And just like open source – if you don’t want to do it yourself, you can check out designs other people have created and use one of theirs. All we need now to make this perfect is a better marketplace and some form of micropayment strategy – come up with a great design and then get a small cut of the profit when someone buys a copy of your design (or you could choose to put it up for free or require a donation to a worthy cause, etc.)

Taken to the next step, when 3D printers start becoming common, it will be the designs that have value (there is a 3D “Physibles” section on The Pirate Bay even now).

The best 3D printers will remain out of the price range of most users for many decades to come. Don’t get me wrong, within five years people will probably be able to afford simple home printing machines, but I believe we’ll see the creation of local franchises where you can send your order and then pick it up later, kind of like Kinkos. Well, exactly like Kinkos – if I were FedEx I’d have a team on this now.

It solves a couple of problems. First, I will be able to buy local again. Why use Amazon when I can walk or bike down the road to my neighborhood “3D Prints ‘n Stuff”? Second, we’ll see a swing in manufacturing back into the US (or Europe, etc.), with new jobs created for running the printers, maintaining them and tweaking the designs. Third, I’ll be able to get exactly what I want when I want it pretty much wherever I am.

I predict we have at least 30 years before you buy your new TV from the Prints ‘n Stuff store versus a retail outlet, but I expect to see businesses building around this trend well before then. It’s pretty exciting.

And since their wings have got rusted, you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.