2013 All Things Open Conference

Last week was the inaugural All Things Open Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina (USA).

My involvement with this show was somewhat accidental. We were talking with Tom Rabon a few months back about how the Research Triangle Area (which includes Raleigh as well as Chapel Hill and Durham) is something of a hotbed for true open source companies, headed by Red Hat (‘natch). He was thinking we could emphasize this by hosting an open source focused conference in the area, and work toward building some sort of open source “center of excellence” for the region.

Now unfortunately the current North Carolina state government seems hell bent on making the State unattractive for technology businesses as a whole, but there are pockets where the open source culture thrives and the Triangle is one of them. This was noticed by a group out of South Carolina called It-ology whose mission is to promote Information Technology from primary education up through adult professionals, and they see open source as the wave of the future. They decided to hold a conference in the area to see if there was any interest, and when I found out that someone was already working on it I decided to get involved.

The expected attendance was 400 people. Over 800 showed up.

Now note that this was not a free conference, like the wonderful, grassroots LUG-driven events I try to attend. While definitely not as expensive as, say, a Gartner or IDG conference, the fact that so many people were willing to pony up the shekels to come speaks well toward both the conference line up and the organization, headed by Todd Lewis.

I arrived just before 9am and found a huge line of people waiting to register. I chalk that both up to first time conference issues as well as to the unexpected turnout, and for one of the few times in my life I used my clout as a sponsor to get my badge early (grin).

Along the way I ran into Mike Else, the evening’s entertainment, as he performs as Professor Kliq and OpenNMS had paid to sponsor his trip to the show. We entered the crowded, standing room only keynote room and found some places in the back to sit (yes, the “standing room only” part happened after we sat down).

During the opening remarks we were told that IT-ology is looking for a director of operations for the Triangle area, so if you are in to that sort of thing, give them a call. That sounds like something I would love to do, but alas I have bright and golden handcuffs to my current job.

This was followed by some good keynote speeches. One was given by William Hurley, more commonly referred to as simply “whurley“. I first met him back in 2006, but hadn’t seen him in awhile since he created his company Chaotic Moon (and he started rockin’ the C. Everett Koop beard).

He’s his own cult of personality and no one can deny he is a dynamic speaker, but I do want to criticize his use of “F-bombs“. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that word and it is very useful in certain contexts, but this wasn’t one of them. One might have been okay, but this was something of a family oriented show and it detracted from the message (by making some people uncomfortable) versus helping it.

I also took issue with his claim that open source hadn’t changed in the three years he’s been at Chaotic Moon (that company is definitely not open source, having gained fame through the development of iOS apps). He brought up some examples, such as RMS, Mark Shuttleworth and Matt Asay (that last one struck me as odd since he ceased to be relevant a long time ago, if he ever was) and to me we have so moved beyond them, this conference being one example.

The little video he showed of the mind controlled skateboard was cool, though.

I talked with him about the keynote afterward and the fact of the matter is that he is who he is and F-bombs are just part of that. Still, he does get the conversation started and it was great hearing stories about working with Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs in the same room.

But it wasn’t the whurley show (sorry to drone on about it but that is just what happens when he is around). I got to see Andrew Oliver and Phillip Rhodes, two local open source entrepreneurs who I’ve kept in touch with over the years. I also went to a talk by Jason Hibbets, the main project lead for opensource.com as well as the author of The Foundation for an Open Source City and another reason why the conference was held in Raleigh.

Most of Wednesday’s talks were business and introductory, whereas Thursday’s talks were more technical. I did one on my experiences running an open source business, which was held over lunch.

That night there were a number of social events. There was a Github drinkup, followed by a speakers dinner, followed by a party sponsored by OpenNMS. Kliq did an amazing set, but there seemed to be a large drop in attendance from the initial Github party and ours. I think that was mainly due to people being local and heading home (I made it back to my, slightly spinning, hotel room around 2am) but part of it may have been the delay in the middle. Next year we should probably not split the events like that, so there is more continuity (versus come to Spy, leave to get dinner, and come back to Spy).

Still, since I was buying the drinks, it worked out (grin).

Overall I had a great time, and the feedback has been uniformly positive. Next year may see a curtailing in the number of conferences I can attend, but All Things Open will be one of them.

More Tidbits (or now I remember what I forgot)

I remembered what I meant to write in the last post.

I’ve left LinkedIn. It used to be my favorite social network for business, but now they just seem to want to mine your contacts.

I was pretty unhappy when a coworker started spamming me from the service until I realized that they probably just got caught with that intro window that snarfs up their address book. However, the last straw was when I read about Intro which actually routes all of your e-mail through their servers.

Enough is enough.

By the way, I read about Intro and a number of other amazing things on my friend Barry’s new news blog If That Isn’t Nice I Don’t Know What Is. Add it to your RSS reader. You’ll be glad you did.

Odds and Ends

I swear I had three small things to talk about, but I can only think of two. Oh well.

The first is the new topology map in OpenNMS. As someone who really, really hates network maps, I love the direction the team is taking with them in the application. We have a geographical map which is just plain awesome, and now the topology map is starting to come together.

The topology map’s job is to show you how devices are related, and the beauty of it is that there is an API so you can determine exactly the relationships you want to see. For example, you could show Layer 2 connections, or, in a VMWare environment, you could display how host and guest operating systems are related to each other and to network storage. In the future we could have relationships between devices and applications. The possibilities are limitless.

Even Papa Johns Pizza has put it on the big screen.

The second thing, which is probably obvious but I still want to complain about it, is that iOS 7 sucks.

You might be asking yourself: Why do you care? True, Android is my mobile platform of choice, but my current phone is locked to the AT&T network. I tend to fall on the opposite side of the “unlocked phone” debate within the open source community in that I believe if you accept a discount on a device in exchange for being tied to a particular network for, say, two years, then you shouldn’t break that contract. So, when I go overseas to Sweden, I take an iPhone 3GS that is unlocked.

Now that my spouse has moved off of iPhone to Android, her iPhone 4 was up for grabs so I decided to get it unlocked.

The process was pretty simple, but Apple decided to force me to upgrade to iOS 7 in order to do it. So when Cult of Mac boasts that 71% of phones that can run iOS 7, do, they don’t take into account those of us who were dragged kicking and screaming into it.

And you can’t go back (Apple seems to have an odd definition of “backup” and “restore” in iTunes).

I hate almost everything about it. I hate the thin Sans font. I hate the Windows Metro icons. I hate the needless animations.

And I can’t find anything. It took me forever to figure out how to unlock the screen rotation. It used to be simple: double click the home button and swipe right. Now I found it buried on some settings page.

Anyway, since the biggest thing anyone is saying about the new iPhone is that “ooh, it comes in gold” I think Apple is in their twilight years.

While I didn’t always agree with him, I miss Steve Jobs. Not as much as I miss Lou Reed, but still.

Sweden Once More

I recently returned from my fourth trip to Sweden this year. I had planned to go over the summer but the best plans are sometimes overtaken by events, and so it wasn’t until October that I was able to return.

We have been doing a big project there since around March, and I went over to do some training. It was a lot of fun, and probably one of my favorite trips so far. The weather was much warmer than in trips past, and it wasn’t much different than where I live in North Carolina at this time of year.

The work is being done in a little town called Åsensbruk, pop 522. I was staying in a hotel about 10km away in Dals Rostock called the Kroppefjäll, and the nearest “big” town is Mellerud, which is 11 people smaller than the small town in which I live.

To get there, I fly from North Carolina to London, and then from London to Gothenburg (the second largest city in Sweden after Stockholm). From there it is a two hour or so drive up the E45.

This time I was rented a diesel VW Golf, which I quite liked. It came with BlueMotion technology, which is a high efficiency, low emissions system that produces amazing fuel economy (I went over 1000km on half a tank of fuel). It did freak me out the first time when it turned itself off automatically. I had stopped to check directions, so I put it in neutral and let go of the clutch and the engine turned off. When I depressed the clutch to go again, it started back up. I really wish they were available in the US.

Note: if you plan to drive overseas, make sure you can use a standard transmission. While automatic transmission cars are available, you usually have to specify one when renting.

It was a real pretty time of the year, and while I spent most of it at the office, I did play a little Ingress while I was there. I really like to play when I travel because portals tend to be interesting places and it can be cool to go find them. On this trip I went to the Sörknatten Nature Reserve, and I should have known it would be an adventurous trip when the GPS first announced that it would involve unpaved roads and then errored out with “No route found”.

I went out anyway. The area is populated with some amazing lakes and the fall foliage was beautiful.

Once I got to the end of the directions provided by the GPS, I was able to detect the location of the portal in my scanner. It involved driving over this:

But I did manage to find it and gather some keys, which resulted in a pretty nice green triangle over the area:

Because of the remoteness of the area, there aren’t many dining choices, especially in Åsensbruk. The company has a local restaurant called Café Gruzzolos bring food in, so my usual lunch consisted of a salad or a sandwich. I was a little disappointed to find no actual skink in my skinkbaguette.

There is a little co-op grocery nearby where we’d go to get drinks. Craig bought a bottle of this, which I thought had an unfortunate name in English, especially considering the color, but he said it tasted fine.

In the evenings there weren’t many options for food. There is a pretty good Thai restaurant in Mellerud, but this being my fourth trip I’ve tried most of the places and just decided I would eat every night at Restaurant Vågen. It’s really good, and I especially like the fish:

and of course it is nice to finish off the evening with a beer:

Swedish beer is good, at least to my palate. It’s light and finishes clean.

But the thing that keeps me going back (well, besides getting paid of course) are the people. The Swedish people are pretty amazing to me. They have a socialist government (what some would call in the US a “Nanny State”) but the people themselves seem very independent.

And they know how to have fun.

For example, one night I decided to eat at the Kroppefjäll. The hotel is also a resort and spa (although it started life as a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients 100 years ago) and so it tends to host large parties for meetings, weddings, etc. The restaurant isn’t always open (there were days when I was the sole guest) but on this one Saturday they were. When I walked in there was a large party, about 50 or more people, in the main dining room eating from a buffet, but they were able to seat me off in the corner. While I was drinking a glass of wine and waiting for my meal, everyone just broke out into song.

Since I am nothing if not a child of technology, I pulled out my phone and took a little video. Sorry about the quality but I was trying to be discreet.

It was cool.

Toward the end of my visit we returned to the Kroppefjäll. One of my coworkers named Mats joined us, and I wanted to share a story he told.

The man who runs the company in Åsensbruk is named Lars-Olov. Lars is one of the more interesting people I’ve ever met, and I like the fact that he is also a little unconventional. He wanted to get his management team closer together, so he told them all to get ready for a weekend teambuilding exercise and that they would need to pack light. Most figured it would be held at some sort of remote Swedish luxury hotel. Well, as Mats shared with me, this is what passes for a luxury hotel for Lars:

The managers were driven to a rendezvous point and then placed into a military helicopter. The pilot flew in Korea, and he used his skills to glide them over the treetops (Mats later asked him about it and he said the highest they got was fifty meters above the trees and the lowest was within five meters). He flew them out to a remote part of the forest and they ended up having to survive on their own for two days. The “hotel” picture above was of the shelter they built. They had to do a lot of stuff on their own, including finding their own food. The exercise ended on the evening of the second night when cars arrived to drive everyone home. Mats said he made it back to his bed around two on Monday morning.

I had heard this story from Lars as well, but it must have made an impression since Mats was able to talk about it in detail.

On my final day in Sweden, on the way to the airport in fact, I was able to meet up with my friend Lena. She and her friend Emelie had come to the US back in early 2012 to get trained on OpenNMS.

Emelie is in the middle and Lena is on the right.

You might recognize Emelie as I tend to use this picture of her admiring my license plate to advertise our conferences.

Lena and I met at the Vågen and while we were eating lunch, Emelie called. Since she was close by she stopped in to say “hi”.

All in all it was a pretty nice trip. The weather was sunny and for the most part warm (it is much warmer there today than it is here) and I had a lot of fun. My next trip back will probably be in February, and while I can’t wait to see everyone again it will be cold.

But maybe there will be moose to eat.

In The "Why Didn’t I Think of this Before?" Dept.

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, a thought came to me:

Why don’t we have E911 apps for our smartphones?

I started my professional career at Northern Telecom (later called NORTEL) and in one of my roles I worked on Enhanced 911 software.

For those readers outside of the US, 911 is the emergency services phone number. It is supposed to be a single number people can call in order to reach fire, police or medical assistance. It’s similar to 999, 112, or 000 in other countries.

Back then everything was focused on land lines, and so the workflow was pretty simple. The phone switch would deliver the caller’s phone number (ANI) to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). There, an operator would take the call, and if everything went correctly, information on the caller would be automatically loaded into the system. The operator would be able to see the caller’s address, and “soft buttons” would be loaded with numbers reflecting the closest police department, fire station or medical services.

For example, if the caller requested help with a fire, the operator would just push the “fire” soft button and the call would be transfered to the closest fire department to the caller.

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but the main point is that it was all tied to the caller’s location, which was static. I left before they started to seriously attack the issue of 911 calls from mobile devices, and the focus was switching from the caller’s phone number to the location of the equipment (e.g. the tower) that was handling the call, but pretty much the system has changed very little since the 911 service was introduced.

As my synapses were randomly firing as I was trying to sleep, I thought about what would happen if I had to call emergency services from an unfamiliar location?

Back in August, my wife and I were almost in a traffic accident. We were driving on the highway while it was lightly raining, and a white Ford Ranger that was trying to merge lost control. It crossed in front of an older model Escalade, clipping it in the left front fender, which caused the truck to spin 180 degrees, cross four lanes of traffic and slam into the concrete lane divider. It missed our car by feet, and only my spouse’s amazing driving skills kept our car from being hit (as the passenger I went all NASCAR pit crew with “go low! go low!” but I am not sure it helped much).

Out of 20+ cars that must have witnessed the accident, we were the only one to stop (well, besides the truck and the Escalade). I called 911 and was able to report our exact location (“heading eastbound on I-40 at the Hwy 55 exit – exit 278”) since I used to work near there, but what if I wasn’t familiar with the area? What if I was in a different country?

Considering the proliferation of smartphones (or as I prefer to call them, handys) wouldn’t it be much simpler if I could just launch a 911 app that would connect to a server on the Internet (calling the Internet the “cloud” will get you smacked) and report my location? It could even display my native language (based on the locale of the phone) so the operator would have that information, and it could also stream video and audio in order to give the PSAP accurate information to judge the proper response. For example, it would be silly to send fire trucks and multiple cars to a fender bender on a side street, but that might be warranted for a crash on the interstate with possible injuries and the need for traffic management.

I am not vain enough to think I came up with this before anyone else, and a quick search shows that there are a number of companies working on this, but it doesn’t seem to have been adopted much. Redsky appears to have offered one as far back as 2010, but there wasn’t a video component, and another website I checked appears to have been hacked and defaced, and no one has noticed, so I don’t think this is a high priority for anyone at the moment.

This seems to be a great project for an Open Government initiative. Using open standards, we could probably easily build the app and then permissively license the server side libraries so that they could be embedded in current PSAP offerings.

Seems like a cheap win, but knowing how slowly the 911 infrastructure changes (e.g. think glacier) I don’t see it happening soon unless people start asking for it.

Zed, We Have a Bug

Those of my three readers who know me should know that I really don’t like network maps. That said, we on the OpenNMS team are trying to fix most of the issues I’ve had with the usefulness of maps in network management.

In 1.12 we introduced two new maps. One, the “geographical” map, leverages information in the assets table of the database to display devices on a map based on their location. It was nicely done, with smooth transitions and automatic aggregation of devices so that even with thousands of nodes the map is usable.

The second one is the “topology” map. At first it only shipped with two topologies: one based on Layer 2 connections discovered by linkd, and the other based on VMWare relationships retrieved from vSphere and showing how host machines, guests and storage are all interconnected. Since there is a topology API, new topologies can be added (Juniper is working on one to show logical and physical connections between Juniper devices in a network).

Anyway, David was playing around with a dataset and it produced a pretty cool image. I knew that we probably had bugs in our code, but still …

[Note: one person pointed out that this is more of an arachnid than an insect, to which I have to reply that I use the term “bug” to mean any kind of creepy crawly thing, and thus it is not necessary for bug == insect.]