Fourteen Years

I just wanted to take a second to thank my three readers for fourteen years of support.

My first post on this blog happened on this date in 2003, and when I wrote it I had little idea I’d still be doing it almost a decade and a half later.

It does seem weird that I still consider OpenNMS a start-up. We took a much different path than a lot of other companies, focusing on our customers instead of fundraising. With our mission statement of “Help Customers, Have Fun, Make Money” and our business plan of “Spend Less Than You Earn” we’ve not only managed to survive but thrive, and both the company and the project have never been stronger. While we are always looking for good investors, this allows us to pick just the right partner.

I’d like to end this with a quote from Michael Seibel of Ycombinator. Actually, it is almost his entire blog post but it really resonated with me.

I’d like to make the point that success isn’t the same as raising a round of financing. Quite the opposite: raising a round should be a byproduct of success. Using fundraising itself as a benchmark is dangerous for the entire community because it encourages a culture of optimizing for short term showmanship instead of making something people want and creating lasting value.

I believe founders, investors, and the tech press should fundamentally change how they think about fundraising. By deemphasizing investment rounds we would have more opportunity to celebrate companies who develop measurable milestones of value creation, focus on serving a customer with a real need, and generate sustainable businesses with good margins.

Optimizing for funding rounds is just as unproductive as optimizing for headcount, press mentions, conference invites, fancy offices, speaking gigs or top line revenue growth with massively negative unit economics.

Ulf: My Favorite Open Source Animal

Over at opensource.com they asked “What’s your favorite open source animal?” Hands down, it’s Ulf.

OpenNMS Kiwi: Ulf

When I was at FOSDEM this year, we were often asked about the origin of having a kiwi as our mascot. Kiwi’s are mainly associated with New Zealand, and OpenNMS is not from New Zealand. But Ulf is.

Every year we have a developer’s conference called “Dev Jam“. Back in 2010, a man named Craig Miskell came from NZ and brought along a plush toy kiwi. He gave it to a group of people who had come from Germany, since he had come the furthest east for the conference and they had come the furthest west. They named him “Ulf”.

There was no conscious decision to make Ulf our mascot, it just happened organically. People in the project started treating him as a “traveling gnome“, setting up a wiki page to track some of the places he’s been, and he even has his own Twitter account.

I lost him once. We had a holiday party a few years ago and Ulf went missing. We thought he had been left in a limo, so I dutifully sought out a replacement. I found one for US$9, but of course shipping from NZ was an additional US$80 more, so I bought two. I later found Ulf hiding in the pocket of a formal overcoat I rarely wear (but had the night of the party) so now we have a random array of individual Ulf’s.

Anyway, Ulf manages to represent OpenNMS often, from stickers to holiday cards and keychains. I love the fact that he just kind of happened, we didn’t make a conscious decision to use him in marketing. If you happen to come across OpenNMS at conferences like FOSDEM, be sure to stop by and say “hi”.

2017 Europe: Brussels and FOSDEM

This post is about a week overdue, but for the first time in my life I came down with a vicious case of “con crud”. This is a illness that you can get after attending a conference or convention (no reference since the top hits on Google all reference “furries“). This really knocked me out – mainly sinus congestion so severe that my head hurt so bad I couldn’t really sleep. It just laughed at my attempt to treat it with pseudophedrine, and nothing but time seemed to help. Luckily I feel better now and I’m eager to talk about my great time in Brussels at my first FOSDEM.

The Free Open Source Developers European Meeting is probably the largest free software event in the world. This year an expected 8000 people descended on the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and I believe every one of them walked by our stand. It was insane.

I arrived from Riga Friday night and made it to my hotel. My so-called friends had already abandoned me and headed toward the Grand Place and Cafe Delirium, the de facto pre-conference bar.

Cafe Delirium Crowd

Against all odds I managed to catch up with them in the alley outside the bar. Ronny and Markus had come over from Germany, as did Simon and Anya. Jonathan and Craig had come from the UK, and I finally got to meet the amazing Cyrille, a long time OpenNMS contributor who lives in Brussels. There was beer.

Our Gang at Cafe Delirium

We headed over to the university early on Saturday to set up our booth. While this was my first FOSDEM, I was told by a couple of long time attendees that the conference outgrew the venue years ago, with various suggestions for why: from “tradition” to “it’s free”. In any case, it does create an atmosphere that can only be described as special.

FOSDEM Stand

We had a stand in Building K on the second level. This was in a wide hallway surrounding a large auditorium where a number of sessions were held. From the start we got a lot of traffic to the stand, and unlike many conferences the people that stopped seemed genuinely interested in learning about OpenNMS and weren’t just there to check out the swag.

And we had really good swag. In addition to a number of stickers (including the awesome “Ulf Mate” sticker as a play on the “Club Mate” logo and slogan), we had, new for this show, OpenNMS keychain/bottle openers which were a big hit.

OpenNMS Keychains

I also got interviewed for Hacker Public Radio. I don’t remember much of what I said, but people seemed to be into it (grin).

It is seriously difficult for me to describe the crowds. When I needed the restroom, I had to make my way downstairs and then fight my way through a crowd so packed I think it rivaled that year I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

FOSDEM Crowd

But it just lent to the energy and atmosphere of the place. I know from social media that a number of people I know were there that I just missed (looking at you Brian Proffitt) but I did get to see some old friends and I make a few new ones. One person I was happy to meet for the first time was Carol Chen. She is the community manager for ManageIQ, and I first learned about her when Jeff was invited to do an OpenNMS talk at the ManageIQ Design Summit.

Carol Chen and Ulf

She showed up at the stand on Sunday in search of one of our keychains, but we had run out. I had put one away for me but was happy to give it to her. After all, I can always get more.

One thing that sets FOSDEM apart from other open source conferences is the emphasis on “free” software, and some of the social justice causes that naturally follow. Heck, the University has “free” (as in freedom) in its name. Considering that the US President had signed a “Muslim Ban” the week before the conference, it was cool to see this sign on campus.

Refugees Sign

But not all of the fun happened at ULB. Brussels has some beautiful architecture, and just wandering around you might come across a stunning building like this church.

Brussels Church

Nothing is probably as striking as the Grand Place, or central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by tall buildings, some of which represent Guildhalls of various crafts. My friend Daniel pointed out to me that a lot of the money for those buildings probably came from Antwerp during the height of the Hanseatic League. Since the cities of Tallinn and Riga were key players in the Hansa, it kind of brought this European trip full circle.

That’s not to say there aren’t modern things in Brussels. I’ll post this picture without comment.

Mr. Ego Sign

We ended the conference on Sunday with a small group of us meeting for beers and then dinner. Dinner was held at Restaurant Vincent and it was quite good.

Dinner at Vincent's

At the table is Karen Sandler from the Software Freedom Conservancy, me, Lukas and Daniel Ranc from Paris (Daniel teaches at Télécom SudParis and his son is working on his Ph.D.), Cyrille Bollu, Ronny Trommer and Markus von Rüden from OpenNMS, and Spot Calloway from Red Hat.

My only wish is that we could have sat at a round table, since the long table caused conversation to be split into two. I really wanted Daniel and Spot to chat, as Daniel is working on some cool software for education for doing quizzes and surveys in class, and Spot is focused on higher education at Red Hat. But in any case I really enjoyed the conversation, especially one story that Spot told of his college days that I pretty much can’t top (and I pride myself on being able to hold my own when it comes to storytelling).

It was a nice end to an exciting week.

2017 Europe: Riga

Latvia is the 39th country I’ve been able to visit, and based on Riga it is easily in my top ten. I really enjoyed my short time here.

Getting off the bus from Tallinn, the first thing I noticed was that it was a little colder here. Both Helsinki and Tallinn are right on the water, but Riga is slightly inland. Still, it wasn’t a hard walk from the bus station to the hotel, and I got to see some of the Old Town.

Frozen Stream in Riga

I had the rest of the day to myself, so I decided to explore the City. One thing I noticed about Riga is that it is very clean. Granted, when you have piles of snow that don’t melt this doesn’t mean everything looks brand new, but I didn’t see the usual trash and paper on the ground like I might find in London or Paris. While the buildings may be old, they are well maintained, and some are quite beautiful, which is not how I imagined a former Soviet bloc country to look.

Riflemen Monument

Granted, there were a few reminders, such as the impressive “Riflemen Monument“. This was originally meant to honor those in the Latvian military who supported the Bolsheviks (the “red” riflemen) but I was told that now it also honors the opposition “white” riflemen.

The reason I came to Riga was to participate in a conference held by LATA (Latvijas atvērto tehnoloģiju asociācija or the Lativian Open Technology Association). LATA is a volunteer organization with only one employee, Ieva Vitolina, who was kind enough to invite me to speak.

Not only were the people in general in Riga very kind to me, the LATA people treated me like a diplomat.

Main Entry Hall for the LATA Conference

Before the conference I was introduced to Jānis Treijs, of the LATA Board. A very nice man, Jānis is very tall, and I had to joke that when I studied physics we used to say all people were two meters tall to make the math easier, but it is rare I actually get to meet someone that tall.

LATA conference room

The conference was held at the Latvijas Universitātes Dabaszinātņu akadēmiskais centrs (Latvian University of Natural Sciences Academic Center) which was a very modern facility, much nicer than many of the schools I attended in my youth. The morning program was held in this main room, and after lunch we would break out into another room as well (which was where my talk was to be made). About half of the program was in Latvian, with the other half in English.

IBM was a sponsor, and Andrzej Osmak from Poland gave a talk on IBM’s approach to open.

Andrzej Osmak

To be quite frank, OpenNMS would not exist without IBM. They are a main supporter of the Apache Foundation and most of the developers use Eclipse as their IDE. The only small criticism I would have about that talk was an emphasis on permissive licensing. I think permissive licenses are great in the proper context, but they aren’t the best choice for everyone.

This was followed by another talk in English by Dr. John O’Flaherty from Ireland.

John O’Flaherty

His focus was on “open data” and the different levels with which data can be made available. I am always amazed at what wonderful things people can create when companies and governments make data available in a usable fashion, and John gave several examples of those.

The remaining morning talks were in Latvian, so I just tried to understand them through the slides. The Clusterpoint presentation was interesting in that the slides were in English but the presentation itself was given in Latvian.

The morning ended with an awards presentation which had three categories: the most open institution, the most substantial contribution to technology promotion, and the best start-up.

Then it was the lunch break, which I spent talking about business and free software with Valdis, Ieva’s husband. It was then time to get ready for my own presentation.

There were two presentations in English about open source business. Including mine, Aleksejs Vladiševs the founder of Zabbix shared his experiences. It was kind of ironic that both of us work at pure open source companies and both of us work in the network monitoring space. Despite that, we tend not to compete, and it was interesting to see how similar our paths were.

My talk seemed well received, although I had a little less than 30 minutes so I didn’t have any time for questions. I was humbled that the winner of the LATA start-up award, Mihails Scepanskis, wanted to ask me some questions about open source business afterward, and along with his wife Anna and Vladis, we spent pretty much the rest of the conference talking. As usual, my favorite conference track turned into the “Hallway Track” once again.

National Library

That evening, the organizers of the conference took a group of us on a tour of the National Library of Latvia. This is a major landmark in Riga and it is easy to spot from many places in the city. It was planned for many years, but finally opened in 2014.

National Library Sign

The interior hosts a 400+ seat state of the art theatre, but the first thing I noticed was the central atrium.

National Library Atrium

Inside it there is a wall of books. These were books donated by the Latvian people to the library, and it stretches for several stories. We were also told an interesting story, when the library opened several thousand books were moved from the old location to the new building via a “human chain“. People formed a line over a mile long and passed the books hand to hand.

National Library Book Wall

The tour took us up through the building, and we got to see a number of the large (and not so large) reading rooms. One that caught my eye was dedicated to American culture.

National Library American Culture Room

I found it interesting that the books on display included ones by Noam Chomsky, James Carville and articles from the New Yorker.

Each floor was color-coded, and we were told that the colors corresponded to the “pre-Euro” Latvian currency, the Lat. The higher floors had colors that corresponded to higher denominations.

National Library

At the top was an interesting display. It was a Cabinet of Folksongs. This wooden cabinet holds over a quarter of a million Latvian folksongs written on small slips of paper.

Cabinet of Folksongs

The tour was followed by a wonderful meal in a restaurant in the Library itself. I got to spend more time talking with Aleksejs, Jānis, his wife and John, as well as drinking some nice beer over wonderful food.

The next morning Jānis’s wife had arranged for me to meet with the ITC department of the City Council of Riga. Riga firmly believes in Internet access for its population. The City has more free WiFi coverage than any other European City, and the Council is responsible for providing as many services as possible to its citizens to make sure the government is responsive to their needs. It was a refreshing conversation. They use a number of tools, including Zabbix, so I wasn’t expecting them to switch to OpenNMS, but I had a nice meeting learning about their environment and sharing a little bit about OpenNMS.

Corner House

We had a little time before lunch, so we made a quick visit to the “Corner House“. This was a beautiful apartment building that was taken over by the Cheka, a division of the KGB, and was the source of terror for many citizens of Latvia as late as 1991. It reminded me of the House of Terror in Budapest. Jānis’s wife told a story of her mother having to go to this building for an interview as the Cheka was interested in one of her relatives.

Corner House

It is a shame that a thing of such beauty could be used for such evil.

After that we met up with Jānis for a wonderful meal, and then I made my way to the airport for my trip to Brussels for FOSDEM.

As the airBaltic Q400 took off and got above the clouds, the cabin was suddenly filled with light. I realized that I had not seen the sun properly in a week. If Riga and its people can be this beautiful in the dark of winter, it must be a truly magical place in the summer. I hope one day soon to return.

2017 Europe: Tallinn

After a wonderful visit to Helsinki, it was time for the next leg of the journey: Tallinn. Estonia will mark the 38th country I’ve been able to visit.

To get to Estonia I took the Tallink ferry service. There are several trips from Helsinki to Tallinn each day, so I planned to leave around 10:30 to arrive around 13:00.

I’m not a boat guy. While I’m fine in planes I don’t do well in boats, but the ferry is quite large. Here is a picture of one heading the other way through a window on mine:

Tallink Ferry

It had ten decks, so I made my way up to deck nine and found a seat near the window.

Tallink Ferry Interior

It was a quite civilized way to travel. Even though the sea was a little choppy, the ride was very smooth. You almost didn’t realize the ship was moving.

When we arrived I took a taxi to the hotel, dropped off my bags and set out to discover the city. I was in the “Old Town” section of Tallinn which was quite beautiful. There were a lot of cobblestone streets and well maintained old buildings with plenty of shops and restaurants.

Street in Tallinn

One of the things I like to do when visiting a new city is to play Ingress. I know that sounds weird, but one part of the game involves completing “missions” which require you to walk around. These missions are often created by locals and it can give you a great overview of a new place. Tallinn was no exception.

Tallinn was only a degree or more warmer than Helsinki, but it made quite a difference. I had issues walking around Helsinki because in places the slush had refrozen into ice and it made walking a little slippery. The streets in Tallinn were mainly dry and I could move around a lot faster.

There is a great mixture of old and new,

Tallinn Grafitti

and I saw a lot of construction. I’m not sure but I think this was the demolition of a Soviet-era housing block to make way for a more modern building.

Tallinn Building Demolition

It also had a lot in common with other European cities, such as this huge flower market I came across:

Tallinn Flowers

I think if I lived here I’d stop by every day and buy some fresh flowers for home.

While I practiced a number of Estonian words (When I came into the hotel and said “Tervist” one person mistook me for the mailman and came out of the back office, so I must have nailed the accent), everyone seemed more than happy to talk to me in English, and I didn’t meet a single rude person the entire stay.

Which, alas, wasn’t long. I was only in Tallinn on my way to Riga, so the next morning I got up and made my way to the Central Coach Station to grab my LUX Express bus to Riga.

LUX Express Bus

The five hour journey was made in comfort. I was in the back section which consisted of just one seat complete with “seat back entertainment”. I thought about watching some movies (they were pretty much the same selection as the ones on the plane over here) but I decided I’d rather watch the countryside go by and to doze a little.

Inside LUX Express Bus

It was snowing lightly and as soon as we got away from the coast there were several inches of snow on the ground. It looked very peaceful. When we crossed the Pärnu River it was completely frozen, and off in the distance I could see people skating on the ice. I’d heard of frozen rivers before but this was the first time I’d seen one.

When I arrived in Riga the first thing I noticed was the cold. Riga is a few degrees colder than either Helsinki or Tallinn, and I was happy I brought my winter coat that I bought in Sweden a couple of years ago. I am eagerly awaiting the conference which is the reason I am here, and to see some friends again and make a few new ones.