2017 Cubaconf

I’ve just returned from Cubaconf in Havana, which was also my first visit to Cuba. It was a great trip and I’ve got enough material for at least four blog posts. Most of them won’t deal with free and open source software, so I’ll put them up on my personal blog and I’ll add links here when they are done..

Cubaconf is in its second year, and while I really wish they would have called it “Cuba Libré” (grin) it was a good conference.

There is a spectrum within the Free, Libré, Open Source Software (FLOSS) community, and this is often described by trying to separate the term “open source” from “free software”. If we define “open source” as any software with a license that meets requirements of the Open Source Definition (OSD) and “free software” as any software with a license that meets the requirements of the Four Freedoms, they are the same. You can map the ten requirements of the OSD onto the four requirements of free software.

Open Source is Free Software Chart

However, it can be useful to separate those who look at FLOSS as simply a development methodology from those who view it as a social movement. When companies like Microsoft and Facebook publish open source software, they are simply looking to gain value for their business that such sharing can create. It’s a development methodology. When people talk about free software, they tend to focus on the “help your neighbor” aspect of it, and this was more the focus of Cubaconf than simply creating new code.

The main thing I discovered on my visit was that Cubans face severe limitations on many things, but I’ve never met a people more determine to do as much as they can to make their situation better, and to do it with such passion. If I had to pick a theme for the conference, that would be it: passionate continuous improvement.

Cubaconf Registration

The three day conference had the following structure: Day One was a standard conference with keynotes and five tracks of presentations, Day Two had keynotes and more of a “barcamp” organization, and Day Three was set aside for workshops, as well as the obligatory video game tournament.

They did have the best lanyard sponsor I’ve seen at a technology conference:

Cubaconf Lanyard and Badge

I was in Cuba with my friend and coworker Alejandro, who used to live in Venezuela and is a fluent Spanish speaker, and Elizabeth K. Joseph, who promotes the open source aspects of Mesosphere. We shared a three bedroom “casa particular” in Old Havana, about a ten minute walk from the conference, which was held on the second floor (third floor if you are American) of the Colegio de San Gerónimo.

Everyone was together on the main room for the first keynote.

Cubaconf People in Room

While both English and Spanish were spoken at the conference, the presentations were overwhelmingly in Spanish, which was to be expected. I can get by in Spanish, but the first speaker, Ismael Olea, spoke fast even for the native speakers. At least I could understand most of the content in his slides.

Cubaconf Ismael Olea

Olea is from Spain and did a keynote on HackLab Almería. Almería is a province in the southeastern part of Spain, and with a population of around 700,000 people it is much smaller than provinces like Madrid (6.5 million) and Barcelona (5.5 million). As such, the region doesn’t get as much attention as the larger provinces, and so they goal of Hacklab Almería is to use technology at the “hyperlocal” level. They define themselves as a “collective of technological , social and creative experimentation” and FLOSS plays a large role in their mission.

After the keynote, we broke up into individual sessions. I went to one called “How to Make Money with Free Software” presented by Valessio Brito from Brazil. While he spoke mainly in Spanish, his slides were in Portuguese, but I was able to follow along. His presentation focused on how he used his knowledge of FLOSS to get consulting engagements around the world. This was pretty topical since in Cuba, as elsewhere, having strong software skills can be lucrative, and since a lot of proprietary software is either impossible to get or too expensive, having skills in open source software is a plus.

Cubaconf Valessio Brito

Also, I liked his shirt.

Our OpenNMS presentation was in the next time slot. I asked our hosts if they would like the presentation in English or Spanish, and when they said Spanish I asked Alejandro to give it. He did a great job, even though he had only a short time to understand the slides.

Cubaconf Alejandro Galue

The lunch break came next, and we walked a couple of blocks to the Casa de Africa, a museum dedicated to the African influence in Cuban culture.

Cubaconf Lunch Break

We ate sandwiches and talked out on the patio. This would be the location for lunch for all three days.

Cubaconf Maira Sutton

After lunch I watched a presentation by Maira Sutton called “Fighting Cyber Dystopia with Tech Solidarity and the Digital Commons” which is a long way to express the idea of using free software combined with working together to take back some of the power from large corporations. Her main example talked about the city of Austin, Texas, and its fight with Uber and Lyft. Austin wanted all ride sharing drivers to have to undergo a background check that included fingerprints. Sounds reasonable, but Uber and Lyft resisted, eventually leaving the city.

However, services like Uber and Lyft can be downright useful, so a number of startups filled in the gap, offering similar services that met the City’s fingerprint requirements. Instead of acquiescing to local laws, Uber and Lyft took their fight to the State legislature, which overturned Austin’s regulation.

Even though it is a sad ending, the example did demonstrate that combining technology and social action can result in solutions that can meet or exceed those provided by large commercial companies.

Cubaconf First Night's Event

For each night of the conference there was an event, and the one for Tuesday was held at a modern art gallery on the southern side of Old Havana. There was lots of food and drink, and I got exposed to a project called cuban.engineer. This is a group to promote technology careers within Cuba, and I had seen their shirts at the conference.

Cubaconf cuban.engineer shirts

In a lot of the world we take Internet access for granted. I can remember accessing the Internet from the night market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on an open wi-fi connection. That doesn’t exist in Cuba. Cuba is one of the most disconnected countries in the world, which can make working with technology difficult. Access is controlled by an agency called ETESCA. To access the Internet you purchase a card which offers a certain number of hours of use, and then you have to locate an area with a wi-fi hotspot (usually near a park). The card has a number of digits for a username and a number of digits as a password, and once you get connected you hope you stay connected long enough to do what you need to do.

No one is exempt from this. Even in our apartment the owner would use one of these cards to enable access for the hotspot on the ground floor. So, if you are a technology business in Havana, your first job is to located your office near a hotspot, and then buy a bunch of these cards.

Thus you can imagine that sharing in a big part of the culture. People burn and swap CDs with software such as Ubuntu on them, and they tend to use Gitlab to make local mirrors of code repositories. While wi-fi equipment can be hard to come by, people have been able to set up their own, private wi-fi networks within cities like Havana to make sharing easier. There is no Internet access (I joked that it was Cuba’s “dark web“) but they can set up tools like Rocket.Chat to communicate and share.

Despite limitations in acquiring software, Microsoft Windows is still the most common operating system running on Cuban computers. An attempt was made to create a Cuba focused Linux-based distro called Nova. I was told that they even experimented with making it look as close to Windows 7 as possible, but people were still tied to using Windows. According to Wikipedia this distro is no more, which is a shame.

Cubaconf Mixæl Laufer

The second day started with the meter pegged at full on social justice, with a presentation by Dr. Mixæl S. Laufer, Ph.D., from Four Thieves Vinegar. They are a collective aiming to share information on how to create pharmaceuticals in places where they might not be available. If you live in the US than you probably heard of Martin Shkreli who as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals raised prices 5600%, and EpiPen maker Mylan who raised the price of this life saving device several hundred percent just because they could. Laufer showed how you could make your own EpiPen for around $30, among other things.

Now drug companies will say that they have to charge that amount to cover the costs of creating new drugs, but the EpiPen greed demonstrated that wasn’t true. Running health care as a “for profit” enterprise has always seemed inherently wrong due to the incentives being more toward making money versus keeping people healthy, but that is commentary for another time and place.

I had to leave after that presentation for something special. I make classic cocktails as a hobby, and one of our hosts asked me to speak to a school for bartenders (cantineros) on the great tradition of Cuba cocktails. It was a blast and I’ll write that up soon.

Cubaconf Wednesday Event

Wednesday night’s event was held, appropriately, at a bar in an area called Barber’s Alley. It was a fun gathering and I got a nice picture of some of our hosts.

Cubaconf Hosts

Left to right is Jessy, Pablo, pb, and Adalberto.

There was also a guy there who made pipes, specifically replicas of native American peace pipes, and one was passed around.

Cubaconf Peace Pipe

The third and final day was a series of workshops, but was started with a keynote from Ailin Febles, from the Uniōn de Informāticas de Cuba, a non-profit organization to bring together “all technicians, professionals and people related to information and communication technologies in a space that enables mutual support of the associates in the achievement of their professional, academic, scientific, cultural and personal objectives”.

Cubaconf Ailin Febles

Of course, a lot of their organization is driven by open source software.

Cubaconf Software used by UIC

I hope they switch to Nextcloud from Owncloud soon.

There was one morning workshop in English, ironically by a German named Christian Weilbach, on machine learning. I was interested in the topic since I keep hearing about it lately, and the fact that I would probably be able to understand it was a plus. To me machine learning is magic, and I wanted to dispel some of that magic.

Cubaconf Christian Weilbach

It worked. It turns out that machine learning is, to a large extent, what we used to call linear algebra. It just is able to work on much larger and more complex data sets. I’m still eager to play more with this technology, but it was nice to learn that it really isn’t all that new.

Cubaconf Old Car Taxi

After lunch we decided to spend our last afternoon exploring Havana a bit.

Cubaconf Brewery Event

The final evening event was in a brewery, and I enjoyed the beer. What I enjoyed more was the opportunity to talk with Inaury about race in Cuba. Cubans come in all shapes and sizes, from people with light skin, blond hair and blue eyes to people so dark they are almost blue, yet they all seem to interact and socialize with each other more so than any other place I’ve been. I plan to chat more about that in a blog post as well.

Overall I had a great time in Cuba. I love the fact that working in free software means I can make new friends in almost any country, and that even a place with limited resources can put on a great conference. If you get a chance to go to Cubaconf, you should take it.

2017 Dev-Jam – Days 4 and 5

Apologies to my three readers for the two-plus week delay in writing this up. I know you’ve been waiting for this post with more anticipation than Season 7 of Game of Thrones, but things have been crazy busy in OpenNMS-land of late.

As you know, this year’s Dev-Jam was held at Concordia University in Montréal. For most of the week we had access to a nice, large space which included air conditioners (the Grey Nuns building does not have central air), but due to a scheduling conflict we had to move out for the day on Thursday.

We moved to the basement cafeteria, which worked out rather well.

Dev-Jam: Grey Nuns Cafeteria

There were no A/C units but with the windows open there was a good cross breeze and it was comfortable. By the fourth day of Dev-Jam people are pretty much settled into a routine, so the day was mostly spent working to finish up various projects.

On Friday we moved back upstairs. The last full day of Dev-Jam is always bittersweet for me, as I love the “show and tell” part where people share what they have been working on, but I hate the fact that it is over for another year. We also forgot to bring the equipment we usually use for video capture (it was left back in Minnesota) so while the sessions were recorded, they haven’t been posted to Youtube yet.

Dev-Jam: Jesse White presents on Minion

Jesse kicked off the presentations talking about work he was doing to assign specific monitoring tasks to particular Minions.

Dev-Jam: Markus presents on Doughnut Graphs

Markus followed that with his work on adding “doughnut” graphs to the user interface. These resemble the graphs available with Compass™, our mobile app. That is supposed to be a green doughnut and not a grey one but the projector didn’t render it very well.

Dev-Jam: Christian presents on IFTTT

As OpenNMS wants to be the monitoring platform of choice for the Internet of Everything, Christian did some work on integrating it with “If This, Then That” (IFTTT)

Dev-Jam: Ronny presents on ASCIIBinder

Ronny is our “documentation czar” who led the effort to create the most awesome docs.opennms.org site. He explored using ASCIIBinder to manage our growing collection of documentation.

Dev-Jam: Seth presents on ReST

I work with some amazing people, and years ago they saw the potential in adding ReST functionality to OpenNMS. It was a great decision and makes OpenNMS extremely flexible when integrating with other systems. Seth presented some of the work he is doing to extend that feature.

Dev-Jam: Alejandro presents on Drools

OpenNMS has a couple of ways to correlate alarms. The basic method is using the “vacuumd” configuration and SQL, but a stronger (although more complex) method is to used the Drools business intelligence engine. Alejandro presented some work he is doing to move some of the legacy vacuumd tasks to Drools.

Dev-Jam: Jeff presents on CLA Assistant

Contributor License Agreements are a controversial topic in open source, but we use one for OpenNMS. The main reason is to ask any contributor to certify that they have the right to contribute the code. It may seem trivial, but not only does signing such an agreement make the person think about it, it does give the project some cover in case of a dispute.

We currently manage our own CLAs, but the website CLA Assistant aims to make it easier. Jeff presented on what he found out about the service, and we may be migrating to it in the future.

Dev-Jam: Antonio presents on Enhanced Linkd

And last but not least, Antonio talked about the work he is doing on Enhanced Linkd. This is the process that figures out Layer 2 connections between devices. It is non-trivial as vendors seems to relate this information in different ways, and we really appreciate the time he has put into that part of the project.

It was great seeing everyone again, and it was also cool to hold the conference in a new location (well, cool once it was over, it added a lot of stress to my life). I’m eager to start planning next year’s conference.

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 3

By Day 3 we’ve settled into a rhythm, so I don’t have much to report from the actual OpenNMS side of things. Personally, I spent way too much time trying to figure out why Twitter is blocking links to this blog. It’s been ad-free for over a decade, yet Twitter thinks it is spam.

We believe it was because we were using dlvr.it to post things I write here to the OpenNMS Twitter feed and thus it got flagged as automation (which is, apparently, bad). I can understand it, but my complaint is that there is no clear process for getting it resolved. I think I’ve submitted the proper request and I’ve even tried to back-channel some help through friends of friends, but I think I’m just going to focus on posting on Google Plus from here on out, unless I need to complain. (grin)

So the gang worked while I bitched at Twitter. Oh, I do have a picture of a Canadian food product: ketchup flavored potato chips, modeled by Jeff.

Dev-Jam: Ketchup Potato Chips - photo credit Jessica

I can report on what we did in the evening. Usually Dev-Jam involves seeing a Major League Baseball game, specifically the Minnesota Twins. However, the only MLB team ever in Montréal, the Expos, played their last season here a year before Dev-Jam started (2004).

However, Montréal does host an international fireworks competition, so we got tickets. It’s held at La Ronde, which is an amusement park in the Six Flags chain. La Ronde is located on the northern end of St. Helen’s Island (Île Sainte-Hélène). While the park itself wasn’t very crowded, it turns out that Metallica fans, including our own Alejandro, were descending on the southern part of the island for a concert.

To get there from Grey Nuns, we took the Metro. The Metro station on St. Helen’s Island is near a museum called The Biosphere, complete with a geodesic dome created by Buckminster Fuller. Might be worth a return visit.

Dev-Jam: Montréal Biosphere - photo credit Mike

We took a free shuttle to get to the park, and our tickets also granted us admission. Out of habit I had taken my grandfather’s pocket knife, not realizing they would have metal detectors, but they had a cool system where I could drop it off and pick it up later (so I didn’t have to hide it in the bushes).

As soon as we got into the park, the sky opened up and poured on us. Some of us found shelter under building overhangs, some on rides and some just got wet. One of the rides was the carousel, where Ben, Seth and Cynthia seemed to have fun.

Dev-Jam: La Ronde Carousel - photo credit Mike

Luckily, the rain didn’t last too long. Since it was National Hot Dog Day, we decided to find some. As a fan of the show Silicon Valley, I suggested we try out the “Not Hotdog” app. Seems to work.

Dev-Jam: Not Hotdog - screenshots Mike

Afterward there was just enough time for a ride on Le Vampire.

Dev-Jam: Le Vampire Rollercoaster - photo credit Chris

Jessica is in the back of this shot, with Ronny and Jesse in the front.

Then it was time to see the show. There are three seating sections: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Gold had free beer but we had been told that the Silver section (Argent) had the best views. I wasn’t disappointed. And this being Quebec, there had to be clowns.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Clowns - photo credit Ben

In section 307 we were on an elevated platform looking out over a lake. The fireworks were launched from the other side of the lake and synchronized with music. As this is an international competition, the presenter for our show was Germany. They played the German national anthem and introduced the performers.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Introductions - photo credit Ben

The show … it was amazing.

And when I say it was amazing, I mean it was like I had never seen fireworks before, and I’ve seen them at places like EPCOT at Disney World. Since we were pretty close to the launch site, it was like they took up your whole field of vision. Plus, I never knew there were so many different types. They used the whole area, from high overhead down to the lake itself (at one point in time it was if the water was ablaze in green fire). Shells would explode overhead in a burst of color, followed by a second color and when those faded there would be a ring left that slowly faded away.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Above - photo credit Ben

Sometimes the sky would just be a fountain of gold, and at other times the action would be at ground level. At times I felt they were telling a story. Not exactly one I understood, such as the red fountain thingies seem to be fighting the shooty yellow thingies, but it still evoked an emotional response.

Dev-Jam: Fireworks Down Low - photo credit Ben

The emotional high point for me was when they played Pachelbel’s Canon. I know it is cliché but the “Canon in D” is one of the most beautiful things ever made, and to see it illustrated in fire was simply breathtaking.

Speaking of things to take your breath away, soon after the show started the air was filled with smoke and ash from the fireworks. While it really didn’t detract from the show, people with health issues related to breathing should think carefully about attending.

Dev-Jam: The Bridge at Night - photo credit Ben

The show was 30 minutes long, and by the time we headed out to leave so did 40,000 Metallica fans. This was further complicated by the bridge to the island being closed so people could watch the fireworks. Rather than waiting for buses to arrive once the bridge was reopened, we decided to walk. There was a great view from the top, and the bridge itself was lit in green.

Dev-Jam: View from Bridge - photo credit Ben

We got back to the dorm around midnight, having had a great time. I hope I get a chance to see the fireworks show again, perhaps at next year’s Dev-Jam.

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 2

Dev-Jam was fully underway by Tuesday morning, starting with another Canadian tradition, Tim Hortons.

Dev-Jam: Tim Hortons Box

Lots of great discussions were going on. Ronny demonstrated Project Atlas, more formally known as the GraphML Topology Provider. This allows you to use GraphML to create topologies within the OpenNMS user interface.

Dev-Jam: Ronny Doing a Demo of Atlas

There is also a topology.xml file on the OpenNMS Forge github repository that can be used as an example.

Jesse gave us a demonstration of Project Helm. This is a Grafana plugin that let’s you combine fault and performance data from multiple instances of OpenNMS on one dashboard.

Dev-Jam: Jesse Doing a Demo of Helm

While it is just in alpha, the goal is to let users manage alarms directly from the dashboard, including acknowledging them, adding “sticky” and journal notes, etc. We have been working for years now on making a robust ReST interface for OpenNMS and it is really paying off by allowing us to create features like this. Since all of the communication between Grafana and the OpenNMS system (or systems) is via ReST, there is no need to store and manage data locally.

Dev-Jam: Helm Screenshot

If you want to play with Helm, you should be running the latest Horizon 21 snapshot.

We have a person named Roberto attending Dev-Jam for the first time and I was eager to find out why he was interested in OpenNMS, so I spent some time talking with him. His company deploys underwater fiber-optic cable. Their customers used to be large telecommunications providers, but now they deal mainly with very large Internet companies, and those companies are requesting a higher level of monitoring information. It was one of those “very large Internet companies” that suggested they use OpenNMS, and it was interesting to learn about the challenges of running and managing undersea fiber.

Only a small part of the cable contains the fiber as most of it consists of a thick protective sleeve. The sleeve has to be thicker near shore since there is a greater chance of damage from things like ships’ anchors. Also, electrical current flows through the sleeve which attracts sharks, who then proceed to bite the cable. Here’s a video:

I’m eager to see how they end up using OpenNMS.

As I mentioned before, we are staying in the Grey Nuns Residence at Concordia University. According to Wikipedia there is a crypt in the basement where nearly 300 bodies are buried, most of them nuns who had lived at the Grey Nuns Motherhouse. It is off limits to visit, but I wanted to see if I could at least find the entrance.

Our conference is being held in a large room called E104, and most of the rooms of the people attending are also on the east side of the residence. My room, however, is on the west side and to get there I have to walk about 200 meters (it is a big place). You go out of E104, down to the basement and along a very long corridor before heading up several floors.

Along this corridor you will see a nondescript door,

Dev-Jam: Door to Grey Nuns Crypt

and if you peek through the little round window you can see into the crypt.

Dev-Jam: Image of Grey Nuns Crypt

The graves are marked with plain wooden crosses, and the one nearest the door died in 1885, although there are certain to be much older graves in the crypt. Apparently there was a project to move the bodies out of Grey Nuns but the government balked due to the fact that some of the people buried there died of infectious diseases (the history of the Grey Nuns [pdf] confirms that several nuns died of the Spanish Flu of 1918).

It is a pretty solemn place and in stark contrast to the rest of the dormitory.

Speaking of things definitely not solemn, for dinner we all headed to a Japanese restaurant nearby called Kinka Izakaya. Izakaya means a pub, and the menu consists of lots of small plates, kind of like Japanese tapas.

Dev-Jam: Dinner at Kinka Izakaya

The place met a number of criteria: good food, can seat 24 people and close to the dorm. We also had to try a “Sake Bomb” in which a small amount of sake is suspended over a glass of beer. You then drop the sake into the beer and drink. Yes, there is video:

Good times.

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 1

Dev-Jam is an unstructured conference. Our goal is to simply put a bunch of incredibly smart people in a room and see what happens. That said, we do officially start and end the conference. On Monday morning we get together to make introductions and to talk about projects that we want to pursue during the week. This allows people with similar interests to work together if they want. On Friday we have presentations on what got accomplished.

Dev-Jam: People Around a Table

I usually start off the week, and then turn it over to Jesse White (our CTO and GM of The OpenNMS Group Canada).

Dev-Jam: Jesse White in an MC Frontalot shirt

I thought it was cool that he was wearing an MC Frontalot T-shirt as we commissioned him to produce a free software song that we released on Independence Day (July 4th).

Another cool thing about OpenNMS is that we try to work as transparently as possible. While a lot of projects allow public access to their git repository, I believe OpenNMS is the only one that has a repository for every branch that automatically builds packages as commits are made (the list can be found at http://yum.opennms.org/repofiles/ but be patient as there are so many it can take a minute or so to load). We also publish a weekly newsletter called “This Week in OpenNMS” (or TWiO). This week Ben posted some ideas bouncing around this year’s Dev-Jam which include:

  • updating packaging (yum/Debian) infrastructure including better support of upstream PostgreSQL packages
  • improved wifi link support in Enlinkd and topology
  • improving the opennms.com and opennms.org web sites
  • simplifying collection of OCAs
  • integrating DigitalOcean and Xen requisition tools
  • Spark chat integration
  • ReST infrastructure improvements
  • discussing how to improve Docker image generation
  • grafana dashboard for UPS data
  • northbound interfaces for Drools (scriptd-like interface for alarms)
  • structured data monitor (using the XML collector infrastructure)
  • Cisco ACI integration
  • OSGi deployment of ReST services
  • donut charts on the front page
  • rewrite the node list page
  • migrate documentation to AsciiBinder
  • trigger IFTTT events when alarms change
  • porting the Go version of the minion to a new platform

Dev-Jam: Laptop and Can of Cheerwine

I should note that Ben is also a fan of that North Carolina export, Cheerwine.

Dev-Jam: People Meeting to Discuss the Website

Jessica, our graphic designer, pulled together a meeting to discuss our web presence. We recently revamped the opennms.com website and we are looking to determine improvements needed for the opennms.org website.

Speaking of Jessica, she also designed our Dev-Jam shirts.

Dev-Jam: Front of Dev-Jam Shirt

The front is meant to represent summer camp.

Dev-Jam: Back of Dev-Jam Shirt

The top symbol is for Montréal, the bottom is Ulf the OpenNMS mascot, the tag to the left represents coding and the right image is for fireworks (we are attending the competition on Wednesday).

It’s not all work. Recently I read about a restaurant very close to Concordia (where we are holding the conference) that offered free meals to people who need them. I wanted to support that, so for lunch a group of us went to Marché Ferdous, which had been written up on sites such as CNN, the BBC and Huffington Post.

Dev-Jam: Marché Ferdous Entrance

It’s a small shop a couple of blocks away from our dorm, and I got the falafel platter.

Dev-Jam: Marché Ferdous Falafel Platter

My meal was about CAD$10 so I paid with a $20 bill and told them to keep the change. Always gotta pay it forward, yo. (grin)

The falafel was just okay (I’m spoiled as I get to eat Angie’s falafel on a regular basis – some of the best falafel on the planet and I should know as I’ve had it pretty much all over the planet) but the sides were excellent. Everyone else got meat and really enjoyed it.

After lunch we took a side trip to a SAQ store to check out the spirit selection. Later that evening there was a tasting …

Dev-Jam: Monday Whiskey Selection

… which probably had something to do with the decision to screen Strange Brew, eh?

Dev-Jam: Strange Brew on Screen

2017 Dev-Jam – Day 0

♬ It’s the most wonderful time of the year ♬

It’s hard for me to believe that we are getting ready for our twelfth annual OpenNMS developers conference, Dev-Jam.

Dev-Jam: Welcome to Montreal Sign

This year we changed venues from our normal spot at Yudof Hall at the University of Minnesota to Concordia University in Montréal, Quebec, Canada. We have to plan these things out months in advance, and back in January there was talk of greatly increasing the effort required to enter the United States, especially for visitors from other countries, requiring them to, among other things, reveal social media passwords. Since a large portion of people attending Dev-Jam come from outside the US, we thought it prudent to move the conference. Plus, The OpenNMS Group now has a corporation in Canada, so it also seemed to be a nice way to mark that development.

After searching around for a place to hold the event, we settled on the Grey Nuns Residence, a large dormitory. While the individual rooms are not as nice as Yudof, the conference space is really large and should work out well. Plus, Grey Nuns is considered one of the most haunted places in Montréal, although so far no one has reported anything unusual.

We have over 20 people attending this year, which is down a little bit from normal. We have several people from Minneapolis who attend, and by moving it to Canada it became difficult for them to make it. In an ironic twist our friend Muthu from India was unable to get his visa to Canada approved in time to make the conference. But outside of some weather delays everyone else made it here safely.

So did the Cheerwine. It has become a Dev-Jam tradition for me to bring the North Carolina made cherry-flavored soda to share with everyone, and sometimes it gets a little, soggy, in transit. All 48 cans made it to Montréal, although it won’t last all that long.

There is a bit of adjustment to being in Quebec. I get to practice my (poor) French, and I love the fact that it is like everything has subtitles (legally, English should appear under the French in no more than half the size). Plus we’re having to get used to things distinctly Canadian such as Thrills chewing gum. Flavored with rosewater, the taste has been compared to soap, a fact that is proudly displayed on the box.

Dev-Jam: Thrills Gum Box

Another Montréal tradition is poutine. This is a dish of thin french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.

Dev-Jam: Poutine

The one I tried was a variation that included chicken and a whiskey BBQ sauce. This was from a restaurant chain called St-Hubert which specializes in chicken (seriously, the set menu offered chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken, ribs, chicken, chicken, and, you guessed it, chicken). It was good, and it was nice to find a place to serve 20+ people comfortably.

Dev-Jam: Dinner at St. Hubert

While change can be challenging, I think this is going to be a great week. Outside of David and myself, both Mike and Craig have made all twelve Dev-Jams, and DJ has made all but one. One of my goals with OpenNMS is to built something that lasts, and it is nice to have traditions that have continued for this long.

2017 Red Hat Summit

I had never been to a Red Hat Summit before this year. We are exploring running OpenNMS on OpenShift and so Jesse, David and I decided to head to Boston to see what all the fuss was about.

RHSummit - Airline Sign

I noticed a couple of things are different about visiting Boston in spring versus winter. First of all, the weather was quite nice, and second, Boston can be freakin’ expensive.

And Red Hat spared no expense on this conference. This is the premiere event for companies in the Red Hat ecosystem and they obviously wanted to make an impression. I’m an “old guy” and I can remember going to huge shows put on by HP and IBM and this was on par. It took place at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) which takes up about a half a million square feet. Red Hat used all of it.

RHSummit - Convention Center Sign

Nothing quite demonstrated the size of this conference than the main auditorium. The centerpiece was a huge screen for the presentation flanked by two smaller screens to show the speaker. That was needed since the place was so big you could barely see the person talking.

RHSummit - Main Auditorium Screen

In addition to the general sessions, there were a large number of talks on pretty much anything related to Red Hat products, philosophy and partners. As a major player in “the cloud” there was a lot of emphasis on OpenShift and OpenStack, but the whole range of offerings was covered from Fedora and CentOS to JBoss and Gluster.

As with most tech conferences, there was an expo floor. This one was dominated by the color red.

RHSummit - Expo Floor

I spent a lot of time wandering around talking with people. Over the years a large number of my friends have been hired by Red Hat, and as I’ve curtailed my participation in a lot of the big Linux conferences, it was nice to see them again. I ran into Brian Proffitt and Ruth Suehle near the center of the expo:

RHSummit - Brian Proffitt and Ruth Suehle

It was also nice to run into the Latvian army. The Zabbix crew had a booth and it was cool to see Alexei and Alex again, although it was ironic that I missed them on my trip to Riga (they were actually driving north to Tallinn when I was heading south).

RHSummit - Zabbix Booth

Zabbix, like OpenNMS, is 100% open source and thus not only do we get along, I quite like them and look forward to chatting about the joys and challenges about running an open source business when we meet.

Speaking of meeting, I also got to meet Brian Stinson of the CentOS project.

RHSummit - Brian Stinson from CentOS

We swapped some stories and recounted the strange and funny time when Jerry Taylor, the City Manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma, claimed the CentOS project had hacked his city’s website. Has it been eleven years? Wow.

As part of the conference, Red Hat provided lunch. It was always a pretty hectic time since the show was packed and nothing demonstrated this more than trying to serve lunch to all those people.

RHSummit - Lunch Crowd

As far as conference lunches go, it was above average, but I did find it funny that they only served water to drink (usually there are cans of soda, etc.) I overhead one Red Hat employee say to another, you know, we can afford that gigantic screen but all we get is water?

On Wednesday night, Red Hat purchased a ton of tickets to the Red Sox game at Fenway Park. While I can’t find a reference to actual conference attendance figures, I heard the number 5000 being batted around which was a significant portion of the ballpark (it holds a little over 37,000). They gave us all red baseball caps and you could definitely see them in the crowd.

RHSummit - Fenway Park

For our annual developers conference, Dev-Jam, we have about one-one hundredth the amount of people to see the Twins play, but we also get better seats. (grin)

It was my first time at the historic Fenway Park, and the fans were almost more fun to watch than the game. I also enjoy trying to explain the game of baseball to people from outside the country, and this was made more interesting by some bad blood between the Sox and the Orioles that resulted in the ejection of the Orioles’ pitcher for hitting a batter.

Fenway is relatively close to Cambridge, so I took the opportunity to visit a friend of mine who is a professor. I decided to walk to Harvard Square along the river, where the rowing teams were practicing.

RHSummit - Rowing

Now whenever I see a movie featuring Ivy League students on the water, I’ll know where that was shot.

It was also nice to be able to spend some time with David and Jesse. While I work with David almost daily, we’re so busy that it is hard to find time to talk strategy and plan for the future of OpenNMS. Jesse, our CTO, moved back to Canada after the birth of his son to be closer to family, and it was also nice to have time to spend with him. Walking to dinner one night David took this picture

RHSummit - River and Bridge

which turned out so much better on his iPhone 6S than my Nexus 6P.

I often say that Red Hat, as a company, doesn’t get the credit it deserves since it is headquartered in North Carolina and not Silicon Valley. Our companies share a similar philosophy of taking care of customers, creating great open source software and producing steady growth, versus, say, chasing unicorns. It was wonderful to see that work demonstrated in such a large and professional conference, and I hope next year I’ll get to speak (although I doubt it will be on the big stage).

LinkedIn

I’m at Red Hat Summit in Boston this week so expect a longer post on the conference later, but I wanted to mention that I’ve reopened a LinkedIn account after an absence of several years. You can find me here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/tarusbalog

I left the network due to how they were handling privacy issues. I’m still not 100% happy with it now, but I think I can control how much information I share and I do have a need that I think the service can provide.

I was walking in Boston yesterday and I saw a sign for Harvard Medical School. They used to use OpenNMS and I really enjoyed working with the guys who worked there. Most of them have moved on, so I was curious to know where they were and if they were still in the city. It dawned on me that LinkedIn would have helped in this situation.

I don’t like a number of changes that have been made to the site, such as the inability to feature external links (such as to this blog which will remain one of my main ways to communicate) but it may be just my inability to navigate the website. OpenNMS is also on LinkedIn, and it looks like you can “follow” the company as well:

https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-opennms-group

Anyway, let’s give this a go. See you in the toobz.

2016 PB and Jam

OpenNMS is headquartered in the idyllic small town of Pittsboro, NC, sometimes just called “PBO”. Since a number of people who come to Dev-Jam travel a fair distance, we’ve started a tradition of a “mini Dev-Jam” the week after, hosted at OpenNMS HQ.

This is much more focused on the work of The OpenNMS Group, but it is still a lot of fun. Last night as a team building exercise we decided to try an “escape” room.

This is a a relatively new thing where a group of people get put in a room and they have a certain amount of time to figure out puzzles and escape. Jessica set us up with Cipher Escape in their “Geek Room” which was the only one that could accommodate 11 of us.

It’s a lot of fun. For our experience we were lead into about a 15×15 room and given the following backstory: you are watching your neighbors cat while they are on vacation and after you feed her you realize you are locked in their house. You have 60 minutes to escape.

One thing I thought was funny was that the room was dotted with little pink stickers and we were told that these indicate things that don’t need to be manipulated (e.g. there was a picture frame that when you turned it over you would see the stickers, which meant you weren’t supposed to take it apart). I can only imagine the beta testing that went into determining where to put the stickers (our hostess specifically mentioned that you didn’t need to take the legs off the furniture).

To tell anything more would spoil it, but I was extremely proud that the team escaped with over 10 minutes to spare (we missed the best time by ten minutes, so it wasn’t close, but we did beat a team from Cisco that didn’t escape at all).

Escape Room Success

It was a ton of fun, and I’d put this team up against any challenge.

Afterward, most of us went out for sushi at Waraji. I’ve known the owner Masatoshi Tsujimura for almost 30 years, and even though they were packed they were able to set us up with a tatami room.

Waraji Dinner

It’s a bit out of the way for me to visit often, so I was happy to have an excuse for a victory celebration.

Avoiding the Sad Graph of Software Death

Seth recently sent me to an interesting article by Gregory Brown discussing a “death spiral” often faced by software projects when issues and feature requests start to out pace the ability to close them.

Sad Graph of Death

Now Seth is pretty much in charge of managing our Jira instance, which is key to managing the progress of OpenNMS software development. He decided to look at our record:

OpenNMS Issues Graph

[UPDATE: Logged into Jira to get a lot more issues on the graph]

Not bad, not bad at all.

A lot of our ability to keep up with issues comes from our project’s investment in using the tool. It is very easy to let things slide, resulting the the first graph above and causing a project to possibly declare “issue bankruptcy“. Since all of this information is public for OpenNMS, it is important to keep it up to date and while we never have enough time for all the things we need to do, we make time for this.

I think it speaks volumes for Seth and the rest team that OpenNMS issues are managed so well. In part it comes naturally from “the open source way” since projects should be as transparent as possible, and managing issues is a key part of that.