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 Ohio Linuxfest

The Ohio Linuxfest was one of the first open source conferences I ever attended, way back in 2010. I had heard about it from the local Linux Users Group, TriLUG, and we ended up renting a van and taking a couple of other open source geeks with us, including “Mr. IPv6” Kevin Otte.

It was a blast.

Ohio Linuxfest Banner

This year looks like another great show, with one of my favorite people, Karen Sandler, giving a keynote on Friday and yours truly will be giving the last keynote on Saturday.

If you are into free and open source software and are able to make it, I strongly encourage you to check out the conference. You’ll be glad you did.

2017 Australian Network Operators Group Conference

Back in June I was chatting with “mobius” about all things OpenNMS. He lives and works in Perth, Australia, and suggested that I do a presentation at AusNOG, the Australian Network Operators Group.

One of the things we struggle with at OpenNMS is figuring out how to make people aware it exists. My rather biased opinion is that it is awesome, but a lot of people have never heard of it. To help with that I used to attend a lot of free and open source conferences, but we’ve found out over the years that our user base tends to be more along the lines of large enterprises and network operators that might not be represented at such shows.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that there were a whole slew of NOGs, network operator groups, around the world. It seems to me that people who attend these conferences have a more immediate need for OpenNMS, and with that in mind I submitted a talk to AusNOG. I was very happy it was selected, not in the least because I would get to return to Australia for a third time.

AusNOG David Hughes

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. The event was extremely well organized and I really liked the format. Many conferences as they become successful respond by adding multiple tracks. This can be useful if the tracks are easy to delineate, but often you can get “track bloat” where the attendees get overwhelmed with choice and as a presenter you can end up with a nearly empty room if you are scheduled against a popular speaker. At AusNOG there is only one track of somewhat short, highly curated talks that results in a very informative conference without the stress of trying to determine the best set of talks to attend.

AusNOG Program

(Note: Visit the “programme” site and click on talk titles to download the presentations)

The venue was very nice as well. Held at the Langham Hotel, the conference took place in a ballroom that held the 200+ people with a lobby out front for socializing and a few sponsor booths. The program consisted of 90 minutes of presentations separated by a break. They alternated sets of three 30 minute talks with two 45 minutes talks. I found all of the presentations interesting, but I have to admit that I spent a lot of time looking up unfamiliar acronyms. As network operators Autonomous System (AS) numbers were thrown around in much the same way SNMP Private Enterprise Numbers are shared among network management geeks. Australia is also in the process of implementing a nationwide National Broadband Network (nbn™) to provide common infrastructure across the country, so of course that was the focus of a number of talks.

In the middle of each day we broke for lunch which was pretty amazing. The Langham restaurant had a sushi section, a section for Indian food, a large buffet of your standard meat and veg, and at least three dessert sections: one with “healthy” fruit and cheese, another focused on ice cream and a chocolate fountain, and a large case full of amazing pastries and other desserts. All with a view out over the Yarra river.

AusNOG Yarra River

I really liked the format of AugNOG and suggest we adopt it for the next OpenNMS conference. For those few talks that were either over my head or not really of interest, they were over pretty quickly, but I found myself enjoying most of them. I thought it was interesting that concepts we usually equate with the managing servers are being adopted on the network side. One talk discussed topics such as running switch software in containers, while another discussed using Ansible and Salt to manage the configuration of network gear.

AusNOG Runing Switch Software in Containers

I was happy to see that my talk wasn’t the only one that focused on open source. Back fifteen years ago getting large companies to adopt an open source solution was still in the evangelical stage, but now it is pretty much standard. Even Facebook presented a talk on their open source NetNORAD project for monitoring using a distributed system to measure latency and packet loss.

I did have a few favorite talks. In “The Future Is Up in the Sky” Jon Brewer discussed satellite Internet. As someone who suffered for years with a satellite network connection, it was interesting to learn what is being done in this area. I used a system with a satellite in geosynchronous orbit which, while it worked, ended up with latency on the order of a second in real-world use. It turns out that there are a number of solutions using shorter distances with satellites in low earth or high earth orbit. While they present their own challenges, it is still the most promising way to get network access to remote areas.

Another talk by Mark Nottingham discussed issues associated with the increased use of encrypted protocols and the challenges they create for network operators. While the civil libertarian in me applauds anything that makes it harder for surveillance to track users, as a network monitoring guy this can make it more difficult to track down the cause of network issues.

And this will become even more important as the network changes with the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Another good talk discussed the issue of IoT security. Even today the main consensus is that you protect weakly secured devices with a firewall, but a number of new exploits leverage infected systems within the firewall for DDoS attacks.

AusNOG Internet of Things Vulnerabilities

I think my own talk went well, it was hard to squeeze a good introduction to OpenNMS into 30 minutes. I did manage it – 30 minutes on the nose – but it didn’t leave time for questions. As a speaker I really liked the feedback the conference provided in the form of a rather long report showing what the attendees thought of the talk, complete with cool graphs.

AusNOG Speaker Response

I really enjoyed this conference, both as an attendee and a speaker. While I hope to speak to more NOGs I would much rather encourage OpenNMS users who are happy with the project to submit real-world talks on how they use the platform to their local tech groups. I think it tells a much stronger story to have someone a little less biased than myself talking about OpenNMS, and plus you get to visit cool conferences like AusNOG.

2017 Australian Network Operators Group (AusNOG) Conference

I am excited to be returning to Australia for the third time next week. This trip is to speak at the Australian Network Operators Group (AusNOG) annual conference in Melbourne.

AusNOG Promo Graphic

I can’t believe I’ve gone for so long and not known about Network Operator Groups (NOGs). There are quite a few of them and I think they would be a perfect audience to introduce to the OpenNMS Project. One of our users on the OpenNMS chat server is from Perth and he made me aware of the conference, and I was humbled and delighted to have my presentation accepted.

At OpenNMS we strive very hard to separate the project (.org) from the commercial entity that supports the project (.com) and this presentation will be strictly focused on the project. It’s a wonderful thing about OpenNMS: if it meets your needs, cool. If not, also cool. I just want more people to be aware of open source options, especially in the carrier and enterprise space.

And it looks like open source is definitely making inroads at AusNOG. The talk before mine is about Ansible and Salt. There is another talk on using open source to build a version of NetNorad, and another one on open source for big data analytics. The one after mine is about modern network monitoring, so I hope I tick at least a few boxes on his list.

I hope to see you there (although it looks like it is sold out) but let me know if you are in the area and perhaps I can at least say “hi”.

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.

A Brief History of an Open Source Company

I’ve been invited to give a keynote at this year’s Ohio Linuxfest being held in Columbus, Ohio, on 29-30 September. I am both excited and humbled as this is one of my favorite conferences of the year and I know a lot of amazing people will be there to share their knowledge of free and open source software.

Ohio Linuxfest Logo

I take my presentations pretty seriously, especially keynotes, so I wanted to come up with something that was both funny and interesting. They asked me to speak on running a business around open source software, and I immediately thought I should come up with some click-bait title like “Ten Things About Open Source Business, Four of Them Will Shock You!” but it just didn’t feel right. Then I thought about Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and that seemed more fitting.

My most popular talk so far has been on starting an open source business, but that focuses mainly on the mechanics of the process. For this talk I want to trace my history with OpenNMS starting with my first day on the job and then describing how it grew to become what it is today. In those 15+ years I’ve had a lot of adventures, some good and some bad, and I’ve met a some wonderful people. It is the work of many of those people that actually make OpenNMS what it is – I act more like a “crap umbrella” with my one job being to block all of the things that might keep the team from being productive – and I want to talk how that came about. This presentation will consist almost entirely of real world examples of the problems we encountered and our decision process for solving them.

I hope it will be entertaining and useful, and look forward to seeing you there.

CubaConf 2017

UPDATE: Today the United States administration announced tougher restrictions on travel to Cuba. While nothing has changed at the moment, there will be some changes in the next 30 days. This should not impact people attempting to go to Cuba for this conference as it should fall under the “professional” or “educational” travel categories. This may change again before November and I’ll be sure to post updates.

While tourist travel remained officially banned, Obama also allowed a broad category of “people to people” visits to Cuba. Trump’s new directive still allows individual travel in all but that category, and reverts to an earlier policy of requiring “people to people” visits only in a Treasury-licensed group.

Free and open source software is as close to a true meritocracy than anything else I’ve found. It doesn’t matter what is the color of your skin, your gender or where you live, your value is judged simply by your contributions to the project. I wrote up my favorite instance of that for opensource.com concerning my friend Alejandro who got involved with OpenNMS when he lived in Venezuela. He and his wife are now permanent residents in the US due to his work on our project.

I actually forget how I came across CubaConf, but I was immediately interested in attending. This is an annual free software conference held in Havana, Cuba.

CubaConf

It has been illegal for US Citizens to travel to Cuba since before I was born. Last year the Obama administration eased some of those restrictions, so it is now possible, under certain conditions, to travel to Cuba as well as to use US Dollars while there.

Cuba has been pretty isolated since the 1960s, and as it races to catch up with the rest of the world it will need access to modern technology, especially software. I see an opportunity for free software to play a huge role in the future of that country, and I am eager to meet the people who will help make that happen.

I want to use this post to encourage all of my free and open source software friends to come to CubaConf. This is a three-day event that follows a format similar to one we used for our OpenNMS user conferences. The first day is a normal conference, with various tracks and presentations set to a schedule. The second day is a “barcamp” style conference where the attendees will set the agenda, and the third day is a hackathon.

Presentations are welcome in both Spanish and English, so I’ve submitted two talks (both in English). One is on starting an open source business. This will be different from my usual talk as I want to focus on how someone in Cuba could both spread the use of free software while getting paid to do it, without as much focus on setting up a corporation or other formal business entity. The second talk is on OpenNMS. While business transactions are still difficult between the US and Cuba, I really want to bring the magic that is OpenNMS to their attention so that when things ease between our countries people will be familiar with it.

I plan to attend all three days, and Alejandro is coming with me to help with any language issues (my Spanish is passable but not nearly as fluent as a native speaker). Note that the Call for Papers is open until the end of August.

Since you might be hesitant to consider going to Cuba from the United States, I wanted to share with you how it works.

First, tourism to Cuba for Americans is still illegal. However, the State Department has come up with a list of 12 categories which qualify for visiting.

12 Visa Categories for Cuba

In the case of CubaConf, you will choose either number four “Professional research and professional meetings” or number five “Educational activities”. I guess number six might work “Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions” since it is kind of a workshop, but I’d stick with the first two. Since I am a free software professional, I plan to use number four, as I consider this a professional meeting.

Note that Cuba could care less about why you are there – this is a requirement of the US government.

Second, once you have a legal travel category, you’ll need a visa. In speaking with my favorite airline, American Airlines (they offer direct flights to Havana from Charlotte, NC, and Miami, FL), once you book your travel they will outsource the visa process to Cuba Travel Services who will handle the whole thing via e-mail. The visa costs $50 and it looks like there may be a $35 fee, but I’m not sure if the fee applies if you are referred via the airline and it may be built into the price of the ticket.

Speaking of things included in the price, the third thing to consider is that all Americans traveling to Cuba must have non-US health insurance. This is included as a $25 charge when you purchase your ticket.

That covers much of the “getting there” part. The fourth, and in my mind most important thing to know is that Cuba is still very much a cash-only country. American banks are still not doing business there so your credit cards won’t work, nor will the ATM, so you’ll need to bring cash. I verified this with calls to Bank of America, Chase and Citi – currently none of those banks have cards that work in that country.

There are two types of currency in use: The Cuban National Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) or “kook”. The CUC is pegged to the dollar and is the currency used by most visitors. Luckily, Havana is a pretty safe place, although I still won’t want to carry around a lot of money if I can avoid it.

I’m not sure where I will stay. Being a big Marriott fan I do have the option to stay at the Four Points Sheraton, but it seems to be pretty far away from the Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo where the conference will be held. Most people visiting stay in a “casa particular” which is a room in someone’s house, and it appears that Airbnb is also in Cuba.

I plan to use the open source way and just ask my friends organizing the conference where I should stay. It is very easy to do, as they have set up a Telegram channel for the conference. While Spanish is the main language in the channel, English is welcome, and if you are thinking about coming to CubaConf I would consider going there first.

I am very exited about the opportunity to visit Havana in November. Despite the modern history between the US and Cuba, I know I’ll make some new friends.

Software libre crea amistades inmediatas.

OpenNMS Team Wins 5000€ Prize at TM Forum {open}:hack

A group of four students from Southampton Solent University, mentored by Dr. Craig Gallen, used OpenNMS to win the top prize at the TeleManagement Forum {open}:hack competition at the TM Forum Live conference in Nice, France.

{open}:hack Winners

Now, a little background is in order. Dr. Gallen founded Entimoss, our OpenNMS partner in the UK and Ireland. He got involved with OpenNMS over a decade ago when he was working on his doctoral thesis entitled “Improving the Practice of Operations Support Systems in the Telecommunications Industry using Open Source”.

Most of his work was focused on a business solution framework called NGOSS (now Frameworx) developed by the TM Forum for creating next generation OSS/BSS software and systems. Now the TM Forum is the world’s leading trade organization for telecommunications providers and at the time was not very friendly toward open source. He demonstrated how an open source platform like OpenNMS could be used to integrate with and tie together these different interfaces to build a reference implementation for part of the framework. Open source was a new concept for the industry, and we were branded the “open source pirates” at first. But Craig persisted, and in 2011 he was awarded the TM Forum’s Outstanding Contributor Award.

In addition to his persistence and ability to deal with large organizations, Craig is also a great teacher. When the TM Forum introduced its {open}:hack program, he wanted to get involved and he found several interested students at Southampton Solent University.

The goals of {open}:hack are:

  1. Accelerate industry deployment of Forum Open APIs, metamodels and architecture across the industry
  2. Validate existing APIs and provide feedback for future iterations to technical collaboration teams
  3. Create IoT/Smart City & NFV/SDN solutions leveraging the Forum Open APIs
  4. Accelerate the incubation of new digital business opportunities in the areas of 5G Network Services & IoT/Smart City
  5. Create extensions to Forum Open APIs to be shared with industry

Participants were given access to APIs from the TM Forum, Huawei, Salesforce and Vodafone, which included things like data from drones, and tasked with creating something beneficial. Their project was called “Port-o-matic” which created an application for accessing services at shipping ports, as well as measuring environmental factors such as pollution. This was especially relevant to them since Southampton is the UK’s number one cruise port and second largest container port (the Titanic set sail from there).

{open}:hack architecture

Their solution leveraged the power of the OpenNMS platform to tie all of these APIs together and then to provide aggregated data to their web application. It can scale to almost any size using the new OpenNMS “Minion” feature which can distribute data collection and monitoring out to the edges of a network, offloading the need to have all of the functionality in a central location and positioning OpenNMS for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The hardest thing to get across to people new to OpenNMS is that it is a platform and not strictly an application. The learning curve can be steep and it is hard to see its value straight out of the box. I love the fact that solutions like the “Port-o-matic” demonstrate the power of OpenNMS.

It is also interesting to note that the second place prize went to a team from Red Hat. For an organization like the TM Forum that was wary of open source to demonstrate such a change of heart is encouraging, and I credit Dr. Gallen with a lot of that advancement.

{open}:hack Group Photo

So congratulations to Joe Appleton, Jergus Lejko, Michael Sievenpiper and Marcin Wisniewski, the winners of this latest {open}:hack competition, and I look forward to seeing more great things from you in the future.

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).

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.