The Inverter: Episode 51 – Live Europe 2015

What can I say? Best. Show. Evah.


Of course, I might be slightly biased since I helped make this one happen. Every year we have an OpenNMS Users Conference and this year it was held in Fulda, Germany. In an effort to attract more people, I thought it would be cool to get some open source celebrities. That didn’t work out, but I found that most of the guys who do the Bad Voltage podcast would come out for the price of airfare and lodging. The fact that it coincided with Oktoberfest didn’t hurt.

The guys may joke that they just throw the show together, but I’ve gotten to see how the sausage is made and they do put a lot of effort into making an episode – especially a live one. With the help of the wonderful people at the University in Fulda, I think it went really well.

We had Jeremy Garcia, Jono Bacon and Stuart Langridge there in person, but Bryan Lunduke stayed at home due to the recent birth of his second child. Well, that and the fact that he hates me. He was there in spirit, however, via the “Bryan-o-tron” which was a large, red button that when pressed would produce Bryan saying a pithy quote. It worked out well and was pretty funny.

The first segment focused on Cybercrime and ways to stop it. I was in the camp that most “cyber” crime is actually old school crime just using computers. A lot of it still relies on people being stupid, naive and/or greedy.

For an example on how low tech crime still works, we recently had our car burglarized and they stole Andrea’s purse. About a week later we noticed nearly two thousand dollars missing from our account. The thieves had written a check from a stolen account and then used her ID to cash it. Even though we had changed our account number and we never withdraw large sums of cash, the bank went ahead and dispensed the cash (the person had gone through the drive through teller and used her driver’s license as ID). This despite the fact that we had reported the theft, changed our account and the signature on the back of the check wasn’t even close to her’s. Of course, they refunded the money to us (after about a week) but I was still amazed that, in this day and age, with debit cards and PIN numbers and multiple ways to ID a person, this actually worked.

The next segment was taken from the first Bad Voltage Live show at SCaLE and it was called “Wrong in 60 Seconds”. The idea is to give people 60 seconds to rant about something, and then the team would judge who did the best job. We were worried about this bit because Europeans tend to be more reserved than Americans, and even with a little bit of beer in them we weren’t sure what the participation level would be.

And our worst fears were realized. Only Ken Wimer volunteered to rant, and we needed at least two more people. Jessica saved the day by volunteering Antonio Russo (a great choice) and I immediately thought Ian Norton would do a good job, so I threw his name into the hat. They all agreed to do it, and it was a lot of fun. The lighting is kind of poor, so you miss the fact that Antonio actually threw his shoes before starting. Ken ranted in German, Antonio in Italian, and Ian in English.

It came down to a tie, with Jessica casting the deciding vote for Ian. The prize was a really nice tablet.

The last segment features Stuart talking about the biggest danger to open source being the people involved. This may seem a little counter-intuitive: open source is a movement made up of people, so how could they be the biggest danger to it? But he makes some good points, specifically you never hear someone in the Apple user community blasting someone because of their choice of application, but we constantly get factions up in arms about Unity vs. Gnome vs. KDE and Ubuntu vs. Fedora vs. OpenSUSE. Even in the opening parts of the show they joke about the three OpenSUSE guys (who came a long way to be at the show) being the *only* three OpenSUSE users. We laugh but it is somewhat endemic of open source culture and maybe we need to change it. It’s one reason we at OpenNMS strive to be both welcoming and tolerant of new users, as they will be the evangelists of the future.

Toward the end of the bit the Bryan-o-tron took a fearful turn as it was no longer static images and canned quotes, but Bryan himself via a Google Hangout. He unleashes his trademark vitriol and then manages to join the show via a DoubleRobotics telepresence robot.

While this worked flawlessly in rehearsal, we had some connection issues and Bryan’s face was missing from the screen. Here is what it should have looked like:

OUCE Robot

In any case, it was funny, and toward the end when he slowly storms off, the robot locked up in forward mode (I’ve had this happen to me) and slammed into the wall, falling over. No harm was done and it was a pretty funny way to end the segment.

That was pretty much it for the show. Clocking in right at an hour, I think it went well. I’ll be eager to see the next Live Voltage when they plan one.

The Inverter: Episode 50 – Automated

The latest Bad Voltage show, episode 50, was titled “Automated”. It marked a milestone, fifty episodes is a lot and the gang deserves credit for making it that far, and I was surprised they didn’t talk about it. That’s professionals for ya, just another show.

TL;DR: I didn’t really care for this show that much. Now, to me, Bad Voltage is like sex: when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good, so please don’t tear into me too roughly for not praising it (see how I got “rough sex” into your brain and into the search engines?). This episode was a little more navel gazing than normal. They revisited the Mycroft Kickstarter (and now on Indiegogo), and then moved on to an interview that I thought was unnecessarily brutal. Many geeks are not the most socially gifted people on the planet and being on a podcast, even one like Bad Voltage, can make them extremely nervous and anxious. Considering that this was supposed to be a friendly interview I found it a little painful. Then there was a home automation “Internet of Things” discussion that I found too high level than I would of liked, and the episode ended with Jono’s review of a standing desk.

The show clocked in at seconds under ninety minutes. There is a large variation in times for these podcasts, and I’m happy listening to the team for as long as they are willing to talk, but the shows I like the most seem to be a little more focused, regardless of the length.

This episode started off with the announcement of the birth of Bryan’s second child, a boy named Solomon. It is the main reason he won’t be joining us in person for next week’s live Bad Voltage show, but congratulations are still in order.

The first segment was a discussion of the Mycroft project, which is attempting to create an open source Siri-like digital assistant. Yes, they discussed this on the last show as well, and while the Kickstarter has ended they have an Indiegogo campaign going on as well. I am eager to see what comes of this, but not willing to fund it at the moment. The last time I funded something, the open source fitness Angel Sensor, they took my money and it’s now a year overdue. Not really complaining (if I were complaining I’d be upset that the first app they plan to release is iOS only) but it kind of burned me on these kinds of things.

Still a cool idea, and it may be possible to eliminate any privacy concerns I might have. I need to help out by offering to read some stuff on Librevox as Aq suggests.

The second segment was an interview with Chris Waid. It turns out that the FCC is unhappy that, with software defined radios, one can increase the power in such a fashion that it violates the broadcast license for the device. For example, you could extend your WiFi range using the same gear through software. They want to stop this, but the concern is that the easiest way to do this would be to lock down the firmware for these devices, which would rule out things like installing alternative firmware on your home router, or perhaps even running free software on computers and laptops, as access to the WiFi and Bluetooth chips could be prevented.

While I’m in the camp that this is more a poorly thought out proposal on the part of the FCC than the FCC trying to be malicious, there is a chance this could be a Bad Thing™ and we should take steps to prevent it. However, in their zeal to get to the meat of this problem the team went a little overboard on poor Chris. Even when a guy in the room with Chris tried to help out, the immediate thought was that Chris was being corrected by one of his own guys (which wasn’t the case). Sure, it would have been funny, but Chris just got more flustered and the message got lost.

Now I’m all for skewering the bad guys, although I prefer it be done nicely as in the style of Jon Stewart, but this wasn’t a bad guy. At worst he is overstating the threat a bit, but compared to some of the jewels the US government has put forth in the past concerning technology, overstating the threat is worse than understating it. They do apologize, somewhat, at the end of the show, but the whole segment made me a little uncomfortable.

There was a short segment by Jeremy, resident home automation geek, about a project to mount a tablet inside a bathroom mirror. Not sure if there is a killer app for such a thing, but I have been in hotels with TVs in the mirror so it has possibilities.

The third segment was a discussion of home automation and “The Internet of Things”. A lot of it involved discussing all of the competing protocols and solutions, to the point where Jeremy needs several different hubs just to talk to everything. At the moment it is more like “The Internet of Silos”.

I was surprised no one mentioned X10. Any one of my three readers remember this? It was a home automation protocol that worked by sending signals over the home electrical wiring. I once had tons of the stuff: light switches, controllers, even a device that you could stick under your analog thermostat to turn on the air conditioning. It worked by turning on a small heating element that would make the thermostat think it was hotter than it was. Plus, no cameras or microphones phoning home with who knows what information to third party servers.

Those were the days.

The last segment was Jono reviewing a standing desk he bought. Standing desks are all the rage now, and he wanted to try one out so he bought one by LIFT. We got a bunch of movable desks from Varidesk at the office, and I quite like them. I do agree with Jono that if you are serious about them you need a floor pad.

While it wasn’t my favorite BV, I did enjoy it. It’s not like I want 90 minutes of my life back ‘n all. They also didn’t mention the morse code message from the previous episode and I’ve been too lazy to find out what was up with that. I like little Easter eggs. Perhaps they should come up with a contest where each week clues are hidden in the podcast, and if you put them together you win a laptop or something else cool.

Remember, the next show will be Live at the OpenNMS Conference in Fulda, Germany. We still have a few seats left, and if the 5€ fee is an issue, please drop me a note. We can work something out, and there will be beer.

The Inverter: Episode 49 – The Tapas of All Bananas

I am a fan of the Bad Voltage podcast, but as it is hard for me to listen, pay attention and work at the same time, I tend to listen to it on airplanes. A lot of ideas and comments come to me during an episode, so I’m going to start a new feature on this blog called “The Inverter” where I review and comment on each show.

TL;DR: This episode was well done. It was tight, it flowed nicely and clocks in at slightly over an hour. That is their target time but the average show is closer to 80 minutes. There was a cool little mystery at the front followed by a discussion of the Endless Computer project, which was deemed too expensive to succeed. They talked about the horrible Nest smoke detector, version one, and the much nicer version two. Aq reviews Gliffy, a web-based Visio-like application, and they end with a segment on Microsoft’s changing relationship with open source.

This week I’m on a flight to DC so it is time to pull out my copy of the latest Bad Voltage. After the intro, starting about minute three, you get two minutes of what sounds like Morse code.

Intrigued, I found an app that will decode Morse (this webby one didn’t work for me but the Android app did fine) and read the following message:


Now, I’m not sure what “Insots” or “in Sots” are but I thought it was cool that they put this in the podcast, I probably would have added it after a delay at the end of the recording, as it was a little weird listening to two minutes of beeps (I thought my mp3 download was corrupt) but then only the hardcore listeners would have made it all the way through. Apparently you can find more about this in the t00bz but I’ve been too lazy. Cool addition, though.

The first segment was on the Endless Computer, which states it is building a “computer for the entire world” which brings to mind the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. But there are a lot of differences, the main one being that Endless is a for-profit company (at least I think so – during my exhaustive, nearly 60 second perusal of their website, I didn’t find any verbiage to indicate that this was a charitable foundation versus a commercial enterprise).

As a for-profit company, their gear is not inexpensive, and most of the discussion on the show concerned the price, which is pretty steep for the hardware. There is also the issue that you still need to spend even more money to get it functional (as in buy a keyboard and a mouse). Jono, who was the only one who has actually played with the thing, pointed out that the user experience they have created is pretty nice, but the rest of the gang was still stuck on the price.

There is a $169 version, and a $229 version and they both have a funky look, something like an egg.

Now, I have zero experience with the thing but since that hasn’t stopped me from having an opinion before, here are my thoughts.

First off, I loved the OLPC project. I wonder what would have happened if the OLPC project started now, with the vast improvements in open source operating systems, instead of having to come up with their own O/S that was a little hard to understand.

Endless is not OLPC, and I think that’s the main reason for the price point – they need and want to make money.

If I really wanted to get computing power into the hands of the disenfranchised I would have gone with a tablet. For $229, you can make a decent tablet, which would remove the need to have a TV or keyboard/mouse. You could even add an option to charge it via solar cells. Heck, even the Endless website says “as simple as a tablet” which makes you wonder why they didn’t build one of those (margins, probably). With PC sales in free fall, starting a company to make a new one seems silly – like making a “VCR for the World”.

No, what I think happened is that someone found an investor in the Valley who heard “2 billion potential customers” and started seeing dollar signs. We can be the third world Apple! Simply make a funky design, hire a “Chief Growth Officer” and then … profit!

Another sign of impending doom is that they don’t even own the “” domain name. According to Paul Graham, it matters.

I’m willing to wager Endless is pretty much DOA, but then I guess I’m just bitter in that this pipe dream got funded and I can’t find decent investors for my company, which actually makes a profit. (sigh)

Moving on, the next segment was on the Nest “Protect” smoke detector. Apparently the first generation ones were crap, but Jeremy invested in the second generation and, so far, likes them. They have all kinds of whiz-bang features, such as two different sensors for various types of fires, and a networking feature so that in, say, a three story house like Jeremy’s, the detector on the third floor can set off all of the others.

I’ve avoided Nest products because I’m a bit of a privacy nut (odd, considering that I share most of my life on-line, I know). I don’t want microphones in my house. I don’t want things “phoning home”. Plus, my old smoke detector works just fine and alerts the nice people who provide my security monitoring when I cook bacon, so I don’t see the need to upgrade.

I did like hearing about the feature where the Nest can serve as a night-light and light up when people walk by it, sort of like the lights in a European hotel hallway. But I think I’d rather engineer that solution on my own then to buy something that is always talking to a third party, no matter how often that third party says I can trust them.

This episode the guys have introduced something called “Hack Voltage” in which one of the hosts will review something cool they’ve discovered. Aq did a short segment on “Gliffy” – a diagramming tool like Visio that you can run in a browser. As a hosted solution, you get some bits for free but then you pay a subscription fee for more features and storage. He seemed to like it, but for me I’d rather struggle with something open source, but if I ever have the need for such a tool I’ll check out the “free” version.

Android Wear Translate Screenshot

For my own version of Hack Voltage, the coolest new thing I’ve been playing with is Google Translate on my watch. I haven’t had time to make a video, but you set up your source and destination languages, speak into to the watch, and voilà, translation. When you flip the watch over (like you would when showing it to another person) it enlarges and displays just the translated text. I plan to use this a lot when I’m in Germany for the OUCE and Bad Voltage Live.

The final segment was on Microsoft warming to open source, which it once referred to as a “cancer”. The new CEO seems to be very open to working with open source projects as well as integrating with them, although certain things, like requiring Surface tablets to boot in secure mode, seem to harken back to the bad old days.

All I can say is that Microsoft has always treated OpenNMS well, including gifting us with an MSDN subscription so that we can improve OpenNMS support on Windows. Overall, Microsoft is much more friendly toward open source than they have been in the past.

That was it for this episode. Short and focused with a minimum of swearing and a modicum of mystery. Just one more show before they descend on the little town of Fulda, and I’ll probably listen to it on the plane ride over there. Hope you can make it.