Free Frontalot Concert at OSCON Sponsored by OpenNMS

Hey. Lots to catch up on in this post, but the TL;DR is that the OpenNMS Group is hosting a free concert to coincide with this year’s OSCON conference in Portland.

(Please read to the bottom to see how this ties in with the EFF and Ulf)

It will be held Thursday night, July 23rd, at Dante’s, which Google Maps describes as a “Hip, dungeonlike rock venue”.

Map of Dante's and OSCON

Lookie there – we’re “hip”.

The Concert (note how I capitalize it because it is just that epic) will feature MC Frontalot along with his band. This will be the first time I’ve ever gotten to see a Front show with the band (thus “epic”) and I’m really looking forward to it.

And just to throw a little whipped cream and a cherry on top of this huge nerdy/geeky sundae, the opening act will be the Doubleclicks. Yes, you read that right, Angela and Aubrey will be there bringing their unique brand of nerd-folk to the same stage as the man who invented nerdcore rap.

And did I mention it is free? Doors open at 8pm, show starts a little after 9pm.

Plus, for you free and open source software fans, there might be a little extra surprise. Be there to find out what it could be.

Now, the long version on how this all came about.

Chris Dibona once said that his job was to give money to his friends. While our budget here at OpenNMS doesn’t come close to his, I did take his words to heart and we strive at all times to support the FOSS community.

I consider part of that community to be the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). If it wasn’t for the EFF defending a free and open Internet, open source would have a much harder time existing. Usually we give a fairly large donation at the end of each year to support them.

Last year I didn’t. To be honest, 2014 kind of sucked for me for a variety of reasons, and we really weren’t doing well enough to support a donation.

A few months ago I got introduced to Chad Essley. He is the animator behind the MC Frontalot video for the song “Shudders”. While I had yet to meet him, he shared my love of the EFF’s work and decided to auction off some of the artwork from that video and to donate the proceeds. The “grand prize”, if you will, was to have a special remix of “Shudders” made to include some new artwork. Since 2015 is going much better than last year, we decided to bid on that prize and we won, so now I can present the new and improved “Shudders”, which includes everyone’s favorite kiwi, Ulf.

Note that about 1:25 minutes in you can see a pretty accurate rendition of the OpenNMS headquarters.

Anyway, I really enjoyed working with Chad, and I found out he lives in Portland, Oregon. Portland is also the usual venue for the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON). While OSCON has definitely become much more focused on the latest Valley fads over FOSS, it is still the one place I can be sure to see all of my FOSSy friends each year, so I never miss a chance to go. Now I can add Chad to the list of people I get to see.

Then it dawned on me – why don’t we do a little guerrilla marketing and host a show? Thus after all the swag laden Docker parties are over, people can come by and enjoy some geek-centric music in a cool place.

So I approached Frontalot about doing a concert and, again, since we’re doing better this year, I felt we could spring for the whole band. He agreed, and then used his powers of persuasion to get the Doubleclicks on board. Dante’s is also helping us out, so be sure to come out and buy lots of beer in appreciation.

If you are new to the Doubleclicks, as I was, this is one of my favorite songs of theirs:

The show is open to everyone, so you don’t need an OSCON pass to attend. But I’ll be wandering around the OSCON Expo floor handing out some goodies that are just for conference attendees. I’ll post more when it gets closer to the date, and I’ll tell you how to find me.

I am extremely excited that we are able to do this. It promises to be a great time.

Early/Often on the Horizon

Lots of stuff, and I mean lots of cool stuff is going on and to paraphrase Hamlet I have not enough thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. I spent this week in the UK but I should be home for awhile and I hope to catch up.

But I wanted to put down a at least one thought. When we made the very difficult decision to split OpenNMS into two products, Horizon and Meridian, we had some doubts that it was the right thing to do. Well, at least for me, those doubts have been removed.

It used to take us 18 or more months to get a major release out. Due to the support business we were both hesitant to remove code we no longer needed or to try the newest things. Since we moved to the Horizon model we’ve released 3 major versions in six months and not only have we added a number of great features, we are finally getting around to removing stuff we no longer need and finishing projects that have languished in the past.

In the meantime we’re delivering Meridian to customers who value stability over features with the knowledge that the version they are running is supported for three years. Seriously, we have some customers upgrading from OpenNMS 1.8 (six major releases back) who obviously want longer release cycles, and even if you don’t need support you can get Meridian software for a rather modest fee coupled with OpenNMS Connect for those times when you really just need to ask a question.

Anything OpenNMS does well is a reflection on our great team and community, but I take personally any shortcomings. At least now I can see the path to minimize them if not remove them completely.

It’s a good feeling.

Welcome to 2015

I don’t know why I like the new year so much. It’s a pretty arbitrary holiday. I mean, yeah, the Earth has circled the Sun one more time, but is there really any difference between December 31st and January 1?

I think I like it because, no matter what happened in the previous year, the slate (to a large degree) has been wiped clean. You get a fresh start, and after 2014 I am excited to have one.

For the OpenNMS Group 2014 was bookended by two departures. The first came in January when the man we had hired to take over as CEO decided to leave us for a very senior position at Blackberry. Now considering the compensation Blackberry bestows upon its major executives, I really can’t blame him for taking the job. I am certain, however, that he could have handled the situation better. His departure was so sudden and we had a number of things going on that depended on him that it left us spinning for several months and put me in a bit of a depression.

The second departure was that of Matt Brozowski, our CTO and one of the three founders of the company. This hit me much more than Ron’s departure, because when a founder leaves any company it has to be seen as a vote of no confidence and at a minimum is a failure to meet expectations. I do understand his reasons for leaving, however. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. What we are trying to do is hard. People who have never attempted it must think it is a life of leisure – being your own boss, calling all the shots and taking vacation whenever you want. What I’ve found is that I spend most of my time acting as an umbrella to keep the crap from falling on the rest of the team so they can do the real work, and I’m tied to obligations that aren’t mine to control. I end my day by checking my e-mail and start it the same way. Only in the last few years has OpenNMS gotten to the point that I feel comfortable in taking a vacation, and even then I have a system for getting notified if something needs my attention.

Now I thrive on that, but not everyone does. I understand the lure of the safety and security of a big organization. Every so often I find myself wanting to swap places with some of my clients who make a lot more money than me and work in large corporations. But I know that, ultimately, it wouldn’t make me happy. We spend a third of our adult lives at work, and it is a shame if you aren’t doing something that makes you happy. We all wish the best for Matt and hope he finds happiness in his new position.

While both of these events were serious downers, there was a lot of good in 2014. We had the best Dev Jam ever, I think. We’ve been doing these for a long time and I think the whole team just gelled this year (plus, the Twins won). We released OpenNMS 14, which marked a new philosophy with releases with an emphasis on “early and often” and I think it’s great. I constantly discover new things in it that I didn’t realize I needed.

From a financial standpoint, the company lost money in 2014 for the first time. It took us awhile to get our focus back, but the last quarter was awesome, with revenue in December, always our strongest month, setting a new record and being up over 40% for the same month in 2013. We have a number of major announcements in the next six months that should get us back on track for an awesome 2015.

So, my parting thought to my three readers is this: if you had a great 2014, here’s hoping that 2015 is even better. If 2014 knocked you down, pick yourself up, brush yourself off and leave it in the dust. It’s a new year.

Go do great things.

Pictures at an Exhibition

While I wrote previously about the tenth anniversary of The OpenNMS Group, because it happened over the Labor Day holiday meant that we had to wait a week to celebrate. So on September 7th we gathered at a really nice restaurant in town called The Oak Leaf for a celebration.

We rented out the place so we had it all to ourselves, and it started with an open bar and amazing appetizers. We were able to socialize as people arrived before sitting down for a three course meal.

Of course, to paraphrase Heinlein there ain’t no such thing as a free open bar, so I subjected everyone to a speech before we could eat. I had the restaurant seat us at one long table with me at one end and our newest team member Ken at the other. It turned out to be a pretty long table. I wanted to demonstrate how we had grown in those ten years, from the three founders in one cramped office into something much larger.

I must admit I got a little verklempt during my speech when I thought back on all the people that made The OpenNMS Group possible. I did miss having Eric there as he couldn’t travel due to a recent surgery, but with that one exception I was surrounded by people who are almost as close to me as my own family (and include some of them as well).

I can’t wait to see what the next ten years bring.

Ten Years On …

There are a number of significant dates in the history of OpenNMS. I wasn’t around when the project was started, but I’ve been told it began some time in the summer of 1999, most likely in July.

We do know, however, that the project and first bits of code were posted on Sourceforge on 29 March, 2000, so we have used that as the official birth date for the OpenNMS project.

My personal involvement with OpenNMS started on Monday, 10 September 2001, when I joined Oculan. For obvious reasons it is an easy date to remember. I decided that I was going to take over the OpenNMS project when Oculan decided to stop working on it on 7 May 2002, which happens to be my mother’s birthday.

But probably the most important date in the history of the project is 1 September 2004, which was the first day of business for the OpenNMS Group, Inc., the company I started with David Hustace and Matt Brozowski. It’s been a wild ride this last decade, but we’ve managed to survive if not prosper when a lot of other companies, including Oculan, are no longer around. The office in which I write this was the first office for the company, when all three of us squeezed into its 120 square feet.

I meant to write something yesterday, but I was off on my usual Labor Day retreat in the mountains where there is no electricity and no mobile phone coverage. I spent most of the day climbing a mountain, and so it seems appropriate to end with this song.

To paraphrase Mr. Shatner, why do I work on OpenNMS? Because I’m in love.

♫ Georgia, Georgia … The Whole Day Through ♫

I spent a few days this week down in Atlanta with both Jeff (OpenNMS consultant extraordinaire and Georgia resident) and the gang over at Wellstar, one of our older clients (since 2004). It’s funny how much work with do in the health care industry, with companies like Cerner, Fairview, Hershey Medical Center, as well as having our oldest customer in Children’s Hospitals of Minnesota (circa 2001). There seem to be growing requirements on hospitals for network-enabled services, and thus a solid network management platform like OpenNMS is becoming even more of a requirement.

I’m not a huge fan of Atlanta the city, as the sprawl is a little too much for the country boy in me, but we’re actually up in the Northwest corner (Smyrna/Marietta) which has been quite enjoyable.

First I want to apologize for not posting in awhile. When you write a blog you are always on the lookout for new “blog worthy” ideas, and I have about 20 posts in the queue, going all the way back to April and the OUCE. While I still hope to get to those, I figured the best way to break the silence would be to just write something, so here it is.

I’m still playing Ingress, and so after Jeff picked me up at the airport we went hunting for portals. There is a tremendous amount of history in the area, often reflected in the available portals, and it is amazing to see really nice monuments and museums to rather specific things, such as the role trains played in the Civil War.

It’s always fun to visit with customers as well, and to help me absorb some of the local flavor we went to the Marietta Diner for lunch. It was hard to walk past the dessert case without wanting to dive right into it.

Toward the end of this short trip we went up to Kennesaw State University. They had a gorgeous campus with some of the largest brick buildings I’ve ever seen at a school. While the students had just left, one of them left a little reminder in the concrete that gave me a chuckle.

Welcome Ken!

As you might imagine, things have been a little hectic around here this week, so I almost forgot to share a great piece of news.

Ken Eshelby, a longtime OpenNMS user and frequent attendee at the OUCE, has joined our team as a consultant. I am excited to be working with him, as in his previous job he did one of the most amazing OpenNMS customizations I’ve seen.

I asked him for a picture and this is what he sent to me. Not sure of the context …

I'm CEO Again (sigh)

It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce that Ron Louks, our CEO, will be transitioning to another job.

He has been given an opportunity that he just couldn’t refuse: to own the devices division of Blackberry, and if anyone can turn that company’s fortunes around, it’s Ron.

Plus Ron, being Canadian, feels a certain national pride in making Blackberry a success. It’s definitely a challenge but I can’t think of a better person for the job.

Ron will still be involved in OpenNMS as a Board member and will continue to work to help us execute our business plan.

All of us at OpenNMS wish him the best of luck.

Welcome China! (Country 27)

Last week we received a PO from China, which is the 27th country in which we have commercial customers.

Considering the number of potential OpenNMS users in that country, I’m pretty excited.

The other countries are, in no particular order:

Finland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Israel, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Trinidad, Malta, India, Honduras, Chile, Sweden, the UAE and the US.

Happy Money

Happy Money

As someone who has dedicated most of his professional life to open source software, it may seem strange that I think about money a lot. With respect to the company, the decisions I make not only impact myself but all of our employees, and personally money provides a certain amount of comfort and security.

Awhile back I was reading on Dan Ariely’s blog about a new book called Happy Money. I bought it on impulse (which I found ironic) but it took me a little while to get around to reading it.

It’s my kind of non-fiction book, meaning that about a quarter of it is references for the copious footnotes. If you are planning to change my mind about something, it helps to be able to back it up. I am still blasted for my review on Amazon about Life, Inc. which made sweeping and sometimes nonsensical generalizations and the author just expected us to take his word for it (or more likely, he just wanted to make a buck by telling people what they wanted to hear).

The authors of Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, start off with the premise that there are a lot of books out there that tell you how to make money, but few that tell you how to become happier with the money you have. Their book details numerous studies undertaken by them and others, and they found five main things one can do with money that can have a large impact on one’s happiness.

The first thing was to buy experiences versus things. The studies they cite show that people get a lot more happiness out of, say, a trip to an exotic locale than in buying something like a fancy car. While owners of expensive cars reports a higher level of happiness when thinking about the car itself, when thinking about the last trips they took most car owners report about the same level of happiness no matter what type of car was used. So if you are driving to the store in the rain behind a dump truck because you are out of milk, it doesn’t matter if you are in a BMW or a Kia.

One example given in this chapter are the Tough Mudder races. These events are hardcore obstacle courses designed by British special forces. People who complete the course report a very high level of personal satisfaction, and it is in part because these events require teamwork and thus the experience fosters a sense of connectedness with others. While buying a new TV is for the most part a solo experience, working with others to get over a 12 foot wall requires teamwork. There is a bond created among finishers that can’t be purchased.

I occasionally play the lottery. I never win, but I do it for the daydreams I can have while I wait to find out that I’ve lost (I file it under “entertainment”). My rule is that I can spend $1 for every $100 million in jackpot. My spouse and I have talked about what we’d do if we ever won big, and the recurring fantasy would be to move to someplace like Positano, Italy, for a year and immerse ourselves in the culture. Then we might move on to Germany, or Argentina or Japan. Our lottery fantasies rarely include a big purchase.

The second thing they talk about is making things treats. They credit the comedian Sarah Silverman for this wisdom. She loves “pot, porn and fart jokes”, but she insists that you have to make it a treat. To truly enjoy something it helps if it isn’t available all the time. To go back to the car analogy above, most car owners report the same level of happiness with their vehicles, but when asked about a time they drove their car just for the fun of driving it, those with more expensive vehicles reported a higher level of happiness even if it didn’t happen as often.

The book talks at length about this issue of how availability results in “diminishing returns”. One example is candy corn, which tends to be easily available only certain times of the year (the Internet makes year round acquisition of almost anything possible year round, but let’s discount that for now). Or, as I just saw on television, the McDonalds McRib sandwich, which comes and goes off the menu, is available again. There is even a McRib Locator website to help people find them.

One example that I experienced talks about how people are more likely to savor something if they learn it won’t last. I lived in Northern California from 1994 to 1995, and when we decided to move back to North Carolina we rushed to visit Monterey, Alcatraz, etc. even though we had months to do so before the moving deadline appeared. When access to something is presumed to be always available, people are less likely to use it.

The third tip presented is the idea of buying time. I never have enough time, but I’m also cheap and tend to do a lot of things myself. One thing we always did on Saturday morning was clean the house. A couple of years ago, when my bride’s career took off, I was talked into hiring a cleaning service that comes in every other week. While they don’t do the job as well as I would, they do give us back our Saturday mornings, and that time is worth much more than the money I spend on the service.

Studies have shown that wealthier people tend to feel like they have less free time. In my lottery fantasy, having lots of money would give me more free time, but this book points out that people, especially those in my position who bill out their time on a hourly basis, seem to have issues doing things that don’t directly result in revenue. Why take a walk along the lake if that time could be spent helping a client?

The solution suggested by the book is to find ways, such as volunteer work, in order to purposely give time away. Giving time away reduced the feelings that time not spent working is wasted time, and thus increases happiness.

Step number four is to “Pay Now, Consume Later”. In the US our culture is geared heavily toward “Get It Now, Pay Later” which both fosters consumption, such as a new TV, and adds a future burden of payment. Not only is the happiness created by the purchase fleeting, as covered earlier, the added onus of having to come up with money to pay for it later greatly decreases the pleasure obtained by getting the thing in the first place.

However, the anticipation of an event can increase its happiness. Prepaying for, say, a beach trip and then thinking about it as the date approaches provides more pleasure than the trip alone. The book refers to the example of a Virgin Galactic flight. A woman and her husband both dreamed of going into space but couldn’t afford it. Unfortunately, the husband died. His wife decided to use the insurance money to pay the US$250,000 for a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight.

While the time spent in space will be measured in minutes, she gets to experience a number of things before the trip that both increase the anticipation and add to her happiness. There are astronaut-only events, trips to view the test flights and the training for the trip itself.

In my own experience I can think of a number of things where the run up to the event was as fun as the event itself.

The final step was called “Invest in Others” that shows that people tend to get a lot of enjoyment out of spending money on others more than just on themselves (the most pleasure came from spending money on others while with them). They even discuss a study where pre-verbal children seemed happiest when giving things to others (have you ever visited a friend with a small child who insists on bringing you things like their toys?).

While the book gave me a lot to think about concerning my own life, I was happy to find that working with OpenNMS tends to hit on all five. Working with OpenNMS users has provided me with a number of amazing experiences around the world. Due to the fact that I’m almost always traveling, revisiting my favorite places is a treat, from macarons in Palo Alto to Schwarzer Hahn beer in Fulda. I do a crappy job of buying time, but as we grow as a company I’m trying to learn to delegate more. Just this morning we got a notification that the drink machine was low on Fresca, and Tina was there to take care of it instead of me. As for “pay now, consume later” I like to think that all the hard work we put into the company will pay off in the future, and it is exciting to see our product grow over time, and finally the whole basis of free software is the idea of sharing and helping others.

Happy Money is a short read if not an overly easy one, and if you find yourself focusing more on getting money than being happy, you should check it out.