I Miss Steve Jobs

September 22nd, 2014

I am currently on holiday and have been blissfully unaware of work related things for a week now, but I wanted to comment on a couple of items mainly because it is hard for me to keep my mouth shut.

As most of the world knows, Apple recently introduced two new iPhones. Their main feature is that they are larger: the iPhone 6 is the size of a Nexus 4 while the iPhone 6 Plus is slightly smaller than a Galaxy Note 4.

And that was pretty much it.

This is why I miss Steve Jobs. Jobs had the ability to create things I didn’t know I wanted. His vision for the first iPhone became the dominate paradigm for an industry. Heck, I can remember when OS X Tiger came out and the big feature was Time Machine and I thought it was a joke – at least to announce as a major feature – until it saved me on a number of occasions from a catastrophic disk failure.

Bigger phones, and only slightly faster ones at that, don’t qualify.

I do think that Apple Pay will finally get NFC payments into the mainstream. Only Apple has enough clout to get the banks in line, but what does that really get you? I live in a fairly rural section of North Carolina, USA, and I can pretty much pay for anything under $75 with a swipe of my credit card. No need to dig out or unlock my phone, just swipe and go. I can’t see myself using my phone for the same thing.

But that probably labels me as an “Apple hater”.

I am a big fan of Stephen Fry, and during this trip I read a post where he commented on how much he liked the new iPhones. Besides being an awesome actor he is quite the technologist, and I respect his opinions. But I really disliked this post because of his references to “Apple haters”.

There was a time when I was definitely on the blunt end of “Apple hate”. I bought my first Powerbook in January of 2003 when, outside of certain tech circles, they were non-existent. But jump ahead 10 years and now Apple is the 800 pound gorilla with more cash on hand than the US government. I don’t know of a college kid, outside of those using Linux, who would be caught dead with anything other than a Macbook. They are fashion statements, and Apple is the new Microsoft. They are “The Man” and so I find it funny when any criticism of them is met with virulent attacks on the critic.

Case in point: today on Slashdot a person was having issues with iOS 8. I read through a few of the comments to see if it was an isolated case or a trend, but the discussion immediately devolved into fan boys vs. haters.

My favorite laptop of all time, and I’ve owned a number of them including many from Apple, was that first 12-inch Powerbook. It combined the best of open and closed software, but over the last decade everything Apple seems to be locked up tighter and tighter. And while I applaud their efforts to safe guard their user’s information, the recent iCloud breach shows that they can’t think of everything. Seriously, we addressed brute force password attacks in BBS software in the 1980s, yet Apple missed it.

On the iPhone 6 launch day I found myself in Paris looking for a SIM card so I visited a couple of shops selling iPhones. There were no lines but I did see at least one phone being sold – an iPhone 6 Plus – and it was huge. Granted, this was in the afternoon so maybe I missed the fan boy lines, but at least here it was just another day (despite huge banners on the FNAC stores).

Another reason I miss Jobs is that he would never have pre-announced the Apple Watch. It would have been ready for the Christmas shopping season, not some nebulous time in March. It wouldn’t have been square and flat, either.

So, why am I posting this? It’s mainly a vain plea in the hope that Apple will consider opening up its hardware to allow for real innovation. Things are obviously stagnant over in Mountain View and they could use a shot in the arm. Unfortunately, the fact that they lock everything down is even spilling over to vendors such as Samsung, who now lock down their bootloaders so that alternative software can’t be installed. Heck, even Apple’s new NFC support is limited to their single app and my guess is that users will have to wait for the inevitable jailbreak to use the technology for which they paid good money. And, really, what would it cost them? I’m not asking them to support non-Apple software just to put the technology into the most hands.

Tim Cook apparently opened the Palo Alto Apple Store on launch day, which I thought was cool, but he told a Samsung phone user that they needed a new phone.

For me, at least, freedom trumps newness. Just being new isn’t enough. I think I need to join with Mad Dog and just start asking “why would you want a proprietary phone?”.

Pictures at an Exhibition

September 13th, 2014

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 …

September 2nd, 2014

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.

Keep Austin Weird

August 22nd, 2014

I got to spend a few days down in Austin this week. I like this town, and as most people know it has become a bit of a hotbed for tech with a lot of companies either moving here or opening offices (I just found out that Atlassian, makers of Jira and Bamboo, among other things, is opening an office in Austin).

Usually when I come to town I get to see Eric Evans. Eric, the guy who coined the modern usage of the term “NoSQL“, lives an hour away in San Antonio and outside of the daily scrum call I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like. However, he just had rotator cuff surgery and when I sent him a text about meeting for dinner his reply was “I’m not yet wearing pants and can’t tie my shoes so the answer is probably no.”

Yeah, there is a “no pants” theme to this post.

On a whim I decided to see if my friend, favorite mad scientist and evil genius William Hurley (aka whurley) was around. As luck would have it, he was.

Speaking of people I don’t get to see very often, whurley is one of them. I think it would be a full time job just to keep up with his projects, and we haven’t had a chance to spend any time together for several years so we tried to cram a lot of catching up into a short evening.

When we drove up to his house the first thing I noticed was a candy apple red Cadillac ELR parked out front. whurley has a large Twitter following, so Cadillac gave him the car to drive and tweet about. This is Cadillac’s entry into the luxury electric hybrid market. It has pretty aggressive styling for a Cadillac, but it is more of what we old folks used to call a “2+2” instead of a true four seat car. It took some acrobatics to get three full sized adults into it for a short trip to grab some Chinese takeout.

Another pleasant surprise was to find out that he is now married, and I got to meet his bride Pamela. As might be expected with anyone associated with whurley, she is exceptional, and welcomed us into her home with short notice.

William + Pamela // Kauai Wedding from John Hoel on Vimeo.

whurley knows that I am a privacy advocate, so he showed me a TED talk he did on the issue, but instead of leading with, say, references to 1984, he goes back in time to talk about the Jacquard loom. This loom was one of the first programmable machines, a forerunner of computers, and it was used to manufacture cloth for clothing. If you think about it, clothing could be considered the earliest form of privacy, so it is a bit ironic that this ur-computer was used to create privacy whereas modern computers are now used to decrease it.

One of the reasons I like being around him is he makes me think. As an old guy, I am constantly amazed at how the younger generation seems to be so eager to give up privacy by sharing pretty much all details of their lives on-line. I’ve also noticed that there seems to be less concern about nudity. I’m not saying that all twenty year olds are running around naked, but compared to 30 years ago when I was in high school, the socially accepted norms for modesty have changed greatly.

But now this seems to make sense. If clothing is the primal form of privacy, one would expect this from a culture in which privacy is less important. And I’m not sure this is a bad thing, as I don’t believe anyone should be ashamed of their bodies, plus it helps me toward earning my “Dirty Old Man” merit badge.

(grin)

In David Brin’s book Earth he envisions a world without privacy, and there are a lot of positive aspects to it. Recently Scott Adams has blogged about the subject, and he makes a number of valid points. The issue I have is that the world we are creating isn’t a utopian transparent society but instead one in which an oligarchy controls the majority of information to use however they see fit, and to me that is dangerous.

So I plan to strive to increase my privacy and, with few exceptions, I’ll keep my pants on.

Time Warner, Really?

August 15th, 2014

Once again I find myself jumping back into the fray and helping a friend get Internet/phone/TV from Time Warner. Here is the offer:

So, $89.99 per month for the first year. Not bad, right? Unfortunately, it comes to nearly $150 with equipment and taxes, but what can you do.

What bothers me is this bit at the bottom:

Do you want to guess what the reverse of the letter looks like?

In the interest in transparency, would it have been too much trouble to use a larger font? I know there is probably some kind of design constraint that includes phrases like “negative space” that made you put the terms in teeny, tiny letters at the bottom of a mainly blank page, but it makes you look like you are hiding something.