Another month passes and another conference has been attended. Unlike the previous conference, of which I spoke of in my last blog (YAPC Reflections), the OpenNMS User Conference Europe was a very different affair. It is a lot smaller than the YAPC having about one eighth the attendance. I was going to be one of the speakers at the event.
Like the last blog post this isn’t so much a diary, or a response to technical talks, it is more travelogue and whimsy. I am trying to conjure some thoughts and feelings into an experience that gives a broad flavour and not a critical review.
Trains, Planes and Long Journeys
Like all my travel this was going to be a slightly long haul. The journey out would start at 02:20 when I picked up Ian and Tom before driving us all to Manchester Airport for a 06:00 flight to Frankfurt. We then spent a few hours in Frankfurt railway station before catching the third train to Fulda.
Tuesday night was a stay-in-the-hotel affair as Tom and Ian still needed to do preparation on their talks. We therefore grabbed a light evening meal and headed back to the hotel where we worked on presentations. For me it was an opportunity to add a little more whimsy to my slides.
I finished my talk two days previously and had then moved on to making the slides fun, practice (I always practice my talks) and making of Bingo Cards for the game of Buzzword Bingo that went with my talk.
New faces - Stranger in a Strange Land
But now it seems to me that all is lost and nothing gained
Sometimes things ain't what they seem
(Iron Maiden - Stranger In A Strange Land)
The OUCE event is a new experience for me, thankfully I was travelling with two work colleagues, but there was still a lot of new faces. The plus side is that you get to meet new people, the downside was that many of them were far more technical than I and so I was feeling that I would be out of my depth.
I needn’t have worried, the OpenNMS User Conference crowd are a very welcome and generous community. I was made to feel at home and there was a lot of helpful words and smiling people. I also knew more people than I thought as there was Craig, Marcus and Jeff who I had met previously. I was fortunate enough to meet Alex, Rommy, Tarus, Patrick, Kristoff, Michael and many others who were really great guys with a high level of knowledge.
The event was opened by the brains behind OpenNMS, Tarus Balog, who gave a passionate speech about the future of OpenNMS, monitoring and how important Open Source and the community is to him.
Talk Over - Relax
I am fortunate that I have attended two different seminar days on Presentation Training. One of them was given entirely by the renown Damien Conway who is an expert in this field. So when I prepare for a talk and present I am normally mostly comfortable that at the very least I can be a little entertaining.
This talk was no different and my theatre piece for this was the inclusion of some Buzzword Bingo and gentle poking at the role of the Management and Presentations, Dilbert Style. So I had Bingo cards primed and I slipped a lot of extra buzzwords onto slides and my talk to make it more interactive and fun.
The talk was all about choosing OpenNMS to base a product on and why it is a corporate choice. It was also a little about why Open Source is a good thing to be a part of and an essential thing for Corporations to invest in. I enjoyed the talk and felt it went well and that seemed to be reflected by some of the audience so I was able to relax once the talk had been given.
Ian and Tom’s Talks
All of the Shadowcat Crew presented on the same day. I was on in the morning, Tom and Ian ran back-to-back in the early afternoon. Tom was talking about using OpenNMS with Ansible, how to configure it for fast continuous roll-out. Ian was talking about the issues that we overcame in creating ShadowNMS in particular some of the choices we made and the development of micro-services. This was Tom’s first ever long talk on his own. He has written a Lightning Talk before and presented alongside Ian in a workshop but this is the first time he has conceived and presented on his own and he did an admirable job.
Ian, like me, has done presentation training with Damien and is an old hand at crafting a talk. He was stymied by his time constraints this time but he still put on an entertaining and informative piece.
Beer, Banter and Bad Voltage
The end of the first day was a special affair with an event brought to Fulda just for our entertainment. The chaps at Bad Voltage are doing a European Podcast Tour and they were brought by the OpenNMS Group to Fulda to perform a podcast from the venue.
This was my first exposure to the Podcast, but it will not be my last. I also participated in the general debate which had Jono Bacon declaring that I would be ‘murdered on my way home’ to find out why, listen to the cast. A big thanks goes to Tarus and the OpenNMS Group for providing both the entertainment and drink on the night.
One of the great elements of the live show was a 60 second rant where three members of the audience had to rant for a minute on any subject they wanted. We had three different languages with Ian Norton doing his in English and ranting on documentation. The other two rants were German and Italian and were particularly funny in any language, but after a tie-break decision Ian won the vote and also a Galaxy S2 Tablet. All the froth of SCS represented in one final scream.
The evening ended with a stroll into town so that the majority of the revellers could go to a local bar with the Bad Voltage boys. I took an early leave and headed back to my room.
Second Day Blues
The second day of the event felt a little muted, probably because of the richness (and late night) of the first full day. However that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a great number of talks and events to participate in.
I sat for the most of the day in the same room. Being a little new to the technical aspects of the software I was able to enjoy any talk about it and in particular I was able to learn. I am particularly interested in the shape of OpenNMS’ future and the developments with Minion and Newts seem particularly exciting.
The conference is such a close-knit affair that the vast majority of the speakers and attendees helped the staff of the venue, and the organisers, to clear up after the end of the conference before we left to return to our hotel.
The evening saw many people leaving, but those that were staying one more night gathered at a local Fulda tavern for some good German Schnitzel and flowing ale. Once again it was a family affair with the whole occasion feeling close and friendly.
On the Friday we looked around Fulda for a few hours and had one last (large) plate of German food. We had a late flight and a long day of travelling once again and we were feeling muted due to the stress of presenting and being away from home. The trip was made a lot easier by being with Tom and Ian. Both of these chaps are good fun to be around, Tom is easy going and clearly has a passion for the community, to programming and to Open Source. Ian has a great love of Germany, he spent a long time here and he clearly revels in coming to the place and to this event.
As for Fulda it is a pretty little town in a nice part of Germany. The people seem traditionally German, somewhat quiet, educated, friendly and able to really let their hair down when needed. They cook good food and enjoy home cooking and local shopping. The town has a saying similar to what is new is either a church or a bar. As you walk around you will agree. I recommend schnitzel, the local Goulash (really, really good), the bread and the wonderful pretzels.
So there was a lot of elation. The OpenNMS User Conference is a great little event that has a really nice feel to the talks and the participants. It is clearly worth growing and expanding and I am hoping that they have plans to do so, but I think it would be a shame if in doing so they lost that central core that makes it special. Somehow, I doubt they will, they know what makes a nice conference and I feel sure they will want to hold onto those things.
[Don't forget that you can join in this conversation by using the comments form or by tweeting at @shadowcat_mdk]
 So we managed to miss our train as we drastically underestimated the distance between the local train platforms, right next to the terminal, and the long-distance platforms which are about a kilometre away. After running to catch the train we hit the platform to see it leaving. Thankfully we were able to transfer our tickets for a small charge and stood on the platform. The announcement telling us of a platform change was in German so we were very surprised when our train left from a different platform. The German rail staff are very understanding, and seemed mostly amused, as they transferred our tickets for a second time. The third train was clearly the charm and we arrived in Fulda in the middle of the afternoon.
 It was odd meeting up with Jono Bacon. I am a huge fan of his book (Art of Community) but also Shadowcat were one of the exhibitors at the first ever Lug Radio Live events at Birmingham in the early days of our existence. I was on a stall for three days so I never saw much of him then, happy that I finally got to say hello in Fulda.
 Ian didn’t originally want to participate he was voted in by Tarus and that was a very good choice.
 Thanks to Ian I now have a big taste for pretzels, freshly baked and cheesy in the morning.