07 Aug 04

Listening To Complex Systems

Andy contributed the following story about monitoring complex systems using audio feedback:
Pragmatic Programming relies on feedback, but in many environments it can be difficult to constantly monitor all of the information that might be available. This paper presents a system based on a sonic ecology: with very little effort on the part of the listener, you can determine what sounds right and discern singularly important differences with little or no conscious thought.

The Peep project represents individual events in a network monitoring environment as natural sounds in a wetlands environment. In other words, as the network load increases, the crickets start chirping faster. E-mail traffic might sound like birds calling each other, and so on. When the crickets stop chirping or the lion comes crashing through the firewall, you know you’ve got trouble.

Ant implements a very simple version of this idea with its sound task:

  <sound>
    <success source="excellent.wav" />
    <fail source="humiliation.wav" />
  </sound>

That might be a good start, but I’ll bet implementing a full-scale wetlands or jungle soundscape to represent your build status, test and defect density, amount of code written, time to the deadline (do I hear a storm coming in??) and so on would be a lot of fun.

Indeed, I think implementing soundscapes for project monitoring would be fun and valuable. Imagine walking into a project environment and just taking a few seconds to hear how things are going—by listening to the system itself!