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Getting Your Boss To Buy Lava Lamps

michael posted about 10 years ago | from the boogie-down dept.


jarich writes "Mike Clark's blog provides directions and code on how to wire up lava lamps to your build system. When a compile or test fails, the red lava lamp gets switched on... The delay in the lamp heating up gives you a few minutes to fix things before it becomes obvious to co-workers that you broke the build. His example uses CruiseControl but you could easily modify it. Very cool stuff and inexpensive to setup."

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Yeah Sure... (5, Funny)

romper (47937) | about 10 years ago | (#10080402)

They'll look great next to the bean-bag chairs and the espresso bar.

I'll ask my boss when he gets back from playing golf with the VC group.

Re:Yeah Sure... (-1)

TedCheshireAcad (311748) | about 10 years ago | (#10080526)

Hahhahaha wow thanks, that's one of the funniest ones I've heard all day. I wish I had mod points.

Re:Yeah Sure... (1)

elviscious (681985) | about 10 years ago | (#10080643)

Hahahaha, uh, I happen to have a beanbag chair and a lava lamp in my office [] .

Re:Yeah Sure... (5, Funny)

Maestro4k (707634) | about 10 years ago | (#10080683)

  • They'll look great next to the bean-bag chairs and the espresso bar.
For full effect you should put a disco ball on the ceiling of the conference room and have polyester fridays.

Disco? (1)

romper (47937) | about 10 years ago | (#10080736)

[insert obligatory Disco Stu reference here]

Apple Cube solution (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080405)

Place any lamp on top of one of those hyper-hot undervented Apple G3 Cubes, and in no-time it melts into lava.

Re:Apple Cube solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080524)

They were G4's, you berk.

That... (2, Insightful)

rco3 (198978) | about 10 years ago | (#10080408)

...might be the silliest thing I've ever heard of. I like it.

cool, but... (3, Insightful)

Svet-Am (413146) | about 10 years ago | (#10080409)

granted, this is a neat idea, but how exactly does it make you more productive?

Re:cool, but... (3, Funny)

romper (47937) | about 10 years ago | (#10080504)

Dude... it's about getting your boss to buy useless crap for your office, not about productivity.

It'll go nicely with my nerf guns, huge pile of empty soda cans and my blacklight-lit office!

Er, wait, I don't live in the college dorms anymore. Nevermind.

Re:cool, but... (3, Insightful)

Nos. (179609) | about 10 years ago | (#10080566)

No kidding.
Lets say somehow you convince your boss to buy you one. How long are you going to spend hooking it up. Then how long are you going to spend hooking it up to other things (it must be raining out, the green lamp is on and the red is off). Then how long are you going to spend testing the other apps you've hooked it up to. (New story on slashdot, both lamps are on!).

Re:cool, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080587)

they are cool, they improve the office environment, provide a bit of fun, improving peoples moods, hence you work better.

Re:cool, but... (1)

Sharth (621005) | about 10 years ago | (#10080610)

peer pressure

Yay! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080412)

Cool! Awesome!

Seem Frivolous? (3, Insightful)

Crzysdrs (801722) | about 10 years ago | (#10080421)

Sure, it's a good idea to be notified when the build is broken. But does it really require a lavalamp? I know we here at Slashdot love our little toys, but it seems like anyone who knows how to wire up an LED gets a news story.

already down (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080422)

Putting a hyperlink to a cgi file will cause HTTP 500 errors. Think before you post people.

ha (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080423)


If doing this for an MS platform... (0, Redundant)

Dorsai65 (804760) | about 10 years ago | (#10080424)

you can just plug the lamp in and leave it on.

0mg j00 m4d3 t3h M1cr0$0ft j0k3!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080459)

+5: Insightful!!

Re:0mg j00 m4d3 t3h M1cr0$0ft j0k3!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080541)

There's no such thing as a Microsoft joke. They're all true. :-(

X10 Hardware?! (3, Insightful)

romper (47937) | about 10 years ago | (#10080430)

Since they require X10 hardware/software, forget it. I won't be supporting those damn pop-under ads.

Re:X10 Hardware?! (4, Insightful)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about 10 years ago | (#10080495)

Pop under ads? I bought a camera from them before I even did (or so I observed) the pop under ads. I paid for 3 day shipping. Day 5 came, no camera. I called them, and the machine pointed me to email whatever address for tracking orders. So I did that. 14 months later (this is no joke), I got an email with my tracking number. Now the camera came the day after I sent the inquiry, so even if it was a timely response, it wouldnt have mattered... but 14 MONTHS?!?!?! What... the ... hell

Re:X10 Hardware?! (2)

Sarojin (446404) | about 10 years ago | (#10080608)

I too had purchased from them before their superfluous advertising campaign, though my experience was positive. Got the 3 cameras + base station in a week or so. The quality wasn't great, but they worked!

Re:X10 Hardware?! (1)

pragma_x (644215) | about 10 years ago | (#10080694)

You definately need to listen to this then: ic / on the "We Must Destroy X10" link.

And no, Kompressor doesn't take himself seriously either.

Re:X10 Hardware?! (2)

Sarojin (446404) | about 10 years ago | (#10080573)

X10 filed for bankruptcy, so you'll be supporting their creditors, not them!

Re:X10 Hardware?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080601)

My favorite part about X10. I ordered one of those x10 controllers that's like Free besides shipping. Anyway I start getting spam from them all the time for crap I don't want to buy. So I go their "opt-out" page and go to sign off their list. Right then you get a big notice stating if you unsubscribe from their list they will be "forced" to give your email out to marketing companies. WTF kind of company is this? If you don't agree to receive 50 emails/spam a week from them then they'll make SURE that you get spam from other companies just to spite you? Is this even legal?

What a bunch of assholes. They just guaranteed I'll never buy another thing from them ever again. Congrats. Dumbasses way to attack your own customers.

Re:X10 Hardware?! (5, Informative)

Jadsky (304239) | about 10 years ago | (#10080665)

X-10 hardware and are not the same thing. The former is hardware based on a protocol that was invented in the early 70s. The latter is a company that just happens to make technology based on the protocol.

One doesn't necessarily have to come from the other, and it's a shame that the vendor has ruined a perfectly useful technology, even shaming it doubly by making poor-quality electronics.

Re:X10 Hardware?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080704)

So buy them from a retail outlet. It was really another company aside from the one with the ads that did the ads. Lowes carries x10. Radioshak used to, probably still do.

They're pretty good, actually. I use the switches/dimmers all the time. The best thing is that they're just not crazy expensive like most of the other home automation stuff.

/.'ed (5, Funny)

KJE (640748) | about 10 years ago | (#10080433)

I hope they have one hooked up to their webserver...

Re:/.'ed (4, Funny)

AnswerIs42 (622520) | about 10 years ago | (#10080528)

Lava Lamp color codes:

Off = No Bugs
Yellow Lamp = Warnings
Red Lamp = Broken Code
Exploding Lamp = Got linked off of /.

Re:/.'ed (1)

danigiri (310827) | about 10 years ago | (#10080578)

You left out one:

Exploding grenade = got a CGI linked off of /.

Nifty (1)

pixieluv (806247) | about 10 years ago | (#10080435)

That is soooo nifty :P except I so would keep it on all the time. Also, after your coworkers see your light on... they will know that you goofed anyway :P

Re:Nifty (1, Informative)

SpooForBrains (771537) | about 10 years ago | (#10080478)

If you had RTFA you would know that

a. you aren't recommended to leave the lamps on for more than ten hours at a time and
b. that there is sufficient time for you to correct the error before the "lava" starts flowing. If you're a good little coder and are paying attention.

Re:Nifty (1)

pixieluv (806247) | about 10 years ago | (#10080562)

well i leave it on longer anywaz, and you can still see the light before it starts flowing

Re:Nifty (1)

spectral (158121) | about 10 years ago | (#10080571)

You realize that these are powered by light? So, you get an eerie red glow ANYWAY, the second you break it. If you're stupid enough to not fix it by the time the lava starts flowing, then that says something ELSE about you. The lava flowing is not the first indication that it's messed up. The light coming on says "Hey, look, this tard broke it."

The lava flowing says "Hey, look, this tard doesn't know how to FIX IT."

Next? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080439)

A red light that turns on whenever a shell starts on the server.

Workaround... (3, Funny)

Blue-Footed Boobie (799209) | about 10 years ago | (#10080442)

10 Remove Bulb 20 Work at my leisure... 30 Make as many errors as I want... 40 GOTO 20

nice, but (2, Insightful)

Dwindlehop (62388) | about 10 years ago | (#10080447)

In my office we use a group-wide email.

microsoft... (0, Redundant)

knoledgesponge (808547) | about 10 years ago | (#10080448)

Hmm, they make these for compiling errors when microsoft compiles their OS...[:-P] -sp0nge

A Better Mod? (1, Funny)

grunt107 (739510) | about 10 years ago | (#10080452)

Wire each builder's seat with a voltage generator. Keep the timer aspect (x minutes/hrs to fix), but add voltage increasers for number of errors detected.
Really bad coders would get lauched like a rail gun 'bullet'.

Re:A Better Mod? (5, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 10 years ago | (#10080497)

I can just see the police reports now:
Cause of death: missing }

Instead of Lava Lamps... (4, Funny)

jmcmunn (307798) | about 10 years ago | (#10080453)

I think we should have an air raid siren hooked up to it. Not only would it alert you to a problem, it would also scare the crap out of everyone and wake them up for a nice productive afternoon.

It's either that or electrodes into your chair.

Very Cool, Cat (2, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | about 10 years ago | (#10080454)

To be smooth, baby, shouldn't you change 'kill' to 'chill', too?

Room 101 (5, Funny)

mark0 (750639) | about 10 years ago | (#10080456)

Most environments in which I coded would prefer a Room 101 model. A cage is placed on your head. When the build is broken, rats are released into the cage. The time it takes the rats to run down the tunnel and into the cage to eat your face gives you time to fix your mistake.... The lava lamp version sounds double-plus good.

Off you Room 101 YOU go... (1)

GillBates0 (664202) | about 10 years ago | (#10080533)

for that DoublePlusUnGood joke.

Re:Room 101 (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080752)

So, hot lava-lamps will be placed under the rat's feetsies?

Yeah, but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080457)

Lava lamps are so~ 80s. When are we going to be able to hook this up to heated-seat office chairs... The longer it takes you to fix the problem, the hotter it gets.....

Re:Yeah, but... (1)

tazanator (681948) | about 10 years ago | (#10080662)

wait, hook it up to heated chairs... with the way the boss scrimps on heating that would be nice in the winter.

Already slow... (1)

herrvinny (698679) | about 10 years ago | (#10080458)

Maybe it's just my net connection, but the first link isn't working for me [] , and the second one is slow as hell [] . Might be an interesting idea, especially to wire up to a webserver after a slashdotting.....

Re:Already slow... (1)

ThomaMelas (631856) | about 10 years ago | (#10080627)

You ask why you can't reach a site and why a second one is slow...but then you mention slashdotting a site...

Conficting reports (3, Funny)

happyfrogcow (708359) | about 10 years ago | (#10080467)

So you're saying the lava lamp switching on means it's time to fix things, as apposed to taking a kind smoke break?

conflicting reports are rising from the break room.

Re:Conficting reports (1)

happyfrogcow (708359) | about 10 years ago | (#10080512)

damn, I forgot the overzealous use of "hippie" "quotes", revision follows:

So you're saying the lava lamp switching "on" means it's time to "fix" things, as apposed to taking a "kind" smoke break?

conflicting reports are "rising" from the "break" room.

Usual Google Cache (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080470)

Google cache [] of article.

MOD PARENT DOWN - It's not the right page. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080652)

That's a cache of an earlier version of the blog, not the current article.

You insencetive clod (1)

bhsx (458600) | about 10 years ago | (#10080747)

You just /.ed google cache ;)

better idea (4, Funny)

StevenHenderson (806391) | about 10 years ago | (#10080474)

voice of Gilbert Godfrey screaming out "I suck at programming! Fire me!" over and over. That would make you debug before you compile...

Absolute (1)

bretharder (771353) | about 10 years ago | (#10080754)


Coffee maker (4, Funny)

GraWil (571101) | about 10 years ago | (#10080475)

What about the hack that starts the coffee maker everytime a build fails... it is usually a *long* night when that happens around here.

Neah, Coffee AND Beer machines (1)

tao_of_biology (666898) | about 10 years ago | (#10080549)

Actually, hook the sytem up to two different drink dispensers:

Build fails: Coffee dispenser starts spitting out cups of java.

Build succeeds: Beer dispenser starts spitting out cans of Olde English.

Re:Coffee maker (1)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | about 10 years ago | (#10080672)

Hal: "Dave, your really screwed the pooch on that one. I've started the coffee pot, ordered in some chow mein, and sent a text message to Denise that you won't be joining her at the restaurant."

Anonymous (0, Redundant)

Photar (5491) | about 10 years ago | (#10080476)

I'd prefer sirens and flashing LEDs.

Job Perks... (0, Troll)

Alaren (682568) | about 10 years ago | (#10080480)

So does this count as a job perk [] ? Is it the bubble all over again?

Or just a really nifty excuse to have lava lamps at work?

It's no hoax [] . Free ipods [] . Now moderate my comments and not my sig.

Lava lamps have many uses for IT (2, Interesting)

thatguywhoiam (524290) | about 10 years ago | (#10080482)

Wasn't there a link on slashdot a while back about a guy who built a crypto system using lava lamps as the (truly random) seed values? (maybe not - search turns up nothing)

I remember seeing that, and thinking, hey, not all ideas that emerge from a cloud of dope smoke are bad.

Re:Lava lamps have many uses for IT (1)

SiW (10570) | about 10 years ago | (#10080534)

I remember that. He used a webcam to capture the image of the lava lamp, IIRC.

Re:Lava lamps have many uses for IT (1)

SiW (10570) | about 10 years ago | (#10080595)

Yeah. This Wired article [] talks about it.

Re:Lava lamps have many uses for IT (1)

bhima (46039) | about 10 years ago | (#10080552)

Yes, there was!

Just my speed too, to bad I left my lamp in the US

Jimmy I hope you like the lamp!

Re:Lava lamps have many uses for IT (3, Informative)

Finni (23475) | about 10 years ago | (#10080567)

Yeah, that was SGI. It now lives here. []

Re:Lava lamps have many uses for IT (3, Informative)

alanw (1822) | about 10 years ago | (#10080592)

Wasn't there a link on slashdot a while back about a guy who built a crypto system using lava lamps as the (truly random) seed

It was the Silicon Graphics (SGI) Lavarand implementation, which was at

It seems to live on at []

Lavarand, at SGI (1)

devphil (51341) | about 10 years ago | (#10080641)

Yes, it was real, and yes, that's pretty muvh how it worked. Several lamps being viewed by a camera, and the image data was broken down to use as random numbers. You could even click a button to request a kilobyte or so of random digits.

It was hosted for a while at SGI's "personal pages for employees" server, which was decomissioned after it became obvious that the projects people worked on in their spare time were way cooler than anything SGI was officially offering that year. The Lavarand webpages were moved around a little, but may have vanished by now.

Re:Lava lamps have many uses for IT (1)

r_j_prahad (309298) | about 10 years ago | (#10080676)

It was a tongue-in-cheek project by three engineers at SGI. The original server's been taken off the Internet, but there's some history at rek.asp [] . Enjoy.

Alternatively... (2, Interesting)

London Bus (803556) | about 10 years ago | (#10080485) could just use the time you'd spend setting this crap up to discuss the code with your coworkers and get ideas on how to fix problems. But that's just me. I'm sure most people would rather watch a lava lamp than code.

Slashdot effect.... (2, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | about 10 years ago | (#10080487)

Guess the lava lamps just blew up.

firewall mod? (3, Funny)

drmancini (712059) | about 10 years ago | (#10080492)

Wow ... think of a firewall mod with a lava lamp for each open port ... my god!! the lava is boiling ... hackers coming in!!!

Non /.'ed CruiseControl Info (4, Informative)

jaaron (551839) | about 10 years ago | (#10080510)

CruiseControl [] is a continuous integration tool. Mostly it's for Java but there's a .NET port too. Basically, it regularly compiles a code base to make sure no one broke anything with their commits. Apache uses something similar called GUMP [] .

A little to fuzzy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080536) be of any use.

While at it add a Wisp Air freshner that puffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080538)

some magical herbs ;) []

article text in case of /.ing (4, Informative)

BeeRockxs (782462) | about 10 years ago | (#10080542)

Bubble, Bubble, Build's In Trouble
Your software is being automatically built and tested on a schedule. It even sends you an email when the code doesn't compile or pass its tests. You're certainly ahead of most projects, but email is just so 90s. Even if you could manage to find those build failure emails amidst all that spam, you're reading yesterday's news. Indeed, you may already be ignoring the status of the scheduled build.

The Monitoring chapter of the book offers alternative, in-your-face, worth-getting-up-for-in-the-morning techniques for monitoring scheduled builds. The most popular technique came by way of a story contributed by Alberto Savoia. He describes how his project uses red and green lava lamps to radiate the status of their scheduled build. Better yet, those lamps are controlled using X10 devices such as those used to turn on your household lamps so that you don't arrive home to a dark house.

Well, as you might imagine, I could hardly wait to build my very own build-monitoring lava lamp kit. And as bonus material for readers of the book, I've crafted a bit o' software that integrates with CruiseControl. So now you too can enjoy red and green bubbles on your project!

Bill of Materials

To get started, you need some automation gear. Think of these gadgets as this year's essential project accessories:

* 4-Piece Firecracker Automation System

This kit includes:
o 1 Firecracker Computer Interface
o 1 Transceiver Module
o 1 Lamp Module
o 1 Palm Pad Remote Control

Cost: $39.99

(Props go to the folks at for supporting this project by supplying me with a complimentary kit. It all fits in a wee box, so I can carry it from project to project.)

With that kit, you can control two lava lamps -- one plugged into the transceiver module and the other plugged into the lamp module. You can optionally purchase another appliance module if you want to control two appliances. For example, you might want your build process to turn on a coffee pot when the build fails and then kick start your margarita machine when the build is fixed.
* 2 lamps, preferably the kind that boil red and green lava

I used the Hot Rock Lite F/X (yellow earth/blue liquid and red earth/purple liquid). Note for legal purposes that these lamps (shown in pictures below) are not LAVA(R) brand motion lamps, but those will work just as well.

Cost: $9.99 each at Target or Walmart
* Pragmatic Automation X10 software
It's an open source Java library that includes the CruiseControl plug-in, an API to make your wildest X10 dreams come true, detailed instructions, and an ever-so-useful collection of tests.

Way down deep, the library uses the Java Communications API to send bits out over the serial port and into the Firecracker Computer Interface. (Linux users will need the RXTX implementation). Michel Dalal's Java X10 CM17A API library, an implementation of the FireCracker (CM17A) Communications Specification, is used to send out the correct 1s and 0s in response to human-friendly commands. Many thanks to him for doing all the low-level bit twiddling and sharing the goodies with us!

Cost: Free to readers of Pragmatic Project Automation

Assembling the Kit

With that hardware in hand, you're ready to start the assembly process. The Firecracker Automation System includes instructions written for your average home electronics consumer, so your average computer/network geek should have no trouble. I'll spare you all the gory details and instead run through a quick visual tutorial of my setup.

Start by plugging the Firecracker Computer Interface into a serial port of your scheduled build machine:

This little gem sends a wireless signal from the computer to the transceiver module. Notice that you don't lose the serial port. You can plug another serial device into the back of Firecracker Computer Interface.

Next, plug the transceiver module into any wall outlet within your electrical wiring system. Then turn on the lamp you want the build process to light up when the build fails (the red lamp) and plug it into the transceiver module:

See that antennae on the transceiver? The transceiver picks up the RF signal sent by the Firecracker Computer Interface connected to the computer, converts it into an X10 signal, and broadcasts the X10 signal across the electrical wiring system.

Every X10 module is uniquely identified by a house code (A-P) and a unit code (1-16). By default, the transceiver is configured to listen on "A1". So when the Firecracker Computer Interface sends a signal that tells module "A1" to turn on, the device that's connected to the transceiver--the red lamp--is turned on.

Next, plug the lamp module into a wall outlet and set its house and unit code to "A2". Then turn on the lamp you want the build process to light up when the build passes (the green lamp) and plug it into the lamp module, like so:

When the Firecracker Computer Interface sends a signal instructing the "A2" module to turn on, the transceiver picks up the signal and broadcasts it out over the electrical wires. The lamp module hears the signal and turns on the green lamp.

That's it for assembly!

At this point it's a good idea to make sure you can turn these lamps on and off at will using the free software (separate download) that emulates the Palm Pad Remote Control. It sends signals through the Firecracker Computer Interface, so it's a good sanity check that you have everything hooked up correctly.

Installing the Software

OK, now you want to hook the lava lamps up to your scheduled build process running in CruiseControl. That's where the Pragmatic Automation X10 software comes in.

The README file describes how to install and test the software in detail. The final step is to register the CruiseControl plug-in that effectively wires up the lamps to indicate the status of each CruiseControl build cycle. Just to demonstrate how easy that is, here's the XML you need to add to CruiseControl's config.xml file:

<plugin name="x10publisher" classname="com.pragauto.X10Publisher"/>

<publis hers>
<x10publisher port="COM1" passDeviceCode="A2" failDeviceCode="A1" />
Edit the attributes of the element as necessary for your serial port and device codes. A complete config.xml file is included in the project as a reference.

Bubbles While You Work
Once you've fired up CruiseControl and a build succeeds, you'll see something like this on the console:

Total time: 10 seconds
[cc]Jul-08 16:56:53 Project - Project dms: merging accumulated log files
[cc]Jul-08 16:56:53 Project - Project dms: publishing build results
[cc]Jul-08 16:56:53 X10Publisher - Turning pass device (A2) on; fail device (A1) off ...
[cc]Jul-08 16:56:56 Project - Project dms: idle
[cc]Jul-08 16:56:56 Project - Project dms: next build in 1 minutes

At that point, the green lava lamp should turn on. Bask in that pleasant glow for a moment. When the lamp gets warmed up, you'll get entertained by happy, green bubbles:

And then at some point somebody might check in code that causes the build to fail. (Hey, it happens to even the best programmers once in a while.) Here's the early warning sign that the scheduled build is in trouble:

Eek! Notice that the ambient light in the red lamp goes on immediately. It will take a while for the red lava to heat up and start to boil. In the meantime, there's work to be done. When you check the CruiseControl log, you'll see something like this:


file:C:/work/dms/builds/checkout/dms/build.xml:77: Tests failed! Check test reports.
Total time: 5 seconds
[cc]Jul-08 16:58:20 Project - Project dms: merging accumulated log files
[cc]Jul-08 16:58:20 Project - Project dms: publishing build results
[cc]Jul-08 16:58:20 X10Publisher - Turning pass device (A2) off; fail device (A1) on...
[cc]Jul-08 16:58:23 Project - Project dms: idle
[cc]Jul-08 16:58:23 Project - Project dms: next build in 1 minutes

If it takes too long to fix the build, the red lamp will start to get angry:

The object of the game is to keep the green lamp glowing. :-)

Hearing the Build Break

You may have noticed that when the transceiver module turns on and off it makes a fairly loud snapping sound. That sound is caused by the mechanical relay inside. (The lamp module doesn't make that sound, I suspect because it's a low-current device that doesn't use a mechanical relay.)

This audible feedback turns out to be quite handy if your team is working in close quarters. The "snap" could be yet another sound in your project soundscape. By plugging the red lamp into the transceiver module (A1), you'll hear that snapping sound just before the red lamp turns on. So if you're heads down (without headphones), the sound will alert you to a build failure. Indeed, you'll hear the build break!

Important Safety Notes

These lamps get insanely hot. If you don't let them cool down for at least five minutes before touching the glass, you'll find out just how hot. (Yes, even the green one is hot.)

The instructions for my lamps note that they perform best if operated for less than ten hours at a time. Your local fire marshal would certainly agree. But who will remember to turn off the lamps at the end of every programming day? Well, that's a job for the ol' computer. Just write a shutdown program that uses the Pragmatic Automation X10 software to turn off the lamps. For example:

new X10Device("COM1", "A1").off();
new X10Device("COM1", "A2").off();

Then schedule an at or cron job on the scheduled build machine that runs the shutdown program at some hour of every evening, and another program that turns the lamps on every morning.

What About My Macintosh?

The Firecracker Computer Interface plugs into a serial port. Modern day Macintosh computers don't have a serial port. Sadly, none of the USB-to-serial converters I tried worked with the Firecracker Computer Interface. (I'd love to hear otherwise.)

You can purchase X10 kits that plug into USB, but I chose to use the Firecracker kit because it's relatively cheap and it's what is described in the book. Thankfully, by writing and testing most of this software against a mock device, I was able to do the majority of the development on my PowerBook. :-)


It's relatively easy and inexpensive to make build monitoring a spectator sport. Put the lava lamps in a highly-visible area of your project and use them as visual (and audible) feedback devices, and to show off your programming prowess, of course. And that's just the beginning. You can use any appliance to monitor anything that's valuable to your team.

Are you using feedback devices to spice up your project? If so, please share your story.


Seems counterproductive (5, Funny)

LeahofRivendell (797671) | about 10 years ago | (#10080553)

I would definitely write bad code on purpose with this set up just to watch the lava.

Lava Lamps are for sissies - Pavlov's developer (0, Redundant)

otisg (92803) | about 10 years ago | (#10080558)

I have a better idea. Hook up the continous build system to the electrical power system, and put small electrodes in developer's chairs. Then configure the build system to figure out which developer caused a build failure, and soon you'll have developers that never forget to run unit tests before commit.

Or, you could try a bit different approach. Instead of shocking the developer at fault, shock all his co-workers. Then the co-workers will make sure he/she never makes the same mistake again.

Low Tech Works (5, Funny)

kcdoodle (754976) | about 10 years ago | (#10080569)

We had the problem of concurrent users locking up a tape drive.
We tried a white board, we tried a sign in/out sheet, it got so bad that we held a meeting and the manager decided we would use the ownership of a certain file to show who was allowed to control the tape drive.
The same manager broke his own rule immediately after the meeting.
My solution was the one that worked.
We used a really cheesy Mardi Gras necklace. Who ever had the necklace in their possession was allowed to access the tape drive. We never had a problem after that.
If you left the necklace on your desk it was perfectly okay for someone else to steal it. If you wore the cheesy thing around your neck, everyone knew you were using the tape drive.

Sometime low tech is easier, more reliable and best of all, funnier.

I live the greatest adventure anyone could wish for. - Tosk the Hunted

Re:Low Tech Works (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080673)

Did coworkers flash each other when they needed a new volume mounted?

Re:Low Tech Works (1)

AbbyNormal (216235) | about 10 years ago | (#10080717)

Good Idea Bad idea, headline news:

"Tragically, KcDoodle's life was cut short today suddenly while leaning over a massive office shredder. The cause of his demise? A 30 cent fishing-line string Mardi Gras necklace. Details at 11".

Re:Low Tech Works (3, Funny)

QuijiboIsAWord (715586) | about 10 years ago | (#10080735)

And best of all, was the people shouting "Hey Steve, show us your T*TS!"

Quick fixes? (1)

PhotoGuy (189467) | about 10 years ago | (#10080602)

The delay in the lamp heating up gives you a few minutes to fix things before it becomes obvious to co-workers that you broke the build.

So it encourages people to fix the problem in a few minutes, rather than to make sure it's fixed right?

Yeah, that'll increase product realiability and eliminate bugs.

More practical (2, Funny)

spidergoat2 (715962) | about 10 years ago | (#10080605)

Would be a beer cooler. If your code/project/whatever works, beer gets cold. If it fails, beer gets warm. That's real incentive. Ur, except in England.

That's ANOTHER cool use of Lava lamps in computing (3, Interesting)

alispguru (72689) | about 10 years ago | (#10080609)

A better one is here [] where Lava lamps are used to generate true random bits.

Too bad the website [] for it appears to be off line. SGI used to be cool, too...

APPLE on its merry way to implementation already (1)

danigiri (310827) | about 10 years ago | (#10080617)

mmm... []

lava lamps shmava lamps (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080620)

Three words: DVD Player & Gigli

Getting Your Boss To Fall Into Lava (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080621)

Now that would be an article worth reading.

Slashdotted (0, Redundant)

garethwi (118563) | about 10 years ago | (#10080623)

I bet all of his fucking lava lamps are burning brightly.

Virtual lava-lamps. (3, Funny)

mikael (484) | about 10 years ago | (#10080639)

We've got a similar system, but it uses the lava-lamp screen saver.

If the keyboard or other input device isn't used within five minutes, a lava-lamp appears on screen.
That way, we can tell if someone hasn't been working within the past five minutes.

Personally, I prefer the futuristic virtual Lava Lamp office, where you're cubicle rises and falls according to how productive you have been.

He should have made one for webservers (3, Funny)

digitalgimpus (468277) | about 10 years ago | (#10080646)

He should have made one for webservers when the apache process hangs.

His datacenter would be groovy right now.

Quick Fixes (3, Insightful)

kjfitz (256432) | about 10 years ago | (#10080697)

I'm not sure I would want to put in place something that would encourage designers to make quick fixes. Once the build breaks the "lava lamp penalty" would encourage a designer to keep the lamp from bubbling rather than spend the time to fix the break in the best and safest manner (i.e. one that may take an hour longer.)

Does your build environment allow you to debug, build, and test a loadbuild break in the time it takes a lava lamp to heat up?

Sounds... (1)

Misch (158807) | about 10 years ago | (#10080703)

Sounds a bit like the Ambient Orb [] that Thinkgeek offers.

There's also a developer interface where any semi-savvy web programmer can control the color of their Orb with a simple http "get" call. Track how full your hard drive is, traffic on your website, Slashdot posts, or your credit-card debt.

The Average User (1)

The Angry Mick (632931) | about 10 years ago | (#10080710)

before it becomes obvious to co-workers that you broke the build

Yeah. Like the average user is going to look at your lava lamp and say, "Geez, looks like Bob borked the sendmail build again . . ."

Impressive? (1)

Jozer99 (693146) | about 10 years ago | (#10080716)

A lava lamp as a warning light? I had a Tandy once that's processor was a lava lamp. I just it just goes to show what kind of progress is being made.

Pit and the Pendulum (1)

Washizu (220337) | about 10 years ago | (#10080730)

Why not release a swinging blade above your head. Fix the build too slow and... chop!

Another Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10080731)

I would rather have compilers include a sound file that will laugh at you (the Return Fire one), when your program does not compile correctly. The Zero Wing one is also good.

Gone in sixty seconds... (1)

Blue Eagle 26 (683113) | about 10 years ago | (#10080733)

That link went from zero to slashdotted in four posts!

Why doesn't ... (2, Insightful)

JooBYE (562184) | about 10 years ago | (#10080751)

SlashDot simply cache the linked sites in their stories. Only the first page off the link. Maybe in a split version like google's cached sites showing the URL and all. That way, if anyone is interested in the rest of the site, they can dig from there.

Yes, off topic. But needs to be addressed. It gets frustrating when links go dead in less than an hour after the story is posted.
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