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Getting Your Boss To Buy Lava Lamps 249

Posted by michael
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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Getting Your Boss To Buy Lava Lamps

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  • by romper (47937) * on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:46PM (#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.
    • by Maestro4k (707634) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:09PM (#10080683) Journal
      • 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.
    • Break time (Score:2, Funny)

      by ro_coyote (719566)
      Don't forget the sticks of pot and discount snack machine, so our fellow techies can mellow out after a stressful rush of fixing things in a hurry. (For medical reasons, I assure you.... honest!!)
    • by prell (584580) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:47PM (#10082261) Homepage
      What the practice of software development really needs is some way to assign blame to people and keep them under pressure to get things right. Right?

      Hooking a computer up to a lava lamp is neat (however not as cool as the Ambient Orb [ambientdevices.com]), but treating programmers like Pavlovian dogs is ridiculous.
      • by SatanicPuppy (611928) <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:59PM (#10082852) Journal
        In professional radio, they always have lights hooked up to the phone line, because, obviously, it would sound like shit to have the phone suddenly ringing when you're on the air.

        My boss had a thing with people not answering the phone, so the phone light moved from being a modified desk lamp, to being a strobe light, to being two strobe lights, to being two strobe lights and a red rotating police light.

        All this being said, and since I know for a fact its a pretty easy electrical hack, why stop with a silly lava lamp? If my old General Manager was in IT these days, a failed build would result in a temporarily blind and deaf dev team, and an office space that would occasionally have the lighting and decible range of a metal concert.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:46PM (#10080405)
    Place any lamp on top of one of those hyper-hot undervented Apple G3 Cubes, and in no-time it melts into lava.
    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:24PM (#10080835)
      Place any lamp on top of one of those hyper-hot undervented Apple G3 Cubes, and in no-time it melts into lava.

      That might not be a bad idea for a casemod on some of the latest P4s. Run a heat pipe from the CPU over to a lava lamp.

      However, IIRC a lava lamp works with just a 40W bulb. With some of the latest CPUs throwing off >200W of heat, you might need a whole row of lava lamps on top of the machine. Maybe the entire side of the case could be filled with gloop and made into a wall of lava.

  • That... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rco3 (198978)
    ...might be the silliest thing I've ever heard of. I like it.
    • Indeed. If you do that, everybody starts breaking builds just to turn the damn lamp on. Better make it so that when a build breaks, the lamp get's turned OFF so people get angry from not being able to watch it. That way nobody dares to break the build, and somebody does, other people might even come to help fix it, so they can continue their trip^H^H^H^Hwork with proper lighting..
  • cool, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Svet-Am (413146) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:47PM (#10080409)
    granted, this is a neat idea, but how exactly does it make you more productive?
    • by romper (47937) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:53PM (#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... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nos. (179609)
      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!).
    • by nizo (81281) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:16PM (#10080758) Homepage Journal
      Once the lavalamp works, you should be able to upgrade to shock collars for all the developers pretty easily. Talk about incentive to not screw up. After this upgrade plastic covers for everyone's chair might not be a bad idea either.
      • you should be able to upgrade to shock collars for all the developers pretty easily

        That's nothing; we're trying to get our *users* to wear those. Augument those "Illegal entry"-type dialogs with a quick electric shock and you guarantee the user won't make the same mistake twice.

        Now if I could figure out a way to make the shock collar go off when someone tries to report a bug, I'd be all set...
      • upgrade to shock collars for all the developers

        Replace the seat of their Herman Miller chair with a wire grid and wire that up instead.
    • Re:cool, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Derkec (463377)
      It's good to know when you're build starts to fail. I don't think we really need lava lamps to do it.
    • Re:cool, but... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by peter_gzowski (465076)
      Well, the article seems to be /.'d, but I wouldn't be surprised if a visual sign that the build is broken might encourage guys to fix it more than, say, me yelling out that the build is broken (mainly how it happens now). Most guys don't know that they've broken the build (forgetting to add a file to the repo that's on their box is common). An automated checkout and build every half hour or so, along with this glowing red light when something is wrong is much better than me building when I have a spare 10
  • X10 Hardware?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by romper (47937) * on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:48PM (#10080430)
    Since they require X10 hardware/software, forget it. I won't be supporting those damn pop-under ads.
    • Re:X10 Hardware?! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:52PM (#10080495) Homepage Journal
      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
      • You definately need to listen to this then:

        http://artists.iuma.com/IUMA/Bands/kompressormus ic / ...click on the "We Must Destroy X10" link.

        And no, Kompressor doesn't take himself seriously either.
    • Re:X10 Hardware?! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jadsky (304239) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:07PM (#10080665)
      X-10 hardware and X10.com 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.
    • that you're still getting pop-under ads? Time to get Firefox.
  • /.'ed (Score:5, Funny)

    by KJE (640748) <ken@kje.ca> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:49PM (#10080433) Homepage
    I hope they have one hooked up to their webserver...
  • by Blue-Footed Boobie (799209) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:49PM (#10080442)
    10 Remove Bulb 20 Work at my leisure... 30 Make as many errors as I want... 40 GOTO 20
  • nice, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dwindlehop (62388)
    In my office we use a group-wide email.
  • by grunt107 (739510)
    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'.
  • by jmcmunn (307798) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:50PM (#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.
  • by ackthpt (218170) *
    To be smooth, baby, shouldn't you change 'kill' to 'chill', too?
  • Room 101 (Score:5, Funny)

    by mark0 (750639) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:50PM (#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.
  • Maybe it's just my net connection, but the first link isn't working for me [pragmaticautomation.com], and the second one is slow as hell [thoughtworks.org]. Might be an interesting idea, especially to wire up to a webserver after a slashdotting.....
  • by happyfrogcow (708359) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:50PM (#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.
  • Usual Google Cache (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Google cache [216.239.41.104] of article.
  • better idea (Score:4, Funny)

    by StevenHenderson (806391) <.stevehenderson. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:51PM (#10080474)
    voice of Gilbert Godfrey screaming out "I suck at programming! Fire me!" over and over. That would make you debug before you compile...
    • That would make you debug before you compile...

      Forgive my ignorance, but how do you debug before you compile? Don't you need to compile first before you can step through the code?

  • by GraWil (571101) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:51PM (#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.
    • 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."
  • by thatguywhoiam (524290) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:52PM (#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.

  • Alternatively... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by London Bus (803556)
    ...you 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.
  • by Kenja (541830) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:52PM (#10080487)
    Guess the lava lamps just blew up.
  • by drmancini (712059) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:52PM (#10080492) Homepage
    Wow ... think of a firewall mod with a lava lamp for each open port ... my god!! the lava is boiling ... hackers coming in!!!
  • by jaaron (551839) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:54PM (#10080510) Homepage
    CruiseControl [sourceforge.net] 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 [apache.org].
    • Google has a list [google.com] of tools that will help automate builds and manage them. I help write one of them, but won't be that shameless in the plug.

      Overall, I think it's good to have some sort of tool that automates your builds and emails you when they brake. Continuous integration is a good part of it for developers, but this also gets into release management, communication between teams, and such.
  • by BeeRockxs (782462) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:56PM (#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 x10.com 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
  • by LeahofRivendell (797671) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:57PM (#10080553) Journal
    I would definitely write bad code on purpose with this set up just to watch the lava.
  • by kcdoodle (754976) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @01:58PM (#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
    • 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 (Score:2, Interesting)

      by floki (48060)
      We had the problem of concurrent users locking up a tape drive.
      ...
      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.
      ...


      This also works great when trying to manage a discussion in a group of 10 to 20 people. If things start get out of hand and people cut each other off just take a random token (perhaps a small ball) and throw it to someone who wants to speak. After speaking the person passes
    • by Chemisor (97276) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @03:59PM (#10081815)
      > Who ever had the necklace in their possession was
      > allowed to access the tape drive.

      Reminds me of an old Dilbert cartoon:

      Dilbert: (holding a cable) we have a token ring network.
      Boss: So why is it not working?
      Dilbert: the token fell out. It must be somewhere in this room...
      Boss: (gets on his knees to search)
  • 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.

  • by spidergoat2 (715962) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:02PM (#10080605) Journal
    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.
  • by alispguru (72689) <bane@g s t .com> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:02PM (#10080609) Journal
    A better one is here [sciencenews.org] where Lava lamps are used to generate true random bits.

    Too bad the website [sgi.com] for it appears to be off line. SGI used to be cool, too...
  • by mikael (484) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:05PM (#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.
    • Personally, I prefer the futuristic virtual Lava Lamp office, where you're cubicle rises and falls according to how productive you have been.


      Unfortunately, the ceiling height won't be changed, so over-achievers get a series of cieling noogies until they settle back down with the dregs.

  • by digitalgimpus (468277) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:06PM (#10080646) Homepage
    He should have made one for webservers when the apache process hangs.

    His datacenter would be groovy right now.
  • Quick Fixes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kjfitz (256432) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:11PM (#10080697) Homepage
    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 a bit like the Ambient Orb [thinkgeek.com] 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.
  • 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 . . ."

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

  • by edunbar93 (141167) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:25PM (#10080843)
    Leave it to corporate America to find a way to make Lava Lamps something to stress out about.
  • this is funny (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chuck Bucket (142633) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:26PM (#10080848) Homepage Journal
    as a build mananger I just implemented Cruisecontrol on the job this week. it's awesome, no more going to do the build and getting a ton or errors, now if there's an error emails get sent to me, the project manager, and the dev responsible. it's a very nice tool. adding lights to the mix sounds trivial, but hey, if it makes work more fun, why not.

    CB
  • A Google logo LAVA(R) lamp [googlestore.com] of course. You can pay for it with the money you made on the IPO!
  • by bokmann (323771) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:33PM (#10080921) Homepage
    That headline blurb doesn't do this book justice. I was one of the first kids on my block with a copy of this book, and I highly recommend it.

    This book is not about lava lamps (although it does talk about them). This book is about using automation to keep your software project on-track... never letting things get broken... using a computer in your office as a 'virtual employee', continually building and running unit tests and letting you know if someone breaks the build.

    Yes, there is a reference about automatically turning on a red lava lamp if your unit tests fail... but far more important than that, the build on my project (which uses the ideas from this book) is never broken long enough for a lava lamp to heat up.

    If you are interested in Agile process (especially the XP concept of 'continuous integration'), you need this book.
  • by AndyHunt (168956) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:35PM (#10080937) Homepage
    Very funny, guys. We weren't expecting to get Slashdotted today. Try www.pragmaticprogrammer.com/pa/pa.html [pragmaticprogrammer.com] and it ought to work a little better for you.

    -- /\ndy

  • by Wile_E_Peyote (805058) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @02:40PM (#10081012)

    This would be more useful, if it lit up a bowl at 4:20 if the green lamp was going.

    Hmmm... All I need is an automated valve and a mini blowtorch...

    W.E.P.
  • Get your boss to buy Java Lamps :D

  • Yes, I understand that it's an X10 thing... but when I saw "4-Piece Firecracker Automation System" I thought of my own solution to the problem.

    When the build first breaks, light a big aerial shell firecracker that goes BOOM. Since you're supposed to run these tests once on the hour, the next two would go on the hour while the build was still broken.

    The fourth piece would be a flare aimed at the offender's cube. Think of it as a 4-gun salute...

  • by ediron2 (246908) * on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:11PM (#10081919) Journal
    Everything I google on Firecracker says it is 'X10 Firecracker Automation'...

    X10!!! Oh.... my... hell. Slashdot recommending a project that uses *THEM*.

    What next, a story on a project that uses SCO software?! Personal firewalls using XP SP2? A softball interview with Jack Valenti or Orin Hatch?

    I know, it's not pico/x10/whoever's fault entirely, but after years of X10 popups, I feel tricked/annoyed/dirtied and I haven't even clicked past the google results.

    A couple years ago, we were revising a website, with an eye toward better google placement. My tech lead forwarded a spam for a related utility, and I had to read him the riot act on why we'd *never* buy anything from a spammer.

    (yeah, I know... I'm goin' to modpoints hell for criticizing the editors.)
  • Another way... (Score:3, Informative)

    by rnelsonee (98732) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:14PM (#10081956)
    You can also use the Ambient Orb [ambientdevices.com] by following this guide [msdn.com]. Theses guys chose the Lava Lamp because it's cheaper, but if you hate X10, this might work better.

    Now, everyone go buy an Ambient Orb so they can mass-produce them more, and then I can finally afford one!

  • Very cool stuff? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OrangeTide (124937) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @08:15PM (#10083843) Homepage Journal
    Must be a slow news day for this to be cool.

    In a related note. Today is Macaulay Culkin's Birthday [wikipedia.org].
  • by Mulletproof (513805) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @11:22PM (#10085018) Homepage Journal
    "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."

    I mean, if you're looking for that sort of subterfuge to mask your screwup, why buy one to begin with again? Do you absolutely need a delayed action screw-up beacon. I mean, the moment the damn thing turns on, people are going to know you fucked up anyway even without an undulating blob since the entire lamp GLOWS WITH LIGHT, warm or cold.

    I nominate this for the "Weakest Excuse for Lava Lamp Placement in a Workcenter" Award. Thank you.

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