Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Sep 22, 2004 5:14pm

ambient desktop

Silly me.

Macosxhints.com published my first hint, but I didn't bother to create a user account, so it's listed as "anonymous." Money quote:

If this works correctly, you will have a desktop image that smoothly changes from normal.pct to warn.pct when your load average stays over 1.7 for five minutes or so. In my case, warn.pct is solid red, and heightened CPU usage for an extended period of time shows up as a slow background fade to fire engine red. If you are comfortable with perl, you can modify the if() statement to change images based on other chosen conditions, or show different images depending on situations that demand your attention.

In the discussion thread, a few people rightly point out that CPU monitors are a dime a dozen, and can be placed on the desktop, dock, or anywhere else you like. The broader point was that Mac OS X provides an easy entry into ambient visual displays, and the background can be used to show whatever information you like - unread RSS feeds, instant messages, to-do list backup, wind speed in Chicago.

An excellent example of this is Dunstan Orchard's site, where the whole masthead is a visual indicator of the weather near his parents' home.

Jason Tester has a good run-down of ambient information (as it applies to electricity meters) and the qualities that make a piece of a data a good candidate for ambient display:

  1. complex
  2. regularly changing
  3. constant awareness isnt necessary.

Andrew Baio notices the similarity to Ambient Devices, physical manifestations of the same idea. I'm not sure that I'd be willing to pay $150 to get my stock market information as a subtly shifting color (WTF is it with stocks as the standard pretext for any interesting information-related investigation?), and there's a powerful tradeoff involved in choosing one specific piece of data for your ambient display. On the other hand, I'm constantly amazed at my girlfriend's intuition for plant health (she is a gardener). When you're looking for signs of disease or parasites, what is a plant but an subtle gestalt of color, texture, and smell indicating some complex internal state?

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