Imagine if You Will…

You’re in the server room, listening to the sound of a babbling brook, when suddenly the sound of a fish splashing back in the water causes you to look at your network monitor application, where you see a traffic spike that needs your attention.

Some sort of weird Ridley Scott remake of Hackers? No, one of several system monitoring tools that lets you use your hearing senses to determine what’s going on with your systems and network. The visual side of things has been done to death, it makes sense to use your other senses to relay and receive information.

We already use our sense of smell to monitor equipment, right? I mean, who doesn’t know the smell of toasted motherboard, burned wiring and overheated circuitry? What is more horrifying than walking into the server room and smelling something burned?

How Cool is This?

Around 2000, a project called Peep set out the following goals:

Administering a network means keeping track of copious amounts of information. Today’s network monitoring tools are “log-based”; they produce large logs of information through which the system administrator is expected to sift and discover problems.

The PEEP approach is to eliminate the need to search through large amounts of text by representing network information in real-time. PEEP uses sound to represent the vast amount of available information about network status.

With PEEP, a system administrator can tell what activity is occurring in his network in real-time and isolate where the problem lies.

Peep is pretty old and nothing much has happened with it for quite a while, but I found an article that takes a different approach to all of this using a package called FluidSynth. A continuation of the work done with Peep, there’s a set of programs and scripts comprised of:

  • Fluidsynth
  • Sound font packages
  • Perl
  • Chordstats

All of this isn’t hard to get running and pretty soon I had the sound of hammered dulcimers plinking away in my office. The program monitors vmstat in it’s simplest configuration, the output of which contains a lot of constantly changing stats about your processes, swap, cache and buffers, input/output, interrupts etc.

When you get this running there is a constant backbeat of a particular note, metronomically binging along, and when something changes on your machine other notes are inserted from different octaves and ranges to make a counterpoint to the backbeat.

But Can You Get it in Blue?

Oh boy, can you have fun with the different system tasks and configuring the noises they trigger!  I found that by twirling the 3D desktop cube, scp’ing a file from the machine and using Bittorrent I could make a noise that sounded like someone dropped the entire minstrel section from a Renaissance Festival from a great height onto a grand piano.

Note: You will want to experiment with these tools either A) when everyone else is gone B) Only the cleaning staff is there vacuuming. Regardless, you will rapidly have people leaning in your office door and using interrogative expletives (“What the ____ are you doing?”, “What is that bombastic blast?”, and my favorite “Who’s torturing a ____’ing piano in here?”).

There is a great article on the IBM Developerworks site about chordstats, with lots of resources to get other chord packages and some good explanations of what other commands you can monitor the output of (strace is another favorite of mine), and don’t forget to look at the Sourceforge site for Peep, and read the original presentation, it’s fascinating.

Enjoy, (I know I did, and now I know that my dog can howl in High C).