Green Trees, Information Radiators, and Photo Frames

One of the first things you learn about as a Mozilla developer is Tinderbox, Mozilla's automated build and test system.  Mozilla's Tinderbox hosts a number of "trees", specific software projects that are built and tested independently.  Tinderbox has a page that displays the current status of whatever tree you might be interested in.   For example, the display for the Firefox 3.1 tree is here.  If everything is wonderful, the top of each column on the web page is green, indicating that the most recent build and test run on that machine was successful.  This is called a "green tree".

In reality, the tree is rarely one hundred percent green.  Developers with patches ready for checkin (ready to "land" in Mozilla parlance) are constantly checking to see if the tree is green.  This can get old.  Justin Dolske, in a fit of Wallian laziness, developed to simplify the process.

It's an unfortunate fact that lately the tree has rarely been green and it's become more a matter of "Is the tree green enough?".  I discovered that if I had the tree status page open in Firefox, I could essentially see the entire width of page if I stretched the window to the full width of my screen and made the text as small as possible.  This way I could get a feel for how green the tree was at a glance.

The problem with this approach is that most of the time the browser window was obscured by other windows.  The other problem was that I kept accidentally clicking on it, or accidentally opening other pages in the really wide window, or hiding it and forgetting about it.  It would have worked better if I had a second monitor configured, but frankly, if I had a second monitor I'd want to use all the screen real estate for active work anyway.

What I'm really looking for is some kind of ambient information display.  I want to be able to catch a high level view of the tree status with just a glance, but without it being in my way as I try to work.  This is similar to Alistair Cockburn's concept of an Information Radiator.  That's it, I want my own personal information radiator.

Then the other day, I noticed digital photo frames at Fred Meyer.  These have been around for awhile, but it's the first time I noticed them on the shelves at the local discount market (most likely because I haven't been paying attention).  I thought, hey wouldn't that be cool if you could set one up to display the tree?  But are there any that can run a web browser?

It turns out there is.  Sony has a digital photo frame that runs Opera.  However, it looks like it's only available in Japan.  On the other hand, Samsung now has photo frames that support UbiSync, which is their USB video technology.  So technically, you'd just be using photo frames as a more less standard multiple monitor setup.  The upside is that UbiSync doesn't require video card support, and you can daisy chain multiple UbiSync photo frames -- apparently as many as five or six.  An UbiSync monitor doesn't have the raw performance of a regular monitor running off of a video card, but for displaying slow-changing information like the Tinderbox tree, it would be plenty fast enough.  Of course if you were going to go this route, it would probably make sense to get your hands on a Samsung 22 inch UbiSync monitor, rather than one of the 10 inch photo frames.
6 responses
Wouldn't it be possible to have the picture frames read from a source that your computer can write to as well? That way you could simply dump a screen capture on the picture frame.
@Jan!: Samsung also has photo frames with built in wireless that read from a source on your computer. I recall reading about photo frames that will read an RSS feed of JPEG images over a wireless connection, although I don't remember if those were Samsung frames. To view the Tinderbox tree, you'd need some way of generating JPEGs from the HTML. I know we have ways of doing this from Firefox, but I don't know if you can run Firefox inside a server process to do it. One of the advantages of this approach is you could easily scale the images to actually fit on the photo frame -- the 10 inch photo frame is only 1024 pixels wide, and the Tinderbox tree status for Firefox 3.2 must be about 1600 pixels wide at its smallest!
You can also use Markus Stange's Pushlog + Tinderbox tool to get a compact overview of the tree status, and to track check-ins:

Curtis, yes Samsung has wireless frames -- the SPF series. I have an SPF-83V. It re-reads the media RSS feed every time it starts to cycle through the pictures, and they're scaled automatically.
Actually, there are two problems we're facing:

- the stuff that's going on is semi-random. Some are real bugs, some are just infra problems, and it's all really opaque.

- tinderbox really only knows about very few things about what's going on, and not a whole lot more about what has been going on. Tinderbox itself really only knows about builds started and stopped, and then, if enabled, extracts some pieces of the build logs and puts them into the html/json. Markus is using that to regroup that information, presenting a better view of what has been going on. He can't do anything for builds currently running, by tinderbox design.

I'm not satisfied with the tree and what we do about it, and no matter how we change the visualization of it, it doesn't change garbage-in, garbage-out.

We gave our mother one of these from Christmas, she absolutely loves it the only problem is 6 months down the track and she has had to ask a computer man to set it up for her. For people who only know basic computer skills we need a very easy to use electronic picture frame on the market.