I’m a big fan of using home automation techniques in non-traditional ways, and an excellent example of this is found at Mike Clark’s Pragmatic Project Automation. Mike’s detailed article tells you how to use an inexpensive X10 “starter kit” and a simple Java applet to provide subtle, but useful, information about how a software build is progressing.
Aside from the home automation bits, the other neat thing about the project is that it uses lava lamps. When the build is going well a green lava lamp happily bubbles away. As soon as the build encounters problems, the green lamp switches off and a red lava lamp begins warming up. Eventually, if the problem is not corrected, the boiling red lava will let everyone know that the project is in deep, raging trouble. Very theatrical, and much more humane than triggering a siren or alarm bells.
By the way, on the subject of sound, the article suggests that the red lamp be plugged directly into the X10 wireless transceiver so that the “clack” of turning on the built-in outlet might be heard, thus signaling the start of the build’s downward spiral. Ahh, at last, a practical reason for the annoying noise of an X10 appliance relay!
For more about software project automation, check out Mike’s presentation from the O’Reilly Mac OS X Conference.