The lost art of monitoring
If we lived in a world where computers were 100% reliable, software (like TouchDesigner) was 100% bug-free, and hardware was standardized/always came with redundancy, I would probably have beautiful dreams every night. Unfortunately, the rapid evolution of technology keeps those things constantly in flux. There’s always an update for a software. There’s always a faster and untested hardware. Just think about the amount of times that:
- Your web browser has crashed because of some weird website
- Your smartphone acted buggy and crashed because of some app
- You bought a new piece of hardware and didn’t work but the company acknowledged an update was coming soon
How many times have you rage quit technology? These are 3 random examples, but they all highlight the same idea: even companies with large staffs (companies that make web browsers, smartphones, or sell large quantities of hardware) can experience technical failures in deployment. And just remember, these are mass market products (web browsers and smartphones), so these aren’t niche things that are unstable because of lack of market adoption. These are things people spend tens of hours a day on.
Many apps are polling performance metrics behind the scenes, collecting anonymous user data (how many times have you been asked for that??), and sending crash logs back to headquarters whenever necessary. High quality commercial applications have some form of monitoring or reporting. It’s not even something to question. So…did you have automated monitoring and reporting on your last TouchDesigner installation?
Why you need automated monitoring for your TouchDesigner installations
If we agree that even products and applications with mass market adoption aren’t immune to instability, then we can certainly agree that our niche, cutting-edge, and often experimental field of interactive technology and immersive media will be quite susceptible to instability. The desire for most artist and designers to push boundaries only heightens the amount of instability. A media installation with cutting-edge hardware will have elements of instability, but a media installation with cutting-edge hardware running at 90% resource load 24 hours a day is bound to eventually have a hiccup. It’s up to you whether:
- The hiccup brings down the show for hours and results in angry phone calls, or
- You have the precautions in place that minimize the hiccup to a few minutes and notify the appropriate parties of instability before resuming regular performance
Number 2 sounds pretty great right? Sounds like what professionals should do? Monitor, right?
Tell me what you want (what you really, really want?)
For something that sounds as useful and important as monitoring, it can actually be hard to find the appropriate tools. Some tools are complex with a ton of buttons, some are built for developers, and some just aren’t really made for the trials and tribulations of media installations. Where is the Goldilocks solution? Well lets figure out what we’d want for that. Common things I wish would happen on a machine that has issues:
- Don’t let the application hang indefinitely (Windows is notorious for this)
- If the OS is having issues, reboot the machine (if only software could jiggle the cables too!)
- Take screenshots
- Keep a log with timestamps of the issues
- Email me before I hear about it from angry clients
- Poll system stats regularly
That’s almost like having a personal assistant dedicated to system maintenance.
Our platforms of choice at nVoid are Derivative’s TouchDesigner and Windows. We tried to find a monitoring solution that would give us all of the needs we identified above, and play nicely with TouchDesigner and Windows…but we didn’t find one that worked and was easy to use. They each required workarounds or hacks of some sort to make things work, and that is just a recipe for more instability. So we decided to build our own and we call it…(cue epic music and fireworks and stuff)
Stalker has all the features mentioned above and works seamlessly with TouchDesigner and Windows. Best part of all? It’s free.
We really hope it helps raise the bar for TouchDesigner installations, whether they last for a single day, or are permanent fixtures. We’re hoping it gets artists introduced to building for stability, even when doing the extra steps may not be as fun as making the actual art.