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The writing's on the wall

For the last couple of jobs I've had, having some sort of status display has proved itself really useful. Things like an overloaded nagios dashboard help to drill down to see what system issues you may have, but on large systems there'll always be some component that's not green (however your service should work around these transparently to the end user).  In a smaller team without 24/7 operations staff and shift handovers, how do you know things aren't on fire when you walk into the office? - I'll ignore the fact that you probably read your email over breakfast.


At $job[-1] we put a spare monitor on the office wall and ran concerto on a PC feeding it. The backend at that time was php, and made assumptions such as assuming that short tags were OK - I hacked on a branch to make it more standard with the scientific linux systems we were using at the time. Given this was (is?) a student project out of the Rensselaer Institute ir's hardly suprising as young developers want LATEST SHINY. They then went through a second system effect, rewriting from scratch and completely missing the launch of the raspberry pi, which could have made a killer combination.
The problem is that many browser based clients need the overhead of X11 and all the various hacks to remove mouse cursors and make them more 'kiosky'


Fast forwards a few years and I have mini-magnus on my desk showing status and a set of 3 unused monitors on a wall looking to display some info. A quick bit of research flagged up info-beamer which has been used in production at the CCC events for several years. I've been playing with it for a couple of days now in the standalone pi and hosted variant.

hosted info-beamer

The install of this is very smoothly done. Small zip file download to populate an SD card with the raspberry pi bootloader files and a squashfs  and it self-installs the rest of the distribution from S3 and prompts you to register the node to your info-beamer account (in a similar way to a chromecast).
Florian has made some really nice touches to the setup - little things like setting cec_osd_name if your TV screen uses it, a custom kernel logo, and suppression of all but the player-related boot messages. In a public area, this makes it look a lot more professional than most of the other solutions which show the operating system before launching a player should they reboot. I've only played with a couple of the sample packages, but the install process is slick, if initially confusing terminology between packages, setups and playlists.

I'd love to see this integrated with indico - the meeting software used at CERN. Hint :-)

standalone info-beamer

The personal use player is distributed as a binary executable - I can understand the reasons for that, but it doesn't feel right. It doesn't (yet?) come as a debian package - It should be trivial for me to do myself according to the docs. When that's done, I'll install and run using systemd rather than the daemontools method (which is used by the various syncer scripts used in the hosted version). My concern is that the logging is presently noisy (good for debugging, bad for SD lifetime) 
I'm also planning on managing these R-Pi nodes using Ansible (Puppet is overkill for this as I want something that can bootstrap up a fresh SD card without needing extra daemons running) so I suspect there'll be future blogging on that. 

I've not yet investigated sending values directly to the info-beamer listening port (hoping I can do something with an MQTT subscriber) but pushing json files from various subsystems seems to work well. Obligatory screenshot:
Prototype display testing
Overall, I'm very impressed. Given I'd started learning lua for some nodemcu work I should be able to develop something functional. I've asked the work graphic designer to assist, so hopefully it won't end up "engineer style"


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