When Your Heart Stops Beating

Let's round up our coverage of useless OS X applications. Todays pick is Heart Monitor.

There are a bunch of different tools for monitoring your Macs CPU and memory load, disc usage and such. I guess the most complete tool is iStatPro from iSlayer. It can monitor everything even the weirdest geek might be interested in, including the speed of your fans, chassis and CPU temperature, network load, etc. And it looks gorgeous.
However, iStatPro is a Dashboard Widget and therefore usually hidden and unobtrusive.

Heart Monitor makes the difference. Instead of showing diagrams on demand, it displays the CPU load -- and only the CPU load -- as a beating heart floating somewhere around your desktop.

Screenshot of 'Heart Monitor (static)'

On an idle system the heart beats with a frequency of roughly 1Hz but gets faster with increasing system load. What's quite cool about Heart Monitor is that you can enable sound output: Your systems load will not only be visualized, but you can actually hear whether your system is under stress or not (as if my MacBook's turbine-like fans weren't enough...).

While tinkering around with this I realized that computers rely solely on visual feedback and other modalities are usually neglected. Okay, there's a new mail beep here, and an annoying sound for critical dialogs there. But there is usually no way to continuously monitor data like the weather report, stocks, or your network traffic without without using your computer's screen.

Why is that so?

I guess the most prominent answer to this question is that sounds are disturbing and will have an negative effect on your attention.This is obviously correct, but I see no difference to -- let's say -- blinking elements on your screen.

An argument that weighs more heavily is that you can easily display zillions of bar charts, numbers, and colorful blinking lights next to each other and -- with a good arrangement of these elements -- the user will still find the information she's looking for. But doing so with sound will soon end up in a cacophony of undiscriminable noises.

Nonetheless, monitoring one or two critical variables via sound might be an idea worth considering. Especially if you find sounds that are natural and not annoying. Like twittering birds, a gently babbling brook, or a heart beat.