State of the Onion, and screen savers

The State of the Onion #8: Larry Wall's "State of the Onion" speeches are always really entertaining: they're nominally about the current state of Perl, but really they're about all kinds of things. The latest one was mostly about his recent health problems, but also about community, cognition, and design. This time, instead of slides, he ran screen savers and related the behavior of each to what he was talking about.

This particular screensaver fools me more often than I care to admit. The problem is that the more computers you've used, the more different kinds of crashes you've seen. And mentally, you classify them all in the "Oh, shit!" category, which is a category the brain is very efficient at processing.

On the other hand, the part of your brain that says "Hey, that's the crash screen for a different operating system, dufus!" -- that part operates at a much slower pace. The brain is chock full of shortcuts, and orthogonality be screwed. Optimizers cheat, and sometimes they get caught cheating. With this screensaver, you can catch your own brain's optimizer cheating.

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15 Responses:

  1. shmooilk says:

    There's also SysInternals' BuleScreenSaver that gave me hell once. :)

    • loosechanj says:

      I caught someone with that one once, and as he was helping someone else he had his back turned so he didn't miss the BIOS screen not appearing. As the machine was in the middle of compiling his weekly report, he was rather upset to see the plethora of chkdsk problems...

  2. dzm6 says:

    Once your software gets mentioned in this kind of speech - watch out! Before too long you'll have more fan-boys than you know what to do with, pissy users that think you somehow owe them a debt of gratitude for using your stuff, and all manor of people that want to impress you with how clever they are by telling you about that time when they would have built their own cables or recompiled the kernel or switched to a different flavor of The OS That Steals Your Time.

    Or not. Who can say?

  3. cyeh says:

    I still remember when you came into my cube and asked me for a macsbug screenshot. I also recall you being really evasive about what it was going to be used for.

    It still makes me smile to see it come up every so often.

  4. hawke666 says:


    I'm waiting for the version that does a bouncing camel.

    Well, what are you waiting for?

    • jwz says:

      I don't have a camel model. The only free model of one I've been able to find is here, but A) I'm not sure how free those really are, and B) I don't know of a way to convert from .COB or .MAX into something that I know how to parse (.DXF or wfront .OBJ.)

  5. krick says:

    This kind of reminds me of when we used to dumb stuff on the black and white macs in high school (1986-ish)...

    We used to make screenshots of the apple "bomb" dialog and set them as the desktop background, then we'd hide the desktop icons as best as we could. usually by changing the icons to a blank icon and changing the text to a period '.' The next teacher would walk into the lab and have a heart attack.

    We also used to do dumb stuff like taking screenshots of the desktop with all the icons on it, setting it as the background image, then hiding the real icons. It was a blast watching people clicking furiously on the background image trying to open the icons.

    • edge_walker says:

      You weren't the only ones, except we only had opportunity to do it shortly before I finished school, on Win95 machines.

      In my defense — I'm not that much of a neophyte —, when I got there, the lab was full of PC/XT machines with CGA cards, running DOS. Not much practical jokery doable on those (Windows 2.0 was installed, but nobody used it).

      • necama says:

        There was pleanty of trickery available on DOS. My favorite was appending a null character to the end of a file name, before the extension.

        • edge_walker says:

          Oh, there were plenty of tricks, but they didn't have quite the same smoke-and-mirrors quality. To get an appreciably similar effect you'd've had to write a BASICA program that seemed to behave like a COMMAND.COM prompt but threw error messages instead of doing anything.

          Now that I think about it, I wonder why that never occured to me at the time.

          • notabouthim says:

            or hack with an editor - change all the text strings to amusing alternatives.. so long as your strings were the same length or shorter (and padding out the rest with spaces), it worked a treat.

            always amusing to watch the look on someone's face where instead of saying "ok" the prompt replies "no".. oh, and worse, so much worse (and not polite enough for a family forum such as this)

            you could change the command strings similarly. eg, instead of 'cd', you'd make it 'go'. had a whole set of these at one point, all very entertaining..

  6. yakko says:

    The first time BSOD ran the Solaris crash on my Ultra 60, I about shit myself. It took about a minute before I realized it was a screensaver (I don't allow desktop grabs, so the desktop was "xscreensaver NTSC test pattern").

    What made it even more plausible was that I was having real crashes right before that.

  7. scjody says:

    I walked into the living room last night to find FontGlide running. It said:

    { YourDriveIsFlakingOut


    • PrayToGod }

    I'm used to BSOD, but that one scared me for a moment.

  8. transgress says:

    hehe, well when ive used that screen saver, i normally have them set to something rather low, so im normally sitting there when it turns on, and when you have it set to fade in its had to think that the bsod or similar 'faded in', although there has been times where ive been awake way to long and i thought my eye lids were just closing on me or similar as a screen saver faded in.

    on the 'tricks' topic, my 3 personal favorites are:
    1) i used to have a boss who was a windows guy, but he was older and kinda burnt out on computers and would get incredibly frustrated at everything (you ever seen someone screaming/swearing at the paperclip?), so we covertly installed pc anywhere on his computer and would let him sit there and do his stuff, but when he went to go do something with the mouse like click the 'x' to close the window, we'd just nudge the mouse a little bit, and do that over and over again. He seriously destroyed several mice from anger while we tried very hard to stifle our laughter from a few cubicles away.

    2) same place, different boss. He didn't realize you could echo 'bla bla bla' > /dev/pts/X if you were root and have the text show up on their command line, or cat the device and they have to type everything twice. So it started out with just me cat'ing the pty, and trying to stifle my laughter as i heard him get increasingly frustrated a few cubicles down hitting every key twice. Then, because his parents had screwed him all up on religion and he was on all sorts of different medication, on days where he seemed particularly out of it- i would echo lines from the bible or liens from the exorcist into his device, and he would get all freaked out and paranoid and such- it was quite funny and easy to keep secret because only i knew until one day i could barely contain my laughter and the guy next to me wondered what was up, so he watched over the cubicle wall and i ended up having to let him in on the secret. IT was all downhill from there because he told someone else, and so on until the boss found out. I was quite lucky in not losing my job for that one, but hell it was funny while it lasted.

    3) the windows guy boss who we installed pc anywhere on his computer was pretty old school and he reversed the polarity on this guys monitor so that everything showed upside down. We both spent quite a bit of time trying to trouble shoot that one.