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10 Screensavers of Yore

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In the early days of CRT monitors, we had real technical reasons requiring screensavers for our computers. Screensavers were programs that kicked in when you weren't using the computer, in order to prevent "burn-in" of constant onscreen elements like menu bars. But what started as a pragmatic solution quickly turned to the realm of entertainment: if you're going to display some random stuff on the screen, why not make it fun?

Here's a roundup of some screensavers I remember from the Good Old Days of computing -- the 90s -- when screensavers were delightfully corny, 3D graphics meant "the future," and flying toasters invaded our dreams. Enjoy!

Mac LC 575 - Flying Toasters

After Dark was a popular screensaver package developed in 1989. It was originally called "Magic ScreenSaver" before adopting the After Dark name (note: see the bottom of this post for a bit more on the history here). After Dark (or "AD," as we called it) allowed you to select from a bunch of screensaver options, but the most popular was, at least among my friends, "Flying Toasters." Here's a variant including a fight song!

(Hat-tip to Allison Keene for finding this and inspiring this post!)

Mac SE/30 - Starry Night

Another After Dark favorite, Starry Night worked nicely on the black-and-white Macs that were still very common in the 90s.

Windows - Mystify Your Mind

I always thought this was the classiest Windows screensaver.

Windows - 3D Maze

And I always thought this was horrible. It's like Wolfenstein 3D minus the gameplay, plus a horrible red brick color scheme.

Windows - Flying Windows

This one was popular among Microsoft employees.

Windows - Starfield Simulation

With this one, you could pretend you were on the Starship Enterprise. Sort of.

Windows - 3D Pipes

I seem to recall this coming out with Windows 98. I also recall it blowing my mind: semi-random 3D pipes?! What will they think of next?!

Windows - 3D Text Easter Eggs

In certain versions of Windows, the 3D Text screensaver had some interesting easter eggs that were apparent if you typed special phrases into the text box. Have a look:

Windows - Marquee vs. Cat

The "Marquee" screensaver just scrolled text across the screen -- much to the consternation of nearby cats.

281 After Dark Screensavers

This video purports to include 281 individual After Dark modules for Windows. If you saw it in After Dark, it's probably here.

A Correction Regarding After Dark

I originally wrote that After Dark was first written for the Mac. Apparently the history here is much more complex -- the After Dark product that I knew was actually largely based on Magic ScreenSaver, which was first written for Windows and then merged/ported to Mac. I'm in contact with the author of Magic ScreenSaver (later renamed After Dark) for Windows, and hope to bring you more on this soon. Stay tuned!

What Did I Leave Out?

I'm just scratching the surface of classic screensavers here. If you have a favorite, please share it in the comments!

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Kano
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Control the World With a Wave of Your Hand Using This $30 Motion Sensor
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Kano

"Learn to code" is all the rage in kids' toys—even those aimed at preschoolers. As educational toys go, though, Kano's are pretty fun. Earlier this summer, Kano released the Lite Brite-esque Pixel Kit, an LED board that kids (or anyone, really) can program to change and visualize information using the coding tutorials on the Kano desktop app. Now, the company has come out with a stand-alone motion sensor that allows you to see the impact of your code with a wave of the hand.

The $30 sensor kit is only a little bigger than a 50-cent piece, and set-up is as easy as attaching two pieces to a USB port and plugging the cable into a computer. The Kano app will show you what to do next, walking you through a series of "challenges" that hold your hand through the process of coding the sensor to change what you see within the app, whether it's changing the color of an image or playing a virtual game of Pong by waving your hand in front of your computer. The sensor can register three axes of movement, so that you can control different actions by moving your hand left-right, up-down, and forward-backward.

A blue Kano booklet of instructions sits next to a small blue sensor that looks like a periscope.
Kano

The tutorials vary from the very simple (make an arrow rotate according to gestures) to the slightly more involved (build a Pong game). But all of them are made extremely simple with drag-and-drop blocks of JavaScript code, step-by-step instructions, and highlights on the correct choices. If you put your code in the wrong place, the tutorial won't move on. No matter what your real level of understanding of the underlying code, you're going to build that Pong game. Hopefully, you'll pick up a few tricks on the way, though, which will eventually allow you to build your own games.

The motion sensor kit is the most accessible of Kano's products, both in terms of its price (the Pixel Kit is $80 compared to the motion sensor's $30) and the number of things you can do with it. The gesture-based controller can be used to play games, make moving art, or control music. You don't have to have any other Kano equipment, but if you do, you can plug it into other kits to make, say, a motion-activated Pixel Kit light show.

You can buy the Motion Sensor Kit on Kano's website starting today.

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Meet the 17-Year-Old World Champion of Excel Spreadsheets
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If you spend hours creating spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel for your office job, that work may one day pay off. The Excel World Championship recently awarded its winner a $7000 prize for demonstrating his “skills and creativity” while completing a series of tasks in the program. But the new champion doesn’t come from the professional world—he’s a student at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia.

As the New York Post reports, John Dumoulin has won a total of $10,000 in prize money for his Excel expertise. He first discovered his talent when he took a Microsoft Excel 16 certification exam for an IT class at his high school. His score was the highest in the state and it qualified him to join other spreadsheet aficionados at a national competition in Orlando, Florida.

After snagging the $3000 cash prize at that event, he moved on to compete with pros from around the world at the Microsoft Excel World Championship in Anaheim, California. The competition included 150 participants from 49 countries. Never in its history has an American taken home the grand prize, but this year Dumoulin became the first.

The teenager first became acquainted with Excel in middle school, when he made spreadsheets to track the performance of his favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He told the Associated Press that he’d like to one day make a career out of doing data analytics for baseball teams. For now, his focus is on graduating from high school.

[h/t New York Post]

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