When everything looked both shit and awesome; a look back at pre-Windows screensavers

My first exposure to screensavers came hand-in-hand with my first home computer experience; Windows 3.1. And just like the neuro-plasticizing desktop wallpapers on offer, the star field simulation screensaver blew my 15-year-old mind.

An excellent Youtube video by Nostalgia Nerd focuses on pre-Windows DOS screen savers and celebrates the fact that “Screensavers [have been] saving our CRT screens from phosphor burns since the dark ages”.

Looking back at 1989’s  mesmerising “Bug Fry” to the virgin-identifying Matrix screen saver, I realise that I could probably have coded half of this shit in QBasic in under half-an-hour. Still, they were great for their time, and it’s an reminder of how far computer graphics have come.

(After Dark “flying toasters” screensaver featured image obtained from https://winworldpc.com/)

 

Long Live MS Paint

I love MS Paint. I love it so much that I have a virtual machine dedicated to it running on my Mac. I love it so much that I spit on paint.net. And thanks to the love of its dedicated fanbase, my favourite quick image editing (and sometimes creation) tool has narrowly missed being killed-off in a Windows 10 future update.

From CNBC:

“[Microsoft] recently released a list which labeled Paint “deprecated”, meaning it was considering removing the app when the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update gets released later this year … Fans on social media decried the potential death of Paint, which has been in existence for 32 years.

But [Megan Saunders of] Microsoft released a blog post shortly after to clarify that Paint would not be completely removed, but instead made available via the Windows Store for free: “Today, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support and nostalgia around MS Paint. If there’s anything we learned, it’s that after 32 years, MS Paint has a lot of fans. It’s been amazing to see so much love for our trusty old app”.

Even though you’ll now need a Windows ID to download it, it’s great to see that this 32-year old masterpiece is not yet ready for the Recycle Bin.

 

How the humble wrist-watch put humankind on the path to cyborg slavery

In the mid-1900s, at the dawn of the computer age, the excited commentators of the time described a future utopia where humankind would be freed from the need to work and would struggle to fill up the long days with enough time-eating hobbies.

This obviously has not happened….

Even though we, as a species, are quite comfortably the head-honchos of our planet, the majority of us humans still need to work pretty hard at it.

If you were to strip away humankind’s technological advances, human societies couldn’t compare with insect colonies’ amazing efficiency and coordination; thanks to insects’ inbuilt senses that detect tiny hormonal changes and pheromonal ejections, allowing them to perfectly synchronize their work. As a result, insect colonies can build amazing things with minimal resources.

Take away our gadgets, with our relatively blunted senses, humans can’t match the efficiency of our insect counterparts. But who needs antennae when we’ve got brains that can invent wrist watches and Gantt charts?

With the human invention of modern time measurement, we enabled our species to plan and build grander and more intricate projects through our vastly improved synchronisation and management of resources. The invention of mechanical clocks, due to their more convenient and reliable time-keeping, effectively enabled us to pack more into every day.

I am no troglodyte – I am hugely appreciative for the advantages that science and technology have provided. I have it to thank for the Enlightenment values that I live by, my longer and healthier life, and the sense of wonder that I feel when looking up at the stars,  knowing that I am staring into our Universe’s past.

But in all its wonder, science and technology has also helped things to turn a bit shit. Inventions and advancements when at inception looked certain to improve the quality of our lives have often become the tools of our captors.

The invention of the town clock tower in the 1500s, followed by the mass production of pocket watches in the early 1900s, were arguably the first steps in humankind’s transition into some kind of cybernetic state of permanent serfdom.

Continue reading “How the humble wrist-watch put humankind on the path to cyborg slavery”

The Rise of the Machines?

I’ve heard about the wonder that is Google’s AutoDraw.com – an artificial intelligence (AI) based program that can supposedly decipher basic drawings. From Google’s P.R department:AutoDraw is a new kind of drawing tool. It pairs machine learning with drawings from talented artists to help everyone create anything visual, fast.

Well fast it is, but accurate? Not so very. Armed with four cans of beer and a trackpad, I thought I’d give it a try. I was in some ways impressed, in some ways not. Please note that in the spirit of fairness, I have chosen to post the algorithm’s first semi-accurate guess next to my inebriated touchpad-drawn doodles.

Continue reading “The Rise of the Machines?”

Happy 40th F@&$/:g Birthday Spam!

The Mercury has reported on the 40th anniversary (you read that correctly… 40 years) of the first spam email.

“Almost 40 years ago, on May 1, 1978, Gary Thuerk, a marketer for Massachusetts’ Digital Equipment Corporation, wrote the very first email advertising message to more than 400 users of the system called Arpanet, an early iteration of the Internet. He was reportedly trying to flag the attention of the burgeoning California tech community. He hit send a few days later. As you might suspect, the backlash was almost instantaneous.”

In 2017, Spam is no longer a perhaps annoying but friendly call out to like-minded tech folk, nor is it confined to the basements of University dorms. It is mostly insidious in its nature and it plagues our home computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and anything we do under the title of “social networking”. It is arguably the great grandfather of the Nigerian Prince Scam, phishing, malware and the estimated 40-to-73% of messages sent daily, counting for terabytes upon terabytes of shit clogging up the arteries (much like its mystery-meat counterpart) of our global communications networks.

World Video Game Hall of Fame Inductees for 2017 announced

“The World Video Game Hall of Fame — located in Rochester, New York at the Strong Museum of Play — has announced its third class of games to be honored with induction: Donkey Kong, Halo: Combat Evolved, Pokémon Red and Green, and Street Fighter 2″…. “The other eight 2017 finalists were Final Fantasy 7, Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, Myst, Portal, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider and Wii Sports” (polygon.com).

The first time that I saw Donkey Kong was on a black and white Rank Arena TV set and a console both built almost entirely out of wood. It is my earliest memory of seeing a video game. And I will never forget the rush of elation that I felt when I landed my first dragon punch in Street Fighter 2.

I have tried, but I cannot find rhyme or reason in the strobe-lit visual base-colour cacophony that is Pokemon. And to be honest, I’ve felt somewhat of an indifference towards first-person shooters since my mind exploded on my first play through of the original shareware Doom.

What game would you have inducted? And if it isn’t already in this list, tell us why the hell it should be.