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Aggressively Stupid: The Story Behind After Dark (2007) (lowendmac.com)
72 points by kmooney 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

I worked at Berkeley Systems from 1991 to 1994ish. I wasn't originally hired to work on screen savers, but as side projects failed, we all ended up doing so. (I got the job in part because I'd worked with Patrick Naughton at Sun on xlock at Sun.)

I ended up writing the After Dark 3.0 engine for Mac, which was a lot of fun because I wrote it as an application and then figured out how to make it run within the context of the frontmost application without affecting it. It only patched 5 system traps rather than the 20+ traps the previous engine patched.

We were in constant competition with an Apple Engineer named Tom Dowdy that had a freeware product "Dark Side of the Mac" that patched no traps at all - patching was always blamed for system instability.

It seems like so much work went into something really small... I remember countless overnights, costo runs, alcohol, and a dead hamster named Trurl.

Fascinating! Do you remember which traps you patched? :) jGNEFilter?

jGNEFilter was not a trap but a low memory pointer to a function to intercept or filter events.

Another way of looking at this is that the end of screen savers means the end of a small culture.

I don't remember where I got this idea but I coded up a screensaver very quickly once. The idea was it periodically would make a 1/2 x 1/2 size copy of the screen and then copy it to the bottom right, bottom left and top center of the screen. This converges on a fixpoint called the Serpinski Gasket. On Windows it was pretty easy to write such screen savers. I'd be interested in doing it under X Windows but the people who maintain X Windows (or DEs) are not interested in maintaining end-user-facing variety in screen savers. And if you can do it it means that rogue software can exfiltrate image captures of your running programs.

I also want to quickly mention PointCast [1] as an example of another current in the screensaver sea.


Could you write it for XSCreensaver?

> Could you write it for XSCreensaver?

Probably. A deeper answer would be off-topic, in my judgement.

If you are sufficiently old and autistic, you can still buy the licensed flying toasters screen saver from a Japanese company called infinisys:


I was.

I'm less interested in Flying Toasters, than I am in the rest of the After Dark collection, which I would pay for if I could find in its entirety.

You can't. About a year ago I went looking for a big collection of at least the most popular ones, if not all of them, ready to drop $20 or so and fully expecting it to be available. They're not, so now I just have flying toasters.

There must be someone out there who's got spare time, an old Mac, After Dark - and the willingness to port 'em.

I don't consider myself old, but I think the fact that these screensavers are still available is great.

Sure can. It's on both my work and home macbooks. Works fine with multi-screen setups.

Frankly, still one of the best things a VGA enabled screen can do.

I am also.

Toast doneness can't be adjusted. Lame.

The author does not write about the broader context of the demise of the screen saver. Energy Star played a part, who needs their monitor on anyway?

Operating Systems also came with their own screen savers plus the people that liked screen savers were not prone to buying software, usually software was pirated or unlicensed in the 90s. Therefore this crowd were happy with openGL Windows screen savers. This was during a time when the Mac barely existed in the corporate world.

Really this product should never have existed and we should have moved to modern power management of monitors 30 years ago. Think of the electricity that could have been saved.

I think it is even better than that, screen savers were a hack that existed in the interstitial time between CRTs and LCDs because technology would not move fast enough.

The first CRTs were actually used as memory[1] and the fact that the phosphor 'remembered' what it had shown was an engineered thing. Then CRTs were used as displays that you could 'burn in' the contents was a problem [2].

That started the notion of not keeping the same thing on the screen all of the time which was "hard" to do for character driven terminal screens, but possible with bitmap driven screens. The first 'screen saver' I saw was at PARC on an Alto of all things which was drawing lissajous figures during idle time. They also appeared in arcades where screen burn was an issue so the game would display something else to avoid screen burn.

And THEN the energy crisis hit and everyone was looking at saving energy so CRT manufacturers added a simple circuit that if you disabled vertical sync they would detect that and actually turn off the electron beam completely. (horizontal sync was still needed to maintain the high voltage field at the front of the CRT). But by now a lot of people had grown attached to screen savers so turning off the screen was avoided.

And then we got to LCDs where running a screen saver was actively bad for the screen since there was no way to turn off the LCD backlight which was the weak point of the LCD screen and running a screen saver put more hours on that resulting in a faster death of your LCD.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_tube

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screen_burn-in

That wasn't really the purpose of the article, though. It was an interview with the creator of an iconic piece of software from a time that ushered in widespread use of personal computers. Should historians not write about the Battle of Gettysburg because it should never have been fought in the first place?

I felt the author saw that the software hadn't been properly stewarded by the various software houses that inherited it. However, I felt that it was a novelty product in the first place plus the then 'evil' Microsoft took away their Mac market by dominating the marketplace with Windows and then building a fairly reasonable screen saver into the operating system.

This is a bit like studying a battle and not mentioning the enemy or the terrain, blaming the marketing department of Lockheed Martin for it going wrong.

And now we live in a time when I regularly hear people refer to their desktop wallpaper as their "screen saver" at work. I'm occasionally tempted to point out that a static wallpaper is the complete opposite of a screen saver, but then I remember that nobody likes a pedant (even an accurate one).

> I remember that nobody likes a pedant (even an accurate one).

It's just that nobody likes being corrected. Try correcting someone's spelling or grammar on any Internet forum (including HN), and you'll be hit with a barrage of "you know what I meant" and "language changes" retorts.

> > I remember that nobody likes a pedant (even an accurate one).

> It's just that nobody likes being corrected.

Nice one.

I remember lots of people doing that at least as far back as when Windows 3.x was common.

> Really this product should never have existed and we should have moved to modern power management of monitors 30 years ago. Think of the electricity that could have been saved.

But then we would've had to store it in Leyden Jars.. millions and millions of Leyden Jars.

How can the article not mention Pyro!? There was some tribal attachment to your screensaver, if I remember right, and I was on the Pyro! side...


The writing style of that article was excellent. No flourish, no bullshit. Also:

> An aside about clocks: This is as good a time as any to reset your computer's internal clock. For I.B.M. and I.B.M.-compatible machines, type ''TIME'' at the DOS prompt, and for Macs bring up the control panel. Then call 900-410-8463. You'll get a recording from the United States Naval Observatory's atomic clock, and you can't get much more accurate than that. The call costs 50 cents.

Does it still work?

+1 202 762-1401 (Washington, D.C.) +1 202 762-1069 +1 719 567-6742 (Colorado Springs)


If you want to do it manually for some reason, https://time.gov/ works.

Nostalgia rush! One of my first programs was an After Dark screen saver module. I implemented randomly flipping Truchet Tiles [1] in Pascal.

[1]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truchet_tiles

I just want the "Lunatic Fringe" game back!

There's a github repo trying to rewrite it for the web: https://github.com/jackinloadup/lunatic-fringe

There's also this, which I vaguely remember working for me years ago, but can't vouch for now: http://www.sealiesoftware.com/fringe/

I have incredibly fond memories of playing Lunatic Fringe, despite being very bad at it, and despite catching a ridiculously bad case of strep throat one year shortly after discovering it, and having some bad, vaguely-related fever dreams about.

Man, playing games in After Dark was so annoying... accidentally move the mouse and lose all your progress. ("Rodger Dodger" was my own favorite.) I guess the thing to do would be to get ahold of the "After Dark Games" CD... I'm sure there's got to be some way to play that still...

Edit: Looking it up, the After Dark Games version of Rodger Dodger apparently has different levels from the screensaver version! (And not just in that it added ones; in fact it has fewer in total.) That's annoying...

I haven't tried this since the PPC days:


Ben Haller still maintains a version of Satori and Rose for Mac OS X:


Man, I kind of bemoan the loss of the screen savers... it's a pain to get them running everywhere now. Windows 10 buried it, and seems to reset it on occasion. Ubuntu, you have to install the X screensaver, and change some settings... Mac, not even sure anymore.

I always liked the screensavers, and still do. I use a gaming-friendly 4K TV for my PC monitor at home, and without the screensaver, it shuts off, and doesn't come back on, without the remote.

Oh man, these were cash cows. $24.99 for the one my company did, it came on three floppy disks. But, if you had our games installed, it would use their art resources for more screensavers!


I was one of those that never got it. Never wanted stuff on my screen 'after dark'. Never saw the point of 'saving the screen' by using it? Totally baffled by the entire culture.

I used Afrer Dark as well but prefered Johnny on his desert island :-)

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