Where did the screen savers go?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In this time of laptops and iPads I guess they just are not nessicary most of the time. I say most of the time, because ever since I have worked in an office I feel like I have needed a nice screen saver. My habbit when I get up from my desk is to lock my Mac behind a password protected screen saver.

What makes a good screen saver?

Some might say a clock. Those people are dead wrong. I feel that in an office space a big giant clock on your screen is just a way to make everyone anxious. Will I make my meeting? Am I going to miss the bus going home? No clocks, not even the beautiful Fliqlo. I forbid you.

Others might use a standard OS X screen saver like Flurry, Word of the Day, or the flashing text with the Apple logo. They all look dated or like you are advocating drug use. I think you can do better.

I do think the iTunes Album Art screen saver is a good idea of a screen saver, but the problem is people can start playing podcasts, audiobooks, or albums on your computer while you are away. That seems like a bad idea to me. Because of this, there is an exit button so you have to click out of it. That’s not a screen saver, that is a full screen app.

Which leads me to my suggestion for good screen savers…

Social Experiments

A few weeks ago on Back to Work, Merlin Mann put a link in the show notes to Achiever, a simple screen saver that turns your Mac in to the Time Magazine mirror from The Big Lebowski. People in my office would come by my desk while I was away and take photos of themselves in front of my computer.

Achiever was made using Apple’s Quartz Composer. Quartz Composer is Apple’s hidden little gem of a tool. Anyone can easily drag and drop their own screens saver using it. So that got me thinking, what other ways could I build a subtle provoking screen saver?

Meet the Detector patch in Quartz Composer. Detector allows you to track heads in a visual input, like a photo or a video camera. Connect this to the camera on your computer and now you are replacing the faces of people who are standing in front of your desk. I made a screen saver that put characters from Bob’s Burgers and Adventure Time over the faces of people around my desk. Passive interaction for the curious people in my office, check.

The Swan Station Experiment

There was an experiment that the Dharma Initiative tried on people at The Swan Station on the television show LOST. A mysterious countdown clock hung high on the wall and would countdown from 108 minutes. People in the station had only one job to do: press a button every 108 minutes or something bad would supposedly happen. An alarm would sound when time started to run out, and then mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphics would replace the numbers on the clock.

This is my latest experiment. A clock that counts down from 108 minutes, turns red at the five minute mark, and then… well, hopefully we will never find out what happens.

It’s a subtle experiment that could get the office security team interested in what is going on, but I am never away from my computer for almost two hours. I imagine people who get the reference get a kick out of it, others probably just assume it is a broken clock.

Now what? I have no idea. The clock from LOST was a big project, but the payoff was worth it. I might build something using an API from a social network or transportation service. Or I could build something else fun and irrelevant.