Unproductive But Cool

Three Apps To Pass The Time With

First Published: Computer Power User
Date Published: January 2004
By Kevin Savetz
SereneScreen Marine Aquarium 2.0
Prolific Publishing
4 CPUs

EarthView 2.0 
4 CPUs

Cosmic Scenes 2.0 
3 CPUs

When I was asked to review three nonproductivity applications, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. As a work-at-home writer with no boss looking over my shoulder, not being productive is my specialty. Getting paid to not be productive is like a dream. True to the promise, these three applications--EarthView 2.0, SereneScreen Marine Aquarium 2.0, and Cosmic Scenes 2.0--aren't exactly constructive uses of your time, but they are entertaining.

When you're supposed to be working at the computer, nothing is less productive than not actually touching it. That's why screen savers are fun. In the classic screen saver tradition, SereneScreen Marine Aquarium 2.0 displays a virtual saltwater aquarium. Fish swim idly by above a gravelly seabed and around assorted coral. Bubbles rise from the tank's bottom. Light filters in from above. A sea star creeps up the monitor glass. So-o-o soothing.

A screen saver such as this lives and dies by the graphics. The underwater scene is realistic and vibrant, with fish that move believably, swimming in all directions, including toward you and around and behind obstacles. The experience isn't completely passive. If you wrest yourself from the effects of a fish-induced stupor, you can turn the aquarium lights on and off, view frames per second stats, and switch to Wire Frame mode. There are 26 species of beautifully rendered fishes, which you can choose or let the program pick at random. In addition to Windows, Mac OS 9 and X versions are available.

If you enjoy more of a macro view when gazing at the goings-on upon your home planet, EarthView 2.0 does the trick. The program displays pleasant views (that update every few minutes) of Earth as Desktop wallpaper when you're working. When you're away from the PC, it's a screen saver. In both modes, the app can display Earth as a map or globe with a bevy of options for tuning the look of the image. You can see Earth as viewed from the sun or follow a camera path that you specify. You can also choose among Photographic, Scientific, and Artistic maps.

Nothing makes a useless program quite as fun as amazing amounts of accuracy. You might expect EarthView to show the current areas of day and night on the map, which it does, but it also provides current, accurate cloud-cover images, optional highlighting of cities (more than 3,000) you choose, and city lights for urban areas at night. The program supports multiple monitors and any resolution you can throw at it.

So the globe spins slowly, day turns to night, and the clouds change from time to time. EarthView is a pleasant and slow-moving program.

If you enjoy even more of a macro view of the universe, try Cosmic Scenes. It's a Desktop wallpaper generator that creates, well, cosmic scenes. (Sorry, as long as I'm working this hard at not being productive, I'm certainly not going to reach for a thesaurus.) Every space image it creates is unique, looking like something that belongs on the cover of a sci-fi novel or the backdrop of a "Star Trek" movie.

A few sliders and buttons let you take the cosmos into your own hands. You can adjust the number of stars, suns, and nebulae that appear in each fractal-generated image; tune colors; and select a solar flare effect. You can also set the app to change the background image once a day or as often as every 15 minutes. A companion program, Cosmic Voyage ($14.95), serves up similar cosmic views in a 3D screen saver.

All three programs work with Windows 95 through XP and have free trial versions available for download. None will help you to get any work done, however, which, of course, is exactly the point.

Perhaps the best thing about these programs is that when you are hard at work in a word processor, spreadsheet, or email client, you know that part of you is still goofing off.

Reprinted with permission from Computer Power User magazine.

Articles by Kevin Savetz