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The origin story of the Windows 3D Pipes screen saver

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Gizmodo calls it “the best screensaver of all time.” They’re referring to the Windows 3D Pipes screensaver, a mesmerizing network of pipes constructed in 3D before your very eyes. How did this iconic screen saver come to be?

One of my old friends told me how he got 3D Pipes added to Windows.

At the time, he was on the Windows OpenGL team. They had successfully implemented the API with hardware acceleration, but had nothing to show it off. Windows NT 3.5 was very close to shipping with OpenGL support, but there was nothing in the product that let the user know that this feature even existed. He had to find a way to advertise the feature without risking product stability.

That’s when it occurred to him to use a screen saver. This provided a point of visibility to the user, and it was relatively low risk, because if there was a problem, they could just tell users, “Sorry, don’t use that screen saver.” (This was in the days before widespread Internet access, and long before it became commonplace for operating systems to auto-update.)

He announced a team-wide screen saver writing contest: Build your best screen saver, and the one that gets the most votes will be added to Windows NT.

The Windows OpenGL team took the contest to heart, and it wasn’t long before they had written 3D Text, 3D Maze, 3D Flying Objects, and, of course, 3D Pipes. He sent email to the entire Windows NT development team with instructions on how to install these new screen savers and where to send in their votes.

By a stroke of luck, one of the people to see these new screen savers was a member of the marketing team who tried them out the night before an already-scheduled visit in New York City with a major computer industry magazine. He loved them and wrote back, “You can call off the vote. We’re adding all of them to the product!”

And with that one piece of email, 3D Pipes and all the other 3D screen savers got added to Windows.

As the Gizmodo article notes, you can now run a reconstruction of the 3D Pipes screen saver right in your Web browser. Enjoy the nostalgia.

The post The origin story of the Windows 3D Pipes screen saver appeared first on The Old New Thing.

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LeMadChef
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The first Donald Duck short in 60 years shouldn’t be the last

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Donald Duck tries to pull the chain of a lamp that won’t go on in DIY Duck short
Image: Walt Disney Animation

DIY Duck throws back to a classic Disney tradition that deserves to continue

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Some company heads hoped return-to-office mandates would make people quit, survey says

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Man and woman talking at an office water cooler

Enlarge / RTO mandates can boost workers' professional networks, but in-office employees may also spend more time socializing than remote ones. (credit: Getty)

A new survey suggests that some US companies implemented return-to-office (RTO) policies in the hopes of getting workers to quit. And despite the belief that such policies could boost productivity compared to letting employees work from home, the survey from HR software provider BambooHR points to remote and in-office employees spending an equal amount of time working.

BambooHR surveyed 1,504 full-time US employees, including 504 human resources (HR) workers who are a manager or higher, from March 9 to March 22. According to the firm, the sample group used for its report "The New Surveillance Era: Visibility Beats Productivity for RTO & Remote" is equally split across genders and includes "a spread of age groups, race groups, and geographies." Method Research, the research arm of technology PR and marketing firm Method, prepared the survey, and data collection firm Rep Data distributed it.

Trying to make people quit

Among those surveyed, 52 percent said they prefer working remotely compared to 39 percent who prefer working in an office.

Despite an apparently large interest in remote work, numerous companies made workers return to the office after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted. The report suggests that in at least some cases, this was done to get workers to quit:

Nearly two in five (37 percent) managers, directors, and executives believe their organization enacted layoffs in the last year because fewer employees than they expected quit during their RTO. And their beliefs are well-founded: One in four (25 percent) VP and C-suite executives and one in five (18 percent) HR pros admit they hoped for some voluntary turnover during an RTO.

It's hard to get a firm understanding of the effectiveness of RTO policies, as 22 percent of HR professionals surveyed said that their company has no metrics for measuring a successful RTO. The report points to a "disconnect between stated goals for RTO and actually measuring the success of those goals."

The report also found that 28 percent of remote workers fear they will be laid off before those working in the office. While BambooHR's report doesn't comment on this, some firms have discouraged employees from working remotely. Dell, for example, told remote workers that they can't be promoted.

"By using RTO mandates as a workforce reduction tactic, companies are losing talent and morale among their employees," BambooHR's report says. The report notes that 45 percent of people surveyed whose companies have RTO policies said they lost valued workers. The finding is similar to that of a May study of Apple, Microsoft, and SpaceX that suggested that RTO mandates drove senior talent away.

In BambooHR's survey, 28 percent said they would consider leaving their jobs if their employer enacted an RTO mandate.

Productivity

A frequently cited reason for in-office mandates is to drive teamwork, collaboration, and productivity. BambooHR's data, however, doesn't support the idea of RTO mandates driving productivity.

According to the report, regardless of whether they're working in their home or in an office, employees work for 76 percent of a 9-to-5 shift. The report adds:

When it comes to who’s more productive overall, in-office workers spend around one hour more socializing than their remote counterparts, while remote workers spend that time on work-related tasks and responsibilities.

Despite this, 32 percent of managers said that one of the main goals of their firm implementing an in-office policy was to track employee working habits, with some companies tracking VPN usage and company badge swipes to ensure employees are coming into the office as expected.

RTO works for some

Although the majority of people surveyed prefer working from home, the survey also highlighted some perceived benefits of working in the office. For example, 48 percent of the people surveyed said "their work results have improved" since returning to the office, per the report. And 58 percent said they have a "stronger professional network" since going back, BambooHR reported.

Preferences for working from home or in an office can vary by various factors, like age. This points to the benefits of building RTO strategies around worker feedback and needs.

"The mental and emotional burdens workers face today are real, and the companies who seek employee feedback with the intent to listen and improve are the ones who will win employee loyalty and ultimately customer satisfaction," Anita Grantham, head of HR at BambooHR, said in a statement.

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New Stable Diffusion 3 release excels at AI-generated body horror

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An AI-generated image created using Stable Diffusion 3 of a girl lying in the grass.

Enlarge / An AI-generated image created using Stable Diffusion 3 of a girl lying in the grass. (credit: HorneyMetalBeing)

On Wednesday, Stability AI released weights for Stable Diffusion 3 Medium, an AI image-synthesis model that turns text prompts into AI-generated images. Its arrival has been ridiculed online, however, because it generates images of humans in a way that seems like a step backward from other state-of-the-art image-synthesis models like Midjourney or DALL-E 3. As a result, it can churn out wild anatomically incorrect visual abominations with ease.

A thread on Reddit, titled, "Is this release supposed to be a joke? [SD3-2B]," details the spectacular failures of SD3 Medium at rendering humans, especially human limbs like hands and feet. Another thread, titled, "Why is SD3 so bad at generating girls lying on the grass?" shows similar issues, but for entire human bodies.

Hands have traditionally been a challenge for AI image generators due to lack of good examples in early training data sets, but more recently, several image-synthesis models seemed to have overcome the issue. In that sense, SD3 appears to be a huge step backward for the image-synthesis enthusiasts that gather on Reddit—especially compared to recent Stability releases like SD XL Turbo in November.

"It wasn't too long ago that StableDiffusion was competing with Midjourney, now it just looks like a joke in comparison. At least our datasets are safe and ethical!" wrote one Reddit user.

AI image fans are so far blaming the Stable Diffusion 3's anatomy failures on Stability's insistence on filtering out adult content (often called "NSFW" content) from the SD3 training data that teaches the model how to generate images. "Believe it or not, heavily censoring a model also gets rid of human anatomy, so... that's what happened," wrote one Reddit user in the thread.

Basically, any time a user prompt homes in on a concept that isn't represented well in the AI model's training dataset, the image-synthesis model will confabulate its best interpretation of what the user is asking for. And sometimes that can be completely terrifying.

The release of Stable Diffusion 2.0 in 2022 suffered from similar problems in depicting humans well, and AI researchers soon discovered that censoring adult content that contains nudity could severely hamper an AI model's ability to generate accurate human anatomy. At the time, Stability AI reversed course with SD 2.1 and SD XL, regaining some abilities lost by strongly filtering NSFW content.

Another issue that can occur during model pre-training is that sometimes the NSFW filter researchers use to remove adult images from the dataset is too picky, accidentally removing images that might not be offensive and depriving the model of depictions of humans in certain situations. "[SD3] works fine as long as there are no humans in the picture, I think their improved nsfw filter for filtering training data decided anything humanoid is nsfw," wrote one Redditor on the topic.

Using a free online demo of SD3 on Hugging Face, we ran prompts and saw similar results to those being reported by others. For example, the prompt "a man showing his hands" returned an image of a man holding up two giant-sized backward hands, although each hand at least had five fingers.

Stability's troubles run deep

Stability announced Stable Diffusion 3 in February, and the company has planned to make it available in various model sizes. Today's release is for the "Medium" version, which is a 2 billion-parameter model. In addition to the weights being available on Hugging Face, they are also available for experimentation through the company's Stability Platform. The weights are available for download and use for free under a non-commercial license only.

Soon after its February announcement, delays in releasing the SD3 model weights inspired rumors that the release was being held back due to technical issues or mismanagement. Stability AI as a company fell into a tailspin recently with the resignation of its founder and CEO, Emad Mostaque, in March and then a series of layoffs. Just prior to that, three key engineers—Robin Rombach, Andreas Blattmann, and Dominik Lorenz—left the company. And its troubles go back even further, with news of the company's dire financial position lingering since 2023.

To some Stable Diffusion fans, the failures with Stable Diffusion 3 Medium are a visual manifestation of the company's mismanagement—and an obvious sign of things falling apart. Although the company has not filed for bankruptcy, some users made dark jokes about the possibility after seeing SD3 Medium:

"I guess now they can go bankrupt in a safe and ethically [sic] way, after all."

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LeMadChef
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Sony buys Alamo Drafthouse theaters with an eye on bolstering Crunchyroll

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The front of an Alamo Drafthouse in Crystal City, in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Bryce Bernier

But don’t expect many changes yet

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Mark my words. Nothing good will come of this.
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Buy This $85,000 Ford Maverick And Bring Minitrucking Back To Life

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Minitrucking was a big deal back in the era when people were saying “whack,” “yo diggity,” and “tubular.” It died off for a while there, as the American obsession with full-size “work trucks” grew out of control. The Ford Maverick could be bringing it back, though, and this SEMA build is very much in that vein. Even better, it could be yours!

Yes, this 2022 Ford Maverick is listed on Facebook Marketplace all the way down in Austin, Texas. The vehicle has a laundry list of sponsors, including Saleen Performance Parts, JBL Audio, Toyo Tires, and 3D Carbon. The truck is finished in eye-catching Calypso Green, with vinyl graphics and splashes of hot pink taking things deliciously over the edge.

Basically, if you were going to put a Maverick in a Fast and the Furious film, this wouldn’t be a bad start.

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Body mods are sporty without being overdone. It gets a tight front air dam, along with side skirts and a sweet ducktail bed spoiler. The pink lipstick on the grill is a touch while the fender vents and flares add to the stance. Tucked under the guards are 22-inch TSW Daytona wheels wearing Toyo Proxes STIII tires.

As with any good SEMA build—or minitruck—the Maverick also boasts height-adjustable air bag suspension and a “wake tower.” Basically, it’s a big rollbar you can raise up with a button that has a bunch of JBL speakers on it.

The build was the work of Leif Johnson Ford, which took it upon itself to modify the Maverick for the 2022 SEMA show. It was the dealership’s first attempt at such a build, as per their YouTube channel. The team behind the build actually designed their own bodykit from scratch—no surprise, given the Maverick was brand new for 2022.

It appears the dealership is now done with this show pony, so what will it cost you? Well, they’re asking a hefty $85,000. One suspects they haven’t had a lot of inquiries at that price level, given the ad has been up for 7 weeks at the time of writing.

It is a very cool Ford Maverick, that much is certain. Is it worth a great multiple of the original purchase price? That’s harder to argue.

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The “wake tower” has JBL marine speakers to bring the tunes.

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Not exactly an $85,000 interior.

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Still, it’s rad to see the minitrucking spirit alive with great builds like these. If you decide to pursue something similar yourself, be sure to let us know.

Image credits: Facebook Marketplace; Leif Johnson Ford

The post Buy This $85,000 Ford Maverick And Bring Minitrucking Back To Life appeared first on The Autopian.

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