Written in 1996.

My Bit Jugglers fiasco

Once, I saw this bit on a Candid Camera-type show where a guy dressed like a bum was trying to give people twenty dollar bills. Nobody would go near him. That's how I felt with this one...

And then, nearly three years later, the demo itself.

(dates on this page are 1995 unless otherwise noted)

The Story

So a company called Bit Jugglers had this really neat screen saver for the Mac called UnderWare. One of its main features was that it could run any screen saver in the background, replacing your desktop pattern. This included any After Dark modules.

The other really neato feature was that some of its "screen savers" (usually called "desktop animations") didn't blank your screen--they left all your icons and windows on your screen, and the savers interacted with them:

That kinda stuff. I loved it.

So much so, in fact, that I came up with a bunch of ideas for new modules. I got an email address for Bit Jugglers (on AOL...oh, that's classy), and sent them mail around August 11. The guy who replied, Andy Stocker, said he'd love to hear any ideas I had, and he'd pass them on to the artists and programmers. I said great, and came up with a bunch of ideas.

However, I came up with this really killer idea, and I didn't think simply describing it would do it justice. As I had Director, I thought it'd be much cooler if I could animate it, and show how it would interact with items on the screen. Andy sounded interested, so I got working on it.

A few weeks later, I got back to him and told him I'm done. He says he's talked to his boss, and his boss has said that he can't accept user submissions without a signed release form. I imagined this was because they want to be sure I didn't come back in a few years and try to sue for $6.2 million, or something. But I say this is fine. I wasn't looking for money. I just wanted to be a part of something I thought was really cool. I sent him my address. That was October 6.

November 1 I mailed him back, because I hadn't received anything yet. November 2 he replied, saying that his boss didn't want him to accept submissions without a release, and nobody in their legal department is interested enough to write up a release. (Wish he had told me that a few weeks earlier. Or before I even bothered.)

So I'm fairly steamed now, because I'd spent maybe a total of 30 hours on this demo, and now nobody wants to even look at it. Bleh. On top of that, Andy, who apparently was the only Bit Jugglers employee with an Internet address, had decided that that's the end of it.

Well, hurt me, piss me off, but don't ignore me. I decided to start a one-man letter writing campaign, to find out why the hell I couldn't give them something for free.

The Letter

So I opened up the docs for UnderWare, wrote down the names of all the people in the credits, and sent them the following:

Various people, c/o
Bit Jugglers, Inc.
785 Castro Street, Suite C
Mountain View, CA 94041

Dear whomever (yes, this is a form letter, sorry): I'm trying to give your company something for free, and you won't let me. This letter has been sent to every person listed in the credits for UnderWare, because I don't know who exactly should get it. I've mailed each letter in a different type of envelope, since a load of identical envelopes showing up at the same time might be ignored as junk mail. If this letter doesn't apply to you at all, sorry. Instructions for folding the letter into a flying helicopter will be provided, so it won't be a total loss.

Anyway, I really, really like UnderWare. So much so, in fact, that I came up with a number of ideas for new modules. So I call the phone number listed in the UnderWare manual, and I ask the person, is there an Email address to which I can send ideas or comments? The person says, yes, jugglertec@aol.com. I say fine, and send email explaining that I have some ideas I'd like to offer.

I get in an email conversation with Andy, who I presume to be Andy Stocker, since that's the only "Andy" listed in the UnderWare credits. I gave him a list of ideas, some of which he really liked, and he said he'd pass them on to the artists. Cool. At this point I feel good for contributing something to a software product I like. Here's where the apparent trouble starts: I get this really good idea, but I don't think just describing it will do justice. I have Director 4.0, so I decide to animate my idea and send a Director movie, so your people could see what I was thinking. Andy says that's a good idea, so I get working on it.

(And don't blame Andy for this, incidentally. I don't see why this is such a problem, and I don't think any otherwise rational person would either. Andy was just showing some common sense, as far as I could see.)

So three or four weeks later, after maybe 30 or so total hours of drawing, animating, and programming, I have a self-contained demo ready to double-click and run. I send Andy mail saying so. I wait for a response, and wait...I send him another message. On 2 Nov, he writes back, apologetically:

I asked around, and it looks like we've run into a catch-22 situation here. My boss is insistent that we not solicit user submissions without a release, and no one can interest the legal department in drafting such a release.

I had no idea this process would be such a big deal when we first exchanged email, but now I've learned my lesson.

So the way it looks is that I can't ask for any submissions, which is a disappointment for me. Thanks for your effort and enthusiasm. I apologize if you are as frustrated as I with this.

Well yes, I am frustrated! I never had so much trouble trying to give someone something for free. In fact, here's the mail I wrote back to him:

Well that really sucks. I spent many hours working on this demo...I'd be willing to write letters to people, if you think it'd help.

Or even if you don't, come to think of it. I'm going to start writing letters anyway. I'd appreciate it if you could give me some names, but if not, I'll just fly blind until I get it.

This is a real shame. I really like your screen saver, and from the blurb Guy Kawasaki (supposedly) wrote in the front of the UnderWare docs, I was under the impression that your company didn't have its collective buttcheeks clenched to 150 psi.

...which is where I stand now. As of 14 Nov, Andy hasn't replied to me, which is fine, since he probably doesn't want to get involved anymore. I don't blame him. It sounds like people there may be uptight enough to cause him difficulty for this, what with him using common sense, and all. So here's the deal: I want to give you this idea I have. and I don't want a dime for it. I will <1>never want a dime for it. As I told Andy, I'm willing to sign a You're Less Than The Dirt Under A Sewage Pit release, if necessary. I just like your product, and I'd be happy to have the opportunity to contribute something to it. The one thing I would like, maybe, is a credit in the manual somewhere, just so I can show my friends. That would be my total recompense, now and forever, for the sum total of any intelletual property given to your persons by my person. Or something else legalish. I'm sure your bevy of lawyers could come up with something.

I have the demo here, on disk. I think it's around 5 megs long or so. It all compresses neatly onto one disk, which I would gladly send to you, if I had any faith that it'd at least be looked at and considered. Hell, I won't even ask for the disk back. And yes, I understand that just because I send you an idea doesn't mean you'll use it. I'd just like it to be considered.

So what do you say? Can I send it? Will you look at it? Did I do all this free work for you for nothing?

The Paper Helicopter

I drew this up and included it with the letters.


Oops. Made some mistakes. Thought it'd be cool to send an Errata page. I mailed this separately a few days later:


Page 2: In the sentence, "...the sum total of any intelletual property given to your persons...", "intellectual" is misspelled.
Page 4: In Step Three, the bottom folded tab in the diagram should be shaded.
Page 4: The legends for "fold" and "cut" are reversed. The solid line indicates a cut; the dashed line indicates a fold.
We cannot be held responsible due to printer's error for poorly constructed, incorrectly constructed, or erroneously designed paper helicopters, nor can we be held responsible due to printer's error for harm, damages, personal injury, loss, mental anguish, or liability due to the creation of poorly constructed, incorrectly constructed, or erroneously designed paper helicopters.

The Result

November 16: Sent the letters.
November 23: No reply yet.
December 19: Tired of waiting. Called Bit Jugglers at the number provided in their documentation. Decided to ask for Eric Calande, since he's listed as doing most of the artwork, and I figure he'd probably be most open to discussion. Knew I should have recorded this conversation. Anyway, it went roughly like this: Eric was surprised nobody had gotten back to me yet. He thought tech support (Andy) was going to do so, but he hadn't really heard. Also, Eric told me he didn't hear about this until he had received my package.
paranoia interlude: hmmm, andy said he was going to talk to the artists about my previous ideas, but eric, the main artist, never heard of me before my letter? hmmm...
Eric said he had no idea why I received no reply. He wondered if maybe Andy was told not to talk to me. He asked me what all happened, and I went through the whole explanation again; he asked me if I had any artistic background, and I said no, not really. Although it's tearing me up inside wondering why he asked me that, and what I should have said. Anyway, I'll be sending a letter to Andy tomorrow. (Oh, incidentally, Eric told me that Andy's boss is Chris Calande, which means I did send the message to the appropriate person.)
December 20: Sent Andy mail. I think it said "Hello!..llo!..o! Anyone there?"
December 29: Got a response from Chris Calande, Andy's boss. Whoa.

Dear Greg,

First let me start by apologizing for taking so long to get back to you. We
are a small company and we do our best to respond to all of our customers as
quickly as we can. In your case its taken us much longer than usual because
you wanted to submit 'software' to us. The reason I say software is because
your submission is in the form of a MacroMind director file, which many
commercial products are now built on. If you would've emailed your suggestion
to Andy, or posted it in our Forum on America Online then we would've been
able to respond to it immediately.  But since the submission was to be in the
form of a MacroMind file it had to be treated as software.  Unfortunately we
don't have a standard software submission agreement yet, but because of your
creative campaign we have enlisted the services of our lawyers to draft such
a form for us.  When the agreement is finished I will send it to you. At that
time you can fill out the agreement and submission form and then send in the
software concept with it.  Just to warn you ahead of time, it will probably
take us at least a month to evaluate your submission. 

Thanks for your patience with all this! I look forward to (finally) seeing
your idea.

Chris Calande
Bit Jugglers, Inc.

So, cool! The creative bombardment worked. Let That Be A Lesson To All. I would've liked if they used my idea, but at this point I didn't care anymore, really.

The anti-climax

And, it's good that I didn't. Here's the mail I got back from Andy, finally:

I loved the Chaos demo. It isn't going to be in UnderWare, but it's good
enough to stand on its own. Why not let people download it from Spinnwebe? As
you've pointed out before, a text description of the file just doesn't cut
it... It must be seen and heard to be probably appreciated. :)


I didn't have the demo online for a while because of what I perceived as legal problems, but it's here now. Whoohoo.