Remembering Clarus, the Dogcow

WC has been neglecting his technogeekery again. It’s making a few of his readers cranky. WC will try to make amends with the story of Clarus, the Dogcow. Because it doesn’t get much more geeky than a Dogcow.

The Dogcow had its origins in the original Macintosh computer. Susan Kare was hired by the Macintosh team to do the system graphics. More or less on her own, she created the Cairo font, one of the original system fonts.

Original Cairo Font, designed by Susan Kare

Original Cairo Font, designed by Susan Kare

There, at the left end of the second row was the prototypical Dogcow. It might have ended there, but in Mac OS 3, the Apple programmers added the LaserWriter, and needed a way to demonstrate portrait versus landscape orientation for the new, Postscript-driven printer.[^1] The Dogcow to the rescue.

Laserwriter Page Setup Dialog, with the re-drawn Dogcow

Laserwriter Page Setup Dialog, with the re-drawn Dogcow

The Dogcow was the only Mac icon to have an entire Technical Note written about it, Tech Note 31. The icon was more or less adopted by the seriously geeky Developer Technical Support crew at Apple as its unofficial mascot. They even gave the Dogcow a name, “Clarus,” a bad play on Apple’s newly created software subsidiary, Claris Corporation.

At the 1988 Worldwide Developers Conference, developers handed out dogcow buttons in the debugging lab. Recipients responded so favorably that, somehow, even John Sculley (Apple CEO at the time) showed up for his keynote speech wearing one. From there it was t-shirts, bumper stickers and a place of honor on the quarterly developer support CDs.

Now a valuable collector's item

Now a valuable collector’s item

Clarus even made it into the infamous New Hacker’s Dictionary, a vast compendium of ancient and new hacker jargon.[^2]

Apple is terribly serious now, and most traces of Clarus have been expunged, but a few references to the Dogcow still lurk in nooks and crannies, known to the cognescenti. Even in the manual for Apple’s new programming language, Swift, you can find a few references:

Naming Constants and Variables

Constant and variable names can contain almost any character, including Unicode characters:

let π = 3.14159
let 你好 = "你好世界"
let 🐶🐮 = "dogcow"

According to the New Hacker’s Dictionary, Clarus’s call, Moof, has evolved three distinct definitions:

1. n. The call of a semi-legendary creature, properly called the dogcow. (Some previous versions of this entry claimed, incorrectly, that Moof was the name of the creature.) 2. adj. Used to flag software that’s a hack, something untested and on the edge. On one Apple CD-ROM, certain folders such as “Tools & Apps (Moof!)” and “Development Platforms (Moof!)”, are so marked to indicate that they contain software not fully tested or sanctioned by the powers that be. When you open these folders you cross the boundary into hackerland. 3. v. On the Microsoft Network, the term `moof’ has gained popularity as a verb meaning `to be suddenly disconnected by the system’. One might say “I got moofed”.

And so the Dogcow and her call live on. You can even buy a Dogcow coffee mug from Cafe Press. It just doesn’t get much more geeky than that.

[^1]:Secret hacker’s Easter Egg: In the LasterWriter Page Setup dialog in Mac OS 6 and 7, if you click on Clarus while holding down the Shift and Option keys, Clarus would say “Moof.” It’s unlikely John Sculley knew about this.

[^2]:And a very serious time suck. You have been warned.