What’s on your desktop?

Female Science Professor is polling her readers on what’s on their computer desktop. It’s not a weird question pulled out of thin air: she noted that male professors may be more comfortable showing pictures of their families than females, who have to be more sensitive to the stereotypes.

It’s not a scientific poll in any sense of the word, but just out of curiousity, let’s see what emerges.

My answer was “Other.” My desktop image right now is of a hypothetical cephalopod-like alien swimming in a methane sea beneath an orange-red sky. What would fit her hypothesis, though, is that my desk has a keyboard drawer that I don’t use (my office computer is my laptop), and that’s filled to overflowing with…pictures of my family.


  1. Jon H says

    “My desktop image right now is of a hypothetical cephalopod-like alien swimming in a methane sea beneath an orange-red sky. ”

    That’s family, right?

  2. says

    My desktop is a picture of a Portugese port with a shipping boat sinking in it. But I have pictures of my kids taped all around my monitor. That said, I am not a professor. Just a lowly CS graduate working as a systems administrator.

  3. says

    I have a photo of a sun bear resting on her back after her pregnancy test, with a large shaved patch on her belly, since ultrasound doesn’t work through fur.

    In other words, family.

  4. Bryson Brown says

    Two Dilong paradoxus– early tyranosaurids, from a National Geographic piece in 2005. Recently I’ve tried to find a new image to replace them, but I haven’t found anything quite as nice.

  5. ERIC JUVE says

    What I have are dual 19″ monitors with 122 icons organized by function on a plain light blue background for efficiency. To keep windoze from messing up the desktop, I have a utility that restores the icons to their locations after Bill moves them around for me. I also exported approximately the same layout to home (hobby applications instead of work applications). My real desktop uses a system of piling, only enough open space for a coffe cup.

  6. says

    Hmm. Guess I bolster the stereotype :^(

    Until the last few days, my desktop was a Hubble image of the Great Nebula in Orion.

    I just changed it to a stunning B/W image of an expanding bubble nebula in Cassiopia.

    On my home computer, I generally have one of the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken of my cats since I adopted them 2 1/2 years ago. That’s family, right? So maybe I’m *not* so stereotypical ;^)

    Lynn (who is female)

  7. theophylact says

    Other. My wallpaper is an Enki Bilal picture, from some bande dessinée I’ve never read; my screensaver is currently a slide show of miscellaneous art from Van Eyck to Joseph Cornell

  8. Steviepinhead says

    A beautifully-detailed rock-snow-and-sun photo by a climbing friend of the view looking SW toward Mt. Rainier from atop Dragontail Peak in the Washington Cascades (more specifically, in the awesome Enchantments region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, near Leavenworth, WA).

  9. redstripe says

    On my computer desktop: this beautiful picture of a crab.

    On my actual desktop: an Ott-Light, several stacks of papers, and a few books.

    However, on my credenza I have a picture of my wife and me (next to the Dallas Stars season schedule).

    (male, 28, lawyer–do I fit the stereotype?)

  10. David says

    I rotate mine fairly frequently. At the moment there is a big bumble bee with the fattest leg full of pollen I ever managed to caputure on film. 90% of mine are my own photos, the other 10% come from the web, with PZ cephs being about half of those…

  11. Willy says

    Nature scene (Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park)…can’t see it well because of all the freakin’ icons that litter the screen.

    If that isn’t a metaphor for my life: A goal and lots of stuff in the way.

  12. Mark says

    Mine has to be ‘other’, too. My desktop pictures rotate at 5-min intervals through quite a few, which include Alaska, wife, dog, planets, and star fields.

  13. says

    Usually my own travel photos, mixed up with random cool stuff.
    At the moment one has a picture of all the gang from ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’…they seem like family.
    The other computer has a drawing from the BBC site with Daleks and Cybermen blowing things up. Again they seem like family.

  14. quork says

    My desktop has a photo I took of a flaming dragon.

    On the topic of avoiding stereotyping, my lab has a grad student who has her subscription to a fashion magazine delivered to the lab address. I have considered whether I should tell her this might not be projecting the proper professional image, or whether telling her so would be inappropriate.

  15. says

    i’ve got a photo of an Art Nouveaux decorative tile, tiled. i got it from a web site that sells these tiles, and this was one of the items the had for sale. it’s a nice jade green with an emerald and amber center piece.

    before that, a dinosaur

  16. Billy says

    It’s not Kali, but it’s close. I have an image from the cover of the first edition of Ranganthan’s “Five laws of library science”:

    Have a cow, man.

    On my physical desktop is a picture of my son. (For the stats, I’m a male.)

  17. says

    I’ve got microsoft light blue on my laptop (more commonly used) and on my desktop. Not much point in changing it, seeing that the screens only display Firefox windows and either Civilization 4 or ArcGIS, respectively.

  18. Mike says

    I have a pic I took during a research trip to the Dry Tortugas. Beautiful sunset over the golf of Mexico.

    I use a laptop, so my physical desktop disappears when I stand up.

  19. says

    The computer at home had a nice image of Saturn, its rings, and two moons. The computer at school had a nice simple display of some conic graphs. Now, however, it has an image of my fort made out of calculus books. My students seem to like it, but they get funny expressions on their faces when they tell me how cool it is.

  20. says

    I have Kronos & Kang from the Simpson

    Kodos. At least that’s what it says on the bumpersticker from 1996, when they took on the personas of Clinton and Dole in order to conquer the earth.

    No doubt we’d be better off with them in charge today.

  21. Kagehi says

    Sigh.. Its so obvious I guess that I am not a scientist, but just a geek. Mine is a semi-nude female version of a Final Fantasy Samurai… lol Though, if it was in an office, I guess I would have to pick something less likely to get me attacked for being human (sorry.. meant sexist. Got to use the right terms or the thought police will really start to watch me…) lol

  22. CCP says

    those turtles–one playing a banjo, one doing a Snoopy-like dance with tambourine–from the Dead’s Terrapin Station cover. I just wish the artist had gotten the plastral scutulation correct.

  23. Cat of Many Faces says

    My desktop is a field of sharp rib like stones with a dark castle on a mountain that has ripped itself free from the earth in the background.

    But i’m… special…

    Beautiful picture though.

  24. Azkyroth says

    On my home desktop, a picture of a 3D rendering of a volcanic landscape an acquaintance made in some 3D modeling software; supposed to be hell, but I just like lava. ^.^

    On my laptop, the “Vortec Space” background that came with the computer as a hand-me-down from my boss. Prior to that, generally windows default light blue, since my windows laptops had been failing every 2d6 months and often needing the damned hard drives replaced. As I wasn’t generally all that rough with them, I infer this to be an issue of inferior construction, but I doubt having Windows installed helped very much. It was rather surreal, checking the desktop background options and discovering that this particular computer actually came with one I could stand.

    On the CAD machine, a picture of Stonehenge.

  25. quork says

    I have a pic I took during a research trip to the Dry Tortugas.

    Ouch. I had the Dry Tortugas once, after a weekend with a large volume of tequila.

  26. Diego says

    A photo I took of a local saltmarsh with lots of black needlerush. I rotate out my photos as desktops fairly frequently, and it’s about time to switch again. I think I’ll go with some kind of odonate next.

  27. Millimeter Wave says

    I have a picture of M27 (the dumbbell nebula) that I took last week. I change the wallpaper fairly regularly…

  28. says

    Calvin and Hobbes scene where they are reclining against a tree contemplating…something or nothing or anywhere in between.

  29. Man Called True says

    My desktop: an old Photoshop image of a yellow Warning sign, showing a car being attacked by bats. Written on the sign are the words “DANGER! This Is Bat Country”. It’s from Fark.com.

    I do not keep pictures of my family anywhere near my computer.

  30. says

    Hmmm… laptop at home has Dr Daniel Jackson; one work computer has Sailors Neptune and Uranus, one has the the rings cutting through a backlit Titan with Enceladus just nibbling at the edge of Titan and the rings cutting through the whole thing.

  31. says

    I don’t think male bookkeeper is classified as a male professor at all, but hey, why not answer anyway!

    I’ve currently got the Opus cartoon about life’s meaning that PZ mentioned a while ago, set against a black background. Before that, most of mine came from Visual Paradox, my favorites being space related, such as “Earth Rise” or “Sea of Tranquility”. Unfortunately, like Bronze Dog’s desktop, mine is rarely seen, as Firefox and Civ4 (amongst other diversions) also tend to take up my monitor’s real estate.

  32. RCP says

    I have an electron microscope photograph of some bacteriophages. I always thought they looked kinda cool.

  33. says

    Mine cycles between a photo of an annoyed goose craning its neck and hissing at the camera (a self-portrait, in a sense) and Joseph Gandy’s Pandemonium, or Part of the High Capital of Satan and His Peers.

  34. Richard Simons says

    A photo I took in England of a pond with lots of vegetation – it’s very restful and the icons show up well on it.

  35. says

    Usually, its something from Astronomy Picture of the Day. Lately, though, its a snapshot I took of the Lighthouse in Sandy Hook, NJ.

  36. Zil says

    I have cats.

    At work: kitty tearing into a stuffy toy of George W. Bush (all together now: Awwwww!)

    At home: rotating images of kitty showing off her belly. Pretty risque poses, which is why I keep it at home. ;)

  37. Marc Buhler says

    As three or four others have also indicated, my background images are from The Astronomy Picture of The Day site archive (over ten years of neat images).

    Since finding Astropix I’ve been swapping images a lot, from the little rover on Mars at the edge of the crater http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap061009.html to a barred spiral galaxy, a nebula or the one mentioned by Michael Hopkins above – Saturn from the far side with the sun behind it and a tiny Earth just beside the rings:

    I’ve made Astropix the homepage for my two boys (age 6 and 8) and they really have taken an interest in many of the images. It’s a shame the Human Genome Project can’t come up with images like this. (signed) marc

  38. wane bell says

    Huh, I guess I just blew the curve. Mine switches between pictures of my youngest children and my grandchildren.

    Maybe I need to get out more…..

  39. beccarii says

    My four computer desktops (yes, I’m enough of a nerd to have multiple computers) have: (1) part of the Lost World of Alabama (this is a set of dolomite glades in northern Alabama of extraordinary botanical uniqueness; the photo that I use is one of the glade that I personally refer to as Shangri-La; I refer to my other favorite glade as the High Temple); (2) Roraima Tepui; (3) Ptari Tepui; and (4) a group photo of my research students at a January get-together at my house. The Roraima wallpaper recently recently displaced a Hubble photo of the bizarre, unstable star Eta Carinae (the hard drive crashed, and I figured that I might as well move on to another photo – so many are wonder-inducing…).

    One of these days, photos of the utterly transfixing jellyfish Tiburonia granrojo will displace one of these…

    Google searches of the appropriate terms will pull up most of these photos, except for Shangri-La, which can be found at http://homepages.gac.edu/~bobrien/photos_per/Bibb-Glades/images/Shangri-La1-200.jpg

  40. ferfuracious says

    I too have a picture of our noodly father in heaven on my desktop. Surely he counts as family?

  41. Mike says

    I use X over the network more often than I actually sit at the machines I use, so I tend to have plain solid color backgrounds. At least until all of the routers and hubs between me and my machine get upgraded to gigabit.

    Pre 9/11 I flew all the time. Almost every day. My laptop wallpaper was a version of:

  42. Shawn S. says

    A recent composite picture of Saturn up close.

    Previously was a skyline of New York with the WTC bearing the words: “Imagine a World Without Religion.”

  43. Erin M says

    On my old work machine I used to pull pictures from APOD periodically. Nebulae and the like. Now I have pictures from my trip to Asia (with no people in them at all); China on my home machine, Korea on my work machine.

  44. aiabx says

    At work: an image I took of the Sagittarius Milky Way.
    At home: an image I took of the Cygnus Milky Way.
    Male. Family pics are hardcopies in frames.

  45. JustinK says

    Naked pictures (ie. drawings) of an attractive redhead from a Video game I play. What? I’m 27 and this is a home computer, cut me some slack. It’s not MY fault that my wife doesn’t get on my case about it. Actually she likes her as well, but that’s another issue. I’m pretty sure that 99% of guys would do the same if it weren’t for fear of very very bad consequences.

  46. kai says

    I have a desktop?
    Hide others
    Hide Safari
    Oh, it’s the default Aqua background.

    I think that if I need pictures of the kids to remember what they look like, I should spend more time with them…

  47. says

    Simone Martini’s annunciation on my office computer, Euphronios’ Death of Sarpedon on my home computer and Botticelli’s Mars and Venus on the twin side-by-side screens of our lab confocal microscope, because the proportions fit.

    When I checked FSP’s survey, men and women both polled 6% for photos of their children; obviously the only women who make it in science are the ones who think like men.

    Or maybe vice versa…

  48. Chris Harrod says

    Work – I _did_ have a picture of a sunken ship in Lisbon harbour, but now I’ve got a rather snazzy juxtaposition of a pigeon and a pelican combination… :o)

    Home – a rather nice shot of a parrotfish crapping out coral debris

    I’m a male fish biologist

  49. Azkyroth says

    Naked pictures (ie. drawings) of an attractive redhead from a Video game I play. What? I’m 27 and this is a home computer, cut me some slack. It’s not MY fault that my wife doesn’t get on my case about it. Actually she likes her as well, but that’s another issue. I’m pretty sure that 99% of guys would do the same if it weren’t for fear of very very bad consequences.

    I have no reason to expect anything worse than my wife rolling her eyes, my daughter ignoring it while banging excitedly on the keyboard, and my sister in law having a stroke one day when she realizes she’s been having her son sent to be babysat by a household that would leave such filth lying around where a child is more likely by a small margin to find it than to be kidnapped by aliens. That last would be bad, but as high-strung and oversensitive as she is, it’s only a matter of time…

  50. D. Sidhe says

    A close up of the ostracod Gigantocypris from The Blue Planet special on the one (which is very nearly my favorite science show, as well). The other computer has a Ray Troll painting, “Fish Worship: Is It Wrong?” They get changed pretty often, but it’s generally fishy. The third computer has an active desktop thingie that does a freshwater aquarium program called AquaGarden.

  51. says

    A photograph of my family (three generations: my parents, my siblings, and some of our children) in full highland regalia (my dad is a retired drum major and my mother and two sisters are drummers for the Mohawk Valley Frasiers bagpipe band here in upstate New York).

  52. Dale Austin says

    At work:
    Left hand (main) monitor-a continuous-casting line in a steel mill. Molten steel in one side of the machine, continuous 18-inch round billet out the other.
    Right hand monitor-a basilosaurus.
    Second and third machines-default aqua background.

    At home:
    A scene from Hitchhiker on one machine
    Default backgrounds on the other two.

  53. JW Tan says

    Chris Harrod said:

    “Home – a rather nice shot of a parrotfish crapping out coral debris”

    I wish I had one. I tried on my last scuba diving trip but no such luck.

    At work I have a picture of a blue-spotted stingray. At home, a shot of two clownfish, one attacking the camera.

  54. Kevin Klein says

    I have a photo of one of my hobby rockets in flight. By “hobby rocket” I mean a 10 foot tall, 6 inch diameter beast with a 4 foot blue flame coming out of the business end.

  55. Gray Lensman says

    I have a picture of my Kawasaki KLR650 motorcycle which I won’t be able to ride for 6 months because it’s 100 miles away and at 8400′ altitude in the mountains. It’s snowing there (Grand Lake CO) right now.

    If you ski, Colorado is getting lots of snow this week. Come rent some gravity! We can use the money.

  56. Frumious B says

    Interesting that she only asked about computer wallpaper. Most people who personalize their office also have physical photographs. I wonder if there would be a difference in responses if all photos were taken into account.

    My highly biased observations which apply only to the situations in which I have worked is that men with kids are more likely to see me as primarily human rather than primarily female. I attribute this to their having been married, ie, out of the dating market, for longer than men without kids. Note I said “more likely.” There are married men with kids who still see me as part of the dating pool and treat me accordingly and unmarried men who don’t. I have also learned that any married, American male who doesn’t have a picture of his wife in his office probably has a bad marriage.

    I have no pictures either on my computer or on my desk. I have no personal effects at all. Knickknacks just increase packing time when you get laid off.

  57. Pharmer says

    On the labtop at home: A picture of my wife and kid.
    On the computer at work: This cartoon of people with bad campfire/sit-in-a-circle coordination by Wulffmorgenthaler.

    I’m a male postdoc in pharmaceutics.

  58. Marine Geologist says

    I’ve got the Windows Stonehenge theme but I added the words “Give me that old time religion” to it.

  59. says

    I have a scene from Babylon 5 at present. Used to have Apple’s bundled dandelion. (Partially because I got the iBook shortly after watching Cosmos …) Unfortunately my image is rather obscured. I have a bad habit of pressing command-d and saving to the desktop (or dragging stuff there) because it is fast … (I’m male, and not a professor, for what that’s worth.)

  60. TheBlackCat says

    I put other. I have a program that automatically randomly selects one of my currently nearly 1650 wallpapers every 5 minutes. It is a pretty wide collection, including a number of simple ones I made myself. Category-wise, I have:

    -a couple of funny ones I made based on Phil’s Plait’s Bad Astronomy webiste/blog
    -a couple CSICOP ones
    -a few of Saturn
    -a sequence of hominid skulls I think I got here and resized into a wallpaper
    -some wallpapers I made based on scans of Dougal Dixon’s book After Man: A Zoology of the Future and promotional wallpapers from the Animal Planet TV follow-up The Future is Wild
    -some wallpapers I made from promotional artwork from Wayne Barlowe’s book Expedition and promotional wallpapers from the Discovery Channel movie version Alien Planet.
    -some photographs of musicians I like
    -Wallpapers from various movies, TV shows, and video games I like

    There is not a single photograph of anyone or anything I have seen personally.

  61. Dave Godfrey says

    A photograph of some prayer plant (Marantia sp., or something similar) on the 19″ and a shot of the roof of the Great Court at the British Museum. Both taken by myself.

  62. Pygmy Loris says

    Hmmm…desktop backgrounds…. my work computer has Sangiran 17 (H.erectus) on it, my laptop has OH 5 (A. boisei) and my Palm has KNM-WT 15000 (H. ergaster). No family pics, but then again I don’t have a husband or children, so maybe if I did they’d be on my desktop.

  63. Fred Levitan says

    I have a photo that I took this August of Lake 12,280 in the Ionian Basin area of the Kings Canyon backcountry. It’s a reflection of indigo sky and sunlit/shadowed cumulus clouds on the lake surface, next to the some shoreline rock outcrop and the edge of the melting ice and snow cover. This is a mid-day shot – from late afternoon to mid-morning, the entire lake surface was frozen. Oh, and I’m male and a scientist, though not a professor, and I’m unmarried and childless.