HyperCard

HyperCard Snow Crystals

snow crystals hypercard stackIn the mid 1980′s I was deeply into a development tool called HyperCard and made hundreds of “stacks” (little applications) which I both sold and gave away.

For those who don’t remember it or never got into it, HyperCard, developed by then Apple Fellow Bill Atkinson was a highly addictive development tool that had a cult following. It was my first experience with application development and I got hooked.

I made so many HyperCard stacks in fact that I lost track of many of them and when HyperCard eventually died and stacks were difficult to keep running on modern hardware and operating systems I moved on.

Recently I heard from someone named Sandra who had one of my old stacks: a collection of scanned black and white images of snow crystals that if memory serves visually morph from one to the next as the stack flips through its cards. Sandra wanted permission to put the stack online and of course I was glad to give it given that I’d forgotten that I’d ever made it. For those who have the means or interest to run it, here it is: Snow Crystals.

Another one of my stacks that got a bit more recognition was The Bee.

The Bee

The Bee

A long time ago there was this amazing multimedia development tool for the Macintosh called HyperCard. I got deeply into HyperCard in the nerdiest sense and built a lot of things with it. Most of the things I was building were reference tools for people with learning disabilities. After talking with a good friend who developed animated software using a competing product, HyperStudio, I decided it was time I tackled something animated with Hypercard. The result was a small piece of seemingly useless software called The Bee.

I built The Bee over an intensive two week period in about 1990. My wife thought I was nuts and couldn’t believe I was putting so much effort into this totally useless piece of software but as I got deeper and deeper into making it work, the rest of the world fell away and it was just me and The Bee and HyperTalk.

The Bee

The idea was this: A bee would randomly fly around in a room with a person’s face in it. If the bee landed on the person’s nose it would sting them and their eyes would roll around (like little marbles). If the bee hit any solid wall 10 times it would turn upside down and gently glide to the bottom, dead. If the bee flew through one of the four openings in each room, the little window would animate so that it looked like the room was shifting to the side to display another room with another, different person. This room movement would go on forever with the bee buzzing and bumping into walls (making a bump noise) until the bee died or the user got tired of this stupid thing and held down a key to stop it.

The Bee

To get the bee to fly randomly and keep all he rules going and hit the wall and make sound with the right timing to make it feel realistic was tough. However, I was up to the challenge and pulled numerous all-nighters getting this thing working. I scanned funny faces and put in numerous easter eggs: certain people had “wormholes” through their ears and if the bee entered one of their ears it would disappear, seemingly banging around inside their head, then emerge, either out of their other ear, or, if it was a special case, the window would shift and the bee would come out another person’s ear in another room. This, of course, delighted me and the more of it I figured out, the more I wanted to do.

The Bee

After a few close friends helped me debug The Bee it was ready to give away. However, since all of the other software my wife and I had built was being sold (successfully I might add) as $5 shareware, we thought we might as well call The Bee shareware too and see if anyone was crazy enough to buy it. $2000 later my wife wasn’t laughing at me anymore. The Bee was getting around and people actually liked it, or, liked me enough to say that they liked it.

The Bee

After a while my wife and I got very tired of filling software orders, copying and labeling disks, shrink wrapping jewel cases, printing invoices, mailing dozens of envelopes out, etc. Remember, this was pre-web and even though much of our software was up on AOL our biggest orders came in via the mail. So, eventually we stopped filling orders (sent checks back, etc.) and later, when I had a web site I put all the software we built up on it for people to download for free.

Flying Toaster Award

A few years later I heard that Berkeley Systems*, makers of the infamous After Dark Screen Saver program, first for the Mac, then for Windows, had an annual screen saver contest. On a whim, I decided to enter The Bee, thinking it might be an interesting screen saver if scaled up and colorized. It was no big deal to enter, sent them a disk and cover letter and promptly forgot about it.

Amazingly, a few months later I found out that I’d won first place in the contest and that a bunch of Mac hardware was on its way to me plus a check for $2000, plus a trophy. Well, the only thing I have left is the trophy and I must say, it’s a beauty and I feel sorry for anyone who tries to break into our house ’cause this trophy is heavy.

From time to time my wife looks at the trophy, then at me, laughs and rolls her eyes. She’s wondering when the next “bee” is gonna fly.

* The team who started and sold Berkeley Systems, Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, later started MoveOn.org.

Bill Atkinson – Within The Stone

Within the Stone bookBill Atkinson released a book of photographs that is outstanding. I’ve followed his career, both at Apple (one of the fathers of the Macintosh, and author of MacPaint, HyperCard, and more) and as a photographer.

This latest work is some of his finest and is near and dear to my heart: in my earlier years as a potter I took numerous geology courses and did quite a bit of film photomicrography. I have no clue where those slide are now but I loved them.

If you buy this book through his web site he will sign if for you and I have to say, the printing and quality of this book is outstanding.

Confusing Words

In 1990 my wife Anne came home from school and asked me if there was an easy way to collect the words that her students confused so that they might refer to their own lists on their own computers.

I put the question back to Anne: if you had such a list, what kinds of information about the confused words should be included, and how should the information look? I asked her to come up with some examples, the first few of which were effect and affect and there, their, and they’re.

We decided that we needed to show each set of confusables together so that an easy comparison could be made. We also thought that the list would include more confusables than just homonyms, words like aggravate and irritate, and good and well.

Each set of confusables would need:

- the two or more confused words

- definitions of each of the confused words

- multiple examples of usage in sentences of the confused words

Anne started collecting words, writing definitions, coming up with examples, and stored her collection in a text file until I could come up with another way.

My job was to think about how the information could be most accessible to writers using conventional word processing software like MS Word or AppleWorks (ClarisWorks back then).

A few things to consider in looking at the history of this project:

- We were (and still are) Macintosh users and the schools we were both working with were using Macs as well.

- I had little experience with databases, although FileMaker and others were out at the time.

- I had a lot of experience with HyperCard, the first user-friendly multimedia development tool, and even though its products only ran on the Macintosh, cross platform development wasn’t a concern since the audience we were building this for was mainly Mac users who could run HyperCard programs.

- There was no web at the time, and the idea of putting information like this online and having people use an online tool was unheard of except in the mainframe computer world.

So, I built a HyperCard “stack” that included:

- a field to hold the confused words

- a field to hold the definitions

- a field to hold examples of usage.

In time, Anne and I finished the stack and sold it as shareware for many years. It did well and thousands of people bought and hopefully used it. (Hopefully is correct if our users were hopeful about becoming less confused.)

Here’s a screen shot of an entry:

confusing words HyperCard screen

Many things have changed in the computer world since Anne and I first started thinking about this:

- The Macintosh has been marginalized in schools

- The HyperCard project died at Apple

- We have mixed feelings about making and buying shrink-wrapped reference software because it’s out of date almost immediately

- The web has evolved into an important part of using a computer as a tool

- We know how to build web sites

So, we put Confusing Words on the web where it existed for many years. The code and site became out of date over time and we lost interest and so, we took it down and let the domain go. It was a great run and we learned a lot, both in building the HyperCard stack and in building the web site.