After Dark

The Bee

the_bee1A 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.